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New Day Sunday
Biden: Putin "Cannot Remain in Power"; Russian Missiles Strike Ukrainian Fuel Depot; Biden Meets with Ukrainian Refugee Families in Poland; FDA Expected to Approve Second COVID Booster for Adults Over 50; Stars Show Support for Ukraine During Awards Season. Aired 7-8a ET
Aired March 27, 2022 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It sure means a lot to us that you make us part of your morning. Thank you for keeping us company here on this Sunday, March 27th.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: A pleasure to be with you, Christi. Thanks so much for joining us.
We start with President Biden, returning to Washington from an historic trip to Europe over the weekend, trying to rally U.S. allies in their support for Ukraine.
The White House also walking back a comment by President Biden that seemed to call for a regime change in Russia.
PAUL: Yeah, the president arrived back at the White House earlier this morning. You may have been sleeping at the time, but his remark about Putin came during a speech in Poland after calling him a butcher earlier. The president said Ukraine will emerge victorious over Vladimir Putin's brutality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase the people's love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refused to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.
We will have a different future, a brighter future, rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities, for God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: The implication of that last remark is what caught a lot of folks off guard. The White House now downplaying that remark. A White House official telling CNN, quote, the president's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. The president was not discussing Putin's power in Russia or regime change
PAUL: Now, in his speech, the president warned that the battle in Ukraine won't be won in days or months, but he said, NATO is stronger and more united, and warned Russia not to move on a, quote, a single inch of NATO territory.
SANCHEZ: Not long before the president spoke, Russian forces actually struck a fuel depot at a military site just outside of the city of Lviv. At least five people were reportedly injured there. The attack on the fuel depot sparking flames and you can see on the left side of junior screen, thick, black smoke billowing over the city. One that can be considered relatively safe.
Officials say that Ukrainian forces have reclaimed several villages near Kharkiv and Sumy and they continue to battle Russian troops in the suburbs of the capital of Kyiv.
PAUL: We have correspondents covering the latest developments in Russia's war against Ukraine all over the place. First of all, Phil Black is covering the attack on Lviv. Melissa Bell is reporting on the refugee crisis in Poland. And Jasmine Wright is at the White House with details on President Biden's European trip.
We do want to begin with CNN correspondent Phil Black in Lviv.
SANCHEZ: Yeah. Phil, this attack coming shortly before President Biden's speech and the target was roughly only 250 miles away from where Biden was speaking.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDNET: Yeah, that's right, Boris. There are some here who think it was a message and not a too subtle message from President Biden. What this attack shows that there is nowhere in this large country that is truly safe from Russia's firepower. These were the first to take place within the crowded city limits of Lviv itself.
People here are a little nervous, I think, a little shaken by this. It is a little quieter here, noticeably so, compared to what we have seen, in a city that has otherwise been functioning quite normally over the course of this war, with the exception of the huge intake of refugees who have fought shelter from fighting further east. This fire at the fuel depot was pretty huge. They had to fight it all night in order to bring it under control.
And it was extinguished a little after sunrise this morning. The other site that was hit, we are told, by Ukrainian officials, they simply describe it as military infrastructure, but it also suffered severe damage. No one, or there have not been any recorded deaths as a result, which is, perhaps, remarkable, given that these strikes did take place very close to people's homes. This was the Lviv mayor, talking a short time after the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR ANDRIY SADOVY, LVIV, UKRAINE: This is the second hit of the last week and we can clearly see that there was a very targeted strikes on the infrastructure, and the destruction is serious. And the shock of the blast also destroyed a kindergarten, a school, and luckily, there are no casualties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: Now, we can't know if this was a specific message to President Biden, but it does fit a recent pattern of Russian behavior. It was the third fuel depot to be destroyed in recent days. And those others were in different parts of the country.
Russia has also been going after weapons storage areas. So, it seems to be that they are trying to knock out logistics, support sites, the sort of support that Russia believes Ukraine needs in order to continue waging its military defense.
PAUL: Phil Black, we so appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Let's go to CNN's Jasmine Wright now. She's live outside the White House this morning.
So, Jasmine, we know the president's comments yesterday, saying that President Putin can not remain in power were off-script. How surprised was the White House to hear him say that and then talk to us a little bit about some of the cleanup that's going on this morning?
JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, Christi, cleanup is a great word here, as the White House tries to minimize any damage that could come in the wake of his off-the-cuff comments made yesterday. And so, they've both tried to clarify and walk back the comments, very strong from President Biden, that appeared to call for a regime change in Russia. And just an hour ago, we heard from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Israel, where he reiterated the White House talking points, saying that President Biden's remarks yesterday did not amount to a discussion about Putin's power in Russia. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president, the White House, made the point last night that quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine and anywhere else. As you know and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter. In this case, as in any case, it's up to the people of the country in question. It's up to the Russian people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: So, there, we heard Antony Blinken doing a bit of a cleanup. Now, we know that the president's remarks yesterday were not a part of the prepared text. It was off-script. And they said basically kind of surprised by the White House, especially as this White House tried to be very disciplined in its message since the invasion began.
Also, they've been planned in their military actions. Of course, we saw the president over the last few days once again reiterate that there will be no no-fly zone over Ukraine and declined to transfer jets to Ukraine, something that they have for. But rhetorically, and personally for the president, his rhetoric has increased. Over the last ten days, he has called President Putin a war criminal, but also a butcher.
So, these comments, bottom line, they're very strong, no matter if the White House says that he meant it or didn't mean it that exact way, they're strong from the president appearing to call for a regime change here. Especially as we know, just over the last few days, how he has really witnessed firsthand the casualties that do come from war, once again, of course. We know that the president has been in multiple war zones, but this is an important time for the president.
So, he will wake up this morning at the White House. We know that he landed just overnight. Christi? Boris?
SANCHEZ: And, Jasmine, we certainly know the Kremlin and their response took it to mean that Biden was insinuating regime change. We'll see if perhaps that change is given the clarification now from the White House.
Jasmine Wright, thank you much.
As Jasmine has noted, President Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a butcher after visiting with refugees in Poland and the president got a firsthand look at the developing humanitarian crisis sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
At one point, he picked up this little girl wearing a pink jacket and held her in his arms, even taking a selfie with her.
PAUL: Now, Poland, which remember, borders Ukraine to the West, has registered more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees crossing into the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I visited your national stadium, where thousands of Ukrainian refugees are now trying to answer the toughest questions a human can ask. My God, what's going to happen to me? What's going to happen to my family?
I saw tears in many of the mothers' eyes as I embraced them, their young children -- their young children, not sure whether to smile or cry. One little girl said, Mr. President -- she spoke little English -- my brother and my daddy, are they going to be okay? Will I see them again?
Without their husbands, their fathers, many cases, their brothers and sisters have stayed back to fight for their country. I didn't have to speak the language or understand the language to feel the emotion in their eyes, the way they gripped my hand and little kids hung on to my leg, praying with a desperate hope that all of this is temporary.
(END VIDEO CLIP) [07:10:14]
PAUL: CNN's Melissa Bell is with us now from Poland.
Melissa, it's clear that this meeting that the president had with refugees certainly moved him. What do we know about the impact that he had on them?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think, as close as we are here to the border with Ukraine, and given all of those stories of women and children fleeing, day in, day out, carrying nothing but their children and their trauma, and their own uncertainty about what's going to happen next, you can only really but be drawn into that emotion and that concern. Because, of course, bear in mind, all of these people that are crossing this border that have been for more than a month now in their millions, crossing these borders, are leaving their partners and husbands behind.
Have a listen to what Maryna had to tell us yesterday at one Przemysl station, one of the main stations where they've been arriving across the Polish border. She's a 29-year-old weapon developer who left central Ukraine over 24 hours before we caught with her, having left her husband behind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARYNA LIKKEI, LEFT KROPYVNYTSKYI, UKRAINE: Yeah, we are really scared, so we understand the situation that we have to be on the separate side. I'm really disappointed to leave my family and my husband, yeah, but we understand we have to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BELL: And this is what woman after woman has been telling us that they're going stays as close to the border as they can, because their partners, husbands, loved ones, sons are on the other side fighting. And so, this is very much something that they'll continue to live, even as they try to find a way surviving with their children, with nothing at all to help them, or very little, at least.
One of them telling us a couple of days ago, listen, keep telling our stories, keep telling the world what's been happening to us. And to your question, I think having President Biden here speak to some of them, speak for some of them will have meant a great deal.
SANCHEZ: Melissa Bell reporting from Poland, thank you so much.
I want to bring in Republican Congressman Don Bacon. He's with us to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The congressman is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and he served as a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force.
Congressman, we appreciate you sharing part of your weekend with us.
Let's start with the comment at the end of President Biden's speech that Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power. The White House walking that back, saying that he was not talking about regime change in Russia, but do you see a scenario in which there is peace in Eastern Europe, with Vladimir Putin still in power?
REP. DON BACON (R-NE): Good morning. First of all, thanks for having me on.
It will be very difficult. You know, president Putin is waging an unprovoked, unjust war, doing indiscriminate bombing. I think President Biden said something that a lot of us feel, but as a president, you have to have self-discipline and communications control. This is the third gaffe this week that the White House has had to walk back, and it's embarrassing.
But the fact is that President Putin, you know, his actions in Ukraine shows that he's willing to wage war against innocent countries. We're in a new cold war now. And it's -- it's hard to see how we're going to move on peacefully with Putin on this. So, you know, President Biden said something that we were all thinking, but he needed to have more self-control.
SANCHEZ: Congressman, a little over a week ago, you said that you should not abandon Poland's proposal to transfer fighter jets, these old Soviet MiG-29s to Ukraine.
Walk us through your thinking here? The cost-benefit of providing Ukraine with these jets, after the Pentagon declined to pursue that option.
BACON: Well, there are two things that Poland needs. First of all, better fighters. MiG-29s, they know how to fly them. They also Su-25s, which are ground attack aircraft that allows Ukraine to hit the convoys of tanks, things like that. They also need better air defense systems. And they're short of both right now.
And I think we should give Ukraine everything we need to defend their country, short of our own troops. I don't believe sending in U.S. servicemen and women into Ukraine, but in terms of equipment, we should give them everything they need.
And right now, Russia is indiscriminately bombing their cities.
They are war crimes, in my view. And so, better aircraft, and also air defense systems will help them defend their cities.
SANCHEZ: Given your expertise as a former military official, what e as a former military official, what do you make of the argument that the Ukrainians are just as well equipped with some of the on-the- ground air defenses that they have, as opposed to these soviet jets?
BACON: Well, the air defense -- the surface-to-air missiles are probably more important, especially in limiting what the Russian aircraft can do. And it helps to target some of their missiles, as well. But you can't use surface-to-air missiles to hit a tank or a convoy. You need aircraft to do that, or very precision-guided munitions, which we're also short of.
I think the administration did right by sending some of the drones there that also allowed them to target these convoys, but my goal is to help Ukraine repulse Russia on this. You know, it's interesting, Putin thought he would have Kyiv in three days. Now it's gone on four weeks.
So I really -- we admire the fight in the Ukrainian people, but they do more munitions and higher capable munitions.
My biggest harp with the administration, they could have provided a lot of this before the invasion, but refused to do. And that would have been better timing. Because then the Ukrainians would have had more time to assimilate it, train on it, and things like that. But we are where we are right now.
MiG-29s and Su-25s would help them target these convoys, the tanks, and the supply lines. And that's what Ukraine needs right now.
SANCHEZ: The concern with providing Ukrainians with arms earlier was that perhaps that might have been a provocation for Vladimir Putin to act, even before he did. I do want to ask you about a bill that you introduced, that would require the Department of Homeland Security to review its cyber spots plans, including for private sector operations. Obviously, there's a huge concern of a Russian cyber attack.
How confident are you that the United States is prepared for one?
BACON: I'm not very confident. We know that we have a problem right now. When our private sector gets attacked, there's confusion on who has what responsibilities.
And there's a lot of finger pointing going on. We saw that when the JBS meat processing plant was attacked. We saw that when the Colonial pipeline was attacked and they're paying the ransom to get their computer systems back.
I believe it's the federal government's role to help the private sector here. You know, there's no private company that is strong enough or smart enough to counter the Russian government or the Chinese government when they do cyber attacks. And it's going to take the NSA, cyber command, and the federal government to help, advise and provide some top cover for our companies, they can't do it on their own.
So this bill will instruct the federal government to come up with a plan on how to support our private sector, but also, like, our infrastructure. You know, the Russians are trying to embed themselves into our energy sector, and then, the right time, when needed, they can just turn off the power in certain areas and create a ripple effect throughout our whole country. So the federal government is going to have to step up and do more here.
SANCHEZ: Congressman, you mentioned China, and I did want to get your perspective on the United States, perhaps doing more to engage, not only China in a more aggressive manner, but also India, as well, two partners in Asia that have been, at best, reluctant to engage on bringing peace to Ukraine.
BACON: Well, there's no doubt that China is sympathetic to Putin right now. They're looking at what we're doing and the world's response, and they're going to look at Tai -- how to respond -- their goal is to take over Taiwan at some point. So, it's very important that we get this right with Russia, as China is looking at us. And how we're going to respond when it comes to Taiwan.
I do hope that India steps up more. It's very important that the two biggest democracies in the world, the largest democracy and the oldest democracy in our case, work hand in hand to counter this aggression.
So it's my hope that India will do more and step up. And though they have a long-term relationship with Russia, and they're more worried about China. So that's their quandary right now, but we need India to work with us.
SANCHEZ: And while we have you, Congressman, I hope you don't mind if I ask you about the news regarding one of your colleagues from Nebraska, Representative Jeff Fortenberry. He announced he would resign yesterday. He was convicted of concealing information and making false statements to investigators during a probe into illegal campaign contributions.
What's your reaction to this news?
BACON: I hate to see anybody, you know, make a mistake, do wrong, and whether it's a Republican or a Democrat. He was convicted on three counts.
I believe in our justice system and I think Congressman Fortenberry did the right thing by resigning yesterday.
SANCHEZ: Anything else?
BACON: No, you know, it regrettable when someone hurts their life and hurts their family. I wish Jeff well and his family well, and he's going to do the appeals, but I believe in the justice system and the justice system spoke.
SANCHEZ: We'll leave the conversation there. Congressman Don Bacon, thank you so much for the time. We appreciate it.
PAUL: Still to come this morning, Russia's targets are moving further west and closer to NATO countries. Is this a sign of provocation or desperation? We're taking a closer look at that, next.
PAUL: President Biden is back in Washington this morning after issuing a stern warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Don't think about making a move on NATO territory, is what he warned. It came just hours after missile strikes hit Lviv, just a few miles from the Polish border in western Ukraine.
Retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt with us now as well as Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow on Russian and Eurasian affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Gentlemen, we're so grateful to have both of you here. Thank you so much.
General Kimmitt, I want to start with you. Russia is declaring as of yesterday, at this point, we were sitting in front of our audience talking with our viewers and we knew that Russia declared this first phase of the war over, and then Russian missiles struck.
There's been so much talk of Russia miscalculations and missteps. Do you think that is really what is happening, or is Russia more on target of what they wanted to do and have something in their back pocket that they were just unsure of?
BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think the first thing we have to ask is, the Russian spokesman really talking the truth and telling us the truth. Their words and their actions don't seem to connect. For a country that says that they're done with the first phase of the operation, but yet continues to attack the supply lines of the Ukrainian forces, as they are being supplied by NATO, and continuing to hit Lviv and continuing to hit Kyiv, I just don't think that their words match their actions right now.
PAUL: Mr. Graham, you have been in service for 14 years or had been in service for 14 years, as I understand it. You had two tours of duty at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, how important is it is President Putin's grip on Russia, as we see what seems to be a change. We saw for the first time protests in Russia.
How significant is that for what is ahead for him?
THOMAS GRAHAM, SENIOR ADVISER ON RUSSIAN AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, you know, President Putin and the Kremlin have cracked down on dissent in Russia during the past few years and stepped that up during this military operation. They control the narrative, but they have concealed from the Russians up to this point are the number of casualties.
And I think that is an important ability to maintain support. As the casualties mount in combination with the economic pain that many Russians are feeling at this point, the issue does arise of how strong the Kremlin will be going forward and raise questions about Putin's position at the helm of the Russian state.
PAUL: Mr. Graham, I want to stay with you for a moment. As Russia is moving further west, do you see that as a provocation or do you see that as some desperation?
GRAHAM: Well, I think at this point moving west is really a warning to NATO, to the United States that they have to be careful in how they support Ukraine at this point, because that may lead to an escalation. It might lead to NATO on Russia.
So while we are trying to defer the Russians from attacking NATO territory, and the president was very firm on that, the Russians are trying to send a counter message, don't do anything that would lead us to have to attack NATO and turn this into a conflict that the Kremlin doesn't want and they assume that the United States doesn't want at this point.
PAUL: General Kimmitt, Russia has not been shy about one of it goals to assassinate President Zelenskyy. If that happens, what is the proper response from the rest of the world at that point?
KIMMITT: Well, I think the proper response will be from the Ukrainians. I think that the Ukrainians will then turn around and redouble their efforts against the Russians. And I think if the Russians committed an atrocity like assassinating the president, I would not want to be a Russian general on the ground, or any number of Russian generals, because I think the Ukrainians that they will make sure that Zelenskyy's death is paid by gallons of blood.
PAUL: Mr. Graham, in your recent piece for foreign affairs, you say the most urgent challenge is brokering a cease-fire and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine -- understandably, the humanitarian aid.
What is the reality truly of a cease-fire and how valuable is it? I think the expectation is that even if there was one, it would only be temporary.
GRAHAM: Right. And I don't think the chances of a cease fire are high in the near future. The Kremlin still believes that it has to have the chance to win this conflict on the battlefield, but the Ukrainians are offering very stiff resistance and have no reason to back down at this point, and certainly aren't prepared to capitulate to Russian demands.
The West has provided support, but we're not going to get engaged, as the president has repeatedly said with boots on the ground, directly in this conflict. I think the chances of a ceasefire in the very near future is quite slim, but if we play this out over two or three months, I think the chances do rise.
And that's the point of which people need to be thinking about, we have a ceasefire, what do we want to do with that ceasefire? Can we bring this conflict to an end in a way that's satisfactory for our interests and for Ukrainians' interest?
PAUL: General Mark Kimmitt and Thomas Graham, we appreciate both of your expertise and your thoughts on this. Thank you for taking time for us this morning.
GRAHAM: You're certainly welcome.
PAUL: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: Rolling out a second booster shot. The FDA decision that could be made soon for adults over 50. What a fourth dose could mean for the fight against COVID, next.
SANCHEZ: Americans over 50 could soon be allowed to get another COVID-19 booster shot. Sources tell CNN that the FDA plans to authorize a fourth dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for older adults as soon as this week. The news comes as some states begin to see an uptick in new cases of an omicron subvariant.
Here with us now to discuss is emergency medicine physician, Dr. Anand Swaminathan.
Doctor, is now the right time for another booster shot for older Americans?
DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: That's a great question, Boris. And I think what we're looking at is, they want to add boosters or offer boosters to those over 50, those who are immunocompromised. But the problem with it is in language and setting our priorities. I don't know what it means that we'll offer, but not recommend a booster. And I think that language is confusing to the American public.
But we haven't really established what our priorities are with the boosters. Is our goal to prevent all infection? If that's what our goal is, I'm not sure that these boosters are going to be very helpful. But if the goal is to prevent severe infection and hospitalization, they might have a little bit more of a yield.
The problem, of course, is that we don't have the funding to give a booster to everybody over 50. We don't have enough money from the federal government to be able to provide that, which is a huge problem, as well.
So I think what we need to be doing is really setting our priorities and say, what are we prioritizing with these boosters? And it really should be protecting the vulnerable, protecting the immunocompromised, protecting the elderly, and making sure that we are equitable in how we are distributing those boosters.
SANCHEZ: Doctor, some states are already seeing a rise in cases of this new subvariant. There was a surge in Europe that was fueled by it. How would you describe your level of concern about the weeks of ahead in relation to that subvariant taking hold here in the United States?
SWAMINATHAN: It's very difficult to predict this. We are already seeing with wastewater that we are seeing an uptick in that variant. We look many New York and we're already seeing an uptick and we know that what happens in the Northeast tends to herald what's going to happen in the rest of the country.
But it's still very hard to predict. And instead of focusing on, is this the variant that's going to cause the next surge, what we really should be focused on is, what should we be doing to stay in a state of preparation for when the next variant causes a surge? And that again comes back to that federal funding, having adequate federal funding, and then saying, what are the things that we should be doing? We should not be ramping down testing, but ramping testing up, making sure that we have the ability to do surveillance, to detect when we're seeing a surge in cases. We should be ramping up that wastewater surveillance, investing more in public health.
We should be investing more in infrastructure, like ventilation. But instead what we're seeing is the exact opposite. And our priors really skewed here.
SANCHEZ: Right now, only about 30 percent of all Americans have gotten a COVID-19 booster. Vaccinations are currently at their slowest pace. You mentioned, repeatedly, a federal investment, a reassessment of priorities. What needs to be done to make sure that more people get their booster shots?
SWAMINATHAN: I think this has a lot to do with both that funding and the messaging around it. I think what we've been hearing over the last couple of weeks to months is that this COVID surge is over. That we are -- we are into an endemic phase.
And we're not there. We have no evidence or proof that we're in an endemic phase of this disease. And because of that laxity that we see, we see a deprioritization, we're going That's where we should be focused on getting vaccination rates higher. Reaching out to physicians and families doing everything that boebl possibly can to make it easier for people who haven't been vaccinate to get vaccinated.
And that's really not what we're seeing. We're actually seeing quite the opposite.
SANCHEZ: Dr. Anand Swaminathan, as always, appreciate your insight and expertise. Thanks so much for the time.
PAUL: Still ahead, CNN is learning some chilling new details about a group known as Putin's private army, now believed to be in Ukraine with their sights set on President Zelenskyy.
PAUL: A senior Ukrainian official tells CNN a group of Russian military contractors nicknamed Putin's private army allegedly in Ukraine now with the goal of assassinating President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
SANCHEZ: The mercenaries are part of the Wagner Group and consist of what could be several thousand fighters who have a proven track record for committing horrendous acts of violence around the world.
CNN's David McKenzie has the story.
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Russian mercenary takes a selfie video inside Syria. It's a recruitment style pitch, allegedly for the notorious Wagner group, a brutal force believed to be linked to the Kremlin. In the shadows of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian defense official tells us that Wagner contractors where in the country, and had a very specific mission.
What is the objective, do you think, in Ukraine right now?
MARKIYAN LUBKIVSKY, ADVISER TO THE MINISTER OF DEFENSE OF UKRAINE: They wanted to assassinate the leadership of Ukraine, our president and prime minister. So that was the goal and the couple of groups, the couple of people sent to Ukraine without any success.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am here. We are not putting down arms.
MCKENZIE: The primary target, he says, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ukraine's military says documentary evidence gathered by intelligence officials and special forces outlines their alleged mission. He says several Wagner operations have been eliminated, identified by their unique tags. CNN couldn't independently corroborate the account.
LUBKIVSKY: He needs to find all these people, and they need to go to the court. They absolutely illegal.
MCKENZIE: Wagner contractors in eastern Ukraine in 2014, exposed by research groups and CNN investigations. Their operations spanned the Middle East and Africa.
U.S. officials accused Wagner of multiple human rights abuses inside multiple countries. And this disturbing 2017 video, investigated by CNN, Wagner mercenaries appear to be torturing and murdering a Syrian man, as they make jokes.
The Kremlin said the incident have nothing to do with the Russian military operations in Syria. And they've repeatedly denied any links to Wagner. U.S. officials say that Wagner was started by this man, Dmitriy Utkin, a veteran of the Chechen conflict, and allegedly bankrolled by businessmen, Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to Russia's leader, he is nicknamed Putin's chef.
Under multiple U.S. sanctions, Prigozhin denies any involvement in Wagner.
But the senior researcher at the Dossier Center says Wagner is Putin's private army.
We agreed to hide their identity for his safety. They've spent years investigating Wagner's links to the Kremlin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They operate without any law, without any rules. They can do whatever they want.
Then there is a call to MOD, or there is a call to Mr. Putin, with regards to this particular country. The response will be these are individuals. They have no link to the Kremlin.
MCKENZIE: Despite the invasion, and new allegations of an assassination plot, Ukraine's president says he isn't going anywhere.
David McKenzie, CNN, London.
SANCHEZ: The war in Ukraine is undoubtedly a world away from Hollywood and the red carpet.
PAUL: Yeah. But entertainers are not forgetting about it. Their top stars are heading to the Academy Award ceremony tonight, and CNN's Stephanie Elam reports some of the heavy hitters are showing their support for Ukraine.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Red carpet glamour, a world away from the war in Ukraine.
BRIAN COX, ACTOR: Really, really awful what's happening.
ELAM: But Hollywood isn't ignoring the humanitarian crisis this award season.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: We're getting a lesson and remind e about what true democracies are about.
ELAM: Heavy hitters like Michael Douglas and Lin-Manuel Miranda showing their support for the blue and yellow while on the red carpet.
And at least one star protesting in the street.
JAVIER BARDEM, OSCAR NOMINEE FOR BEST ACTOR: In my humble opinion, it's better the idea of the peaceful resolution.
ELAM: Best actor nominee Javier Bardem telling CNN he joined protesters at Madrid's Russian em brassy to demonstrate his support outside of Hollywood.
BARDEM: It's very delicate to say anything when you are having a beautiful, safe life and a safe environment.
ELAM: Set to present at the Oscars is Ukrainian-born actress Mila Kunis.
MILA KUNIS, ACTRESS: Today, I've never been more proud to be a Ukrainian.
ELAM: She and husband Ashton Kutcher have raised $30 million for Ukrainian refugees.
KUNIS: This is just the beginning to a very, very long journey.
ELAM: With widespread support for Ukraine, insiders said this will likely be different from the Trump years when the politics were more divisive.
MATTHEW BELLONI, FOUNDING PARTNER, PUCK NEWS: If the stars get up and start talking about Ukraine, it might be a way for people to rally behind that, that the politics element of the show won't be divisive. It will be united.
COX: The president of Ukraine was a comic. You know, he was a wonderful comic performer.
ELAM: "Succession" star Brian Cox with the most dramatic speech so far at the Screen Actor Guild Award, calling for support of Russian artists who are at risk if they condemn the war.
COX: And I think we should really joined and celebrating them and hoping that they can actually make a shift, as I believe they can.
ELAM (on camera): But the Oscars won't be all serious with three comedians hosting, Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer, and Regina Hall. Producer Will Packer telling "Vanity Fair", quote, "I want this to be an escape."
In Hollywood, Stephanie Elam.
SANCHEZ: Stephanie Elam, thank you for that.
In the middle of the devastation in Ukraine, there was a ray of sunshine for war-weary Ukrainians.
The sounds of an underground concert ringing through a metro station in Kharkiv that is being used as a shelter.
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SANCHEZ: One of the orchestra members said it was his way of helping his country and to send a message to the world that Ukrainians are fearless and strong.
PAUL: And now it is hard times that we're watching. It's hard to see what these people are going through, but I hope wherever you are today, you can make some good memories in your corner of the world. Thank you for making part of your morning with us.
SANCHEZ: And don't go anywhere because "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY WITH ABBY PHILLIP" starts after a quick break. Thanks for joining us.