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Putin Threatening to Expand War if West Interferes in Ukraine; Steel Plant Stands as Mariupol's Last Line of Defense; Study: Russians Adopting Sounder Pattern of Movement in East; Inside Bucha after Russia's Slaughter of Civilians; GOP's Scalise, Gaetz Meet Privately after Heated Exchange. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Thursday, April 28, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

A chilling threat this morning from the man behind the brutal invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin warning that his unprovoked and deadly war will expand if the West interferes. And this rhetoric is coming as the U.N. secretary-general, who just came face-to-face with Putin, tells CNN this war will continue until Russia decides to end it.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If someone intends to intervene in what is happening from the outside and creates unacceptable strategic threats for us, then they should know that our response to oncoming strikes will be swift, lightning fast. We have all the tools for this. Ones that no one can brag about. And we won't brag. We will use them if needed.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The war will not end with meetings. The war will end. It will end when the Russian Federation decides to end it and when there is, after a ceasefire, a possibility of a serious political agreement. We can have all meetings, but that is not what will end the war.


KEILAR: Overnight, Britain's defense minister said Putin may seek to consolidate what he has in Ukraine and dig in like a cancerous growth.

We're also learning about more horrors out of Donetsk. The U.S. has credible information that Russian military units executed Ukrainians there while they were surrendering. Their hands were bound. Their bodies showed signs of torture, and they were killed execution-style.

Russia has been focusing its efforts in the Donetsk region as its forces failed to take the capital city of Kyiv. New images showing Russian shelling has intensified in the area. At

least 27 houses from one village were hit. So far, no word on casualties.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, an explosion in the Russian- occupied city of Kherson.





BERMAN: So Russian media says this blast took place near the city's main television broadcasting facility. A Russian-appointed official in the city says a return to Ukrainian control is now impossible.

Across the Eastern part of Ukraine, the Ukrainian military reports intense fire from Russian forces. That's in the region over here. And the think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, assesses that, quote, "Russian forces have adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in Eastern Ukraine." In other words, they might be doing things better now. We'll talk more about what that means.

And this just in. Paula Reed, Trevor Reed's mother, tweeted that he is back in the United States. It has been a day of joy for the family but hard for Paul Whelan. He is the American still detained in Russia. We will speak with Paul's twin brother ahead on NEW DAY.

KEILAR: Let's go live now to Lviv, Ukraine, and bring in CNN's Isa Soares for the very latest there. Isa, what can you tell us?


As John and yourself were just outlining there, we've seen that Russian offensive, with a Ukrainian official telling us that Russia has been exerting intense fire in Donetsk and the Luhansk region where we've seen that big push, that big offensive.

But worth bearing in mind that Russians haven't taken their eyes off the besieged city of Mariupol. Worth reminding of you [SIC] some 100,000 people or so have still stuck inside Mariupol. There have been no evacuation corridors for days, almost a week or so.

And then you have that Azovstal steel plant, a plant that's become that last line of defense, really, for the Ukrainians. We know inside about 1,000 civilians with soldiers, women, children. They haven't seen daylight, Brianna, for about 50-plus days.

I have been speaking to residents of Mariupol and workers of that Azovstal steel plant, the very workers who, by the way, make the steel for the building that John is in in Hudson Yards.

And they have managed to escape the onslaught of that Russian aggression, but they have been left scarred, really, by just pure horrors. Have a listen.


SOARES (voice-over): Ivan used to live on Mariupol's Peace Avenue.

"You want your city to remain the same as it was in your memory, he tells me.

That city now lies in ruins, a shell of what it once was. And the steel plant his family has dedicated three generations to, suddenly finds itself as Mariupol's last line of defense.

"Seeing your city being destroyed is horrible," he tells me. "You could compare it to a relative dying in your arms and seeing him or her dying gradually, organ after organ failing, and you could do nothing."

For his colleague Oleksiy, it's also personal. He has lost not just friends but his mother-in-law to shelling when they first tried to flee Mariupol.

(on camera): How does this make you feel? You must be so angry.

(voice-over): "My emotions disappeared already there in Mariupol," he says. "That's why there's nothing but hate."

Oleksiy has worked at the steel plant for 26 years. He's one of 11,000 employees who have kept the iron furnaces turning here. A major player in the metals industry, Azovstal produces 4 million tons of steel a year, its metal shining brightly in Manhattan's Hudson Yards and London's Shard.


Now as Russia pummels its plant and production jolts to a halt, the CEO of the company behind Azovstal Steel tells me at least 150 of his employees have been killed, and thousands are still unaccounted for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of the 11,000 employees of Azovstal, only about 4.5 thousand people got out of Mariupol and got in contact with us.

SOARES: "This is our plant, as my papa says. He works here," says this little girl in a promotional video.

Built in 1933 under Soviet rule, Azovstal was partially demolished during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Now it faces the wrath of a president who says he's de-Nazifying it, attacking the very foundation that his country helped build.

Holed up inside are thought to be around 1,000 civilians hiding in shelters. Women, children and the elderly, who haven't seen unlight in more than 50 days.

And then there's the injured, in field hospitals like this one. Russian forces continue to encircle the plant, and they are not budging. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's -- it's the plant that he wants.

I think it's about symbolism.

SOARES: A win in the port city of Mariupol would provide President Putin with a land bridge to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

If fully taken, Rinat Akhmetov, one of Ukraine's richest men and the main shareholder of the group behind Azovstal Steel, tells me via email, "Under no circumstances will these plants operate under the Russian occupation."

Oleksiy agrees, telling me, "After what they did, never."

A wall of steel defending to the bitter end the place they have called home.


SOARES: And, Brianna, in the last few hours, a Ukrainian soldier inside, holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant, has made yet again a fresh appeal to world leaders to create an evacuation so they can get out.

There are about 600 soldiers, he said, who are wounded and women and children in desperate need of water and food. Very acute shortages and a very dire situation indeed inside the Azovstal Steel plant.

KEILAR: A really fantastic report there, Isa. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right. New this morning, the suggestion that the Russians may have learned some lessons and are making gains in Eastern Ukraine.

The Institute for the Study of War writes, quote, "Russian forces have adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in Eastern Ukraine, at least along the line from Izyum to Rubizhne."

Let me show you where that is right here. Izyum and Rubizhne, in the Eastern part of Ukraine. They're "pushing down multiple roughly parallel roads right now" -- so this direction -- "within supporting distance of one another, allowing them to bring more combat power to bear than their previous practice had supported."

Joining us now, CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Cedric, what exactly does that mean? There's the suggestion they're making slower, steadier and perhaps more sustainable gains.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, John, good morning. The basic thing that this means is that, when you look at these lines of attack right here, this basically, as you pointed out, follows the routes that already exist.

There are also rail lines in this area. And what it means is they are deliberately and very methodically going through this area. And if we take a look at where the Ukrainians have lost territory

right in here, you can see that each of these areas around Kharkiv, around Izyum, all of these different -- like Barvinkove, Popasna, Severodonetsk, all of these areas. This big area right in here, this area right in here. All of these areas are, in essence, under attack in a very deliberate and concerted pattern.

So what the Russians are doing is they're concentrating. They're actually taking the principal of mass and using it in order to further their attack access. And they're doing it fairly effectively, because right up until this point, we haven't really been paying attention to that; and they're making progress.

BERMAN: So we heard from Vladimir Putin overnight, threatening a lightning response to anyone who basically might intervene in this war in Ukraine. It seemed awfully threatening. What exactly is he talking about, especially when he's speaking of means that he doesn't need to brag about?

LEIGHTON: Yes, so that was interesting. That caught my attention, as well.

So when you look at the kinds of things that he can do, you take a look and see that in these areas right here, there's a lot of population centers right in through all of these areas. So one possibility is that he's talking about a tactical nuclear weapon.


The other part of this is, is that he's talking about hypersonic weapons. So between those two, he's talking either about a tactical move in the Ukrainian area or a strategic move.

And that goes into his idea of actually looking at all the different efforts that are being made by the West to support the Ukrainians, and he's also looking at attacking those efforts.

BERMAN: So, Cedric, there are also people asking questions about May 9, which is this big Victory Day, a big parade day in Russia, in Moscow. And there was a suggestion before that Vladimir Putin, by that day, wanted to have something where he could declare victory, maybe victory in the Eastern part of Ukraine.

Now some analysts are beginning to wonder whether he might use that day to call for a total mobilization and really escalate, I think, the course of the war. What would that mean? How would that be different than where things are now?

LEIGHTON: So right now, Russia has not called for a total mobilization. They're using the normal call-ups of conscripted folks. Every year, they have a call up in the April -- early April time frame that is then used as part of the training cycle for the Russian military.

If he exercises his decree authority and actually calls up for a total mobilization, it kind of evokes what happened in World War I, when all of the different countries got together on their own and mobilized their forces; and that kind of scenario resulted in a lot of militaries here and in all these different countries mobilizing in response to each other.

So what that could look like is that you have Russia on one side; perhaps with Belarus and then on the other side, you have the NATO countries mobilizing at the same time in response to that. That is a recipe for a major conflict, if it gets out of control coming up. And that would be a very dangerous scenario, John.

BERMAN: And look, we have right now cutting off gas to Poland, cutting off gas to Bulgaria, explosions here in Moldova, signs that this war is expanding in different ways, territorially.

Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John.

BERMAN: So Anderson Cooper in the suburb, the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, uncovering new evidence of atrocities from Russian soldiers. His report, next.

Plus, two feuding high-profile Republicans meeting in private after the release of explosive audiotapes. Did Steve Scalise and Matt Gaetz manage to work things out?

KEILAR: And Marjorie Taylor Greene attacking Catholicism, saying Satan controls the church.



KEILAR: The Ukrainian town of Bucha has seen some of the worst atrocities in Russia's brutal war. CNN's Anderson Cooper went there and spoke to a man who risked his life to document the slaughter that occurred during the Russian occupation there.

We should warn you that some of the images you are about to see are quite disturbing, but they are critical to see.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In Bucha, blood still stains the streets. When Russian troops pulled out, this is what they left behind on Yablonska Street. The bodies of several men shot to death, hands tied behind their backs.

Further down, this person was shot to death on their bicycle, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another.

(on camera): What happened here?

RUSLAN KRAVCHENKO, BUCHA PROSECUTOR (through translator): Local residents were killed on the street by the Russian military. They were shot and killed even just going out on the street around their business or going to pick up humanitarian aid.

COOPER (voice-over): Ruslan Kravchenko is Bucha's prosecutor. He's now collecting evidence of war crimes.

KRAVCHENKO (through translator): People were killed at this point. There was a woman killed here. There were bodies here and there, where the road is turning left. There were people riding bicycles who were killed by the Russian military.

COOPER: Russia denies it all. They say the more than 300 bodies found in Bucha after Russian troops withdrew were staged.

As for these satellite images taken in mid-March, when Russia was occupying Bucha, which show bodies in the exact same locations they were later found on Yablonska Street, Russia says they, too, are fake.

But the evidence, already overwhelming, continues to grow.

(on camera): Prosecutors have been gathering evidence for weeks and now revealed to us that they have photographs and videos taken over the course of several days as the killings occurred here. They say the images were captured by a person in this house on their cellphone camera.

(voice-over): It was through these windows he saw the slaughter. This is one of his first pictures, taken on March 5. Two bodies reportedly killed that day were visible outside his window.

On March 6, when this picture was taken, a third body is visible on the street. This video, taken on March 7, shows at least two more bodies.

Ruslan Kravchenko says these images and the data in the camera phone they were taken with provides important proof of exactly who was killed and when.

KRAVCHENKO (through translator): It will prove that it was a particular phone that the pictures were taken with and also the time and the location that they were taken. The Russian Federation will not be able to continue saying that this was set up with fakes.

COOPER: We tracked down the man who risked his life to take these photos and video. We agreed not to show his face.

(on camera): Were you scared to take pictures? If they had seen you taking pictures, you could have been killed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course there was fear, but I had to prove that it was them, that they killed people who were civilians. I had to do something.

COOPER: Do you remember the first person killed on your street?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The first one to get killed was the man on the bicycle to the left of my house. On March 6, there were more dead people. There were seven people dead on the street on March 6, seven dead people. I couldn't capture all the bodies from the window. There was a wall in the way.

COOPER: What do you want to see happen to those Russians, to everybody in the chain of command?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They must be punished. There was a young guy who was bringing potatoes in a bag, maybe for his family. The stores were closed. There was no power, no heating, no water. He wanted to help, and he was killed. What do they deserve? Only punishment.

COOPER (voice-over): But punishing the guilty won't be easy.

(on camera): There were a number of different Russian units, as I understand, who were stationed here at one time or another. Do you need to try to identify which unit it was, what the chain of command was?

KRAVCHENKO (through translator): And it's very important to identify not only the commanders, but concrete troops who committed the crimes and have them held accountable.

COOPER (voice-over): Kravchenko says ten Russian soldiers in Bucha have been identified using eyewitness accounts, along with drone footage and images like this one, taken by a traffic surveillance camera not far from Yablonska Street.

But whether he can learn the identities of the Russians stationed on Yablonska Street is unclear.

The man killed on March 5 on his bike was 68-year-old man Volodymyr Brovchenko. His wife, Svetlana (ph), lives not far away.

(on camera): Is that him?


COOPER (voice-over): They were married for 45 years and have two kids and three grandchildren.

Brovchenko (through translator): We told him not to go to work, because there were tanks on Yablonska Street. We told him not to go. He said, No, I have to go to work. I have work to do. I don't know what to tell you, it's awful. It's awful.

COOPER: It is all so awful.

The bicycle her husband rode is still on Yablonska Street near the spot where he died. She doesn't want it back. The horror of what happened is just too terrible to face.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Bucha, Ukraine.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: Such an important report. So terrible. And this is going to be the key, is they are tracking down information about individuals who did this.

Death by dart. Russian troops accused of dropping metal darts to kill civilians in Bucha. Ahead, Bucha's coroner is going to tell us what he discovered.

BERMAN: And infighting at the top and kind of the bottom of the Republican Party after the release of explosive audiotapes. Were Steve Scalise and Matt Gaetz able to settle their differences behind closed doors?



KEILAR: New this morning, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and the No. 2 House Republican, Steve Scalise, met privately after tension over leaked audio in which Scalise raised concerns about some of Gaetz's remarks in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, describing Gaetz's actions as potentially illegal.

Scalise did offer an apology, we have learned. Here's how Gaetz described it.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): If there is no evidence, you need to acknowledge that; and if not, then you're, like, maintaining this fiction for the sake of your own pride, and that's not what leaders do.


KEILAR: Joining us now is Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Scott, thank you so much for being with us this morning to talk about this. I mean, what do you make of -- of this Scalise apologizing to Gaetz?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously this -- this whole issue has roiled the House Republican conference over the last few days; and the Republican leadership -- McCarthy, Gaetz and others -- said things that made angry people like Gaetz and others who were in that wing of the party.

So I'm not surprised that the leaders, in this case Scalise, had a -- have a few meetings. I don't think it is going to necessarily upend their apple cart as it relates to being at the head of the conference.

I don't like, frankly, the idea that Steve Scalise, who himself has been the victim of a violent political act, is out having to, you know, apologize to someone who's been rather incendiary. Also, what I find interesting about this is that Gaetz has, even before all this, has made no secret of his displeasure with leadership. I mean, he was out pushing Donald Trump for House speaker, you know, just a few weeks ago, clearly indicating he wants somebody else at the top of the conference.

So I guess I see, Brianna, this meeting as a way for them to try to placate Gaetz and -- and put this behind them, but obviously, Gaetz isn't someone who's going to go quietly on any -- on any occasion.

BERMAN: The fact that they think they need to placate Gaetz, Scott, what does that tell you about where the power is right now in the Republican Congressional Caucus, or at least where the leadership thinks it might be?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the leadership is obviously trying -- and they had these issues flare up all the time, John. You know, you have these moments. Some are important; some aren't. Some are big; some are small. But these moments where they're constantly tangling with this wing of the conference.

And so the leadership is constantly playing whack-a-mole with these guys. I see Scalise doing that in this particular case.

So -- and I guess they'll have to do it for the rest of the year, you know, until the elections come and Republicans maybe win the House, and then they'll have the leadership elections.

But until that moment, until that day that those votes are secure, it sounds like their strategy is to try to placate and keep these guys quiet long enough to -- to get through the next set of leadership elections.

KEILAR: I want to play something that Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said about the Catholic Church.