Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Soon: Biden Speaks In Poland After Surprise Trip To Ukraine. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 21, 2023 - 11:30   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: President Duda and President Biden exchanged remarks before they went into their closed-door talks. But Duda has presented this, drawing a straight line from Reagan and the fall of the Berlin Wall alongside two very distinguished Poles, as we remember the union leader Lech Walesa, the Polish Pope, John Paul II who together along with then Gorbachev were responsible for the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, and all the way to today, decades later, to President Biden, who is, as Duda says and many have pointed out, who is taking that fight to the modern day, protecting all these years later democracy against this rising autocracy and dictatorship.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: It was remarkable to see President Duda frame it in that way, as they're setting the stage up there now for President Biden to come out to see President Duda talk about -- draw that through line of World War One, World War Two, the Cold War and saying that this is a seismic moment, this is akin to those moments of what we're living in right now.

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. And I think for all of us, the lesson is that history doesn't stop, that history keeps going, and that we have to all be vigilant. Those of us who believe in the rule of law, international norms, human rights, international humanitarian law, sovereignty, democracy, territorial integrity, all of that is at stake right now. And to be frank, as President Zelenskyy has said himself, right from the beginning, those few days before the invasion when he was last at the Munich Security Conference, and I spoke to him on stage back then.

He basically told the world that this is not just our fight, it is your fight. You give us the weapons -- this is now what they're saying, give us the weapons to fight your fight. You don't need to put boots on the ground, we will fight it. But it's not just about us. It's about everyone around the world, including you know civilians around the world, citizens who believe that democracy and territorial integrity is the path to follow. And so, we're here one year later, after President Putin has tried to put an end to that.

And let's not mistake Putin's goals. It's not really about NATO. It's about anything that strengthens any of his neighbors' approach to the West and to values that are not being upheld inside Russia itself.

COLLINS: Yes, he's claiming it's like security purposes but we can clearly see the clear reason. And, Clarissa Ward, you're on the ground in Kyiv. You were there watching as President Biden was there sending that significant message yesterday by making that trip to Ukraine. Obviously, this is something you know, Russian state media has said that Putin is not going to watch Biden's speech, will pay attention to the main themes of it. What are the Ukrainians wanting to hear from President Biden at this moment?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the Ukrainians will be wanting to hear more of what they heard when President Biden was visiting here on this unexpected visit, a doubling down on support, a strengthening of this alliance. They're obviously watching very closely, not necessarily expecting it to come out in this speech, but in the discourse in the coming weeks to hear more about this issue of heavier weaponry, which is something that they have been pushing for, for quite some time. And time really is of the essence now, Kaitlan, with this war grinding on, particularly in the eastern city of Bakhmut where the situation is getting fairly desperate. Russian forces losing a huge amount of soldiers, but also, the Ukrainians are taking many casualties.

And there's a growing understanding here that this could turn into something of a stalemate if they don't get the sort of weaponry that they believe that they need to try to finish this off more quickly and to try to actively engage in some kind of a spring offensive. A lot of speculation that they might try to push into the Southeast, and your Melitopol, put pressure on Crimea. These are all lofty ambitions, but they require a lot of ammunition and a lot of weaponry. So, beyond the symbolism of this visit and the importance of the gesture of visiting here, I think they will be constantly looking forward as we go ahead on sort of actual tangible deliverables in terms of promises of heavier, more advanced weaponry, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. And, Christiane, what the White House had said earlier is this is not a direct rebuttal of President Putin's speech earlier, but it kind of is to a degree, it's kind of a rebuttal of everything that we're hearing from the Russian leader these days.

AMANPOUR: Well, yes. I mean, as you can imagine, the Russian leader gave his speech portraying -- I mean it was obviously diametrically opposed to what NATO and the allies believe, and also a lot of factual inconsistency with what's actually happening on the ground. I mean, he portrayed it as Russia against the West, Russia against an alliance that wants to see the destruction of Russia, which has never been the articulated aim. Yes, that Russia should lose this war and be defeated in these aims.


But the West has never talked about regime change or about destroying Russia. Never ever. In fact, as you know, quite controversially, President Macron has talked about trying to find out in the future a place for Russia in the security architecture of this continent. Now, that doesn't go down very well in Ukraine, obviously. It doesn't go down very well, in places like Poland.

But yes, indeed, as Clarissa says, absolutely vital for right now is to get the Ukrainians the ammunition they need to service and fill all the weapons systems that they've been given because this is a war of heavy artillery right now. Some of -- some have likened it to World War One and then trenches out there around Bakhmut and in other places of the Eastern Donbass region. There are forces, you know, faced off against each other, and also firing against each other from long- range. And they need the weaponry because they're -- rather the ammunition because they're running out of that.

And I would also say that the Leopard tanks that the Germans finally released, these countries have not yet decided to send them or when. So, one of the questions I'll be asking President Duda is now Germany is in the odd position of now having to encourage you all who demanded these tanks to actually send them. So, there's a lot that needs to be done to basically keep the promises that have already been made in terms of weapons and ammunition.

COLLINS: And Zelenskyy is kind of framed that as a waste of time, all the deliberations between the allies. They say we're grateful for the support. But when he talks about -- you talk about not sending tanks, sending tanks, then you decide to send them, in that time period is incredibly critical.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And to be frank, that is what Zelenskyy said when he opened the Munich Security Conference by teleconference. And he said hurry, hurry speed is of the essence. And he portrayed this as a David versus Goliath battle, and that David had to win. But in his words, the sling needs to be made, you know, tougher and stronger. David's sling needs to be you know amplified. And so that is what they want.

And look, the West has admitted we are, you know, running short of -- or running out of ammunition.


AMANPOUR: We need to start producing it. But because of the so-called peace dividend, after the fall of the Soviet Union, after the Cold War, all these governments actually invested elsewhere, instead of, you know, in these manufacturing facilities that Russia actually does have. It has manufacturing facilities. And it is, according to the NATO officials I spoke to, does have the capacity to ramp up ammunition production faster than the -- than the West at this precise time.

COLLINS: Which is a struggle, even the -- we've heard the NATO Secretary General talking about all these allies, their own stockpiles of ammunition are being depleted.


COLLINS: You know, President Biden is going to come at any moment now. Part of his audience, though, as well is also the domestic audience, audience in the United States, and the questions about maintaining support there for this engagement for what they've seen. You see President Biden, I believe, we're waiting for him to come out on stage any moment now. In this audience, we saw American flags, we saw Ukrainian flags, we saw Polish flags, really an entire group here as they are prepared to hear from President Biden. Phil, when we talk about the support at home and Republican lawmakers, some of them -- not all of them, of course, but some of them who say they want to stop funding Ukraine. They don't want them to get as much support as they've been getting. How much of it is that part of who President Biden will be speaking to tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it's certainly an element. Kaitlan, as you know well, the White House officials are cognizant of it, even if they're very firm in their belief that is not representative of the broader Congress. Most importantly for them from a domestic perspective is that the American political support in terms of the country writ large is maintained. Their biggest problem will be when those polls which have started to sag a little bit still well above a majority start to dip significantly.

10, 15 Republican --House Republican lawmakers, those do not drive decision-making. They aren't in committee chair positions. They certainly are not representative of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, even House Majority Leader -- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but they understand that they need to talk to a domestic audience to get them to understand the why. And I think part of -- while the President will certainly be speaking to European leaders will certainly be speaking to the world writ large, that audience at home will also be a piece of this, making sure people understand, Kaitlan, the stakes and why it is so important, why they've been so willing to do so much over the course of the last year and as you know, very well are going to have to do significantly more in the months ahead.

COLLINS: Yes, that's such a good point, though. We've seen polls that show some of the support is dropping for funding this as much as the United States is compared to where it was a year ago. But, Christiane, as you rightly noted, you are at the Munich Security Conference, a lot of those lawmakers that Phil just cited, those U.S. lawmakers were there.

AMANPOUR: Were there. They're the ones who support it, and they're the powerful ones as Phil was saying. Then the not-so-powerful ones may be the ones you know carping about continued support, but the powerful heads of committee, majority and minority leaders in both houses of Congress are still behind this, both in the House and the Senate. Here comes President Biden.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, Poland. One of our great allies. President Duda, Prime Minister -- Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Mayor, for all the former ministers and presidents, as well as mayors and Polish political leaders from all across the country, thank you for welcoming me back to Poland. You know, as nearly one year ago -- nearly one year ago, I spoke at the Royal Castle here in Warsaw just weeks after Vladimir Putin had unleashed his murderous assault on Ukraine, the largest land war in Europe since World War Two had begun. And the principles that had been the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, and stability on this planet for more than 75 years were at risk of being shattered.

One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall, and most importantly, stands free.

When Russia invaded, it wasn't just Ukraine being tested. The whole world face to test for the ages. Europe was being tested. America was being tested. NATO is being tested. All democracies are being tested.

And the questions we face were as simple as they were profound. Would we respond, or would we look the other way? Would we be strong or would we be weak? Would be -- you -- we -- would we -- would all of our allies would be united or divided?

One year later, we know the answer. We did respond. We would be strong. We would be united. And the world would not look the other way.

We also face fundamental questions about the commitment to the most basic principles. Would we stand up for the sovereignty of nations? Would we stand up for the right of people to live free from naked aggression? Would we stand up for democracy?

One year later, we know the answers. Yes, we wouldn't stand up for sovereignty and we did. Yes, we would stand up for the right of people to live free from aggression and we did. And we would stand up for democracy and we did. And yesterday, I had the honor to stand with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv to declare that we will keep standing up for the same things no matter what.

When President Putin ordered his tanks to roll in Ukraine, he thought we would roll over. He was wrong. The rank -- the Ukrainian people are too brave. America, Europe, a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we were too unified. Democracy was too strong. Instead of an easy victory he perceived and predicted, Putin left but burn out tanks and Russia's forces in delay in disarray.

He thought he'd get the (INAUDIBLE) of NATO. Instead, he got the Natolization of Finland and Sweden. He thought NATO would fracture and divide. Instead, NATO is more united and more unified than ever -- than ever before. He thought he could weaponize energy to crack your resolve -- Europe's resolve. Instead, we're working together to end Europe's dependence on Russian fossil -- Russian fossil fuels.

He thought autocrats like himself were tough and leaders of democracy were soft. And then he met the iron will of America and the nations everywhere they refuse to accept the world governed by fear and force. He found himself at war with a nation led by a man whose courage will be forged in fire and steel, President Zelenskyy. President Putin -- President Putin is confronted with something today that he didn't think was possible a year ago.


The democracies of the world have grown stronger, not weaker. But the autocrats of the world have gotten weaker, not stronger because in the moments of great upheaval and uncertainty, that knowing what you stand for is most important. And knowing who stands with you, makes all the difference. The people in Poland know that. You know that. In fact, you'll know -- you'll know it better than anyone here in Poland because that's what solidarity means. Through partition and oppression, with a beautiful city was destroyed after the Warsaw Uprising. During decades under the Iron Fist of communist rule, Poland endured because you stood together.

That's how brave Leaders of the opposition and the people of Belarus continue to fight for their democracy. That's how the resolve of Moldovan people. The resolve of the people in Moldova to live in freedom when -- gain them independence and put them on the path to EU membership. President Sandu is here today. I'm not sure where she is but I'm proud to stand with you and the freedom-loving people in Moldova. Give her a warm round of applause.

One year in -- one year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition. But he still doubts our conviction. He doubts our staying power. He doubts our continuous support for Ukraine. He doubts whether NATO can remain unified. But there should be no doubt. Our support for Ukraine will not waver. NATO will not be divided and we will not tire.

President Putin's craving lust for land and power will fail. And the Ukrainian people's love for their country will prevail. Democracies of the world will stand guard over freedom today, tomorrow, and forever. That's what -- that's what's at stake here. Freedom. That's the message I carried to Kyiv yesterday, directly to the people of Ukraine.

When President Zelenskyy said he came to the United States in December. "He said this struggle will define the world and what our children and grandchildren how they live, and then their children and grandchildren." He wasn't only speaking about the children and grandchildren of Ukraine. He was speaking about all of our children and grandchildren. Yours in mind.

We're seeing again today with the people of Poland. And the people across Europe saw for decades, the appetites of the autocrat cannot be appeased. They must be opposed. Autocrats only understand one word. No, no, no.

No, you will not take my country. No, you will not take my freedom. No, you will not take my future. And I'll repeat tonight what I said last year in the same place. A dictator trying to building an empire will never be able to ease the people's love of liberty. Brutality will never grind down the will of the free. And Ukraine, Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia never.

For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness, you know, this has been an extraordinary year in every sense. Extraordinary brutality from Russian forces and mercenaries. They've committed depravities, crimes against humanity without shame or compunction. They've targeted civilians with death and destruction, used rape as a weapon of war, stolen Ukrainian children, and attempt to steal -- in an attempt to steal Ukraine's future. Bomb train stations, maternity hospitals, schools, and orphanages. No one -- no one can turn away their eyes of the atrocities Russia has committed against the Ukrainian people. It's abhorrent. It's abhorrent. But extraordinarily, as well, has been the response of the Ukrainian people and the world. One year after the bombs began to fall and Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Ukraine is still independent and free.


From Kherson to Kharkiv, Ukrainian fighters every claim their land, more than 50 percent of the territory Russia held last year. The blue and the yellow flag of Ukraine proudly weighs once again. President Zelenskyy still leads a democratically elected government that represents the will of Ukrainian people. And the world has already voted multiple times, including the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russia's aggression, and supported just peace. Each time in the UN that vote has been overwhelming.

In October, 143 nations of the United Nations condemn Russia's illegal annexation. only four of the entire U.N. voted with Russia. Four. So, tonight, I speak once more to the people of Russia. The United States and the nations of Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia. The West was not plotting to attack Russia, as Putin said today. And millions of Russian citizens only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy. This war is never a necessity. It's a tragedy.

President Putin chose this war. Every day the war continues is his choice. He could end the war with a word. It's simple. If Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia would be the end of Ukraine. That's why together, we're making sure Ukraine can defend itself.

The United States has assembled a worldwide coalition of more than 50 nations to get critical weapons and supplies to the brave Ukrainian fighters on the front lines. Air defense systems, artillery, ammunition, tanks, armored vehicles. The European Union and its member states have stepped up with an unprecedented commitment to Ukraine. Not just thinking security assistance, but economic and humanitarian refugee assistance and so much more.

To all of you here tonight. Take a moment. And I'm serious when I say this. Turn around, look -- turn around and look at one another. Look at what you've done so far. Poland is hosting more than 1.5 million refugees from this war. God bless you. Poland's generosity, your willingness to open your hearts, and your home is extraordinary. But the American people are united in our resolve as well. All across my country, in big cities and small towns, Ukrainian flags fly from American homes.

Over the past year, Democrats and Republicans of the United States congress have come together to stand for freedom. That's who Americans are. And that's what Americans do. The world is also coming together to address the global fallout from President Putin's war. Putin tried to starve the world, blocking the forts in the Black Sea to stop Ukraine from exporting its grain, exacerbating the global food crisis that hit developing nations in Africa especially hard.

Instead, the United States and the G7, and partners around the world answered the call with historic commitments to address the crisis and to bolster global food supplies. And this week, my wife, Jill Biden, is traveling to Africa to help bring attention to this critical issue. Our commitment is to the people of Ukraine and the future of Ukraine. Ukraine is free, sovereign, and democratic.

That was a dream of those who declared Ukraine's independence more than 30 years ago, who led the Orange Revolution, and the Revolution of Dignity. Who braved Ice and Fire in the (INAUDIBLE) and the Heavenly Hundred who died there. Those who continue to steal the root out Kremlin's efforts to corrupt, coerce and control. It's a dream for those Ukrainian patriots who fought for years against Russia's aggression in the Donbass and the heroes who have given everything -- given their lives in the service of the beloved Ukraine. I was honored to visit their memorial in Kyiv yesterday to pay tribute to the sacrifice of those who lost their lives standing alongside President Zelenskyy.


The United States and our partners stand with Ukraine's teachers as hospital staff as emergency responders. The workers in cities across Ukraine are fighting to keep the power on in the face of Russia's cruel bombardment. We stand with the millions of refugees of this war who found a welcome in Europe and the United States, particularly here in Poland.

Ordinary people all across Europe did whatever they could to help and continue to do so. Polish businesses, civil society, cultural leaders, including the first lady of Poland, who was here tonight have led with the heart and interpretation showcasing all this good about the human spirit. Madam First Lady, up, we love you. Thank you all.

I'll never forget last year visiting with refugees from Ukraine who had just arrived in Warsaw, seeing their faces, exhausted and afraid, holding their children so close, where they might never see their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, and sisters again. And that darkest moment in their lives, you the people of Poland, offered them safety and light. You embrace them, you literally embrace them. I watched -- I watched the looks on their faces.

Meanwhile, together, we made sure that Russia is paying the price for its abuses. We continue to maintain the largest sanction regime ever imposed in any country in history. And we're going to announce more sanctions this week together with our partners. We'll hold accountable those who are responsible for this war and we'll seek justice for the war crimes and crimes against humanity continuing to be committed by the Russians.

You know, there is much for us to be proud of over the -- all that we have achieved together this past year. But we have to be honest and clear eye as we look at the year ahead. The defense of freedom is not the work of a day or of a year. It's always difficult. It's always important. As Ukraine continues to defend itself against the Russian onslaught and launch a counter-offensive as of its own, they will continue to be hard and very bitter days. Victories and tragedies. But Ukraine is still for the fight ahead. But the United States, together with our allies and partners are going to continue to have Ukraine's back as it defends itself.

Next year, I will host every member of NATO for our 2024 summit in the United States. Together, we'll celebrate the 75th anniversary of the strongest defensive alliance in the history of the world, NATO. Now, let there be no doubt the commitment of the United States to our NATO Alliance and Article Five is rock solid. And every member of NATO knows it. And Russia knows it as well. An attack against one is attack against all. It's a sacred oath -- sacred oath to defend every inch of NATO territory.

Over the past year, the United States has come together with our allies and partners to do an extraordinary coalition to stand against Russian aggression. But the work in front of us is not just what we're against. It's about what we're for. What kind of world we want to build?

We need to take the strength and capacity of this coalition and apply it to lifting up -- lifting up the lives of people everywhere improving health, growing prosperity, preserving the planet, building peace and security, treating everyone with dignity and respect. That's our responsibility. The democracies of the world have to deliver it for our people.

As we gather tonight, the world in my view isn't at an inflection point. The decisions we make over the next five years or so are going to determine and shape our lives for decades to come. That's true for Americans. It's true for the people of the world. And while decisions are ours to make now, the principles in the stakes are eternal.

The choice between chaos and stability. Between building and destroying. Between hope and fear. Between democracy lifts up the human spirit and the brutal hand of the dictator who crushes it. Between nothing less than limitation and possibilities. The kinds of possibilities had come when people who live not in captivity but in freedom, freedom, freedom. There is no sweeter word than freedom.