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Russian Government Declares Martial Law in Areas Annexed from Ukraine; City Near Frontline of War in Ukraine Experiencing Constant Shelling; Countries from Around World Contribute to Ukrainian Effort to Resist Russian Invasion. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 20, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Vladimir Putin moving to tighten his grip on Ukraine, and maybe more importantly, on Russia itself. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. And this morning people in four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed the by Russia are living under martial law. It's worth noting that the Russian military does not even have complete control of these areas. Overnight a Russian rocket struck a children's school in a village in Zaporizhzhia, no injuries reported. And in Kryvyi Rih, an important city in the south, another power generating facility was hit causing serious destruction. The Ukrainian government is now imposing energy restrictions, rolling blackouts across the country, after repeated strikes on critical energy infrastructure.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, President Biden responding to Putin's declaration of martial law in these Ukrainian territories, saying it reveals his dwindling options in the war.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Vladimir Putin finds himself in an incredibly difficult position. And what it reflects to me is it seems his only tool available to him is to brutalize individual citizens in Ukraine.


PAUL: CNN got rare access to Ukraine's military on the battlefield frontlines. We have Matthew Chance who is live in Moscow. First, though, I want to go to CNN's Fred Pleitgen, who is in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. You got very close to the frontlines, Fred. Tell us what you saw.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Brianna. We've been hearing so much about these long distance strikes that the Russians have been carrying out on critical infrastructure, and of course that school that they hit overnight there in Zaporizhzhia.

But there are still a lot of places here in this country where there is serious ground combat going on. And we went to a place called Bakhmut where things are currently very difficult for the Ukrainians. Here's what we saw. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

PLEITGEN: When entering Bakhmut, the need is for speed. We're driving straight into one of the most dangerous places in war-torn Ukraine with a military combat medic who goes by a call sign Katrusya. Bakhmut is under nearly constant Russia assault. Our car hasn't even come to a full stop when the first shell hits nearby. The medic stops, we need to take cover as best we can.

We're waiting here for the shooting to stop.

So we're taking cover here because we just had some incoming artillery fire. We're going to wait and hope that there are not any hits anywhere close to us.

We're at the receiving end of a full Russian artillery barrage. Photojournalist Richard Harlow tracks several of the projectiles whizzing close over our heads. Katrusya says Ukrainian troops face this kind of shelling several times a day.

KATRUSYA (through translator): The artillery attacks fly every day, so it's never quiet here. Other parts of the city take hits many times a day. There are times when several mortars hit within a minute.

PLEITGEN: Katrusya's own husband was killed here a month-and-a-half ago. While Ukrainian forces have been gaining ground against the Russians in many places, in Bakhmut things are different. Kyiv is trying to fortify its positions, but they acknowledge the Russians have more artillery and are using seasoned fighters from the Wagner private military company. Still, even pinned down with artillery flying overhead, Katrusya says her confidence is not shaken.

KATRUSYA (through translator): Absolutely we will win, but the price of victory will be huge. Unfortunately, every day civilians are dying, and there are a lot of dead and injured soldiers on every part of the line.

PLEITGEN: The fighting here has destroyed much of the town and left the few people who remain traumatized. Sergei (ph) doesn't even take cover anymore as artillery strikes nearby. I ask him if he's afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Afraid of what? Everything will be fine, mate. Everything will be fine.

PLEITGEN: A pause in the shelling gives us a chance to get out of Bakhmut as Ukrainian tanks roll in the other direction trying to defend this key city from Vladimir Putin's forces.



PLEITGEN: And you have the Ukrainians, they acknowledge that they are in a defensive position there in the town of Bakhmut. They say things are extremely difficult for them, but they also vow not to give up even an inch of their territory to those invading Russian forces, Brianna.

KEILAR: Fred, just seeing where you were and hearing those shells, how far away was that from where you all were?

PLEITGEN: Well, the Russian positions were extremely close to where we were. So we were within the city of Bakhmut, within the city limits, and the Russians are basically on the outskirts of that town. And they have in the past couple of weeks, especially in the past couple of days, they've basically inched their way closer to the city center. Now, the Ukrainians are doing everything they can to hold that place, but as you can see there, they are pretty much under constant barrages. And it really goes back and forth there in that town pretty the entire day as the infrastructure there is decimated and obviously more and more people killed, civilians as well as soldiers on both sides. But the fighting there is extremely close, the two sides with one another, and extremely brutal as well. The Ukrainians did tell us there were a lot of casualties on both sides there, Brianna.

KEILAR: Thank you so much for bringing that to us, but of course, Fred, stay safe as you do that.

Joining us now is CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. He is with us from Moscow. So Matthew, Putin has tightened his grip, obviously, on these four annexed regions of Ukraine by implementing martial law. Tell us exactly what that means.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is a very ominous sign in the sense that these laws are draconian. It gives the Russian military in the areas where they hold sway, and that is not in all of the areas that have been annexed, of course, by the Russians, it gives them the ability to seize property, to force people to the frontlines, to organize people's battalions, to detain people at will. And so these are very tough laws that give the Russian military almost absolute power.

On the ground, again, I'm not sure how much impact it is going to have because, as I say, not all the territories are under their control, and they are already warzones as well, but it definitely sends a very powerful message to Putin's critics not least at home who have been saying that Vladimir Putin is not doing enough, or rather the Russian military is not doing enough to win the conflicts in Ukraine. This is Vladimir Putin showing that he's not going to back down, in fact he is doubling down, and that's what I think the message is meant to be of this imposition of martial law in these areas of Ukraine.

KEILAR: Matthew, thank you so much for that report for us from Moscow.

BERMAN: And with me now is President Biden's National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby. John, thanks so much for being with us. Earlier Matthew was telling us about the restrictions and securities measures taking place not just in Ukraine but Russia itself, something of Vladimir Putin tightening his grip inside his own country. What do you see happening inside Russia?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: I think the president spoke to that yesterday pretty well. You are talking about a leader who has dwindling options now available to him, and increasing popular discontent about not only the war itself but how he's fighting the war, the protests over the mobilization. He can't hide the reality anymore from the Russian people, and so he is doing what he knows best, which is to crack down on them to try to limit their ability to maneuver, to protest, to have access to information, and to resist his efforts to continue to fight this war.

BERMAN: "The New York Times" reported there are fewer fighting age men on the streets inside Russia, you just don't see as many men in public. Matthew Chance, our correspondent in Moscow, reported the same thing. What is your advice to fighting age men in Russia? What do you think they should do?

KIRBY: They should not fight, not agree to fight in Ukraine. And many of them have, obviously, left the country, and some of the others are bravely resisting efforts to be mobilized and to be called up inside their own country. This is a brutal war, as you just saw from Fred's report just a minute ago, in Bakhmut particularly, but throughout the whole rest of the east and south of the country. And they are putting these Russian soldiers into the fight. Some of these mobilized reservists, John, have just been called up, they are putting them into the fight with maybe a week's worth of training and some small arms and ammunition, and that's it. So they are being thrown into a fight against an enemy, though smaller, is much better equipped, much higher morale, better leadership, better command and control. And it's not a place where a lot of Russian soldiers want to be right now.

BERMAN: There has been a Russian ordered evacuation of civilians, a relocation inside Kherson. What's your assessment of the situation in that city? How likely is Ukraine to regain control of it?

KIRBY: Right now, the lines are kind of static, John. Up north of Kherson, the Ukrainians are trying to make some incremental progress. The Russians have been able to have and hold some defensive lines there to the north of the river in the Kherson oblast.


So it's difficult to know with any great certainty where it is going to go over the next few days, but there is a lot of active fighting along that line. Just the line hasn't moved much. So the Russians are now evacuating civilians, they still have their soldiers on the other bank of that river pushing back on the Ukrainians, but again, the lines have been kind of moving over the last couple of days, a couple miles here and there as both sides really try to dig it out.

BERMAN: The air assault on Ukraine from Russia continues and some of the weapons they are using are these drones believed to be supplied by Iran. Former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul wrote the other day, "So it's OK for Iran to provide Russia with long range weapons but not OK for NATO to provide Ukraine with weapons of similar ranges?" How do you respond to that?

KIRBY: First of all, we have been providing Russia with air defense capabilities since almost the beginning of the war. Short, medium, and even long range because we helped arrange for the transfer of an S-300 long range air defense system from Slovakia into Ukraine. And I can tell you that the Defense Department is working hard right now at looking at air defense capabilities that we can provide Ukraine going forward as well as looking for other countries who have these capabilities. Spain, Germany just agreed to send some medium range air defense systems to Ukraine. So we're going to keep at this, we're going to keep working with them.

BERMAN: One country you did not mention was Israel, which of course has the iron dome, which is an extensive air defense shield. Israel and the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz announced they would be helping Ukraine with an alert system but not an air defense system, not air defense weapons. Do you hope, do you wish that Israel was providing weapons to Ukraine?

KIRBY: We want every country around the world to do what they can to help Ukraine. But we recognize that these are sovereign decisions, John, and these countries have to make these decisions for themselves. They also have to do it with an eye to their own national defense and security needs. And of course, Israel gets attacked from the air on a routine basis. And so they've got to make these decisions for themselves. Every nation has to decide how they're going to contribute to what Ukraine is trying to do on the ground, and again, we respect that.

That is why Secretary Austin met last week in Brussels, another iteration of this thing he calls the contact group, 50 some odd nations coming forward to contribute in all kinds of different ways. Some of them only contribute money, some contribute nonlethal capabilities, and some contribute lethal capabilities. And again, those are nation state decisions that they have to make for themselves, and we respect that.

BERMAN: On the subject of Iran and those drones, Iran of course denies that they are giving Russia drones to use in Ukraine. What do you say about those denials?

KIRBY: I think the pictures speak 1,000 words. We've seen the press reporting. We're not in a position right now to independently verify that, but we have said for months that we knew Iran was looking to provide these kinds of capabilities to Russia. Now you see all these images out there of these capabilities being used inside Ukraine. It's another example of just how isolated Iran is from the rest of the world, but also Russia, and how much now he has to lean on another country like Iran for this kind of capability. And it also shows, as the president said yesterday, just how brutal Mr. Putin is willing to be, continue to be, on the Ukrainian people.

BERMAN: And at this point, what are the prospects of any kind of a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran?

KIRBY: That is not our focus right now, John. It's just not. Our focus right now is on holding the regime accountable for the way they are treat thebe the people, who are just innocently protesting, peacefully protesting dictates that they find to be incorrigible for their existence inside Iran. And so we're going to continue to look for ways to hold them accountable. We are not close to an Iran deal right now, and that is just not our focus.

BERMAN: John Kirby from the White House, we appreciate the discussion this morning. Thank you.

KIRBY: You bet.

BERMAN: President Biden campaigning today in Pennsylvania where a critical Senate race is taking place. Will his appearance help?

The pilot of an F-35 forced to eject after crashing at an Air Force base in Utah during a training mission. We have an update on the pilot's condition.

KEILAR: And will he or won't he?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Pence, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president in 2024, will you vote for him?




KEILAR: So, after everything that has happened since January 6, would Mike Pence still support his old boss if Trump runs for president again? The former vice president was asked that question after a speech to a conservative group last night.

Here's what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Pence, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president in 2024, will you vote for him?

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there might be somebody else I'd prefer more.

What I can tell you is I have every confidence that the Republican Party will sort out leadership. All my focus has been on the midterm elections, and it will stay that way the next 20 days but after that, we'll be thinking about the future, ours and the nation's. And I'll keep you posted. Okay?


KEILAR: Joining us now are pollster and CNN political commentator, Kristen Soltis Anderson, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, and CNN senior political analyst Nia-Malika Henderson.

What a moment to hear him say that. I wonder, Scott, what you -- what you thought about it?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, on the one hand, you know, Donald Trump did send a mob to kill him, so I can understand why he might not want to commit to voting for him.

KEILAR: It hasn't stopped Kevin McCarthy, but it's stopping Mike Pence.

JENNINGS: They weren't there chanting "hang Kevin McCarthy". They were saying "hang Mike Pence".

BERMAN: But he felt the danger. But that's the point. He felt the danger. So, yes.

JENNINGS: But the other thing is, clearly, he is running. I mean, he wants to be -- he wants to be the president. He thinks that he will be running against Donald Trump.

What I thought was noteworthy about this speech was a forceful defense of traditional conservatism and kind of a condemnation of populism. And that is the lane he is staking out.

We'll see if there is a market for it. Pollsters may be able to tell us. We'll see if there's a market for it in the Republican Party.


I think that it is candidly 50/50. 50 want Trump and 50 want something else, but the something else is super fragmented.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And I think the something else, there may be folks looking to turn the page from the Trump era and you can almost imagine Vice President Pence sort of being representative of still sort of carrying some of the baggage of that era over, even though in his own words he would, you know, prefer someone else, I think the facts that he is so now closely associated with all of the drama around January 6, I think that makes him a challenging person even if he's done right thing all along to be the person to help the Republican Party turn that page.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I think that's right. And we'll see how many people jump into the 2024 field when it kicks off. He seems to suggest in 21 days or 22 days after the midterms, he might make some sort of decision. When does Donald Trump decide to run? It sounds like it's a matter of if and not when.

And all of the other folks, people like Ron DeSantis has become a real star in the Republican Party, can he take that to a bigger stage and actually challenge somebody like Donald Trump. You have Greg Abbott down in Texas who is a governor down there doing well and up for re- election obviously. So we'll see.

But again I think the heart and soul is still with Donald Trump. If you ask Republicans, if you look at the polls, the majority of Republicans are still with Donald Trump. JENNINGS: I've seen some polling lately in which Trump has about, you

know, 47, 48, 49 if you do it like a primary ballot, and then everybody else. The structure is protective of anyone who can start the race with 40, 45 percent. So to your point, if all these people run, it is really a cocoon for Trump because it fragments the opposition and I think a lot of people will run, but how long are they stay in. Remember in '16, the field didn't collapse fast enough for anyone to mount a serious challenge.

KEILAR: I'm so curious what your focus is saying. First of all, I just want to play another sound bite from Pence. And I hear what you are saying. He may have a very small army behind him even if he is kind of carrying the banner for it, but this is what a student at this Georgetown event last night asked Pence about January 6 and his answer here was pretty significant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why haven't you extended that bravery to publicly denouncing the violence of January 6?

PENCE: I'll never describe that day or the violence in any other way than the way I described it that day and the way I describe it today. It was violence that was unacceptable, but at the end of the day, it was a triumph of for freedom thanks to people in both political parties who did their job.


KEILAR: Why, yes, I will, you know? But I know a lot of Republicans who are behind Trump obviously don't agree with what Pence is saying there.

What are you hearing from people?

ANDERSON: I did some focus groups for the "New York Times" the last year and one of them was Republicans asking them about how they felt about January 6 on the one year anniversary. And what was fascinating, many did have some affection for Mike Pence. They thought he was kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. But very few viewed as outright bravery.

Instead there is a weird dynamic where, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but would say that somebody like Mike Pence coming out and criticizing Donald Trump, that that is a brave thing, that that is him being authentic to who he is, but a lot of the Republican voters actually view that as not being authentic, actually deep down in their hearts they like Trump but they criticize him to try to win over the favor of the establishment.

It is a very odd dynamic and I do think that it will make it more challenging for somebody like Mike Pence even if there is about half of the Republican Party that might like to look for someone new. It might be challenging for him to take that entire 50 percent.

KEILAR: That's very interesting. I want to ask you about Joe Biden because new poll numbers out looking at his approval and I just wonder how big of a problem you think they are for him because you have approval and then disapproval, but when you are looking at strongly disapproval versus strongly approve, we're talking being outnumbered 3:1.

HENDERSON: Yeah, this is sort of on different from other -- other candidates, certainly other presidential folks, the problem I think with Biden was that he was never a beloved figure. You think about somebody like Obama, like Trump, like bush, people love them, they elected him, the party faithful absolutely adored them.

And for Biden, it was he's not Trump, we want him in office. Democrats said, some independents, some Republicans as well, but there was not really a passion. People didn't fall in love with Joe Biden. So I think that you see that reflected in some of the polling. It is sort of a weak support and strong disapproval among some.


JENNINGS: And Joe Biden is a president because he ran against two crazy people. I mean, he didn't seem as crazy as Bernie Sanders and he didn't seem as detestable as Donald Trump, so he ran up the middle there. So on his own, he's never been that popular.

Comparatively to two people that seemed fringey, he looked okay. I think ultimately he won because people gave him one job and that was to just replace Donald Trump. And his presidency has been largely a disappointment if you look at the right track, wrong track, his approval, economic numbers, et cetera, et cetera.

So I think this portends a rough ride in 2024 if he runs against anybody but Trump. My personal view is that the new person, whoever that is, would have a pretty good chance of defeating him.

KEILAR: I wonder what you are thinking about the Wisconsin race because we have some very good reporting coming from Manu Raju and Alex Rogers. And what they are telling us that state Democrats, party -- state party Democrats, are kind of freaking out and they are freaking out at national Democrats because they feel like they messed up.

They feel like -- I mean, am I characterizing it properly? I think I am.

So they thought that they really had a chance to unseat Ron Johnson with the Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and then here this lead has been in their view squandered they feel because national Democrats didn't do what they needed to do. Is that how you see it or is it just about headwinds against Democrats kicking in with the last minute?

ANDERSON: Well, there are headwinds against Democrats and they were always going to be. They are the party out of power, you have an economy with a lot of problems, the right track, wrong track number as Scott has pointed out, a lot of the Americans think the country is on the wrong track. All these things adds up to a really tough year for Democrats and

tough choices about where resources go in the national party. So you will hear a lot of frustration being vented the next couple weeks that's going to be cranked up as more and more polls come out showing the Republican momentum, folks saying, why did you give $5 million in that race, not this race? Why did you give $50 million in that race and not this race, because then we could have saved this majority. You're going to hear a lot of that.

HENDERSON: And Democrats want to focus on their incumbents, they want to hold the line in Georgia, in Arizona. Maybe they can make a reach in a place like Pennsylvania. But Wisconsin, I don't think many Democrats actually believe that poll, right, showing Mandela Barnes up by six or seven points in Wisconsin?

And the other story I think is incumbents are running pretty good in these states, whether you are a Democrat or you are a Republican. Incumbency has its privileges.

JENNINGS: You know what's crazy about that race is the Democrats actually collapsed the primary. They didn't have one. Everybody got out of his way, and they got out of the way of the worst nominee for major target state this year, the most liberal nominee, unvetted nominee, they had no one to blame but themselves.

KEILAR: Scott, Nia, Kristen, thank you guys so much for the conversation. I do appreciate it.

And ahead, Princeton University officials are intensifying the search for a student who disappeared last week. We have the latest ahead. .

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New released new footage shows former president Trump making remarks about Jews and Iranians last year. We have the tape, next.