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Ukrainian and Russian Representatives Meet for Face-to-Face Talks in Istanbul Concerning Steps to End Russian Invasion of Ukraine; Russia Says It Will Drastically Reduce Military Activity Fronts in Kyiv and Chernihiv in Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2022 - 08:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And Brianna, Amanda Shi there is referring to her facial features. She admitted to me that she felt safer in the winter because she was able to actively conceal her identity by wearing a mask, a hat, and sunglasses. And I can tell you, and I do want to point this out, Brianna, that there are so many people, Asian Americans, who are watching this piece right now, who can absolutely relate to what these young ladies are going through right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: So important to hear what they have been through in their own words. Amara, thank you for that report. And NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar in Washington this morning. And we do have breaking news. The talks between Ukraine and Russia in Turkey, this fifth round of discussions, face to face, have just ended. A top Russian negotiator says they were constructive, and a negotiator for Ukraine says there have been enough developments to justify a meeting between Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, and Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader.

Meanwhile, Russia's attacks on several Ukrainian cities, they are escalating this morning. Just before we came on air, I was taping an interview with the mayor of Chernihiv, this is a badly damaged city north of Kyiv, when there was an explosion nearby.




BERMAN: The mayor hardly flinched. That is life in Ukraine.

Overnight, Russian forces bombed Mykolaiv's regional state administration building, demolishing half of it. Most of the employees were able to get out. At least three people, though, have been found dead in the rubble, 18 hospitalized. And the mayor of Kyiv tells CNN the shelling of a capital has been

relentless. Still, Russian forces appear to be largely stalled in several parts of Ukraine. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told me moments ago they have seen evidence, clear evidence, that the Russian advance on Kyiv has been halted.

In Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say 90 percent of the residential buildings in the city have been damaged or destroyed, 160,000 people there still trapped. And Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian troops control all the evacuation routes. Brianna?

KEILAR: In the meantime, President Biden is refusing to walk back that off the cuff comment that he made that Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power, and he's offering no apologies.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody believes we're going to take down -- I was talking about taking down Putin. Nobody believes that. The last thing I want to do is engage in a land war or a nuclear war with Russia. That's not part of it. I was expressing my outrage at the behavior of this man. It's outrageous, it's outrageous.


KEILAR: A Putin spokesman calls Biden's comments alarming and says that they are a personal insult.

I'm joined now by CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, who is live for us from Istanbul where these talks, these latest round of in person talks are going on between Ukrainian and Russian representatives. How is it going there, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's actually a bit tough to tell because, Brianna, the talks ended in person. But our understanding is that they will be continuing online. And as you were mentioning there, the Russians have said that they were constructive. The Ukrainians have said that it could potentially be the point where the leaders of both countries could be meeting.

But that being said, no agreement has yet been reached. We also do understand that a lot of the discussions have been centering around some sort of a humanitarian ceasefire to allow for more humanitarian corridors to open up, especially ones that would, hopefully, at least, be more secure than the ones in the past have been.

We also do understand that the Ukrainians have begun discussions at a medium level, let's say, with potential guarantor countries. What is all this about? Ukraine wants certain countries, eight of them, to guarantee Ukraine's security should any sort of agreement move forward, especially since as we have been reporting Ukraine has been open to discussions about it becoming a nonnuclear neutral state. But Ukraine is very reluctant to do that without these security guarantees that would be upheld by these guarantor countries. That is potentially going to be very tricky moving forward.


But at this stage, it does seem as if both sides are maintaining something of an optimistic tone, keeping in mind, of course, that this is all relative, although no clear, firm agreement at this stage has yet been reached.

KEILAR: All right, Arwa, sounds like maybe they're dealing with some of the immediate concerns. Corridors would be amazing if they could work that out. Longer term concerns are going to take a while. Arwa Damon live for us in Istanbul, thank you.

BERMAN: Joining us now is Sergii Leshchenko. He's a senior adviser to President Zelenskyy's chief of staff and a former member of Ukraine's parliament. Sergii, thank you so much for being with us. You're the first government official we've had a chance to speak with since these discussions in Istanbul wrapped up. Can you give us any update on the status?

SERGII LESHCHENKO, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY'S CHIEF OF STAFF: it is difficult to say more than people who are present on the ground talking about this. But for sure the main topics now of negotiation are still the same. Ukraine is looking for guarantees of our independence and national security and permanent members of U.N. Security Council. We have to be present, plus some countries around Ukraine, like Turkey, maybe Poland, maybe Italy, maybe Canada. Canada is not close to us, but they -- we also would like them on the list of guarantors.

So the idea is if we have security measures, which Ukraine can have, being neutral state, but which are difficult for NATO, so you have guarantors able to support Ukraine, to defend Ukraine in case of any aggression against Ukraine. That is why this topic is very sensitive and there is -- information is possible for document side, but it is also very important to understand that Ukraine was number three country in the world with nuclear weapons. We signed a memorandum in 1994, over 30 years ago, and this memorandum was considered by Ukraine as a guarantee. And when war started in 2014, no real support Ukraine got from the guarantors. That is why new document has to have real measures in securing the independence and security of Ukraine. So no -- please. We need proper document with proper measures taken by guarantors.

BERMAN: Sergii, we did get some information just in. It is a claim from Moscow, an official claim. They say they will drastically reduce military activity on two fronts, the fronts in Kyiv and Chernihiv, this is according to the Russian ministry of defense in a telegram channel. I wonder what your reaction is to that.

LESHCHENKO: Of course, we need de-escalation and ceasefire. We need humanitarian corridors. We need to stop this brutal, bloody war as soon as possible, and to continue negotiation in a healthy environment, with less bloodshed on the ground, because what is going on at the same time today, the regional administration of Mykolaiv was attacked, its building destroyed people died. So this has to be not just a statement, but real measures taken by Russia. What is also important that these measures can be resolved, also very

active, counterattack of Ukrainian army, which is very successful. Let's say it was not said so vocally before, but yesterday president personally confirmed that one of the towns around Kyiv called Irpin is liberated from Russian aggressors. Irpin is a crucial point for Russia because it is very close to Kyiv and it can be considered like a temporary base for their attack on the capital of Ukraine. That is why after liberation of Irpin, such attack on Kyiv is much less possible.

That is why this statement of Russian representatives on negotiation is partly explained that they have less and less ability to attack Kyiv just because Ukrainian army is brave and effective to defend capital of Ukraine.

So we support any measures taken for a ceasefire, any measures taken to stop this war. At the same time, this has to be taken not only in Kyiv, and Chernihiv, which is the regional center, historical center, utterly destroyed, by the way. It's a shame because Chernihiv is one of the oldest cities in Ukraine. It has a very beautiful landscape and very beautiful sites, churches from 19th, 18th, 17th century. A lot of our heritage is destroyed now. We cannot imagine. It's almost like Mariupol.


So this measure has to be taken not only about Chernihiv and Kyiv but also this has to be taken about Donbas cities, about Kherson, about Melitopol, about Berdyansk, about as you, all the citizens now under very strong pressure of Russian army and Ukraine defended ourselves, by the way, being not neighbor of NATO and having quite modest support from our partners in sense of weapons supplements. So we expected much, much more weapons to be brought into Ukraine when the war started. But we very much appreciate all support.

BERMAN: Sergii, would Ukraine ever accept a ceasefire with Russian troops still on Ukrainian land?

LESHCHENKO: Ceasefire is just one step, one step toward peaceful agreement with guarantors. And because Russia is not the only guarantor, there has to be at least proper guarantors, including what mentioned, members of Security Council of Ukraine and some countries which are ready to provide security, like Turkey, Polynesia, Ivory Coast, and so on. And ceasefire is just only one step. After ceasefire has to be taking measures for, let's say, immediately start negotiations on the presidential level.

President Zelenskyy called Mr. Putin many times. He is open for these negotiations since 2019. And President Zelenskyy believes this is not negotiation can be taken by mediators. It has to be eyes to eyes negotiation when all claims directly to each other. And I believe this negotiation has to start as soon as possible after ceasefire, and after ceasefire and negotiation, we can discuss about withdraw of Russian tanks in our territory.

By the way, they have of for soldiers killed, died in Ukrainian territory. It's also an issue. This horrible topic, but a lot of bodies of Russian soldiers just lay on our ground, with horrible smell, with horrible conditions. If you heard president say that dogs are eating these bodies, it is horrible, but it is true. And Russia does not take measures to stop it, to prevent it, to take bodies of their soldiers back home. Unfortunately, It is 21st century, but it's going on in the middle of Europe. So it is in the interest of the whole world that Russia to stop this fire and retain bodies of their soldiers from our territory and to release our territory from their army, take back home in Russia and Belarus.

BERMAN: Sergii, Sergii Leshchenko, as always, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much.

LESHCHENKO: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, much more on what could be an important development. Russia claims it will reduce military activity in two key Ukrainian cities. What is behind this? Even so, the bombing does continue. Ukraine says the Russians have hit a government building in one city, three people reportedly killed there. The new video ahead.

And back in the United States, brand-new reporting from "The Washington Post," on a seven-hour gap in President Trump's phone logs on the day of the January 6th insurrection. The House Select Committee is now investigating.



BERMAN: All right, I'm John Berman live in Lviv, in western Ukraine.

So, Russia just moments ago claimed that it will reduce military activity in two of the key cities that have been under heavy bombardment, Kyiv, the capital, but also Chernihiv, which has been encircled and in some ways devastated. The U.S. military confirms that Russian troops appear -- the Ukrainians -- well, I just spoke with Pentagon press spokesman John Kirby, who does say there is evidence that the Russians have stopped advancing on Kyiv.

Listen to this.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're not able to independently verify any withdrawal, however, we have seen over the last few days that the Russians stopped advancing on Kyiv. They certainly were trying to encircle it, couldn't do it, got pushed back to the east by 55 kilometers by the Ukrainians and then dug in in defensive positions to the north and northwest of Kyiv.

So, not seeing a withdraw, certainly can't verify that, what we have seen over the last couple of days is they have stop trying to advance on Kyiv. The Russians have a lot on their plate right now. I mean, they are, as we said, dug in around Kyiv, and maybe even moving in the opposite direction there. We don't know. Certainly, they got a reprioritization in the east and they have

stalled in the south. That's interesting because in the early days, that's where they were making the most progress. Now, the Ukrainians are clawing back territory in the south as well.

So they got their hands full on a lot of things, but we're watching that very, very closely because we want to make sure that this security assistance, these weapons and systems continue to get into the Ukrainians' hands so that they can use them on the battlefield.

Secretary Austin had a chance to meet and discuss this with his counterpart last week, when we were in Europe, and Minister Reznikov, the minister of defense, assured the secretary they're grateful for the stuff they're getting and that they are actually using it.


KEILAR: Joining us now to talk about this, we have the former ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, and Julia Ioffe, who is a founding partner and Washington correspondent for "puck ."

So, this just in, let's try to figure out what we can here about this. We heard from Kirby there, he said evidence that Russian troops stopped advancing on Kyiv. The Russian Ministry of Defense put out a telegram saying that they're drastically going to reduce military activity in Kyiv and Chernihiv, and the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine says that certain units are withdrawing from battle fronts in Kyiv and Chernihiv.

What is going on here?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Brianna, what we know is the Russians had a really hard time. That is the Ukrainians have done very well. Ukrainian military has outperformed any expectations.


And as Admiral Kirby said, they pushed back, they counterattacked and pushed the Russians away from Kyiv. So that is a very good sign. And if the Russians are now saying that they're going to reduce their activity around these two cities, Chernihiv and Kyiv, that's a good signal. We will believe it when that actually happens.

KEILAR: What do you think?

JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: Well, we're seeing evidence of this on the -- some evidence of this on the ground yesterday. We heard that the Ukrainian army pushed Russians out of Brovary and Irpin, I believe, and like the ambassador said, they outperformed in the same way that the Russians have underperformed.

I mean, everybody expected this to be a blitzkrieg, we now know that the Russian soldiers brought dress uniforms with them for military parade. They thought they would be blazing a path right to Kyiv in the first few days. And it's over -- it's been over a month now, they're stuck.

They can barely hold on to what they have. They're meeting fierce resistance from civilians. It is kind of incredible.

KEILAR: The question I would have, in looking at Chechnya as a model, is this Russia maybe finally kind of pulling back, regrouping, and just going to start up this meat grinder again or is it potentially a shift away from trying to take Kyiv, and perhaps it is too soon to know the answer to that.

TAYLOR: I agree. It is too soon to know the answer. We'll believe it when they actually pull back.

But they're doing badly. They're doing badly. Their military is not in good shape. They may be looking for some way to -- they already said they reduced their goals, their objectives and they're only looking at the east, they say.

If they indeed pull back, and continue to pull back, and don't do the Grozny model, there I the possibility there could be a negotiation.

KEILAR: So, if they're looking for a way to pull back, there are talks going on now in Istanbul, what are your expectations and maybe even hopes for what could come out of this?

IOFFE: Well, the hope is that they have figured out some kind of cease-fire and some kind of workable solution where they, you know, split the difference on what has been taken now.

But the issue is the Russians are saying, yes, we're pulling back from here, we're pulling back from there, but they're still sending cruise missiles to Lviv, which is in the far west of the country, and still fighting to keep the east. Mariupol is devastated, Chernihiv is encircled.

My worry is that like you said, that this is just a temporary -- they're taking a beat before they regroup because this is still so existential to Moscow. I was talking to a source in Moscow yesterday, and the way they see it for Moscow is they either win everything except the east and -- sorry, the west, and leave this land-locked western state or Russia is going to be the world's doormat.

So, I worry, even if they're not capable of it, I worry that they're going to just regroup and keep pushing forward.

TAYLOR: These negotiations, though, are talking about specific issues. And they're talking -- the Ukrainians in particular are talking about security guarantees. They're willing to think about an Austrian model that is in the E.U., but not in NATO, somewhat neutral, but they need guarantees from neighbors, and the United States, and Germany, and the Security Council members.

They need these guarantees, not just what they got in 1994 with the Budapest memorandum, which were assurances. No, they need guarantees. They need in law, they need in treaty.

KEILAR: They're seeing what assurances are worth right now.

IOFFE: Yeah. But it is also interesting, if they get guarantees, hypothetically speaking, right, that now does achieve the opposite of what Putin ostensibly wanted, right? It brings NATO and everything right to his doorstep because if they do get these guarantees, they have to be right there, right? So he doesn't really accomplish what he set out to do.

KEILAR: That's a question I have, because it isn't NATO, it is not NATO membership. But in a way, isn't it the kind of protections that Vladimir Putin is opposed to fundamentally anyways?

TAYLOR: He would be a signatory as well. He would have to sign up to be a guarantor as well. And you're right, it's no NATO, it is those guarantors, the NATO member guarantors as individual nations making those guarantees.

KEILAR: But let me ask you this real quick, as a signator to protect Ukraine against what? In the case like Poland invades or --

TAYLOR: Exactly. If anyone invades the other nations, the other guarantors will be on the ground, on the ground, and in the air to defend Ukraine.

KEILAR: They have so far to go. I think that is what is so clear about these talks. They have so much to work out. Maybe they can work out something on humanitarian corridors.

Julia, Ambassador, always great to have you both. Thank you so much.

A top White House economic adviser warns Russia's invasion may reinforce inflation back here in the U.S.


And we have some more on this breaking news, the Russian ministry of defense saying that it will drastically reduce military activity on two key battlefronts. How is Ukraine responding? We'll check in ahead.


KEILAR: Consumers around the world are paying a price for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And now a White House economist says the war may worsen the already high prices in the U.S.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joining us now with more.

Felt like we saw this coming, and here it is this key acknowledgement.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Until Russia's invasion of Ukraine, issue number one for this White House was fighting rising inflation, right? Inflation running at a 40- year high, and then Putin's war comes in. Now disrupting supply lines, gray markets and global energy supplies.

A top White House economic adviser Cecelia Rouse thinks the war in Ukraine could accelerate inflation in the near term.


CECILIA ROUSE, CHAIR, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: This may well put upward pressure on energy and food prices. That in turn could reinforce inflation, which was already an issue prior to the invasion due to the pandemic, supply chain constraints and a strong demand --