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Biden Visits U.S. Troops In Poland Near Ukraine Border; Biden To Meet With Ukrainian Refugees Tomorrow In Poland. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Biden just met with U.S. troops along NATO's eastern flank in Poland as the alliance shores up its defenses. The White House announced that Biden will be meeting with Ukrainian refugees tomorrow, and also that he will be delivering what they call a major address.

The U.N. says more than 3.7 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine since Russia invaded, the vast majority of them ending up in Poland. This morning, though, we are also seeing the first video coming in from inside Mariupol theater that was hit by a Russian air -- by Russian airstrikes nine days ago. You can see the damage inside, the dust, the debris as men, women, and children try to escape what had become a very large bomb shelter. And now officials say that they believe 300 people were killed in this attack.

There was also intense fighting overnight, Ukrainian forces making gains east of Kyiv, while Russian forces claim that they have taken out Ukraine's largest remaining fuel depot. Let's begin now with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's live in Warsaw, Poland, following President Biden's trip. Kaitlan coming off of the meeting of with NATO allies, this is a very different part of the trip for the President.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is. But it's reflecting the other side of this invasion and highlighting the humanitarian crisis that is in caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, were over 3 million people have been displaced from their homes in Ukraine. A lot of them have come here to Poland, where we are now, where President Biden is now. Obviously, you just saw him greeting troops from the 82nd Airborne Division. Those are forces that have been placed here bolstered here in Poland, because they're here to help reassure NATO allies who are concerned about the level of Russian aggression.

And so the President was there meeting with them, thanking them for being here, of course, just showing appreciation for them being here in Poland, not just Poland, but several other NATO allies on the eastern flank here as well. And this is all happening as the President Biden is then going to get a briefing on the humanitarian aspect of this and the refugees over 2 million of them, Kate, who have crossed over into Poland since this invasion began.

And of course, the efforts there not only to help process them and get them out of Ukraine, but now what to do, given they cannot go home. And so this comes on the heels of President Biden announcing in Brussels that the United States will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the United States. Obviously, it's a smaller number than what you're seeing happen here in Europe. But it's a really big number for the United States given that's more than the total refugees, the United States has accepted in recent years.

And so you are seeing the first half of this trip really focused on diplomacy, unity among the NATO allies. You're seeing the second part of this focus on the U.S. forces that are here, the NATO forces that are here in Eastern Europe, as well as focusing on these refugees. And we should go President Biden is expected to come face to face with some of these Ukrainian refugees tomorrow before he gives a major speech, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Kaitlan, thank you so much. So President Biden will be getting as Kaitlan just mentioned, a firsthand look at just some of the devastating toll Putin's war is taking on Ukrainian civilians. The White House says he's going to be meeting with refugees tomorrow. Let's focus there. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Rzeszow Poland with more on that. Melissa, what is the President going to see? And what is he going to hear about this humanitarian crisis tomorrow?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of those tragic stories that we've been hearing over the course of the last few weeks along this very border, because where we are where the President is right now, we're just 60 miles, Kate, from the Ukrainian border. And this is, of course, as Kaitlan was just saying, one of those borders across which Ukrainian refugees have fled most readily.

And what we're talking about are women and children, you know, standing night after night on this border. We've been really amazed by the number of women coming through with their children, carrying what little they can, fleeing extraordinary scenes of violence in some of those particularly hard hit besieged towns. So you're talking about women are often accompanied by several children, with harrowing stories behind them, carrying very little and with a bewildering journey ahead of them since until now, and until a lot of this aid could get coordinated, there was a lot of uncertainty in terms of where they were going again, they were going to end up.

Of course, Putin, Kate, as you can imagine, is really borne the lion's share over those numbers. And this is a country where the services are beginning to buckle under the pressure. So when President Biden leaves that stadium where he's been meeting with the 82nd Airborne Division speaking to them while they had their meal, he'll be heading to this airport just behind me where he arrived earlier today to meet with the Polish president. He was slightly delayed after a technical error prevented him from leaving Warsaw rather forced him to return and make an emergency landing.

[11:05:20] That meeting will take place here. And then of course, President Biden will meet with USAID but also with other humanitarian organizations, not just about efforts to relieve the refugees on this side of the border. But the efforts that are being made to help the many millions of people inside Ukraine that are in desperate need of humanitarian help, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Melissa, thank you very much.

Before heading to Poland, President Biden and European allies announced a new effort to cut imports of Russian energy to Europe. The President says that this new task force will allow European nations to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas and also help deprive Putin's profits that he says, quote, drive his war machine. CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Brussels with more on this. Nic, how will this new task force actually work?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the idea is that the United States will strive to ensure, so this isn't a guarantee, but strive to ensure a supply of 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas by the end of the year. Of course, Europe, heavily dependent on liquefied natural gas from Russia at the moment, the E.U. is saying that this contribution, this supply from the United States should cut by about two-thirds of their dependence on Russian gas by the end of the year.

It is hugely important because European leaders at the moment are suffering like many countries around the world, are suffering from high energy prices. And this is something that's a real divisive issue within the European Union itself. And as President Biden looks to strengthen sanctions against Russia, one of the best ways to target the Russian economy and President Putin is to stop buying Russia's petroleum products. But it's a difficult decision for the European Union.

And of course, it's hugely important because as President Biden says, and this is how he framed it. This is what's helping fund Putin's war machine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're coming together to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy. Putin has issued Russia's energy resources to coerce and manipulate its neighbors. And so he's used it. He's used the profits to drive his war machine.


ROBERTSON: But I think at the moment, you know, Europe is still leery until that money actually comes through until that --

BOLDUAN: We're going to jump back over to Poland right now. I'm so sorry, Nic, because President Biden is speaking right now with the troops.

BIDEN: You know, I've been saying this a long time and the people who travel with me know that because I was a senator for 36 years, the Foreign Relations Committee, traveled around the world, and eight years as Vice President, and now President.

And, you know, a couple things, first of all, thank you. You represent 1 percent of the American people. None of you have to be here. You all decided to be here for your country. Every one of you volunteered. Every single one of you stepped up. And the rest of the 99 percent of the rest of the country, including me, owes you and owes you big, number one.

Number two, you know, we're a unique country in many ways. And we're the only country, the only country in the world not based, organized based on geography or ethnicity or religion or race or anything else, we're based on an idea. Literally the only country in the world based on an idea that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all women and men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.

Sounds corny, but it's the truth of who we are. We've never lived up to it, but we never walked away from it. And the rest of the world looks to us. Because, you know, we not only lead by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. And your generation combines both.

The rest of the world looks at you and sees who you are. They see you are a multi-ethnic group of Americans that are, in fact, together and united into one so -- resolve: to defend your country and to help those who need help. That's why you're here.

I spent a lot of time in Ukraine when I was a senator and vice president. I've spoken to the Rada in the days when they, in fact, didn't have what you'd call a democracy, and was there in the Maidan when the former leader had to take off and head into Russia.

And so, you know, with the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian people have a lot of backbone. They have a lot of guts. And I'm sure you're observing it. And I don't mean just their military, which is -- we've been training since back when they, Russia moved into the -- in the southeast Ukraine but also the average citizen. Look at how they're stepping up. Look at how they're stepping up.


And you're going to see when you're there. And you -- some of you have been there. You're going to see, you're going to see women, young people standing, standing the middle of -- in front of a damn tank, just saying, I'm not leaving. I'm holding my ground. They're incredible. But they take a lot of inspiration from us.

And, you know, the woman who just died, the Secretary of State, used to have an expression. She said, we are the essential nation. It sounds like a bit of a hyperbole, but the truth of the matter is you are the organizing principle around which the rest of the world is, the free world is moving.

We're in the midst of, and I don't want to sound too philosophic here, but you're in the midst of a fight between democracies and oligarchs. Xi Jinping who I've spent more time with, they tell me, than any other world leader, points out to me that he believes, in China, that democracies can't succeed in the 21st century. The reason is things are moving so fast, change is happening so quickly that democracies require consensus and we can't put together consensus as quickly as autocrats can.

So what's at stake not just in what we're doing here in Ukraine to try to help the Ukrainian people and keep the massacre from continuing but beyond that, what's at stake is, what's -- what are your kids and grandkids going to look like in terms of their freedom? What's happening? The last 10 years, there have been fewer democracies that have been formed than we've lost in the world.

So this is -- what you're engaged in is much more than just whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine. We're in a new phase, your generation. We're at an inflection point. About every four or five generations, there comes along a change, a fundamental change takes place. The world ain't going to be the same, not because of Ukraine, but not going to be the same 10, 15 years from now in terms of our organizational structures.

So the question is, who is going to prevail? Are democracies going to prevail on the -- and the values we share? Or are autocracies going to prevail? And that's really what's at stake. So what you're doing is consequential, really consequential.

And as I said to the group in the dining room, you call it the chow, mess hall. The fact of the matter is that you are the finest, this is not hyperbole, you are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. Let me say it again, the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

Part of the reason is you've had to fight so much for the last 20 years. It's for real. There's not many generations, you know, the Greatest Generation was my father's generation, your grandparents' generation, World War II generation. But nobody, no other generation has had to be in a battle, have your buddy blown up, wipe the blood off the Humvee and get back in and saddle up and go for another six months.

The second time I've flew in, I've been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan about 40 time, 30-something times -- 38 times. And every time I'd go in, I'd see like the last time I flew in and I flew in on the -- I went up in the cockpit. I was landing Bagram. And I -- there were six people who came up with the cargo, basically when I was flying. And I said, how many of you is this tour first tour of duty? Not one person raised their hand. Second tour? Not one person. Third tour of duty? Three. Fourth? One. Fifth one and sixth one? That's never happened before.

One thing to go in and be in the middle of a battle, go home, and get sent back again. And so, one of the things that I've said, and I've gotten in trouble for saying it, but not anymore, I've been saying it since I got elected, we have a sacred obligation, only one obligation in this government. We have a lot of obligations to the elderly, the poor, children, et cetera, but only one sacred obligation, to equip those that we send to war and to care for them and their families when they come home.

And so, you all are amazing group of women and men, and I just want to thank you for your service. As your Commander-in-Chief, I mean it from the bottom of my heart. And as I said, it's not new to me. I -- my son spent a year in Iraq. He spent six months in Kosovo. He won the Bronze Star, the Conspicuous Service Medal, and other awards. Proudest thing he ever did was put that uniform on.

Like many of you, he didn't have to go either. He was the Attorney General of the State of Delaware and in the Delaware National Guard. And what happened was, when his unit was going to be sent overseas, he had to go to Washington to get a -- an equivalent of a dispensation because you either had to be federal property or state property. He was the Attorney General of the state, he had to give up the office in order to be able to go with his troops.


The point is that there are hundreds of thousands of people like my son, like all of you. So thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And it's not only what you're doing to help the Ukrainian people, it's not only what you're doing to help Europe begin to gain and regain its confidence.

The reason why, when the general, when the Secretary of State asked me if I'd send another 12,000 troops along to the United States, I said, yeah, from the United States. We have 100,000 American forces here in Europe. We haven't had that long, long time because we are the organizing principle for the rest of the world.

And I said, we've sent the best, the best available in America. And that's all of you women and men. So I'm here. I came for one simple, basic reason, not a joke, to say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your service. Thank you for who you are. And thank you for what you're doing.

And as my grandfather would say every time I walked out of his house, he'd yell at me, Joey in Scranton, he said, keep the faith. And my grandmother would yell, all kidding aside, this is serious, she'd yell, no, spread it. You're spreading the faith.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. May God bless you all and keep you safe. May God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right, we've been listening in. President Biden there to thank the troops, members of the 82nd Airborne, he met with some earlier, sat with him earlier and now addressing them here, making the case that this isn't just about Ukraine, it's about freedom around the world, interestingly, is also the argument that President Zelenskyy has made, and has tried to make over and over again for the U.S. and NATO to do more to help Ukraine.

President Biden there, he's in Poland, and he will continue on his trip now. We're going to continue to follow that for you. Let's go into Ukraine right now. And I want to talk more about that new video. From inside the Mariupol theater after had been bombed by Russian forces, hundreds had been gathered there seeking safety and now we know hundreds were killed in the attack. CNN's Phil Black is live in Lviv, Ukraine for us. Phil walk us through this.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Kate, the latest that we've heard today, that from the Mariupol City Council, which now has an estimate based upon eyewitness accounts of this strike, which remember took place back on March the 16th. Its estimate is that around 300 people were killed on the attack on that theater. You can see those pictures there, they are quite eerie, what they show are people covered in dust and debris in the immediate moments after that strike slowly, quietly, making their way out of the part of the building that is still standing.

There's also video which shows part of the building which was struck, and it is splinters, debris, and chaos. And you can hear someone there saying that they hit the center of the building. This is where people were lining up for water. And there's probably still people beneath the rubble, there was an estimated 1,000 people or more in that building. And remember, this is the building where on each side outside in very big Russian letters. They had written the word children in Russian in the hope of preventing exactly this sort of event from happening. But of course it offered no protection at all.

This is undoubtedly one of the single worst moments of this war so far. And it was specifically cited when the U.S. government officially assessed that war crimes are taking place in this country and are being committed by Russian forces, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Phil, we're also getting reports of intense fighting overnight in other parts of the country, both Ukraine and Russia claiming victories.

BLACK: So there is more indication that Ukrainian operations have shifted not from defense to attack that they are counter attacking and reclaiming territory. We've been talking about that in the West and the northwest of the capital, Kyiv, and now also to the east of Kyiv as well. We have evidence in the form of social media videos that show Ukrainian soldiers very happy celebrating in the aftermath of battle, pointing to what they described as trophies. These are Russian tanks, many of them damaged and destroyed.

And you can hear Ukrainian soldiers, saying that their operation was a complete success, and that they knocked the enemy out. Overnight, also, Russia is claiming a significant strike that could prove an inconvenience to the Ukrainians. And that is a cruise missile strike which hit they say the last and largest remaining fuel depot in this country. It was near the capital Kyiv. And the cruise missile was fired by one of their navy ships so presumably from the Black Sea. Kate?


BOLDUAN: Phil, thank you very much, really appreciate it. Coming up still for us, President Biden will meet with Ukrainian refugees tomorrow, what he will see and hear and how that may impact the U.S. response. We discuss next.


BOLDUAN: We're following breaking news, President Biden just addressing U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who are working alongside Polish forces on deterrence efforts along NATO's Eastern flank. The White House says the President will meet tomorrow with refugees from Ukraine and also deliver a major address.


Joining me now for more on this is CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's a White House National Security correspondent for The New York Times. And also back with us a CNN's Kaitlan Collins. David, Biden just met with U.S. troops, one of the countries, you know, in Poland, of course, and this is one of the countries where we are seeing more troops deployed.

The NATO Secretary General said something yesterday that's kind of stuck with me, which is, President Putin's invasion has changed our security environment for the long term. Do you get the sense that the Biden ministration is preparing for that? And what that means for the U.S.?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think they are, you know, it really struck me, Kate, yesterday when the President was going into the NATO headquarters. Because, you know, to get into the NATO headquarters, you walk by this fragment of the Berlin Wall, that's there as a symbol of how the world changed when the Soviet Union collapsed. And they thought that they were in a very different environment. And now, they're back to something that is more like the Cold War era, then unlike that.

Right now, the United States has about 100,000 troops in Europe, that's probably 20,000, more than we had a few months ago. Those are supposed to be there on temporary duty, you saw the President with some of them today. My guess is that that becomes permanent, that we're not in a position where troops are going to pick up and go home.

BOLDUAN: And Kaitlan seeing a president, meeting with troops, addressing troops, that is not unusual. But it is also noteworthy here, because the Pentagon was pretty hesitant to show publicly, the increased U.S. presence in Europe at the offset of this invasion. And the Pentagon faced some pretty tough questions about that at the beginning. What are you hearing about why the White House wanted to do this now?

COLLINS: Well, it also stood out to us how long they let those reporters in the room with the cameras showing the President going in, sitting down with the members of the 82nd Airborne Division just now from eating pizza with them to the remarks that you just gave talking about the important work that they're doing and what it means not just for Ukraine, of course, but also the global argument and his argument that President Biden has been making since he took office, which is his idea of democracies versus autocracies.

And he was talking to them specifically about Ukraine, but also tying it into this broader picture. And, of course, letting the cameras linger in there, letting reporters go in with them to where they are at this base and showing them there. You're right, it does in the signal. And I do think it's part of this effort that is really part of this entire trip and why President Biden is here, which is showing these forces there. And as President Biden is noting 100,000 forces there something that you've numbers you have not seen in a very long time with 100,000 U.S. forces stationed throughout Europe.

And, you know, David saying that he doesn't think it's going to change anytime soon, it could become permanent. Those are definitely conversations that the White House has been having. And they've been talking about what this posture is going to look like going forward and what would warrant a change there. And so I do think it does, it's part of this effort by the White House to send a signal to Russia to show what they're doing to bolster these NATO allies.

BOLDUAN: And David, you wrote a great analysis of the NATO meetings and also about the concern that the success of NATO showing a unified front and the success of Ukraine and resistance so far, may also mean danger ahead. And how you wrote it is you write in part that it is the early success of that pressure campaign that is also creating the danger. What is the danger that you're hearing from world leaders that they're worrying about now?

SANGER: You know, the dominating theme yesterday at NATO was what do you do if Vladimir Putin reaches for chemical weapons and an effort to take Kyiv and forces surrender of President Zelenskyy's government? What do you do if he escalates as a biological or even to a small nuclear weapon as a warning to the rest of the world to go stay away?

And that is, you know, really a factor that grows out of Putin's failure to have a conventional military success. The Russian theory was that they would take Ukraine in 30 days, we're in day 31, and they're no place close. And so the concern here is that Putin doubles down. And one of the big issues which President Biden would not really respond to our questions on at the press conference that we were both that yesterday is how he would answer that challenge.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's great to see you guys. Thank you both so much.


Coming up for us, the January 6th Committee now has text messages between the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and former President Trump's chief of staff. What they reveal about efforts to overturn the 2020 election next.