Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Putin Falsely Compares Ukraine To Nazis; Russian Missile Barrage Pounds Cities In Eastern Ukraine; Ukraine: 60 Feared Dead After Russia Bombs School Shelter; U.S. Amb. To U.N. Putin's War Likely To Carry On For Months; Putin Defends Ukraine Invasion, Signals No Escalation; Dems On Abortion: This Is The Biggest Fight Of A Generation; McConnell On Federal Abortion Ban: "It's Possible"; Schumer Set To Call For Abortion Vote In Senate This Week. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. No escalation, no declaration that Russia won, and no new threats of nuclear war. The world worried Victory Day would bring dramatic action from the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Instead, it came and went without any public change in posture from the Russian president.

This was the scene at Red Square, thousands upon thousands assembled to celebrate vanquishing Hitler. Russia's president today describes his country as the guardrail against global war. Putin is also rewriting history before your eyes. He calls his Ukraine invasion preemptive, of course, it wasn't. He paints NATO and Ukraine as the aggressors. They were not. And he repeats an outright lie, by linking the fight now to the fight then.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: I'm now addressing our armed forces and the militias of Donbass. You are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of the Second World So, that there is no place in the world for executioners, punishers and Nazis.


KING: In Ukraine, they too remember the victory over the Nazis. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promises, Ukraine will soon have another Victory Day to celebrate.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: Very soon, there will be too Victory Days in Ukraine, and someone won't have any. We win then and we will win now. Having victory over Nazism Day.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Russia not gaining much ground, but the barrage is relentless. In Luhansk, as many as 60 feared dead after a Russian missile turn to school, where people were sheltering into a burning scrap heap. In Mariupol, all women and children are out of that steel plant, but we're also getting a new glimpse of the unrelenting horror in that port city.

These next images are beyond disturbing. Shallow graves for what looks like hundreds, a line of body bags, waits to be buried. They cannot dig the trench fast enough. CNN of course, has reporters across Ukraine and across the world covering this story. We begin this hour in the capital city of Kyiv, with CNN Sara Sidner. Sara, was the latest?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Look, what Ukrainians here are hearing come out of the mouth of Vladimir Putin, frankly, they're disgusted by it. They listen to the words coming out of his mouth, the words they say are absolute lies. And they do intend to win this war.

We are able also to talk to two World War II veterans, both of whom say, look, there aren't many of us left. Both of them fought as Soviet soldiers as Soviet Union was - Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union at the time.

And one of them is watching what is happening at Mariupol, with absolute horror, because he says, he was there in 1943, helping to liberate Mariupol, alongside Soviet soldiers against the German Nazis. And now, he cannot believe that the group that he wants to work with is now bombing the very same place.


VASYL KLUY, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: For all of us who went through the war at the time, it hurts. I want to take up arms now and go to defend the same places, and my country, he says.

METODYI VOLYNETS, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: It's an atrocity. It's vandalism, he says, probably the leadership is stupid. The only idiots would do this, start a war against Ukraine.


SIDNER: Both of these men, one is 95, one is 96. They have both told me that if they could, they would take up arms and go fight for their country once again, this time the country being Ukraine. And that last gentleman you saw there has had to deal with fresh memories of war, not just the ones from World War II.

His house, the one you saw him sitting there on was bombarded by the Russians. When the tanks came rolling through Horsell, the village just a mile outside of Kyiv. He says, he's just happy that it's still standing. And he believes just as the president of Ukraine says, that Ukraine will win this war and they will have their Victory Day once again. John?

KING: Sara Sidner, live for us in Kyiv. and Keefe. Sara, thank you so much. Let's move on to CNN Scott McLean now. He's in the western city of Lviv. Scott, tell us more.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Well, according to the Ukrainians, the heaviest fighting right now in the country is happening in the Donetsk region where the Russians continue to try to break through the front lines, but that advancement is slow and they're not having a whole lot of success.

You know, in the Luhansk region, next door, there is heavy shelling taking place. They're so heavy, in fact that it is really hampering the rescue efforts to try to find any possible survivors from that bombing of the school, where some 90 people were sheltering on Saturday when it was directly hit. 27 survivors have emerged already, but there's could potentially be 60 people who were killed in that blast.


It is also being hampered, the rescue effort by the presence of Russian ground troops. You see, the village where the school is located, it's called Bilohorivka and there is a river nearby that the Russians are trying to cross to cut off access to a larger city, called the Lysychansk. Well, Bilohorivka now it seems has Russian troops in or around it, fighting. They're crossing that river using pontoon bridges.

The Ukrainian say that they've taken out one of them, but they won't be able to continue that rescue effort until they read the area of Russian troops, who knows how long that could take or if it happens at all, only then will they be able to start digging for survivors. But they say, John, that the chances of finding them at this stage are pretty low.

There were survivors, though that arrived in Zaporizhzhia, on Ukrainian held territory. They were coming from the city of Mariupol, some of them from the Azovstal steel plant, some of them from the wider city. That is one glimmer of good news in a situation that is still extremely dire, remaining at that plant or hundreds of Ukrainian troops.

The president says that he's trying to broker some kind of a diplomatic deal to get them out of there safely. In the meantime, though, the Russians are continuing, according to the Ukrainians with their storm offensive hitting the plant with tanks and artillery.

KING: Scott McLean, live in Lviv for us. Scott, thank you very much. Let's move on to a new CNN interview now. The first on camera reaction from a Biden administration official to Vladimir Putin's Victory Day speech. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas- Greenfield, says Putin speech signals that the Russian president has no plans to end this war in Ukraine. But she also says, Putin has little to celebrate.


LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: President Putin has recognized he has no victory to celebrate. His efforts in Ukraine have not succeeded. He was not able to go into Ukraine and bring them to their knees in a few days and have them surrender. He gave up on taking Kyiv.


KING: To Brussels now, CNN's Kylie Atwood. Kylie, what else did you learn in that conversation?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It was interesting to hear her say that, essentially, this speech today was a reflection of the reality on the ground. As you heard her say, President Putin is very clear in saying that, in realizing that he doesn't have a victory to celebrate here. And that reflects what's happening on the ground.

With the Russians reassessing their positioning on the ground there and going to consolidate their gains in Russia. Instead of going for new territory, as we saw them do at the outset of this. She said that, of course, that may be a little bit different in the case of that land bridge that they appear to possibly be going for from Donbass to Crimea, but she said even that is proving to be exceptionally difficult for the Russians to do.

And the other thing that she noted very clearly, is that President Putin did not announce the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. He also didn't announce any kind of deal with the Ukrainians. So of course, this was not a speech that the United States welcome. It signaled that this conflict is not over. And in her words, it appears it is going to be this long-term conflict that we have heard U.S. officials talk about, she said, for months to come.

The other thing that she noted is that her interactions with Russian officials at the United Nations have been demonstrably different since this Ukraine war began. She says, she sees them being uncomfortable in interactions. And she says they are definitely reading remarks that are prepared remarks for them, obviously, from the Kremlin. John?

KING: Kylie Atwood, live in Brussels for us. Kylie, thanks so much. Let's get some insights and expertise now from our CNN national security analyst, Beth Sanner. She's the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence. Beth, grateful for your time today. So, the Putin speech on Victory Day that many were worried about that he would either declare victory or declare some big escalation turned out to be a ho hum for the large part. But you see it as not aimed toward the west anyway but aim toward the Russian people and propaganda.

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's absolutely right. I mean, I think in the beginning, May 9, was probably designed to be that Victory Day, but it didn't work out that way. And so now, I think what this was about was preparing the Russian people for kind of a long-term war of attrition that this could last some time.

Talking about the sacrifices that the Russian, that the Soviet people made in World War II, you know, 24 million Russians and others from Soviet Union died during that war. And he's saying to the Russian people, they prevailed. It was tough, and so will we. So, that's worrisome.

KING: Worrisome in the context of no indication at all, he's ready to back down. Obviously, we'll go to the battlefield in a minute. But I want to listen to Bill Burns, the CIA director here. Who says, he sees Putin in the same boat, I think you see him. And as someone who is just full of grievance, and perhaps blinded by it, listen.



BILL BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: I had dealt with and watched President Putin over many years and what I've seen, especially over the last decade is him in a way stewing in a very combustible combination of grievance and ambition and insecurity, all kind of wrapped together.


KING: All kind of wrapped together makes him unpredictable, does it not?

SANNER: It does. And the irony here is that the better the Ukrainians do, the more dangerous he becomes. Because, as Bill Burns said, later in that interview, this is a war that Putin cannot afford to lose. Now, he can define victory in lots of different ways. But he's going to have to define it in some way and declare that he has prevailed.

And so that's, that's kind of the tough part that's coming down the pike. And this whole idea of the war of attrition, John, it's that Putin really believes, and Bill Burns said the same thing that, you know, in the end, he will be able to prevail, that will get tired of this war, and the Ukrainians will ultimately have to capitulate.

KING: Well, to that point, do you see any evidence that the west is getting tired of the war in the sense that the Europeans are considering now further sanctions against Russian energy supplies? You heard Ambassador, Thomas-Greenfield telling Kylie Atwood, she believes this will go on for months and months. Do you see any cracks?

SANNER: There is the crack that we always have seen in Hungary. But I think that the E.U. oil ban, it will be an incremental ban, that I think something will happen there. The G7 just got together Sunday, virtually, with President Zelenskyy tuning in, and also talking about an oil ban and agreeing that they will have that embargo.

Again, it will take some months, but that is coming. And so, I think that the flip side of that is, there will be big economic pain there. Particularly in Europe, their gas prices are much higher than ours here. And so, you know, as fall comes around, if we're still in this, then then things are going to get I think, a little dicey here.

And as we've talked before, we have some big international meetings coming up, the G20 in the fall, which is the G7. People were all against the war, and then everyone else, who's really much more sitting on the fence. And so, I think things will get a little bit more difficult in the fall. KING: Put on your former Intel hat if you would and take us inside this one. Our Kaitlan Collins at the White House is reporting that the president United States has been upset by some recent very specific news accounts that U.S. intelligence was shared to help the Ukrainians to target Russian generals.

So, that U.S. intelligence was shared to help the Ukrainians target the Moscow, the ship, the flagship in the Black Sea. Kaitlan reporting that the president spoke to Avril Haines, he's Director of National Intelligence saying, hey, this has to stop. What do you make of that?

SANNER: I think he's absolutely right. I don't know where the leaks are coming from. It could be Intel, it could be more likely in my mind, military. But you know, people get kind of caught up in what they're doing, they're confiding, maybe it's a sense of self- importance. I don't know, it's Washington. But people need to remember that lives are at stake here. And the more that we make a point a finger, you know, poke Russia, the worst this is going to get. So, people need to just respectfully shut up.

KING: Beth Sanner, appreciate the blunt response to that one. Beth, thanks so much. We'll continue the conversation. Up next for us. The Senate this week's debates abortion rights. The Chamber's top Republican says, he's open to passing a nationwide abortion ban if the GOP wins more seats.




KING: Senate Democrats will try this week to pass federal legislation guaranteeing the right to an abortion. They do not have the votes to pass their bill. But they want to get Republicans on the record, and they believe the Democrats do that abortion rights will now become a driving issue in this year's elections.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): This is the biggest fight of a generation.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This is no longer an abstract exercise. This is the real deal. And everyone's eyes are on them.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): I think the question that voters are going to be asking when 75 percent of people are with us on this, is who should make this decision? Should it be a woman and her doctor, or a politician.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Axios, CNN's Manu Raju, and Asma Khalid of NPR. You hear Senator Klobuchar at the end, Asma, 75 percent of the people who are with us. She's referring to national polling. What makes this issue so interesting and fascinating, given the stakes of it is we're going to go through Congress does not have the votes. But then we're going to go through this state-by-state, race-by-race and a very complicated red and blue America.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Exactly. Right. And they do think that Democrats, I mean, look, this is some to gravities is callous, as it sounds about political strategy. I mean, for months now, the defining issue of the midterms has been about inflation. And when you look at the economy, we look how voters feel about the health of the economy, even some Democrats and some polling.

The majority of Democrats I've seen, say that the economy was in poor shape. And four Democrats in the last week, they feel confident that this will help them shift the conversation, shift the narrative to an issue that they think they have more of a compelling case ahead of the midterms.


KING: And Democrats believe, excuse me, for interrupting, Democrats believe they got a gift from the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who had an interview with USA Today said this. If the leaked opinion referring to the Supreme Court decision that leaked last week became the final opinion, legislative bodies not only at the state level, but at the federal level, certainly could legislate in that area. And if this were the final decision that was appointed, should be resolved one way or another, legislative process.

So yes, it's possible. Yes, it's possible Manu, that if Republicans become the majority, that Mitch McConnell would be open to trackpad (Ph). The Democrats want to pass a federal bill guaranteeing abortion rights. He says, he's open, it's possible. Congress would take up under Republican rule legislation nationwide ban.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that was clearly a gift for the Democrats, because McConnell last week was doing everything, he could not to say anything that could give Democrats something to rally behind. Immediately afterwards, I asked him at a press conference last week. Do you personally take any credit for the being in the situation where abortion could be gone?

Given his efforts reshape, the federal judiciary reshaped the Supreme Court, he said the only focus is on the leak and leak itself. But then in that subsequent interview, he says suggested yes, it's possible. But he didn't commit to actually having this on the floor. He certainly does not want to make this part of the Republican agenda going forward.

But just even floating the idea that perhaps a federal ban could happen some point down the line is enough for Democrats to rally behind you. So, one Democratic campaign after the another, say something about these comments, even though the chances of enacting a national ban are virtually nil, even if the Republicans take back control of the Senate.

KING: As long as Biden is president (crosstalk)

RAJU: Yes. That was even so decision within the Republican conference about whether to do that. A lot of them say, it is a state issue, not a federal issue. And some like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski are supporting abortion, right.

KING: So, it depends on the size of any Republican majorities. To your point, we don't know where this is going. And we're going to have these national votes that let Senate vote this week. And Speaker Pelosi, sending a note today, saying Democrats in the House need to be prepared to revisit this issue as well. Today, and as you noted across the country in all different kinds of races, this from Democrats.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voiceover): A woman's fundamental rights, our freedoms hang in the balance. We don't want politicians making healthcare choices for women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voiceover): Jessica Cisneros is the pro-choice candidate who will fight for our healthcare and always protect our rights to make our own decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voiceover): People like us won't have access to care and we will die.


KING: So, we're going to watch this play out of race after race. This is narrow race is interesting because that's a Democratic primary. That's the Democratic primary.

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: It's a primary campaign. That's absolutely right. We talked to someone in consultant world last week, who said they were not aware of a single democratic woman who wasn't in the middle of cutting a pro-choice ad as we were speaking. This is primarily going to be a general election strategy.

But you are seeing it play out in a couple of primary areas, including this one, and a lot of pressure on Kyrsten Sinema around the filibuster. But look, I mean, the issue is, it is one thing to say, this decision would take away a federal right to an abortion. It is completely another thing to say, the next shoe to fall could be a federal imposition of a ban on all abortion.

And if that is going to become part of the Democrats messaging toolbox, they think they can use this to gin up momentum among some of the biggest groups that were disinclined to vote this time around with young people, progressives, people frustrated about voting rights, people frustrated the Biden's taken a more centrist tack in some areas than they thought that he would.

The parallel question is, are the areas in which this debate could hurt some swing Democrats, or their House races swing races, where it's not in the Democrats best interest to have the entire conversation shift to abortion? Or where it matters, whether this is how it is framed? Is this about abortion? Or is this about protecting women's rights, protecting personal privacy rights. And so, we're going to see a lot of those nuances play out.

KING: And as we watch the nuances play out, I just want to listen here, two Republican governors, both in states, this is Arkansas and Mississippi that have very restrictive abortion laws on the books. And if Roe gets wiped out, some states will try to go even further. Listen, how they try to frame this. They're trying to talk about helping mothers, not hurting them.


GOV. TATE REEVES, (R) MISSISSIPPI: What we're trying to do in Mississippi is we're trying to provide those potential expectant mothers, the resources that they need, so that they can go to a full- term pregnancy if they choose to keep that child.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R) ARKANSAS: So, we want to invest in those areas that will help those women with very difficult circumstances of the pregnancy.


KING: It's a direct counter there to the Democratic argument that you weren't attacking women's healthcare. That's their counter. Both of those states though, both of those states have very restrictive laws on the books. 13 states have so called trigger laws, Republican states where if Roe gets wiped out immediately in those states. So, the Guttmacher Institute says 26 states would probably have bans on abortion. So, look at the national numbers.


Do you support Congress passing nationwide abortion rights law? This the Democrats say, look, six in 10 Americans are with us. Yes. But look at the 70 percent, 68 percent of Republicans who are not. That is why this is incredibly company. These Republican governors Manu, Mitch McConnell held up Merrick Garland. That was unpopular. He did it anyway. Because that's Republicans will have power, use it, there's no doubt these Republican states will do this.

RAJU: Yes. And these Republican states are going to get enormous pressure, not to moderate on this issue, not to have some of the nuances that perhaps a lot of Americans could support, but to go all out, and to ban abortion at all costs, perhaps if not the level of exceptions that whether it's for rape, for incest for life of the mother, those are very important issues.

And also, some will go to, as far as you know, imposing felonies on women who are seeking abortions, or even some of the providers themselves, all those issues could be something that could turn off a lot of American voters. The questions that can get these Republican legislators would hold the pressure from the right to go all out and go as far as possible.

KHALID: We already begin to see this creeping. I mean, to some degree, if you look at Texas, right, and Texas is a state that by all accounts, when you look at its demographics, when you look at some of the politics internally, you think it's a more competitive state, but Republicans do have power. They have put one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country on the books predating even, you know, this drafting decision, right.

KING: Those who have the Republicans are not afraid to use power when they have it. We've just seen that repeatedly across the board. Well watch this out there. I do think state-by-state that the restrictions, we're going to see this debate state after, state after, state after and state. If we get this decision as we expect. Next, back to Ukraine on the battlefield. More fighting in Mariupol. And Ukraine voices alarm over Russian pontoon bridges.