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Hala Gorani Tonight

Russia-Ukraine Battles Shifting East As Russian Troops Reposition; Russian Forces Block Bus Convoy Heading To Mariupol; Biden Spurs Record Emergency Oil Release In Moment Of Peril For World; At Least 20 Killed In Russian Strike On Mykolaiv; Russian Wreckage Illustrates Ukraine's Resistance Around Kyiv; Tens Of Thousands Depend On ICRC Mission; North Korea's Recent ICBM Launch Likely Faked; Putin's Long History Of Brutal Military Aggression. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ELENI GIOKOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello and welcome, I'm Eleni Giokos in Dubai. And we begin with the shifting battlefield in Ukraine as Russian

forces struggle to regain momentum. Ukraine's Interior Ministry says the main fighting is moving east after Russia began repositioning some troops

around Kyiv. Officials in the Kharkiv region say that area has been hit 47 times by Russian strikes over the past day.

Heavy shelling is also reported in Donbas, a southeast region partly controlled by separatists that Russia has vowed to quote, "liberate." One

official says civilian areas are coming under attack from aircraft, artillery and mortar fire. The devastated port of Mariupol lies within

Donbas, and just a short time ago, we learned that a pro-Russian separatist leader has ordered the formation of a city administration there, even

though Mariupol hasn't officially fallen.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Mariupol has become the worst place in Europe. One resident who managed to escape described the city as

one big mass grave. Mariupol's deputy mayor spoke to CNN about the apocalyptic conditions. Let's listen in.


MAYOR SERGEI ORLOV, MARIUPOL, UKRAINE: We estimate that at least 150,000 citizens are still in Mariupol, but they are living like mouse. So, all of

them are underground in shelter, in bomb shelter in some spaces below earth. So people just do their best to be alive in this situation. Mariupol

is all over in ruins. There is no such Mariupol as it was before Russia started this war, and Russia destroyed everything. No infrastructure, and

they even destroyed the life.


GIOKOS: And now, there's new hope that some -- OK, we're going to take you to the White House. President Joe Biden is talking about gas prices and

some of the interventions that the U.S. government will be taking. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisors. But I don't want

to put too much stock in that at this time because we don't have that much hard evidence.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President, how much in monetary terms do you actually need -- reduce gas prices, and when do

Americans expect to see the changes?

BIDEN: That's a really important question, and there's no firm answer to it, but prices already came down when it was announced ahead of time that

Biden was going to release so much -- so much energy from -- so many barrels of oil from the SPR. They already came down.

My guess is, we'll see it come down, continue to come down. But how far down, I don't think anyone can tell, and there's going to be a slight delay

because if you go out there and you're a gas station and you purchase X amount of gas at a certain price, you're not going to lower the price of

the pump until you're able to get back what you invested.

And that -- I'm talking a matter of, I think, you know, days and weeks. But it's hard to tell. The other thing is exact, but it will come down. And it

could come down fairly significantly. It could come down the better part, you know, anything from 10 cents to 35 cents a gallon. It's unknown at this


I'm also waiting to see whether or not our allies exactly -- how many, how many barrels they release from their supplies now. My guess is, it could be

as high, somewhere between 30 million to 50 million barrels. And the higher the number, the more likely the prices will come back.


Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, have you seen any sign --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the table --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, have you seen any signs --

GIOKOS: All right. That's President Joe Biden talking about the efforts to try and minimize the impact of higher fuel prices. The U.S. government is

going to be releasing oil from its strategic reserves to try and get more supply into the markets and to bring those prices down. It's been a major

concern in terms of the skyrocketing energy prices in the U.S. and around the world, but of course, it's stoking inflation.


All right, back to Ukraine now. And there's new hope that some civilians in Mariupol could soon be evacuated by bus. And this is really important

because that -- OK, we're going to go back to the White House, so tune in for Joe Biden. Let's take a listen.

BIDEN: I'm a little skeptical. It's an open question whether he's actually pulling back and going to say, I'm just going to focus on Donbas and I'm

not worried about the rest of country. I'm a skeptic. But I don't have proof that, in fact, he is not going -- he's taking a pause, doing all he

can to use all the troops he has in the Donbas, and continue to keep an eye on and try to move beyond the rest of country.

Don't know the answer. But it appears so far that he has not pulled all of -- the idea is pulling all the troops out from around Kyiv and moving

south, there's no evidence he's done that. Thank you.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think the sanctions are still working? The ruble --

GIOKOS: OK, that was -- OK, those were final words from President Joe Biden. He was asked a question about whether he believes that Russia is

going to be scaling back on troops there on the ground in the country. Whether he's regrouping. And he was talking about him being skeptical about

the Russian messaging at this point in time.

Questioning whether Putin is going to be focusing on the Donbas region. There is no evidence that you're seeing a scaling down of troops around the

country, and specifically around the capital city. All right, so, we started talking about the potential of a humanitarian cargo that could be

emerging around Mariupol.

We know that this is the hardest hit city in Ukraine. We've got Ivan Watson that went to Mariupol to find out what is going on. You're in Zaporizhzhia

right now, Ivan. I know you've been on the ground to try and figure out the dynamics of this potential humanitarian corridor. Ivan, are you there?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I am. Let me just correct you, I've never gone to Mariupol. It is besieged and encircled by

Russian forces. So --

GIOKOS: Yes --

WATSON: I have never physically been there since this war began. I was there in 2016 before it was destroyed by the -- largely, the Russian

military. But when it comes to the humanitarian corridors and the evacuation of citizens, this morning, the Ukrainian government announced,

Eleni, that they had received word via the international committee of the Red Cross that the Russian side was going to allow the evacuation of

civilians from that city.

The Ukrainian government estimates there are more than a 100,000 civilians who are still there, still trapped amid daily bombardment, largely from the

Russian side by land, sea and air. So the Ukrainian government announced that it was going to guarantee a ceasefire, and it promptly announced that

it was sending 45 buses in the direction of Mariupol. Now, there have been conflicting announcements coming from different Ukrainian government

officials throughout the day about the progress of those buses.

And we've even heard conflicting accounts just within the last hour or two. For example, the Mariupol City Council says that the column of buses

reached the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port city of Berdyans'k, and basically said look forward to people coming, being evacuated today. Spread

the word. We don't know whether or not that will happen, and of course we'll update you if and when we get that information.

GIOKOS: Yes --

WATSON: There have been more than 80,000 civilians that are believed to have made it to Ukrainian-controlled territory throughout the siege. But

the Russian government has also announced that some 60,000 or more citizens have made it to Russia, and that has prompted accusations coming from Kyiv

that some of those people are being forced to go to Russian territory.

We cannot independently confirm that. There is an additional complication here, which is that, the leader of a Russian-backed separatist region in

the east of the country, the Donetsk People's Republic, their leader announced today orders to create an administration to govern Mariupol.

Again, part of Ukraine. But here we have a Russian proxy, a Russian-backed official saying that he's creating effectively an occupation administration

for Mariupol.

That is complicated by the fact that there are still Ukrainian fighters inside Mariupol who are fighting daily clashes against vastly larger

numbers of Russian military forces, number one.


And number two, there's still tens of thousands, if not more than a 100,000 Ukrainian citizens in the shell of that city who are citizens of Ukraine

and not of any Russian-backed region. When a Russian-backed official announces plans to establish an administration in a Ukrainian city, it

seems very much like one of the first steps towards annexation. Eleni.

GIOKOS: Ivan Watson, thank you so much for that update, really appreciate it. Now, the head of Britain's spy agency says Russian forces are suffering

a crisis of low morale as the war enters its sixth week. There's no clear path to Russia winning any of its objectives, and those objectives keep

moving. Russian soldiers are facing fierce resistance from soldiers and civilians even in Russian-speaking areas. The U.K. spy chief says Vladimir

Putin has massively misjudged the situation.


JEREMY FLEMING, DIRECTOR, U.K. GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS: We've seen Russian soldiers short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry

out orders. Sabotaging their own equipment, and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. And even though we believe Putin's advisors are

afraid to tell him the truth, what's going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.


GIOKOS: And the situation at home may not be good for Mr. Putin either. The U.K. spy chief says he's underestimated the unity of global opposition

to the war, and says Putin has underplayed economic consequences of sanctions, which have Russians flocking to empty grocery stores. David

McKenzie joins me now to talk about that and much more, demoralized, directionless and sabotage of all equipment.

What do we know about the status of Russians on the battlefield? Is this an isolated incident or is this something that has been seen across the board?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is also very much a messaging tool of western intelligence, and it is surprising prior to this

conflict that you'd have head of the GCHQ in this instance making very public and detailed comments about what they see as the shortfalls of the

Russian military and the Russian leadership. But what you've seen even from before the start of the conflict is this making public of these accusations

and this intelligence that is being gathered by western intelligence groups.

What it does speak to according to the head of that spy agency is a relatively chaotic campaign, but we are seeing that the Russians are still

in Ukraine, they're still fighting every day, and on the diplomatic and sanctions side of things, the very aggressive sanctions and boycotts from

western companies haven't had their desired effect yet, which is an end to the conflict.

In the last few hours, the British government also announcing more sanctions, Eleni, on media houses, owners of media houses in terms of what

they say is a propaganda of the Russian government and willingness to tell the truth of this war. U.S. heard Vladimir Putin just a relatively short

time ago railing against the western sanctions. Now, it is tempting to look at this as just propaganda, but this is a message that is going to the

Russian people.

He is framing this as a European Union doing the bidding of the U.S. even if it does hurt their own people, and you have had warnings in the last few

days, because of the potential squeeze on gas supplies, that this might, in fact, be something that people will have to make very real sacrifices. And

all of this is playing potentially into Putin's hands from a messaging standpoint in the country. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): These are sanctions to punish us for our right to be free, independent. For our

right to be Russia. For not wanting to dance to their tune and sacrifice our national interests and traditional values.


MCKENZIE: While the proof will be on the battlefield, and you have seen in recent days the Russian military being pushed back, and if those sanctions

do start to bite, it will be potentially a pressure point on Putin and his government.

GIOKOS: David McKenzie, thank you very much for that update. And more now on U.S. President Joe Biden's announcement. A record release from strategic

oil reserves, up to a potential total of 118 million barrels of oil. Global energy markets were under pressure even before the war in Ukraine began,

and the conflict has pushed gas prices even higher.


BIDEN: But as I've said from the start, Putin's war is imposing the cost on American and our allies and democracies around the world.


Today, I want to talk about one aspect of Putin's war that affects and has real effects on the American people. Putin's price hike that Americans and

our allies are feeling at the pump. I know how much it hurts. As you heard me say before I grew up in a family like many of you where the price of a

gallon of went up, it was discussion at the kitchen table. Our family budgets, your family budgets to fill a tank, none of it should hinge on

whether a dictator declares war.


GIOKOS: I want to bring in White House correspondent John Harwood and "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" anchor Richard Quest. Richard, I'm going to start

with you. Look, we know that the U.S. and the Europeans have been knocking on the doors of the Saudis and the Emiratis to try and increase supplies.

OPEC said we're not going to budge, and this announcement came today and now the U.S. Is doing something about it. Is it going to be enough to bring

prices down?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It will stabilize prices. The amounts involved, as the president said, will very much depend how many

people join in. The U.S. reserve, they can only release up to a few million, 3 million, 4 million barrels a day. Now, a million so far will

certainly take the edge, the heat, if you like, because it gives guaranteed supply. Now, if you add in from the European reserves as well, you will

have downward pressure.

But releasing reserves is not a long-term strategy. It's a short term, if you like, quick fix to take the heat out of the situation. To do a long-

term fix, you are going to be putting more pressure on the Saudis, on the Qataris, on all the OPEC producers, and they have -- to be blunt, they've

been stubborn. They are so determined to try and keep their OPEC plus together, that they are failing to see the geopolitical reality, which is

that the West is screaming, do this or you will regret it in the future.

And I think that, that message will eventually get through. For the moment, releasing from the SPR is a short-term fix that takes the heat, if you

will, out of the price.

GIOKOS: And John, look, President Joe Biden has a dilemma on his hands. He's got to sort out the security situation, but he's got high inflation,

and that means that's going to add a lot of pressure to the U.S. economy and to the average consumer. He said something really interesting, though.

He said that companies should be releasing more oil and they don't want to do that because they want to make more profits. What did you make of some

of these comments from Joe Biden today?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Eleni, it's consistent with the president's strategy of trying to deflect some of the blame for

rising prices on to large oil companies. So he did a couple of things today. One, he called attention to companies that are less interested in

expanding production than in returning value to shareholders. But he also is announcing a use it or lose it policy where they exact some financial

penalties for people who have leases that they're not using, that's an attempt to get production going.

Now, there is some production expansion under way, and the president portrayed this billion -- a million barrel a day increase for the next six

months as a bridge to the point when that additional production can come online. As Richard said, it's not going to dramatically reduce prices, but

they're hoping to put somewhat of a ceiling over prices. So may not push prices below $4 a gallon, for example, but it may prevent them from rising

to $5 a gallon.

We know that the oil markets are very volatile, we're heading into the Summer driving season, it's also a political season. And President Biden

and his party are under intense pressure from voters about inflation generally and gas prices specifically. So the president imposed this

message to try to tamp down the supply crunch just a little bit. He also, to try to show deference to his environmental constituency, announced some

steps to increase the supply of renewable energy, because, of course, there's a conflict in policy here.

The higher gas prices are, the less gas people consume, and, of course, the people who were very concerned about climate change want less gas consumed.

So, this is a short-term measure as Richard said. On the medium and long term, he's hoping that private companies ramp up oil supply and then the

government can expand or accelerate the transition to renewable energy, electric vehicles, that sort of thing.

GIOKOS: Richard, what did you think about the mention of companies being hesitant to increase supply?

QUEST: Look, the president is going to do -- hit in every which way and backwards. As just the same way that President Putin has taken these

extreme measures, one -- and basically, you know, but the thing to really understand about what's happening at the moment is, this is not going to

repair quickly.


And the damage being done to commercial relationships, to oil companies, to consumers is so great that even when this war is over within some form of

negotiated peace. However, that is, the long-term effect of what we are seeing so far in today is dramatic. Now, let's just take one point. This

idea of U.S. generating more oil. The U.S. non-traditional oil reserves, if you like, the fracking, that takes time to come online.

It's also more expensive. It's highly price sensitive in terms of exploration and discovery and production. But what the president is now

saying is, do it. Do it regardless, and we'll worry about the costs after.

GIOKOS: Yes --

QUEST: And that's why I say, whatever happens, how this falls out will have dramatic implications for the foreseeable --

GIOKOS: Yes --

QUEST: Long-term future.

GIOKOS: And global implications. Richard Quest, John Harwood, thank you very much. Great to have you on. And still to come tonight, I'll be

speaking to the mayor of Mykolaiv after at least 20 people died in a strike on the city.


GIOKOS: At least, 20 people have been killed in Mykolaiv after a Russian strike on the regional administration building. You can see the southern

port city here. And that's just outside the area where Russian troops are present. The Mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Syenkevych is now joining me live

from the city. Oleksandr, thank you very much for joining us. We have seen this devastating attack on the government building.

You've also been reporting unclustered ammunitions across the city which have killed many people, wounded many people. Give me a sense of what is

going on right now.

MAYOR OLEKSANDR SYENKEVYCH, MYKOLAIV, UKRAINE: The day before yesterday, the cruise missile, it's like operated missile, hit the building of

regional administration, and we already found 20 people under the ruins. One person died in the hospital.


We also have about 38 injured people. All those people, except for 4 people, army people, who served in the guard, all other people were like

just office workers. So, they were civilians working in humanitarian sphere and in transportation of refugees. So that was a hit, as we're seeing, that

the aim of this hit was the Governor, Vitaliy Kim, who is now head of military administration of Mykolaiv region.

GIOKOS: That's interesting. I just want to -- you know, the fact that you say the target was the Governor Vitaliy Kim. is this -- was this an aim to

try and take over the city?

SYENKEVYCH: Yes. I could say that in the same time, they started to attack the city from the south and north, from Kherson direction. The troops moved

forward, but we had waited for them, and they started to bombard outskirts of the city and the troops started to attack with more power than our

troops, but then our troops pushed them back to Kherson area.

They left some several heavy vehicles, and ran back to the Kherson area. To be honest, we still hear like sounds of bombardment. So, there is, let's

say, one day fight there, still happens now.

GIOKOS: Yes, OK. So to confirm that the Russians have left to the Kherson area, your Achilles' heel is the air. You're getting hit by missiles. But

give me a sense of what's going on, on the ground, and whether you are feeling that you're in an advantageous position at this point in time?

SYENKEVYCH: I can say that the loss on the ground, and they started to bombard us with biggest power. So they use cluster bombs. They bombard

outskirts of the city and regions of the city that are near -- closer to Kherson. They've bombarded civilian blocks, and thank God, no one is dead,

but we have one person heavily injured. But a lot of the stuff are just ruined, houses and cars. But --

GIOKOS: Yes --

SYENKEVYCH: We -- let's say, we're waiting every time, any minute, for bombardment.

GIOKOS: OK, so I want to quickly talk about the humanitarian situation. How many people in the city right now, and do they have access to


SYENKEVYCH: Let's say, we think that about one-third of people left the city because we count this by garbage collection and water usage. Let's say

two-thirds left the city. We have way to Odessa, to the southern city of Odessa, so we are getting all the -- supplies that we need. Electricity,

water and gas are working pretty -- public transportation is also -- works -- is also working.

GIOKOS: So, Russians are saying they want to scale down, but many say this is about regrouping. You're east of the country. The question is, will you

be a target if the Russians are regrouping and focusing on the east?

SYENKEVYCH: We see that they are regrouping. We see that they fell back and just to regroup. We see movement of their tanks and heavy machines, and

they're gathering troops near Kherson. We hit them with a long distance missiles, but they -- you know, they put the groups far from each other.

And so, we understand that in the near term, they will plan to attack again, but we also are prepared for that.

GIOKOS: President Zelenskyy says he's willing to make concessions with regards to neutrality. Do you think that Ukrainians are ready for

concessions of that nature? Would something -- would it be something you would consider as well?

SYENKEVYCH: I think bad world, but peace is better than good war. But I just had -- I listened to the President, Biden, and I've heard just what he

just said. I don't believe Putin at all. He is a criminal. He is a Russian Nazist, and I don't believe any words from his mouth. So I would say that

he will -- he's interested to make this, let's say, conversations to regroup his troops and to hit again with more power.


GIOKOS: Yes, Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for your time. I can see that you've been working very hard and very sorry to hear about the civilian

loss, and we wish you all the best.

SYENKEVYCH: Thank you. Thank you for your support.

GIOKOS: Right. Still to come tonight, the wreckage of Russian tanks and armored vehicles litter the landscape in a village near Kyiv. CNN's

Christiane Amanpour will take us to the heart of the Ukrainian resistance.

Plus the International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to get thousands of people out of Mariupol. We'll speak to head of the delegation

inside Ukraine.




GIOKOS: While Russia claims to be pulling back its forces from around Kyiv, Western sources say their attacks on the capital have actually

increased. A senior U.S. official says Kyiv remains very much under the threat from airstrikes.

But in towns northeast of the capital, the hulks of destroyed Russian tanks and armored vehicles showed just how effective Ukrainian forces have been

in fighting back. CNN's Christiane Amanpour takes us there.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first thing you notice approaching the front northeast of Kyiv are the

lines of villagers, waiting for humanitarian handouts. They receive a bag of bread and basics to get them through these difficult days.

"The first week of the war, a shell hit us near the greenhouse. We barely survived," says this woman.

"We had help from strangers around us. They gave us bread and canned food. We wouldn't have managed otherwise."

No one here knows when this war will end or whether Russia still has designs on Kyiv. The front line is about a mile away. For now, an uneasy

calm prevails, ever since the Ukrainian defenders stopped the Russian advance here. It was February 28th, they say, day four of the war.

They want to show us how they did it. But first we have to clamber over the bridge they downed to see the armored column they managed to take out. The

riverbank is littered with their skeletons.

This was a turkey shoot; Russian armored vehicles and tanks had come off the road to avoid the anti-tank mines, only to find themselves unable to

cross the bridge and unable to reverse in time. Ukrainian forces tell us, none of the soldiers inside survived.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): A little further up the road, two tanks have been virtually smelted, blasted almost to smithereens. Forty-year-old Yevgeny

(ph), a veteran fighter, proudly tells us this was his handiwork.

"We all here have one role, to keep the enemy off our land," he says.

"First thing they did after seeing the village, they started to shell houses, just like that. They didn't see us. They didn't know we were here.

So they just started to work on houses.

"So I took the tank in my sights and I fired a rocket and goodbye to him."

The destroyed vehicles are stamped with an O. The Ukrainian officers here tell us this identifies them as Russian units that entered from Belarus to

the north.

Oleg (ph) is the officer who commanded this operation.

"As for now, looking at previous fighting we've had, I can tell you that we are trained better," he tells me.

"We have stronger morale and spirit, because we're at home. They are afraid. But they go because they're made to."

He's been battle hardened ever since the first Russian invasion from 2014, saying his side has enough weapons, ammunition and determination to win.

"I can tell you, I'm almost sure the Russians are regrouping and not retreating," he says.

"Besides, we are preparing ourselves to go forward. We're not preparing just to defend here."

U.S. and British intelligence say Putin seems to have, quote, "massively misjudged this situation," and clearly overestimated the abilities of his

military to secure a rapid victory.

This old lady tells us, "I have seen one war and here we go again. I wish Putin would go away."

The people of this land remain stalwart and the soldiers remain dug in, hoping they can continue to withstand whatever Putin has in store for them



GIOKOS: The International Committee of the Red Cross says it's getting ready to take civilians out of Mariupol. The port city has been under siege

for several weeks. A convoy of buses was being sent there today to pick up those who haven't been able to leave yet.

And Ukraine said that the Russian side had agreed to a cease-fire along the road those buses need to take. But an official said the convoy was held up

at a Russian checkpoint. Mariupol's city council says more than 80,000 residents have now been evacuated since the beginning of the war to

Zaporizhzhya, a nearby city held by Ukrainian forces.

The mission is critical. Thousands of lives are at risk. Pascal Hundt is the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation,

Ukraine, and is in the central part right now.

Pascal, thank you very much for your time. It's such a critical moment in terms of getting hundreds of thousands, or thousands of people, tens of

thousands of people out of Mariupol. Your team is preparing for the safe passage. Give me a sense of what your understanding is with regard to the

humanitarian corridor.

PASCAL HUNDT, ICRC DELEGATION, UKRAINE: Good evening. The ICRC is ready to play its role as neutral intermediary and to facilitate the evacuation of

population as well as the provision of humanitarian aid.

And for that we need the content and the support integument (ph) from the two parties. It's not only a question of agreeing on the cease-fire. It's

also agreeing on the modalities to ensure that this operation is -- is -- takes place in the most, in the safest environment for the humanitarian


But I would say most importantly for the population there. And we are in constant dialogue with the parties. And we hope that we can be able to

start the operation as of tomorrow.

We are moving. We have already pre-positioned our trucks, our vehicles close to the front line and, of course, we will be able to move. And we

will be in constant contact with the parties, in order to make sure that this operation takes place in the safest possible manner.

GIOKOS: Yes. So you're saying "safest possible manner." We've seen humanitarian corridors turn into traps and even turn deadly.

Are you feeling confident at this point on what you're seeing in terms of assurances from all parties?

HUNDT: We always rely on the green light and on the position of the parties. Today, as I speak to you, we are quite confident that we will be

able to do this operation as of tomorrow.

And, of course, we'll continue to be constantly in touch with the parties in order to make sure that the environment remains conducive for such an

operation because it remains an extremely complex operation. And we will see how the situation unfolds.


HUNDT: But I think it is our responsibility to try to do everything to provide a glimpse of hope to this population and to make sure that they can

leave there, move and that they receive humanitarian assistance.

GIOKOS: From what we understand, over 100,000 people are trapped there.

What is your capacity going to be, to be able to move people within that bandwidth?

HUNDT: The capacity will also depend on what the parties will provide, because, again, we are here to facilitate. So we hope that this operation

can last as many days as possible. This is what we have requested.

But of course, at the end of the day, this is the responsibility of the parties to agree on that and to ensure that there is a safe passage for

letting as many people as needed to go out and for the others to receive aid.

GIOKOS: We've heard really traumatic stories about running out of water, no food, no medicine. You're also going to be taking in some resources as

well. Tell me about what you're going to be taking in and what the city needs right now.

HUNDT: I think the needs are just gigantic. We are speaking with the population there. And they are just describing, you know, maybe hell on

Earth. This is unspeakable what we are hearing.

And we hope as well that the suffering of the people in Mariupol is not (INAUDIBLE) the future in Ukraine. So I think it is important that this

operation takes place tomorrow, that we are building a -- the way or paving the way for future operations to take place. And I think this is what is



When you say it depends on what the parties agree on, how long would it take?

How many days would you take it to move over 100,000 people?

HUNDT: Frankly speaking, I don't know. I don't know what will be the situation there. We have contacted the population there. You can imagine

how it is difficult to contact this population, a city that was cut off from the rest of the world for so many weeks.

So we will see what we will find there. And depending on our findings there, we will continue to raise our concerns to the parties and to make

sure that our humanitarian consent are heard (ph) and that the overall conditions are met in order that we can continue to fulfill our mandate

(INAUDIBLE) in order to alleviate the suffering of the population (INAUDIBLE) by this terrible conflict.

GIOKOS: Pascal, we know the Red Cross has been targeted in this war.

What does that tell you in terms of Russia's strategy here?

And how have your teams been responding to the mass misinformation drive that has been part of trying to discredit the work that you're doing in


HUNDT: I think it will be very difficult for me, because I'm not a politician to elaborate on the Russian strategy. But what I have seen over

the campaign, that is affecting the ICRC, that is affecting the Ukrainian Red Cross. That is even affecting Red Cross and Red Crescent societies

around the globe.

I think this is undermining our mandate. This is undermining our activities, our capacity to reach people. And I think this is also

undermining the fundamental humanitarian principle and neutrality among all of them.

I think in this polarized conflict, I think it's important that neutrality is understood by everybody. And we in the ICRC, we understand also

neutrality as being close to the victim and taking side for the victim. So I think and I hope that this campaign will stop soon so this will help us

to do our job, simply to (INAUDIBLE).

GIOKOS: Pascal, you and your team have a mammoth task ahead of you over the next few days. We wish you all the best. Thank you so much for your


HUNDT: Thank you very much.

GIOKOS: And still to come tonight, they were blasts heard around the world. North Korea blowing up its nuclear test site four years ago but now

suspicions are growing that Pyongyang may be getting ready to test more nukes.





GIOKOS: South Korea now says North Korea's much trumpeted ICBM launch last week was likely faked. The North released video showing the launch of the

supposedly new intercontinental ballistic missile. And there it is.

But intelligence (ph) sources say it probably was a five-year-old missile disguised as a new one. Analysts say it may have been propaganda cover for

a separate launch of the new missile the week before that exploded over Pyongyang.

Meantime, the U.S. and its allies say they suspect the North may be preparing for an underground nuclear test at the same test site CNN

witnessed being partially blown up in 2018.

Five U.S. officials say the North has recently resumed digging tunnels and doing construction. U.S. intelligence estimates Pyongyang could be ready to

conduct a nuclear bomb test later this year.

All right. And bringing you some other news, Chris Rock is back on stage for the first time since Will Smith slapped him at the Academy Awards. He

performed two stand-up shows in Boston Wednesday night.

The crowds greeted him with standing ovations that lasted for minutes, causing Rock to tear up. And he briefly addressed the slap heard around the



CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: I have a whole show I wrote before this weekend and I'm still kind of processing what happened, like, I'm...

So at some point I'll talk about that shit and it'll be serious, it'll be funny.


GIOKOS: OK. And still to come tonight, a look at the man behind the war in Ukraine. We examine the rise of Vladimir Putin.





GIOKOS: Russia's assault on Ukraine follows a pattern of military aggression that goes back more than 20 years. CNN's Matthew Chance covered

all of those conflicts and has this report.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian troops fresh from battle, cruising through the devastated streets

of a deserted city virtually leveled by rockets and artillery fire. You can see the apartment blocks in the background, reduced to rubble.

Ukraine in the past few weeks but this is footage from 22 years ago in Chechnya, a breakaway Russian region brutally suppressed by the Kremlin, an

early glimpse of how uncompromising Vladimir Putin would be.

CHANCE: The almost unanimous opinion of these soldier is that if he is elected on Sunday, Vladimir Putin will make a strong president to lead this

country and its armed forces.

CHANCE (voice-over): At the time, he vowed to chase terrorists to the toilet and wipe them out in the outhouse. He later expressed regret for

those words but not the actions.

Europe's first war of the 21st century was also Putin's war. The tiny Georgian enclave of South Ossetia was a backwater of the former Soviet

Union but it was here that Putin got a taste for violating international boundaries, intervening to support the breakaway region, pounding Georgian

forces and rolling his tanks across the border.

CHANCE: Well there has been a lot of speculation about where the Russian troops are. Well here they are. Well, inside Georgian territory and outside

the main conflict zone of South Ossetia. The big question is, how far will they go?

CHANCE (voice-over): Then as now, the invasion provoked international scorn. But just after the short Georgia war, Putin seemed confident

relations with the West would endure.

CHANCE: Do you think that this is a turning point in relations between the Russian and the west?

Do you think that period of postwar calm has come to an end?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I think no. I hope not.

CHANCE (voice-over): He was right. The Western backlash against a resurgent Russia never came until this.

In 2014, protesters toppled a pro Russian president in neighboring Ukraine and Putin moved quickly to secure Russian interests.

CHANCE: Well, astonishing developments in Crimea because without a shot being fired, Russia has moved into the Ukrainian territory and despite

international condemnation, effectively brought it under its control.

CHANCE (voice-over): Sanctions followed but so too did an unstoppable wave of nationalism.

President Putin, the victor of Crimea, had, for many Russians, restored a sense of pride.

PUTIN (through translator): We understand that it is not about the territory which we have enough of. It is about historical roots, of our

spirituality and statehood. It is about what makes us a nation and a united, unified nation.

CHANCE (voice-over): Soon, Putin unleashed his growing military swagger even further afield.

The shock and awe of Russian airstrikes in Syria propped up the regime of Bashar al Assad --


CHANCE (voice-over): -- each missile helping to change the course of the Syrian conflict and sending a potent message of Russian resurgence.

CHANCE: This really does feel like the center of a massive Russian military operation. The air is filled with the smell of jet fuel. And the

ground shudders with the roar of those warplanes returning from their bombing missions.

CHANCE (voice-over): Now the missiles and the roars are being heard once again. And Putin's destruction in Chechnya, then Georgia, then Syria is now

being visited on Ukraine.

Of course, he has ridden out tough sanctions and international condemnation before but this time it is unclear how much support Putin has at home.

CHANCE: This is one of those Russian Soviet-era vehicles, which is completely burned out.

CHANCE (voice-over): And given painful Russian losses on the battlefield, it's unclear too whether he will now double down as he has in the past or

back down like never before -- Matthew Chance, CNN.


GIOKOS: Well, thanks so much for watching tonight. Stay with CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next. For me, Eleni Giokos, take care.