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Biden Calls Putin Invasion "Genocide" For First Time; Witness Describes Chaos After Mass Shooting In NYC Subway; Pentagon: Russia Could Try To Mask A "Serious Chemical Attack" With Riot Control Agents. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired April 12, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Police are investigating whether he has any connection, to the shooting, and have not named him, as a suspect. Anyone with an information on this Person of Interest, or the shooting, is encouraged to call the NYPD at 1-800-577-TIPS.
Police say the U-Haul van was found, just blocks away, from the subway station. According to U-Haul records, obtained by CNN, the van was rented, Monday afternoon, in Philadelphia, and Frank James, who has used a Wisconsin license, with a Milwaukee address.
Stay with CNN, for the latest, on the investigation.
The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Jake Tapper, in Lviv, in western Ukraine, and CNN TONIGHT.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: John, thanks so much.
I'm Jake Tapper. This is CNN TONIGHT.
And I am live, from Lviv, Ukraine, with breaking new developments, on the Putin invasion, of Ukraine, and also that mass shooting, back at home, in a New York City subway.
The gunman, who opened fire, inside a crowded subway car, and detonated two smoke grenades, remains on the loose, tonight. He shot 10 people, and injured 13 others, at the height of the morning rush hour.
Police have identified and released the name of a so-called Person of Interest, this evening. We'll bring you the very latest on the massive manhunt, live from the scene, shortly.
But first, for the very first time, 48 days, into this Russian onslaught, in Ukraine, President Biden used the word, "Genocide," to describe the atrocities that Putin and his troops are committing, here.
Listen closely, to his remarks, in Iowa, today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That is significant, because until that speech, both Biden and the Biden administration, have avoided, using the term, "Genocide," which is defined by the United Nations, as "Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
And President Biden doubled down, on that, tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I called it genocide, because it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being - able to be a Ukrainian. And the mount - the evidence is mounting.
We'll let the lawyers decide internationally, whether or not, it qualifies. But it sure seems that way to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That is yielding some high praise, from Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, this evening.
He posted, on Twitter, quote, "True words of a true leader. Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil. We are grateful for U.S. assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities."
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin resurfaced today, to try and somehow attempt to justify, the terror that he's ordered, and claim peace talks, are at a dead end. Although, Ukraine says otherwise.
He claims Russia was forced, to invade Ukraine, to help people, Putin said. Seriously! He's actually calling his invasion, quote, "Noble." He declared again, he is saving Ukraine from Nazism. I remind you, once again, the leader of Ukraine is Jewish. Many of Zelenskyy's relatives, were wiped out, in the Holocaust.
It is Russian actions, now being compared, to those of Nazis, by many, in Ukraine, including the Mayor, of the devastated city of Mariupol, who refers to the siege there, as the new Auschwitz. Zelenskyy has estimated tens of thousands of individuals have been killed there.
Fierce fighting is still ongoing, in Mariupol, for control of that southern port city. You can see plumes of smoke, from shelling, in residential areas, above a shipping yard. You can also see Russian- backed military forces, moving through streets, near Mariupol, in the Donetsk region.
And as for reports, yesterday, of a possible strike, involving chemical substance of some kind, in Mariupol, there has been, as of now, no confirmation of that, from either the Ukrainian government, or the United States.
But Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, did say this, earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas, mixed with chemical agents that, would cause stronger symptoms to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians as part of the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol.
So, this is a real concern. It's a concern that we had from before the aggression started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: President Zelenskyy warns that the possibility of chemical weapons should be taken seriously. He also warns Russians have left tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of unexploded mines, and other munitions, after pulling out from northern Ukraine.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen saw many of these mines, up close. He joins us now, live, from the country's capital, of Kyiv.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jake.
Yes. And, of course, the talk of the town, here, tonight, is the fact that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, praised President Biden, for those words, as you've noted, saying they were, as he put it, "True words from a true leader."
And, of course, one of the reasons, why the Ukrainian President says that, were some of the things that we've seen, over the past couple of days, as Russian forces have been expelled, from the areas, north of Kyiv, where we've seen, a lot of dead bodies, being pulled out of destroyed houses, and also, of course, saw that big mass grave, in the suburb of Bucha, where so much killing, took place.
Now, I was able to speak, to this country's Prosecutor General, at the edge of that mass grave, because this country is currently launching, a massive campaign, to try and prove in courts, what President Biden says, he believes is already shaping up, in his opinion.
And we do have to warn our viewers that what you're about to see, is extremely graphic, and very disturbing.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Even as Russian troops, amass in eastern Ukraine, for what the U.S. believes will be a huge offensive, authorities, in Kyiv, continue digging up bodies. Painstaking work that goes hand-in-hand with investigating Russia's attack, on Kyiv, and possible crimes, committed by Vladimir Putin's invading troops.
IRINA VENEDIKTOVA, UKRAINE GENERAL PROSECUTOR: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Prosecutor General, Irina Venediktova, is leading the charge. She spoke to me, at the edge, of a mass grave, in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.
VENEDIKTOVA: For us, the best motivation is justice. And, of course, we understand that all Ukrainian want fast justice, true and fast justice. That's why we do everything, to document all evidence, all facts of war crimes that we have, here, in Ukraine.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): French forensic investigators are now also on the scene, not because Ukraine lacks expertise, but because Kyiv wants to be as transparent as possible, in the face of Russian disinformation efforts.
VENEDIKTOVA: We want to do our job absolutely open with standards of international humanitarian law. It's very high standards. That's why, when here, we have our international colleagues. We understand that - they can see everything. They can see real situation, here, real graves. Real dead bodies.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): After Ukrainian forces managed to expel Russian troops, from around Kyiv, and some other areas, they'd occupied, in Ukraine?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Authorities have discovered scores of dead bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Today, another six found, in just one basement, outside Kyiv. The prosecutor tells me, they are collecting evidence, in thousands of cases.
VENEDIKTOVA: Now, we started more than 6,000 cases. It's cases, it's crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity, aggression crimes. And we started, on the first day, so far, we started the case about genocide.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): All this as Russia still claims its forces that invaded Ukraine have not harmed any civilians.
On a visit to a spaceport, with Belarusian strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, again, claimed his forces are fighting against would-be Ukrainian Nazis, in what he calls a, quote, "Special operation."
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
PLEITGEN (voice-over): "The goals are absolutely clear, and they are noble," he said. "I said it from the beginning, and want to draw your attention to that."
PLEITGEN (on camera): There are some in the U.S., at the top level, who have spoken about a possible war crimes trial, against Vladimir Putin. Is that something you think could ever be possible, and it's something that you're working towards, to provide evidence for?
VENEDIKTOVA: Of course, I think that everyone understand, who is responsible for this war. That's why we do everything, to fix - to document evidences. But we, here, in Ukraine, actually understand, who is responsible for all of this.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The investigators' work is complicated by the fact that the war is still going on. And they can't reach many devastated areas, like the encircled city of Mariupol, where Ukraine's President says tens of thousands have been killed.
But Irina Venediktova says no matter how long it takes, she will press on.
VENEDIKTOVA: It's actually extremely important, because if we will be successful, as prosecutors, I sure that we can stop such aggressions in the future.
PLEITGEN: And, Jake, just to give you an idea, about some of the things that the Russians have put out there, to try and discredit some of the things that the Ukrainians are doing? That investigation, they've said that the bodies there are fake. Obviously, that's a false claim.
They've also said that all the people were alive, when the Russians left, and were probably killed, by the Ukrainians, even though satellite images show the exact opposite to be true.
And today, Vladimir Putin, at that rocket plant that you saw there, in the report, he also said that he believes all the images, coming out of Bucha, are fake, as well, Jake.
TAPPER: The Russians also said they were never going to invade Ukraine!
Fred Pleitgen, in Kyiv, thank you so much. Appreciate that report.
For more, on this, let's now bring in a Ukrainian prosecutor, who is working with the Prosecutor General that you just heard from, in Fred's report. Yuriy Belousov oversees the department that investigates torture, and so-called enforced disappearance.
Yuriy, thank you so much, for joining us. So, as we talk about the various crimes that your office is investigating, I want to ask you - and just first, I want to remind our viewers how these crimes differ.
Because there's war crimes, which are violations of international humanitarian law, carried out, during armed conflicts. There's crimes against humanity, which are widespread or systemic attacks, against civilian populations. And then, of course, there's genocide. That's the intentional destruction of people, in whole or in part. Now, obviously, some of these crimes overlap with one another.
But talk to us about why the distinction, among these different crimes, matter, and what it means for how you do your job, how you gather evidence.
YURIY BELOUSOV, UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR, OFFICE OF UKRAINE'S PROSECUTOR GENERAL, OVERSEES AGENCY INVESTIGATING TORTURE & ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE: Thank you so much.
So, let's start from the point that I'm investigating the torture, I'm dealing with tortures, for many years. Before war started, we mostly were focusing on law enforcement, Ukrainian law enforcement, who abused the power.
But for many years, dealing with torture, we never thought that the situation could be so - so bad, because the torture cases we are facing now, which have been committed by Russians, so, they're just like for - terrible movies, I don't know. Because we never thought that people could be so cruel.
In Ukraine, we just call this, we just facing the clear arrow, or what's - what they do. That's why investigation is different. Because, first of all, too many victims. A lot of them were already tortured to be - until they would be killed. Children, women, and all the men, till they tortured anyone, who they saw, I think.
And sometimes, because torture always has a purpose. That the - one of the part of the investigation, you should prove what the purpose was. Mostly, to get the information.
But here, in this situation, they tortured people, maybe just because of fun, I don't know. Sure. They, sometimes, they wanted to torture someone, to show that they're superior or whatever.
But during the investigation, what is different for war crime, we see that tortures and enforced disappearance isn't part of the policy. It's not just the actions of one soldier, or two soldiers. We see that they do it deliberately. We see that their bosses, their heads of units, they knew what their soldiers were doing.
And we also understand that the torture is, again, it's a part of Russian policy, in Ukraine, how to suppress the population, how to help to follow them to obey Russian rules, Russian world, or whatever.
TAPPER: So, the Prosecutor General, told Fred Pleitgen, in that piece that just ran that there are already more than 6,000 cases, war crimes cases that have been opened.
This is just based on the areas that you've been able to access, such as Bucha, other areas around Kyiv. That does not include, for example, Mariupol. Is that right?
BELOUSOV: Yes. Yes. We do - it's not just in Kyiv. It's in some other regions, also mostly Kyiv region.
But we could imagine how many cases would be in Mariupol. Because as the President says, as we know, officially, more than 20,000 people, were killed, in Mariupol.
But no one knows, right now. Just killed people, how many people would be tortured? Or how many of them, kidnapped, or how many of them, were forcibly moved, to Russian territory? We just couldn't imagine. It's thousands, thousands of people.
TAPPER: We're hearing, also, of these thousands of mines, and unexploded shells that the Russians apparently left behind. They're being recovered, in the north. Zelenskyy calls that a war crime.
Explain that, if you would?
BELOUSOV: The war crime is mostly the - there is so-called rules of war. It means that if the two countries, so within one country, there is a conflict, and two sides are fighting with each other, they should follow definite rules.
First of all, they shouldn't, for any reason, to injure civilians. What has been done, in Kharkiv, for example, they just bombed houses, where people live, not military camps, not military units, which is according to the so-called rules of war, but to bomb civilian houses, to send rockets, in front of, you know, toward the civilian objects. That's the kind of war crime.
In Kharkiv, they just - which is the eastern Ukraine, northern eastern Ukraine, they just bombed with so-called different types of mines. And mines are everywhere there. They use special parachutes, when the bomb, just drop in town, to cars, to streets. They align on the concrete. Where children are walking around, they could touch this bomb, because children do not know what is that? And this is definitely war crime.
So, any killings of civilians, during the war, it's a war crime. It's one - different definitions. But just to give you the idea, that's violations of rules of war, and injury of civilians. It's definitely a war crime. What type of injury could be? It could be occasional, in occasional torture, it's a deliberate injury of speculation.
BELOUSOV: And that's the worst war crime could be.
TAPPER: All right. Yuriy Belousov, thank you so much for your time, this evening. Best of luck, in your investigations, there.
BELOUSOV: Thank you so much.
TAPPER: We're going to have much more, from Ukraine, this hour.
But up next, the breaking news, in the United States. That manhunt is still underway for the subway mass shooter. Police, in New York City, are now asking, for your help, in finding a Person of Interest. Have you seen this man?
A live report, from the crime scene. And we will talk to someone, who was in the subway car. That's next.
TAPPER: We'll continue our war coverage, live from western Ukraine, in just a moment.
But first, the breaking news, in the United States. New York City police, this evening, naming a Person of Interest, as they search for the gunman, in this morning's mass shooting, at a Brooklyn subway station.
Police say, this man, Frank James, rented a U-Haul connected to the shooting. The key, to that truck was found, at the scene, which led officers, to the van, this afternoon. James has not been named a suspect. Police say, the gunman was captured, in eyewitness cell phone video.
Other witnesses, and other witness videos, shows the chaos, after police say the gunman threw smoke grenades, before firing shots, at New York commuters. And then, his gun jammed, and he fled the scene, we're told. 10 people were shot. Five are in critical condition, this evening.
Our Shimon Prokupecz, is at the scene, tonight.
Shimon, what's the latest?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, police revealing, tonight, Jake that the suspect gunman here, fired 33 times, into that crowded subway car, with people trapped inside, after he threw a smoke grenade, to distract many of the riders. And then, he started firing, trapping many of those riders.
We've also learned that police are able to identify him, through this U-Haul key that was left. But sources also say, there was a credit card, a credit card that was left behind that linked this person, to the scene. And so, they're out trying to find them.
No word on where he is, tonight. Police out here, looking for him. There's a massive manhunt here, all across New York City, as they search for him. But also, the NYPD, stepping up security, all across the city, and also, the Mayor.
Because, they are concerned over social media posts that this Person of Interest posted, about the Mayor, and being unhappy, with some of the mental health programs. So, as a result, the NYPD says, they stepped up security, for the Mayor, along across the city, as the manhunt continues, for the shooter. And also, Jake, this Person of Interest that they've identified. TAPPER: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.
Now, I want to bring in someone, who was on that subway car. You can see him, actually, right here, on the screen, rushing out of the train, looking a bit dazed. His name is Armen Hayrapetyan. And he joins us now.
Armen, thanks so much for joining us. I know that you weren't physically injured. But that is a traumatic event, to have lived through. How are you doing?
ARMEN HAYRAPETYAN, BROOKLYN SUBWAY SHOOTING WITNESS: Thanks for having me. I'm good.
And, as you mentioned, I'm one of those lucky passengers, who didn't get hurt. And for those passengers, who were injured, especially, in a critical condition, I want to wish them a full and speedy recovery.
TAPPER: Yes. We all - we all are sending our prayers, and best wishes, to those individuals. Take me back to this morning, Armen, when the subway car began filling up with smoke, and then you heard gunshots.
What do you remember? What did you think, at the time, was happening?
HAYRAPETYAN: Well, sure. It started as a regular morning. I took Manhattan-bound N train to work. And I was standing next to the end door, of the subway car, the one, you can pass from one car to another.
As we were approaching to 36th Street Station, in Sunset Park, and we were still in the tunnel, I look at my right side, and notice the train began to fill with smoke, and people started running towards me.
First, I thought it was probably one of those electrical fire, under the track, because I couldn't see the shooter. I was just seeing people running toward me, and there was a smoke behind them.
And I was kind of trying to calm them. Basically, they probably saw the guy, with the gun. But, in my mind, it's just a fire. So, I was like "Don't panic. It's going to get worse, if you panic."
But I didn't know what was going on. And then, probably, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, later, the shooting started. At one point, I realized, I'm on the floor. I don't remember how that happened. Probably, I got pushed aside.
But I was still confused. And I didn't know what was going on. Because, it sounded like fireworks. I think, some of the witnesses, also mentioned that. So, I thought maybe somebody doing prank or something.
And again, however, I was very shocked (ph), from that scene, where people hurting each other, in the chaos that follow the shooting. Especially, when I saw lady, with a small girl, trying to escape, that scene was really horrible. And I wasn't thinking about shooting. It wasn't on my mind. It was just people really hurting each other, by panicking.
And the shooting felt like--
TAPPER: Yes. You said--
HAYRAPETYAN: --it lasted for - yes, go ahead, please.
TAPPER: No, no, no, you. I'm sorry.
HAYRAPETYAN: Yes, the shooting felt like it lasted for nearly two minutes or maybe three minutes.
And, at one point, I realized, one of the guys, who were next to me, on a floor, his leg was all covered with blood. And I ask him, "Is this your blood? Are you bleeding?" He didn't say anything. And then, I realized the floor - like, the floor, entirely, was covered with blood. Then, I got it that somebody's shooting.
But, at that point, we were lucky. The train was very close, to the next stop. We were also lucky because we were also having trouble to breathe. And, at one point, I realized I can't breathe. But thank God, doors were open.
And again, we were - we were very lucky. We were that close. It would probably take two - it took like - the whole things took like two minutes.
TAPPER: Well, we're so glad, you're OK. Armen Hayrapetyan, thank you so much, for your time, this evening. And get some rest. It's been a horrible day. Thank you so much, for being with us.
HAYRAPETYAN: Thank you. Yes.
TAPPER: Back to the war, in Ukraine. We're going to shine a light, on a small town that fought off the Russians, anyway, townspeople could. And they won.
Ed Lavandera joins us, to show us, some of the good that is happening there now. That's next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to Lviv.
Here's a story that really exemplifies the bravery of the average Ukrainian residents, of a small farm town. Bashtanka (ph) took on Russian troops, who had attacked civilians, in their town, and they won. It's an incredible story of resilience and resistance.
Ed Lavandera talked to the residents, and he joins us, now live, from Odessa.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake.
Well, this is a story of one small town that they might have had a success, in fighting back the Russians. But you also learn that in this war, when you're near the front lines, the fighting, to save lives, never really ends.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): One look, at these massive craters, in the small Ukrainian town, of Bashtanka, near Mykolaiv, and it's not hard to imagine, the horror, inflicted by Russian forces, bombing this neighborhood.
Bashtanka Mayor, Oleksandr Beregovyi (ph), brought us here. He says the Russian plane that dropped the bombs, circled over these homes, several times, before unleashing the explosive attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
LAVANDERA (voice-over): "This is a simple peaceful town," he says, "with just ordinary people. No military. Farming is what we do here, to feed the country, and the world."
LAVANDERA (on camera): There was a 70-year-old man, in this house, peeling potatoes, when this bomb struck. What happened to him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
LAVANDERA (voice-over): "God decided not to take him away." He tells me, the man survived.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
LAVANDERA (voice-over): For more than a week, in March, this little town, of 12,000 people, fought off the Russians, any way it could.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Town council member Vitale Homirsky (ph) put out a Facebook plea that if anyone knew how to fire a cannon, they should race out to help. A humble force, of about 100 people, pushed the Russians out. More than 170 buildings were damaged. The charred wreckage was left, all over town.
But the Mayor tells the story, of one fighter, who became an instant legend, a 78-year-old man, who was told, he was too old to fight.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Instead, he made a Molotov cocktail, and threw it at a Russian artillery system, blowing it up. We've asked to speak with the man. But we're told by city officials that they're protecting his identity, to keep him safe.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The town might have won the battle. But this war never ends. Bashtanka is now a front line refuge, for thousands of Ukrainians, hoping to escape.
Every day, at this church, buses drop off refugees, fleeing Russian- occupied areas, just a few miles away.
Zakruzetska Ruslana says she left the city of Kherson, after enduring weeks of bombardment, with her two children, and nieces.
ZAKRUZETSKA RUSLANA, KHERSON RESIDENT (through translator): They break into people's homes, every night, drag people out, beat them up. My neighbors were beaten up. Thank god, they're still alive. They're probably doing that, to scare people, so they're always in fear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
RUSLANA (through translator): It was horrible, where every day, people are going crazy, to be honest. It's intolerable. The children, the tension is terrible. You don't know if you'd wake up alive.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Escaping alive is a dream, as we found closer to the front lines. The nearby village of Yavkine has endured weeks of shelling.
LAVANDERA (on camera): You can see the munition and the shrapnel. You can see this building, over here, peppered with holes.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): As we meet with the village headman, it's clear the fighting isn't over.
LAVANDERA (on camera): What is that noise?
LAVANDERA (voice-over): "Yes, they are firing," he says.
Olexander Kovriga tells us, Russians fired cluster artillery, at a group of young people, charging their phones, in this spot.
OLEXANDER KOVRIGA, YAVKINE HEADMAN: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
LAVANDERA (voice-over): "They do it on purpose, so, people will panic," he tells me.
LAVANDERA (on camera): We understand that there was a refugee, 17- years-old, who came here, trying to escape, and she was killed?
KOVRIGA: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Lydia Dominica (ph) couldn't escape the Russian strikes, a young woman trying to reach Bashtanka. Her mother says, she was studying food production, and shared these photos, so her daughter cannot be forgotten.
LAVANDERA: And Jake, I want to point out that, as we were reporting, this story, we kept hearing about this 17-year-old, who had been killed, by Russian strikes. But nobody knew her name. Nobody know where she was from exactly.
And we tried real hard. I asked our fixer, and translator, to do everything, he could, to help us track down, the family of this young woman. And after working the phones, he did. Costa (ph) was able to reach his mother.
And that is how we were able to bring to you, this young woman's name, a picture of her, and all of that. And when we called the mother, she sobbed, as she told us her daughter's name, and what had happened to her.
It's important to put a name and a face with all of the innocent victims, of this war. Jake?
TAPPER: So many of them!
Ed Lavandera, thank you so much. Appreciate that.
President Biden vowed last month that the U.S. would respond, quote, "In kind," if Russia were to use chemical weapons, in Ukraine. So, what happens if those new, as of now, unconfirmed reports, of chemical use, turn out to be true?
I'll discuss with a former Secretary of Defense. That's next.
TAPPER: Continuing now, from Lviv.
There are growing concerns, this evening that Russia may have used chemical weapons, in its bid, to take over the southern port city of Mariupol.
And while U.S. and other Western officials say, they cannot confirm these reports, as of now, the Pentagon says, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Russia would turn to riot control agents, to try to mask their use of chemical weapons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: This could be a tactic, they might employ, which is to try to mask a potential more serious chemical attack with riot control agents. Again, it comes from a mosaic of information we've gleaned.
The Russians have certainly proven more than willing to use chemical weapons, when it suited them, in the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Let's discuss this, with William Cohen. He's a former Secretary of Defense, under President Clinton. Before that, he was a Republican senator from Maine.
Secretary Cohen, good to see you.
What do you make of these reports, on the use of riot control agents, which could theoretically include, as Secretary Blinken said, tear gas mixed with chemical agents? How would that disguise a more serious chemical attack? And how do U.S. officials, go about confirming, if this is true?
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON, (R) FORMER U.S. SENATOR, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, THE COHEN GROUP: Well, we have to gather the evidence, from the people, who have been affected, by this, or destroyed, by this. It's going to take time, to do that.
And, I think, what the administration is doing is trying to have a preemptive strike, so to speak, on preparing people that this is what we know, Putin has done in the past. He's used chemical weapons, in Syria, and elsewhere. We know he's used it on his political opponents. So, I think, we have to gather the evidence.
But, in the meantime, we have to recognize one man has disrupted the economic wellbeing of the world. He's created a humanitarian disaster, on an unprecedented scale. And, I think, he has set the rules of the game that we have to abide by.
So, I think, what is taking place, as more and more evidence, is coming out, of the plunder, which he's engaged in, I think, it's going to change the rules of the game, I think, for us. I would hope, for us.
And when President Zelenskyy says, "Give me the weapons. I need words, yes. But I need weapons more," I think this changes the calculus.
It should change the calculus, on the ground, where we provide President Zelenskyy, with air power, something he has called for, for some time now. And hopefully, that would do something, to change events, on the ground.
And the only way we're ever going to see any kind of a negotiation, if possible, is if we change the calculus on the ground, where Putin is losing, and Zelenskyy is winning.
TAPPER: So, the air power discussion, a few weeks ago that, I think, the Americans quashed was that the Polish government was going to give the Ukrainians, these Soviet-era MiGs that the Ukrainians know how to fly.
But the Poles wanted them to take off from the NATO base, the U.S. base, in Germany, I guess, so that it would be - it would have some sort of NATO sign-off. And the U.S. wouldn't do that.
You are saying that you think the U.S. should?
COHEN: I have come to that conclusion, yes. The fact that Putin can say "I am going to destroy this country. But you can't - you'll have to play by my rules," which means no rules for him, and rules for us, in terms of what weapons we can provide, Zelenskyy, President Zelenskyy, to fight this war, that's been waged against him? So, I think, there has to be a change of the rules, because Putin has indicated there are no rules, for him. Just for us.
TAPPER: So, a senior defense official says that the U.S. will send more weapon systems, to Ukraine, but they're weapons systems that will require additional training.
Can that be done? Can you train Ukrainians, to use a tank, or any sort of other complex weapons system, in the middle of a war?
COHEN: It's very difficult to do. I think we are training, as much as we can, on Ukrainian soil, and elsewhere. But there may be drones that we can train them rather quickly on. That would be suicide drones, Switchblade (ph), and so forth.
So, I think that we're capable of giving them, a level of capability, they don't have now that they could be trained rather quickly, not immediately. But at least, it would increase their morale. They're getting more that they know that they can now win this battle. They prove that they can defeat the Russian soldiers.
And this is what is really at the crux of this. This is really not a war between combatants. This is a war of terror, of annihilation, being waged, against the Ukrainian people. And so, for President Biden, to call it genocide, it's that.
And Secretary Albright, former - late Secretary Madeleine Albright and I co-chaired a task force, to say, "How do we prevent genocide?" And one of the first things, we said is, "Don't get hung up, initially, on definitions. We know what genocide is. Here are the elements that it comprise."
I think there's no question, what he has done, Putin has done, is genocidal. There are other crimes he could be charged with. You went through crimes against humanity, war crimes.
And Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the British, has said, "Well, why can't we charge him with a crime of aggression?" Now, he has clearly conducted aggression, against a sovereign, independent country. And that's something that can be proven, very quickly.
The issue is he'll unlikely to be prosecuted, until he's out of office. And that's going to take the Russian people, to turn him out of office.
TAPPER: Former Secretary of Defense and Maine senator, William Cohen, thank you so much. It's good to see you again, sir.
COHEN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up, current U.S. forces are staying out of Ukraine. But American veterans, are increasingly choosing, to come here, on their own dime, on their own initiative, to help train Ukrainian soldiers.
A retired Marine colonel on why this fight feels different than any other war he has known. That's next.
TAPPER: I am back with you, live, from Lviv.
As Russia begins its offensive strike, on eastern Ukraine, the United States has already provided $1.7 billion, in military aid, to Ukraine. But as the number of civilian casualties rises, will this be enough?
I spoke to a retired U.S. service member, who stepped into this fight.
TAPPER (voice-over): Current U.S. service members are not in Ukraine. But U.S. veterans? They damn sure are.
TAPPER (voice-over): At an undisclosed location, in Ukraine, a retired U.S. Marine, veteran Colonel Andrew Milburn, is training Ukrainians, to fight the Russians.
TAPPER (voice-over): Milburn knows what it's like, on the front lines. An American, who grew up in the U.K., he has served in Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
ANDREW MILBURN, U.S. MARINE VETERAN TRAINING UKRAINIANS TO FIGHT: I went through the Battle of Fallujah. But I would rather do that again, than confront, a 12-hour barrage of Russian artillery, like the one we're seeing.
TAPPER (voice-over): Having retired, from the U.S. military, in 2019, Milburn runs an organization that brings in other former Special Forces members, to assess the needs of various militaries.
After losing the battle of Kyiv, leaving behind devastation, and evidence of atrocities, the Russians are now turning to the eastern flank of Ukraine, to what will likely be a series of large-scale battles.
MILBURN: Ukrainian military, at large, is more adaptive than the U.S. military. And, I think, I feel justified, I mean, qualified, to say that.
TAPPER (voice-over): This more open, less-wooded terrain, in the east, could be more challenging, for the Ukrainian military, which was able to rely on guerrilla tactics, and calling in targeted strikes, in the north.
MILBURN: It is going to be a significant challenge. And Russian are much stronger, in the defense. TAPPER (voice-over): Millburn trains ordinary Ukrainians, to fight in the resistance, as well as training more elite Ukrainian Special Forces, like Mykola.
Ukrainian successes, Mykola says, are because of help from the U.S., other NATO countries, and individuals, like Milburn.
MYKOLA, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN SPECIAL FORCES: Also, because of your help, we were quite successful, with the first attack. So, Russian leave our territory, not for their own wishes. They lose a lot of troops, a lot of tanks, a lot of armored vehicles. We were using - we were using modern European and American anti-tank missiles, and they lost a lot.
TAPPER (voice-over): He knows what's to come will be tough.
MYKOLA: We need more. Now, yes, you're right. We have a pause. But it's not - it doesn't mean that war is stopped, already.
TAPPER (voice-over): Milburn agrees. The Ukrainians still need a great deal.
MILBURN: They need drones, right? They need drones, with a range longer than the DJI. They need secure radios, because they need to communicate. Those are very basic things. They need medical equipment.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even upgrading the basic equipment they already have could make a big difference, he says.
MILBURN: For a lot of times, they're just - they're coordinating by cellphone, or by just kind of regular Motorola radios, which can be intercepted, geo-located, jammed. So, anyone who's been in any Western military would be astounded.
TAPPER (voice-over): But weapons and equipment are not the only need. Training, he says, is key.
MILBURN: They lack medical training. And evidence of that is if you talk, to Ukrainian medics, there are some horror stories out there. So, injuries that would be easily survivable, in Iraq, or Afghanistan, by U.K. or U.S. Force soldiers, Ukrainians are dying from here.
TAPPER (voice-over): Milburn is proud of his time in uniform. He is proud to be a Marine.
But there is something purer about this fight, he says, than the others he has fought.
MILBURN: But frankly, serving in Iraq, and Afghanistan, especially Afghanistan, after the debacle, back in, you know, when's that, August, there was always a kind of moral ambivalence, there was always a feeling of being an invading army, all right? Even at the beginning of those conflicts, and we thought our causes were good. So, there was always that - there was always kind of that dissonance, between the idealism that pulled you, into the military, and then what you found yourself, doing.
Here, there's no such thing. You've got one sovereign nation being invaded by another. Then yes, to your point, when it comes down to it, it is evil - good versus evil. And, this time, I feel very squarely on the side of good.
TAPPER: And our thanks to CNN Producer, Vasco Cotovio, who, for helping with that story, a vital help, with that story.
We'll be right back.
TAPPER: Thank you so much, for watching.
I will be back, tomorrow night, at 9 P.M Eastern, for CNN TONIGHT, again, live from Ukraine.
And before then, I'll see you, tomorrow afternoon, on "THE LEAD," which begins, at 4 P.M. Eastern.
"DON LEMON TONIGHT," starts right now.