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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
New Explosions Heard Near Kyiv, Heavy Fighting Reported In The Capital; New Explosions Heard Near Kyiv; Fighting Reported North & South Of Capital; Battle Over Key Bridge In Southern Ukraine. Aired 8- 9p ET
Aired February 25, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
"The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now," those are the words of its President, Volodymyr Zelensky tonight. Russian forces gathering for what is now expected to be an assault on the capital and a decapitation of that country's leadership.
Throughout Ukraine, there is fear and there are shock, as well as anger and defiance. Ukraine's 44-year-old President who last night said he is target number one in the invasion, stood on a street in Kyiv earlier and said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN President (through translator): Good evening, everyone. The leader of the fraction is here. The head of the President's administration is here. Prime Minister Shmyhal is here. Podoliak is here. The President is here.
We are all here. Our military are here. Citizens in society are here.
We are all here defending our independence, our state, and it will remain so.
Glory to our defenders. Glory to our women defenders. Glory to Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Just within the hour, multiple explosions have been heard on the outskirts of the capital, with Russian forces also advancing on Kyiv from the north according to the Ukrainian military and heavy fighting now reported south of the city. Expect more to come on this as the morning unfolds there.
Already, civilians have gone under fire whether deliberately or incidentally, we can't say, this an apartment complex in Kyiv hit earlier today. And an American official tells CNN that the Biden administration believes that Russia will threaten to kill families of Ukrainian soldiers if they do not surrender. Meantime, on the streets of Kyiv, residents, ordinary people are
taking up arms and as Russian troops moved in the north of the city, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted for citizens to quote, "Make Molotov cocktails and take down the occupier."
Outside Ukraine, for the first time, NATO activated its multinational response force consisting of land, air, sea, and Special Operations Forces from the allies that can deploy quickly in support of the Alliance.
And the White House moved to place direct sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while Britain barred Russian private jets from operating in the U.K.
Also late today, as expected Russia used its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to block a resolution condemning the invasion. There is certainly a lot to cover and a lot happening.
CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Kyiv, CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House, and in Moscow for us tonight, CNN contributor, Jill Dougherty and in southeastern Poland just across the border from Ukraine, CNN's Scott McLean.
Also tonight, a live report from a city in the Black Sea region in the battle there for strategic river crossing.
First I want to give you a look at the kind of overall state of play from CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv is under siege.
Attacks could be hard to close to the city center with Russian military vehicles seen on the city streets. The sound of gunfire echoed in residential areas, Ukrainian volunteers taking up arms to protect their home, as air raid sirens sound across Kyiv again tonight.
The U.S. is concerned that Kyiv could fall into Russian control within days, according to sources familiar with the latest intelligence and the civilians of Ukraine are paying the horrible price of war.
Citizens who fled to the safer western part of the country still finding themselves under threat. The Ukrainian military doing their best to halt the Russian advance claiming to have inflicted some 800 Russian casualties and destroying more than 30 tanks, seven aircraft, and six helicopters while Russia denies losing any aircraft to the Ukrainians.
But the Russian advance isn't stopping, pushing into Ukraine from three sides. Ukraine says Russian forces are closing in on Kyiv from the north and east.
ZELENSKY (through translator): This night will be very difficult and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians. This night we have to stand ground. The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today released video of himself defiantly on the streets of Kyiv to rally his nation.
ZELENSKY (through translator): We are all here defending our independence, our state, and it will remain so. Glory to our defenders.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Zelensky spoke with President Joe Biden again today saying they discussed strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance, and an anti-war coalition.
Earlier, Zelensky expressed frustration with the West saying the Biden administration's raft of sanctions on Russia are not enough.
ZELENSKY (through translator): This morning, we are defending our country alone. Just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world looked on from a distance.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): And Zelensky is use now appealing directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks.
ZELENSKY (through translator): There is fighting all over Ukraine now. Let's sit down at the negotiating table to stop the death of people.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): For his part, Putin has called for the Ukrainian people to rise up against the government.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Do not let Banda rights and Neo Nazis use your children, wives, and old people as human shields. Take power into your own hands.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Despite overwhelming odds, the Ukrainian spirit has been on full display, and Ukraine released this audio reportedly of an exchange between Russian and Ukrainian forces on the Black Sea before the Ukrainians were killed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language.)
TEXT: I am Russian military ship, repeat, I am a Russian military ship proposing to put down arms immediately to avoid bloodshed and unjustified deaths.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Their last words --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language.)
TEXT: Russian warship, go [bleep] yourself.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: CNN's Oren Liebermann reporting.
Let's get our correspondents in the field starting with CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward in Kyiv.
So, Clarissa, there are reports of heavy fighting in the outskirts of Kyiv. What can you confirm? What are you hearing and seeing?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So Anderson, you won't be able to hear it on the camera mic because it's too far away, but we are hearing a lot of heavy fighting coming from that direction. That is -- where four miles in that direction is the suburb of Obolon, where there has been heavy fighting throughout the day and we are really hearing just a steady rumble of strikes and artillery.
The Ukrainian military is also claiming that they have shot down a Russian transport plane. CNN has not been able to independently confirm that at all, but it is clear that the Ukrainians are putting up quite a fight, Anderson. There are also reports of heavy fighting about 20 miles south of the Capitol.
Still, the odds are simply not in the favor of the Ukrainian military. We actually drove in here today from the city in the east of Kharkiv where we had been, and as we were driving along on the highway, we saw a Ukrainian military convoy that had just been hit, presumably by aerial bombardment, there were firemen there desperately trying to put out the remaining flames. There was smoke everywhere.
We saw the body of one Ukrainian soldier who appeared to have been killed in that incident. The target, it seems, was a multi-rocket launcher that was at the head of that small convoy of about three vehicles, and I think what that tells you, Anderson, is just how difficult it is at this stage for the Ukrainians to move some of their more sophisticated weapons around because they don't have air defenses, because the Russians now really control the skies, they can take out targets opportunistically as and when they see them.
And as we got right next to the capital, we then saw a large group of civil defense volunteers. They have been lining up all over the country trying to help out in any way that they can. The ones that we saw had a big pile of tires with them, Anderson, presumably, their plan is to set fire to those tires, try to block off the road, create a smokescreen if Russian troops came barreling down that highway.
But it also, I think, just highlights what an uneven fight this is. There's definitely a David and Goliath element to this even as we are seeing Ukrainian forces fighting so hard to defend this capital of nearly three million people -- Anderson.
COOPER: And Clarissa, given the fact that you drove westward into Kyiv today, I mean, are there a lot of roadblocks, a lot of checkpoints, a lot of fortifications around Kyiv that you were able to see.
WARD: I mean, there's definitely some checkpoints. Some of them official, some of them seem to be more like these civil defense volunteers who are coming out. We saw some sort of makeshift roadblocks, where people have put sort of slabs of concrete at various positions in the road, forcing the car to slow down to kind of weave between them.
We also did see a couple of columns of Ukrainian tanks lining the sides of the road. So there are some defenses there, but when you think of that image of that, you know of that small military convoy that got hit and you just see that the damage that Russia's airpower is capable of inflicting in such a short space of time, you realize very quickly that this is, you know, going to be a tremendously difficult battle for them to win and the concern becomes what happens here in Kyiv over the next few hours?
We've been told by President Volodymyr Zelensky himself to expect the worse and yet nobody knows exactly what will happen tonight, how things will play out and what the city will look like in the morning -- Anderson.
COOPER: It's got to be one of the things that is so terrifying about being there for residents, for everyone is not actually knowing exactly where Russian forces are or having visuals on you know where people are positioned.
I mean it's kind of the unknown of knowing that there are Russian forces all around and yet, you don't know where they are.
WARD: That's terrifying. It's absolutely terrifying for most ordinary people who have never experienced anything like this, here in Kyiv, certainly in their lifetime. They've been running extra trains to try to get people. I don't know if you could hear that, some loud explosions there. We're hearing a car alarm going off as a result, but you can imagine how hard it is for ordinary families trying to sleep at night through that.
So they are running these extra trains to try to get people out of Kyiv. They're trying to get roughly 10,000 people out by the end of tonight, which I guess now would be over. But you know, there's nearly three million people living here, Anderson, so it's a big job.
COOPER: I want to go to Kaitlan Collins now at the White House. These new sanctions that the U.S. has levied against Vladimir Putin directly. Is the White House saying much about what kind of impact if any, they'll have?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty symbolic, but it is also pretty provocative, Anderson, because you don't often see heads of state sanctioned, and the ones that come to mind are North Korea, Syria, not someone often as powerful as Putin is.
And so this is significant. No one thinks that Putin has a lot of money in the United States. It's going to be frozen as a result of these sanctions. But it is notable that they did take this step today, which we should note came after yesterday, President Biden and I had talked about this in his press conference, he said it was still an option that was on the table. But it was not one that they had took initially yesterday in light of this invasion starting in Ukraine.
However, in the last 24 hours or so, he talked to European allies. The European Union went first with the sanctions on not only Putin, but also the Russian Foreign Minister, the top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, as well. And then now the United States and Canada as well are following tonight, sanctioning Putin himself, sanctioning Lavrov himself, and it is a notable step coming from the White House because it is really sending a message to Putin, I think.
It's not going to change a ton though there are travel restrictions, as a part of this that will apply to Putin, that will apply to Lavrov, who we do often see meeting with U.S. officials when those meetings were actually going forward.
But Anderson, it does stand out that they are taking this step tonight trying to call out Putin on the stage in a sense that they were not prepared to do even just yesterday.
COOPER: I just want to quickly check in with Clarissa while Kaitlan was talking. I just saw you looking around. Is it anything else going on?
WARD: No, we just heard those couple of loud explosions and still, we're hearing a steady rumble. It sounds like there's some pretty heavy fighting going on. I'm guessing it's in this suburb of Obolon. It's just about four miles from where we are, but you can imagine that people can start to feel now this sort of noose tightening as Russian forces get closer and closer to the center of the capital -- Anderson.
COOPER: And there -- I mean, Russian forces are coming from various directions. I mean, obviously there are Russian forces in Belarus. There are Russian forces on the eastern borders and in the south.
WARD: Yes, they're coming from at least three different directions at the moment, and they've only moved in a third of the forces that they have at their disposal.
You'll remember, there's something like 170,000 of them who are massing on that border. It may well be that the attack on Kyiv does not happen tonight or the full-fledged assault, a storming, as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned about, that they may be waiting for more of those reinforcements to come in as backup, but certainly, the tone that you heard from President Zelensky in that address, Anderson, I mean, it was markedly different than anything we've heard from him before.
This is the man who a week ago was saying keep calm and carry on. There's never going to be a full scale invasion, and we just don't see the Intelligence in the same way that the U.S. does now saying, it looks like it's going to happen tonight and we are going to do everything we can to defend our country to stop the slaughter -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, Clarissa, when you're telling the citizens to make Molotov cocktails in your apartment flats, I mean, that says a lot about what you're expecting and what kind of defenses you have and don't have.
WARD: Right. I don't know if you heard that, there was another loud blast there.
COOPER: Yes, we could hear that.
WARD: But tens of thousands of people, Anderson -- and another one -- are lining up to volunteer in any way that they can. They are giving out weapons to people, they are telling people exactly as you just mentioned, to learn how to make Molotov cocktails. In Obolon, that area where I think the fighting is hardest this evening, they were telling people don't leave your houses, just make Molotov cocktails and throw them out the window.
So they are really resorting to a number of different measures, anything they can to try to gain succor and provide some resistance to this onslaught -- Anderson.
COOPER: Well, also, I mean, the importance of the video you showed that you got to along the highway, the air superiority as you point out allows Russian forces to, you know, at will destroy any kind of column of troops that they want. So any kind of resistance ultimately would have to be much smaller units, much more sort of insurgency style.
WARD: Well, and that's what a lot of people are talking about that you know, U.S. predicts that within days, Kyiv could fall, but I can tell you just from conversations I've had with people here on the ground in the city, and frankly, all around Ukraine, that if there is any kind of protracted Russian occupation, which President Putin has said there won't be, but it is difficult to see how that would be possible, people will rise up and whatever small way they can, whether it's, you know, tossing a Molotov cocktail out of a window, or you know, approaching a group of Russian soldiers with an AK, I can guarantee you they will have a fight on their hands.
And the worry there is that that could very quickly get very ugly, and could leave civilians, particularly vulnerable -- Anderson.
COOPER: Jill Dougherty, as we continue to monitor what's going on in Kyiv, there was talk today for both sides about possibly convening for talks. How much stock should anyone put in that?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not much. It was kind of a weird incident. There was a report, in fact, I was watching Russian TV at that moment, and they said, there could be a chance for negotiations, for talks. The Ukrainians are ready to do it, and then they said, President Putin was ready, he would send his people and they were all set.
But the place that they talked about initially was Minsk, and Minsk, of course, is Belarus and Belarus is part of the conflict. So then they said they were on the line with President Zelensky of Ukraine. He suggested Warsaw, and then there was kind of silence. And then the talk over the phone was over.
So I think it was being misrepresented by the Russians, too, because they later said that they were going to talk about neutrality for Ukraine, in terms of NATO, and the President of Ukraine is not talking about neutrality. So, it was an odd moment that kind of became part of the information battle.
COOPER: Scott, you're on the border, the Poland-Ukraine border, one of the points where Ukrainians are crossing over. Can you just talk about what you have been seeing throughout the day?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson, yes, so we're about 30 minutes inside the border. It is past two o'clock in the morning here. There aren't trains expected to come or go for several hours, and you can see just how packed it is still with people down each hallway and in the rooms in the rest of this train station.
There are cots, there are women and children sleeping on those cots. Many of them simply do not know where they are going to go. There are volunteers giving them food and water and trying to link them up with a place to go and maybe a school, a gymnasium, it may also be a Polish person who has decided out of the kindness of their heart to take in some of those women and children.
Now, the train that just arrived a couple of hours ago from Kyiv, it was held up for hours at the border as Ukrainians carried out their passport checks. Those sitting on a train for several hours, Anderson, is a lot better than standing outside in the frigid temperatures at some of these pedestrian crossings.
Ukraine is not allowing men between 18 and 60 to cross, but clearly there are exceptions because we spoke to a man earlier today who was able to convince the Ukrainian border guards to let him through with his wife and with his kids as well, and he described for us the chaos at the station just trying to get on the train. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people they just didn't have the tickets. So they just stormed the train. I mean, it was almost like a stampede. People were like trying to get inside no matter what.
Nobody was actually checking tickets. Because I mean, obviously most people didn't have any tickets.
MCLEAN: It was -- it was chaos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was chaos. It was chaos. It was a lot of people like pushing around and -- but I mean, people run to escape, to run for their lives, so I don't blame them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN: Yes, it is absolutely hard to blame them. In fact, things were so chaotic at one station in Kyiv earlier today that soldiers there fired warning shots just to keep the crowd under control -- Anderson.
COOPER: Scott McLean, appreciate it. Kaitlan Collins, Jill Dougherty, as well, Clarissa Ward as well. We'll continue checking with you throughout this hour.
When we come back, a former Commanding General of the U.S. Army in Europe, CNN analyst Mark Hertling on the ongoing battles and whether he agrees with the assessment that Russian forces may be having a tougher time of it than anticipated, more on that ahead.
COOPER: Clarissa Ward mentioned in her live report the sounds of heavy fighting coming from the Northern District, which just a few miles from her position. You can see there on the map, there loud explosions reported as well within the last few minutes west and south of the city.
I want to go right to our CNN military analyst, retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, also retired Army Brigadier General Peter Zwack, former Defense attache to Russia and currently a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute.
General Zwack, Russian forces close to Kyiv, what do you expect, the next 24 hours is going to look like?
BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET), U.S. ARMY: Thank you. I think that the Russians now are faced -- they had their airborne, their special operators take out Antonov Airport 40 hours ago that provided them a bridge. They brought things in and they've been waiting for their forces to come in from Belarus that came through the Pripyat Marshes, and then other forces we are seeing coming in from the south, meaning up from the route from Bryansk and all of that.
So the Russians, I think want to get this done fast. The longer it takes, the uglier it gets. The Russians have kind of ripped the whirlwind here. The media is on them. They're beginning to have problems at home.
You're now about to possibly commit your forces and conventional forces, about 30 percent of which are conscripts, they are patriotic Russians, but they don't want to be fighting and killing Slav on Slav.
So time, they want to take Kyiv fast, but they didn't the first night, which many of us would have thought they would have tried a real strike in the middle. But now, you've got to fight for it or do you besiege it?
Besieging it would be easier, but time isn't on their side, both on the ground and internationally and the partisans are going to be moving as well.
COOPER: General Hertling, I mean, if one's desire is to decapitate the leadership of Ukraine. Do you have to take Kyiv? Do you have to occupy Kyiv to do that?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You certainly do, Anderson, and here is what -- I'll put some perspective into this, because Peter set me up a little bit.
Kyiv is a city of three million people. It's the size of Chicago. Kharkiv is about the size of Philadelphia. The Russians have close to 200,000 soldiers not only going after those two cities, but doing a lot of other things.
When you have that large of a city to really secure it is one thing to surround it, if you will, but secure it, to go into those apartment buildings and do house to house searches to try and find the things that you're looking for, you not only need an extremely large combat force, but you're going to be there a while.
And as Peter said, that requires a whole lot of logistics. And unless you're considering logistics first, how are you going to resupply the force over a very long period of time? You know, there's an old saying that amateurs study tactics, professional study logistics. They are not going to be able to hold this city.
Anderson, you and I were having a discussion I watched with Matthew Chance last night, you were saying what are the Russians trying to do? It's very simple. They are trying to subjugate a nation of 44 million freedom loving people with 200,000 forces, and at the same time, they're trying to continue to divide NATO. That is not a recipe for success.
From the very beginning, I've said they don't have the troop to task to accomplish the kind of missions they're trying to do. And they did not expect their Ukrainians to be fighting as hard as they are right now.
COOPER: General Zwack, do you agree with that assessment of the logistical problems that Russian forces will face?
ZWACK: Completely. It takes a lot of tonnage to bring up shells and fuel and now, the Russians have a logistics tail, vulnerable supply trucks. They've got to defend the roads. There will be stay behind Ukrainian forces bypassed in the Russian thrust. They will come out and make it hard to supply.
This is the core -- Russians have a term "correlation of forces." Yes, they have enough forces to do a quick strike and get there in good size numbers. They don't have the forces for a major siege fight or urban fight, and all the other things and this is just part of certainly, an east of the Dnieper River battle, whether it is near the Donbas, and also the whole Black Sea front.
This is a real challenge. I think that they have overplayed and the longer it goes for the Russians, the worst it will get. The tragedy, is of course, it is the Ukrainians that are bearing the horrific burden of this.
COOPER: And General Hertling, just quickly, I mean, you've seen insurgencies up close throughout your entire career. Is this a country that there could be an ongoing insurgency against Russian forces?
HERTLING: I would call it -- yes, I'd call it more of a guerrilla war, Anderson. It's a different -- a slightly different definition because they have had their government displaced. They are trying to fight back to get the government that if they do get in place, then I don't think they will.
They are trying to push that government out and return to their normal operations. So yes, it's similar to an insurgency and as Peter just said, those long logistic tails, the multiple fronts they have, they are in the south, the east, the north. They have not massed their forces in any one place.
They have opened for different fronts and it is going to be difficult to sustain all of those fronts in my view.
Ukrainians, at the same time, they've had -- the Russians have had the resources early on. They certainly have had the quality and the quantity of forces they needed to go after it. But in the long term, I believe the will of the Ukrainian forces is going to overcome that in the long term.
But it's going to take time and as Peter said, there is going to be a lot of damage done to these cities, and I think we're going to see a lot of war crimes or potential war crimes while it happens.
COOPER: Yes, a loss of life, Generals Hertling and Zwack, thank you so much.
Just ahead, a live report from journalists who has documented the destruction that is going on, on the streets of Kyiv, what he has seen and the mood there as we follow the battle being waged tonight.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: As Clarissa Ward was reporting early in the program, new explosions being heard in Ukraine's capital Kyiv is concerned now that the country's capital is could soon fall by U.S. officials concerns have been expressed. Our next guest is in Kyiv filing reports amid the destruction, Terrell Starr's a journalist he forwarded us this video today in Kyiv, a massive residential building that took a hit today just an example of what civilians are being forced to endure this moment.
The journalist took the video join us now, Terrell Starr, a non- resident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic and hosts the Black Diplomats Podcast.
Terrell I understand you just heard a -- an explosion.
TERRELL STARR, NON-RESIDENT SENIOR FELLOW, EURASIA CENTER, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Yes, yes, sir. I did, broadsided my window. The explosions have been taking place throughout the night. There was a slight moment of silence but pretty much. I've heard multiple explosions, sometimes two, sometimes three in a row. That's something that's been ongoing as we go into the second day of fighting -- of fighting, yes.
COOPER: You went around Kyiv today. What was it like just in terms of what you heard what you saw?
STARR: Yes, so I drove around. One of the things that you saw, were men going to recruiting senators to pick up automatic rifles. I visited three myself. And you saw these senators teaming over with men willing to fight for their country, there is just a major overwhelming number of people going to fight, it was incredible sight to see men in jumpsuit, men in sneakers with these automatic rifles. You also saw a mass, mass exodus outside of the city, long queues at gas stations, long queues at grocery stores, food in short supply at grocery stores. You also struggling to get money out of ATM machines.
And so, you saw people with roller luggage trying to find a way out. People were on the side of the road, trying to hitchhike outside of the city. There -- so it was a very surreal sight. But the main thing we're all these men of all ages, some you're looking -- some look like children fresh out of high school, some in there -- some of their fifth -- some in their 50s all ready to fight for Ukraine.
COOPER: And what about food, things like, you know, gasoline, water supplies, what is it like for civilians? Is it still OK?
STARR: Yes, generally speaking, if you just know where to go, so if you can go to a little kiosk outside your store, it's normally it also depends on where you are in the city, but it's there but you just have to know where to go in the lines all long if you are willing to wait it's not like there's just shortages to the point where people are starving. It's not that bad, but you do have to know where to go.
Another thing is that the city is so empty, that, in some respects, if you go to the right neighborhood, you won't find any lines at all. But for those, but some neighborhoods, they are quite long.
COOPER: Terrell Starr, I really appreciate the work you're doing and appreciate you talking to us tonight. Thank you.
STARR: Thank you.
COOPER: Be careful.
More new sanctions announced today. As we mentioned, they are some aimed at Vladimir Putin, or they help isolate Putin on the world stage there. And so of course, the question, what kind of an actual impact that would have. I'm joined now by Democratic Congressman Jason Crow, former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and who serves on both the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. Last week, he met with Ukrainian officials at the Munich Security Conference led a congressional delegation to Ukraine in December.
Congressman, I'm wondering what you make what you have seen so far from Russian -- of Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine.
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Hi Anderson. Well, I've been impressed by the resolve and the will to fight by the Ukrainians certainly was something that I've heard repeatedly over the last couple of months, I led a congressional delegation to Ukraine in December, I've had a lot of meetings with Ukrainian leadership, including, most recently, last week met personally with the Mayor of Kyiv, who is now on the frontlines fighting himself.
What has become very clear to me is that these are people with a will to fight. They know they are fighting for their survival. They know they are fighting for their freedom. And that's a very dangerous thing for Vladimir Putin. I think he has miscalculated this. I think he was thinking that he could do this quickly, that there will to fight with claps. And that's certainly not what not happening at this point.
COOPER: It was interesting talking just now to General Mark Hertling who's talking about the difficulty Russian forces will face, you know, say they take Kyiv and the number, you know, and Kharkiv in the east, which is the second largest city of a million and a half people. But occupying those cities, putting in a puppet government, all of that requires a lot of troops probably even more troops than they have.
CROW: Yes, that's right Anderson. You know, when I was a paratrooper of 82nd Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq. And I remember going into the very densely packed cities of Baghdad and (INAUDIBLE) and Ramadi, and it is unbelievable when you have a dense urban area, how that soaks up infantry forces. Now we look at that 200,000 number, the 200,000 Russian troops. That's the full complement of troops, only a fraction of those are infantry, that those are infantry soldiers that have to go in and occupy massive cities, and those cities will soak up those troops.
And you add on top of that, as we're sitting here right now you have tens of thousands of Kyiv residents and residents from cities across Ukraine who are loading their Kalashnikov rifles who are sitting there with their families, making Molotov cocktails, at their kitchen tables. Those Russian soldiers are in for a very rude awakening and the days and weeks ahead I believe.
COOPER: The Russian way though of waging war I mean, you see what they did in Chechen, in Chechnya, it's, it's a very different kind of I mean, it's a far more brutal way even then, then a lot of mystery then U.S. forces trying to, you know, operate in a city, they don't have quite the same rules.
CROW: Yes, it is brutal. But, you know, when you're going up against the guerrilla, a guerilla style warfare, which is this is soon to be let's not forget that the Russian forces are probably at the height of their advantage right now. It conventional versus conventional fight, as this changes to a guerrilla style fight, and you have civilians and others who are running around with Kalashnikov rifles shooting Russian soldiers, the advantage of military units greatly erode.
And if the instinct of those that those units those conventional units or the Russian units is to become more brutal in the crackdown, what happens is the civilian populations resist even more fiercely as a result of that it is an opposite reaction. So that really works to their disadvantage to do that. And frankly, that is going to be Putin's instinct.
COOPER: Congressman Jason Crow, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
CROW: Thank you.
COOPER: Ahead, a look at the intense fighting also occurring tonight in the south of the country where both sides have fought to hold a Key Bridge we have a live report from Kherson, next.
COOPER: Intense battles also happening in the southern part of the country tonight, are Nick Paton Walsh has been documenting the fighting there. Last night he told you about the efforts of a handful of Ukrainian border guards now considered heroes who seem to have given their lives to hold an island.
Tonight, Nick Paton Walsh is back with another report that's talking about the back and forth battle over Key Bridge.
So Nick, where are you now and talking to me about the fight for this bridge?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, I mean, we do think that as dusk fell today, we witnessed the possibly the final change in control over that vital bridge. Here it is -- the dead of night here very quiet in the town of Harrison, a few blasts we've heard intermittently. But it was pretty much the same case when we came in 24 hours ago, the Russians had pushed across the bridge, it seemed them to this side of the river. That's essentially the northern side that you can hit up towards Kyiv from the Dnieper cutting the country into the Dnieper River.
Then the Ukrainians pushed back this morning, it seems and had retaken the bridge, civilian traffic was passing back and forth. That was at quite a cost, though, to the Ukrainians. And then as the afternoon progressed, we had Grad rockets hitting around this town here, and jets, again, in the skies. They'd been around during the nights as well. And then when dust came in some heavy shelling that seemed to be targeting the Ukrainian positions that were trying to hold the Russians back near that bridge. We went down towards the bridge and then had I think what we thought was an attack helicopter that seemed to gasoline noise that seemed to end a lot of the fighting there. Our concern, I think was that may have hit the Ukrainian forces there. Since then it has been a lot quieter. And a matter of minutes after we heard that attack helicopter report was circulated amongst locals here, which we think was from the local governments Facebook page, saying that the defenses of the city had, in fact, been overwhelmed. And we think that now means that the Russians have control of that Key Bridge.
As I say it runs from Crimea, a southern peninsula down in southern Ukraine, which has been controlled by the Russians since 2014. The bridge goes over the Dnieper River and then heads allows you to head up towards Kyiv, or as we've also seen, we think in the last 24 hours, Russian convoys heading both east and west from that particular point. So this is obviously a key route for Russian forces moving into the country. They appear to have seen some resistance around Kharkiv and other entry points into the country and maybe applying some focus here.
The bigger issue for people in this town and the (INAUDIBLE) who've heard Grad rockets landing on the outskirts, there were two pretty substantial blasts near the center. Recently, they've had air raid sirens going off for much of the day. The question is, does the Russian convoy simply pass by the town of Kherson and head on its way possibly towards Kyiv for border strategic goals or as they're worried about here, are they going to wake up tomorrow, matter of hours from now two or three to Russian troops walking in the streets. The Russian government's claiming this is now part of Russia, and a whole new way of life.
I mean, local series spoken to are terrify thinking they've seen masked men with guns on the streets not clear if they have at all, not clear what's going to happen next. I think that's what many Ukrainians are going to be waking up with this morning or next morning, as Russian forces slowly move through here. Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, so much unknown at this point. Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate it. Reporting from southern Ukraine.
When we come back, we're going to go back to Clarissa Ward who just heard more explosions in Kyiv. We'll get an update from her ahead.
COOPER: Pivotal moment in Ukraine's capital has just come to pass, we understand the first explosions in parts of Kyiv itself.
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COOPER: Let's go back to CNN's Clarissa Ward who is in Kyiv tonight. Clarissa, what do we know what where that is? What is going on?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so basically, Anderson, it's going on in multiple locations around the city. You've got that fighting going on and Obalon that I was pointing out to you earlier, but we are now hearing explosions in the city in the western part of the city that's near a military base. We've also heard from the state service of special communications, that in the eastern suburbs, there have been, there's been some heavy fighting. All of this is really happening now Anderson within the city limits. Those images you saw there where the sky is kind of lit up those took place in the southwest part of the city.
So you can see what I'm basically driving at here from the east from the west from the south, it's really coming closer and closer to the city center from multiple angles. And this is exactly what President Volodymyr Zelensky, warned about just a couple of hours ago, he said tonight is the night the Russians will try to storm our capital. It's important for our viewers to remember Anderson that 2.9 million people live here and they have never seen or experienced anything like this before. This is a thriving metropolis. This is not a war zone or it certainly was not a war zone up until just a couple of days ago.
And now there is that sense that like a boa constrictor, kind of tightening its noose around the city. The question becomes will people hear be trapped? Will they start to launch strikes on the actual city center and not just on military targets, but potentially on residential areas? We heard earlier, Russia's Defense Ministry accusing the Americans of advising Ukraine's military to set up rockets and other major weapons in residential areas. And I think everybody felt like that was very ominous, because it seemed to portend that possibly they would start to target residential areas as well.
We haven't seen anything like that yet. But it has been a very heavy night. We're hearing a lot of explosions coming from many different directions. And you can just imagine how terrified people here must be, Anderson.
COOPER: And at this point, what are the defenses like in Kyiv? I mean or is it -- are they visible?
WARD: Yes. Well, you can't on the ride in when we were driving in from Kharkiv as we approached the capital, you could see lines of tanks, you know, sort of lining the -- lining the main highway coming in and we have seen through various social media videos and hearing from others around the town that there are defensive positions.
But the problem and the difficulty becomes that, you know, Russia has such a sophisticated military and while the Ukrainians are putting up a tremendous fight from everything we're seeing and hearing, they are simply put just outmatched and outgunned, particularly by this kind of aerial bombardment cruise missiles, things of that nature, which makes it very difficult for the Ukrainian military to move around some of their more sophisticated weaponry without being, you know, spotted potentially and targeted by Russian forces.
COOPER: The -- as far as we know, President Zelensky is still in Kyiv?
WARD: As far as we know, he is still in Kyiv. He's made multiple appearances. He had a video that he put out on his Facebook page earlier tonight where he was appearing to stand somewhere outside inside the city. And he was surrounded by some of his closest Cabinet members. And he basically said we're here. We will stay here, and we will fight to protect Ukraine's independence.
And, you know, I think one can't underestimate the courage of President Zelensky at this stage, the Americans have warned him on multiple occasions previously, that he should seriously consider leaving the city. Just last night he released another video where he said listen, I know for a fact that I am Russia forces target number one and my family is target number two, because just to give some added context for our viewers the assumption and this is speculation but the assumption here is that Russia's intention is to encircle the city and to essentially decapitate the current government forced them out of power, and then to install some kind of a pro-Kremlin puppet regime, who will essentially do Moscow's bidding.
Now, that's a very tall order for the Russians to pull off, not just because Ukrainian forces are fighting back so valiantly, but also, because the ordinary people here, everyone we talked to Anderson, I mean I can't emphasize this enough, is more than willing to do whatever they can on whatever level they can muster, to try to fight back in some way. We were talking earlier about how the Ukrainian military had told people, you know, go and do make some Molotov cocktails and throw them out the window if that's all you can do, actually, some of the Ukrainian channels tonight, the TV channels, were giving instructions to people for how to make Molotov cocktails in their own homes.
And so, you get a sense that they're going to have quite a fight on their hands Anderson and that fight very much seems to be getting off, you know, gathering momentum here in Kyiv tonight.
COOPER: Yes, Clarissa Ward, I appreciate your coverage you and your team. Stay safe. Thank you.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Our coverage of Ukraine crisis continues. Let's hand over to Wolf Blitzer in "CNN TONIGHT." Wolf.