Return to Transcripts main page
Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
U.S. Official Says Ukrainians Pushed Russian Forces Back To The East Of Kyiv; U.S. Makes Contingency Plans In Case Russia Unleashes Chemical, Biological Or Nuclear Weapons In Ukraine According To NYT; Ukrainian Officials Prepare New Graves As They Anticipate An Increase In Casualties; Inside A Rare U.S. Meeting With A Russian General In Moscow; How Russia's War In Ukraine Mirrors Its Invasion Of Afghanistan. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired March 23, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I was not born in the United States, and so for a naturalized citizen, to have the opportunity to represent this amazing country abroad and to be a part of history is unbelievably moving for me, specifically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Albright was 84.
Thanks for joining us. AC 360 begins now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We begin tonight with perhaps a clearer sign yet that not only are Ukrainian forces making progress in their counter offensive, it is tangible progress that in some places can be measured literally.
Tonight, according to a senior American Defense official, Ukrainian fighters like these east of Kyiv have managed to push Russian troops as many as 22 miles farther from the city than they were just a day ago. Just a little more than 12 miles to the east of Kyiv yesterday to 34 miles today.
That same senior official says that Russian forces to the northwest have not made any progress recently and are digging in. And one obstacle in their path, the Irpin River is now overflowing, the water coming from a dam upstream, unclear at this point whether it was breached by attackers or defenders opened the floodgates to make operating harder for the Russians.
Along those lines, a barrage of outgoing fire was seen tonight in the area suggesting that life is indeed becoming more difficult for those dug in Russian troops, deadlier as well.
As many as 15,000 killed so far, that is according to NATO officials, Russian troops we are talking about, and if true, that is an absolutely staggering number, almost as many fatalities in a month for the Russians as the worst year for American troops in Vietnam. Nothing though next to human misery in places such as Mariupol. This, as new video of destruction and there are no words to describe it, nor is there any sound to go with the images, but we just want to let it play for a moment so you can see what's being done to a city the size of Oakland, California.
[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]
COOPER: Now, this is happening with President Biden arriving in Brussels for tomorrow's emergency NATO Summit, on the agenda deterring any Russian use of chemical weapons. The President spoke to that earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mister President, how concerned are you about the threat of chemical warfare right now? That Russia is using chemical weapons, how high is that threat?
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a real threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Late tonight, with the world attention now focused on the Summit, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy issued a call to action in English.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: This is only the beginning for Russia on the Ukrainian land. Russia is trying to defeat the freedom of all people in Europe, of all the people in the world. It tries to show that only crude and cruel force matters.
It tries to show that people do not matter, as well as everything else that make us people. That's the reason we all must stop Russia. The world must stop the war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He is calling for tomorrow to be a day of worldwide public protest against the invasion.
We've got exclusive new reporting on a rare meeting last week in Moscow between American officials and a Russian General. Now the question is, what if anything, does it say possibly about the Russian state of mind? Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper joins us to talk about that.
CNN's Sam Kiley is in Kyiv, CNN's Ivan Watson is Dnipro, and in Brussels with the President, CNN's Phil Mattingly.
First though, CNN's Alex Marquardt with an overview of the day.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Vladimir Putin's war leading to staggering losses of his own men. According to NATO military officials, up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the four weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine.
The shocking number comes as the battle for Kyiv is raging. Ukraine now claims it is not just fending off the Russian advance, but pushing Russian forces back.
In the suburb of Irpin, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting, the mayor who said his own house was destroyed says 80 percent of the area has now been retaken and National Police are going back to work there.
In the town of Makariv, just west of Kyiv, official say it has been fully retaken. This video was posted by the Kyiv Regional Police and CNN has confirmed it is from Makariv.
Kyiv firefighters have had to work tirelessly to douse the flames from the Russian strikes, including on countless civilians homes.
This man using his own garden hose.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was many, many bombs.
MARQUARDT (voice over): Today, the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko said 264 civilians from Kyiv had been killed.
VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV, UKRAINE MAYOR: We listen to bombing attack right now, this can be more.
MARQUARDT (voice over): It is the southern city of Mariupol that has come under perhaps the most brutal Russian assault. Drone video showing a shattered coastal town where local officials say more than 2,000 people have been killed, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says a quarter of the population is trapped.
Buildings destroyed, machinery on fire, "It is the end," the man filming says.
The Pentagon says Mariupol has come under fire from Russian ships off the coast. This video shot in Crimea shows Russian cruise missiles being fired from ships in the Black Sea toward Ukraine, all the death and destruction by Russia in Mariupol and beyond adding up to war crimes the U.S. now officially declaring on Wednesday.
BETH VAN SCHAACK, AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE, GLOBAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE AT U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: We have all seen really horrific images and accounts from the extensive and unrelenting attacks on civilians and civilian sites being conducted by Russian forces in Ukraine.
MARQUARDT (voice over): And in another blow to Putin, Anatoly Chubais, a Russian government insider for decades is leaving his job according to Russian state news agency, TASS.
Reuters is reporting that Chubais had left Russia and did not plan to return. This is the highest profile Russian official to quit since the war began.
Alex Marquardt CNN at the State Department.
COOPER: So with that, let's go to our correspondents in the field tonight starting with CNN's Sam Kiley in Kyiv.
Sam, what has it been like in recent hours?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just over the last two days, there has been a very powerful response from the Ukrainian Armed Forces against the Russian advance. Notably, about an hour and a half after sunset, a really, really gigantic barrage of multiple rocket launching systems being fired, probably towards Irpin, certainly towards targets in the west northwest of the city.
Now, Irpin as you were reporting there -- as Alex was putting there, now 80 percent back in the hands of the Ukrainian Armed Forces from previous day. We saw very heavy barrages due north of the city, again, part of this Ukrainian counteroffensive which the Ukrainians are saying is going well. It's going less well for them militarily elsewhere in the country, but they are keen to be able to trumpet their successes here in the capital, which might explain why over the last week during which we've been talking, Anderson, we've seen here in the capital, the only real strikes have been of missiles, long range missiles.
The exception to that has been in the north, and the extreme west of the city much closer to the fighting where possibly stray shells have come in and killed civilians in relatively small numbers.
But things are going relatively well, for the Ukrainians at the moment. The real issue for them, though, is whether or not Belarus joins the war. But Belarus is a country from which the attack on the Capitol was launched, and it is that country that could provide the manpower and the firepower that could tip the balance back against the capital -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ivan, we're going to talk to you a bit more about what you are seeing in Dnipro, but what is life like there nearly a month into the invasion?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the ground war has not come to this city yet. But there is fighting to the north to the east and to the south of the city. So it's providing an important kind of supportive hub, logistical hub for these front lines, both supporting the armed forces of Ukraine on all sides, moving humanitarian assistance to these different fronts, and then welcoming both wounded and displaced Ukrainians who are coming through here and then many of them trying to move further west. While there is no ground fighting here, there have been bombardments from long range attacks from Russia in past weeks, and you can for a moment kind of almost think that life is continuing as usual here, except that there are tank traps and sandbags protecting government buildings, and on nearly every street corner, there's an 8:00 PM curfew, most businesses that are open are closed by five, or 6:00 PM.
And then there's that ubiquitous sound of air raid sirens, which go off periodically at night, and we had a little scare today, when local government officials thought they heard the sound of a Russian drone overhead. We cannot confirm that or not.
So it is a war footing for this city and as one city official put it, it is not new for this city because he argued this part of eastern Ukraine saw war initially with Russian-backed separatists in 2014. It has experience in this, it is just the magnitude of this conflict is so many large times larger.
COOPER: Yes, Phil, as you know, the U.S. has declared the Russian force has committed war crimes. How significant is that particularly as President Biden begins his visit to Europe?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think it's the latter issue you mentioned that is the most significant.
In terms of the long term of pursuing war crimes, putting the full weight and resources of the U.S. government behind the effort to prove any war crime is certainly significant in the long term. But in the near term, it's more important for the message that it sends, as the President gets ready for a kind of diplomatic sprint tomorrow here in Brussels.
And that is a message of urgency, a message, a message of the necessity of both unity on the Western alliance that has been so unified over the course of the last four weeks, but also the need for action. And that comes is there is very real, and you mentioned it, palpable concern about Russian use of chemical warfare.
The President mentioned it this morning saying it's a very real threat. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg mentioned it again today saying it was a concern, noting that it was going to be a significant topic of discussion tomorrow at the NATO meeting here, and it just underscores what we've heard repeatedly from U.S. officials over the course of the last couple of days as the Ukrainians have mounted some offensives, as they have continued to bog down any Russian advances.
The concern is what President Putin will do next, if backed into a corner? What will he end up moving towards? And for U.S. officials that concern is very real on the chemical weapons front right now -- Anderson.
COOPER: Sam, I mean, I'm not sure how much you know about the military, but what is the sense of their capabilities? How significant would an entry -- I mean, you mentioned it right before about it could tip the balance. Is it clear what kind of forces they actually have?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not yet clear that they will join. There is a presumption almost an assumption, certainly among Western analysts, and certainly the Ukrainians that they may well join, and not least because today, for example, a number of Ukrainian diplomats were expelled from Belarus, perhaps as a prelude to greater involvement.
Now, the scale of their military capabilities is substantial, they don't need that many to help the Russians. What the Russians really need is logistical support. They are fully committed almost all of their troops that were in Belarus. And now, inside the country, of course, they do have a logistics chain leading into Belarus. But there are other axis that they could come in on.
So if they came in in numbers of several thousands, they've got almost identical equipment to the Russian Armed Forces, they could punch in from further west along their border and draw off Ukrainian forces that would have to come to the defense of those locations, draw them off, perhaps from the defense of Kyiv, so they don't have to be overwhelming in order to be significant. I think that is the really seriously -- serious concern.
At the same time, the other concern for the Ukrainians is making sure that they get a steady flow of these sophisticated weapons, which are really helping them hold the Russians at bay from NATO -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, Sam Kiley, appreciate it. Ivan Watson and Phil Mattingly as well.
Next, more breaking news on something that Phil mentioned a moment ago, preparations at the White House for the worst contingency imaginable, how to respond if Vladimir Putin decides to use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
And later, a CNN exclusive, what American military officials had to say about their encounter in Moscow just last week with a Russian military commander.
COOPER: There is more breaking news tonight made especially given the part of President Biden's mission at tomorrow's NATO Summit is to discuss the threat that Russia might use weapons of mass destruction on Ukraine.
We are seeing "The New York Times" headline up on the screen there, quoting: "The White House has quietly assembled a team of National Security officials to sketch out scenarios of how the United States and its allies should respond if President Vladimir Putin of Russia, frustrated by his lack of progress in Ukraine, were determined to warn Western nations against intervening in the war unleashes his stockpiles of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons."
"The New York Times" David Sanger shares the byline. He is also a CNN political and national security analyst. He joins us now.
David, tell us more about what you and your colleagues are reporting tonight.
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, this White House has done a pretty good job in I think, in this case of trying to anticipate Putin's moves in a way that they didn't actually in the Afghanistan experience, which I think sort of informed them.
So back in the fall, they assembled what in the National Security Council is called a Tiger Team, a team from Defense Intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, and the National Security Council itself, to try to figure out what would happen if Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, what they could do to deter it, and then what they could do to respond to it. And of course, they failed to deter it, but that is why they had so many sanctions and weapons shipments ready.
Now that team has been reassembled, slightly different cast of participants. But the game right now is to figure out what Putin might do in the next month or two as he gets bogged down in the traditional military contest. And of course, as you've been hearing these warnings about chemical and biological weapons, and then while the White House won't talk about it as much, they are also examining the question of whether he might use a battlefield or a small tactical nuclear weapon mostly as a warning to the rest of the world to stay out of Ukraine.
COOPER: Is it clear to you what the response scenarios are that that -- I mean, how do they game this out? You know, obviously there are in government, in the military, there are war game scenarios where they play out strategic scenarios. This is kind of a different thing than that.
SANGER: It is, but it has got a lot of common roots in it. You know, there is a difference between this kind of scenario and what they traditionally do because you've got a risk here of nuclear escalation.
So when you do a war game, this out, what you want to avoid is some kind of situation where you are threatening ever larger responses, and they're coming back with ever larger nuclear options or chemical or biological options.
So you're looking for ways to de-escalate. Think about the Cuban Missile Crisis, right, where Kennedy went out of his way not to personalize his competition with Khrushchev, and sought some kind of face-saving deal for Khrushchev, which in that case, was removing missiles from Turkey -- American missiles from Turkey.
So I think what this administration is trying to do is figure out in advance what they would do in a case of biological or chemical and nuclear. It gets more complicated, because the President has said we would have to respond militarily if there was an attack on a NATO country. And of course, a chemical, biological, or nuclear explosion in in Ukraine could drift across the border.
SANGER: Is that massive aggression?
COOPER: David Sanger, it would be fascinating to be in on those meetings. I appreciate the reporting. Thank you so much.
I want to get some perspective now with someone who is no stranger to high profile, high stakes decision making, CNN national security analyst, James Clapper, retired Air Force Lieutenant General and former Director of National Intelligence.
James Clapper, appreciate you joining us. I wonder what your reaction is to this reporting by "The Times" that the Biden administration has formed his Tiger Team, they call it to kind of plan response scenarios.
How common is that?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's pretty common that you would set up a group of experts below the Deputies Committee level that would examine a particular problem and try to get in this case, game out what the Russian scenarios might be, what actions they might take, and then what we might do in reaction.
So, it is a traditional thing to do, and in this case, I think it's very prudent.
COOPER: What sort of scenarios do you believe could cause Vladimir Putin to resort to a chemical attack, biological, or even nuclear? Obviously, there would be a big difference between all of those?
CLAPPER: Well, for me, the most likely scenario, Anderson, would be if they succeeded in putting a city under siege, in other words, their strategy now, such as it is, appears to be acknowledging that their conventional assault has failed. So they'll standoff and bombard a city, Mariupol being a classic example, you know, level it, make it rubble, and then they deem it safe enough to march in with their troops and they would, I would anticipate still encounter resistance from the Ukrainians. That was a scenario in my mind that would occasion the use of chemical weapons.
Biological weapons, for me is another case, because you've always got the issue with bio weapons of blowback. In other words, fratricide, you know, that bio weapon could also haunt you and do bad things to your own people. Not that the Russians care that much about it. But I kind of put them in a separate, somewhat separate category.
So for me, the most likely scenario, as I say, would be a city siege and the use of chemical weapons in a situation like that.
COOPER: In a situation like that, I mean, what I understand is chemical weapons -- is it such a strategic -- I mean, is it militarily such a devastating strike, that it actually impacts the strategic setup on the battlefield? Or is it just, it's so terrifying and awful, that it breaks the back, it breaks the will of the population or the fighting population?
CLAPPER: Well, it kind of does both. And, of course, unfortunately, the Russians have a track record for using chemical weapons. And it obviously -- it can have devastating immediate impacts as a chemical actually affects the human body. And of course, it has profound psychological impact on a broader scale for those of people who weren't attacked, but the fact that they did it, I think would have a big -- so it's a psychological weapon as well.
COOPER: A senior U.S. Defense official has told CNN that the Ukrainians have pushed back Russian forces on the frontlines east of Kyiv, at the same time the official noted Russian troops were becoming more active in eastern Ukraine, we've seen going on in the offense in the Donbas region. Obviously, we've seen what is happening in Mariupol, and other places in the south. What does it suggest to you about the course of the war?
CLAPPER: Well, in my view, Anderson, I think the tide is beginning to turn here in favor of the Ukrainians, and if they can sustain this, and that means, we in NATO, providing them the weapons they need, the supplies they need, et cetera because the Russians are going to run out of manpower.
They didn't have enough combat power, initially, for the three or four thrusts when they first came in to Ukraine. They certainly don't have enough combat power to maintain control of villages and towns. And now that the Ukrainians are on the offensive, I think and -- you know, this momentum will build on their case.
Now, you know, we discussed the potential for Belarus to enter the war. Well, I think that would be a cause of problem for the Ukrainians just because whatever the numbers are, but from a quality standpoint, Belarusian soldiers, I think, are probably in lesser capability than the Russians.
So that's going to be more cannon fodder for the war targets for the Ukrainians.
COOPER: Director Clapper, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: Later, in a city trying to brace for a ground battle, preparing the earth for what all wars do while the morgues overflow. We will take you there.
COOPER: As we mentioned earlier NATO Military officials say up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, we can't confirm that number. The latest UN data from Monday suggests more than 900 civilians have been killed and nearly 1,500 injured. Again CNN can't independently verify those numbers either. And we don't have figures for the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed so far defending the country.
So with no end in sight to the violence though, officials are certainly preparing for the worst in many places.
CNN's Ivan Watson takes us to one city where life and death are now the very much the daily reality.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The (INAUDIBLE) military cemetery stands on a windswept field on the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. Rows of graves a reminder of the stark reality Ukraine has lived with for years.
(on-camera): All of these crosses marked the graves of Ukrainian soldiers killed fighting against Russian backed separatists in the Donbass region since 2014. And these are new graves for Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of this year.
MYKHAILO LYSENKO, DEPUTY MAYOR, DNIPRO UKRAINE: A lot of Ukrainian guys.
WATSON (voice-over): My guide here is Mykhailo Lysenko, Deputy Mayor of the City of Dnipro.
LYSENKO: It's Mihajlo (ph).
WATSON (on-camera): Yes.
LYSENKO: Very, very young men. Very, very young men.
WATSON (on-camera): Born in 1997.
LYSENKO: Yes, yes, yes. It's very hard for us, for our city and for people from Ukraine.
WATSON (voice-over): Nearby rows of freshly dug graves that are so far empty.
(on-camera): These are preparations in case there are more casualties.
WATSON (voice-over): This deadly war presents a bizarre challenge to Ukrainian officials like Lysenko. On the one hand, they have to fortify city defensives and support the armed forces. And at the same time provide basic services like garbage disposal, and running city buses.
LYSENKO: If you look on our threat, now we have a clean street. WATSON (on-camera): How do you manage a city and fight a war at the same time?
WATSON (voice-over): It's complicated, he says, but we have experienced because this is the second war we fought against Russia. The ground war has yet to reach the eastern city of Dnipro and its population of nearly 1 million inhabitants. Sometimes the city looks almost normal, though there is a strict 8:00 p.m. curfew and instead of advertisements, billboards defiantly curse at the Russian military. These days city officials carry guns.
(on-camera): This is because of the war that you have weapons.
LYSENKO: Yes, yes. It's a normal for me. It's a normal for me.
WATSON (on-camera): What Why is Ronald Reagan his portrait in your office?
LYSENKO: Yes. Because this guy he is a very charismatic (ph) guys. And these guys destroyed Soviet Union.
WATSON (voice-over): To see another side of the conflict, the Deputy Mayor brings me here to one of the city's morgues to see a parked refrigerator truck.
LYSENKO: And then just fridge they have 350 dead Russian soldiers in another mark (ph) we have 400. I cannot open this truck. Because in this truck, this fridge truck a lot of dead guys. I don't want to show his face, his legs, his any pieces of body.
WATSON (voice-over): Lysenko says, all of the dead Russian soldiers gathered from frontlines across eastern Ukraine are stored here it Dnipro before eventually being shipped to Kyiv.
(on-camera): Why is the Ukrainian government collecting the bodies of Russian soldiers?
LYSENKO: We cannot leave this body on our fields, on our streets or another place. It's not normal.
WATSON (voice-over): As we speak, we hear something in the sky.
LYSENKO: (INAUDIBLE) because this guy was innocent.
WATSON (on-camera): Where do we go?
Just now we have a little alert because there was a sound that Mykhailo says was sounded like a Russian drone.
(voice-over): War dead and the threat of enemy drones part of everyday life now in eastern Ukraine.
COOPER: And Ivan Watson joins us now. It's so fascinating to hear about running a city at a time like this. What did he tell you about the bus drivers in the city?
WATSON: Well I kept asking, you know, how do you keep the buses running on time and he said it's that's been a challenge because a lot of his bus drivers had previous experience. Driving tanks and armored personnel carriers, perhaps in the Soviet Army were in the early days of Ukrainian independence, and they volunteered to go back into the armed forces to operate armored vehicles.
So, he said that the city buses are operating at about 60% of normal capacity, because so many of these drivers are at the frontlines right now.
COOPER: Ivan Watson, appreciate it. Thank you. Be careful with your team. Thank you.
Just ahead, a CNN exclusive as fatalities among Russia's military rise, we've got a new report on a recent meeting between U.S. and Russian military officials a rare encounter with what U.S. officials described as an even rarer expression of emotion from a Russian General at the end of it. The details on that next.
COOPER: Given the estimated loss of as many as 15,000 Russian live so far on the war, according to NATO officials. Tonight CNN exclusive could be especially apt. It concerns a rare face to face meeting between Russian and U.S. military officials last week, which led to what was described by the American side is an outburst their word of emotion from a normally stoic Russian general according to a readout of the encounter obtained by CNN.
CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now with details, as well as what defense officials believe might say -- what it might say about morale.
So talk about when this was. It was a rare meeting between U.S. and Russian officials. What else was unusual about it?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right to point out that it is a rare meeting that there is a deconfliction line between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to Ukraine. That's pretty much just tested a couple of times a day. In person face to face meetings have been exceedingly rare since the beginning of Russia's invasion in late February. And this one, certainly very rare as well for how it developed the meeting. And we know what we know of it from a readout based on two defense attache is and their recollections and impressions was with among others Russian Major General Yevgeny Ilyin, he is known to be stoic. He comes in with notes, he hits his talking points, but he didn't come in with notes. And it's at the end of this meeting, according to the readout, that it becomes even more unusual.
According to the readout and these two defense attache is one person towards the end of the meeting casually asked the general about his Ukrainian background. And that's when this happened. According to the reader, the U.S. officials said the Generals stoic demeanor suddenly became flushed and agitated. Ilyin replied that he was born in Ukraine and went to school in Donetsk. And then, according to the readout, the situation in Ukraine, he said, is tragic, and I'm very depressed over it before Major General Yevgeny Ilyin walked out without shaking hands. That is the part that is unusual, as you said, certainly at the end of a meeting with someone with a major general who is known to be stoic and stick to his talking points.
COOPER: I mean, that could probably be read in a whole multitude of different ways. What -- why did he think that -- why did most their impression that about his reaction?
LIEBERMANN: You make an important point here and that we don't know the motivations specifically behind his reaction. His words are him walking out without shaking hands. This is purely the impression of the defense attaches, who were there for this meeting. But their impression of this their insight into what was happening here was that -- and they wrote this and the readout, the fire in his eyes and flustered demeanor left a chill down the spine. Meetings with these Russian officials are typically scripted. But the two attache said they had never quote, witnessed such an outburst by Russian counterparts at an official meeting. The readout by the officials concludes, at the very least, it's clear that morale problems among Russian forces are not limited to frontline troops.
So, there you go, a possible explanation why a Russian two star general gets so flustered at mention of this. The morale problems we've heard anecdotally affecting the troops on the ground in Ukraine, perhaps stretching much further than that, Anderson.
COOPER: Oren Liebermann, appreciate it. Thanks.
As we discussed earlier, key topic of the NATO Summit is determining what more allies can do to support Ukraine, particularly if Vladimir Putin decides to escalate the war,.
I'm joined now by journalists who spent much of his award winning career covering Russia, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker and author of Pulitzer Prize winning Lenin's Tomb, The Last Days Of The Soviet Empire.
David, first of all, just the, you know, talking about that general, it makes me wonder about who is around Vladimir Putin now? And what the makeup of, you know, people talking about the inner circle, I don't even know if he has an inner circle, because he has these long tables, so doesn't seem like anybody can get close to being in. But what do -- you how do you see the decision making process in Russia now?
DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: This is a personalist regime. It's as close to a one person regime as you can get. The inner circle has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller over the years. Now, this incident with the general is interesting, and it's open to interpretation of them, it seems he's disillusion, but we don't have to rely on that story to know that there's great dissolution in the wider circles surrounding Putin. We've heard the oligarch Mikhail Fridman and (INAUDIBLE) talk about their dissolution. Today we saw Anatoly Chubals, very unpopular figure in Russia because of his role in the privatization plan in the '90s. But somebody who was reasonably close to Putin, not the inner circle, but he resigned, and we know exactly why he resigned because his wife also signed a petition against the war. And now Anatoly Chubals is in Turkey.
We know for example, that that Putin has felt compelled to make moves on the fifth director of the FSB, the inheritor bureaucracy of the KGB, because of his deep displeasure with them. There is tension, and there's no question that the intelligence services of the west the United States and Europe would love to see a really high level defection particularly within the security services or the military. But that is yet to come.
COOPER: It's interesting though, because I mean obviously Vladimir Putin really has nobody to blame but himself for this. I mean, it's not as if he can say, well, I had terrible advice from my people telling me, you know, to go into Ukraine, I mean, this is the system he has set up to only receive information that he wants and to have his opinion, mirrored back to him.
REMNICK: Well, in his terms, the invasion of the occupation of Crimea went smoothly, with no real kick back from the west. And then he obviously he's had through proxies waged a battle in eastern Ukraine that's been going on for now, eight years where 50,000 people have died. And very little reaction in the West, this is an entirely different situation. And he's blown up his relationship with the world. He's cratered his own economy. He's cut off Russia from the greater world not only for the last three weeks and weeks to come, but possibly for a generation.
The repercussions of this are intense, and the idea was to somehow bring Ukraine into the fold of Russia and create this imperial reconstruction of Russia, Ukraine, Belarusian, and all the rest. Well, he has gained the hatred of Ukrainian generations for many, many years to come. I don't know how this will ever be forgiven. It repercussions up to romance (ph).
COOPER: I've been also so interested in, you know, everybody I met in Ukraine, just about who had relatives in Russia, all said the same thing, which is, you know, my father doesn't believe I'm in a bomb shelter with my wife, and my kids, my brother doesn't believe, you know, that my mom is in danger in Mariupol. And is, you know, won't get him out of the bomb shelter. I mean, the (INAUDIBLE) --
REMNICK: No, it's -- that's absolutely true. And it's in, you know, when we thought think about the information silo of Russia. And we think about it with amazement with the way he's cut this off. Remember, we live in a country here in the United States, where even with a variety of news outlets, on television, on the internet, and in print and so on, still, a large percentage of this population of the American population thinks that the election was stolen to 40%, I believe the figure is.
So, it's not hard to imagine with a much, much more radically different media universe controlled almost completely by the government and increasingly so in Russia, a very high percentage of the Russian population so far is blocked off from the realities of what's happening in Ukraine.
However, the younger generation in Russia, at least the our generation that has an urge to know, and a little bit of technical capability to use a VPN for example, or to read a newspaper like Novaya Gazeta has some access to what's going on in the greater world. And that has a way of, you know, sort of filtering into society. I don't think it's possible to maintain a 100% old style North Korean information blockade for a country like Russia for very long. I just do not.
COOPER: David Remnick, appreciate talking to you. Thank you.
REMNICK: Good to talk to you.
COOPER: Just ahead, we'll take a look at the similarities between this war and a different invasion that ended in humanitarian defeat for Russia. Details on that ahead.
COOPER: We previously discussed whether Russia ever would cut its losses and pull out of this war and there's certainly precedent for that then Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan 1979 share some similarities with Russia's attack on Ukraine not just in how the war began or the support role played by the United States but in how many Russian soldiers died.
CNN's Nic Robertson looks at both wars.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Nearly 43 years ago, Moscow ordered troops into Afghanistan over the following decade, some 15,000 Soviet Red Army soldiers would die there, their war and eventual retreat led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the death toll of Russian troops in Ukraine could already match those killed over 10 years in Afghanistan, 498 dead in the first week of war, according to Russia's Defense Ministry. And despite no update since NATO official say after a month of fighting, the Russian death toll is now as many as 15,000.
Across dozens of Russian cities, more than 15,000 people have been arrested for protesting the war. Recently anxious parents of troops have begun showing up. Putin's Achilles heel is the perception soldiers are dying unnecessarily. It's why his tightened reporting laws and swamped Russia with Kremlin propaganda. And it's why the Ukrainian military shows off battlefield games like knocking out Russian tanks or captured Russian soldiers because they know bad press back home is what got the Red Army out of Afghanistan.
What sucked for the Soviets in the '80s was the Afghans determination to fight for their homeland and that the United States supply the Afghan fighters with Stinger surface (INAUDIBLE) missiles. The shoulder launch weapons turned the tide of the war Russian helicopters were easy prey they lost air superiority, and with it the will to endure high casualties and anger back home.
Two years after an ignominious pull out in 1989, the economic cost of war overpowered the ailing Soviet economy, and seven decades of communist rule collapsed. Afghan parallels with today's war in Ukraine are clear. Like the Afghans, the Ukrainians are ferociously battling to save their homeland from Moscow's army. And as they did with the Afghan fighters, the U.S. and allies are supplying the Ukrainian army with U.S. made Stinger missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters and jets with success.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: The airspace is contested. And it's contested because the Ukrainians are making it that way. And they're being very smart about how they're marshalling and using their air defense resources.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Tank busting U.S. made Javelin missiles are also helping Ukraine keep Putin's army at bay. Russia's enemies, if not Russia, have learned the lessons of the Afghan war. No one yet though predicting the collapse of Putin's power.
COOPER: Nic Robertson joins us now from Brussels side of the NATO summit that starts tomorrow. It is extraordinary to think that I mean, if the NATO figures correct and 15,000 Russian soldiers have so far died, that's the number of all Soviet troops who died in Afghanistan. That's incredible.
ROBERTSON: Yes, that's a staggering number. I mean, it should be sobering for the Kremlin, and certainly be sobering for all those families and sobering for NATO as well, to realize that if that's the death toll that Putin is a, aware of it and b, prepared to carry on. And that perhaps indicates, you know, what are the fundamental differences between where Putin is at the moment and where the Soviet Union was, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, back then, in 1989, and 1991, when he was turfed out of power. The Communist Party had been sort of collapsing, eroding and the Russian people, Soviet people knew that it was busted.
Putin is in a different place is built a hard shell around himself, is quite isolated. It's a weakness. But his still had until recently, relatively decent popularity in Russia, over 60% those are Kremlin figures, but they've been pretty consistent over the past few years. So, it perhaps gives you the sense that he thinks that he can endure these losses and try to get those military gains on the ground, which are very clearly at the moment Kyiv and the south of Ukraine.
And perhaps more after that, he perhaps feels that he has the popularity or the ability to endure more suffering in the battlefield. But it is easy to see how the tide of that can shift.
COOPER: Yes, very quickly. Nic Robertson, appreciate it.
Coming up, more on the war in Ukraine, including a look at the surprising effectiveness of the country's air force which had been counted out at the beginning of the invasion.