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Russian President Vladimir Putin Accepts Invitation from Indonesian President to Attend G20 Summit in Bali; American Marine Veteran Dies in Ukraine Fighting alongside Ukrainian Forces; Pentagon Press Secretary Interviewed on U.S. Efforts to Provide Weapons to Ukraine to Combat Russian Invasion. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 29, 2022 - 08:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And this just in the CNN, extensive shelling of an important railway hub and supply line for Ukrainian troops in the eastern region of Ukraine. The town of Lymon just east of Slovyansk in Donetsk coming under heavy bombardment.

And an American citizen, 22-year-old Marine veteran Willy Joseph Cancel of Tennessee killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. According to his family, he was there in Ukraine working with a private military contracting company when he was killed on Monday. Cancel's body has not yet been recovered.

We're also learning that a Ukrainian journalist has died in a missile attack on a defense plant in Kyiv. Police say this 54-year-old journalist was identified in a rescue operation early this morning.

And also breaking news just into CNN, we have learned that Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation from the Indonesian president to attend the G-20 summit in Bali in November. This is a big deal, and it creates a really complicated diplomacy situation. Will President Biden or other leaders attend this crucial conference if Putin is there?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. If I can start right there, I understand the G20 is an economic conference, not a military one. But Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked war on Ukraine. Is he the type of person who should be welcome at a global economic conference?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: No, he absolutely shouldn't be. He has isolated Russia by his own actions, and he should continue to be isolated by the international community. I can't speak for President Biden or what the schedule might offer for the president, for the United States attendance, but it's inappropriate, I think, for the entire international community to keep treating Russia as if things are normal, because it's not.

BERMAN: A mistake to invite him?

KIRBY: Look, I can't speak for the administration on this. Here at the Pentagon, we're focused on helping Ukraine defend itself. But look, Mr. Putin has isolated himself, and he should still continue to suffer the consequences of his actions in Ukraine.

BERMAN: I'm going to ask you about some of the reports overnight of attacks inside Russia or Russian-controlled territory. A field plant in Donetsk, a checkpoint not far from Kursk. The Ukrainians haven't confirmed that they did this, but they have sort of hinted at doing things like this the last few days. Have you seen evidence of this? And what is to be gained militarily by Ukraine doing this?

KIRBY: We don't have anything we can look at specifically and confirm how these strikes happened and who was responsible for that. And certainly, I would let the Ukrainians speak for their own actions and own operations. They are in an active fight for their sovereignty, for their territorial integrity, for their people. And Ukrainians are fighting back very, very hard in what is now a much more concentrated effort in the Donbas and in the south. But again, I would let them speak for their operations.

BERMAN: Certainly, you feel they have the right to strike at targets in Russian-controlled territory or inside Russia if they their they're of military value?

KIRBY: We believe they have every right to defend themselves against an unprovoked Russian invasion, and I'll just leave it there.

BERMAN: You're talking about the east. Again, we've heard slow but uneven progress by Russia in the Donetsk region. What do you exactly mean by that?

KIRBY: Well, what we're seeing here, John, is incremental progress by the Russians, particularly as they move south through the Donbas, coming from that northern area where they came in after they had to evacuate Kyiv. It's incremental and it's slow because they might take a little bit of ground, the Ukrainians will take it back, and so they have not been exactly on their schedule.

They are trying very hard, John, to overcome the challenges they had in the north by making sure logistics and sustainment can keep up with the movement of troops. But the Ukrainians are fighting back hard and making it hard for them to make any progress. They're also wary of running too far ahead of their supply lines, so they're going rather slowly.

The last thing I would say is, just like we said it would, this particular fight is heavily reliant on what we call long range fires, artillery. And so you're seeing that the Russians are shelling well in advance of their troop movements. But they're not able to, they have not been able to sufficiently weaken the Ukrainian defenses with that shelling. The Ukrainians are able to fight right back. BERMAN: Are you getting the weapons that the Ukrainians need to then

quickly enough there? I know that you prided yourself on some of these howitzers that have already arrived on the scene.

KIRBY: Yes, there are more than half, John, of the 90 howitzers that we promised Ukraine are actually in Ukraine. And I would also note that more than 50 Ukrainian artillerymen, who were properly trained outside Ukraine over the last week, are now back in Ukraine as well to help their colleagues learn on these howitzers.

I can't tell you where each of these howitzer pieces are or whether they're actually engaged in the fight, but they're in Ukraine, and they'll be ready for them to use. And when the secretary was overseas, we actually saw a lot of this material getting loaded up on trucks and getting in there every single day, this maternity is getting into Ukraine.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about the Marine veteran Willy Joseph Cancel, 22-years-old, who we have learned was killed fighting alongside the Ukrainians. Do you have any information about how he was killed?


KIRBY: No, sir, I'm afraid we don't. We're just waking up to this news the same as CNN. And our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. What a devastating piece of news that has to be for them, for anybody, to lose a son, a brother. That's got to be painful. And as I understand it, from the press reporting, he's a husband with a little baby, seven-month-old, and that's just devastating news for anybody.

But look, we continue to urge Americans not to go to Ukraine, John. This is an active warzone. This is not the place to be to be traveling to. I understand his altruistic motives. I do. And I respect that. But this is not the place for Americans to go. If you want to support Ukraine, there are any number of other ways to do this in a safe, effective way, such as donating to the Red Cross. This is not the place to be.

BERMAN: When I last spoke to you, I asked you about whether or not the Pentagon has any visibility on these reports of explosions in Transnistria, that's that breakaway region controlled by Russian separatists in Moldova. At that point, you had no visibility on that. Since then, we're learning the Ukrainians are actually sending troops to defend the border there. Do you have any greater sense of what is happening there?

KIRBY: No, we still are monitoring the reports of these explosions, John. And as you get further away from them, it gets harder to get a little bit more fingertip feel of exactly what happened. We certainly do believe there are explosions, but it is not exactly clear who is responsible or what the motive was. And I'll let the Ukrainians speak for their border defense, they certainly have every right and every reason to be mindful of their own border security, given what is going on in the last 64 days. But again, we're still looking at this. We don't really have much better information. BERMAN: So big request from the administration for Congress for new

money for aid, includes, what, about $20 billion in direct military aid here. How long will that last, right? You have to start thinking about how long this conflict will last.

KIRBY: Yes, it is hard to know, John. It really is. We think that in the Donbas region, because both sides are familiar with the terrain, because both sides are going to focus on artillery, long range fires, that this could be a prolonged conflict. And I know that is a very soft thing to say, I can't give you a weeks or months. But certainly, there is the prospect this fighting will go on for some time. And we want to make sure that we are properly postured to help Ukraine over the course of that time. And that's what the president's request of Congress is all about, helping get more material, more aid, more economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine as they continue to settle in now for what could be a long fight.

BERMAN: You say months. Is it possible it could be years?

KIRBY: I don't know, John. It's difficult to say. The thing is, it could end today. It needs to end today. And Mr. Putin could do the right thing by taking all the forces out and stopping this war, sitting down with President Zelenskyy. Obviously, he's not willing to do that. So until he is, we're going to continue to help Ukraine defend itself.

BERMAN: One last question. There is this bill that Congress passed now I think is waiting for the presidential signature here, which essentially gives the president lend lease power, like President Roosevelt had in World War II. So what could the administration do with just that? How much weaponry could they provide, you provide, with just that?

KIRBY: I think it remains to be seen. And I don't want to get ahead of the president. It's his decision whether he wants to sign this legislation or not. What I can tell you, though, is that President Biden has made it a priority to continue to help Ukraine defend itself. You've seen that just in the last several weeks. And now with this supplemental request, which gives -- would give the Defense Department $16 billion to continue to provide weapons and assistance to Ukraine over weeks and months ahead, we're committed to this.

The president has been clear, we're going to help Ukraine as much as we can, as fast as we can. And, John, the material that we're sending over there is literally sometimes getting into Ukrainian hands within days of the president signing it off. So we are working this very, very hard.

BERMAN: Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

KIRBY: Yes, sir.

BERMAN: Brianna?

KEILAR: That's a really interesting, because you hear him saying there to you, when you asked about whether Putin should be going to the G20, he's been invited, he wanted to go, he's been invited, he's going, he says he shouldn't be able to go. So it raises the question of whether President Biden and other allies are even going to show up there.

BERMAN: That was a pretty cool answer, wasn't it? John Kirby is the Pentagon press secretary now, but he was the spokesperson of the State Department for a while also. So he understands diplomacy and diplomatic talk. He says he's not exactly speaking for the president per se here, speaking for himself, but that didn't seem to be a hard question for him to answer, whether or not Vladimir Putin should be there.

KEILAR: No. And I think also they had a chance to kind of think about this, because Putin had telegraphed some time ago, right, that he wanted to go to this summit. And so they've had time to think about what all this is going to mean. So I think we should keep an eye on developments there. But a great interview with the press secretary, the Pentagon, a lot of information there.


Next, we're actually going to be joined by the deputy mayor of Mariupol with more on the rescue operation planned for today at the Azovstal steel plant.

BERMAN: And 12 Russian soldiers have been named suspects in the crimes committed, or the alleged crimes committed in Bucha. What this means for the war crimes investigation there.


KEILAR: We are continuing to follow this developing news out of Mariupol this morning. Ukrainian officials say Russian forces are blocking part of Mariupol near the besieged Azovstal steel plant. This is where hundreds of civilians and military folks are currently sheltered. This is really the last stand, the last holdout. And President Zelenskyy's office says there is an operation to evacuate civilians from the plant that had been planned for today.

Joining us now is Mariupol's Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov to talk about this. Sir, thank you so much for being with us. So we're hearing this from President Zelenskyy's office about this operation to evacuate civilians planned for today. But that did not seem to be happening when we spoke with the commander there at the steel plant. What can you tell us?

DEPUTY MAYOR SERGEI ORLOV, MARIUPOL, UKRAINE: Hello. We as a city also make this effort altogether with central government, so unfortunately, I cannot give additional information except we're ready to create all our citizens -- we have enough emergency cars, we have enough buses, we have opportunities and possibilities to evacuate citizens and we are waiting, will it be possible or not?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: So you have the ability as you were saying. Is there will on the side of the Russians? What are you hearing from the Russians?

ORLOV: Me personally do not have a lot of optimism because we are trying to make evacuation either from Mariupol or Azovstal, more than 55 days and no attempt was successful. But I believe in this effort because after the visit of -- ahead of the United States, it was some conversation with Putin and maybe this effort will be successful.

I would believe and pray that it should happen. It will do our best and have enough capacity to get all citizens from Mariupol.

KEILAR: We're looking at video from inside the steel plant. We see children, we see children sleeping, we see them in makeshift diapers. We see their clothes hanging up. How dire is this situation for the kids there right now?

ORLOV: Unfortunately, situation is very awful. And I cannot find necessary words to describe how awful is it. So, more than 1,000 citizens found as they thought safe place on bomb shelter on Azovstal. This is citizens from near destroyed houses and workers of Azovstal with their families.

Of course, their life is awful. They could not come outside. There is lack of everything, lack of water, food, lack of medicine, lack of any social help. So they need to be humanitarianly evacuated as soon as possible.

KEILAR: Yeah, it is heartbreaking what we're seeing. We understand from the commander there, over 60 children age 4 months to 17 are there.

Deputy Mayor Orlov, we appreciate you being with us. We're going to keep an eye on this steel plant and the plight of people trapped there. Thank you.

ORLOV: Yeah, thank you.

KEILAR: What the U.S. is now learning about the execution of Ukrainians who were trying to surrender near Donetsk.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In the United States, what one top Republican believes is driving Democratic talk of canceling student loan debt.



BERMAN: Breaking this morning, Ukraine says it identified ten Russian soldiers accused of war crimes in Bucha where torture and executions of civilians took place.

Joining me now is the prosecutor general of Ukraine, Iryna Venediktova. She's been investigating and tallying these cases of suspected crimes by Russian forces.

Thank you for joining us this morning.

These ten Russian soldiers, what is it that you are alleging they did?

IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR GENERAL: My dear friends, thank you very much for having me.

Yes, we identified 15 Russian soldiers in Kyiv region. These it is cross our suspects especially in Bucha, but the whole number for today, it is 15, raping, torturing, and murders. This is the main -- our article with which we will go to the court with these war criminals.

BERMAN: So, the number is now 15, rape, torture and murder. I am curious, at least the list I saw when it was ten included only privates and noncommissioned officers. Not leadership. Are you able to identify the leadership that may have issued orders for this to take place?

VENEDIKTOVA: Of course, for us very important to go by chain -- soldiers, commanders and up, up, up. We understand we have very good category in the international humanitarian law. It means responsibility. These Russian soldiers, Russian soldiers in Bucha, who actually tortured people and murdered -- it's, again, from 64th brigade, that brigade which president Putin gave them -- Putin honored them by guard.

It means that chief of commander knew very well that this brigade was in Bucha, what they do actually in the Kyiv region and understandable that commanders give them some orders. For us, it's very important for our strategy, for our strategy to investigate war crimes, from the smallest soldiers to big general.

BERMAN: As you did note, the brigade allegedly responsible for this rewarded, honored specifically by Vladimir Putin. It is your job to document these cases around Ukraine. How many cases of documented war crimes, alleged war crimes have you uncovered so far?

VENEDIKTOVA: Actually, we have three big approaches. It is crimes of aggression, war crimes and crimes we started the (INAUDIBLE) of genocide. Of course, we have crime of aggression because for us it is absolutely understandable for whole civilized world that here in Ukraine we have very aggressive war. In this our case, crime of aggression, we have more than 600 suspects.


And, of course, we started to prosecute them in absentia because all these people, the top politicians, top propaganda agents, they are in Russian federation. War crimes, we have now 9,000 war crimes, only about (INAUDIBLE) war crimes. Bombing and attacking civilian objects, civilians, torturing, raping and others, others, others -- near 9,000 cases.


VENEDIKTOVA: And we have -- sorry.

BERMAN: All I was saying, wow, 9,000 cases. Iryna Venediktova, I know you have your work cut out for you and how

hard it is to document the history. I appreciate the work you're doing and I appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you.

VENEDIKTOVA: Thank you very much. We will collect everything what is going on in Ukraine now. Thank you. Have a good day.

KEILAR: Now to an update on a story we shared with you yesterday. A GoFundMe page for Ukrainian Oleg Moskalenko has now raised $30,000, a page started by Oleg's life long friend after he was captured by Russian forces, tortured for several days, and then left to die in the woods.

Thankfully, Good Samaritans helped him get to Germany for treatment. You can see, it's been an ordeal, though. But, Oleg and his family, they lost everything in this. And you can keep helping Oleg by donating to that GoFundMe page which will go toward his medical bills, rehabilitation and basic necessities for his family. Their goal is to reach $100,000.

A journalist with "The L.A. Times" threatened with criminal charges after reporting on a sheriff department -- their alleged cover-up. She's going to join NEW DAY, next.

BERMAN: So, brand-new video into CNN, an attack on a key railway hub and supply line for Ukrainian troops in the east. We're live on the ground in Ukraine, coming up.