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U.S. President Joe Biden Soon to Ban Russian Oil Imports; Number of Refugees from Ukraine Reaches 2 Million. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 08, 2022 - 11:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news. The White House is about to take more aggressive steps to punish Russia for its deadly invasion in Ukraine. We are moments away from President Biden announcing the U.S. will ban all Russian energy imports into the U.S., including oil, natural gas and coal.

That move will further cripple the already struggling Russian economy and also comes as Russian forces continue their relentless attacks on civilians, many of whom are simply trying to flee the war at this point.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. He's live in the White House Briefing Room and here with me is CNN economics and political commentator Catherine Rampell.

John, he's expected to announce a big change from just days ago.

What's gone on behind the scenes?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What's gone on, Kate, is steadily, over the last weeks of this war, the window of possibility for what the United States, the European Union, NATO are willing to do has kept widening in response to Russian atrocities.

They started with a milder set of economic sanctions; those have steadily gotten more severe, sanctions on the Russian central bank, on major Russian financial institutions, oligarchs.

And now this step, the allies have been especially reluctant to take, because energy prices are already high in the United States and in Europe. And they know that this step of banning American imports is going to have an effect. It's already had an effect on prices.

Nevertheless, politically, they don't have any choice because so much pressure has built up over Russia's behavior that the resistance has crumbled to taking this step.

We expect to hear from Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, in this hour; European countries are going to announce more graduated steps. But this is a reflection of what Russia is doing.

And even if it hurts politically -- and it will hurt politically the American administration -- President Biden feels it doesn't have any choice.

BOLDUAN: Catherine, as John was alluding to, the E.U. is saying it's cutting gas imports from Russia by two-thirds this year.

What's the collective impact of this?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The E.U. is much more dependent on Russian energy, both natural gas and oil. That's going to be really painful for European countries because they're already seeing high energy prices.

If it's, you know, if they need a lot of energy because it's unusually cold, for example, that's going to be extremely expensive for European consumers if they have to abstain, at least in part, from the normal energy they can purchase. So it will drive prices higher.

BOLDUAN: John, as you were talking about kind of the political price here, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, if that's where the Biden administration goes to fill the gaps, how complicated is this going to get?

HARWOOD: It's very complicated because those are repugnant regimes as well. That's why there's heavy U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran as well. The U.S. is also reaching out to Saudi Arabia, which has a terrible record on human rights. But there are only bad options in this situation.

The world is dependent, remains dependent on oil and gas and there are finite places to get it. And once you start sanctioning a major producer like Russia, even if it's a relatively minor part of American imports, it has an impact on the market that has an impact on consumers, that has an impact on political attitudes.

But as I indicated earlier, they have less and less choice in the matter, because of the political pressure.

One of the things you have to wonder is, as this war goes on, does that erode the constraints on deployment of American military power and NATO military power?

Hasn't yet; that's a line that they have held so far but you've got to wonder how much that pressure creates a desire for change.

BOLDUAN: And it will be important and interesting to hear what the president's message is, what his tone is, because he's got obviously multiple audiences, a message to Vladimir Putin and a message to Ukraine and European allies and a message to Americans, obviously, because as you said, this is going to impact every American.

What can the Biden administration do to protect Americans from gas prices soaring even further, with the understanding that forever we have known that there's not a lot any administration can do quickly?


RAMPELL: That's the issue here, as John pointed out, the options are lose, lose, lose. Either we look weak with regard to Putin or we make a deal with a different devil, Venezuela, Saudi, Iran, for example. Or American consumers absorb a lot more pain.

And there's no free lunch here. I think you hear a lot of Republicans arguing there's a free lunch. Oh, we can ramp up the U.S. supply but that's a fantasy, at least in the very near term. There's a long lag between the time that an oil producer gets out a rig, for example, leases a new rig and we actually get additional supply online.

So no matter what, there's going to be pain in the near term. Biden needs to essentially prepare Americans for that additional pain and say this is the sacrifice we're making. We're not your sending sons and daughters abroad to spill their blood.

But there's an economic sacrifice you'll have to make, because prices are going to go up. There are no good options here.

BOLDUAN: John, correct me if I'm wrong, polling has shown Americans seem open to paying more at the pump, at least saying that maybe before it's happened, in order to do something in Ukraine, to do something to stop Vladimir Putin.

But gas prices and inflation in general are, have already been an issue for this administration, even before the war in Ukraine.

HARWOOD: That's right. It's one thing to give that answer to a pollster, saying, should you be willing to sacrifice to help Ukraine, that sounds like the right answer.

It's entirely another thing to consider the effect on public and political attitudes when those prices go up. There's nothing harder for a politician to do than to tell his constituents, I'm doing something that's going to hurt you in the pocketbook. Here's why it's worth it. That's the challenge facing Joe Biden right now.

BOLDUAN: That's called leadership.

Catherine, is there a move for Russia here?

Can Russia retaliate?

RAMPELL: Russia has already threatened to retaliate by saying, you don't want our oil?

Fine, we're not going to sell it to you.

You don't want our natural gas?

We're not going to sell it to you.

More painful for Europe than the U.S. because it's much more dependent on Russia for energy. So Putin could do that. It will be really painful for Russia.

So who knows if he's actually bluffing here?

He's willing to endure the crippling effects it would have on the lifeblood of his economy but this is not a rational guy. That's what we've learned day after day in this war, that it's very hard to reason with him. We don't know how he's going to react to this external pressure and if he's going to escalate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Catherine, thank you.

Catherine and John are going to be sticking with us. We are standing by any minute to hear from President Biden and his message to the American people, people of Ukraine as well as Vladimir Putin. We'll bring that to you live, this big announcement coming from President Biden any moment.

In the meantime, American consumers, as we've been discussing, already facing record pain at the pump. The national average reached an all- time high of $4.17 according to AAA. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has another perspective on this, live with more on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Vanessa, what are you hearing there about what we've been discussing here so far, the real impact of this new ban, the real impact of high gas prices already?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Americans woke up this morning, Kate, to record high gas prices. We saw a 10 cent jump overnight up to $4.17 a gallon, right behind me, 10 cents more, $4.27 a gallon.

A 10 cent jump is a lot for a month and we saw this just in 24 hours. And we saw a 55 cent jump in prices in just the last week. These prices are rising faster than they did in 2008.

But just to put it into perspective for you, Kate, if we are looking at adjusting for inflation, prices were actually higher in 2008 than they are today. But the U.S. buys about 8 percent of its total energy from Russia. So not a huge amount compared to somewhere like the European Union, which buys a lot more.

So if you look at it globally, if the European Union decides to do something similar as to what President Biden is going to be doing in his announcement, stopping all Russian imports of energy into the country, that could have a significant ripple effect on the global energy market than pushing prices here at home at the pump a lot higher, Kate. But as you mentioned, people we've spoken to over the last couple of

weeks, they're OK paying higher prices if it means holding Russia accountable for what they're doing in Ukraine. But these prices are likely going to creep higher. We'll see the next week or so, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Big unknown: do any of these moves change Putin's behavior, change the way he's acting right now?

Vanessa, thank you so much.

Let's turn now to the latest in Ukraine, the frantic efforts to safely evacuate civilians.


BOLDUAN: The Ukrainian government and Russia have agreed to a humanitarian corridor out of the besieged northern city of Sumy. That deal, though, happened just hours after a Russian airstrike there killed 21 people, including two children.

At this moment, the cease-fire appears to be holding. CNN's Alex Marquardt is live near Kyiv with the very latest.

What's happening there now, Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Kate. All eyes are on this northeastern city of Sumy, where around 10:30 last night, civilians were killed, including two children.

Russia claimed it was going to be agreeing to a cease-fire or imposing a cease-fire on five different Ukrainian cities to allow people to evacuate through these humanitarian corridors.

Now most of these corridors, we should note, would allow Ukrainians to go into Russia, into Belarus. Those are the two countries, the last countries that they would want to be going to, because those are the countries that launched the invasion against Ukraine with Russian troops.

The one corridor that Ukraine has agreed to out of Sumy goes to another Ukrainian city and it does appear that it is working. We do know that hundreds of people have been able to make it out of that city, namely around 700 Indian students.

There are a number of non-Ukrainians in that city, including, according to the Russians, Indians, Chinese, Tunisians and Jordanians. We've seen them getting onto buses and to vans out of that city. It appears that that evacuation route is going to be open until around 9:00 pm local time.

So just another, around two hours or three hours from now. Kate. At the same time, down in the southern port city of Mariupol, it appears that the evacuations there are not going as well as up north.

That city, according to the foreign minister, is besieged on all sides. There's some 300,000 people, he says, who are being held hostage. A humanitarian convoy was hit by a Russian attack on its way down into Mariupol. So the violence is continuing.

And it's indiscriminate, not hitting not only residential areas like the one in Sumy but we understand in another city called Izyum, near the border with Russia, a hospital in the center of the city also was killed (sic). We don't know the number of casualties -- sorry; was also hit -- we don't know the number of casualties, the number of people killed there.

But even amid talks of a cease-fire and all of this discussion around humanitarian corridors, the violence is continuing. Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's why it's so confusing, it's completely contradictory. Good to see you, Alex. Thank you so much.

For the first time since the Russian invasion began nearly two weeks ago, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is addressing the public from his office in Kyiv. Zelenskyy making it clear he's not afraid and he's not going anywhere. He also had harsh words for world leaders saying, their inaction amounts to, quote, "genocide."

CNN's Sam Kiley is in Dnipro with more.

Zelenskyy will have more to say in the next hour or so as well.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very extraordinary development in terms of British protocol. He'll be addressing both Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

I understand, through the House of Commons, which in itself an unusual event, and this, of course, being part of his ongoing campaign to drum up support for a no-fly zone over Ukrainian territory.

The no-fly zone has been rejected out of hand by NATO as a whole and by individual members of NATO because, of course, if it was imposed by NATO, it would immediately bring NATO fighter pilots into direct conflict with Russian fighter pilots.

In other words, it would bring them into a war and then, of course, the consequences of that would be a third world war. But from the Ukrainian perspective, this hardly matters, given the extent to which they are being hammered from the air.

The Ukrainians do still have aircraft flying. They do not yet -- they have not surrendered the air completely to Russia.

And the longer they're hanging in there, the more they're calling for this movement of a potential shipment of former Soviet-era aircraft from Poland into Ukraine, which would be a significant game-changer, perhaps hold off the call for a no-fly zone. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Sam, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, President Biden is about to make a big announcement, banning Russian oil imports into the United States. We're going to bring you that live as soon as it begins, that's next.





BOLDUAN: We're following breaking news. Ukrainians fleeing from the besieged northern city of Sumy after an agreement with Russia to create an evacuation route to get them out safely.

So far, Russia appears to be honoring that temporary cease-fire. Got a lot of questions about this. CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks and CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier.

General Marks, now the corridor, so far, the route out of Sumy is holding. But all previous attempts at safe passage routes have been sabotaged in an attack. We know that.

What does it mean if this one holds?

What does it tell you?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I really don't think, if this one holds, it tells us anything, other than the Russian targeting is now screwed up.


MARKS: I'm being quite frank here. Russians would love, the Russian forces would love to have more migrants moving along the different humanitarian corridors and they demonstrated they want to use those as targets. So I'm being very cynical here but, honest, if this corridor held, it's because the Russians couldn't target it.

BOLDUAN: That's really interesting.

Kim, I mean, this came after, this corridor in Sumy, after a Russian airstrike killed 21 civilians in that city. If Russia's bombing continuously and indiscriminately, why would they agree to a humanitarian corridor in good faith?

I guess I'm joining Spider in the cynicism here.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I have to chime in on that, the skepticism about Russia's intentions. This seems to be a sort of psychological operation in that, think about it. If you target civilians in various cities, you create the desire to leave.

And then you provide a way out but target some of them. Then next time there's an opportunity that the international community says is real, like what is happening in the past several hours, allowing people out of Sumy, what happens is it's not just the women and children who leave, now the men are going to escort them to safety and not be part of the territorial defense because they're worried that their families might get targeted along these routes.

What's the result?

Fewer people left behind to resist the Russian forward advance. Meanwhile, though, by opening some of these routes or allowing or pretending to open some of these routes, it makes Russia look like it's cooperating diplomatically.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

And General, on the bigger question, as Ukrainians continue to ask for a no-fly zone, 27 foreign policy experts wrote an open letter to President Biden and the international community, calling for them to establish a limited no-fly zone in Ukraine surrounding what we're talking about, these humanitarian corridors.

What would that look like?

What do you think of that?

MARKS: Well, I don't know how you create a limited no-fly zone. You're either pregnant or you're not. There's a no-fly zone or there's not. In order to have a no-fly zone -- and if it was limited in nature, it would have to be very narrowly described. The rules of engagement would have to be established.

There would have to be notices to all airmen; in other words, Russian aircraft as well would have to know that these particular corridors, where you are not allowed to fly over them at certain altitudes, what that means is if that there's a violation, there's now going to be an engagement.

So I don't see that a limited no-fly zone really is a possibility only because you'd have zero way to enforce it based on, I mean, if there was any type of a violation.

BOLDUAN: Right, because then you're engaging.

Kim, the Biden administration has been clear, NATO has been clear. This is not on the table in terms of a no-fly zone.

Is it clear to you though, what, if anything, would tip the scales when it comes to a no-fly zone?

DOZIER: It would have to be some sort of a massive attack on -- that flattened a whole city, something like that and then create outrage to the point where the public in the U.S., in Europe, is willing to risk the possibility of a third World War If NATO jets and Russian jets somehow conflicted in the skies, as Spider is describing.

I don't think the various populations are ready for that. Unfortunately, time is on Russia's side in that, the longer this stretches on, the more people get sort of image fatigue to images of war and they're more risk averse. They'll cluck. They'll say this is terrible.

But I don't know how much they'll want to put themselves in harm's way or their troops in harm's way. That goes for Americans and Europeans.

BOLDUAN: And let's add into this, right now, General, according to the Pentagon, Russia has already committed, in the way it's described, as quote-unquote, nearly 100 percent of the combat power that had been staged on the border of Ukraine and in Belarus.

If that's the case, what does that mean about where this is headed now?

MARKS: Yes, to put it in gambling terms, Russia has pushed all their chips on the table, which is completely against their doctrine. They want to create echelons and echelons. One echelon comes in and is, it reaches what's called a culmination point. And then the next one rolls in and it's supported by artillery.

So by doctrine, the Russians would really love to be able to be in a position and declare that they're validating their doctrine. They have completely, from their perspective, their internal evaluations, they've hosed this thing up big time.


MARKS: They're exposed. They're not prepared. They don't know what they're doing. They are exposed. What that means is that there's a level of desperation and, Kate, what we're seeing --


BOLDUAN: Spider, I'm just going to jump in right now because we need to head back to the White House right now. Thank you both so much.

President Biden about to announce the U.S. banning imports of Russian oil in response to the war in Ukraine.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS) JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- main artery of Russia's economy. We're banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy. That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine.

This is a move that has strong bipartisan support in Congress and, I believe, in the country. Americans have rallied to support their Ukrainian people and made it clear, we will not be part of subsidizing Putin's war.

We made this decision in close consultation with our allies and our partners around the world, particularly in Europe because a united response to Putin's aggression has been my overriding focus, to keep all NATO and all the E.U. and our allies totally united.

We're moving forward with this ban, understanding that many of our European allies and partners may not be in a position to join us. The United States produces far more oil domestically than all the European countries combined.

In fact, we're a net exporter of energy. So we can take this step when others cannot. But we're working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long-term strategy to reduce their dependence on Russian energy as well.

Our teams are actively discussing how to make this happen and, today, we remain united, we remain united in our purpose to keep pressure mounting on Putin and his war machine.

This is a step that we're taking to inflict further pain on Putin. But there will be cost as well here in the United States. I said I would level with the American people from the beginning.

And when I first spoke to this, I said defending freedom is going to cost. It's going to cost us as well in the United States. Republicans and Democrats understand -- alike understand that. Republicans and Democrats alike have been clear that we must do this.

Over the last week, I spoke with President Zelenskyy several times to hear from him about the situation on the ground and consult and continue to consult with our European allies and about U.S. support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

Thus far, we have provided more than $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. Shipments of defensive weapons are arriving in Ukraine every day from the United States. And we, in the United States, are the ones coordinating delivery of our allies and partners of similar weapons, from Germany to Finland to the Netherlands. We're working that out.

We're also providing humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people, both those still in Ukraine and those who have fled safely to a neighboring country. We are working with humanitarian organizations to surge tens of thousands of tons of food, water, medical supplies into Ukraine and with more on the way.

Over the weekend, I sent Secretary Blinken to visit our border -- the border between Poland and Ukraine and to Moldova, to see what the situation was firsthand and report back.

General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our Defense Department, is also -- was also in Europe, meeting with his counterparts and allies on NATO's eastern flank to reassure them those countries bordering Russia, the NATO countries, that we will keep our NATO commitment, a sacred commitment of Article 5.

The Vice President Harris will travel to meet with our allies in Poland and Romania later this week as well. I made it clear, the United States will share in the responsibility of caring for the refugees so that the costs do not fall entirely on the European countries bordering Ukraine.

And yesterday, I spoke with my counterparts in France, Germany and the United Kingdom about Russia's escalating violence against Ukraine and the steps that we're going to take, together with our allies and partners around the world, to respond to this aggression.

We are enforcing the most significant package of economic sanctions in history and it's causing significant damage to Russia's economy. It has caused Russian economy to, quite frankly, crater. The Russian ruble is now down to 50 percent, by 50 percent since Putin announced his war.

One ruble is now worth less than one American penny. One ruble, less than one American penny and preventing Russia's central bank from propping up the ruble and to keep its value up.

They're not going to be able to do that now. We cut the Russians' largest banks from the international financial system and it's crippled their ability to do business with the rest of the world.