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Ukrainian Forces Claim Successful Missile Attack on Russian Ship in Black Sea; U.S. Cabinet Level Official to Visit Kyiv, Ukraine; Russia Military Forces in Ukraine Put Under Unitary Command; U.S. to Continue Providing Military Aid to Ukraine to Combat Russian Invasion; NYC Attack Suspect to Appear in Court Today After Capture. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Omar Jimenez for us in Grand Rapids. Omar, keep us posted.

NEW DAY continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. It is Thursday, April 14th, and I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York. A large-scale assault on the Donbas region could be just days or even hours away, according to French military officials. The Kremlin clearly stating that its mission in Donbas is to conquer it as we reach the 50th day of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Kyiv could also be targeted. The Russian military threatening to strike Ukrainian decision-making centers including those in the capital. There are contradicting reports this morning as well about a critically important Russian warship in the Black Sea that has suffered heavy damage. The Kremlin says there was a fire on board its flagship vessel. The Ukrainians claim they hit the ship with a missile attack.

BERMAN: The Ukrainians just released new images purporting to show a special forces operation that blew up a bridge in the Kharkiv region as a group of Russian military vehicles heading to Donbas was crossing it. Ukraine says armored cars and trucks there were destroyed.

Russia is also releasing video, which aired on Russian state TV, so consider the source, claiming to show that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines surrendered in Mariupol. Ukraine has denied the report. CNN cannot verify the claim.

Ahead of Russia's anticipated attack on the Donbas region, President Biden just unveiled an $800 million security package for Ukraine, that includes anti-tank Javelins, military helicopters. And this morning CNN has learned that the U.S. is thinking about sending a high ranking official to Ukraine. We're told President Biden and Vice President Harris are unlikely choices, but perhaps the secretary of state or defense secretary. We also have new details this morning on the arrest of a suspect from

the New York City subway attack. We'll get to that in a moment. First, back to Brianna in Ukraine.

KEILAR: And joining us now is Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. Sir, great to have you on, thank you so much. And first, if you can just tell us what you know about this Russian warship. The Ukrainians say they hit it. Russia says it was a fire. Do you know which it is?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Actually, we're not quite exactly sure what happened here. We do assess that there was an explosion, at least one explosion, on this cruiser, a fairly major one at that, that has caused extensive damage to the ship. We assess that the ship is able to make its own way and it is doing that. It's heading more towards now we think the east. We think it is going to be putting in at probably Sevastopol for repairs. But we don't know what actually caused that, Brianna. The ship was operating with a few other Russian naval vessels about 60 miles south of Odessa. The explosion was sizable enough that we picked up indications that other naval vessels around her tried to come to her assistance eventually. That wasn't apparently needed.

So she's making her own way now across the Black Sea, and we'll continue to try to monitor this as best we can.

KEILAR: But you're a Navy man. Would this be unusual for there to be a fire caused on that ship to this degree that would not have been from a missile or a strike?

KIRBY: I'll tell you, I spent quite a bit of time on ships myself. There's lots of things that can explode on Navy warships that can cause extensive, major damage. Certainly, it could have been damage from some external force, like a missile or a attack of some kind, a torpedo, something like that. But it could also be something that happens inside the skin of ship. An engineering fire, fuel fire. You just don't know. So, again, I think we need to try to get more information as time goes on. It is certainly possible that it got hit by a missile, but it's also certainly possible that it could be something completely just internal to the workings of the ship itself.

KEILAR: Is the U.S. going to object if Turkey allows, because it does control the entrance there to the Black Sea, allows Russia to bring in a replacement for this ship?

KIRBY: Look, I think the government of Turkey has been very responsible in how they managed their responsibilities, as you put it, the entry into and the exit from the Black Sea. And we appreciate the transparency with which they have been doing that. They take their responsibilities under international law very, very seriously. And I think they've also have been actually tangible supporters of Ukraine's fight here in providing them some unmanned aerial vehicles as well. So we would leave it to Turkey to make these decisions. Our sense is that they have been responsible doing that in the past.

[08:05:00] KEILAR: Russian state media airing allegedly footage showing Ukrainian marines surrendering in Mariupol. Is Mariupol still under at least partial control of Ukrainian forces or has it fallen to the Russians?

KIRBY: Our assessment this morning, Brianna, is that it is still being contested, that the Ukrainians have not lost Mariupol and the Russians have not succeeded in taking Mariupol. Look, it's ugly fighting. You guys have seen that for yourself. The images coming out of there are pretty stark. Certainly, it is still being fought over, and it is important to both sides. Obviously, it's Ukrainian, so they, of course, want to hang on to this very important port city.

But the Russians, you can see that they want it based on where it is, at the bottom of the Donbas and the eastern area of Ukraine. It would be vital for them if they, in fact, do want to cut off the Donbas area and try to occupy that in a more aggressive way. So, again, we still assess that it is being contested, and that's one of the reasons why we're signing out another package of $800 million of security assistance to go to Ukraine so that they can better defend themselves.

KEILAR: We spoke to a top aide to the government here. He thinks Lloyd Austin is coming. That is the cabinet level official coming to Ukraine. Is that right?

KIRBY: I have no travel for the secretary to talk to today, nothing to announce, nothing to speak to.

KEILAR: OK. The French are saying Russia's launching an offensive, this huge offensive here in the next few days in Donbas. Is that the Pentagon's timetable?

KIRBY: We're not sure exactly when a major offensive in the Donbas is going to occur. I would just tell you a couple of things. One, the Donbas has been fought over, as you know, for eight years. There have been Russian forces inside the Donbas for that long. It has been a hot war. Ukrainians have lost and suffered casualties over these eight years. This is terrain that both sides understand and know well.

Number two, the Russians are, and we're seeing it actively trying to reinforce their already sizable number of forces in the Donbas, coming out of the north. You can see it. You've seen there is a convoy coming. We know they are refitting and resupplying forces that were dedicated to Kyiv and now are being moved across Belarus and into the areas north of that Donbas region. So we know they're trying to reinforce as well from the east.

It's difficult to know with certainty exactly when this big push is going to happen. There is active fighting going on right now. And some Ukrainians are assessing that it has happened already. That it is ongoing. And we certainly wouldn't push back on that idea. But whether and when it becomes a much bigger fight, we're just not sure.

The general assessment here at the Pentagon is they want to achieve more success in the Donbas sometime over the next couple of weeks.

KEILAR: OK, the next couple of weeks.

The administration said that helicopters were not originally in the aid package. But then this changed after the Biden-Zelenskyy call. Can you tell us why?

KIRBY: There was an honest, frank, and candid conversation with the Ukrainians leading up to the new package, as there is for every other package where we're talking to them about what their needs are, what they want, what we can provide them. And helicopters were certainly, as a part of that discussion, we gave them five of these Mi-17s back in January, as you might recall. So we had these other 11, and there was an active discussion about it. There was some back and forth about whether the Ukrainians really wanted them at this moment or whether they were ready to receive them. And eventually, of course, both sides decided that, yes, this is a capability we have, this is a capability that you want, so we're going to provide it.

The important thing is, Brianna, that they're in the package, as well as 40,000 rounds of artillery and 18 howitzers. The kind of fighting that we can expect in the Donbas is going to lend itself to the use of artillery and short-range rockets and missiles. And you can see in the package that President Biden signed out that those are the kinds of capabilities that we're trying to help Ukraine with right now.

KEILAR: Can you get it to the east where they are, where they need it on time, in time?

KIRBY: We can get it to the east where they need it. We can get it to Ukraine. They can take it to the east as quickly as possible. And I can tell you, Brianna, at some points, it only takes a matter of less than a week from the time the president authorizes a drawdown package for us to get at least the first shipment or so into Ukraine. And we're going to be working at great speed here to try to do exactly that.

The previous $800 million that President Biden authorized back in mid- March, that's nearly complete right now. That's almost record time. So we're going to be working with the same sense of energy and urgency with this package as we were with every single other one before it.

KEILAR: I know you said -- you have no travel guidance on the Sec Def, of course, but it does seem there is a cabinet level official who may be coming to Kyiv to meet with the government here. Do you have any security concerns about that, especially considering Russia just issued a fresh threat to Kyiv?

KIRBY: There is not a time when a major official of the administration goes anywhere where we don't factor in security concerns, of course.


And Ukraine is under attack right now. It has been invaded by a foreign power. So, of course, any potential visit, and again, I'm not previewing one, but any potential visit, you would have to have security concerns and we certainly wouldn't do it if we couldn't meet those concerns. But, again, I don't have any travel to speak to today.

KEILAR: Absolutely hypothetical. Hypothetical travel here that we're discussing, sir. We'll be waiting. We'll be waiting to see if there is some sort of announcement. John Kirby, appreciate it.

KIRBY: You bet.

BERMAN: Joining me now, retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, former assistant secretary of state for political military affairs under George W. Bush. There was the hypothetical there, General, but also some very real news made there. First of all, this is the Russian ship, the Moskva, which John Kirby just confirmed there was an explosion on it. The news he just gave us is it's still able to move on its own accord. He didn't say what caused the explosion. He said the vessel is damaged, but still able to move and be repaired. The significance of that?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET): I think that means for some period of time down in that region, there is going to be the absence of another command ship. So there is a brief window of vulnerability for the Russian control of those naval operations about Odessa.

BERMAN: All right, we talked a lot about Donbas, and Admiral Kirby there just talked about Donbas as well. People, I just want to show you the terrain there. Flat. Wide open areas. These helicopters they were discussing, the U.S. is sending to help Ukraine. Why?

KIMMITT: Well, couple of reasons. Those are Mi-17 transport helicopters. They can put a large number of troops in so if they have to reposition troops quickly from point a to point b, they can use those. Second, many of them are equipped with rocket launchers, so they can put hellfire missiles on, which is what every tanker fears.

BERMAN: Every tank fears that.

KIMMITT: Exactly.

BERMAN: And you see this as a major tank battle.

KIMMITT: If they have -- if they can get into that area, with armored vehicles, and that's a big if right now, I would expect to see both tanks and mechanized infantry fighting each other.

BERMAN: I'm going to pull up the map of Donbas so people can see it. What other major change in the Russian military over the last few weeks, it's now under unified command, this mission under unified command, General Dvornikov. Tell me how important that is.

KIMMITT: Well, it is very important. I've written about this a bit. And when you put the entire organization, the entire operation under one man, we call that unity of command. If you take a look at what had been done in this second phase, five or six different avenues of assault, in the north, in the south, in the east --

BERMAN: Yes, there were attacks here, there were attacks here, there were attacks here. KIMMITT: Yes, exactly. Who is coordinating that? Who decides on who

gets the logistics, who gets the reconnaissance, who gets the intelligence? There was probably a lot of fighting going among those generals.

Now, they have done two things. They reduced the size of their operation, where they're going to be doing the fighting from. And one guy makes those decisions. And that one guy has a pretty tough history.

BERMAN: Talk to me about the shape of this battle. You're explaining before to me what direction you think the Russians would move in.

KIMMITT: Yes, I think a lot of people believe that they're going to go in this direction due west. But as John Kirby said, those are First World War trench lines there right now. So this notion of busting through that is not going to be that easy, and it is not going to be that quick. This is a smart general, and Russian doctrine says if you can envelop, if you can encircle the other forces, you're in a much better shape.

So as we did in the first Gulf War, as we did that left hook, I would expect that one of the options being looked at by Dvornikov right now is coming from this direction to try to encircle the forces here or maybe even going further or having forces come up here in the south. That's a very large area that would be one of the largest envelopments in history. But if he can get behind those Ukrainian forces and cut them off, that's bad news for the Ukrainian forces.

BERMAN: General Kimmitt, thank you for being with us here this morning.

KIMMITT: Thank you.

BERMAN: Today we will see the man suspected of opening fire on a crowded subway car in New York City in federal court. New details about his plot emerge.

And we're joined by a New Yorker who caught the moment of his arrest on camera.

Plus, in Ukraine, one of the best things you will see today, a tiny survivor pulled from the rubble.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New details this morning of a man suspected of opening fire on a crowded New York City subway car. My next guest took this video and her Lower East Side neighborhood as the 30-plus- hour manhunt came to an end.

Investigators say the suspect was arrested after calling into the tip line himself. He faces federal terrorism related charges and will appear in court today. Joining me now is Ella Mische, who witnessed and videotaped the


Ella, nice to see you here. Just tell me what you saw.

ELLA MISCHE, WITNESSED ARREST OF BROOKLYN SUBWAY SHOOTING SUSPECT: Well, I was just carrying my laundry over to just the Laundromat on 1st Avenue and I see a gentleman being handcuffed and so my laundry bag drops and I just pull out my phone and I was -- I stood there, filming it.

And then the noises around were, like, is that him, is that him? We didn't know if it was the guy. But, suddenly, people started coming around and later it was confirmed that it was the shooter. It was quite a shock thing for a neighborhood like the East Village because just the -- yesterday morning my sister called, she was in Europe, she said, are you okay? I said, yeah, it is in Brooklyn, don't worry, you know?

So, it was quite a shock that he would be there. I still wonder, what is he doing there?

BERMAN: So you were out doing your laundry to be clear here. And all of a sudden, you witnessed this incredibly high profile arrest.


What is going through your head at the time?

MISCHE: I was a bit in shock but very calm and, you know, I have never witnessed somebody being handcuffed other than on a film set. And it is usually a bit more of, you know, you think there is action, more people, but it was quite an innocent thing. Not innocent -- elegant thing, and quiet. It just seemed very quiet.

He turned away from, I guess, like the booth phone, and had his hands on the back as they clipped it, and everyone was sort of cordial and it was a silent moment, the whole thing happened very silently and very much like a movie. It seemed so surreal.

And then I automatically just turned back and went to, you know, continue my laundry.

BERMAN: Because you're a New Yorker.

MISCHE: Very much. You have to carry your laundry. And how you do a laundry says a lot about the person too.

BERMAN: But no struggle there? There was no struggle?

MISCHE: No struggle. No struggle. You're not expecting to see it there, you see it in the news so much, it seemed like all of New York was sort of in an uproar. I would pass by subways in the morning and I saw so many, you know, police officers, you felt the energy in the city was heightened.

And you wanted to kind of be alert. It is time to be alert.

BERMAN: How do you feel about the subway now?

MISCHE: Definitely after, you know, 15 years of New York city I feel like now I have to watch out a little more. Prior years I didn't have to, I have friends that say, you know, I stopped taking the subway after 9/11.

I sort of brave it and I'm not somebody that gets scared easily. So -- but this was a turning point a bit for me. I think I'm going to stay away from the subway and I hope that those in power to help New York, to keep it safe, you know, I'm sure they're doing what they can, but I hope we all do a collective push and kind of look up from our phones and, you know, keep an eye on each other, which seemed like as the news reported during the shooting, people were there for each other, ready to help.

BERMAN: Yeah, no. I think I read yesterday, it said you took a cab, you broke your routine?

MISCHE: Yes, I did. I did cabs and luckily I can walk everywhere too. Maybe the city bike, you know.

BERMAN: Well, look, thank you for being with us, describing what you saw. I hope your morning laundry is peaceful and undisturbed going forward.

MISCHE: Yeah, I hope so too. I have faith in New York.

BERMAN: Thank you.

So, turning now to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, one of Vladimir Putin's core objectives is to weaken and divide NATO. New evidence that plan is failing.

Plus, if you can't beat them, buy them. How much Elon Musk just offered to buy Twitter, all of it a take it or leave it offer in cash.



KEILAR: In a show of force and solidarity in Kyiv, the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. These leaders, all from countries formerly occupied by the Russians. Could Ukraine soon join that list?

John Avlon with a "Reality Check".

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Any illusions that Vladimir Putin is a master strategist suffered another blow yesterday, when the leaders of Sweden and Finland announced they're moving toward joining NATO after more than 70 years of neutrality.

That's right. It seems that Putin has succeeded in creating the thing he said he feared the most, the expansion of NATO. Because, remember, that was the logic he trotted out to initially explain the invasion of Ukraine. I mean, before the rants about denazification. Yes, Putin and his apologists said over and over again that NATO, by extension America, had created this crisis.

So let's put aside the fact that no one seriously thought Ukraine was about to join NATO. Because this was always an excuse, right? An opportunistic anxiety not rooted in reality, but it turned into a bloody version of blaming the victim.

NATO is a defensive alliance, initially founded by the U.S. and its allies after the Second World War to act as a collective bulwark against Soviet expansion. History shows really clearly why Russians western neighbors are the ones who have good reason to fear Russian aggression and not remotely the other way around.

I'll spare you the story of Russia's partition of Poland in the 1790s, or Bolshevik's attempt to take Warsaw in 1920, let's start with the Second World War, okay? In 1939, during the nonaggression pact with Hitler, the Soviets tried to invade, try to liberate Finland and failed, despite having larger forces.

In 1940, USSR invaded the Baltic States, deporting thousands of citizens to Siberia. Now, 1945, Stalin committed to free and fair elections in Eastern Europe at the Yalta conference, but he promptly set about doing the opposite and establishing what Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

In quick succession, Stalin took control of Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and claimed East Germany as its own. In Hungary, the secret police installed a pro-Moscow leader and the Hungarian revolved in 1956. The Soviets sent in tanks and crushed a rebellion.

In 1968, the leader of Czechoslovakia began liberalizing, the Soviet tanks again ruthlessly rolled in.

Soviet expansion was the pattern until the fall of the USSR, you know, what Putin called the greatest geopolitical catastrophe for the 20th century.

You know who didn't think it was a catastrophe? Those countries that had been co-opted by the Soviets for so long. You know what they did? They asked to join NATO as a guarantee of their security.

Now, there was debate here in overseas, good people can disagree. But you can't really question why Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia joined NATO in 1999 or why 11 other nations join over the next two decades. Even still, just 6 percent of Russia's land borders touch NATO countries. Not exactly evidence of encirclement.

But Russia's old expansionist impulse returned with a vengeance under Putin and curiously, always in non-NATO nations, like the 2008 incursion of the country of Russia, Georgia, which Putin claimed was all orchestrated by the U.S. or the 2014 segregation of Crimea from Ukraine, followed by years of funding fighters in the Donbas region.