Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Mariupol Rejects Surrender Ultimatum As Fighting Intensifies; Ukraine: 7 Dead, 11 Injured In Russian Strikes On Lviv; Ukraine: Control Of Eastern Town Of Kreminna "Is Lost"; Luhansk Governor Urges Evacuations: "No Safe Places Left"; U.S. Defense Official: Russia Has Added Forces In East, South Ukraine; Russia Terrorizes Mariupol, Vows To Eliminate Resistance; Ukrainian Family Forced To Flee To Moscow To Escape Invasion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. John King is off today. We begin with intensifying attacks across Ukraine in Russia's war. In the western city of Lviv, a place that's been relatively safe, it was hit by multiple Russian missiles strikes. At least seven people were killed and 11 hurt, including a child. One blast shattered windows in a hotel, housing Ukrainian evacuees.

In eastern Ukraine, Kreminna is the Luhansk region, and it is now in Russian hands. A Ukrainian official says, Russian forces opened fire on a car filled with civilians trying to escape the town, killing four people. A top official is pleading with residents in Luhansk to leave now, saying there are no safe places left in the region.

And in the south, Ukraine is still desperately trying to hold on to the port city of Mariupol, amid intense shelling and ongoing fighting. According to a Ukrainian official, Russian forces are expected to close entry and exit to that city. They're going to do that today according to official, as they introduce a pass system to restrict movement.

President Zelenskyy says several thousand children were taken from Mariupol and nobody knows where they are. In an exclusive interview with my colleague, Jake Tapper, President Zelenskyy reiterated, he will not give up any part of Ukraine to end the war.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: Ukraine and the people of our state are absolutely clear. We don't want anyone else's territory. And we are not going to give up our own.


BASH: Get straight to Matt Rivers, who is in the Lviv. So Matt, that is a city that has really been spared from the intense fighting and the attacks. What do we know about the missile strikes that hit your city where you are overnight? MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Dana, there's no question that Lviv has fared so much better in this war than so many other cities here in Ukraine. And yet this relative law, peaceful law here in Lviv was shattered this morning with four different missile strikes, landing across the city of Lviv.

According to a midday press conference with Ukrainian officials here, they say that three of those missiles hit areas with military infrastructure involved. The fourth hit an auto repair shop. And we know that firsthand, because my team and I went to the site of that fourth strike.

And when we arrived, we could see clearly on the sign of one of the two buildings that we saw burning, it said auto body repair shop. It was not a military base. It didn't have seemingly any strategic value. It is just seemingly another example. And what we've seen Russia do throughout this war, which is target, intentionally or otherwise, this civilian area.

So, we spoke to the owner of this auto body shop, he said that several of his employees were killed. They had simply arrived to work in the morning, were about to start their shift, open their doors around 9am to customers, and the missile hit somewhere between 8:20 and 8:30 in the morning local time, multiple people at his shop were also sent to the hospital.

And Dana, across the street, we spoke to an elderly woman, she lives by herself. She's about 500 feet away or so I would say, from where the missile struck. She was washing her face when her bathroom window was just blown in by the force of that explosion. And she is now considering moving to Poland, something that she wouldn't have thought, she would have had to consider given the relative safety of being here in Lviv.

And we had seen several weeks go by without any strikes in and around this area. It was a few days ago that several cruise missiles were shot out of the air by air-defense systems here according to Ukrainian officials. But just two days after those air raid sirens went off, this morning the sirens went off and the strikes were successful according to a Ukraine's military.

BASH: Matt Rivers, thank you so much for that report. And with me now is Beth Sanner, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence. So, Beth, we thought the Russian strategy was to zero in on the eastern part of Ukraine, where Putin wants to secure a so-called land bridge to Crimea. So, what do you think the strategy is behind this fresh attack on Lviv in the West?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that there are two things going on. One is the use of missiles and artillery to soften things in the east before the infantry tank battles that will ensue. What's happening in the west is, a lot of that is aimed at military targets.

[12:05:00] It looks like, you know, they are striking fuel depots. Military depots where the weapon means that we are shipping in might be stored, and you know, three out of the four missiles and it looks like they use precision guided cruise missiles for this strike did hit military targets, but it seemed like those warehouses were empty.

BASH: So, what does that tell you as an expert on intelligence about where Russian intelligence is that they hit mostly, not only empty warehouses, but places where civilians were. I mean, the civilian part of it, obviously we've seen in it is just horrific and in monstrous what they're doing. But if their goal was actually a military one, what does it tell you about intelligence?

SANNER: So, the precision strike missiles that they use should be able to hit exactly where they want, from what I'm seeing. So, either they missed on the garage, and they - it was a failure, and they have a high failure rate of these precision guided missiles, or they have bad intelligence, they also have bad intelligence that those warehouses were empty.

You know, this has been a repeated problem for the Russians in this war. They have terrible intelligence. They're not going to find spies in Lviv to tell them where these things are. And the FSB, the internal service that's responsible for this. They're undergoing what looks like a pretty big purge, because they have done such a bad job. And also, because Putin thinks that they may be sources of the leaks, and the intelligence that has gotten out by the Americans especially.

BASH: That's so fascinating. OK. Let's talk again about the eastern front. Russia is ramping up attacks on Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces are refusing to surrender. Is that city important now, not just from a military point of view, but from a psychological standpoint?

SANNER: It is. It's kind of the last stand in a way. One of the deputy defense minister for Ukraine today - yesterday talked about Mariupol was being the shield that is protecting Ukraine. And I think that shield is, it is military and that the Russian forces that are tied down there can then move into other battles. But I think it's also the psychological thing.

And Foreign Minister Kuleba also talked about how this Mariupol in the fall of Mariupol, what happens there, may be a real red line for them in order to be able to conduct negotiations. How can they conduct negotiations with the atrocities that everyone is seeing in Mariupol? So, it is a huge psychological issue, but it's also going to be a big win for Russia and something that Putin can say, oh, they actually sees something.

BASH: You talk about negotiations. You heard President Zelenskyy tell Jake Tapper, like that's not on the table. We aren't negotiating. Is your sense, though, that if, in fact, Mariupol does fall that that stance could change?

SANNER: No. I think that both Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba have been pretty clear that there will be no negotiations until the end of the Donbass phase of this war. Something is going to have to give for them to go back to the table because too much blood has been shed. They can't negotiate with the Russians right now. And frankly, the Russians aren't negotiating with them. So, it's kind of moot.

BASH: Right. Yes. No, that's a very good point. Spain announced today that it will reopen its embassy in Kyiv. And then in the next few days, France and Italy, the E.U., Slovenia, they're all resuming their diplomatic presence in Ukraine. The U.S. isn't planning to do that as of now. You think that's a mistake?

SANNER: Yes, I do think it's a mistake. And I think it's a hangover from domestic politics in my view. If we can remember back to President Obama's term in office and the loss of diplomatic lives in Benghazi, and hours and hours of grilling of testimony of Hillary Clinton, blaming the state department for the loss of life there.

I think that that feeling has led to a very risk averse state department and Biden administration. And they're really afraid of not putting any American diplomats lives at stake. But there is not - there are no diplomats inside Ukraine right now. They're all in Poland. And I think that we are not playing that right. We have to be able to take risks.

BASH: So, if you were asked by the president and Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State, how big of a diplomatic presence should we put in there and where exactly should they be and so forth? What would your answer be?


SANNER: I mean, at a minimum, we shouldn't be sitting in Lviv. And I think that we should put a couple of people who are volunteers, and I bet you will have a million volunteers to reopen the embassy in Kyiv. And that's the right thing to do.

BASH: Yes. Beth, such an important point about the hangover from the absolute tragedy of what happened all those years ago in Libya. Beth, thank you so much. Really appreciate your insight.

SANNER: Thank you.

BASH: And coming up, no safe places left. That's how one Ukrainian official describes the eastern area of the country. We're live on the ground in that region, next.



BASH: The mayor of Kharkiv also accused the Russians of bombing residential areas today where crowds of people were gathered, including hospitals. CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. So, Ben, what are you seeing there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw overnight was a cruise missile hitting this town. Nobody was hurt or injured, we understand, but it did cause a lot of damage. But this is nothing compared to what other towns and cities along the front line are experiencing. One town at 5am local time, Kreminna fell to Russian.

Forces before that, local officials said that because of the intensity of the fighting in and around that town, it was impossible for people to evacuate. Nonetheless, some people tried. And four of the five people in that car were killed. Now the head of the Luhansk military administration is saying that nowhere in eastern Ukraine, where we are, is safe at that point.

And certainly, what we've seen in the last 24 hours, particularly overnight, is an intensification of bombardment. Now there are dozens of cities without - towns, without electricity, without gas, some of them have no access to the internet and officials everywhere.

We spoke to the governor of Kramatorsk, where we are today. He said, I've been trying. I've been trying. I have been urging everyone to leave this city as quickly as possible. But still about a quarter of the population remains. Most people who are here will tell you that, you know, it's my home, I don't want to leave. And some have a rather - some a bit of confidence that the Russians will be stopped. But certainly, given what we've seen today, basically strikes all over Ukraine and intense strikes in this part of the country does not bode well. Dana?

BASH: Not at all, to hear people saying, I'm going to be OK, I am safe. It just - is an eerie reminder of so many wars that we've seen over history of people feeling that way. And I just want to say, as we were checking him out before, before we came to you, General Eaton, who were about to talk to you, said he is very proud to be associated with people like you and your crew and I couldn't agree more. Thank you so much for everything that you're doing, that reporting, and stay safe as you can. Thank you, Ben.

And here with me now is retired Major General and CNN military analyst, Paul Eaton. General Eaton, I want to start with some news we just got. The U.S. is assessing that Russia has added 11 battalion tactical groups to their forces in the east and the south of Ukraine since last week. That's according to a senior U.S. defense official. So, they're building their military postures there. What does that tell you?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well Dana, a couple of things. One, that's a little bit bigger than a standard U.S. armored division. When we talk about 11 didactical groups, that add at this hour, sounds a whole lot like last minute, commanding general requirements. And all I can sense right now is absolute chaos and confusion on the Russian side, as they try to absorb forces into a complex, a very complex move.

BASH: Well, that's interesting, chaos and confusion. Certainly, we heard that earlier in the program, when you're talking about the strikes overnight in the west in Lviv. But why specifically, does this news tell you as a military - retired general, what does it tell you that there's chaos in the Russian ranks? MAJ. GEN. EATON: The Russians are and have proven to be incompetent to command and control. They're having a very hard time communicating, laterally and up and down the chain of command. When you add forces in extremists, the U.S. can do that pretty well. We're a very agile, very practiced force, the Russians not so much.

And to see that the number of forces added into the offensive mix that we've got in the east right now. Just strikes me as a very difficult command and control problem for the Russians to be able to absorb that force and then to properly sustain that force. This army, this Russian army has proven to be absolutely incompetent at giving their men what they need to fight the war. It is unsustainable to throw forces that you are not prepared to support logistically.


BASH: Meanwhile, from the point of view of the Ukrainians, the military governor in eastern Ukraine is warning, there are no safe places left in the region. And that one town on the front lines Kreminna is under Russian control. Is this a tipping point moment?

MAJ. GEN. EATON: I don't see it as a tipping point moment for the Russians in a good way. I see this as a continued failure on their part to man train equipment to organize, to conduct a very complex, combined arms maneuver. The fact that there is no safe place in Ukraine, makes it all the more imperative that the counter battery radar, the long-range killing systems, MLRS, high mars, we need to get that into the Ukrainian hands as quickly as possible.

And if they are using ships in the Black Sea, and I believe they are, we've seen evidence of that. To launch cruise missiles, we need to put the Russian navy on notice. NATO naval forces need to step up their presence in the area. And we need to tell the Russians that their freedom of naval action is about to be over.

BASH: That sounds from the perspective of NATO. And certainly, the kinds of statements we've heard from the Biden administration, wanting to not escalate militarily, that that would be pretty escalatory. But we're saying is, it's necessary?

MAJ. GEN. EATON: Dana, we need to start taking the initiative on the NATO side. We have allowed Putin to focus on a very small part of the planet. And we need to open up his worry factors associated with his forces in the Black Sea and elsewhere. We need to open up opportunities for him to be very worried about what may happen. And I think that this would be our chance to capitalize on the loss of the Moskva.

BASH: Before I let you go, I want to ask you about the south. Ukrainian say that they will never surrender in the southern port city of Mariupol, but the situation there is bleak. Russia is telling resisting forces prepared to be eliminating, and they're sealing the city. The remaining men, they said we'll be "filtered out" which is a terrifying term. What do you see when you look at what's happening there? MAJ. GEN. EATON: This is a increasingly disastrous situation for the men and women of the south. The men and women along the corridor that you would make between Mariupol and Odessa. Make no mistake, Odessa is prized here. We NATO must not allow Odessa to fall.

That is a European problem. That is not a Ukrainian problem. That is a European problem. And Odessa and our ability to protect the south, the economic critical zone for Ukraine, we must do what we can to assist that. And all that means is increasing what we are delivering as quickly as we can and to develop long range fires.

BASH: So much to digest there, a lot of really important insight. Thank you so much to a Major General and CNN military analyst Paul Eaton. Appreciate it.

MAJ. GEN. EATON: Thank you.

BASH: And up next, as Putin's war drags on, thousands of Ukrainians are facing a stark choice, stay in their homes in the war zone or flee to the very country attacking them, and that's Russia. Stay with us.




BASH: Day 54 of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, as millions of Ukrainians flee to welcome in countries to escape war. Many don't have that choice. In eastern Ukraine, some residents have only one way out and that is going towards Moscow. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz - forgive me, Salma, joins me live with this story. Salma?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Dana, we spoke to one family that reached safety here in Poland in a rather roundabout in dangerous way. Trapped in one of the cities in the east of Ukraine, pinned down by Russian forces, bombed in besieged. They say there was only one route out. But once they reached Russia, how do they get to safety here in Poland? We followed one Ukrainian American woman desperate to rescue her family. Take a look?


ABDELAZIZ (voice over): (Inaudible), does not trust the man. She's about to meet. He is a smuggler. She's anxious, looking for her mom and sister. Hoping they are here.