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Russia Announces Successful Test of New Nuclear Capable Intercontinental Ballistic Missile; Russian Forces Gather in Eastern Ukraine for Possible Attempt at Military Breakthrough; Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko Interviewed on Continuing Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Also breaking this morning, Russian forces attempting to make a new push into the Donbas region in the eastern part of the country in Luhansk. They have now taken control of a village there, Kreminna. The battle lines, I am told by U.S. officials, remain largely static. However, no major territorial gains on either side.

The Biden administration announcing a new round of economic sanctions against the Kremlin. The Russians taking the opportunity to test launch a new nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missile, sometimes referred to by the name, if you can believe it, Satan II. Putin said very publicly on Russian state TV, this launch should make Russia's enemies think twice, a deliberate message in the midst of the war.

U.S. officials say they were not surprised by the launch. They'd seen it coming. They downplayed the threat.

Let's begin this morning with CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward. She is live in Dnipro. Clarissa, I want to begin with the situation in Mariupol. You have Putin now seeming to back off for now, saying he doesn't need to assault this steel plant there that has become something of a lifeboat for those remaining. But we have learned throughout this war to take the words of Vladimir Putin not just with skepticism but to assume that he is misleading. What do you think his game is here now for Mariupol, his intentions?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Jim, it is looking more and more like this might be the small victory that Russia hopes to be able to proclaim ahead of May 9th, which is Victory Day in Russia. People have been speculating furiously as to how they were going to try to construe anything in this war as some kind of victory. Mariupol may provide him with that opportunity, which may be why he is seemingly trying to appear as magnanimous in this moment, even though we know that the -- according to Ukrainian commanders and people inside the city that the shelling continues, that hundreds of injured people are not able to be evacuated out, that despite efforts to open up those humanitarian corridors, there still has been no resolution to end the misery of the thousands of civilians who are left.

You talked about how he says there is no need to storm that Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian forces and some hundreds of civilians have been hunkered down now. But he did also say blockaded so that not even a fly could enter. So clearly it appears the plan now is to extract maximum humiliation out of this moment to try to appear magnanimous while simultaneously starving people out, forcing them to surrender, so that this can be construed or framed in some warped way as some kind of a victory for Russian forces.

It will, Jim, strategically allow them to claim a land corridor going directly from Russian territory through Mariupol, though Kherson, which they also hold, to the annexed Crimean Peninsula. So it's going to be a very difficult few days ahead for those people who still remain in that city, but it does appear that its fall is now imminent, Jim.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: How, Clarissa, are things shaping up there on that eastern front, especially as President Zelenskyy is warning that his forces don't have the weaponry they need?

WARD: So this had been hailed as the big Russian offensive after the humiliation of its failure to take Kyiv and Chernihiv in the north. This was the opportunity for Russian forces to redeem themselves. But what we saw when we were down around the front line over the past few days is, as Jim mentioned before, frontlines that are relatively static. Ukrainians fighting very hard, also trying to launch various counteroffensives to stop Russian forces from taking the remaining parts of this Donetsk and Luhansk region that make up this wider Donbas area.

What's very difficult for Ukrainians, though, is not only that they are facing a huge amount of weaponry right on Russia's doorstep, but also the logistics of trying to extract and evacuate civilians from these areas. These are very hardy, resilient people, and very poor people, many of them, who have lived under the shadow of Russia's war for eight years. A lot of them are refusing to evacuate. There isn't that same infrastructure in place that we saw in Kyiv and its suburbs, for example, during the attacks there. And so a lot of people are staying in their homes until it becomes too late to move them. So this is going to be a real challenge for Ukrainian forces going forward as this sort of war, which increasingly looks like a war of attrition, continues to grind on.


SCIUTTO: Of course, the contradiction of humanitarian corridors monitored by Russia is that the evidence is, and we see it every day, Russia is deliberately killing civilians, leveling civilian areas. So the idea of trusting them to honor humanitarian corridors, you can understand why many Ukrainians are skeptical.

Clarissa Ward in Dnipro this morning, thanks so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: The Russian Ministry of Defense announcing that it successfully test-launched its new intercontinental ballistic missile, dubbed Satan II by western officials. President Vladimir Putin bragging back in 2018 that the weapon would render NATO defenses completely useless.

Joining us is Tom Foreman. Tom, it's fascinating and scary when you learn what this weapon can do, and maybe we understand why Putin bragged about it as he did.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is called a super heavy ICBM. And it is about the length of a football field. It can carry around 15 warheads or dummies or perhaps a hypersonic missile that could then be launched from this missile to carry other warheads forward. And it would travel at about 15,000 miles per hour, not uncommon for this type of missile that actually goes out of the atmosphere.

So, does it have real capabilities? Yes. They have been working on it for a long time, and they finally reached the testing phase. And so far, the testing seems to be going the way they want. Launching from about 3,500 miles to land on Kamchatka Peninsula, successfully tracked all the way by U.S. forces, Brianna.

KEILAR: So how would this render defenses useless?

FOREMAN: Well, that's the claim of the Russians. Will it actually work that way? That's hard to say. Think about it this way. This is not that it is doing something that is really unusual, it is just embracing possibly, the belief is, something that the Russians like called fractional orbital bombardment. Fractional orbital bombardment in simpler terms would mean that, for example, if you say -- if you have a traditional ICBM, it would follow a big arc up into space, and as it comes down it will release its warheads toward given targets, which gives you a pretty good idea of where they're going to hit.

Fractional orbital bombardment involves a missile that follows a much lower trajectory, maybe about 90 miles up, so it's still in space, but then releases as it comes out of orbit this way and makes it a little harder to figure out where things might be headed out there. Whether the Russians have mastered this, whether this will actually work, is unknown. But that's what they're touting right now. They're saying we think we can launch it around the poles, we can launch it different ways and reach the United States in surprise ways that we haven't before. That remains to be seen if they can really have that technology mastered, Brianna.

KEILAR: So is this something that changes the state of play on the battlefield in Ukraine, or is this really just a show of force at this particular time for U.S. and western allies?

FOREMAN: More the latter, it sounds like. This can be used for conventional weapons too, by the way. It doesn't have to be used for nuclear weapons. But this really reeks of right now, one of the reasons U.S. forces don't seem terribly concerned about, is they're saying, look, they have been working on this a long time. This is more or less a standard test. They've had nuclear weapons that they could fire for a long time. And this really doesn't apply to what is happening in Ukraine right now. More likely a face-saving move by Vladimir Putin after his military has looked very, very bad, and right before they had their big victory day celebrations in Moscow, where he would like to look big and like to be able to point to something and say, well, at least we have this.

KEILAR: Very good point. Tom Foreman, thank you for taking us through that. I do appreciate it.


SCIUTTO: Earlier this morning, we posed questions for Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yushchenko. You may remember, he was poisoned in an attempted assassination while running for president here in 2004, which he and his advisers blamed on Russia. The poisoning at the time scarred his face brutally, the price, it seems, simply for standing up to the candidate Putin wanted. Here is our conversation about what Ukraine is facing today.


SCIUTTO: Russia has amassed an enormous force in the east. Can Ukrainian forces prevail there?

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If you understand correctly what is going on in the east of Ukraine, then, yes, I would say, of course, we will win, because what is going on in the east of Ukraine is, while Ukraine is fighting this Moscow threat, it is one of the gigantic battles of our times. It is a battle between good and evil. It is a battle between light and darkness. And therefore, of course, it's not a regional battle. It's not a battle between Russia and Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: How does this standoff in Mariupol end? Is it possible, should a third country try to extract Ukrainian forces and civilians?


YUSHCHENKO (through translator): Mariupol is a symbol. As a symbol of the Ukrainian nation and it has become a symbol for the world. And, of course, if we talk about it, yesterday we heard a statement from our Ukrainian armed forces, and they said that they're not going to lay down arms. They are going to defend the remaining part of Mariupol. And if they have to leave out, if they have to get out of the encirclement, they will do so with their weapons in hand. But for Putin, Mariupol is possibly one of those victories that he needs to secure before their sacred, sacred date of the 9th of May that they usually arrange their victory parades on this date and their witches' sabbath. So Mariupol is a significant date for him. That's the issue.

SCIUTTO: You yourself suffered immeasurably at the hands of Putin, poisoned by forces friendly to him, perhaps in retaliation for your role in the Orange Revolution. Do you believe that Putin or other Russian leaders will ever be held accountable for their alleged war crimes here?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): I think if we want to secure a proper world order, and we need to think about how we're going to live in the future with such a fascist state as Russia, a terrorist state that organizes and finances terrorism around the world in the 21st century, how has it even been able to do that. A state that kills people, kills civic initiatives. And so we need to understand how that we have to work out how to live with that, and how to organize this new international space that I'm sure we will. And we will need to organize a response to this genocide in Ukraine, against thousands of Ukrainian villages that have been destroyed now, I'm sure, and Ukrainian cities. So I think the response to this question lies ahead.

SCIUTTO: Russia conducted a test launch of a new ICBM right in the middle of this war. Putin said very publicly it should cause anyone threatening Russia, quote, to think twice. Is this just rhetoric in your view, or a sign of a leader who when threatened might escalate here?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): Well, Putin is a liar. He lies all the time. He has a huge inferiority complex. He needs -- he suffers from this complex so much, he needs to wear heels that are higher on his shoes. And so for his ambitions, he has -- his ambitions are too high. He has exaggerated ambitions for himself and for his country.

And so as yet another -- this missile that they tested yesterday, this is yet another achievement that they are saying, they're putting this forward as yet another achievement. But I'm sure this is either something soiled or something that will never see the battlefield. Putin keeps shifting his emphasis on the battlefield and in his dialogue with the west. And his nuclear rhetoric is basically a bluff. And he is bluffing -- it is the bluff of a gangster from Leningrad.

And he needs this bluff so that he can reconcile himself with the failure of the first phase of the war, with his blitzkrieg that failed. And this isn't common to Russia at all, but he is shifting these emphases with the west because he is -- he needs to stop the west helping Ukraine. And so this bluff is to intimidate, is aimed at intimidating the west and stopping it helping Ukraine and pursuing the political course that -- and position that has been taken in the west. And so that's its true purpose.


SCIUTTO: Putin is bluffing, he says, from a man who has felt his wrath very personally before.


Just a short time from now, President Biden will address the nation on U.S. support for the Ukrainians in this war. And we have just learned what exactly, what aid he will announce in those comments.

Plus, also back in the U.S., brand-new reporting about what Republican leaders did and said after January 6th, including one who was ready to push Donald Trump to resign. He's changed his tune very much since then.

This is CNN's special live coverage.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news into the investigation on the Capitol Hill insurrection. "The New York Times" is reporting that in the days following January 6th, Kevin McCarthy told other Republican leaders that he was going to call President Trump and advise him to resign.

Also, that McCarthy and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell looked into the 25th Amendment as an option for removing Trump from office.

Joining us now, we have "New York Times" national political correspondents and CNN political analysts, both of them, Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin. This is their book "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America's Future," is going to be released here on May 3rd. Preordering is available now.

I think you're probably going to want to do that after you hear some of what's in this book. This is the first time we're hearing it. It is fascinating, you guys.

So, talk to us about this. McCarthy it sounds like, you know, after January 6th happens, he is going to -- his plan is to ask Trump to resign, recommend that he resigns.


What happens?

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So , we're taking readers inside the inner sanctum of the Capitol, inside these rooms, these private meetings and conversations that are taking place with urgency after January 6th.

The leaders of the GOP and Congress desperate to figure out what do we do, how do we hold this president accountable, how do we solve frankly this political problem? And McCarthy in this moment is almost desperate to figure out how can I address this and he says, he's going to take urgent and decisive action. He's going to call President Trump and say, Democrats are going to impeach you, you should resign.

It really captures importantly not just this period of history, but this is about tomorrow as well as yesterday. And it is important for viewers to know that, that this also offers a picture of what it could be like if President Trump does run again in 2024, because his party capitulated to him once in this moment after the 6th, and they're still tied to him to this day.

KEILAR: In your title, it gets to that. It really does. But McCarthy, for his part, what is his camp saying about how this went down?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they denied selectively a couple items of our reporting. They have not denied that he said Trump's behavior was atrocious, that it was defensible, that nobody should defend -- they didn't comment on those components of our reporting. They have denied he said he was going to call Trump and call on him to resign. We are a thousand percent confident on our sourcing on that comment.

And, Brianna, we're really capturing in this moment just how much danger the United States was in on and around January 6th, how much danger it is still in today, and the degree to which men like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell knew at the time, and likely still know just as well today that that danger exists and how little they have done about it.

KEILAR: It is alarming that they're denying obviously what is true there. These 25th Amendment conversations, Jonathan, what were those like?

MARTIN: Look, in this period of the days after the 6th, you have to remember, there is videos coming out every day of the extraordinary brutality and violence on the steps of U.S. Capitol, and I think more and more Americans and certainly more and more members of Congress are getting angry. We have to do something.

And so in response to that swelling anger, McCarthy and his fellow leaders in the Congress are considering every possible option. How do we address this issue? How do we stop this political bleeding and they're trying to figure out, okay, can the cabinet do the job for us?

Basically the 25th Amendment allows members of the president's cabinet to ban together and force him from office. And I think it was a period of where can the cabinet save us from having made a tough call, can they avert impeachment because that obviously would address the Trump issue? The cabinet wasn't going to do that, of course, and so it fell on the Congress to address President Trump.

KEILAR: Another fascinating moment that you report here, McConnell telling advisers back in Kentucky that, quote, the Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us. He was referring to the imminent impeachment vote, of course, in the House. He said, if this isn't impeachable, I don't know what is.

His role in impeachment is what? What do you make of this moment?

BURNS: This is a critical moment because you capture -- we capture in the book there not just what we all know about Mitch McConnell, which is that he doesn't care for president Trump, that he thinks January 6th was really bad. But that in that brief window immediately after January 6th, he was cheering on impeachment, and later on, of course, vote against convicting president Trump and would point to the reality that Trump had left office at that point as a reason why they can't proceed in that way, it would be improper.

But he knew on January 11th when he made those comments that a trial was not going to wrap up before President Trump left office and he suggested strongly in that moment that there would be the bullets for conviction, 17 Republicans or more voting to convict President Trump and after that, there would be an opportunity for the Congress to bar President Trump from ever returning to public life. He obviously did not follow the route.

MARTIN: This moment is like Access Hollywood in the fall of 2016, there is that period of a day or so, little bit longer in this period, where the Republican leadership, the old guard, the Mitch McConnells of the world, this is finally it, he's finally gone too far, he's discredited himself, our voters are going to see the light, in this moment McConnell thinks this is our shot.

The Democrats are going to bring up impeachment in the House, I'm going to have the votes, McConnell's ultimate vote counter, he sees his conference, thinks, yes, this is too much, even for some of them, we have the votes to convict, our Trump problem is going to be over.


But much like Access Hollywood, and the fall of 2016, something happened, the Republican voters didn't care that much about what Trump had done or said. And once the Republican members of Congress realized their voters didn't give a damn, they lined up with their voters once again.

That's the story here, the Republican members of Congress who were basically bowing to what they believed is the preference of their voters, and their fear of President Trump. It is a story that is still going on.

"This Will Not Pass" is the title, because this is an ongoing story. The ongoing story American politics today, will President Trump try to come back and seize power in this country in 2024? And what will the party do about it?

KEILAR: McCarthy ends up in Mar-a-Lago, shaking Trump's hands, right? Meeting with him --

MARTIN: Before the end of January. He's down in Mar-a-Lago.

KEILAR: It is fascinating. You paint this incredible picture in this book of these guys sort of being like, oh, are you with us? And realizing, no, they're not with us.

BURNS: The quote from Mitch McConnell is I didn't get to be the leader by voting with five people in the conference.

KEILAR: Yes, indeed, this is fantastic reporting. Thank you guys so much for coming on personally to share it with us.

MARTIN: Thanks for having us.

It is out May 3rd, so hope you all will buy it.

KEILAR: All right. I'm going to preorder mine today. Alex Burns, Jonathan Martin, thank you so much. Again, the book is "This Will Not Pass". Russian tennis players now barred from participating in Wimbledon.

We're joined by a Ukrainian tennis player who says that doesn't go far enough.

And just a short time from now, President Biden will address the nation on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. What the United States is doing and is it enough?