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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Civilians In Ukraine Affected By Nonstop Shelling By Russia; Russia Proposing New Ceasefire; Dnipro Next Target Of Russian Military; White House Deals With Russia Oil Ban; Lawmakers Call In Biden To Ban Russian Oil Imports, Provide Ukraine With Additional Military Equipment; More Cities & States Lift COVID Rules As Cases, Deaths Drop; Florida To Recommend Against COVID Vaccines For Healthy Children; Putin & Others Using Sports To Hide What's Really Happening. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 07, 2022 - 17:00   ET



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So obviously we're monitoring that very closely. And it sends a bit of hope because anything at this stage that would alleviate the suffering of the civilian population of this country given what they've been going through, whether it's the fierce fighting or the bombing of residential areas is something that should be looked at and welcomed.


CHANCE (voice-over): Clearing up the broken debris of a shattered home. This is the devastation caused by a Russian attack on a residential neighborhood in a small Ukrainian village. Bila Tserkva 50 miles south of the Ukrainian capital is nowhere near the front lines. But it has felt the rage and the pain of this war.

(On camera): We've come inside one of the houses who was affected by what was apparently random artillery or rocket fire into this residential neighborhood. You can see just how shattered the lives of the family here. Look, I mean, the windows have all been blown out, obviously. All their belongings have been left behind as they've gone into hiding. The picture up there seems to be indeed, some of the people who had a lived in here.

It was a family with some children. Apparently, they've survived this, which is good. But, of course, when you look at the situation and the way that Russians have been shelling residential areas across the country, so many people haven't survived. This is interesting. Come and have a look. It's the children's bedroom. And you see over here, look, the bunk beds, the roof that's fallen down on to the top them when that shell hit.

And of course, in the panic and in the evacuation, the kids have left all their toys up here in there. And it just shows you that no matter where you are in this country, with Russia attacking, tanks and cities across it, you know, lives are being shattered.

(Voice-over): Svetislav is a close friend of the family who were nearly killed in their beds here. Godfather to the three children who escaped with their lives. Now, he has one request, he tells me, for the United States. Please, close the skies over Ukraine, he begs. If we can just contact NATO and ask them this, everything will be fine. Otherwise, he warns, Putin will cross Ukraine and threaten the whole of Europe.

In a bunker under the town, it's terrified children singing Ukraine's national anthem. It keeps them calm. As Russia invades, a whole generation of Ukrainians is being united by this war together as they shelter from the horrors above.


CHANCE (on camera): Yes. Well, some hope perhaps with the diplomatic channels that are opening up of those horrors being curtailed. For instance, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine have agreed that they will be meeting on Thursday in the Turkish city of Antalya to discuss, you know, what can be done to bring a more permanent end to this fighting.

The Ukrainian foreign ministers made comments on local television here saying that his attitude is that the Russian foreign minister has been complicit in a crime against Ukraine. But if he wants to talk seriously about peace in the country, then he is prepared to sit down with him. So, you know, I'm not sure that's a reason for a lot of hope, but it's something to try and break the deadlock here.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Matthew Chance reporting live for us from Kyiv. Thank you. Stay safe. Joining us live to discuss, David Remnick, the editor of "The New Yorker." He's the author of the book "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire." He is an expert on Russia. David, good to see you.

I want to start by asking you about this newly proposed cease-fire we're hearing about from Russian-state media. This weekend a Russian military strike hit an evacuation route. It killed civilians trying on escape the fighting. Russia has also proposed of evacuation corridors that lead toward Russian cities and through active fighting. What is your take on this proposed Russian cease-fire?

DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: Well, so far what good has Vladimir Putin's word been? What good has it been? Over and over he's betrayed any number of promises and statements and all the rest. We should watch what he does. We should watch what he does. And the report that your correspondent just gave, that remarkable report and many like it, is exactly what is not being seen in Russia.


No one in Russia is seeing these unless you're young and you're making your way through the internet and getting foreign information, which is increasingly difficult as independent media has shut down. So, if there is a cease-fire, that would be wonderful, but all signs point the Putin pressing this really hard and the bombardment of Odessa is threatened and the bombardment of many places in Ukraine have been just horrendous, causing the worst refugee crisis we've seen in a long time.

TAPPER: Do you see anything being discussed right now in terms of military support for Ukraine, the sanctions, the financial meltdown in Russia, anything that could stop Vladimir Putin, that could end his all-out assault on Ukraine?

REMNICK: Well, Jake, that's really the question, isn't it? That's the question. And you have to keep in mind that for 20 odd years, Vladimir Putin has put into place mechanisms to prevent the two things that he fears most as a play on his power. The first is demonstrations from below. That is to say color revolutions, as you saw in other countries, or as you saw in the Arab Spring, uprisings from the street.

And he's done everything he could to choke that to death beginning with putting -- just recently putting Alexei Navalny in jail after failing to poison him to death. So, the level of suppression on people from below is enormous and getting worse and worse and worse.

Then you have the possibility of a so-called palace coup. But you have to understand, what is the structure of the state in Russia? This is a -- think of it as a giant mafia corporate estate. In the days of the (inaudible) after Stalin under Brezhnev and Chernenko, Andropov, Gorbachev and all the rest, there was some element of collective leadership.

It took an ugly (inaudible) a lot, but there -- and it wasn't just one person's word. So there was pressure on the dictator. Khrushchev famously was overthrown. Gorbachev was overthrown for at least a few days. So there was a certain amount of that. That doesn't exist in today's Russia. It is all a system built around one man and that includes his guards, who are enriched enormously in order to stay loyal.

So, and we talk about oligarchs and taking their yachts and all this kind of thing. Yes, that exerts some pressure, but I don't know that it is decisive. The structure of the state is extremely centered on one man. And all those people lose their privileges, their property, their money if they choose to make a movie on him.

TAPPER: Earlier in the show, John Kirby, the Pentagon's spokesman confirmed the "Wall Street Journal" report that Putin is recruiting Syrian fighters and other foreign fighters to come into Ukraine to fight for Russia. Kirby noted that they found it interesting, a suggestion, of course, that they don't have enough Russians willing to do that fighting. What do you make of that story?

REMNICK: Well, it's remarkable, isn't it? It's remarkable. And you know, of course he has mercenaries and he had Chechnyan fighters who failed miserably to penetrate the extraordinary defenses of Ukrainians. So, of course, he'll try this. And there is probably no underestimating how demoralized many soldiers in the Russian army are feeling.

You know, we've had reports that captured Russian soldiers didn't understand why in the hell they were being sent to the border of Ukraine, and certainly didn't understand why they were invading Ukraine. People in Russia who are exposed to the truth, and the soldiers are, of course, the front line of this, had no idea why this is happening or in fact, is a wise thing to do. Faced with the reality of it, many Russians think it's insane.

TAPPER: Yes. David Remnick of "The New Yorker," thank you so much. Good to see you as always.

Vladimir Putin's next possible target? A key central Ukrainian city and we're live on the ground there next.

Also ahead, a dictator's playbook becoming all to clear using sports to hide the ugly, sometimes deadly realities lurking in the shadows. It is called sports washing. Stay with us.




TAPPER: Breaking news out of Ukraine. Just moments ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted this video on Facebook. It's the first time he's been seen in his official office since Russia invaded his country. Zelenskyy saying at the top of the video, "I'm staying in Kyiv in my office. I'm not hiding and I'm not afraid of anyone."

Russia has fired more than 625 missiles at Ukraine since the invasion began and Russia has nearly 100 percent of its pre-staged military forces now inside the country. That's according to a senior Pentagon official.

And now one Ukrainian official is suggesting the city of Dnipro may be Russia's next target. CNN's Sam Kiley is live for us in Dnipro.


Now, Sam, there was a lot of overnight fighting just south of where you are, you tell us. And now we're learning that Russia is looking to encircle Dnipro?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that that could be the objection game plan if things were going Russia's way, Jake, but things are not. If we look at where they have attempted to encircle already, they are arguably with much less logistical challenges. They are unable so far to encircle the city of Kharkiv where I was reporting from a week or so ago. That is only 25 miles from the Russian border.

They've been held up there by Ukrainian forces. We've seen dramatic reporting of how they're being held up, although slowly penetrating into the northern west Kharkiv trying -- sorry, of Kyiv, the capital -- trying to hook around to the south there. And now we've got this Ukrainian concern that this city where I am could be attacked.

Now, if they're able to come up from the south effectively, they got land troops in Odessa. They've got to capture (inaudible) and then they've got to get up here, up the Dnipro River. They do control the city of Kherson at the mouth of the river. But even then, there is heavy levels of civilian passive resistance to the Russians.

I think it's very interesting indeed this figure of 100 percent of their pre-positioned troops now being already committed to this fight and these reports that maybe they're going to be trying to look at getting 20,000 possibly Syrian government allied forces to bring in. I would say to them, good luck in the desert.

These Syrian mercenaries performed extremely badly when they were brought in alongside Russia's Wagner group to fight in Libya. I don't think that they would pose anything of a serious problem for the Ukrainians but definitely it will be seen as a sign of weakness and almost encouragement to the Ukrainian cause.

But that said, they are -- the Russians are able to move across this large landscape, potentially unmolested because the Ukrainians are also 100 percent committed to this fight. They are also seeking the help of external forces. A large number of foreign volunteers are reportedly coming into the country. How quickly they can be deployed or how effective they will be remains to be seen.

And a lot of eyes I think are now on the strategic city where I am in Dnipro. It's bang in the middle of the country. It sits on the river and it controls those east-west and north-south routes, Jake. So, clearly if the Russians were to even block routes into here, it would be a catastrophic blow for the Ukrainians.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley from Dnipro, Ukraine. Thank you. Please stay safe. Coming up next, pressure mounting on President Biden to take a drastic step to punish Russia which could have a direct impact on all Americans' wallets. Stay with us.



TAPPER: More breaking news in "Our World Lead." Pressure mounting for the Biden administration to implement more sanctions and ban Russian oil imports. But as CNN's M.J. Lee reports, that means the U.S. may be turning to some countries with rather unsavory leaders and oppressive governments such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to shore up that oil supply.


M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Russia's attacks across Ukraine escalate, President Biden consulting with his counterparts abroad on next steps.


PSAKI: We have a very open line of communication as evidenced by the president having this call this morning about everything from what we're seeing on the ground in Ukraine to security assistance deliveries to discussions about weapons to discussions about additional steps to squeeze President Putin in the financial sector.

LEE (voice-over): This as Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is pleading with global leaders to do more.

ZELENSKYY (through translation): The aggressor's audacity is a clear signal to the west that sanctions are not enough.

LEE (voice-over): And the number of civilian casualties growing by the day.

ZELENSKYY: It seems it is not enough for the Russian troops, not enough ruined destinies, crippled lives. They want to kill more.

LEE (voice-over): One request from Zelenskyy for the U.S. and its allies to impose a no-fly zone over his country, stopping any Russian jets from flying over Ukraine. The Biden administration adamantly opposed to going down this path, saying it would result in a dramatic escalation.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And that runs the considerable risk of creating a direct conflict between our countries and Russia, and thus a wider war, which is no one's interest.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (D-FL): It means starting World War III. But I think that people, need to understand what a no-fly zone means.

LEE (voice-over): Active discussions also underway in Washington on banning oil imports from Russia to further cripple the country's economy. The idea drawing bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): It's basically foolish for us to keep buying products and giving profit and giving money to Putin to be able to use against the Ukrainian people.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): Instead of being an exporter of energy, we became a consumer of Russian oil. This needs to stop.

LEE (voice-over): But the economic implications are grim for American consumers as gas prices, now over $4 a gallon, are nearing all time record highs.

PSAKI: The president's message is that he's going to do everything we, everything he can to reduce the impact on the American people, including the price of gas at the tank.


LEE (on camera): Now, as the U.S. considers a ban on Russian oil, it is thinking of different ways to bolster the global energy supply and bringing in more oil from other countries. And what we have seen the administration do is engage countries like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Jake, these are regimes that in another world, this administration might have been reticent to engage on this issue.


It really just goes to shows how much the Russian invasion of Ukraine has totally upended U.S. foreign policy. And it's also an important reminder, of course, that gas prices is an important economic issue. It is also a very critical political issue for this White House. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, M.J. Lee from the White House. Thank you so much. Let's discuss and let me pick it up right there, Navin, because the White House has confirmed American officials were in Venezuela this weekend. Oil was not the only thing they were talking about they said, but it certainly was something they were talking about.

"Axios" reports a presidential trip to Saudi Arabia in the spring is under consideration. All this is an effort to produce more oil to help the global market. You know, I hear a lot of conservatives shooting at this. But I have to say like, I mean, Maduro is awful. MBS is awful. I mean, they're making a good argument. Could this back fire?

NAVIN NAYAK, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: I don't know that it's going to backfire in the sense that, I think the president and, again, you saw Jen Psaki. They are saying that he's doing this for the American consumers. This has got to be agonizing for the president.

I think it's agonizing for the entire administration. But there are folks trying to actually lower the cost for American consumers. And we know that that is a real pain point for Americans. I think the more frustrating thing and I think the Republican hypocrisy on this is really frustrating.

This is the reality that we have put on Joe Biden. This is 20 years of energy policy that is forcing Joe Biden into this situation and we keep doing it time and time again. I mean, I remember back in the early 2000s when President W. Bush went in, you know, bowed in front of the Saudi prince and that was a big to do because we had to go there. It is sort of urge them, you know, to help us with our own energy issues.

We've pursued that strategy, right? Ten years ago the U.S. produced 5,000 barrels a day. We now produce 10,000, more than 11,000 barrels a day. We are the world's largest producer of oil and gas and yet it hasn't actually provided us any freedom from these petrol dictators and that's what we should be focused on, is getting free from them.

TAPPER: What do you think, Congressman?

CHARLIE DENT, FORMER REPRESENTATIVE OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I think that, well, first, we should not receive Russian oil, but we have been largely in North American self-sufficient in recent years. The United States produces a lot of oil. So does Canada and Mexico. Those are major suppliers. We should be doing more to be fair.

I think the administration has been trying to knee cap domestic production. And why wouldn't they allow oil to come in from Canada through the Keystone Pipeline several hundred thousand barrels a day I believe. We should be doing more. So the administration I think has itself to blame in part for the predicament that we're in. That said, Americans have to sacrifice right now. We have to make the case that we have to sacrifice. We don't need the Russian oil.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALUST: I think the president needs to make a speech about that. I mean, you know, if you look at the polling, 80 percent of Americans say, okay, stop the importing of Russian oil.

TAPPER: Which polling though did they say and gas will go up $1 a gallon?

BORGER: Yes. They did not. But that's where the president comes in I think, you know. You have people saying let's have a no-fly zone. You have to explain why that could only cause more conflict potentially World War III.

TAPPER: There is some crappy polling out there.

BORGER: Right. But the president needs to say, look, if we're going to stop importing Russian oil, I want to get some allies to do it, but here's how it will affect you. It's going to require some sacrifice. He didn't talk about sacrifice in the state of the union speech. Maybe it was a little early to do that. But if he's going to start talking about stopping importing Russian oil, he needs to level with the American people and say, I believe saving this democracy is worth and it this is a humanitarian crisis and this is why we have to do it.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTOB BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, Quinnipiac did have polling today, I think. I don't know if it was released yesterday or today that said, you know, that they did have the caveat that your or your gas prices will go up if you -- if there was no Russian oil. And there was a majority of people that -- respondents that said that they'd be okay with it. Now, for how long and how much?

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: Right.

KUCINICH: That was not part of the question, but that polling is out there. And so these lawmakers that are pushing this, if you're just looking at polling (inaudible) the American people are.

TAPPER: So four top lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate today reached a deal that would ban Russian oil imports, suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, and take steps to deny Russia access to the World Trade Organization.

This goes beyond what the Biden administration is putting forward right now. Even beyond what the Biden administration is talking about in terms of Russian oil imports. What do you make of this dynamic of Congress taking the lead on this as opposed to the White House?

DENT: Well, Congress has been pushing the administration on Nord Stream 2 for example. The administration took a softer approach. Congress --

TAPPER: That's the Russia to Germany natural gas pipeline.

DENT: Yes, the Russia to Germany natural, and which has now been shelved. So, I think, in many respects, Congress is being the bad cop here and the administration is trying to be a good cop. But I think this congressional pressure is real and I think over time.

I think Congress will probably get some of the items that you just identified. They will probably be successful in some of these areas because Russia has become a pariah state. It's a rogue state and they want to do while they can. Now, we have to think through -- we have to think through the second order and third order effects of all this. How this affects us.


And I think that's where the conversation needs to go.

TAPPER: So, Navin, can I just say --


TAPPER: -- one thing that I find interesting about this entire debate is that there is -- there are so few voices calling for the U.S. military to get involved in any way in Ukraine. You only have two people, as far as I know, Kinzinger and Wicker, even calling for the U.S. to enforce a no-fly zone, which could cause a direct military confrontation. In my lifetime, I don't recall that ever being the case is usually at least 40 or 50 people calling for troops to be sent in immediately.

NAYAK: I mean, I think that's the President has drawn a very clear line around NATO allies, and has been really clear that he's not going to put American lives at risk in this situation.

TAPPER: You know, you -- that's my point.


TAPPER: Usually, there would be a bunch of people saying, yes, you're weak, you're soft, send in troops.

NAYAK: Well, I think that's a fair point. I actually think that you're right, that on the Republican side, there would be a lot more saber- rattling. And I think that's, you know, you're starting to see a little bit. I wonder when -- at what point that, you know, tapers off. But that's the part that's so frustrating is that there is a lot of agreement --


NAYAK: -- broadly speaking, but Republicans are still looking for places to score political points --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well. NAYAK: -- on one aspect or another, even though there's not really a substantive difference for most parts, as you can tell from the compromise.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEST: Well, you could see when they were introducing this legislation, everyone was kind of selling it saying that this would be more American oil production, or this could be more of a move toward renewables, depending on which senator --

BORGER: Right.

KUCINICH: -- that you were talking about. But I think one of the differences is, and -- is that we're talking about a world power.

DENT: Right.

KUCINICH: And sending in troops and starting, you know, that sort of -- go ahead.

BORGER: I think no matter what happens, Biden's going to get criticized --

DENT: Yes.

BORGER: -- by Republicans.

TAPPER: That's the gig (ph).

BORGER: It's your -- you know, it's like, we wouldn't have been in this situation if Biden had been more aggressive in the first place, if he had had a different energy policy. We wouldn't be in this situation if he, you know, if he had been tough --

NAYAK: But this is new. This is a -- like, there used to be a fear. I know we -- I know it feels so long ago that you wouldn't, you know, the criticism would end at the water's edge.


NAYAK: Yes. But --

KUCINICH: That gets in travels.

NAYAK: But strategically -- well, it's not. This is like a moment where you actually do have a dictator that is --

BORGER: Exactly.

NAYAK: -- challenging an ally, Democratic ally. And even that isn't bringing Republicans at the table.

DENT: Look, strategically, Republicans and Democrats aren't that far apart on this issue. They all agree. Nobody wants to send in troops. Nobody wants to engage with Russia directly over -- in Ukraine. They get that. There are differences over tactics. And yes, so the Republicans are sniping at the Democrats. Yes, they didn't do sanctions soon enough or hard enough. But fundamentally, they're in the same place in terms of how we should --

BORGER: Not all Republicans. Some of which sniping at each other.

DENT: Yes.

TAPPER: OK. Thanks for -- thanks to all of you for joining. Appreciate it. We'll definitely have you back.

Coming up, one state's controversial top doctor now encouraging parents to not get their healthy children vaccinated. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, the world marked a sobering milestone, more than 6 million COVID deaths globally. As the pandemic shifts towards a new phase here in the U.S. on average, the country is still using more than 1,400 people to COVID every single day. The number is dropping along with cases and hospitalizations. And as those numbers go down, New York City today is lifting its proof of vaccination requirement for bars and restaurants and dropping it to mask mandates for schools.

Let's bring in Dr. Chris Pernell, she is a public health physician. Dr. Pernell, you're in New Jersey where masks will no longer be required in schools or in daycare. What do you make of this new balance the society is now making, were lifting more restrictions, at the same time, we know people around us could still get sick, we also know that most of them are not vaccinated?

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Thanks, Jake. There are three words that immediately come to mind looking at our situation in New Jersey, and just more broadly across the nation. Vigilance, patience and equity. While cases are plummeting, while we have additional capacity in our hospitals, because hospitalizations are dropping, we still have to be concerned about those historically marginalized communities, specifically in New Jersey, in New York, black and brown communities.

We saw in New York, that even though that a majority of folks were vaccinated and even boosted, those who suffered the worst during the Omicron surge, were the black and Hispanic population. So that's what I'm concerned about here at home. I'm very, very thankful and grateful for the progress, but we cannot afford to leave any community behind.

TAPPER: The CDC Director suggested what the end of the pandemic phase of COVID might look like. Here's what she told "60 Minutes". Take a listen.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I do think that we will get to a place with this disease where we live with a relatively low level all year long, and that maybe we have some surges during respiratory virus season. Those surges are annoying, and for some, they will likely be tragic. But they are not to the tune of 2,000 and 3,000 deaths a day. I think we live that way with influenza.


TAPPER: How close do you think we are to the point where we live with COVID the way we live with influenza or the flu?

PERNELL: You know, Jake, there is no magic timeline. And I want the public to understand that. What we need to be doing is tracking multiple metrics simultaneously. While we're watching those case rates plummet, we need to ensure that vaccination and boosting is happening, especially in those groups that I described. Because if a variant of concern would emerge, like Omicron was, where being boosted is fundamental to your protection and your safety, we're going to see that disproportionate impacts in those groups.

So I would just caution people. Yes, we will get to the point where there is predictability, where is more like the seasonal flu, but we're not there yet. As long as we have a significant portion of the population that's unvaccinated and that's true across the United States when you rank us up among our global peers and to across the globe, there is a chance for such a variant to rise.


TAPPER: A few days ago, we saw the governor of Florida berating students for wearing masks at an event. It turned out later that one of the students wearing a mask has a relative and older, I think, grandfather who was immunocompromised. Today, Florida's controversial surgeon general recommended that healthy children in Florida not get the COVID vaccine, completely an odds with CDC recommendations which advise children five and older all of them get vaccinated. What do you make of that announcement by the Florida surgeon general today?

PERNELL: That anti-science propaganda really is deadly and we in public health and more broadly, in the healthcare community, we need to stand up and push back with a quite a bit of pressure against that because we know that anti-science kills. We look at the number of Americans who are not vaccinated in rural areas. We look at the number of Americans who are not vaccinated and boosted in certain pockets of racial and ethnic groups. And we cannot afford to allow false information such as not wearing a mask is not helpful to continue to be proliferative.

And the last point, Jake, is that we know that any COVID infection can lead to long COVID. And as long as that is true, we need to be doing what is in our best interest to prevent all COVID infections.

TAPPER: Dr. Chris Pernell, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, Russia has brazenly cheated its way to the top and the sports world has let them. Why ignoring Russia's violation of the rules has only encouraged Vladimir Putin in other arenas, including Ukraine. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our sports lead now, what the world is witnessing in Ukraine currently, Russia ignoring all international standards and norms is not new for Vladimir Putin. And, in fact, it's not just in the geopolitical world, he's been doing it in the sports arena for years. In 2008, Putin invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia just as the Summer Olympics were starting in Beijing. It was a move shunned by the world but mostly overshadowed by the Olympics.

This time, Putin amassed troops on the border with Ukraine as the Winter Olympics again and China, were under way once again. And once again, he used sports as a cover to hide this uglier and deadlier reality, the looming invasion of Ukraine. It's a strategy that is known in many ways as sports washing, used not only by Russia, but by China and Saudi Arabia and other countries with oppressive rulers.

CNN Contributor and Legendary Sportscaster Bob Costas has this special report now for The Lead.


BOB COSTAS, CNN LEGENDARY SPORTSCASTER (voice-over): Russian tanks unprovoked rolling into Ukraine. To many, this blatant disregard for international norms. This latest violation of long established rules is nothing new, not for Russia. And for a small piece of a larger puzzle, we can actually look to the most recent Olympic Games.

For years, Russia's athletic programs have acted as if the rules simply don't apply to them. Just one example, overwhelming evidence of an ongoing state sponsored doping program.

DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, THE NATION: The International Olympic Committee is usually an organization that coddles autocracies, it doesn't challenge them.

COSTAS (voice-over): The International Olympic Committee eventually took action, technically barring Russia from the games, while requiring their athletes to compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee instead. But no one was fooled.

ADAM RIPPON, U.S. OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDAL WINNER: Russia here competing again under a flag that's not their own for multiple doping violations and in uncovering a state sponsored doping program. That's not good. And it's just, you know, it feels like a farce, it feels like a joke.

COSTAS (voice-over): Meanwhile, what was not a joke, with a tanks poised at the Ukrainian border. Major athletic events, the Olympics Soccer's World Cup and many more have long proved useful to tyrants and authoritarians eager to polish their images. It's what humanitarian groups call sportswashing, using the goodwill and kinship of international sports as a cover for darker realities. ZIRIN: Sportswashing is incredibly effective when you have a country that operates in highly dictatorial and repressive terms that is able to host these international events and pass off the fiction that they are somehow less brutal than they actually are.

COSTAS (voice-over): China is widely and credibly accused of serious human rights abuses, including genocide toward its Uighur minority, charges China vehemently denies. Meanwhile, the nation portrayed itself in the most positive light on sports biggest stage, even arranging for a Uighur athlete to carry the torch to the cauldron at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies.

This stagecraft is nothing new. One can look as far back as the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Adolf Hitler hoped to wrap his notions of Aryan supremacy in the glories of sport, with one of mankind's most heinous chapters, but a few years away.

ZIRIN: That's the most notorious example of sports washing, a place where an actual Nazi regime was given cover for its actions by the mere fact of them hosting the Olympic Games.

COSTAS (voice-over): Critics say organizations like the IOC are often complicit in helping authoritarian leaders burnish their images.

ZIRIN: The bribery scandals, the corruption scandals, I mean, you can write your own book about them and frankly many people have had. There's a library of books about FIFA and its history of corruption.


COSTAS (voice-over): FIFA soccer's international governing body has also long faced accusations of corruption, holding World Cups and countries under dictatorial rule such as Argentina in 1978, and accused of accepting bribes to let Russia host the cup in 2018. For its part, FIFA has denied those allegations. And then there is its upcoming tournament in Qatar, a country where human rights violations are widespread.

ZIRIN: It's so interesting to see it now try to stand up and say we are going to be strong against Russia. While at the same time, FIFA is holding its next World Cup in Qatar under very corrupt, very dangerous and horrifically anti-worker circumstances. I mean, there's a body count to the World Cup that's going to be taking place in Qatar. And yet FIFA has nothing to say about that.

COSTAS (voice-over): Qatari officials have defended their country's record, denying multiple reports of worker exploitation and abuse. While FIFA defended its decision on the 2022 World Cup, with its president suggesting that by hosting a tournament, Qatar might move ahead in a positive way.

Maybe this time, Russia has gone too far. Both the IOC and FIFA have now joined the bandwagon of sports organizations banning Russia from participating in their events. This after unprecedented pressure from star athletes and from other directions. JOHN OLIVER, HOST, HBO'S LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER: You just cannot let FIFA occupy any kind of morality because they are banning Russia from the World Cup in Qatar. Yes. Which is basically built on blood.

COSTAS (voice-over): But given the long history of sports washing, it's likely that Russia and other problematic nations will eventually find their way back into the arena.

ZIRIN: Let's be clear, the IOC, FIFA they have not found some kind of new morality. They have not found religion. What they have found is the reality of public and political pressure.


TAPPER: I want to bring in Bob Costas now. Great report, Bob. So the International Olympics Committee sent us a statement saying in part, "At all times, the IOC recognizes and upholds human rights as enshrined in both the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter and its Code of Ethics. We're responsible for ensuring the respect of the Olympic Charter with regard to the Olympic Games and take this responsibility very seriously."

You've spent decades covering the Olympics. Given the IOC's response to the Ukraine invasion, are you hoping -- is there any chance sportswashing is going to become a thing of the past?

COSTAS: Well, it's out there in the open now. I think it reached critical mass in terms of public understanding, regarding the CCP and holding yet another Olympics in Beijing after they had won there in 2008. People can go to the IOC's website, they lay out their whole commitment to human rights. And they make the obvious point that they can't change the internal workings of any nation.

But what they are free to decide is where they hold the Olympics. And what the IOC is free to decide going forward, given not just Russia's actions on the international stage, which are much more important than its violations of sports ethics. But nonetheless, Russia is a consistent violator of the spirit of the Olympics. So if they really wanted to do something, instead of saying, well, we feel badly for the athletes and everybody does because they're exploited and letting them compete under some euphemism, they ought to consider banning Russia from any participation in at least the next Summer Games in Paris and the Winter Games to follow.

For years and years, and much of the international community applauded it, they kept South Africa out of the Olympics because of its apartheid policies. Certainly, Russia's transgressions rise to a level where they could be banned for a considerable period of time.

TAPPER: Another country whose transgressions rise to that level Saudi Arabia, we didn't really have the time to highlight it in the piece. Saudi Arabia --

COSTAS: Yes. TAPPER: -- a key U.S. ally horrible human rights record. They recently tried to sports wash their reputation by jumping into the golf world with none other than Phil Mickelson.

COSTAS: Yes, and Phil Mickelson now has taken a hiatus and he's issued multiple apologies. He said, on the record, according to Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated, he said, look, I know that Saudi Arabia is guilty of monstrosities. They assassinated Jamal Khashoggi. They persecute and oppress gays and women.

But there's a lot of money there, which gives us a chance to at least have some leverage against the PGA Tour which he and some other players have issues with. So a parallel tour underwritten by the Saudis might have some sort of business advantage. But at what point do especially mega wealthy athletes step forward and say, no, many American athletes understandably and in many cases they have legitimate points speak out against injustice in their own imperfect country.


But when other countries are fundamental violators of human rights, when they're fundamentally at odds with principles of decency, but some of these athletes are involved with them in a business relationship, such as China, then they're conspicuously mum. And I'd like to see some of them reverse course.

TAPPER: Bob Costas, always great to have you on. Thank you so much for that. We'll be right back.


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Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you tomorrow.