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Russian Forces Amassing in Eastern Ukraine for Anticipated Attempt at Military Breakthrough; Russian Foreign Minister Says Russian Military Will Only Use Conventional Weaponry in Ukraine; New Images Show Russian Warship on Fire Before It Sank; U.S. Ditches Mask Mandate for Travelers After Judge's Ruling. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 08:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: -- in three regions, and this video shows a long column of these Russian military vehicles that are headed towards the city of Izium, where Russian troops have already been amassing.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right now, Ukraine says that Russian forces are bombing and shelling a factory compound in Mariupol. Look at the pictures there. There are thousands of civilians, Ukrainian officials say, taking shelter there. The besieged port city of Mariupol in the southeast Ukraine facing this for weeks now. The last remaining Ukrainian forces defending the city along with those civilians hoping to save their lives there, but they're coming under increased fire. We are told that Russian forces are firing at the facility willingly.

Here are some of the people inside -- dozens of women, children, the elderly, have been there for weeks. Mothers say conditions for their children particularly desperate, not much food, their children's teeth starting to spoil.

This morning President Biden will hold a call with U.S. allies and partners to discuss how to hold Moscow accountable more. But Moscow is not moving back.

And this is just into CNN. Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov states categorically that his country will only use conventional weapons in Ukraine, not nuclear weapons. It should be noted Lavrov not directly responsible for military decision-making in Russia, but an important -- potentially important public comment.

COLLINS: Of course, Russia also said they would not invade Ukraine, and here we are. Ed Lavandera is starting our coverage this morning. He's in Kyiv. Ed, what are you seeing on the ground so far?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're paying close attention to the renewed offensive there in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces over the last 24 hours have carried out significant shelling and bombing in various cities and villages there in eastern Ukraine. And that has intensified in the last 24 hours. Not only there, but also in the south, near the city of Mykolaiv. Just

east of there is the city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Russian forces. That's kind of like the western front of the southern edge of this battlefield, if you will. And we have seen continued fighting down there in that region as well.

And that is carrying out some significant damage to the civilian population there in Mykolaiv, where the water has been out, power -- questions with electricity and that sort of thing. So that's making the situation in that city very difficult.

But the real focus is there, in the east. As we have seen, these are the Russian forces that have regrouped and have resupplied essentially trying to move their way back into eastern Ukraine, cut off Ukrainian forces that are there in the east to solidify their presence there in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

The bombing we have seen and the shelling we have seen so far is believed to be kind of the Russian forces' efforts to soften Ukrainian forces that have also moved into that area to prepare for this battle. And whether or not this is a sign of a renewed ground offensive is not something we have seen just yet, but that's what the Ukrainian forces are expecting here in the days ahead.

COLLINS: Yes, and what we saw from those strikes yesterday is that even as this ground offensive they have feared is going to happen in the east is getting under way, according to Zelenskyy, they're striking other parts of the country as well. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much. We'll check back in with you this morning.

SCIUTTO: We saw some of that yesterday, missiles here in the west.

Early this morning I recorded questions for the military governor of the Donetsk region in the east, Pavlo Kyrylenko. And here's how he responded.


SCIUTTO: How is the Ukrainian military preparing to defend the eastern part of the country, where Russia is currently focusing its forces? Ukrainians are greatly outnumbered.

PAVLO KYRYLENKO, HEAD OF DONETSK REGION MILITARY ADMINISTRATION (through translator): the Ukrainian armed forces are prepared for this offensive. The offensive has already begun at the border with Kharkiv region and toward Lumanskoramada (ph) which is a town over there, and there are active hostilities in this town. Since the last 24 hours, the enemy has passed through Kreminna in Luhansk region, and is focusing on the Limon (ph) direction. Limon (ph) is a city in that area. It is also therefore is trying to progress towards Kramatorsk and Slovyansk in that direction. That is in the north of the Donetsk region.

There is also an offensive and constant shellings and missile strikes towards -- in the Donetsk direction. That's towards the towns of Marinka, Krasnohorivka, Obodivka. [08:05:02]

And we also expect an offensive towards Mariupol, that is towards the south and towards the town of Bulgador (ph) so that they can close the circle and have a tactical and strategic advantage. That's their intention.

SCIUTTO: Some U.S. officials tell us they believe the Russian military has actually learned some lessons from their failures fighting in the north of Ukraine. I wonder if you share that concern? And will they be a tougher opponent in the east than Ukrainian forces saw in the north around Kyiv?

KYRYLENKO: Yes, the enemy is changing tactic, and that is confirmed. And that is -- the reason for that is that it has suffered losses, losses in terms of heavy artillery, in terms of its weapons and also personnel. And these losses are felt by the Russian Federation itself. And it is an undeniable fact. Therefore, they're forced to be more economical in terms of how they use their force, and they have to focus on certain areas, and the Donetsk and Luhansk region, where they are trying to gain some tactical and strategic advantage and eventual victory.

However, we are going to frustrate their attempts, and for that we do need -- it is difficult to do that, but we intend to do so. And for that we need help from our western partners. That has already been announced and that has already been requested by Ukraine, and we are just asking that this help arrives more quickly and in greater volumes. And because we were stressed again that defending Ukraine today means defending the whole civilized world.

SCIUTTO: We should note and remind people that there has been steady fighting in Donetsk, other parts of eastern Ukraine, going back to 2014. That war there never stopped. It is just amping up. What role are pro-Russian separatists, other nonstate actors, playing in that fight in Donetsk?

KYRYLENKO: We have seen a lot of influence from the pro-Russian separatists in these regions, especially after the occupation of a part of Donetsk, the region in 2014. And under the leadership of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian Federation, there has been a certain attempt to influence the population. They have placed transmission stations and TV channels all along the contact line, transmitting Russian propaganda.

And we have been fighting against this, and particularly me -- in particular, me from when I came into office in 2019. And we have been also trying to inform the population about Ukraine's policy and Ukraine's cares about all its citizens, including those in the occupied territories. We have been distributing leaflets and pro- Ukrainian material.

And so what this has shown with all the propaganda machine that the Russians have is that since the start of the full scale invasion and war on the 24th of February, the perception of the Russian Federation has changed even in these regions. And even the number of people who are at least loyal to the Russian Federation has reduced, because how can you be loyal to a country that kills civilians, that bombs peaceful cities? And we have seen these -- the number of these, the pro-Russian sentiments reduced.

SCIUTTO: Ukrainian forces and civilians, frankly, they're surrounded, it seems in Mariupol. In your view, is Mariupol about to fall now to Russia?

KYRYLENKO: There is fighting ongoing in Mariupol. This is street fighting. And also, it is not just small arms fighting, but also tank fighting, tank battles ongoing in streets of the city. In areas where the Ukrainian defenders are focused, that is the Azov Battalion, the national guard, the marines, those districts are under heavy bombardment, air bombardment. But the defenses are holding up. We continue to defend Mariupol. The Ukrainian flag is flying over the city. Yes, there are certain districts where street fighting is continuing. I can't say that the Russians are controlling them. It's just these streets are sustaining heavy fighting in street.


And at the moment this fighting is continuing, and our defenders are defending the city.

SCIUTTO: If those soldiers are captured by Russia, what do you fear Russia will do to them?

KYRYLENKO: It is difficult to predict the actions of the Russian Federation in this regard. But I think they understand the category of officers that we hold in captivity here, and they hold of our officers that they hold there, and I think that they will try and agree an exchange on terms that are beneficial to them.

SCIUTTO: Pavlo Kyrylenko, military governor of Donetsk, thanks so much.


COLLINS: And let's bring in Bianna Golodryga, CNN's senior global affairs analyst. Of course, we have got what Zelenskyy says is this second phase that has been long anticipated, but also the White House and officials have been talking, it is going to look a lot different than what we saw at the beginning of this invasion. So how does it look different as the Pentagon is saying this looks a lot more like Kansas in the region that they are going to now, so it is going to be a different kind of fighting.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SECURITY GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, think more set piece combat, right, and images that we saw out of World War II, where you're going to be having hardware from both sides really going at each other as opposed to the guerrilla warfare that we saw in Kyiv and surrounding the larger cities there, which really benefited Ukrainians.

This time there are many reasons to view Russians having the upper hand. First of all, just the proximity they have to Russia, right, just easier access to supply lines. They know this area well, obviously, since there have been Russian sympathizers there and Russian troops there since 2014. So the concern is that there will be additional aid that they will have from Ukrainians on the ground there, that are separatists that are more closely aligned with Russia.

And so that is why you hear Zelenskyy say don't think Russians are anywhere near capitulating at this point. In fact, there is more pressure on them to have a decisive victory given all of the troubles that they have had so far.

COLLINS: And it seems that it would be a lot easier for Russia to resupply than it is going to be for Ukrainians in this region. And so how does it change what the Ukrainian forces need, because we have seen how effective the anti-tank, antiaircraft missiles have been, but now this is going to be just a different kind of fighting out in the open.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, they need more, right? They need more weapons is what we continue to hear from Ukrainian leadership. And even the $800 million in additional weaponry that the U.S. has allocated them said, listen, that's going to probably last about a week or so. The U.S. is aware of that, and already this morning you're hearing White House officials say we already are lining up additional supply packages to help the Ukrainians.

What they have on their side is they have morale, right? They have some of their best troops, they say, that have been fighting here that have now come down from Kyiv, to help fight back against the Russians. But the Russians, as we know, as you mentioned, have their upper hand given how close they are to their supply lines, and they're going to have more artillery coming in too.

COLLINS: And speaking of morale, that is really been what's been a driving force in Mariupol, where, of course, we know that they have been hanging on by a thread almost when it comes to what the forces look like. The Russians have said, just surrender. And Zelenskyy said, no, we're going to keep fighting. Even if it's a smaller and smaller amount of forces, they're going to keep fighting. But if Mariupol does fall to Russia, what does that mean, not just strategically, but also psychologically for this battle and what we have seen playing out?

GOLODRYGA: I keep thinking back to President Zelenskyy calling Mariupol the heart of Ukraine. And I think he said that because of all of the battle, all of the fighting that we have seen taking place there. We have yet to see the remnants of what that city is going to look like and the casualties, both civilian and military there on the ground. So it is clear now that we are reaching a point where it looks like Russia will finally have hold of this city. So that is a big loss for Ukraine, notwithstanding the amount of fighting that they put into this city, in protecting it. But it also does give Russia the added benefit of having that land bridge that they have long sought with Crimea finally connecting them there.

COLLINS: Yes, and I think also the timing here, the White House says we're not sure how long this second phase could last. Some said months, some years. Bianna, thank you so much for bringing it all down for us.


COLLINS: And this morning we also have new details on what sunk the Russian warship Moskva and what happened to the crew of the Russian sailors who were on board. CNN's Matthew Chance was aboard that very ship in 2015, and he'll join us live next.

And here in the United States, a bit of jubilation and some anxiety now that a federal mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation is no more.


Plus, what Uber just announced about its mask policy.


COLLINS: New pictures have emerged of a Russian guided missile cruiser, the Moskva, after it was badly damaged and on fire hours before it sank into the Black Sea. The Ukrainian military has taken credit for the attack saying they struck it with a Neptune anti-ship cruise missile.

Joining us now is CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance.

Matthew, you were on this ship previously. So you know a little bit about it. And this idea that the Russians were pushing, that it caught fire, and it sunk because it was in a storm, these new images where you see it is tilted to its side, there is this huge plume of black smoke above it, it seems to have these puncture wounds in the sides of it. That doesn't seem like something that just caught fire and then got caught in a storm.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, there are holes all over the Russian story. You're right. I was on that ship about seven years ago when it was off the coast of Syria. And it was sent there to provide an air defense system to give cover to Russian planes as they were carrying out their bomb attacks inside Syria. That was the main value back then of the Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea fleet. It's a really powerful weapon -- it was a powerful weapons platform to provide air cover, surface to air missiles.


And that's the similar role it is playing in the Black Sea, also firing cruise missiles as well to hit targets into Ukraine. But you're right, the Russian account is this was a fire on board that spread to the ammunition storage facility and caused an explosion, having a massive impact on the ship as they were towing it back to -- into port, it sank in stormy weather. That's the Russian version of events.

Ukrainians have a different story. They say this flagship was targeted by their anti-ship missile systems they developed themselves, the Neptune system, and it was taken out. The U.S. for what it's worth say they don't know for sure, but they believe the Ukrainian side of events more than the Russian side.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. That is the latest U.S. intelligence assessment. The supreme irony of an air defense cruiser not being able to protect itself from missiles is remarkable.

I do want to ask you, Matthew, what Ukrainian officials say about if and how this might affect Russia's ongoing military plans because it has been their intention, their hope, to conduct a sea born assault to help take Odessa for its military and commercial value, sunk its -- Ukrainians sunk its flagship. Has that killed that plan in effect, right? Given Russians' pause about whether they can assault the coast without enormous losses.

CHANCE: Yeah, you're right. That as we understand it that was the plan of the Russians to carry out a sea born, you know, amphibious landing into those coastal areas from the black sea and from the Sea of Azov to try to secure some of those areas. Like every aspect of the Russian plan, when it comes to their invasion of Ukraine, the reality of implementing the plan has been found to be much, much more complicated, much more dangerous for them.

And, of course, apart from the symbolic value of this Moskva missile cruiser, the flagship of the black sea fleet being lost, the other significance of it being sunk is that it shows the Russians clearly that they're not as untouchable as they thought they were in their sort of big powerful warships off the coast of Ukraine. That's obviously going to lead to a recalculation of what the plan should be.

COLLINS: And I wonder what that means, what does it mean psychologically for them, that this flagship sunk as they're making up these excuses for what happened? And the fact that, you know, the pentagon says they think that the Russians are learning their lessons from their huge failures at the beginning of this.

Do you think they're actually learning them and will they be able to apply the lessons to change the trajectory of this for them?

CHANCE: Well, we'll see what lessons they learn. We don't know what conversations are being had in the military planning rooms in the Kremlin, in the Russian ministry of defense. I expect with a massive significant loss of this, the calculus is going to be changing for them.

In terms of the psychological impact of this, I don't think we can overstate it. This is not just the normal ship. Russia doesn't have many kind of key flagships of this type. And this was the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, one of most powerful aspects of the Russian navy and the fact that that ship and not another ship in the Black Sea fleet was taken out is symbolically incredibly powerful. It sends a very potent message to the Russian navy and to the Russian military and of course the Russian people.

And I think the fact that Russian state television, which is the main conduit from which Russian people get their news hasn't really made much of this, there was a broadcast over the weekend, main current affairs broadcast, only mentioned the 30 seconds an hour into the bulletin. Not even the top story there, they're trying to keep the lid on t the fact it is not being talked about says a lot about how sensitive the Russian authorities are about the loss of this key warship in the country.

They're also not talking about, you know, how many people on board were killed.


CHANCE: We have seen some images of some of the sailors said to be from the ship being inspected by the admiral of the fleet, but we're not get negative indication how many sailors onboard the Moskva were lost.

COLLINS: Yeah, that's a huge question for those Russian families that are going to be raising that as well.

Matthew Chance, thank you for joining us. Nice to see you in person.

CHANCE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, new U.S. intelligence suggests that Russian forces are learning from their past battle failures in this war and are now attempting to shift their tactics as they unleash a larger, perhaps bloodier offensive in the east. We're going to get the latest from the battle front, that's coming up just ahead.

Plus, back in the U.S., federal judge says you can now ditch your mask on airplanes. What does the science, the medicine say, though? We're going to discuss.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do require every passenger on my aircraft to treat everyone with kindness and respect. So, I would have everyone have many issues with for wearing a mask or not. We're going to ask you it is all up to you guys right now. So, enjoy the fresh air.


COLLINS: This morning, you're going to be hearing a lot more announcements like that on an airplane now that masks are no longer federally required on planes or trains or buses after a federal judge in Florida struck down the national mandate put in place by President Biden.

While the White House says it is reviewing the decision, TSA says it is not going to enforce the mandate and you're seeing most of the major carriers say that masks will now be optional when you get on a plane.

CNN's Pete Muntean is live outside Reagan National Airport.

Pete, are you seeing people show up in a mask? What does it like as people get out of their cars with their suitcases?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Live inside Reagan international airport. I've been doing dozens, hundreds of live shots inside the airport during the pandemic, where you had to wear a mask. That policy was in place starting February 2021, early days after the Biden administration.

I'm seeing 50/50, half passing through here wearing masks, half people not wearing masks. What is so interesting is even the signage at the TSA checkpoint going into the terminal --