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At This Hour

Biden Visits Ukraine As War Nears One-Year Mark; Jimmy Carter Decides To Spend "Remaining Time" In Home Hospice Care. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KRISTIN FISHER, CNN HOST: I'm Kristin Fisher in for Kate Bolduan. And we begin with President Biden making a surprise visit to Ukraine as the one-year anniversary of Russia's unprovoked war approaches. During his unprecedented visit to an active war zone, President Biden met with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. As the two men walked the streets of Ukraine's capital, air raid sirens could be heard, really just a sign of how risky this trip was.

So during a news conference, President Biden pledged another $460 million in military aid to Ukraine and he vowed to keep supporting the country no matter the cost or the time.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands, Democracy stands. The American stands with you and the world stands with you. It's worth fighting for as long as it takes. And that's how long we're going to be with you, Mr. President, for as long as it takes.


FISHER: Let's get straight to Kaitlan Collins live in Warsaw, Poland, where President Biden will soon arrive. And, you know, Kaitlan, I once accompanied President Trump to Afghanistan on a secret trip to visit the troops. And the security precautions that we had to take to go to a U.S. military base were just astounding. Biden just went to an active war zone with virtually no U.S. troops on the ground. How in the world did the President and the White House pull this off?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kristin, I'm so glad you brought that up because if you didn't, I was going to bring it up and say, I remember the time that you went and you were on Air Force One when you couldn't have your phone. Obviously you had to pull the shades of the plane as you were going. And I was actually in Palm Beach at that time and I remember we did not know that the President had left the area. And you guys had slipped off to the Middle East.

And it is a similar situation here where a lot of the reporters who thought they would be traveling with President Biden on Air Force One to Poland tonight obviously are not doing so, given he slipped out of the white House about 4 o'clock in the morning on Sunday local time in Washington, got on Air Force One with only a very small staff in tow and made his way to Kyiv for the first time since Russia invaded.

And that was the result of a trip that we are told had been months in the making. Only a small group of aides and different agencies were working on planning that beginning because they obviously did not want it to leak out because it is so sensitive, given the high risk that they had to keep it secure. And then there was an Oval Office meeting last Friday. That's when we are told President Biden made that final decision to go to Ukraine. He talked about the security risk. He weighed those.

And Jake Sullivan, his national security advisor, said that he decided that the risk that he was taking was worth the message that he was sending, this symbolic message of being in Ukraine just days before the anniversary of that one year invasion. Not only to announce that, he says that the U.S. has unwavering support for Ukraine, that they'll be there as long as it takes, but also to talk about tangible support, which is, we are told it's coming about half a billion dollars in new aid to Ukraine.

But also really talking and reflecting on what Putin thought was going to happen and what has actually happened. This is what President Biden said while he was on the ground.


BIDEN: We know that there'll be very difficult days and weeks and years ahead, but Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin's war of conquest is failing. Russia's military has lost half its territory at once occupied young, talented Russians are fleeing by the tens of thousands, not wanting to come back to Russia, not just fleeing from the military, fleeing from Russia itself.


COLLINS: The President there weighing in on Putin's expectations, how they failed. But, of course, the big question is what happens next? We should note, the White House says they did tell the Kremlin in advance that, yes, President Biden would be going to Kyiv. They said they did that because, obviously there are Russian forces on the ground in Kyiv, and they wanted to deconflict AKA, make sure they knew where he was going to be so they could avoid those areas.

FISHER: Well, and also, in terms of what's next, Kaitlan, I mean, we know that President Biden eventually is going to be coming right where you are in Warsaw, Poland. But what else can you tell us about what's ahead on the President's agenda during this European trip?


COLLINS: Yes, we're expecting him to arrive here in a few hours. Obviously, it's a 10 hour train ride out of Kyiv before he can get back on the plane and come here to Warsaw. We'll find out a lot of the details of that. But being here in Poland will also be important because Poland has been a very vocal supporter of Ukraine.

They have urged for other nations, other NATO allies, to send more weaponry to Ukraine. A big question, of course, has been about those F-16 jets, the longer range missiles that Ukraine has said that they need. Expect President Biden to give a speech while he is here on the ground in Poland. Of course, President Putin will be speaking tomorrow as well from Russia.

FISHER: Yes. Well, Kaitlan, certainly a very exciting start to the President's trip overseas. Kaitlan Collins live in Warsaw, thank you.

So meanwhile, fierce fighting continues in the Donetsk region as Russia prepares for an expected spring offensive. Alex Marquardt live in king -- in Kyiv with that part of the story. And, you know, Alex, what are Ukrainians where you are saying about President Biden's visit today?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, of course, Kristin, there was a huge amount of surprise. No one had any idea that this was coming. Everyday Ukrainians here in Kyiv, as well as those of us in the press started to get some indications around mid-morning when we saw how tight the security restrictions were, and these were restrictions that we hadn't really seen before.

Of course things started popping up online and then President Biden and President Zelenskyy emerged from that church right behind me. So after the surprise there's, of course, thanks, there's gratitude. A number of Ukrainians I spoke with, of course, very happy that President Biden came here, not just to show American support for the past year, to emphasize the American support now going into this second year of the war, but to remind much of the world, one young man told me, that Ukraine continues to fight against Russia every single day.

That is one of the biggest fears that Ukrainians have, is fatigue and growing disinterest with this conflict. We should note that there is this strange dichotomy here in Kyiv where people, for the most part, can live a normal life. They can go to work, they can go to school, they can go out to restaurants and bars. But this is still very much a part of the war zone, perhaps not as much as other places in the east and the south, but there are regular air sirens. We heard one earlier today. We have seen drone attacks, missile attacks here in the capital, Kyiv.

When the U.N. Secretary General left after his visit last year, Russia sent missiles towards Kyiv. When the CIA director was here several weeks ago, he told people that he spent several hours in bunkers. So this city is still very much part of the conflict. And that is why, as Kaitlan just pointed out, the U.S., the White House reached out to the Kremlin to say that Biden was on his way to make sure that nothing would happen while he's here. Kristin?

FISHER: Yes, certainly different from the last time that you were there, Alex, but so dangerous for a U.S. President to make that trip to right where you are right now. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

So joining me now, Kira Rudik, she's a member of Ukraine's parliament and leader of Ukraine's holist party. Kira, thank you so much for joining us. I'd love to find out when and how you learned that President Biden was going to be making this trip to Ukraine.

KIRA RUDIK, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Hello, Kristin. Thank you so much for having me. Well, I learned, as everybody else, early in the morning when there was like unusual activity in the center of the city, when there are -- there were roadblocks and a huge traffic. And then one of my friends, journalists who lives at the hotel nearby St. Michael square, where President Biden was taking those pictures and visiting the church, she said that she had military coming into the hotel, telling them to close the blinds and not getting out.

And then we realized that something important is happening. I cannot even imagine how often nightmare and a complicated task it was for his -- for president security team. But the key symbol here is this war is time when impossible things are happening. Impossible was that we will stand for more than two or three days, then impossible that we will get heavy weapons, then impossible that we will get on a counter offense, then impossible that we will take Kherson back, then impossible that we will get the patriot missiles, the tanks.

And now it was absolutely impossible that President of the United States will come to the war zone. And it happened. So then it means for us that the victory is possible, too. And it is possible for us to live in a peaceful, liberated country as the winners of this war.


FISHER: Kira, what did it mean, what did this visit mean to you and the Ukrainian people to see a U.S. President walking side by side with the Ukrainian president in the middle of an active war zone?

RUDIK: Well, for me, it means that finally the President of the United States starts to stay in the upper hand, the first hand. The last year, we have seen that our lives were quite reactive to what Putin was doing. He was doing the first step. And then there was a reaction. And we were saying that the turning point in this war would happen when the Western leaders will start acting as number one.

This is what we see right now, because tomorrow when Putin is giving his speech, he will be already reacting to what President Biden did, to the actions that happened, to the military assistance that we have provided. And, of course, for our country, it is critical the date when the visit happened, because today, exactly nine years ago, Putin's forces invaded Crimea and the war started, not a year ago, nine years ago. And we are glad that everybody remembers it.

FISHER: You bring up President Putin. I'm curious what you think that he was thinking when he saw this visit today.

RUDIK: Well, Putin plans to have a parade on the streets of Kyiv. And right now, seeing that not only the Kyiv have not been captured, but also President of the United States walking around with a lion belt, president of Ukraine. I think he did not anticipate that it would happen if one would ask him a year ago.

FISHER: President Biden announced half a billion in additional aid for Ukraine today. But no long range missiles, no F-16 fighter jets, which President Zelenskyy had been asking for. How much does today's aid package help?

RUDIK: It helps our military fight at the front. We now -- we are lacking the supplies because Russia can produce them faster and in a huge capacity. And this is why every support that we are getting is critical for us, because it allows our soldiers not to face an enemy empty handed.

However, what we learned, again over the last year, that when we hear no one of our pleas for the fighter jets, for the missile systems, it's just the beginning of the conversation. And that we have to put more work into having it done and received to defend our country. And we will do anything possible and impossible to defend our country. I think by this time, it should be very clear.

FISHER: Finally, Kira, as we approach the one year anniversary of this war, what would be your message to American taxpayers who may be getting wary about sending this much money to Ukraine?

RUDIK: First of all, I'm so grateful for all the support that we have received. And I think it's so unfair that people who are supporting us should be paying for Putin's crimes. Right now, there's about $500 billion of Russian assets stored in the democratic countries. They need to be confiscated and used to cover for the expenses that the United States have to support us and then to rebuild Ukraine.

And this is why there has already been a bill that has the U.S. Congress to use oligarchs money and $5 million already being confiscated for the sake of Ukraine. But we need to go further. We need to confiscate all Russian money, central bank money, and use them to cover for the expenses. This is logical, this is fair, and this is the right thing to do.

FISHER: Kira Rudik live in Kyiv for us. Kira, thank you so much for joining us on this really historic day.

RUDIK: Thank you and glory to Ukraine.

FISHER: So let's Bring in CNN Military Analyst retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, and CNN National Security Analyst Beth Sanner. She's a former deputy Director of National Intelligence. General, I'd like to start with you. How would you characterize the current state of this war, almost one year in?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I really think we're at the end of the beginning. What we're seeing is what the conflict in Ukraine is going to look like going forward. This is going to be a long war. You really have to applaud Ukrainian, the fight for sovereignty, their will to resist. What we just heard on air in your previous interview is just uplifting. I mean, it really is.

Through the practical filter of warfare and what we see, Russia hopes to outlast the Ukrainian will to resist, as well as NATO's will to resist. So far, that's not working. But the law of large numbers applies here, and Russia's strategy is to keep trying to pour it on as best they can, putting, as I've said many times, good money after bad. They're going to put young men into this conflict that don't have the requisite training. They're going to get slaughtered.


The Ukrainians have done a magnificent job tactically. They will continue to do that. NATO will continue to support. But as you've indicated in your previous interview, there could be some atrophy in terms of NATO's cohesion going forward. That's why President Zelenskyy has got to keep the heat up. He's got to continue to embrace those NATO powers. He's doing his job externally. That's why the President's visit today was absolutely spot on for him, as it should be. But I see this being a long conflict.

FISHER: Yes. So, Beth, President Biden is saying today during that visit that Putin's war of conquest is failing. Do you think that this kind of visit is likely to get under President Putin's skin, and how do you think he's going to respond to this?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I definitely think it will get under Putin's skin. And, you know, we're already expecting a pretty fiery speech from Putin tomorrow to mark the anniversary. And I think that it's probably going to be a little hair raising for most of us to listen to that. I also worry about, you know, maybe a barrage of missiles. People were already expecting maybe a big attack coming against even other major cities during the anniversary. And I think this kind of increases the prospects of that happening, but, you know, maybe would have happened anyway.

And I think Spider just makes a really good point here about the alliance and the importance of the symbolic nature of this visit. It's two sided. One is to keep the alliance together. The other is to be this juxtapose position, this contrast to Putin and what he's going to be saying tomorrow and the Chinese visit there in Moscow today.

FISHER: Yes. And I should also note that President Biden is also expected to be speaking again tomorrow. So we'll have Biden and Putin speaking on the same day. That should be something. General, Ukraine is getting tanks from several allies, including the United States. How soon do you think that we could start to see these tanks on the battlefield? And how much will this new aid package that President Biden announced today, how much do you think that aid package will help?

MARKS: Well, I think it's going to be several months before the tanks show up in sufficient numbers and can achieve some effects on the battlefield. Look, you've got to get the teams trained up. You got to get the units organized. And then what you're seeing from NATO partners as well as the United States is what I would describe, and I hate to say this, but it's not a serious response. The strategy in terms of the numbers that are being employed, each one of these capabilities is significant, but it needs to be more.

This is what I think some have described as an unserious response by the United States in that, I think, you know, for in -- for penny, we're in for a pound. And we need to get more of that. And the strategy has been no, no, no, yes. We need to move to yes more quickly so that Ukraine can get about the business of really isolating Russian forces and pushing them out.

FISHER: President Zelenskyy would certainly agree with your perspective there. Beth, final question to you, Biden's visit to kyiv, what's the European perspective of a trip like this? How will they view his decision to take that risk?

SANNER: I think it would be really welcome. And people don't really understand, I think most of us, how complicated and how risky -- we will have the Italian Prime Minister Meloni, new Prime Minister, arriving in Kyiv, I think, tomorrow. We had very strong statements from Macron during the Munich security conference this weekend. And he said now is not the time to negotiate and Russia must be defeated.

So I think that the Biden administration continues to do a very good job in, you know, having the alliance hold together and keep that unity together. As Spider says, a lot of this comes down to just numbers and what they can provide. So the symbolism is important, but they've got to provide the material.

FISHER: Certainly a significant day to day and a significant few days coming up with President Biden now or about to be in Poland, Spider Marks, Beth Sanner, thank you both so much.

MARKS: Thank you, Kristin.


So we're going to have much more on President Biden's surprise trip to Ukraine coming up. Also ahead, former President Jimmy Carter's decision to spend his final days at home, surrounded by family, that's next.


FISHER: The longest living president in U.S. history, 98-year-old Jimmy Carter is now receiving hospice care at his home in Georgia. The Carter Center says the former president made the decision after a series of short hospital stays and that, quote, he has the full support of his family and his medical team. Eva McKend is live in Plains, Georgia. So, Eva, what are you hearing from the people who live there about President Carter?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Kristen, to many, the former or president, right, known for being a humanitarian for his service work, but to the people here in this community in Plains, he is their neighbor. In fact, the very first thing that I saw when we're driving in yesterday afternoon was a man on a step ladder painting a giant statue of a peanut. This was a prop that was used during 1976, during Carter's presidential campaign.


Carter, of course, a former peanut farmer, and that man doing the painting telling me he's been trying to get out here to do this for weeks, and it was really important for him to finish the job in the wake of learning that the former president is receiving hospice care, a recognition that the eyes of the nation and the world are now on Plains, Georgia. Take a listen.


MICHAEL DOMINICK, PLAINS, GEORGIA RESIDENT: Mr. Jimmy would probably be up here helping me if, you know, he was 50, 60 years old, but he was always a hands on man, you know. But we have a lot of presidents in the past that haven't been they just sit behind a desk. But Mr. Jimmy is just a country boy, done a lot, cotton, peanuts, maybe he's done it all. So he's just a different president. I don't think that'd be another one like him.


MCKEND: Now as many know, Carter is a man of deep faith, as are many in this community. That man telling me we are a community of believers. It is their faith that they are leaning on at this difficult time. Kristin?

FISHER: And not just a former president, but truly a neighbor to all those people in Georgia, Eva McKend, thank you.

So joining me now, CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. You know, Elizabeth, for people who may not be all that familiar with hospice care, what exactly does it mean?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hospice care, Kristin, means that the patient is not expected to live for more than six months. A doctor makes a determination that life expectancy is six months or less, and a decision is made that the patient is no longer going to be pursuing treatment. The doctors aren't going to be trying to fix whatever the person's ailments are.

Instead, this is an end of life process. And it's really having been through this with my family members and talking to other people, it can be a very beautiful process where you help that person in their final months of life to die without pain and to die with dignity and to think through what they want to do in their final months.

But again, it's a time where you say, you know what, we've been treating, you know, these ailments aggressively. Now we know that we're in the end of life, and so we are going to begin the process of dying with dignity. And again, it's only done for people where the doctors say that person has six months or less to live. Kristin?

FISHER: So at this point, it's about keeping the patient comfortable, spending that time with their family. Elizabeth, 98 years old, he's lived such a long life. But what else do we know, what else can you tell us about President Carter's health history as he gets so close to being on this planet for 100 years?

COHEN: That's right. It's really amazing, actually, what he's been through and what he's been managed to survive. So, as you mentioned, he's 98 years old. He also he had skin cancer, which also went to his brain and to his liver. And so at that point, he had surgeries.

And in 2019, he had two falls at home, he had surgery to relieve pressure in his brain, and that was because of the fall. Also in 2019, he was hospitalized for a urinary tract infection. We haven't heard very much since 2019, other than that he was being very careful not to contract COVID. But this is a man who has dodged cancer several times.

FISHER: Wow. He's really been through a lot, and we wish him and his family well in the weeks ahead for them. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.


So President Biden's unprecedented trip to Ukraine comes just one day before a high stake speech by Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. So how will this impact Americans support for the war? I'm going to be talking with Congressman John Garamendi about that, next.