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Russian President Vladimir Putin Issues Warning about Outside Influences Interfering in War in Ukraine; Russian Forces Continue Shelling Parts of Southern Ukraine and Capturing Territory; Russian Bank Executive Flees, Will Join Ukrainian Forces. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2022 - 08:00   ET



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Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, April 28th. I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

And Vladimir Putin is warning the west that his bloody war against Ukraine will expand if anyone tries to interfere. And that rhetoric is coming as the U.N. secretary-general who just came face to face with Putin tells CNN this war will not end until Russia decides it will.


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 end with

ethics. The war will when the Russian Federation decides to end it, and when there is, after a ceasefire, the possibility of a serious political agreement. We can have all meetings, but that is not what will end the war.


KEILAR: Overnight, the U.K. defense minister said Putin may seek to consolidate what he already 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.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, an explosion rocked the Russian occupied city of Kherson. Remember, the Russians are in control of this city and the Russian media says the blast took place near the main television station there, which has been broadcasting Russian- based television. A Russian-appointed official in the city says a return to Ukrainian control is now impossible.

Across the eastern part of Ukraine, where the fighting has been mostly the last week or so, the Ukrainian military reports intense fire from Russian forces. And the think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, assesses that Russian forces have adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in eastern Ukraine.

KEILAR: Let's go live now to Lviv and bring in CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, let's start there in this battle for the east. What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, there is a change that U.S. officials are observing there. It is not just the focus, right, we have been reporting that for some time, moving those forces down from around the capital where they were successfully pushed back. It's not just the number of forces there and the quality, but it's also the way those forces are operating. Slower, moving more incrementally and larger formations, better coordination of firepower there. Not enormous territorial gains, but gains nonetheless.

And we have seen that, we have been reporting that in recent days, a town here, a town there, a little bit of territory here, a little bit of territory there. And some of that the result of Russia learning some lessons from the north. Does that mean they've learned all the lessons and have suddenly become unbeatable there? No. But it is something that the U.S. and NATO are observing as Russia focuses its attention down there, particular area around Izyum, we just had it up on the map, it's just south of Kharkiv, a lot of fighting there. And you're seeing a lot of intense shelling as well.

That has two important parts to it. One is that if they are learning lessons, then that's something that Ukrainians have to counter, right, to continue to push back successfully. The other piece beyond Russia gaining territory is a danger here of Ukrainian forces being surrounded. It hasn't happened yet.


But as they push from the north and the east and the south, that appears to be a Russian intention, to surround those Ukrainian forces there. Then the question becomes, at some point do Ukrainian forces either push forward, they could carry out a counteroffensive, certainly, or successfully defend, as they have in other parts of the country, or do Ukrainian forces at some point make a strategic decision for a, quote-unquote, strategic retreat, right, to give up some territory there to protect that larger force.

None of that has happened yet, but there has been incremental progress which U.S. and NATO officials are watching, monitoring closely, as are, of course, Ukrainian officials and Ukrainian military, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, and we are certainly watching as well along with you, Jim. Thank you so much for that live report from Lviv.

SCIUTTO: Thanks.

BERMAN: So many Ukrainians still living on the front lines of this war, and a good number of them are elderly with no place to go. They rely on Ukrainian police officers to bring them the bare essentials under a constant barrage of Russian shelling. CNN's Sam Kiley joins us live from Kramatorsk in Ukraine with the latest on this. And, Sam, you just got a remarkable report.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as Jim was saying there, we are here in Kramatorsk, the center, really, of the desire of the Russians to capture, to close the jaws to the north and south ultimately, and perhaps encircle Ukrainian forces. They are making incremental progress, they captured the town of Rubizhne, and as a result of that being able now to really drastically bombard civilian areas in Severodonetsk. And that is where we were reporting from most recently.


KILEY: Severodonetsk, on the frontline with Russia. It is an artillery front line.

Let's get into the basement.

Local police are delivering aid to civilians unable to leave. There is no time to wait out the bombardment. There is no likely end to the shelling either. Supplies need delivering and fast. She tells me there are three people next door including a grannie of 92. Upstairs, a bedridden woman. She says that normally they stay in their flat and only use the basement when it is bad. "Thank you for not forgetting us," she adds.

The urgency of these sorts of deliveries cannot be exaggerated. Just in this block, there is mostly old people. One dying of cancer in front of his wife. She is saying she's living in a double hell. Since we have been here, there have been five, six, eight impacts very, very close. And almost every tree, every corner, every bit of this local neighborhood has got the signs of recent impacts. And Russians are just a kilometer, maybe three away.

Russian guns are so close you can hear the whole arc of their shells. From Kyiv to Mariupol, from Kharkiv to here, this is the Russian way of war -- pound civilians, flatten cities, and maybe occupy the ashes.

Alexander (ph) says "We're in danger now. They're shelling us, so it could come at any moment and shrapnel could hurt us. We try to hide there in the bomb shelter." Two months of war has driven these people underground, and there is no end in sight. The fear, Alexander (ph) confesses, he tries to keep inside, but it creeps out.

There is one more delivery that the police have got to make, but every time we try to get out the front door of this building, there is another impact, there is another one now. They're saying that the hospital, which is nearby, is under heavy shelling. We were planning to go there. We can't get through. Nor indeed, at the moment, can we even get out of this bunker.

The hospital was hit. Images of the damage done that morning posted online by the local administration. Officials said that one civilian was killed, others injured, and several floors were badly damaged. The humanitarian effort goes on. This woman asks only for the basics of existence, water, and candles for light.

You do this every day?


KILEY: Bogdon (ph) tells me that most people left here now have nowhere else to go. They have lived here all their lives and don't want to abandon their homes.

Do you think the Russians are going to take Severodonetsk? "Never," he says. "We will stand our ground to the last man. No one will leave here."


That may be a dangerous claim. It's likely that Ukrainians will destroy this bridge to hold up the invasion. And anyone still here would then be trapped in Russian hands.


KILEY (on camera): John, the results of these attacks are likely to intensify. According to the mayor of Kramatorsk here, we haven't seen nothing yet, effectively. He believes, and he's getting his information from military intelligence and other sources in the region that the major Russian assault is yet to come. And what they're seeing, they say, is a consolidation of Russian forces, and indeed there are Ukrainian counterattacks. The artillery is going in both directions. And that is why, they say, it is so urgent to get those resupplies and new weapons, new sophisticated artillery systems, that are coming in from NATO. They may be able to tip the balance back in the favor of the Ukrainians, John.

BERMAN: And, Sam, the people of Kramatorsk on the map, it is in the middle of this wedge of really Russian occupied territory, areas where the Russians are operating. It's sort of in the middle of all of that there. You've been there. Do you get a sense that the war is getting ever closer? Not that it's not there. I understand the shelling and whatnot, but that the more intense fighting is coming soon?

KILEY: Yes, I think there is no doubt about that. People keep a very close eye on these incremental gains that appear to be being made by the Russians up in the north, the town of Rubizhne and another small village next to it were captured, that's right next to Severodonetsk. There is the natural defensive line of the Donetsk River, and then assumption that Ukrainian forces, if they have to, will pull back behind that and then probably dig in for longer term combat.

Now, there may be the case that what the Russian agenda is ultimately capture as much territory as they can, dig in and then have yet another of these frozen conflicts, the sort of conflict that was semi- frozen here in 2014. This town was once occupied by Russian separatists. They were driven out in 2014 by the Ukrainian forces. So they're no strangers to war here. About two-thirds of the population has left. It's extremely quiet. There are one or two hotels and shopping areas that are open, but it's nearly a ghost town. The further you get to the Russian forces, like you saw there in Severodonetsk, it is only the old and infirm people who resolutely are refusing to move that are left, John.

BERMAN: Sam Kiley for us in Kramatorsk. It's great to have you there, Sam. Please stay safe.

So we have new comments from Vladimir Putin, sounding the alarm, really, among many in the west about a possible escalation.


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.


BERMAN: Joining me now is Nina Khrushcheva, professor of International Affairs at the New School in New York. She's also the co-author of "In Putin's Footsteps, Searching for the Soul of an Empire across Russia's 11 Time Zones." Lightning fast, Professor. What is he talking about?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, CO-AUTHOR, "IN PUTIN'S FOOTSTEPS": I think he's responding to, what has been coming from Great Britain is that Ukraine is very legitimate, can attack Russia and its own territory. So they heard that and now they are saying, well, if you continue to meddle, this is -- they're already saying it's essentially a proxy war with NATO, almost officially, I think. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has said it numerous times at this time. So they're basically saying we're fighting with the west. If you get more involved, we are going to respond.

BERMAN: What is Putin's interest in expanding the war?

KHRUSHCHEVA: The map that you show is a very clearly showing that, I think with you we discussed how far he's ready to go, what is the final outcome of his desire to be in Ukraine. The whole Ukraine, it does seem that they are now retaking what he was talking about early on already in 2014, Novorossiya, those territories that were sort of Russian, but became part of Ukraine, officially part of the Ukraine republic, socialist republic after the Bolshevik Revolution in 2017 (ph). And it does seem, according to this map, they're ready. The only thing I think they need is Odessa, so far it has not been taken, and Kharkiv, which has not been taken. But other than that, we see Kherson is part of that, and that does seem to be -- that's why I think the concentration is on the eastern part, because now they are really fulfilling their, as they say, second stage of objectives.

BERMAN: Does he have objectives beyond that, though, objectives even beyond that, though? We see what is happening in Moldova, explosions reported in Moldova and Transnistria.


And it's difficult to exactly figure out what's going on there, but there are fears Russia is trying to create a provocation to move into Moldova. Do you think they want to go there?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, THE NEW SCHOOL: I don't think they want to go there, but I think at this point, Putin is ready to go where the road leads him. If he sees there are potential threats coming from Moldova, the way he sees the threats, that NATO is encroaching the way they argue that, he can go in and we already heard from his generals that -- the objective, once again not only the East Ukraine, but also South Ukraine and South Ukraine leads into Transnistria, into Moldova.

So, it is possible. I'm not going to predict this. I do not know. But it does seem their concentration is the south and the east and potentially the south of Ukraine.

BERMAN: When you hear senior U.S. officials, the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, say a goal now is to leave Russia weakened, does that scare Vladimir Putin?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I don't think he's scared easily. That's his thing. I think he's very concentrated right now how he's going to survive. But I think the more Russia is weakened by all sorts of sanctions and all sorts of blockade of any kind, he actually gets stronger. I mean, I know I said that, and people don't believe it, but he gets stronger because when Russian athletes, Russia culture is being deleted, the Russians feel that Russophobia is, in fact, a reality rather than what Putin has been feeding.

BERMAN: So how do you beat him?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I don't know. I really don't know. I think at this point he's not talkable to at all. But at the same time, he's not going away anywhere.

I think what worries me more is even without him, the system, when the war is over, and I hope it is over, and Ukraine is going to -- the world is behind it, Russia will be left in shambles and is going to be run by collective KGB, so security forces with or without Putin, because that absolute oppression and absolute control for them even if they didn't want the war originally, for them now, it's a wonderful opportunity.

BERMAN: Professor Nina Khrushcheva, thanks for being with us.


BERMAN: So, top Russian bank executive flees Russia to join the flight after a mysterious death of a colleague. He joins us.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And a major news this morning in the pandemic impacting millions of parents and children.

BERMAN: And new CNN reporting on the January 6th committee and a key player in this story, Rudy Giuliani.



KEILAR: This morning, a former high ranking executive at Russia's third largest bank is speaking out about his reasons for leaving his position and going to fight in Ukraine.

Igor Volobuev was vice president at a key bank linked with Russia's national gas company which supplies gas to many European countries. We posed questions to him earlier.


KEILAR: Igor, you gave up a very comfortable job to go back to Ukraine to fight. Tell us why.

IGOR VOLOBUEV, FORMER VP, GAZPROMBANK, LEFT RUSSIA FOR UKRAINE IN MARCH (through translator): Yes, indeed, I had a very good life in Russia. I was very comfortable. I worked at Gazprom and Gazprombank for 16-1/2 years. I worked at Gazprom itself. I rose to a very senior position in Gazprom, deputy head of department.

And -- but in 2015, I was moved to Gazprombank, because it became known that I had pro Ukrainian views. I had a very senior position at Gazprombank as well, but I was no longer part of the decision-making in Gazprom itself and I wasn't considered to be a loyal member of staff. My father lives in Okhtyrka. He's now a refugee. He had to leave

because he spent the first month of the war in a cold basement. He had to leave.

Okhtyrka was one of the first towns to suffer in this very brutal first phase of the war. So I decided I couldn't live in Russia anymore, I couldn't live among the people who were brutally murdering not only my compatriots, but my family.

KEILAR: What was it like talking to your Russian colleagues at Gazprombank, what do they believe about the war?

VOLOBUEV: I left on the second of march, and since I left Russia I have not been in touch with anybody from Russia. I've not spoken to any of them because not because of my own safety or because of their safety, for their -- for the sake of their safety.

But I did talk to them before I left, and they did talk about the war, and I know they're thinking of it. And I have not met anyone who has ever openly supported the war. Because people understand, they understand the horror of what is happening.

KEILAR: The bank you work for is intimately tied to Gazprom, which is Russia's gas company that is supplying gas throughout Europe.

Do you think European countries should stop using Russian gas and oil, even if it threatens to push them into a recession?

VOLOBUEV: I no longer obviously work for Gazprombank. I was fired. But right until I left for Ukraine I was very senior, I was vice president. So I am sure that Gazprom is having huge problems.

As I said, Gazprom has never been a commercial organization. It is a stick that the Kremlin waves at its enemies. And so, yeah, it will be a stick for a few more months. But eventually it will be just a spent condom.

KEILAR: Would that stop Vladimir Putin?


VOLOBUEV: Well, of course, this isn't going to stop Putin immediately because, look, even if they stop gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, that's just 9 percent of Gazprom's sales. So it is not going to dent them immediately.

But gradually the entire Europe is not going to -- is going to stop deliveries because Europe is not going to pay them in rubles. So, Putin is resolutely marching towards the collapse, economic collapse in Russia.

Will it stop him? Well, probably not, because he's ideologically committed to this war. He's left himself no exit routes. He's covered in blood. And this -- the commission collapse economic collapse is not going to stop him. What will stop him is regime change or his own death.

KEILAR: Two Russians identified as former executives at Russian gas companies and their families have died and one of them used to work at Gazprombank, like you. What questions or concerns do you have about their deaths?

VOLOBUEV: Yes, these were very strange deaths, Protosenya and Avayev. Protosenya worked at Novatek, which is an independent gas company, quite a large one. I didn't know much about him. But, yeah, I heard about his strange death in Italy. He was found hanged and his wife and daughter were stabbed to death.

Avayev I know more about him. He was the first vice president of Gazprombank at the time of death, he never left.

And what I should say is that Gazprombank has a lot of vice presidents. There are ordinary vice presidents like me, there were executive vice presidents, first vice presidents, so we didn't really know each other well, but I did make inquiries with people who no longer work at Gazprombank and able to say something.

And, yeah, there were reports in the Russian media that they -- that he had some problems with his wife, and that he was jealous and he killed her and his daughter. But I found this hard to believe, even if he was jealous, why kill his daughter?

I think he knew something. And he must have posed some sort of risk. His job was to deal with private banking, that means dealing with VIP clients. He was in charge of very large amounts of money.

So did he kill himself? I don't think so. I think he knew something and that he posed some sort of risk.


KEILAR: More on our breaking news this morning, Moderna is now seeking emergency use authorization for its covid-19 vaccine for kids ages 6 months through 5 years old. We'll have a look at the data next.