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Explosions in Kyiv, Chernihiv Hours after Russia Claims 'Reduction'; Chernihiv's Mayor is Interviewed about Recent Russian Attacks; DOJ's Investigation into Hunter Biden Picking Up Steam; Trump Urges Putin to Release Dirt on President Biden; Former U.K. Prime Minister Cameron is Interviewed about Ukraine War. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, March 30. I'm John Berman in Lviv in Western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

We do begin with breaking news. Explosions overnight across Ukraine, despite Russia's claim that it is scaling back the war. A skeptical West, a skeptical Ukraine calling for more action and less talk from the Kremlin.

Just last night, artillery and rocket fire heard in Kyiv. A senior Ukrainian official tells CNN, quote, "No areas without sirens overnight."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says, quote, "Don't be fooled" by Russian forces pulling back from the capital.

And just moments ago, I spoke to the mayor of Chernihiv. This is one of the areas where Russia specifically said it would be scaling back operations. The mayor of that city told me Russia is full of lies. Not only are they not reducing their military actions, he says, they're actually increasing the intensity of the strikes. More on what he just saw, ahead.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Now, there is no question, Russia's attacks on civilians are accelerating. You can just look at these images here, these graphic images, the first that we have seen in weeks from the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

It is unrecognizable. It is an apocalyptic wasteland, with bodies, as you saw there, lying in the streets.

More of the same in the port city of Mariupol. New satellite images showing entire city blocks, homes and buildings obliterated. With all the communication systems in the city knocked out, these satellite images are the first to come out of central Mariupol that were not provided by Russia's propaganda machine.

Over four million Ukrainians are now refugees, more than half of them finding their way to Poland, at least for now.

Let's go live to Kyiv and bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen.

Fred, what are you seeing?


The same scene, basically, that we've had overnight, as well. There's just massive shelling going on on the outskirts of Kyiv. And, you know, last night it was really -- it seemed like a massive artillery battle that was going back and forth between the Ukrainians and the Russians.

Of course, despite Russia saying that it's drawing down some forces here in Kyiv and stopping some of the operations here, it certainly seemed to us as though there was an escalation, if anything else.

We were in touch, actually, with the authorities in -- in that part of Kyiv where that fighting is going on. And they also said that the shelling there still remains intense. It's almost impossible to go anywhere there.

And they say that the Russians aren't withdrawing. They think that it's more of a repositioning that the Russian forces are doing. And they're doing so because the Ukrainian forces are so strong and the Russians cannot advance.

One of the interesting things that we did yesterday, Brianna, is we actually -- the Russians made this announcement, that they were going to stop some of their military operation both around this area and around Chernihiv. I know John has that interview. I'm really looking forward to listening to it, with the mayor of Chernihiv.

We actually went out to areas close to the front line, and there was just shelling going on the entire time.

But soldiers that we met at a -- at a defense checkpoint, a territorial defense checkpoint, they told us that they had seen an uptick in shelling coming from the Russian side. And they believe that either there might be some sort of scorched-earth tactic going on, or perhaps that maybe the Russians were indeed covering a partial withdrawal from the area.

But again, the Ukrainians are saying if Russia is moving forces out, it certainly isn't to create trust with the Ukrainians. It's because the Ukrainians are simply beating them on the battlefield, Brianna.

BERMAN: Yes. Fred, that's the real question. Right? I don't think there's any doubt that the intensity of shelling increased overnight all over the country. But especially where you are.

Is it possible that they were shooting things in from afar as they are actually moving boots on the ground further away, or at least repositioning them?


BERMAN: Is there any way to tell?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know what, I actually posed that question to two officials today. One is from the military. And the other one from the interior ministry here in Ukraine.

And both them said that they did see -- indeed see some units of the Russian military move towards Belarus. They say that's the intelligence that they have. They obviously say it's way too early to tell whether or not that is a significant move or a large move.

But certainly, it could be the case that some of that intense shelling might be the Russians possibly repositioning some forces, maybe pulling out some forces and covering that with some very heavy artillery strikes.

Certainly, what we saw yesterday, what we heard yesterday just seemed to us as though it was massive fire to try and deny terrain, if anything else, or to stop others from fighting back. None of that seemed very targeted. All of that seemed to be massive barrages.

And certainly, the Ukrainians are saying that the Russians have made absolutely no territorial gains around this area at all over the past hours and certainly, also, over the past days.

So it could be the case. But again, the Ukrainians are saying they don't believe that it is any sort of withdrawal by Russian forces. If anything, they believe it could be a repositioning.

And you know, it's something that we've been talking about, the Russians saying, even, that they want to bolster their forces in the southeast of the country.

But whether or not they're going to use the forces that are here, whether or not they're bringing them out for other reasons, it really is very difficult to tell.

But certainly, you can definitely that tell there is something very significant going on here and that the Russians certainly are shooting a lot more than they have been over the past week or so.

KEILAR: Fred, what can you tell us about these new images that are coming out of Irpin?

PLEITGEN: Yes, you know, it's -- it's absolutely awful. I mean, you alluded to it a little bit as you were leading into our segment here.

Irpin is the frontline town, really, in the Northwest of Kyiv. And that's where a lot of the fighting took place. And we can see it here on our screens. You know, unfortunately, dead bodies there in the streets. Probably have been there for a considerable amount of time. All those cars destroyed; buildings completely flattened.

[06:05:10] And that also meshes with what we've been hearing from the Ukrainian military and what we've also been seeing in other frontline towns where we -- that we visited, where the residents there and the Ukrainian military say the Russians haven't been able to advance and instead are firing into those areas from a longer range. And you can see, you know, just the utter devastation that all of that is causing.

There were, apparently, some residents that stayed behind. The Ukrainians tried to evacuate most of them. You'll remember those -- those images of that bridge in Irpin that the Ukrainians blew up to try and stop the Russians from advancing.

After that, the Ukrainians managed to push the Russians back. For all this past week, they said they had about 80 percent of Irpin. Now, they say they have all of it.

But we have been in touch with them this morning, and they say it's just far too dangerous to enter that area, or for civilians to come back, because there are still mines around there. There's unexploded bombs around there. And there is still all the shelling going on around that area of Kyiv, as well, guys.

KEILAR: Yes. They may have it back, but at what cost? It is incredible, these pictures. Fred, thank you so much.

BERMAN: So as as we were just discussing, Russia claims it will reduce its military operations around Kyiv, where you just saw Fred.

And also Chernihiv. This is northeast of the capital. But Chernihiv's mayor says that's a flat-out lie and that the Russians have instead increased the intensity of the strikes. He joined me moments ago about what he is actually seeing, living through on the ground.


BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, once again you join us. And you're standing in front of rubble. What is that surrounding you?

VLADYSLAV ATROSHENKO, MAYOR OF CHERNIHIV (through translator): Hello. I'm standing in the center of Chernihiv at the crossing of two main avenues. And one avenue is called Peace Avenue, and the other is Victory Avenue. And I'm standing at the crossing, and behind me is what used to be Hotel Ukraine. It sustained an attack from the Russian forces.

BERMAN: Mayor, Russian officials, the Russian defense ministry says it's going to reduce the intensity of operations, military operations around Chernihiv. What change have you seen, if any, over the last 24 hours?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies. They are saying about reducing intensity. They actually have increased the intensity of strikes.

Today we've had a colossal mortar attack on the center of Chernihiv. Twenty-five people have been wounded and are now in hospital. They're all civilians.

So whenever Russia says something, this needs to be checked carefully. They're saying, for example, they're calling this war a special operation. That's a lie.

Russia says that it is fighting the Ukrainian armed forces. That's another lie, because Russia is deliberately exterminating civilians.

And all -- all conscious Americans must know Russia -- this is important -- Russia is deliberately exterminating civilians. They're attacking residential districts from a height of 250 meters in no -- almost no cloud. They can see that they're bombing residential areas.

When they're shelling the center of Chernihiv, there has never been any military facility in the center of Chernihiv. This is all a lie. They're always lying. And when they are saying they're reducing the intensity, they're actually increasing it.

BERMAN: So you haven't seen any Russian troops leaving over the last 24 hours?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): So there are no -- there have not been any troops in Chernihiv itself. Chernihiv remains under Ukrainian control and has always been.

I do have information that troops stationed, or troops around the perimeter of Chernihiv are withdrawing. But I only have this information from the media sources, from information sources, because we haven't actually physically seen Russian troops on the ground in Chernihiv.

Chernihiv is being defended by the Ukrainian armed forces, so they have not let Russian troops in. So I'm just informed that they are withdrawing, but I haven't seen them physically

BERMAN: What would it take for you to trust these Russian promises?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): There must be an agreement, a legally-binding agreement, which must be ratified by the countries' -- by the parliaments of the countries that are signing this agreement.

And this text must contain the right of Ukraine to defend itself with modern weapons. And this is the only condition that will secure peace in Ukraine.


BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, before I let you go, do you have enough food? Do you have enough supplies? How are you feeding the people in your city?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): So the city is suffering from a humanitarian catastrophe. There are about 100, 110,000 remaining in the city. That's out of 290,000 before the war. And they are remaining here consciously, and they are working to provide -- to keep life going in the city and providing for the critical work of the critical -- the critical infrastructure. But this is happening within a real war and an encirclement. So the

city is now encircled by Russian troops. And so the logistics in the city is very difficult.

We -- at the moment, we need food and medication. We have enough to last us for another week, 10 days at most. And the logistics of supplying the city is extremely difficult.

So I am very worried about this. But I am hoping that we will work with the Ukrainian army to somehow provide for the city.

BERMAN: Mayor, stay safe. I wish you better days ahead.

ATROSHENKO: Thank you.


BERMAN: The mayor of Chernihiv, with only a week to ten days of food left, says right now he believes the Russians are lying. He says they have intensified their attacks the last 24 hours. He certainly hopes to see signs of them fulfilling that promise to reduce the intensity of action around his city.

Overnight, the State Department reissuing its travel advisories for Ukraine and Russia, for Americans traveling in Ukraine and Russia. There are new warnings to Americans about what Russia might be doing.

And new CNN reporting that a federal investigation of the president's son, Hunter Biden, is heating up. What prosecutors are now focusing on.



KEILAR: Brand-new CNN reporting this morning. A Justice Department investigation on Hunter Biden, the president's son, has intensified over the last several months.

This probe began as early as 2018 and concerns that Hunter Biden's business dealings in foreign countries like Ukraine here are really the topic of concern, while his father was serving as vice president.

Sources telling CNN that President Biden is not being investigated in relation to his son's dealings.

Let's talk about this now with CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez and CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Just lay out what we know, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the investigation that the Justice Department has been doing since 2018 has intensified in the last few months.

I certainly was working on this last year; checked in with witnesses; didn't hear much. And suddenly, in the last -- certainly, in the last several months, there's been a burst of activity, including witnesses going before a grand jury in Delaware, which is investigating Biden and Associates.

And we know that additional witnesses are being called in to talk to investigators in the coming weeks.

Now, we don't know. He hasn't been charged yet. But among the things we know is that investigators are looking into whether Hunter Biden and Associates committed crimes, including money laundering, tax crimes and violations of foreign lobbying laws.

A lot of the activity appears to focus right now on his work with Burisma, which is a Ukrainian energy company, and some of its activities in the United States to try to figure out what the U.S. government knew about Burisma.

There was some criticism during the Obama administration of the company, and they hired a company called Blue Star Strategies to try to suss out what -- you know, what the U.S. government thought of the company. And it appears to be that's where a lot of the investigative activity is going on.

But -- but Brianna, this is an investigation that has covered the waterfront on Hunter Biden's life. Everything from an incident where a gun he purchased was tossed into a -- a Dumpster in Wilmington, potentially a violation, because Hunter Biden has said that he struggled with substance abuse problems. You're not allowed to buy a gun while you are doing drugs, for instance.

So there's a lot of issues that the Justice Department is looking into, including, of course, this laptop that, on the right wing, has featured a lot of -- a lot of stories about Hunter Biden. We know the FBI has possession of it and that they believe it is his laptop, that the contents of it are his. The question of -- of whether this is relevant to the investigation, we don't know.

KEILAR: How significant is this, John?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it seems pretty clear that Hunter Biden was trading on his father's name to make a lot of money. He's had a difficult life.

But until you make -- someone makes a nexus between what Hunter Biden has done and official activities of Vice President Biden or President Biden, it's a not pretty picture, but it's not really of much public import in terms of the policy of the United States or the administration of the government.

And the fact that an investigation has been sustained during the Biden administration is an indication that the government is working on this subject. And we'll see what the results are.

So far, there is zero evidence that Vice President Biden or President Biden has done anything wrong in connection with what Hunter Biden has done. KEILAR: It's an important distinction.

I want to ask you about something. Look, President Trump, he still has rallies. He still says things. Some of them are out there, and we don't always give them oxygen.


But he said something that I think we really do have to pay attention to. At this point in time, Russia is in the middle of an unprovoked war against Ukraine. And the former president said this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why did the mayor of Moscow's wife give the Bidens, both of them, $3.5 million? That's a lot of money. She gave them $3.5 million. So now I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer.


KEILAR: He's calling on Putin to release the dirt, which is something he's done before in the past.


KEILAR: At this point in time, John.

HARWOOD: Brianna, Donald Trump is mentally unwell in a way that makes him interested exclusively in what benefits him. Distinctions between true/false; right/wrong; America's friends, America's enemies are irrelevant to Donald Trump.

Russia has helped him financially and politically over the years. And he has aligned himself with Vladimir Putin.

This is significant, not just because he was president, but he's the leader of one of America's two political parties. He might be president again.

And this is a moment of moral clarity, when Vladimir Putin is slaughtering thousands of people in Ukraine, for Republicans who do care about the difference between right, wrong; true, false; America's friends and America's enemies to reflect on whether this is the person they want to attach their party to.

The -- again, there is no evidence that Vice President Biden or President Biden has done anything wrong. But we know that Donald Trump has aligned himself for years with Vladimir Putin. And Vladimir Putin is the butcher in this war that's going on right now.

PEREZ: Let me just add real quick. You know, the role of former President Trump and Rudy Giuliani and some of these people to try to make Hunter Biden a part of the 2020 election actually ended up hurting their efforts. If they really wanted an investigation of Hunter Biden, if they wanted Hunter Biden to go to prison, one of the worst things they did was to inject politics into this.

For instance, Bill Barr, the former attorney general, had to try to make sure the stuff that Rudy Giuliani was saying -- he said he had all this evidence -- he had to try to make it -- send it to another U.S. attorney's office to keep it out of the realm of what he believed to be a legitimate investigation.

So it's one of the interesting things about this, is that they're so focused on Hunter Biden and, in some ways, have made it more difficult for this investigation to be untainted, for it to be legitimate, for it to be -- to be brought forward, if there is something there to be brought forward.

KEILAR: Ironically, it may be more legitimately brought forward under President Biden.

PEREZ: Right.

KEILAR: And that is -- that is a pretty interesting point there.

Evan, John, thank you so much to both of you.

Vladimir Putin belongs in front of a war crimes tribunal. That from former British Prime Minister David Cameron, who will join us live on what he says the West needs to do to stop the Russian leader.



BERMAN: I'm John Berman, live in Western Ukraine.

Russia claims it is reducing its military activity in certain locations. Ukrainian leaders, for now, calling that lies.

Joining me is someone who has had firsthand experience with Vladimir Putin and his relationship with the truth, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron.

So nice to have you with us, sir. You say you have personal experience with Vladimir Putin lying to your face. Explain.

DAVID CAMERON, FORMER U.K. PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, John. It's good to be with you.

Yes, I do. I mean, I had many dealings with Putin over six years as prime minister of the United Kingdom, and there were at least two occasions where he just flat-out lied.

I remember, one was him lying about the presence of Russian troops in the Donbas in 2014. Another occasion was about the fate of the Malaysian airliner, MAS-17, that was shot down over Ukraine.

And these were sort of two occasions where I just remember coming away from the conversation, checking the facts, and knowing that he had actually flat-out lied. And so I think that what the British prime minister has said, what others have said after Putin's remarks that they are going to withdraw partially from Kyiv, I would, you know, judge them by their deeds, do not believe their words. And that it must be the right approach.

BERMAN: So given Putin's record with the truth; given your own personal experiences, you also believe that Russia should be removed from the G-20. Explain why.

CAMERON: Well, what we did in 2014 is we effectively threw Russia out of the G-8. It was unthinkable after the -- what he did with Crimea and in the Donbas that we were going to sit around a table with him and discuss the, you know, important issues the world was facing.

And of course, this is going to happen again, if we're not careful. The G-20 meets in Indonesia this fall. And my argument is that America, and Britain and the European Union countries and others should say now there is absolutely no way we will attend the G-20 if Putin is invited and is able to come.

It is unthinkable for, you know, an American president to have to sit next to someone who is effectively a war criminal, who is indiscriminately bombing and shelling civilians in their homes and schools and hospitals. It should be unthinkable.