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New Day

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Visit Kyiv, Ukraine; Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Announces U.S. Intentions to Degrade Russian Military Capability to Prevent Future Invasions Like One in Ukraine; Ukrainian City of Kharkiv Suffering Extensive Bombardment by Russian Forces. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 08:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And NEW DAY continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Monday, April 25th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. And we do begin with breaking news. Emerging from a high-stakes visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Kyiv. This was the first time high-level officials visited Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Their meeting with President Zelenskyy lasted 90 minutes. Major announcements came out of it, including that the U.S. will send diplomats back to Ukraine for the first time they were withdrawn for safety just after Putin launched the attacks. The president, President Biden, will nominate a new ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, who is the current ambassador so Slovakia.

Also, we're now hearing decidedly different language from the secretaries about the future of the war.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: In terms of our verability to win, the first step in winning is believing that you can win. And so they believe we can win. We believe that we can win -- they can win, if they have the right equipment, the right support. And we're going to do everything we can, continue to do everything we can to ensure that that gets done.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We don't know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene.


BERMAN: Also notably, and I really do think for the first time, a senior U.S. official, Secretary Austin, said the U.S. wants to diminish Russia's military power going forward so Russia could not just do this again.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. So it has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.


KEILAR: Also breaking overnight, missile strikes in the Lviv area. This is in western Ukraine. Ukrainian officials say Russian forces struck five railway stations in the west, also in the center of the country, all of this within an hour. And there are casualties, we are learning.

In the meantime, Russian forces are bombarding the steel plant in Mariupol, the last holdout where Ukrainian forces and hundreds of civilians are sheltering. Russia's ministry of defense just issued an offer to cease all hostilities around the Azovstal to allow civilians to evacuate. Of course, Russia has repeatedly attacked humanitarian corridors in Ukraine and in particular in Mariupol.

Video just into CNN. This is a fire at an oil depot in the Bryansk region of Russia. The cause of this fire not clear at this hour. We are continuing to report that out.

First, I want to go to Ramstein Air Base in Germany where Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is going to be meeting with his international counterparts on Ukraine. CNN's Oren Liebermann is there. Oren, tell us what they're going to be discussing, what the goal is here.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is very much a follow-on to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Blinken's visit where they met with Ukraine's leaders in Kyiv and had discussions there about not only the situation on the ground but what they're looking for.

Now, that will follow on to this, what we're seal here tomorrow, discussions with 35 nations, including Ukraine -- up to 35 or perhaps more than 35 nations -- about where this goes from here. The Pentagon said late last week that there isn't a set agenda they have here. There's no decision they've already made. It's about following on to what Ukraine needs for the fight ahead.

That fight has already changed from what we've seen, the small arms ammunition they needed for the urban battles around Kyiv and the capital there to the more open fight of terrain. We've seen the thinking from the U.S. and allies shift from what was provided before to the howitzers, some of which have already arrived, for the fight and training around those howitzers, the counter-artillery radar that really the focus of the fight for south and east Ukraine, the Donbas region there. So we'll see follow-on discussions about what the U.S. can provide and what others can provide.

You already saw the shift in what's being provided, and now you are right to point out that change in rhetoric, a more open rhetoric from the top U.S. officials from Blinken, from Austin, saying not only do they believe Ukraine can win, but Blinken going even further there, saying Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Putin. That is certainly not rhetoric that Russia will like.

As you also pointed out, the statement about the opening of the embassy in Lviv, that in and of itself has security discussions around it, especially as you see Russia striking railway stations in central and eastern Ukraine.


An embassy presence in Lviv will require its own security even as Ukraine has to provide some of that security. But it also comes with additional considerations because it remains an active war zone. Do you need search and rescue capability? Do you need a rapid response force? All of that goes into these deliberations.

And of course, the statement that the U.S. will try to open an embassy or diplomatic presence in Kyiv sooner or later when the situation allows. But it shows that the U.S. and partner allies remain engaged, and we'll see more of that here tomorrow with the discussion on what Ukraine needs not only for the short-term fight, to stay in the fight, to beat back Russia's offensive, but in terms of longer-term capabilities to secure its own sovereignty. Brianna?

KEILAR: This will be a very important meeting. Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

BERMAN: Let's go live to Lviv and bring in CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, it's great to see you. Look, I was struck by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying that a goal now is to weaken Russia's military. Not just in Ukraine, but he's talking about weakening Russia going forward. That seems to be a shift, to me, at least, in U.S. strategy. What do you make of that?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is, certainly in saying it out loud. He says very explicitly there that he does not want the Russian military to emerge from its invasion of Ukraine capable of doing so again. He cites the losses Russia has already suffered both in terms of equipment and personnel, in no small part because of the kinds of weapons that the U.S. and its NATO allies have been sending in. There's a reason so many Russian tanks have burned, and armored personnel carriers, and helicopters have been shot down, those weapons we saw in the early stages of the war, the Javelins and Stingers.

And he's in effect saying that after this invasion ends, if it does, or no matter when it does, they don't want Russia to be able to do a repeat, right, or to maintain this. That is, to your point, John, a message that will not sit well with the Kremlin. The U.S. seems to be perfectly fine with that. Perhaps it's to be expected for the U.S. to say this out loud because they've already been providing an enormous amount of weaponry to the Ukrainians, but also there would be a U.S. interest in Russia not being able to do this again immediately and to resupply.

But to say it publicly, and also that language, too, in effect, Ukraine, an independent sovereign Ukraine will outlive, outlast Putin, goes right to the core of this, right, because you and I have talked so often about how this is personal for Putin. Putin has a view of the world, of his own place in history, of uniting mother Russia, pushing back as what he sees as the U.S. undermining him, seeking regime change in Russia. It's very personal for Putin. So, by stating out loud the U.S. plans to weaken his ability to carry out this kind of thing in the future is something he will hear. And it appears that the U.S., the Biden administration is comfortable with that.

BERMAN: It felt to me like carefully chosen language by both secretaries following this visit, and it comes as we're hearing different language from Ned Price at the State Department who says Ukraine is winning this war. Is that really the feeling, or is this trying to paint a rosy picture?

SCIUTTO: I speak to U.S. military officials all the time about where their assessment is of Ukraine's fighting ability and the battle on the ground. And for some time at least, the U.S. military view has been that Ukraine is not just holding its own, but that Russia has not made and perhaps cannot make the changes necessary to change the balance on the ground. The supply issues, the morale issues, the command issues, they can't be fixed in a couple of weeks, right, just by repositioning forces from the north to the east, that kind of thing. They never underestimate Russia's enormous firepower, but their assessment -- I wouldn't say rosy. I would say it's positive, optimistic, but based on what they're seeing, right, of what Russia's capabilities are and what changes they've been able to make.

Now, that is not a unanimous view. You did hear the British prime minister a couple days ago say that it's possible Russia could win this war. I don't think anybody would eliminate that possibility, because wars can change. We're only two months in today. But it is remarkable for them to say that out publicly, right, because that puts your marker down on the table in effect, right, saying that Ukraine may have the upper hand.

I think also, frankly, that echoes what the Ukrainian president says and what you hear from Ukrainian commanders and what you hear from Ukrainian soldiers, is that we will fight, we will win. And that's essential to the morale that everyone observing this has said has been so essential for Ukraine's response so far, that they have an enormous morale advantage, and perhaps speaking in those terms, we will fight them on the beaches, perhaps in Churchillian terms, is a way to add to that morale.

BERMAN: Great point. Jim Sciutto, great seeing you. Thanks so much for being with us.

SCIUTTO: Great to see you, man.


BERMAN: CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward joined us from Kharkiv just a short time ago. This is what she showed us.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So we are in what remains, John, of the regional state administration building. You had just talked about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying it's possible the Ukrainians could win this if they have the right equipment. Well, this is what they're up against. And I want to take you around so you can get a feel for the full scale of the damage that was done here when two massive missiles landed in and around this building last month.

You can see just out, what's left of the window there. That is Freedom Square. And this city has been getting pulverized day in, day out. Just today we have heard a pretty much constant stream of bombardment since about 4:30 in the morning. Often it goes on all night. And the mayor here says that 25 percent of the buildings in this city have been hit during strikes, 25 percent. Just try to get your head around the enormity of that figure. And 67 schools have been hit. Look at this. This was once a palatial grand staircase now completely destroyed.

According to authorities, only 10 people were killed here, which is extraordinary, although I've just been talking with one of the soldiers who's in charge of looking after this space, and he says they believe there are many more dead under the rubble. I'm going to show you what some of that rubble looks like over here. People were rescued as well.

But going back to those statistics that the mayor gave us, 67 schools, 54 kindergartens, 16 hospitals. That's just here in the city of Kharkiv. You can see the defenses that they had tried to implement to protect themselves from attack. But obviously, sandbags no match for this. I don't know if you could hear that as well, some bombardment again in the distance. And you can see outside the scale of the devastation, cars completely scorched. There's actually an office over there to the side that we can't get into easily from this point which we saw yesterday, where an entire car has literally been thrown into an office by the force of that blast.

And what people here fear in this city is that Kharkiv could be the next Mariupol because of the amount of bombardment and the real intensification we've seen of that bombardment, especially in the last week.

Now, just I want cameraman Scotty McWhinney and producer Brent Swails to be a little careful here. But I do want to show you this because it gives you a real feeling for just the enormity of that blast. Absolutely astonishing. It literally took out six stories. And that's why, as you can probably imagine, we're hearing from authorities here that they do believe some people are still trapped under that rubble, but that it is just simply impossible for them at this stage with bombardment continuing day in and day out in this city, for them to try to dig down underneath that and get a sense of just how many people may have lost their lives here.

One more thing, I think, that's important to contextualize in terms of what I was saying about how people feel here hear that this could be the next Mariupol. Kharkiv is 30 miles away from Russia. It's in the northeast of the country. It's the second largest city. And Russian troops essentially have been launching this three-pronged offensive in the Donbas region, pushing down from the north, up from the south, and in from the east. Ukrainian forces have also been launching a series of counteroffensives, particularly around the strategic town of Izium. So Kharkiv is very close to a lot of the action. There are a lot of important supply routes for the Russians to get more ammunition and weaponry to places like Izium. And that's why it's strategically important, not to mention, of course, the symbolic value. And you can imagine, the symbolism of this building. You talk to the locals, this was a place people came to pose for photographs. This was a place you would dress nicely to visit. And now, this is what's left of it, John, Brianna.


KEILAR: Clarissa Ward with just phenomenal reporting there moments ago for us.


As Russian forces continue to lay siege to the southeastern region of Ukraine, atrocities out of the now liberated town of Bucha near Kyiv continue to come to light.

Tetiana Sichkar is 20. She is a resident of Bucha and she witnessed the death of her mother, shot and killed by Russian forces right next to her and her father, and Tetiana is joining us now from Kyiv.

Tetiana, thank you so much for being with us to tell your story. We are so incredibly sorry for the loss of your mom. But we know that you think it's important the world hears about it. So can you tell us -- can you tell us about the day that your mother died? What happened?



We were going from our grandmother we went to her every day to cook some food because we have no gas in our apartment. So we cooked food on a campfire, and we were going back to our home and suddenly -- we went through it every day -- and suddenly I heard a very loud shot. I saw something coming from the back of my mother's head.

I screamed, "Lay down." We all fell. My father was going first. He turned around. He saw my mother has a bullet in her head. Her face was in blood. He said to me to hide behind her body. I heard it, but then I started to call her, she didn't she didn't answer.

And then I tried to raise up a little bit. I saw her face in blood, she tried to breathe, but I understand that zero -- no chance for her to survive. I tried to shake her hand, but she didn't respond. I saw her blood on the ground. There was a lot of blood.

Then I ran to my grandmother, and my father then went to the Russian soldiers. He asked them to get her body with him because we didn't want it to stay on the street, and they captured him and put him into an interrogation.

KEILAR: So they captured your father and interrogated him. Can you tell us what he went through Tetiana?

SICHKAR: Yes. I didn't know what happened to him until the morning of the next day. He came in the morning. I was very afraid that I will lose my family just in one evening, but I was very happy when he came back.

He told that they put a bag on his face, and they tied his hands behind his back, so he couldn't move and he couldn't see anything and they asked him if he has any Nazi tattoos. Of course, he didn't. We're not Nazi here in Ukraine. We're normal people.

They asked him if he steal some things from houses, but it was so stupid questions. They just killed his wife, my mother, and they kept all the stupid questions. They drove him in the fighting vehicle somewhere. We don't know where they took him, and then they let him go.

It was already dark. They just put him on the street and let him go and drove away. He was very lucky because he could take off the back from his head, and he could cut the tie on his hands, so and he found a place to stay at night.

There are many people in Bucha who were killed like that, with a bag on their faces and with tied hands. But my father survived, and it is very good luck.

KEILAR: I am so thankful that you still have your father, Tetiana, and I know -- I know you were able, eventually to bury your mother there at your grandmother's, and then eventually after the Russians left you were able to give her a proper burial.

But I also know you want her to be remembered for how she lived. Can you tell us about your mom? Can you tell the world what you want them to know about your mom and about Ukraine?

SICHKAR: Yes, my mother, she was very good woman. She always smiled. She helped some animals. She went to the animal shelter. She was very active. She was a local activist.

Also, she was very intelligent. She has a lot of books. She liked to mathematics, psychology, philosophy.

I'm still shocked. I can't believe she is not alive anymore. I miss her a lot.

KEILAR: Tetiana, I am so sorry. I'm so sorry for the loss of your family, for you and for your father. And I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us your story. Thank you.

SICHKAR: Yes, I think it's very important for me to let the world know what Russian soldiers do here in Ukraine. I want to tell my story to prevent this from happening, and I don't want it to happen again somewhere.

KEILAR: And we are here to listen to it. So thank you again. We do really appreciate you being with us this morning.

We do have some video that is just in to CNN, a fire that is broken out in an oil depot inside of Russia in a region that borders Ukraine. We have some new details on what could have caused it.

Plus --



I do not remember.

Sorry, I don't remember.

I don't remember.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't remember much when asked what role she may have played before the January 6th insurrection.

We're joined next by the lawyer who grilled her on the stand.



BERMAN: This week, a Judge will consider whether Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene should be allowed to run for re-election based on her actions surrounding the January 6th insurrection.

After an at-times contentious hearing, there is another question: Did she perjure herself on the stand under oath? This is one of the moments in question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In fact, you think that Speaker Pelosi is a traitor to the country, right?

GREENE: I'm not answering that question. It's speculation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've said that haven't you, Miss Greene, that she's a traitor to the country?

GREENE: No, I haven't said that.