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Is World Spinning Wheels On War Crime Accountability For Putin?; U.S. Ambassador To U.N. Observes Refugee Situation in Moldova; Why Putin Is Winning The Propaganda War In Russia. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 05, 2022 - 07:30   ET



LEILA SADAT, SPECIAL ADVISER ON CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY TO THE ICC PROSECUTOR (via Skype): And so it was very, very difficult to get this kind of unity that we now have, that these crimes are the worst crimes we know to humanity as a whole, and that there is an absolute mandate to go forward and make sure that they are investigated and prosecuted.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Well, what happens to Putin personally -- nothing?

SADAT: Well, it's complicated. He is a head of state. He is a sovereign in his own state.

We've seen in other situations like the conflict in the former Yugoslavia where Slobodan Milosevic was ultimately indicted. He wasn't indicted at the very beginning of the war; he was indicted a couple of years into -- actually, many years into the war. And ultimately, once the indictment happened, it wasn't that NATO marched into Belgrade and captured former president Slobodan Milosevic. It was that his own people actually arrested him and held him. And ultimately, he was turned over to the Yugoslavia tribunal for trial.

We've seen the same pattern with Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan who fought an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for many, many years but ultimately, was brought down inside Sudan and arrested by his own population.

What we've seen is that the atrocity crimes -- what we call war crimes -- crimes against humanity and genocide -- they are almost always accompanied by financial crimes, by corruption -- by other crimes that ironically, sometimes are more problematic for the state in which they are occurring.

And so, President Putin -- there will be a triangulation, obviously, of international action and, at some point, probably action within the Russian Federation itself, and he will face justice. But it takes patience, it takes perseverance, and it's really kind of an all-hands- on-deck moment right now.

KEILAR: All right, Leila Sadat. I really appreciate your insight. Thank you so much.

SADAT: Thank you so much, and thank you -- KEILAR: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy --

Yes, thank you, and our correspondents on the ground are going to keep that up, of course.

President Zelenskyy now casting doubt on the possibility of meeting with Vladimir Putin after accusing Russia of genocide. He toured Bucha yesterday. Where negotiations could be going from here.

And more on our breaking news. People in eastern Ukraine being told to stay inside right now after a Russian strike on a tank of nitric acid. Stand by for that.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A little bit later this morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the U.N. Security Council. He is expected to demand Russia be held accountable for the mass killings in Bucha, which he has called war crimes and genocide.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is calling for Russia's removal from the Human Rights Council and has been on a tour of Moldova visiting refugees who have endured weeks of Russian attacks.

CNN's Bianna Golodryga went on that trip to Moldova where you were born --


BERMAN: -- and joins us now.

GOLODRYGA: It was surreal. I haven't been back in 35 years.

And I was asked to accompany the secretary and the ambassador and gladly went, of course. And this was a mission where she wanted to just express U.S. sympathy and solidarity with this country -- a poor, neutral country, right -- not under NATO, right, and the security there. And also, the poorest country in Europe.

So the U.S. was going to pledge about $50 million in their continued effort to help these Ukrainians coming in. So many of them have families there. But they've clearly inundated this besieged country of only 2 1/2 million residents.

So we visited Moldova and then neighboring Romania -- obviously, a member of NATO but still concerned about Russia's aggression. And all of this, of course, was overshadowed by the horrible scenes out of Bucha.


LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We're going to see Russia's suspension from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., addressing the horrifying images out of Bucha.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): Do you think you're going to get the two- thirds needed?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I know we're going to get it.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): Sergey Lavrov, foreign secretary of Russia, and Dmitry Peskov have both called what the U.S. and what the world has seen as lies. How do you expect to respond to your counterpart at the U.N. who will likely say the same?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, he's said that time and time again when we have exposed their actions, and we will continue to expose them for the liars that they are. They told us that we were seeing actors -- dead bodies acting. So, I expect that I will hear that in the Security Council. No one will believe them. And we will continue to isolate and expose them in the Security Council and around the world.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): Do you expect that China will believe them?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can't speak for the Chinese. I would hope that the Chinese will see what we're seeing and also join us in condemning these horrific actions.

Hi, how are you?


GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Six weeks into Russia's war in Ukraine, CNN accompanied Thomas-Greenfield as she toured refugee sites in Romania and Moldova. Just over a million Ukrainians have flooded into these countries to the West -- 90% of them women and children.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): What made you decide to come to Moldova?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I have been watching the news reports of refugees crossing borders into Poland. And as I looked at the map, Moldova is the smallest country, it's the poorest country, and per capita, it's taking the most refugees. So I felt it was important to come here to thank them.


GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Nearly 400,000 refugees have crossed Moldova's border with Ukraine since the war began, and 120,000 of those remain in the country of only about 2 1/2 million people. Each one of them with a story, a history, a life abruptly uprooted and left behind.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: What messages do you want me to carry back?

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Like 19-year-old Lena Mincheva. She and her mother left her home in Mykolaiv nearly one month ago, leaving behind her grandmother and boyfriend.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): It's been almost a month since you've left. LENA MINCHEVA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE IN MOLDOVA: Yes, it's crazy.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): What has this been like for you?

MINCHEVA: It's been so challenging because first -- like, my first emotions, I didn't really have them. Because everything was so fast and quickly I couldn't really understand myself. But then, I thought that maybe I shouldn't have left -- I shouldn't have left.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): Why?

MINCHEVA: Because I don't have any children and I'm young and I could help more. I could have helped more if I stayed in Ukraine.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): We also met 74-year-old grandmother Valentina (ph) from the nearby port city of Odessa.

VALENTINA: (Speaking foreign language).

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): She left behind her daughter and grandson who refused to leave the country. She worries about the recent Russian bombing in Odessa but also says that she's so appreciative of how Moldova has opened its borders and arms to people like her.

What Moldova doesn't have to offer is much financial assistance, which is one of the reasons for the ambassador to visit.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We will be announcing an additional $50 million in support to Moldova for their efforts supporting refugees here.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): But Moldova needs more than just financial support.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): What more can the U.S. do and is willing to do to support this country, not just financially but its own security.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I will be meeting with the president and the prime minister later today and that will be part of the discussion I will have with them in terms of what else can we do to give more confidence about your security, to address the problems that you might foresee in the future. And I will take that back to Washington and share it with other cabinet officials to see how we can better support them.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Moldova's prime minister acknowledged Russia's presence along the breakaway region of Transnistria but says that, for now, their intelligence shows no signs of additional Russian troop buildup.

Thomas-Greenfield's final stop was in Romania where some 600,000 Ukrainian refugees have come through the main train station in the city's capital of Bucharest since Russia's invasion.

Unlike Moldova, Romania is a member of NATO and thus, is protected by the organization's Article 5 charter. Still, signs of concern and vulnerability are becoming increasingly evident. GOLODRYGA (on camera): Starting this month, I just read that here in

Romania, those under the age of 40 will be given iodine pills in anticipation. This is Romania, a NATO nation protected under NATO -- a member of the EU.

What does that tell you about the trepidation and fear among European allies?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I mean, it just tells you how much fear people have and what they know Putin is capable of. And so, that's why we have to stay unified in our efforts to stop him from going any further.


GOLODRYGA: And John, as you mentioned earlier, President Zelenskyy will be addressing the U.N. Security Council later this morning. One thing of note, though. Russia is a permanent member, right? And so, we're not expecting Russia to acknowledge any of the atrocities that we see with our own eyes. But I would expect to see a very emotional and defiant President Zelenskyy, as we have seen.

And just to go back to that Romanian story of people being given iodine pills. I met a woman -- a reporter there who was talking to me who just opened her purse and showed me her pills in her bag. I mean, this is the world they're dealing with right now.

BERMAN: And what a world it is.

Bianna Golodryga, also very special you got to go back to the country you were born in with the U.S. ambassador. Thank you so much for that report.

The Pentagon issuing a very specific and candid warning about where Vladimir Putin is heading next and how long this war could last. Plus, why Putin may actually be winning the propaganda war inside Russia.



BERMAN: Putin's forces may be hitting roadblocks on the ground in Ukraine but our next guest argues he may be winning the propaganda war at home.

I want to bring in Julia Ioffe, founding partner and Washington correspondent of Puck. And Julia, I'm so excited you're here because I was reading your reporting, along with that of Russian journalist Farida Rustamova last week. I actually had a chance to speak with her.

And I think it paints a different picture than Americans might think of what's happening inside Russia, or at least hope what's happening inside Russia. I think here, we'd like to believe oh, the Russians must understand that this is an unjust war. That's not what's happening at this point, is it, Julia? JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: No, it's not and the reason for it is on one hand, quite simple. This is what happens when you monopolize -- when the Russian government monopolizes the entire media space. There is no more independent journalism in Russia. There was very little left before the war. Now, there is basically none.

And so, this caps off 22 years of Vladimir Putin and his government taking over the media directly or pushing any media that disagrees with them to the margins where fewer and fewer people can see it. And normal people, if you just -- if this is all you're hearing and you have no counter-messaging, it's very natural to start to believe it, especially if it's happening for years and years and years.


BERMAN: One of the things we're seeing is his approval rating is up in the polls. People think that Russia is on the right track. Those numbers going up as well.

How else is it manifesting itself among the Russian people right now?

IOFFE: Well, it's hard to trust the polls because we saw a similar effect in 2014 when the situation was significantly freer but at the time, felt terrifying to a lot of Russians who disagreed with Russia's invasion of Ukraine then and the annexation of Crimea. And what happened, according to a lot of pollsters, is that people who disagreed with the government's position would just duck out of participating in polls.

I mean, polls have problems here in the states as well, and we have a pretty fair -- or a pretty open society. Maybe not as fair as we'd like.

But what they said was people who disagreed would just not answer the phone or just say no, I don't want to participate. Whereas, people who did agree -- who were very much on board with what the government was doing were happy to share their enthusiasm with pollsters. So it skewed the numbers a bit.

And it seems like we're seeing that effect now as well as a kind of rallying around the flag in wartime, plus the fact that sanctions often have this effect of -- you know, when outsiders destroy your economy. People tend to blame the outsiders and not the actions of the government that brought the punishment, to begin with.

BERMAN: Julia, you say at the beginning of the conflict --

IOFFE: And then --

BERMAN: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.


BERMAN: But at the beginning of the conflict there were the anti-war -- IOFEE: No, go ahead.

BERMAN: -- there were the anti-war protests in Russia that maybe should have rattled Putin a little bit.

But you suggest now what he probably fears most is pro-war demonstrators. Why?

IOFFE: There are still -- to be clear, there are still anti-war protesters going out in the streets and over 15,000 Russians have been arrested, which is very brave given the extreme punishments they are facing.

But the reason people say that Putin might be worried about pro-war protests is because he has been so successful in brainwashing and propagandizing to his people. He has been telling them for months that the goal of Russia is to dismember Ukraine, to change its government, to win back land to Russia. To make it cease existing in the form it existed before the war.

And now that it seems like Russia may be dropping some of its demands -- we'll see if they really are but there were hints of it at last week's negotiations. There was a huge outcry, including among people who were very public, very loyal, very important, including the head of Chechnya, the head of Russia Today saying publicly that we shouldn't stop until total victory. That this is unacceptable. That, you know, if we're fighting Nazis we have to go all the way.

BERMAN: It is something to behold at this point.

Julia Ioffe, we're so glad to have you on to help us understand what is happening inside Russia. We'll speak to you again soon.

All right, the breaking news, a nitric acid tank hit by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. Residents now being advised to stay inside. Plus, torture rooms, executions, kidnapping. What villagers of the southern city of Mykolaiv are saying about the Russian occupation of that city.



KEILAR: President Biden calling for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin after images of atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces surfaced from the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

John Avlon joins us with a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We need to talk about war crimes. That's what President Biden accused Russia of committing as horrific images of civilians and mass graves and bodies strewn along the streets of Bucha come to light.

And let's be clear. The deliberate targeting of unarmed civilians is a war crime by any definition. The evidence being collected could one day lead to a war crimes trial at the Hague for Vladimir Putin and his commanders.

But true to form, the Kremlin is trying to say that it's all fabricated -- a false flag operation. Satellite images prove otherwise. Truth is always a target in Russia's way of war.

Now, some people think that prosecuting war crimes is like giving out tickets at the Indy 500, as Captain Willard says in "Apocalypse Now."

But the rules of war exist for a reason. They've been hard-won. And it might surprise you to learn that they were handed down to us by none other than this guy, Abraham Lincoln. It's true. He issued the first modern rules of war known as General Orders 100 in the spring of 1863 as the Civil War was turning to its bloodiest chapter.

Now, the drafting was done by an oppression immigrant law professor named Frances Lieber who believed that warring soldiers do not cease to be moral beings responsible to one another and to God. His rules proposed protections for prisoners and unarmed civilians. Prohibiting the wanton destruction of whole districts. They prohibited the use of poison, torture, rape, and assassination and called them war crimes.

Now, Lincoln and Lieber understood that without a battlefield code of conduct, healing the wounds of war would be even more difficult. And these rules endured to inform the Geneva Conventions, as well as the Nuremberg trials, imposing law on the lawless with evidence presented to the world aiming to make denial of war crimes more difficult in the future.

Now those denials are being pushed by Putin's apparatchiks in a world where many thought that a land war in Europe was a thing of the past. But this brutal invasion has been a wake-up call. It's a reminder of just why the international organizations established by America and its allies after the Second World War are so necessary, but it doesn't mean they all work as intended.

And here's where it's worth taking a clear-eyed look at the U.N. Human Rights Council. It's an important sounding body, right, given that the U.N. charter is dedicated to the defense of human rights. But in their attempt to be inclusive the council has a record of letting some countries with extensive alleged human rights abuses sit on the council. This includes Venezuela, China, Cuba, and, you guessed it, Russia.

Now, the Biden administration is pushing to suspend the Kremlin from the Human Rights Council. Its participation is just too sick a joke to sustain. Now, some folks will look at this and Russia's permanent seat on the Security Council and say that the United Nations itself is hopelessly compromised, and that's short-sided. For all its flaws, the world is far better off with the U.N. than without it.

Now it doesn't mean that America shouldn't look to build additional alliances between democracies or Atlantic trading partners. In this contrast between democracy and autocracy, we need the combined strength of liberal democracies to stand up for the rule of law because that's what's also been assaulted in Putin's invasion of Ukraine. [08:00:00]