Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S.: Russia is "Increasing Bombardments" On Major Ukrainian Cities; Russia Proposes New Ceasefire Starting Tuesday In Five Ukrainian Cities; Russia Proposes New Ceasefire Starting Tuesday In Five Ukrainian Cities; WNBA Star Brittney Griner Detained In Russia On Drug Charges; AAA: Average Gas Prices At $4.07 A Gallon, Near Record High. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 07, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Putin might lie about what Russia is doing in Ukraine but the pictures don't.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The horror of war display for the whole world. Residential apartment building shelled. Innocent Ukrainians running for their lives, killed by Russian strikes.

As we now learned, all of Russia's forces that had been pre-staged outside the country are now inside Ukraine.

And in the capital of Kyiv, time on escape seems to be running out. Scenes of desperation and heartbreak at the train station where thousands of families are saying what could very well be their last goodbyes.

Plus, the Russian invasion having ripple effects on your wallet. U.S. gas prices just a few cents away from hitting an all-time high.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start today with our world lead, and increased fears for civilians trapped in a number of Ukrainian cities as more evidence emerges that Russia is seemingly indiscriminately targeting civilians. Whether they're seeking refuge in their apartments or running to the border trying to escape the bloody war.

A barrage of explosions rocking the key port city of Mykolaiv today on Ukraine's southern coast. Fighting in recent days had been centered around that city's military base, but these strikes, these strikes -- they target a residential area. This is the aftermath of a shelling of an apartment building.

Also, outside the capital of Kyiv today, desperate families running for safety, desperately trying to save their children, thousands of others lining up to escape over a destroyed bridge. And that was the moment the Russian military strike landed in a suburb

outside Kyiv. Journalists on the ground witnessed the strike and photographed the horrible aftermath which I want to warn you before we show it to you. It is graphic and it's tragic.

It's a family of four, civilians, down on the ground, killed by a Russian mortar. The local mayor saying it is proof the Russian forces are 100 percent targeting civilians along evacuation routes.

CNN's Clarissa Ward starts us off today from Kyiv's main train station where those who are lucky enough to have made that it far are facing desperate crowds, packed trains and uncertain futures.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Kyiv central train station today, a crush of people trying to escape. Russian forces hit closer to the capital. Many here have just been evacuated from the hardest hit areas. Few know where they are going next.

Ala and her family made it out of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha early this morning, leaving behind her 81-year-old grandfather.

He didn't want to come with us. He decided to stay, she says. He's old and he can't run very fast and we had to leave so quickly. I don't know what is happening there now. It's so scary.

This is what remains of the place she calls home. Burned out husks of Russian armored vehicles, entire apartment blocks destroyed. I don't know how you can shell peaceful people. We never wished harm to anyone. We were friends with Russia. We have relatives in Russia, she says, they just want to erase Ukraine from the face of the earth.

It's that fear that is fueling a sense of desperation. So, the minute they announce the next train going west, you can see everybody scrambles to try to get on it. Down below, the platform is packed. The people remain calm, the rush an exhausted elderly woman who has fallen on the track.

Close to departure time, confusion sets in. Another train arrives and people run across the tracks, hoping to catch it. Finally, the train to Lviv arrives. Pushing and shoving as people jostle for space. Let the women and children go first, one man shouts. Another weeps as he hugs his wife goodbye.

Sonja, I love you, he calls out. He waits for the train to leave. Eyes locked on the window.


For what may be his last look.


WARD (on camera): Jake, that woman Ala who we spoke to from the suburb of Bucha, she was telling us that her best friend was essentially locked into her home in Bucha by a column of Russian tanks that parked in front of these houses on a street and began to use that position to attack Ukrainian forces and refused to let the people in those homes leave, essentially, trying use them as some form of cover to prevent Ukrainian forces from returning fire.

And this is something, these are reports that we've heard echoed again and again by Ukrainian authorities, that Russian forces have essentially been using innocent civilians as de facto human shields to try to protect them as they continue with this onslaught, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, Russian and Ukrainian delegations met in Belarus today for a third round of talks. Was any progress made?

WARD: So we're just hearing now from the Ukrainian delegation who have said that there was some slight progress made on this issue of humanitarian corridors. We know so far these have not been effectively implemented. Initially, the Russians were suggesting the humanitarian corridors would take people from inside Ukraine out through Belarus into Russia, which you can imagine for most people here is a completely ludicrous proposition.

But it does seem that maybe the two sides have furthered their consensus on how to go about having these corridors. We will, of course, be on the ground tomorrow morning to see if they are actually being implemented.

One last note: The Ukrainian delegation did say on the more substantive issues, on the sort of political issues that would be necessary to agree upon in order to see some kind of cease-fire, there has not been much progress yet. They continue what they called intensive consultation.

So, for the meantime, Jake, it does not appear that there is any end in sight for the people of Ukraine.

TAPPER: CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you. Please stay safe.

Let's go farther south to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's Odessa, Ukraine.

And, Nick, you just heard gunfire there. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that Russian forces are preparing to attack Odessa. Tell us what's going on.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah. Jake, in the pitch black, hard to tell. We had two really, machine gun fire bursts, possibly three, suggesting it might be from some sort of mounted position, very fast rate of fire being heard. And there was accompanied go, our cameraman heard an explosion before that.

It is hard to tell if it is simply nerves here. People reacting to a threat they perceive or if they have seen something caused them to react. We haven't seen it before nearly two weeks ago now. And so, a definite marked change in the atmosphere in the last hour or so. And just before we came on air, I heard machine gun bursts in the

distance. This city has significant defenses at the coast and they have been on high alert ever since the president of the country said an air attack is possible. They may have seen something. We have seen the city deeply on edge for quite a period of time. They're concerned that the possible of troops coming from Moldova's breakaway republic to its west, and also concern, too, Jake, about the action around Mykolaiv, to the east here.

You mentioned that earlier, significant amount of back and forth there between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops. They're trying to blunder their way in, frankly, over the past weekend. We saw ourselves how that fade. How they've significant difficulties. Also, this morning it appears that a residential complex or two were hit. The number were hit by rockets that came in to the town and one hospital told me, one person died and three were injured as a result of that.

So it was the Russian military's moves against Mykolaiv have been strengthened, they've been going from the safe points, they've been abandoning vehicles and having no real definitive success. They seemed to turn their frustration to heavy rockets being fired, often at civilian areas. Today, the local government talked about how they pushed the Russians out of the airport. A constant back and forth, frankly, but at that point, no firm progress for the Russians in that key port city.

And this, Odessa, the third largest city in Ukraine, is clearly their target and it's very on edge tonight, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Odessa, Ukraine, thank you. Stay safe.

Joining us to discuss, Republican Congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky. He's on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. A U.S. official says the Biden administration is considering sending critical air defense systems to NATO allies in Eastern Europe because of growing fears that Russia could launch missiles into the countries that make up NATO's eastern flank.


Do you think that's a serious possibility? And what would that mean? Would that be Putin declaring war on the West?

REP. ANDY BARR (R-KY): Well, I think it needs to happen, because what we saw with Ukraine was that there was inadequate deterrence. If you think that Putin, given those horrific images that you just saw, of Russians targeting civilians, and the brutality that is on full display for the whole world to see right now, the censorship that is happening inside Russia, the crackdown on Russian citizens protesting, all of this, and the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, this tells that you we need much more deterrence.

We do have Article Five obligations under NATO and an attack on one is an attack on all. I've been in communication with officials in Lithuania and the Baltic, certainly Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania. The eastern edge of NATO is asking for greater deterrence.

So, in addition to seriously pushing for, as I will, more critical air assets to be transferred to the Ukrainian resistance and backfilling to our NATO allies, we need a more powerful deterrence on the eastern edge of NATO as we help our friends in the Ukraine.

And President Zelenskyy asked this of the Congress on Saturday.

TAPPER: President Zelenskyy also continues to you know the United States and NATO to implement a no-fly zone every on Ukraine. Two your Republican colleagues, Congressman Kinzinger and Senator Roger Wicker, support that. Would you?

BARR: I think there is an intermediate way that doesn't put NATO forces in immediate conflict with Russia. We need to see how this develops. But certainly, the Ukrainian people need and deserve more support.

And the way we help them defend the air space and the humanitarian corridors are more drones, more anti-aircraft, more stinger missiles, and yes, some of those Soviet era planes that the Ukrainian air force knows how to fly.

We know that the Ukrainians know how to resist. They're proving they can resist. But they need weapons systems to continue the fight. And that is what I think we can do in the immediate, in the immediate future. And then as I said before, we need more U.S. and NATO exercises and more deterrence in those NATO countries just on the eastern edge of Europe and just to the west of Ukraine.

TAPPER: You're proposing legislation that would close a loop hoe in the current sanctions against Russia. It would ban Russia's banks from doing energy business. Right now, they have that loophole.

Why not call for a complete ban on all Russian oil imports as others are as well?

BARR: Well, I am open to that. And I support that. The reason why I support that is the American people do not want to be financing this illegal barbaric war in the Ukraine. And that's the bottom line.

And so, whether that requires a full embargo or my legislation, which would removes that exemption, the loophole on the sanctions on energy related transactions, this would have a similar effect. The difference between what I'm proposing and a full embargo is that while it would stop imports of Russian oil and gas and petroleum imports into the United States, which by the way, Jake, has dramatic will he increased over the last year, as the United States has decreased our own domestic energy production.

And this to the tune of about $64 million a day of U.S. hard currency flowing into Russia, and enabling Putin to finance the war. What my bill would do would create an escape valve, an alternative, not just a stick but a carrot for Putin and Russia, an off-ramp. So that if there are any transactions that are allowed to go through, through a waiver by the secretary of treasury, that money could be held in escrow, and as an incentive for Putin the withdraw from Ukraine, it would flow to humanitarian and only humanitarian purposes.

So, it's a carrot and stick approach. It would -- it would sanction all of those energy-related transactions but it would also give Vladimir Putin a diplomatic off-ramp.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thank you so much for your time, sir, appreciate it.

BARR: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: A grandmother in a strange country with her 4-month-old grandchild depending on the kindness of strangers to survive. She's one of more than a million Ukrainian refugees. Her story, next.

Then, when it comes to pushing Russian propaganda, the Kremlin has a lot to say but Russia is staying silent when it comes to the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Of all the harrowing images we've seen over the last week and a half, this is one of the most haunting. A young boy, a refugee, carrying his bag, crying, right across the border from Ukraine in Medyka, Poland. Perhaps that heartbreaking sound should be Putin's knew national anthem for Russia.

The United Nations says more than 1.7 million Ukrainians have left the country since the Russian invasion began. Moldova has seen a deluge of Ukrainian refugees, especially mothers and children seeking safety. So many children that the president of Moldova says one out of every eight children in the country right now is a refugee.

CNN's Ivan Watson reports from Moldova now on how that small, neighboring nation is stepping, trying to shelter tens of thousands of innocent victims of Putin's war.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, spilling across the borders of the former Soviet Union.


More than 1.7 million Ukrainians leaving everything behind and now relying on the kindness of strangers. People like this grandmother who says a Russian strike destroyed her family's home in Mykolaiv on Friday.

I never thought the day would come when we would have to run away with these little kids, she says, holding her 4-month-old grand daughter. Nearly everyone here left their husbands, fathers and sons behind to defend their homes. Mothers with young children now on their own in a foreign country.

Imagine if you had to pack up your children, your pets, your belongings into a single suitcase and flee your home and your country on a moment's notice. That is what has happened to all of these people.

Moldova, a small relatively poor former part of Soviet Union, opened its doors, providing free transport, hot meals and shelter to tens of thousands of Ukrainians, says the country's prime minister.

NATALIA GAVRILITA, MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER: So about 3/4 are staying with families. A lot of them have friends and relatives in Moldova but regular people have taken in Ukrainian people and invited them into their homes.

WATSON: Complete strangers.

GAVRILITA: Yes. Absolutely.

WATSON: This woman is traveling alone. She said she came from Kyiv and it took nine days to get here. She has family waiting in Moldova.

The woman is headed to meet relatives here in an arena in the capital.

This is one of the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: hundreds of Ukrainians who have taken shelter in a stadium in Moldova. This, a temporary stop, a place to pause and process their new reality.

These women tell me, they still can't believe the Russian military would shell and bomb their home city of Kharkiv, a city where almost everyone speaks Russian. After all, Putin claims he's protecting Russian speakers from Ukrainian nationalists.

They say, look, look where the Russian speaking people are. They are all sleeping here.

This observation echoed at the border by 65-year-old grandmother Tatiana Patrisiana (ph). We watched the Russian TV channels and they have it all backwards, she said. They say the Russians are heroes defending us. Look here, how they're liberating us. Is this a liberation, she asks, if I'm running away with a little baby like this?

She joins the crowds lining up into waiting vans, one of tens of millions of Ukrainians now facing a very uncertain future.


WATSON (on camera): Now, Jake, the onward movement of these hundreds of thousands of refugees is complicated by the fact that the Moldovan government closed its air space on February 24th, the first day of the Russian invasion upon a request from the Russian government. The Moldovan prime minister tells me, they stopped civilian air traffic because they're worried that Russia's military operations could risk those airplanes. So all of these refugees have to move over land out of Moldova deeper

entire Europe. And it's not just Ukrainians moving away. Anecdotally, Moldovans, are some leaving as well, clearly worried about how vulnerable this small country is to the war next door being led by Russia -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Moldova, also not a NATO nation. Very worried about being next to Putin's list.

Ivan Watson, thank you so much. Appreciate that report.

Russia is detaining one of the WNBA's biggest stars. What is being done to bring her home while Russia wages war against Ukraine? Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now in our world lead. The Russian media reporting that the Kremlin has proposed a cease-fire in multiple Ukrainian cities.

CNN's Clarissa Ward joins us now live.

Clarissa, which cities are included? And does anyone have any reason to trust the Russians are going to honor something like this, an agreement like this?

WARD: Well, the five cities are the cities that have really been getting hit the hardest since this conflict began ten days ago. They're Kyiv, where we are, Kharkiv, which is in the far east of the country. Also, Chernihiv, where some of the worst has been taking place. Sumy, that's up in the very north. Again, we've seen a lot of terrible videos that we've been able to geolocate coming out on social media.

And finally, the southeast city of Mariupol, that's the port city of half a million, where they had attempted the International Red Cross to evacuate some 200,000 people in a humanitarian corridor a few days ago. That was not successful. The Ukrainians said the Russian side continued to shell.


But if this happens, it will, of course, be a significant moment for the hundreds of thousands of civilians across this country who find themselves right now with no power, with no water, with no food, under constant bombardment and basically trapped.

It is supposed to go into effect according to the Russians at 10:00 a.m. Moscow time. That's about 8:00 a.m. here.

And again, as you say, Jake, it's impossible to know. I've covered conflicts for a long time and often a cease-fire is announced and it is not preserved, all too often, particularly in Syria. We saw this again and again.

So there is no sense that this is fait accompli, if you will, but still, potentially, an important opportunity to get people out of some of these hardest hit areas. The question is how long does the cease fire last? Because there are so many people who are trapped and who have been pinned down and moving that amount of people is, of course, a task of huge proportion. A lot of aid workers will be involved trying to facilitate this effort and we, of course, will be on the ground, Jake, watching it play out and letting you know exactly what actually happens.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa, thank you so much. Please stay safe.

Let's bring in Pentagon Secretary, retired Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, you just heard Clarissa reporting that Russia has proposed a cease-fire for five Ukrainian cities. Nothing is official yet. Is there any reason to believe that Russia is serious about this proposal and that they would honor it? We have seen all sorts of humanitarian corridors not be safe passage places.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We certainly hope that they can be as good as their word in this case.

As you rightly pointed out, Jake, they haven't been. And we have seen families and -- actually targeted during the use of these so-called humanitarian corridors. So, we certainly hope that they can be trustworthy on this.

But I think we have seen, sadly, all too often too many instances where the Russians have not been true to their word, and have actually increased the civilian casualties here in Ukraine in the past.

TAPPER: So, there is discussion of the U.S. supplying some F-15 fighters, I believe, to Poland, and then Poland would give their Soviet-made or Russian-made MiGs to the Ukrainians, so that they could try to fight back.

Has there been any movement on that? And what has been the holdup? I believe I heard that one of the holdups is that some of these American jet fighters are actually meant to go to Taiwan for them to fend off an attack by the Chinese.

KIRBY: No, Jake, that rumor is not accurate.

So what I can tell you is that, look, if a nation, any nation wanted to provide aircraft to Ukrainian air forces, certainly, the United States would not stand in the way that was. That's a sovereign decision that we would absolutely respect.

If that nation wanted the United States to backfill it, well, so we have had -- started to have some conversations inside the U.S. interagency about what that might look like. What kind of aircraft? Where would they come from? How would you get them?

We don't have any answers right now, Jake. We don't have a proposal on the table. There's nothing set in stone about providing aircraft to Ukrainian armed forces. But we have started to have administration discussions about what that could look like should it come to pass.

TAPPER: With all due respect -- and I know this isn't you conducting these conversations -- I mean, time is of the essence here.

There doesn't really -- they don't have time for the Polands and the Americans to have a summit to discuss this stuff.

KIRBY: Sure.

TAPPER: Those MiGs are needed in Ukraine now.

KIRBY: Sure, Jake.

Look, nobody's talking about having a summit either. I mean, these are -- these are active discussions that started over the course of the weekend, when this idea first got floated. And we're still having those discussions.

I would tell you, though, your point about time is a good one, Jake. And I can just tell you that the vast majority of the $350 million that President Biden approved just over a week ago is already on the ground inside Ukraine. That material is getting to them. It's getting into their hands, and they're using it inside Ukraine for their resistance.

We are expediting and accelerating what remains, which is not much. About 30 percent remains to get there. And we're working as hard as we can to get there as fast as we can. In fact, there's a shipment on the way now getting into the region, which will then get into Ukraine.

TAPPER: The Pentagon is trying to track Putin's troop movement in Ukraine.

A Pentagon official told CNN that almost all, nearly 100 percent of the Russian forces that had been staged outside Ukraine at the border are now inside Ukraine.

How quickly does the Pentagon believe Putin is going to send even more Russian forces to back them up?

KIRBY: It's not clear exactly what his plans are, now that he has nearly 100 percent of his forces. I think there's only a couple of units that he has held back outside of Ukraine.

And he still has now a lot of combat power available to him. The majority of it is certainly available to him. And there's no indication right now that he would backfill that 100 percent from elsewhere in the country. Certainly, we will watch this as closely as we can.


I think, of all the options he has available to him, Jake, the other one is diplomacy that he hasn't used. Yes, he's got a lot of combat power. He could do the right thing here by sitting down at the table, finding a peaceful and a diplomatic way out of this.

TAPPER: Today, your boss, the secretary of defense, retired General Lloyd Austin, ordered the deployment of an additional 500 U.S. service members to Europe. That makes about 100,000 U.S. military personnel either on rotation or permanent orders in Europe right now. Those service men and women will be deployed to NATO allies, to be clear, not into Ukraine.

How possible do you think it is that Putin attacks or invades a NATO ally?

KIRBY: Well, we certainly don't want that to be the outcome, which is why we're bolstering NATO's defense -- defensive capabilities with these additional forces.

And I would add the 100,000 or so that we have in Europe already on permanent or rotational orders. That adds to the 1.9 million that 30 NATO nations have available to them. So there's a lot of combat power available to the NATO alliance. We have seen no indication that Mr. Putin intends to directly threaten a NATO nation, but we want to make it clear that he gets the message, if he does, we're all going to come to each other's defense.

TAPPER: The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, today reiterated the Biden administration's opposition to the U.S. or NATO imposing a no- fly zone over Ukraine, since that could likely draw U.S. forces into direct conflict with Russia...


TAPPER: ... and potentially escalate into World War III.

What if the U.S. or a NATO ally is forced to shoot down a Russian jet, though? Might that be the only way to deter Putin, with force?

KIRBY: I -- it would be hard to get into a hypothetical right now, Jake.

That's one of the reasons why, quite frankly, we stood up a deconfliction channel with the Russian Ministry of Defense that is head -- that's at European headquarters in Germany, to make sure that that kind of eventuality doesn't happen, so that there is a way, a direct link with the Russian military to avoid exactly that kind of miscalculation.

TAPPER: One last thing.

Can you confirm the "Wall Street Journal" story that the Russian military, Russian government is recruiting Syrian mercenaries, Syrians to go into Ukraine to attack?

KIRBY: Yes, we do have indications that corroborate that story, that, in fact, they are trying to enlist and recruit foreign fighters, which we find noteworthy, with more than 150,000 troops, a stalled military advance inside Ukraine, particularly in the north, that Mr. Putin has found it necessary to try to recruit foreign fighters for this -- for this war of choice of his.

TAPPER: Pentagon Press Secretary Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much.

Good to see you, sir.

KIRBY: Thanks. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Coming up, one of the biggest WNBA stars is detained in Russia. What's being done to bring her home while Russia wages war against Ukraine?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our sports lead, the Kremlin is saying close to nothing about Brittney Griner, the WNBA star in its custody, not even confirming when she was detained. We do know that the two-time Olympic medalist is being held on drug charges. She is accused of carrying a vape pen with cannabis oil in her luggage. Surveillance video from Moscow's airport suggests that she was detained in February.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Griner's hometown of Houston right now, where people close to the basketball star hint at secret negotiations underway to bring her home.



ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Emotions are high as friends and family of WNBA star Brittney Griner grappled with Griner's arrest last month, by Russia custom officials, who alleged Griner had cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow's main international airport.

What's your biggest fear?

JACKSON: My biggest fear is that this will become, that she'll be a political pawn.

FLORES: Griner's high coach Debbie Jackson says the current Phoenix Mercury center, two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-type WNBA all-star has the skills to overcome this episode.

JACKSON: She is going to fight to the end, no doubt. She'll be determined to keep on fighting.

FLORES: Griner's wife taking on Instagram today saying: My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats every day that goes by. I miss your voice. I miss your presence. There are no words to express this pain.

Griner remains in custody. The statement from Russian custom officials not saying how long she's been detained, nor the conditions she's being held in.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: I've talked to a couple sources and they say it's been a couple weeks that this has been going on.

FLORES: U.S. officials today providing few specifics as well.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Whenever an American is detains anywhere in the word, we, of course, stand ready to provide every possible assistance. And that includes in Russia.

FLORES: As U.S. officials work behind the scenes, some celebrities are coming out in support including Chef Jose Andres who tweeted, we stand with you. And NFL quarterback and fellow Baylor grad RGIII posting, "Get her home".

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who represents Griner's home city of Houston, also calling for her release.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Anyone that is killing and attacking and destroying Ukraine, a neighboring country that is not bothering them, has no right to hold Ms. Griner, period.

FLORES: If convicted on the drug charges, Russian officials say Griner could face up to ten years in prison.

If she by any chance watches this story, what would you tell her?

JACKSON: I would tell her, please know that you are loved by so many people. You've always had a true resolve and grit to get to the finish line and know that you will get to the finish line. A lot of people here care about you.



FLORES (on camera): An online petition has been growing. This online petition asks for the swift and safe return of Brittney Griner. The call to action, Jake, call your elected officials so Griner can return back to America.

TAPPER: Rosa Flores in Houston, thank you so much.

By the end of the week, Americans could be facing the highest gas prices ever. The ripple effect of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead now, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is in part to blame for gas prices in the U.S. surging to an all-time high. The national average is now at $4.7. That's six cents in just one day, according to AAA. That price will have a ripple effect on the supply chain and inflation issues that previously existed while more countries cut ties with the Kremlin.

Let's bring in CNN's Pete Muntean in Alexandria Virginia, and CNN's Richard Quest in London.

Pete, we're now paying 63 cents more for gas, that increase in just a month. How high could this go?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, history is the biggest indicator. I talked to one woman topping off her gas tank earlier. She said she felt like it was just the other day she was paying $3 a gallon for gas. And really in a way, she's kind of right. This time last week, the national average was $3.61. It is the Russian invasion of Ukraine that is driving up these oil prices globally which is leading to this increase in gas prices, 51 cents in the increase of the national gallon of gas nationwide, since that invasion began about 11 days ago.

You know, what's so interesting here. We are so close to the all-time record for the highest national average for a gallon of gas, $4.11 back on July 17, 2008.

When could this bubble burst? Well, experts say we might see $4.25, maybe even at $4.50 a gallon. It is really hard to know, they say, because this price is just increasing so, so fast, Jake.

TAPPER: Richard, just moments ago, the U.S. stock market closed after taking a sharp dive. The Dow down almost 800 points for the second trading day in a row. What are you reading into this? How troubling is this?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: It is troubling and inevitable from what Pete is talking about and you're talking about, as prices of gasoline goes up, so the costs for manufacturing, for production, for road trips, everything goes up. Inflation was already high and now it is looking more entrenched. Let me give you two examples from today's market. The U.S. airlines, United lost 15 percent in value on the stock exchange. Delta down 12, Amazon down 5 percent.

How long could it continue? It stays -- two direct reasons, Jake. Firstly, obviously, higher cost of fuel creates higher production, lower profits, bust also, uncertainty. As companies pull out of Ukraine, as companies pull out of Russia, they simply don't know what the next step will be. And in that scenario, the investment landscape is very dangerous.

TAPPER: And, Pete, the ripple effect of these fuel prices. Are we starting to see it already?

MUNTEAN: No doubt we will see it sometime soon. Not only at the grocery store, but also the cost of shipping, airline ticket prices, as Richard mention.

You know, this really could not come at a worse time for drivers. We've got spring break on the horizon. A lot of people taking trips that they had put off to about two years.

Also, returning to work, something the Biden administration is really pushing for. A lot of commuters are paying for as well, Jake.

TAPPER: Pete Muntean, Richard Quest, thanks to of both. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the smallest of victims, children's toys covered in shattered glass. A roof falling on bunk beds. CNN goes inside a home destroyed by Russian artillery in a town not far from the Ukrainian capital.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

This hour, while the nation's most populous city lifts indoor vaccine requirements and mask mandates for schools, one state's controversial top doctor is encouraging parents not to get their kids vaccinated.

Plus, it's called sports washing. From the Olympics to the World Cup, a look at how the worlds of professional and amateur athletics have given Russia cover for ignoring and bending international rules.

And leading this hour with some breaking news, a possible ceasefire being discussed for parts of Ukraine. Russian state media says the Kremlin has proposed a pause in fighting in some major cities on help evacuate Ukrainian citizens. But even Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told us moments ago there's to guarantee Putin's fighters will actually follow through.

Let's get straight to CNN's Matthew Chance who's live for us in Kyiv, one of the cities included in this proposed ceasefire.

Matthew, we've already seen Russia targeting humanitarian corridors where civilians have been told to evacuate. So, I think it's fair to say there are going to be a lot of people skeptical about what Russia is saying.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, skeptical is the right word, I mean, not the least of all, the people who may want to take advantage of any such humanitarian corridor, after the scenes we saw a couple days ago, when people were actually shelled as they try to make their way out of the suburbs of northern Kyiv into this city so they could escape the fierce fighting that's been raging there.

Nevertheless, you know, it's a glimmer of some sort of hope in the sense that, you know, cities across the country, including Kyiv, including Mariupol, including Kharkiv, the second biggest city, a town called Sumy as well, where there's been fierce fighting, the Russians are now saying that they will put in place a ceasefire from 10:00 in the morning local time. So we're monitoring that very closely.