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Russia Issues Deadline for Soldiers to Surrender; Humanitarian Corridor Agreed Upon in Mariupol; U.S. Defense Official: Russia Could Target Weapons Supply Routes; Florida vs. Disney: DeSantis Looks to End Company's Special Status. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, April 20. I'm Kaitlan Collins in New York with Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine. John and Brianna are off today.

We start with breaking news and an ultimatum. Russia telling the last remaining Ukrainians holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in the battered city of Mariupol to surrender or face a bitter end.

The steel plant is sheltering thousands of soldiers and civilians who say they are surrounded by Russian forces, bombing them with everything that they can.

The Russian Defense Ministry has given the Ukrainian military barricaded inside a deadline to surrender by 7 a.m. Eastern. But the commander of the Ukrainians' forces say that they will not surrender, and he is begging the world for help, warning that they may have only hours left.


MAJ. SERHII VOLYNA, COMMANDER, UKRAINE'S 36TH SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE (through translator): This is our statement to the world. It may be our last statement. We might have only a few days or even hours left.

The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. They have supremacy in the air, artillery and units that are just located on the ground, equipment, and tanks. We appeal to the world leaders to help us.


COLLINS: You can hear the desperation in his voice. And it may have something to do with this.

Ukraine security service has released what it calls a communications intercept involving a Russian ground unit commander. CNN has not been able to verify the authenticity of this recording. But the purported Russian commander can be heard talking about plans to level everything to the ground around this besieged steel facility.



GRAPHIC: We are expecting "surprises" from Russia here.


GRAPHIC: What kind of surprises?


GRAPHIC: Three-ton ones, from the sky.



Well, breaking overnight, Ukraine's deputy prime minister has announced an agreement with Russia on a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of women, children and the elderly from that plant in Mariupol. We are closely monitoring this development, see if it comes through. There have been questions in the past about whether humanitarian corridors are respected by Russian forces.

In Donbas, in the East, Ukrainian forces have been able to repel numerous Russian advances, this according to the latest U.K. defense intelligence assessment. Even though shelling in the region has intensified, British officials say Russia continues to be hampered by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges that have been -- beset them so far.

Sources tell CNN the Pentagon is keeping a constant watch, as well, for the possibility of any movements in Russia's nuclear arsenal, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin getting two to three briefings a week. I have been told by U.S. military officials that the U.S. has not yet assessed any new or unusual movements of Russian nuclear forces.

As the White House scrambles to get more weapons to Ukraine as quickly as possible, the U.S. is set to announce another big weapons package $800 million in weapons aid, following $800 million in weapons aid just a few days ago.

John Vause is here with me this morning in Lviv. And John, I do want to start with the situation in Mariupol. Because desperate pleas from inside that steel plant there.


SCIUTTO: Concerns -- we saw the Ukrainian marine there -- about the soldiers holed up there. But those hundreds of women and children. Is this a sign of hope that there might be a path out for them?

VAUSE: Here's the thing. So already know the path this humanitarian corridor may actually take. It starts about 5 kilometers, 3 miles away from the steel factory. If it goes the logical route their direction, it will pass directly by the steel factory.

Now, what they say is they will take out women. They'll take out children, the elderly. No men, obviously.

The question is, will they stop? Will they pick these people up? Will it actually go that direction? Will they actually stop along the way?

The problem with humanitarian corridors to this point, that since this siege of Mariupol began, there has not been one successful organized evacuation from Mariupol. People got out in private vehicles. They've got out by foot. But there's been no organized convoy which has been able to get out.

So that's the problem with the corridors. So that's where we stand with that.

SCIUTTO: And by the way, we've heard accounts repeatedly over the last several weeks of Russian forces shelling human -- quote-unquote, "humanitarian corridors" that they putatively had agreed to.

Another question is, and we may not know this at this point, but do we know where these people would go from Mariupol? Because one phenomenon is that many have been forced to go into Russia, right, where they face an uncertain future.

VAUSE: Well, the plan, as far as we can tell, is to go from Mariupol through to Berdyansk, and then from Berdyansk up to Zaporizhzhia, which is Ukrainian-controlled territory.

The Red Cross has actually been taking people from Berdyansk. That's been relatively easy, up to -- well, as easy as it can get in a war. And then up to Zaporizhzhia. So that's kind of where things stand right now.

The problem that they're facing, though, with -- in the steel factory with these ultimatums, these -- you know, threats to have a ceasefire, lay down your weapons or die. The Russians have been doing that pretty much every day, or every second day so far.

And the fighters inside have continually refused to lay down their weapons. And that's despite what the Ukrainian government has asked them to do. They've asked them to evacuate. They've asked them to leave. And they are staying put. They are refusing to leave.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen. Let's hope that lives are saved there, because the precedent so far has been -- has been harrowing.

John Vause, thanks so much for bringing us the latest.

Now, as Russian forces continue to bombard that steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine's security service is releasing what it claims to be a communications intercept, this from a Russian ground unit commander in the region.

And here's more of that audio. We should note once again, CNN cannot vouch for its authenticity.




GRAPHIC: Will there be some kind of explosion?


GRAPHIC: They said to level everything to the ground.




GRAPHIC: They are being bombed and bombed. They are knocking them out.


SCIUTTO: Bombed and bombed and bombed, he says.

Joining us now from Washington, CNN's Tom Foreman with more on the crisis unfolding in a factory compound. Tom, it's an usual place for folks to seek shelter. But take us through the situation at that steel plant and how this -- how many people we know are stuck there.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, no is the tricky part in all of this, Jim. Yes, it's right down here on the coast, the Azovstal iron and steel works. It is a big, sprawling plant that goes over there, a very big area.

This is -- this is perhaps one of the most dire situations we have heard about since Russia invaded and this war began.

What we know about it is they've been holing out here for quite some time. There does appear to be this series of tunnels beneath it all, where both civilians who are there and some of the fighters are.

Russia has tended to characterize all of this as being fighters. The people from Ukraine have said otherwise.

So we've heard the warning there. They say this is where they are completely encircled. There is command of the air, command of the ground by the Russians. And only the holdouts are still inside this area.

Take a look at the plant itself, though. This is what is on the ground there, which has been attacked, and attacked and attacked. How they wound up there is not entirely clear in my eyes yet. But this is where they seem to be holding out right now.

And Jim, one of the real questions is what does happen as this deadline approaches?

SCIUTTO: No question. By the way, as you look at those aerials there, it just gives you another view of how this war is being waged by Russia. Civilian areas, infrastructure leveled. Whenever this war ends, it's going to be an enormous reconstruction project for this country.

The Russian military, as we know, has set a deadline of 7 a.m. for the Ukrainian military to lay down their weapons. Do we have any indication that the soldiers holed up there are planning to do that?

FOREMAN: Well, as you and John were just talking about a moment ago, that seems very unclear.

The description from the Russians. And bear in mind, to cite the damage you mentioned, this is more a picture of Mariupol at the same time. You can see what's going on very nearby.

The Russian vision of this, the way they describe it is -- we will raise (AUDIO GAP). We will let everybody come out, and nobody will be shooting. All the -- (AUDIO GAP) clear what the Russians see happening next.

Mainly the notion is you lay down your weapons, you come outside -- (AUDIO GAP) looking at all of this, you can understand the Ukrainians inside are saying, what we want to see is some international force come in, lead us out and take us away from all of this, not into the hands of the Russians.

So Jim, I have honestly no idea where we will be in another hour or two here in terms of what will actually happen. What we do know under the circumstances, what we're hearing from the Ukrainians inside, they're almost out of food, almost out of water. They're being pounded relentlessly by bombing and attacks here. They're grossly outnumbered. And they're saying they need some kind of help even as they continue trying to hold out.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it's medieval war tactics, many of these advances we're seeing here. Surround and starve. It's part, it seems, of the Russian plan here.

Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Kaitlan, back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, Jim. So we are about 52 minutes away from this deadline that Russia has given these Ukrainian forces to surrender.

And so to talk about all this, let's bring in retired U.S. Army Major Mike Lyons. Thank you so much for being here with us.

And this steel plant in Mariupol, this is where -- it's about four miles wide. It's got the last remaining Ukrainian forces and civilians trapped inside, who say they are being bombed with everything that Russia has. If you're inside that and you are begging for help and you're facing this deadline, you know, what is -- what is their thinking right now?

MAJ. MIKE LYONS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, they're trying to survive the fact that the military is still fighting there. It's a small miracle. They're using the steel plant itself as a level of protection.

But the way to get people out of there has got to come from the sea. I don't see how you're going to get an international unit in there to try to get them out using the road networks there from a -- from a timing perspective.

And plus, I wouldn't trust the Russians at this point. The only place that you'd guarantee success of evacuating civilians would be coming from the sea, which again, another country could easily do. Bring some kind of ship there and have them evacuate that way.

COLLINS: And that's what they're asking for. They are pleading with any third country to maybe help with an extraction effort, as they're calling it.

But is that something realistic that the United States could do, since they've said, We're not going to send in American pilots. We're not going to send in American forces. Would that -- would they take the risk of going in through the sea to try to make that extraction effort happen?


LYONS: It would have to be more of a commercial sea liner, as opposed to an American warship, let's say. I think that there'd be a misunderstanding, potentially, could break out if something happens there. But getting another country involved would be important. Russia would have to decide.

If you bring those civilians anywhere out in those towns and cities there, there's no telling what those military units could do to them.

KEILAR: And so the forces that are still there, they're begging for help. But also, we've seen overall broadly, they're sending another military package from the United States, we are told by sources. They're prepping about $800 billion more.

But something that President Zelenskyy said is if what the allies are sending them now, had sent them this weeks ago, we wouldn't be in this place, is what his argument is. Do you think that's true?

LYONS: Kaitlan, probably not weeks ago. They needed to train on some of this equipment. It's -- some of it's very sophisticated.

Right now, the question is prioritizing the equipment that's coming through. Right? So it's going to be important for the Ukraine military to get the Switch Blades, those drone technologies. The Q-36 radar, counter battery.

In order for Ukraine to defeat the Russians at this point, they're going to have to win the artillery war. And to do that, every Russian artillery weapon that's fired has a return address to. They've got to figure out where that return address is coming from and put fires on that directly.

COLLINS: And do you think that they could have success with that? Because President Biden said that they will send them more artillery. Obviously, that is something they desperately need in this phase of this -- this second phase of the battle.

LYONS: The question is what kind of artillery? There's self-propelled artillery, which is armored artillery, much more heavy, difficult to get there. There's the towed artillery, the one that takes on the trucks and those -- and different types of artillery.


LYONS: The issue is tonnage, though. Forty-thousand artillery rounds is 2,000 tons. That's a lot of C-17s. The lift in order to get that there is still a lot, as well. And then to get it 500 miles from the Polish border, let's say, into where the fight's going to be.

COLLINS: Because they can't fly it in. And that's a big concern that we're hearing overnight, is that Pentagon officials are worried Russia would try to start to target these shipments, something they haven't really done so far, at least not successfully. Do you think that's a real concern, now that this is getting more desperate on Russia's behalf?

LYONS: I think it is. And I think what they're going to do is target those rail lines. You saw what happened last week when they targeted the civilian rail head. I think they're going to continue to do that more, targeting in the East. They might get lucky and hit a really high-value target from a logistical perspective, from our perspective.

So again, I think the convoys, to get that equipment as fast as we can to the front is the logistical challenge. That's really what's going to win the war for Ukraine.

COLLINS: Yes, and Ukraine says they need to get this as soon as possible.

Retired U.S. Army Major General Mike Lyons, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is keeping a very close eye on Russia's nuclear arsenal. We have new CNN reporting from the Pentagon on that, next.

And new this morning for the Biden administration also may challenge that decision to lift mask mandates on planes, buses and trains. But there are big questions about whether it's too late.



SCIUTTO: As the Biden administration readies another $800 million weapons package for Ukraine to follow an $800 million package just a few days ago, a Defense official believes that Russia will target supply routes used to get those weapons from the U.S. and its allies to the Ukrainian military on the front lines.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with her new reporting. Barbara, I suppose there are two issues. There's intent, Russian intent to do so. But does the U.S. believe they have the capability, as well?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's what the big concern is, of course, Jim. A Defense official says they do believe that Russia will try and target some of these supply routes now.

And you may ask why they haven't done it so far. We have no information that's been given to us that Russia has succeeded in doing it yet. And that's the capability question.

The sense of it is the Russians so far have not had a lot of good intelligence about where these weapons shipment are moving. But perhaps even more important, Russian -- the Russian military doesn't have a good track record in Ukraine of being able to strike mobile targets, moving convoys, moving rail cars.

So what they may turn to, the assessment is, is trying to take out roads, bridges, rail tracks where they think the weapons shipments are moving. All eyes on this now.

Because as you say, a huge amount of U.S. weapons are going into Ukraine. Over $2 billion pledged, over 100,000 in just anti-tank and anti-air weapons. Now moving in the artillery and the heavier weapons. So this may prove a very significant target for the Russians to at least attempt to strike.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's a good point. Because as the weapons get bigger, they're, of course, bigger targets. Hard to -- harder to hide a 155- millimeter Howitzer, I suppose.

Barbara, the other story I know you're following is -- is the Pentagon, its continued tracking of any possible movements of nuclear weapons or unusual movements of nuclear forces. Tell us what you've learned so far.

STARR: Well, as you and I were chatting about this, right now, the Pentagon -- I think it's really important right off the top to say, the U.S., the Pentagon sees nothing to indicate that the Russians are moving their nuclear weapons around or that they have any intention at this point -- or at any point, rather -- of using them.

But Putin has made statements that the U.S. sees as very destabilizing in the nuclear arena. So what we do know is that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as part of his two, three-time a week, highly-classified operational briefing, gets a continuing update on what the U.S. believes is the status of Russia's nuclear weapons arsenal.

The point really is, of course, that they are watching this around the clock. Nobody wants any surprises in this. It's fine that they don't think Russia's making any moves.

But in the meantime, what we are told is the U.S. nuclear effort, as it is, at a state of all-time-high readiness here inside the U.S. -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: It's a great distinction. Readiness, but they have not detected any new moves. And I think we want to make sure that that distinction is clear.

Barbara Starr, great to have you at the Pentagon.

STARR: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Back in the U.S., Americans can now take off their masks on planes, trains, and buses. So is that a good idea? How quickly will we see it all play out? That's coming up.

Plus, Florida versus Disney. Why the governor's attacks on the empire -- the Disney empire -- just hit a new level, which includes a big threat.

This is CNN special live coverage.


COLLINS: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is escalating his feud with Disney. And this is that dispute that started last month when the CEO of Disney criticized Florida for enacting the Parental Rights in Education Law that critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" legislation.

Now, the governor is seeking to undo Disney's unique status that allows the company to basically operate as this government around its theme parks.

Let's bring in columnist at "Business Insider," Lynette Lopez, to talk about all of this.

And so starting off with what we think, by the week's end, could be them dissolving this special status that has helped Disney grow into this iconic brand, helped Florida become this international travel destination, what do you make of this fight that's been playing out for so long now?

LYNETTE LOPEZ, COLUMNIST, "BUSINESS INSIDER": I think some of the counties are going to be disappointed that they now have to take over sewage, building inspections and all these very difficult responsibilities that Disney had taken up for its own properties.

And it's a lot of properties. It's a lot of people, hundreds of people employed in those counties, and thousands of people from outside -- around the country and around the world who go there to work in Disney's -- at Disney.

So this is, in part, the company not getting behind the "Don't Say Gay" legislation even before it was enacted. You know, Disney was kind of slow to recognize that this would be an issue for its employees, who really led the charge in saying, Hey, this goes against Disney's own stated internal policies. This is against what we stand for as a company. We need to do something about it.

You know, sometimes when Republican legislators, you know, go a little to the right when it comes to culture issues, you see companies like the NBA in North Carolina, standing up first and saying, Hey, we don't -- we don't want this. This goes against our values.

And this is going to keep happening. You know, Texas is looking at laws that are offensive to the LGBT community. And last year Delta faced this in Georgia when it came to voting rights laws. So this is across the board. Not just social issues but also issues about equality in the view of these companies.

They need to get on the offensive. They need to realize when these laws are coming up. They need to start lobbying early. And they need to realize that the GOP is not necessarily the party of business anymore where their choice between the GOP and Democrats is lower taxes and less regulation on the GOP side, and the Democrats are, you know, hurtful for business. It's a different dichotomy now.

COLLINS: And that's something that you've written about before, saying that you believe when GOP and corporate America don't agree, that the GOP likes to punish them when they don't agree with their politics and their policies.

And so this seems to -- Do you believe this is just another version of that happening, that playing out in Florida with this, you know, iconic company like Disney and this very popular, powerful governor?

LOPEZ: Absolutely. This is a punitive punishment for Disney not agreeing with Ron DeSantis. And it's funny, because the GOP was the party of corporate personhood. You know, companies are people, too. And companies therefore have speech. And speech is considered, you know, a political right.

So, you know, in the old GOP framework, a company like Disney absolutely has the right to lobby whatever government it wants for whatever laws that it wants. And now the GOP is changing its tune.

So corporates need to realize they need to change their political strategies in a sense, because they're not dealing with the same two political parties any more.

COLLINS: That's so interesting. But I also want to talk about Netflix. Because anyone out there who had a bad day yesterday, I think Netflix had a worse day yesterday.

LOPEZ: Definitely.

COLLINS: They reported this first quarter earnings, and they said that they lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022 and expect to lose another 2 million in the second quarter.

LOPEZ: Yes. OK. So Wall Street has been calling this forever and ever and ever. There would be a day where Netflix came to its plateau in subscribers and then what would happen. Until now, this has all been very theoretical. But I think Disney

getting on board with its deluge of content, getting in the streaming wars, all these different actors getting in the streaming wars has hastened that day for Netflix.

And now Netflix is like, OK, we need to figure out how to raise more money from our subscribers. So they're considering a product that's cheaper but with commercials. So advertisers are dealing with some of the costs.

But also part of the issue is from Netflix, it's very expensive to create good content.


LOPEZ: When you have someone like Disney that has years and years and years of classic content in the can, they're going to have not necessarily as expensive a time getting their operation up and running.

So Netflix is going to deal with some issues. And I wouldn't be surprised if we see a cheaper Netflix with ads. And I wouldn't be surprised if in 10 years, the streaming services we know look a lot more like the cable we used to know.