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Putin Claims Mariupol Victory, Tells Forces Not to Storm Factory; Biden Calls for U.S. Military 'Adaptation' as Russians Hit East; Parents of Unvaccinated Children Frustrated Over New Mask Rules; Biden Has Avoided Widespread Russian Energy Sanctions. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world. It is Thursday, April 21. I am Brianna Keilar in Washington with Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine. John Berman is off this morning. We do begin with breaking news.

Mariupol is on the brink of falling into Russian hands with Russia declaring that it can control -- it can take control of the Azovstal steel plant in three to four days.

Moments ago, Vladimir Putin announced storming the area is no longer necessary. Instead, he says he wants to block it off so that a fly cannot get through. He's also offered dignified treatment to anyone who surrenders, calling the Kremlin's effort to capture the city a success.

Of course, some doubt there, considering how the Russians have treated some prisoners.

The situation is growing more critical by the minute here. Overnight, Russian forces bombarded the already battered port city. An urgent push under way now to save nearly 120,000 trapped civilians and soldiers.

And this morning, four evacuation buses were able to leave Mariupol through a humanitarian corridor.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warning his forces simply don't have enough serious and heavy weapons to defeat Russia's army. The Kremlin dismissing any possibility of a diplomatic solution.

SCIUTTO: Well, especially as virtually every day we see civilians deliberately targeted by Russian forces. Those same Russian forces, they're attempting to make a push into the Donbas region, further into the Donbas region, making incremental gains there. But no significant change of territory on the battlefield. In Ukraine's Luhansk region, Russian troops have now taken control of

a village there called Kreminna.

The Biden administration has responded by announcing a new round of economic sanctions. So far, nothing seems to deter Putin, even the immense economic cost on its economy and the Russian public.

The Russian leader did test-launch a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile yesterday. It's sometimes referred to by the name Satan 2. He said the show of strength should give Russia's enemies food for thought, make them think twice. Harrowing words.

U.S. officials say they were not surprised by the launch. They'd been aware of it. They downplayed the threat.

But the Russians have failed to capture major Ukrainian cities. Some observers worry that Putin might get desperate at some point. What does he consider if he's backed into a corner.

There's also new evidence of serious morale issues within Russia's forces. The security service of Ukraine has released a revealing new intercepted communication between Russian soldiers. You will hear those conversations ahead, some of them talking about the immense challenges they're facing on the front lines and telling their commanders to "F" off.

First, let's bring in CNN's Isa Soares, here with me in Lviv.

And watching the situation in Mariupol, I mean, this is medieval, right? This is a siege around a place where not just soldiers have been taking shelter but hundreds and hundreds of civilians.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So many civilians trapped not just -- not just inside that steel plant that you mentioned but also inside the city.

But I think what we have seen in the last kind of few hours, Jim, is really the Kremlin P.R. machine in full swing. And I think it's really important for our viewers that we read between the lines and we interpret what Putin has been saying.

He has hailed a successful liberation -- those were his words -- of Mariupol. The reality on the ground is the fact that the Azovstal steel plant, and I think you brought it up. The viewers saw the size of that steel plant. It's not just one factory. It's a huge plant, a huge terrain.

Ukrainian forces are still inside, 1,000 people still inside, wounded soldiers still inside. And that's the last battle of defense.

So Putin's words, let's take it with a pinch of salt. The defense minister, the Russian defense ministry also saying he's expecting three to four days, they'll take the Azovstal steel plant.

They're not going to go in, as Putin said, but they are keeping it tight. Not allowing even a fly -- his words, right? -- a fly to go through. They're really trying to wear them down. They won't have ammunition for very long. And they also won't have food and supplies.

SCIUTTO: It strikes me, as we look at that video there, that it's -- the steel plant is something of an urban landscape. And part of the reason it was assessed that Russia could not take Kyiv in the end was that the Ukrainians were set up for urban warfare; highly costly for Russian forces.

When President Putin says we will give those soldiers a dignified treatment, knowing how he has treated soldiers and, frankly, civilians in the past, what is he doing there?

SOARES: Well, he is not doing this by the kindness of his own heart. He's trying to wear them -- wear them down and hoping, of course -- and he's also trying, to be completely honest with you, Jim, trying to protect his own forces. He doesn't have the manpower. He doesn't want to see any more bloodshed from his vantage point. Right? That's important.

So but the Ukrainian forces may have -- if Russian forces move, having taken Mariupol, as they say, move to the other offensive, that will then mean less Russian forces on the ground, giving the Ukrainian forces inside that plant some room to get out.

But even President Zelenskyy has said overnight that they don't have -- that heavy weaponry needed here.

And in the last 24 hours, we saw this really heartbreaking video of Mariupol. Worth reminding viewers that it's a city just by name only. Ninety percent of the buildings have been completely destroyed. And people have been trapped there for weeks on end without food, without water.


And the images -- I'm not sure if we have it -- of bodies just lying on the ground, some with bullets to their head. And if you're watching

this, of course, a warning to our viewers, it is incredibly hard to watch. Zelenskyy has said that this is the worst kind of atrocities that we have seen in Mariupol.

So the next few days will be critical. But worth bearing in mind, there's so many people, women, children, still trapped inside that plant. Only four buses were able to leave.

SCIUTTO: We have to acknowledge when we see that, that that is not the exception. That's the rule of the way Russia has conducted this war, in multiple cities and towns and villages. Deliberately targeting civilians, leaving their bodies behind. That's the nature of this Russian invasion.

Isa Soares, thanks so much -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Well, Jim, amid Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine, President Biden told his top military commanders Wednesday that he sees a need for U.S. military adaptation.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The strategic environment is evolving rapidly in the world. And that means our plans and force posture have to be equally dynamic. Things are changing.

And, you know, ensuring that the security of the American people, our interests and the interests of our allies means having to constantly adapt to anything and everything that's happening around the world. And we're seeing this very day the need for adaptation as a consequence of standing with Ukraine against Russia's brutal and unjustified war.


KEILAR: Let's talk about that with CNN military analyst retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Cedric, what do you think about that? Adaptation as a consequence of what is happening with Russia and Ukraine?


The real concept, we have to move and see exactly how the Russians are responding to things. What they're doing is they're making things, in essence, very different from what our force posture was structured for.

So as a result of that, the way that the president is talking about this, we really have to look at how we respond to what the Russians are doing. Whether it's the missile launch or whether it's what's happening here in Ukraine. These are the kinds of things that are being -- that are made, really, challenges for U.S. security right now.

And that's why the president said we need to move and make sure that we can respond to crises like this, as well as other crises that are out there.

SCIUTTO: There is a view, Cedric, that due to supply issues, command issues, low morale, that Russia has no more likelihood to win in the East than it did in the North. I've heard this from senior officials in the Pentagon. I heard it from the acting ambassador to Ukraine on the air yesterday. Do you agree with that view?

LEIGHTON: I do. That there are going to be a lot of different things that we need to look at.

So, for example, if you take a look at what's happening here in the -- (AUDIO GAP) -- more aircraft than they had over the last 24 hours. And every single thing that is going on here is really directed at making everything change in a way that we hadn't seen in other parts of Ukraine.

So the adaptations that need to occur here, Jim, are ones in which the Ukrainians are going to have to get a lot of equipment from us. And they're also going to have to make things (AUDIO GAP) -- for -- you mentioned Mariupol.

This is something, in essence, lost to the Ukrainians. But the Russian forces are really (AUDIO GAP). They are trying to make sure that they can (AUDIO GAP) -- the Ukrainian forces.

KEILAR: Colonel, what are you seeing with troop numbers there in the East, especially considering what we saw in the North?

LEIGHTON: So that's interesting. So Brianna, when you look at the different troops that they --they've brought in here. So right now, we're seeing somewhere around 80 to 82,000 Russian troops in this area. What that means is they're a lot less than they had in the North.

So for example, when we were going into this area in Kyiv, you had about 180 to 190,000 troops the Russians had in this area. All of those have left. All turned into Ukrainian -- (AUDIO GAP) territory right now. All of this used to be Russian.

And that, of course (AUDIO GAP) -- were able to move from. So it's going to be interesting to see (AUDIO GAP) -- less troops capture more territory.

KEILAR: Yes. That is going to be incredibly interesting. Colonel, always appreciate it. Thank you so much.


Some more devastating news out of Kharkiv. The death toll there rising as more zoo workers are found dead. We're going to speak with the zoo's director about a grisly discovery.

Plus, the faceoff over masks. The Justice Department appealing the ruling that struck down the travel mask mandate. What the CDC is saying and how Americans will respond.

And this just in: stunning new revelations about January 6. What Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell really thought about President Trump in the days after the Capitol attack and their plan to remove him from office.


KEILAR: Don't toss those masks just yet. The Justice Department is going to appeal a federal court ruling that struck down the travel mask mandate after the CDC determined masks are still needed on public transportation.

And many parents, especially those with kids who are too young to be vaccinated, say they feel blindsided by the court's initial ruling and now must rethink future travel and activity plans to keep their children safe from coronavirus.

[06:15:12] CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining me now on this. Elizabeth, what are

we expecting here?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're expecting, hopefully, is a vaccine for children under 5 in June. The president of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, said that he hopes that that will happen.

But in the meantime, Brianna, if you have a child under the age of 5, they cannot be vaccinated. That means right now, if you go on a train, or a plane or a bus, your unvaccinated child could be surrounded by unmasked passengers. And that leaves many parents very worried.


COHEN (voice-over): For more than two years, Erin Goulder has done everything she can to keep her children safe from COVID.

ERIN GOULDER, PARENT: We're pretty COVID conscious. We're probably the strictest people that we know now.

COHEN: Six-year-old Quinn and 3-year-old Haven have been to parks, nature reserves, zoos. But they won't be getting on an airplane any time soon.

GOULDER: If people aren't wearing masks, then we're definitely going to come up with a different plan.

COHEN: The Goulders had planned to fly to Los Angeles and Europe this summer, but now they've scrapped all that after the sudden end of masking requirements on planes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yay! No more masks! Woo!

COHEN (on camera): Can you describe the moment when you found out that people won't be required to wear masks on planes?

GOULDER: I was just thinking of the people who were up in planes when mid-flight I was angry and feeling anxious for them that they didn't have a choice in the matter.

COHEN: It sounds like you weren't cheering when you heard the news?

GOULDER: No. I don't understand. I don't understand what the big deal about a mask is. When you're in an enclosed space with that many people coming from that many different places.

COHEN (voice-over): Fellow travelers wearing masks was an important layer of safety for the whole family. Erin, her husband and older daughter are vaccinated, but they know they could still get COVID. And their younger daughter, Haven, she's too young to be vaccinated, so she's completely unprotected.

(on camera): When you think about taking Haven on a plane with a bunch of people who aren't wearing masks, she's not vaccinated. What are you worried about? GOULDER: My biggest worry is the long COVID and also the unknowns.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. William Schaffner, a vaccine advisor to the CDC, says different families will make different decisions about flying in planes.

(on camera): If your young child is in day care or preschool, is getting on a plane really that much more of a risk?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, VACCINE ADVISOR TO THE CDC: I wouldn't think that going on a plane exposes them to any more risk than they might be exposed to in the community in everyday activities.

COHEN: If you're worried about your young child's safety on a plane, he says consider driving, if that's possible. And if it's not --

SCHAFFNER: Then I would do everything I could to minimize the risk. Try to keep the mask on myself and my children, of course. And then also do as much social distancing as possible.

COHEN: Overall, children are at less risk of severe disease with COVID. But Schaffner emphasizes that the risk is not zero. And it's the unknowns of this novel virus that really worry Erin.

GOULDER: My children are just starting out their lives. I want them to have the best shot they can. And if I can put a mask and put them in safer situations, that's what I'm going to choose to do.


COHEN: Now, of course, planes have filtration and circulation systems for the air onboard. But in addition, if you want to, you can turn the little gasper, the little vent that's above your ahead, turn it on high, point it to yourself or to or your child. That will keep the air circulating and will be an effort, or at least will do something to help keep COVID or other germs away -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. I tell you, those vaccines for little kids. I look at her family. That's my family, you know. We have one little one who isn't vaccinated. It can't come soon enough, just to assuage some of the concerns of these parents, Elizabeth.

Thank you so much for that report.

Next, blurring the lines between religion and politics. How Russia's Orthodox Church is playing a vital role in Vladimir Putin's war effort.

And breaking out of Mariupol, three to four days. That is how long Putin says it will take to capture the besieged city. Russia, again, offering an ultimatum: Surrender. We're live from Ukraine ahead.


[06:23:59] KEILAR: The U.S. unveiling a new round of sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for its war in Ukraine. The Biden administration has targeted Russian banks. It has targeted oligarchs.

But so far, it's avoided widespread sanctions on Russian energy. And the question here really is why? Why has it avoided those sanctions?

Let's discuss this now with CNN's Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand here.

You know, you guys, this is fascinating. Because you cannot effectively deal with Russia without dealing with its energy output and the money that it gets from that. Dealing with that would be the kill shot, and yet the U.S. isn't doing it when it goes to putting sanctions on other countries. What are you finding, Natasha?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been a main subject of conversation between the U.S. and Europe. right? Because the U.S. isn't as impacted, necessarily, by cutting off Russian oil and gas imports as the European Union is.

And so the question about banning the imports entirely, about sanctioning the Russian energy sector is really one of global coordination, right? That's not something that the Biden administration can just turn on and off like a switch because of how that would then impact the European countries.


Now, many of them are starting to step up here, and they're saying, We are going to start diversifying our imports. And we are going to try to wean ourselves off of Russian oil and gas.

But the reality here is that they didn't do it fast enough. And now they find themselves in this position where Russia is -- they have waged this massive invasion of Ukraine. They are weaponizing their oil and gas. And the European Union really has very limited options here for what it can do.

Therefore, the Biden administration is also kind of -- also has its hands tied about it a bit about what it can do to punish Russia.

KEILAR: If they wanted to, if the U.S. wanted to implement this sanctions regime on energy, Kylie, what would the model be? If they've done this before.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Iran, right? Look at what happened during the -- leading up to the Iran nuclear deal, after the Iran nuclear deal. There was a real sanctions regime that was put in place by the U.S. at the time.

And it wasn't as if these sanctions came on 100 percent right out of the gates. They created a system where, for the first few years, countries were expected to decrease their alliance on Iranian oil.

And that's what sanctions experts are saying now. You could use that model and you could apply it to the Russian energy sector.

What the Biden administration is saying, as Natasha points out, is we're working with the countries that are reliant on Russian energy. And we'd rather not sanction them while we're trying to work with them slowly.

But you do have countries that aren't actually working with the Biden administration on this. You have Iran. You have China that are still importing Russian energy. And they have no plans to decrease.

So it's sort of a catch-22. It's a little confusing which direction would be the best and most effective approach here. But there are experts who are saying they should take a bit of a more hardline approach to what they're doing.

KEILAR: Is there a window here of time? Because I mean, if you look at Germany, and they've estimated that they have enough reserves to go through late summer, maybe into fall. Is there a window that closes on when they could actually implement some sort of -- or go along with sanctions?

BERTRAND: Well, I think that the longer that it kind of drags out here, the -- the more amount of time Russia has to find other clients, right? And this is part of the reason why they have been trying to push the E.U. to move faster on this.

Because if they get shut off of their oil and gas revenue from the European Union, from the United States, for example, they can turn to China, India. And they can these imports -- they can find buyers elsewhere, essentially. And so the longer that this kind of drags out, the longer that Russia has to find other ways to finance its economy.

KEILAR: The European reticence has to do with how everyday people are going to experience this. Right? I mean, if you have a country like Germany that is half-reliant on Russian energy, what does life look like for people there if they decide they're not going to go ahead with energy sanctions?

ATWOOD: Yes. And there's a clear understanding on behalf of the Biden administration for how challenging it really is for the Germans to pull away from Russian reliance.

Because they look at what the United States did. They have banned Russian energy exports here. But the United States was only dependent on Russian energy for less than 10 percent of the amount of energy that the U.S. uses. That's not the case in Germany.

So the small price hikes that we saw globally when there have been these bans on Russian energy could be much higher, and not just in the U.S. but particularly in Germany, if Germany moves to do this.

So it is a challenging proposition. But you also have folks who say, Listen, the German economy is doing pretty well, and they could give up a little bit here to make sure that the Ukrainian war doesn't keep going on. KEILAR: Yes. Pain now or pain later. And do you try to take some of

the pain off of Ukraine's shoulders? We're going to see how this all -- all works out.

Kylie and Natasha, great reporting, you two. Thank you so much.

Vladimir Putin test-firing a nuclear capable-missile nicknamed Satan 2 in what he calls a warning to the West. We're going to show you what this missile can do.

Plus, Nancy Pelosi calls it outrageous and inexcusable. How a failure to communicate triggered a sudden evacuation order on Capitol Hill. This was wild as it went down yesterday.

And just in, a new book says Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, told Republicans that Donald Trump should have resigned. We'll have the reporters breaking this news joining us live.