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CNN TONIGHT: Ukraine President Zelenskyy Won't Confirm Or Deny Ordering Fuel Depot Strike Inside Russia; Ukrainian Parliament Member On Death Of Best Friend's Husband, Killed By Russian Shelling; Will Smith Resigns From Motion Picture Academy After Slap. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 21:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Stay with CNN, for the latest, from Ukraine. The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Wolf Blitzer, and CNN TONIGHT.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: John, thank you very much.

I am Wolf Blitzer. This is CNN TONIGHT. We want to welcome our viewers, here, in the United States, and around the world.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy, just spoke, for the first time, about that possible first Ukrainian strike, inside Russia, since this invasion began. A direct hit, early, this morning, on a fuel storage facility, in Belgorod. That's about 25 miles, from Ukraine's eastern border.

Russia claims two Ukrainian military helicopters, entered its territory, flying in a very low altitude, and struck the facility that stores millions of gallons of fuel. All day, Ukraine that hasn't confirmed or denied, it was behind the attack.

It's not unlike Russia to conduct false-flag operations, for any excuse, to blame the enemy. But it's possible, Ukraine was behind the strike, which would be a big feat, if true.

President Zelenskyy was directly asked, if he ordered it tonight. Listen to his answer.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I do not discuss any of my orders, as Commander-in-Chief, the leader of this state. And there are things, which I only share with the military, Armed Forces of Ukraine, and when they talk with me.

You need to understand that on that territory that you mentioned, you have to know they were, placing their shooting systems, and firing those missiles, themselves.

We were attacked. That is what matters.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So clearly, President Zelenskyy isn't confirming, or denying, his country was behind it. We're going to dig into what can be read, from that. That's just ahead.

Meanwhile, new satellite images confirm Russian forces have vanished, from the site of their first major victory, in Ukraine. On day one, of the invasion, Russia captured the Antonov airfield. That's just about 18 miles, from the capital of Kyiv.

And now, its forces are gone, confirmed by these satellite images. But it's unclear where they went. The Russians never made a closer to Western Kyiv, after capturing that airfield, back on February 24, while Ukrainian forces have held strong, against their advance.

In a video address, tonight, President Zelenskyy says Russian troops are slowly but noticeably moving out of Northern Ukraine.

They are relentless. However, in the port city of Mariupol, thousands of Ukrainians have just escaped. But authorities say, about 100,000 remain trapped there, because Russia isn't letting aid workers in.

And there are also now reports of missile strikes, on another major port city. We're talking about Odessa, in Southern Ukraine. We're going to take you there, live. That's coming up.

But first, let's go to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us, from Kyiv, right now.

Fred, tell our viewers, what's happening, in the capital, tonight.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, if President Zelenskyy says that the Russians are slowly moving away, out of these suburbs, around Kyiv, or the region of Kyiv, it certainly seems to be something that we're seeing, on the ground, as well.

In fact, we were in a location today that had Russian forces in it, for a very long time. We saw a lot of destroyed Russian armor, on the ground, there. But the Russian forces had vanished, from there, as well.

And it was in the late afternoon hours that the Ukrainians also announced that the key suburb, of Kyiv, called Bucha, that that had now been retaken, by Ukrainian forces.

Now, the Russian forces apparently left there. Also, a lot of destroyed armor there. And unfortunately, also a lot of dead bodies, still laying, in the streets, as there was some extremely heavy fighting, going on, in the areas, especially towards the northwest, of the Ukrainian capital. But you're absolutely right. It's not clear, where exactly those forces are going.

At the same time though, we heard President Zelenskyy just there, also saying that the Ukrainians had been - attacked Kharkiv, had attacked, from that place, from Belgorod, from the Russian side. And so, therefore, if the Ukrainians did manage, to attack that oil storage facility, it would be a major feat and, certainly, a blow, right at the heart, of Russia's military machine. Let's have a look.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): It could be a brazen and bold counterattack, by the Ukrainians.

This social media video, seeming to show, two attack helicopters, penetrating Russian territory, and firing at an oil depot, setting the facility ablaze.

The Russian military publicly acknowledging the incident.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "On April 1, at around 5 A.M. Moscow Time, two Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters, entered the airspace, of the Russian Federation, at extremely low altitude," the spokesman says.

"Ukrainian helicopters launched a missile attack, on a civilian oil storage facility, located, on the outskirts of Belgorod. As a result, of the missile hit, individual tanks were damaged, and caught fire."


Video, from the aftermath, shows the facility, engulfed in massive flames, with firefighters, struggling to put out the blaze.

Belgorod is a highly militarized city, right across the border, from Kharkiv, in Ukraine. It was from here that Russian forces crossed the border, and attacked Kharkiv, moving large amounts of tanks, armored vehicles, and trucks, towards Ukrainian territory.

But the Russians also have a massive military support facilities, in this area. The Ukrainians so far have not acknowledged they've hit the depot.

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I can neither confirm nor reject the claim that Ukraine was involved in this, simply because I do not possess all the military information.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The strike comes, as Russian forces, have been suffering setbacks, in their invasion of Ukraine, withdrawing some forces, from the area, around the capital, Kyiv, after failing to storm the city.

The Russians now saying they want to focus their offensive, on the east of the country, which includes Kharkiv, where authorities report a major uptick, in shelling, in recent days. All this, as talks, between Russia and Ukraine, to try and end the fighting continue.

But Moscow, now saying, Vladimir Putin has been briefed, on the chopper attack, and it could have a negative impact on the talks. "Of course, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for continuing negotiations," the Kremlin spokesman said.

The strike on the oil facility will probably do little, to hold up Russia's invasion, of Ukraine. But if the Ukrainians are behind it, it would show, they are not afraid to strike back, at the country that is attacking them.


PLEITGEN: And Wolf, it's impossible to overstate the military importance, of Belgorod, especially for Russia's invasion, there, of the Kharkiv area. That entire area, completely militarized.

I was down there, when the war kicked off. There's military bases, all around the border area. And if those two choppers made it through, and made it all the way to Belgorod, they would have overcome some pretty big Russian air defense systems, as well.

So as yet unclear, whether the Ukraine is really behind it. But if they were behind it, it certainly shows that they are still capable, of striking, right at the heart of Russia's military.


BLITZER: It certainly does. Fred Pleitgen, in Kyiv, for us. Stay safe over there, Fred. We'll be in touch.

Also new tonight, the Pentagon has just, just announced another $300 million in help, for the Ukrainian military. That aid will cover things, like suicide drones, night vision equipment, and systems, to stop Russian drones.

It brings the total value of U.S. assistance, for Ukraine, to more than $2.3 billion, since the start of the Biden administration. Let's put those numbers, into some sort of perspective.

For that, I'm joined, tonight, by former European Affairs Director, over at the National Security Council, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Also joining us, a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder.

Gentlemen, thanks very much, for joining us.

Colonel Vindman, what kind of difference, will this kind of specific military assistance, actually make, for the Ukrainian military, on the ground?


The suicide drones that you referred to, they're somewhat limited capability. They're anti-personnel drones that will be less than effective in a mechanized armored warfare. But there'll be soft targets that they go after, like artillery units need to have personnel, operating them, some fuel tankers, and things of that nature.

I think the big things that really would be meaningful are significant levels of air defense, long-range fires that would even settle kind of the disequilibrium, between what the Russians have. They have an enormous amount of fires, planes, ballistic missiles, short-range ballistic missiles.

Those types of things have not yet poured in. And those are the things that are going to be particularly meaningful. Especially, six weeks into this war, Ukraine has lost equipment. It has lost artillery. It has lost some armor. These are the big ticket items that have not yet been replenished. And that's the kind of stuff that really needs to start flowing in.

There was an announcement, by NATO that, they're going to do anything and everything, they can, to help. I think the easiest thing to do would be to take all that Soviet Warsaw Pact era equipment that's sitting in depots, in Eastern and Central Europe, and start feeding it through, at a rapid pace. Those are the kinds of capabilities that are going to be meaningful, for the rest of this war.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think about that, Ambassador?


But there's also significant capability already flowing in. And we shouldn't just look at what the United States is doing. The Germans have just announced sending Soviet-era tanks, into Ukraine.


There are a number of countries that are very quiet about what they're doing. They don't want to have it publicly known that they are supporting the Ukrainian effort. We don't know what the French are sending in, other than they're sending in an awful lot.

There are Soviet-era equipment, as Colonel Vindman said, that is actually being released, and quietly flowing, into the fight. We can have more, we need to have more, because this is a major fight that's going on. And if it starts to concentrate, as it seems to look like, in the east, it's going to be a particularly difficult battle.

And having the equipment necessary, to not only fight the fight, but win the fight, is - requires a continued inflow of capabilities, of Intelligence, of which a lot, I think, is moving into the Ukrainian military, from the United States, and other countries.

So yes, lots is happening. But more will need to flow, if we're going to see this war, moving into the direction we continue to - continue to move in the direction, we want, which is to have the Russians pushed back, and the Ukrainians regaining territory.

BLITZER: When it comes to today's helicopter strike, in Belgorod, Colonel Vindman, you heard what President Zelenskyy said, about this attack. How do you read between the lines, of the Ukrainians, neither confirming, nor denying they're behind this attack?

VINDMAN: He didn't deny it. So, that's pretty telling. I think there are other countries that have similar doctrine. The Israelis don't talk about the attacks that they conduct. There's no real great utility, in doing it.

The Russians know, who conducted this attack. So, announcing it publicly is - there's no added value. I think, the signaling, the subtext here is that this war doesn't just occur, on Ukrainian soil. It's going to have local effects on Russian territory.

And, I think, it's a signal, frankly, to the U.S. also, that Ukraine is going to take the fight forward to the forward staging areas, for Russia, and wage war there, and do it in a responsible manner.

They're not looking to go after civilian targets. They're not looking to do their barbarous activities that the Russians are doing. And that's supposed to be a kind of subtext, to encourage the U.S., to provide more capable assistance.


VINDMAN: Unmanned air combat vehicles.

BLITZER: Yes. I want the Ambassador, to weigh in, specifically on that point, as well.

Does it - this strike, this helicopter attack, signal a shift, Ambassador? Because the Ukrainians have been on the offensive, around the capital of Kyiv. But President Zelenskyy is warning of new Russian assaults, in the east and the south.

DAALDER: Yes, I think, it is a signal, an important signal. One is that helicopters can apparently fly 25 kilometers, into Russian territory, and shoot at targets with, and be able to come back.

That tells you a lot about both the brazenness, of the Ukrainian military, and the courage and heroism of them. But, at the same time, the weakness of the Russian air defenses. That's one.

The second is, is exactly that, taking the fight, not just to the enemy, inside Ukraine, but wherever they are staging, and creating the havoc that they are creating, in Ukraine. And it is important that Ukraine be able to do so.

Taking out a fuel depot, targeting significant military targets that are part of the war, against Ukraine, are fully legitimate, in the self-defense of Ukraine, and does send a signal that the idea that somehow we shouldn't be sending armaments that have too long a range for fear that it may hit Russia, Russia is the one who started the war, here.

If the Ukrainians believes that the best way to defend themselves, is to hit targets, on Russian territory, they should be able to do that. And they've just demonstrated a willingness.

BLITZER: Ambassador Daalder, thank you so much for joining us. Colonel Vindman, thanks to you, as well. We will all continue this conversation, down the road.

We're about to be joined by two key members of Ukraine's Parliament. Both are fighting for their country, in different ways, from different places. But they are together, in their mission.

They're truly incredible stories. That's coming up, next.



BLITZER: Ukrainians retook the town of Bucha, from the Russians, just outside of Kyiv. That was just a little while ago.

I'm about to show you the cost. And I want to warn our viewers the pictures you're about to see are disturbing.

This is what a street, in Bucha, looks like, right now. Several bodies, visible, as a car makes its way through. It's not clear, if the dead were soldiers, or civilians.

I want to bring in two people, right now, who know this fight, all too well. Both are key members of the Ukrainian Parliament.

Yehor Cherniev, is in Kyiv, for us. He has voluntarily joined the capital's Territorial Defense.

And Oleksandra Ustinova is she's here, in the United States, right now, where she has been meeting with members of the U.S. Congress. We're going to talk to her, in just a few moments.

But let me start with you, Yehor. What's happening on the ground? Update our viewers.

YEHOR CHERNIEV, CHAIRMAN, UKRAINIAN DELEGATION TO NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Well, it looks like Russian troops withdrawn, from the territory of Kyiv, and Chernihiv district.

But I'm not sure that they just go out. They will be regroup. And, I think, they will be - they will strike, from the eastern part, of Ukraine. So, this is only the pause of Russian, in this war, I mean, the pause, from this direction.


Also, I see a lot of war crimes, from the Russian troops. Raped women, killed children. My friends lost their child, just in a few days ago, because of bombs, from the Russian Federation. They just, you know, their behavior are like behavior of war criminals (ph), you know? And this is the problem.

And also, the problem that we don't have enough weapon, to close our sky, you know? Because we lost a lot of our aircrafts. We lost - we used a lot of our anti-missile and anti-aircraft system.

Yes, we have some supplies, from the Western countries. But it's not enough. It's enough to contain the enemy, and die (ph), but not enough to defeat him. This is the problem. This is the situation, right now.

BLITZER: You need more equipment, more military hardware, from the U.S., and the other NATO allies.

What's your take, Yehor, on this airstrike, of this Russian fuel depot, just across the border, in Russia? Is this a sign that Ukraine is stepping up its military offensives against Russia?

CHERNIEV: Well, I cannot confirm, as our Minister said. And I cannot reject, because I'm not in an army, in headquarter. But we will fight, on the ground, in the air, and at sea, to the end. And it's no doubt, actually.

BLITZER: It's no doubt what?

CHERNIEV: It's no doubt that we will continue fight.


CHERNIEV: With Russian Federation.

BLITZER: All right, I just wanted to clarify that.

You also served, Yehor, as the Chair of the Ukrainian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. What do you make of President Zelenskyy saying, "Neutrality is on the table. It is negotiations with Russia."

CHERNIEV: Well, first of all, they have to understand that we need the security guarantees, from the third parties, from, I don't know, maybe from the U.S., the U.K., Turkey, or other countries, that in this case, we can replace our movement to NATO, with these guarantees, from different countries. But it doesn't mean that we are agree with the neutrality status, without any guarantees. This is the point.

BLITZER: Yes. You want a ceasefire.


BLITZER: But you want to see a complete Russian troop withdrawal, from all of Ukraine. Let's see if that is even doable.

Yehor Cherniev, thank you so much, for joining us. Good luck to you. Stay safe, over there. We'll stay in touch, of course, with you, as well.

Right now, I want to bring in Oleksandra Ustinova. She's another member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

First, I just want to express our condolences. I know your friend, a very good friend of yours, who also serves in the Ukrainian Parliament, lost her husband, yesterday, because of Russian shelling, near Chernihiv.

How are you, and your friend, coping, with this enormous loss?

OLEKSANDRA USTINOVA, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: It's very difficult, for me, to say, how she is doing, and her two kids, who could not believe that their daddy is not with them anymore. And they kept asking their mom, just to give someone a call that she must have - must have been mistaken.

His younger daughter has birthday, next week. And she was saying that "I don't need a present. Can you please just call somebody, and tell me that this is something wrong that you got it wrong?" Unfortunately, it is very difficult for them.

It's, I think, it is difficult for everybody, today, in Ukraine, because I don't know a Ukrainian, who hasn't lost someone they love or no. And I think this war will change us forever. Because every fourth (ph) Ukrainian was pushed out of his or her home. They have to - they had to flee the country.

A lot of women had been raped. A lot of children died. Yehor just mentioned that a friend - his friend has lost a child, because of the bomb. So unfortunately, this is the tragedy, of the 21st Century that we're witnessing, right now.

And the only thing, I wrote, to my friend's kid, was telling them, "We will revenge. We will take over. And they will pay a very high price, for her dad, and for everybody, who will never come back, after this war."

BLITZER: It is so heartbreaking, to hear these stories. And this is just one story. But there are so many of these stories, what's been going on these past six weeks.


Ukraine represented no threat to Russia, at all. But the Russians, under Putin, have moved in, and are destroying so much, of what was, at one point, a very beautiful country.

I know, Oleksandra, you're expecting a baby, in 10 days. Talk to me, if you can, a little bit about, what you've been hearing, from parents, back home, as they try to shield their children, their young kids, from this war.

USTINOVA: Well, unfortunately, not everybody could take their children, out of the country, or at least, in the West, where it's more safe.

We have a very high rate of babies' death now, because we have a lot of miscarriages. A lot of the kids were born premature. And these babies, they need special equipment. They need special care that nobody could have provided to them, in the bomb shelters, or in the basements. And unfortunately, a lot of babies did not make it.

So, Putin will have to pay for the unborn babies, for the babies, who died within the first few days, of their lives, for the moms, who passed away, giving the birth of these babies. So unfortunately, again, this has been a tragedy.

And I live in Kyiv. And probably, a lot of my friends, I would say, the majority, were trying to take their kids out, to the western part, or somewhere abroad, and would come back and fight. But every child in Ukraine now knows that Russians are not brothers. They are enemies that go after children, after women.

Yesterday, there was a heartbreaking story that we came to know, in Ukraine. I don't know if the world knows that. My colleague was already saying that unfortunately, it's not only about Putin. It's about the Russian soldiers, and the Russians, who support this. They're criminals. They're murderers. They're rapists.

Yesterday, a story broke out that our army found a 6-year-old boy, in Mariupol. He had gray hair, at six years, because his mom was raped, two days, in a row, in front of him, by the Russian soldiers. His mom didn't make it. But the kid got gray here, at six.


USTINOVA: And when you hear the story like that? And this is just one of the thousands of stories, because we don't even know how many of those stories, are out there. It's not about just war. It's not about denazification, NATO, or demilitarization.

This is literally about erasing a nation, just killing as many Ukrainians, raping, and destroying, as they can. This is exactly the same, what Hitler was doing, to Jews. That's exactly what Russians are doing to Ukrainians now.

BLITZER: Oleksandra Ustinova, our hearts go out to you, to your family, and your friends, indeed, to all the people of Ukraine. Our deepest, deepest, deepest wishes that you will all get through this.

I know this has been a horrible, horrible experience. And I know none of you anticipated, what the Russians are capable of doing, under Putin. It's come as an awful, awful development.

Good luck to you, good luck to everyone, in Ukraine. Thank you so much, for sharing your thoughts, with us.

USTINOVA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Heartbreaking, indeed.

Coming up, the battle for survival, in the crucial port city of Odessa. There's word tonight, of new Russian attacks. But the people of Odessa are not giving up.

We have new information. That's next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Ukraine says, it foiled an attempt, by the Russians, an attempt, involving a missile attack, directed at critical infrastructure, in Odessa. Instead, the three Russian missiles hit a residential area, in that major seaport city. But officials do report casualties.

CNN's Ed Lavandera, is in Odessa, for us. He's talking to the many people there, who are preparing, for more Russian strikes, even as they try to live their lives.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Knizhka (ph) market is where you come to trade, gossip and rumors, dollars for Ukrainian cash, or hunt down underground rare books. It's also where a group of college friends come for coffee, and a sense of peace.

LAVANDERA (on camera): I want to ask you, with everything going on, in Ukraine, everything here seems so normal.

TAIMUR KRAVCHENKO, LAW STUDENT: Now, it's home, and we can like live a normal life. But that's for now. We don't know what's going to be tomorrow or in a week.

LAVANDERA (on camera): It looks normal. But is it really normal?

KRAVCHENKO: Inside, everyone is afraid. If something's going to happen, in Odessa, first, we will protect our city. But, right now, we can just sit and live normal life.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): You navigate the streets of Odessa, you see the remaining residents, trying to go about their daily lives.

But a large part of the city's historic center is transformed into a fortified zone, with anti-tank barricades, bracing for an amphibious attack, by Russian troops, from the Black Sea. It's a ghost town.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The residents of Odessa would normally be preparing, to hold, what is known, as the April Fools' Parade, on this street, in the heart of the city. It's a parade that started, years ago, in response to Soviet censorship. But now, this area of Odessa is completely fortified. And, this year, there will be no parade.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Instead, civilian volunteers and activists, are mobilizing, to support the war effort.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So, we're in a bomb shelter, in Odessa. And this is where they're making bulletproof vests.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): We meet this man, sealing the steel plates, of homemade armored vests, for frontline soldiers. He asked that we call him Marcaine (ph).

LAVANDERA (on camera): We've heard that Russian forces are leaving Kyiv. Are you concerned? And do you think that they're going to start coming back toward Odessa? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

LAVANDERA (voice-over): "We've already beat their ass. We will do it again," he tells me.

Russian naval ships remain stationed off the coast of Odessa, in the Black Sea. The concern here is the war will intensify, in the South.


Before the war, Marcaine (ph) worked as a professional scuba diver. He defiantly says, he looks forward to exploring the underwater wreckage, of those sunken Russian ships, as a diver, when the war is over.

On a street corner, we find dozens, of displaced families, who have escaped to Odessa. They're from the worst war zones, hoping to find food and clothing.

Olga Petkovitch (ph) is waiting with five of her six children.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So, you come from a village that was surrounded by Russian soldiers. You're in the crossfire. How frightening was that?


LAVANDERA (voice-over): "I was scared for the children, most of all," she tells me.

Olga (ph) says her family had to walk through, a forest, to escape shelling. Tears well up in her eyes, as her husband tells us Russian soldiers broke into their homes, taking everything, they could, from the families, in their village.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When we came here, the volunteers told us, to say what we need. But I'm ashamed. I've worked all my life, and never asked anyone for anything. And now, I have to ask.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Her little girl wipes away her mother's tears.



LAVANDERA (voice-over): "Mother, why are you crying?" the girl asks. "Because, they were shelling us, a lot," Olga (ph) tells her.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Not far from where we met Olga's (ph) family, we notice a father, teaching his daughter, how to ride a bike, a poignant moment in the midst of a surreal world.


LAVANDERA: And Wolf, Friday night, we heard this barrage of air defense systems, firing up, into the air.

Military officials, here, in Ukraine, say that three missiles were fired, from the Crimean Peninsula. One military official says that there are some wounded, on the ground. Another military official says that Russian airstrikes missed their intended targets.


BLITZER: Odessa is a beautiful city, indeed.

Ed Lavandera, reporting for us. Heartbreaking news, for all of us. Thanks very much, Ed, for your reporting. Stay safe, over there.


BLITZER: Our coverage, of the invasion, of Ukraine, continues, just ahead. President Zelenskyy won't say, tonight, if he ordered that attack, on a fuel depot, in Russia, this morning. But if Ukraine was behind it, how could that actually change the fight?

We're going to bring you one of our top military analysts. That's coming up, next.




BLITZER: "The New York Times" is now reporting that the United States will work, with allies, to transfer Soviet-made tanks, to bolster Ukrainian defensives. The tanks will be heading to what's expected to be the Russian focal point, in the Donbas area.

Let's bring in retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, for what this means for us.

General, what would more heavy equipment, like these Soviet-era tanks, do, for the Ukrainians, in the fight, in the Donbas region?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would be significant, Wolf, because they're, first of all, equipment that the Ukrainian army is used to working with. Secondly, based on the report, by "The New York Times," these are tanks that are actually higher quality Russian tanks than what the Russians are using.

Wolf, surprisingly, I actually fired a tank, from the Czech Republic, similar to the kinds that are coming from Slovakia. And they have taken the T-72 variant, which is the main Russian battle tank, and have upgraded it, in very significant ways, both their optics, their armor and their gun system.

So, I think, it would certainly help, to do the transfer, between some of the NATO nations that are now still using those T-72s.

BLITZER: Well, here's what I don't understand. If the U.S. and the NATO allies, are now about to provide, the Ukrainian military, with these Soviet-era battle tanks, which are excellent tanks, I should say, what's to stop the U.S. and the NATO allies from going one step further, and providing the Ukrainians, with what they really want, Soviet-era MiG-29 jet fighters?

HERTLING: Well, first of all, because there's the feeling that to control the air, which everyone is very concerned about, it's very difficult, in a Russian environment, where they have massive air defense systems, around the battlefield.

Ukraine has been very successful, in jamming some of those air defense systems, and in flying around them. But truthfully, Wolf, the number of MiGs that are available, would not do that much, to contribute, to what the Ukrainians have.

And, I think, there's been a lot of defense experts, who have actually analyzed this problem, and said it would be very difficult, to turn the tide, with just a few more aircraft. It's better to get the air defense missile systems, and some of the shoulder-fire missile systems that are knocking down the Russian aircraft.

BLITZER: Yes. The U.S. is providing anti-aircraft missiles. They're providing drones. But they're stopping short of actual fighter jets.

All this comes, as you know, General Hertling, following what could be the first Ukrainian attack, on Russian soil, earlier today, on this fuel depot, just north of Ukraine. Ukraine neither confirms nor denies.

But what stands out - what stands out, to you, about this attack, conducted by military helicopters? And everybody's assuming, slowly but surely, to believe it was the Ukrainian military.

HERTLING: Yes. There's a couple things that stand out to me, Wolf that hasn't - that haven't been discussed, today.

First of all, yes, it was certainly a high value target. But for more than the fact that the strike hit a valuable fuel depot, and they're in the rear area that will affect the refitting of Russian troops.

Wolf, we call this, in U.S. military parlance, a deep strike. It's not something that immediately affects the frontlines. But it's something that will have a significant effect, on the logistics capability, of the Russian army, in the future.


It also sends a message. It tells, "Russia, you are no longer protected, in Belarus, a place where you used to think was a safe haven. We will not allow you, to reconsolidate, on touch." That's what the Ukrainians are saying. "And Russia, by the way, just when you thought you were repositioning, out of our country, into a safe zone, we reached out, and struck your rear area. You are safe, nowhere." In addition to all that, it was an excellent tactical operation. This isn't just helicopters, taking off, from an airfield, and going to hit a target. There's a lot of things that go behind these kinds of strikes, the preparation of the routes, the jamming and the suppression of the enemy air defense, and the precise strike capability.

Wolf, they're neither confirming, or denying, right now, which tells me, they did it. And it was a very bold move, with some great planning, behind it. And it hit a very, very, very high-value target.

BLITZER: Yes, it tells me exactly the same thing.

And remember, all those armored personnel carriers, the armored vehicles, the tanks that are going, from Russia, into Ukraine, they need fuel. And they get the fuel, from a fuel depot, like this one that was destroyed, earlier today.

General Hertling, thank you so much, for joining us. Always good to hear your assessment.

HERTLING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And stay with CNN, for continuing coverage, of this brutal war, on Ukraine. Much more, coming up.

But, up next, there's also been a major development, in the aftermath of the Oscars. Will Smith announcing he is resigning from the Motion Picture Academy, after slapping Chris Rock, on stage.

His new statement, and why it may not necessarily mark the end of this scandal, we have new information that's next.



BLITZER: There's breaking news, in the Will Smith Oscar slap uproar. Smith announcing tonight, he's resigning from the Academy. But that doesn't mean he won't face any punishment, for hitting comedian Chris Rock.

Smith, the newly-minted Best Actor winner, released the statement, just a few hours ago, saying this. Let me read part of it.

"My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable. The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris (Rock), his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones.

I betrayed the trust of the Academy. I deprived other nominees and winners of their opportunity to celebrate.

I am resigning from membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and will accept any further consequences the Board deems appropriate." End quote. Our Chloe Melas, has been following the story, for us. She's joining us, right now.

Chloe, how's the Academy responding, to the statement?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Yes. Well, listen, just moments after Will Smith released that statement, this is what we received, at CNN.

They said, quote, "We will continue to move forward with our disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy's Standards of Conduct, in advance of our next scheduled board meeting on April 18."

Wolf, remember, the Academy revealed, earlier this week, in another statement that they gave Will Smith two weeks' notice, where he can respond in writing. And this, I guess, is his response that he is resigning.

But that, they are going to have consequences for his actions. So, this is not over, he could still face potential repercussions, for what he's done.

BLITZER: Well specifically, what further disciplinary actions, Chloe, could be taken?

MELAS: Good question. He could potentially be banned, from attending the Academy Awards, in the future. Maybe not just next year, if that's on the table, but in the future. He still could be nominated, what I'm hearing, for an Academy Award, for his work.

Now, the fact that he's resigned, Wolf, means that he can no longer be a voting member of the Academy. When you are a member of the 9,000- plus voting body of the Academy, these are the ones, who vote, from directors, actors, producers, you name it, on those who win, in these categories. So, he will not be able to do that.

Some people may say, "OK, so what? It doesn't seem like that big of a deal." But we know that Will Smith, he cared about the Academy. He cared about winning that Oscar. So, to have done this and, now, face repercussions, like not being able to be a part of the ceremony, next year, or beyond? That is significant.

BLITZER: As you well know, because you were there, Chris Rock has been performing, the last few days, in Boston. Last night, he dealt with a heckler. Tell our viewers what happened.

MELAS: Yes. So, I was not at last night's show. I was at several other shows, of his, in Boston, this week. A heckler, in the audience, screamed out "F Will Smith." And immediately, Chris Rock went over, and said "No, no, no, no, no."

Chris Rock is not going to entertain any of that right now. What he said, during his first show, when I was in there, Wolf, is that "I am still processing this. At some point, I'm going to address it. It's going to be funny. It's going to be serious. But I still don't know what I want to do yet."

And, at that second show, on that first night, he also had said, Wolf, and I told you this, that he said that he and Will Smith have not spoken, that despite what you've heard, no discussions have been had.

So, you're seeing this new statement, out tonight, from Will Smith, where he apologizes, once again, to Chris Rock. But all of the public apologies in the world, what do they really mean, if he hasn't apologized, directly, to Chris Rock?

So, it'll be interesting, if that's happened, and if Chris Rock makes, more comments available, to us, about how he's feeling, and what he wants to do next.

BLITZER: It's interesting. The Producer of the Oscars, of the event, the TV production, Will Packer says that Rock didn't want Smith kicked out of the ceremony. Tell us about that.

MELAS: Yes. So, we knew, from a source, earlier this week, Wolf, the Academy leadership that they asked Will Smith's publicist, to have him leave the Dolby Theatre, after he slapped Chris Rock, and that Will Smith said "No."

And that by the time it was communicated, to Academy leadership, they had run out of time, simply, before the Best Actor category, was going to be announced.


Will Packer says that Chris Rock did not want Will Smith to be escorted out that he didn't want to make an already painful situation, even more difficult. Will says, that actually Chris saved the Oscars, in his opinion, from being even more of a disaster.

BLITZER: Chloe Melas, you've been doing excellent reporting, on this. Thanks so much, for joining us.

And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: I am Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much for watching.

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"DON LEMON TONIGHT," live from Ukraine, starts right now.

Don, there's a lot going on, where you are.