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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Meets With Military Leaders As Russia Targets Donbas; Russia Tests New Intercontinental Ballistic Missile; Ukrainian Commander Asks World For Help In Mariupol Evacuation; Companies Warn Biden Admin Of Slow Delivery On Medical Products; Justice Department To Appeal Mask Mandate Ruling If CDC Says It's Needed; Biden Meeting With Senior Defense Officials. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Harry and Meghan stopped by the U.K. on the way to the Invictus Games in The Hague. The visit came two years after the couple announced they would give up their royal titles.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Love a little secret there.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As if its bloody invasion of Ukraine weren't enough, now, Russia is throwing an intercontinental ballistic missile test into the mix.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Putin testing a new ICBM, what this says about Russia's audaciousness and what Putin told the world before today's launch.

Plus, pleas for help. President Zelenskyy saying today, 120,000 Ukrainians are stuck in the besieged town of Mariupol and Ukrainian commander on the ground there begging the world for assistance evacuating civilians, warning they may only have hours left.

And a problematic breakdown in the supply chain. It's not just Amazon orders caught in the backlog, some U.S. companies warn the slowdown could soon have a life threatening impact.


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

We start with our world lead today.

This hour, President Biden meeting with top military leaders at the White House as Ukrainian leaders plead for additional assistance from the West to save innocent lives.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says 120,000 Ukrainians remain trapped in Mariupol where local military leaders are reporting a constant bombardment by Russian forces. The mayor of Mariupol urged residents to leave as quickly as possible, but this afternoon, Ukrainian officials announced today's humanitarian corridor, quote, did not work as planned. They say fewer people than expected showed up to board buses out of the city, some of the buses now forced to follow routes determined by the Russians.

City officials say they do plan to try again tomorrow. There is, of course, no guarantee of safety. Ukraine says Russia fired upon humanitarian quarters before, time, of course, is crucial here.

Listen to the plea from a Ukrainian marine commander on the ground in Mariupol which he says may be his last.


MAJ. SERHII VOLYNA, COMMANDER, UKRAINE'S 36 SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE (through translator): We might have only a few days or hours left. The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. We appeal to the world leaders to help us.


TAPPER: So far, Pentagon leaders say they see no major Russian territorial gains in the eastern Donbas region where fighting has intensified in recent days. Ukrainian soldiers seen fortifying parts of the Luhansk part of Donbas, ahead of an assault, the regional governor says 80 percent of territory already under Russian control.

Amidst the fighting in Ukraine, today, the Kremlin announced what it says is successful test of new ICBM with Putin delivering this warning to the West.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This truly new weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably secure Russia's security for external threats and provide those food for thought in the heat of frenzy, digressive rhetoric try to threaten our country.


TAPPER: Threaten their country.

CNN's Phil Black starts off our coverage from the Ukrainian capitol of Kyiv where we spoke to innocent civilians who barely survived the Russian brutality so far.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Andrey Bychenko says his life will forever be split in two -- before and after the day the Russians came.

He remembers the skies over his home in Hostomel, near Kyiv, suddenly swarming with dozens of attack helicopters. He says they flew in a low formation, like they were on parade and

soon after, he says, Russian ground forces approached his home. This is where, he says, they opened fire from a distance. An explosive round landed close by, fracturing his leg, shrapnel piercing much of his body.

But Andrey says he was lucky. He got to hospital before the Russians worked out, he used to fight pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. He says many veterans from the east were deliberately killed during the occupation.

If I had not been wounded, I would have been shot too, he says.

Vasiliy Hylko also survived Russia's occupation but at great cost. Vasiliy was shocked by the Russian numbers and firepower that rolled in to Bovdenifka (ph), a tiny village northeast of the capital. So many tanks passed, he said, so much ammunition, every house had 20 soldiers occupying it, including the house where he, his neighbors and family were sheltering. They stayed in the basement, the Russians moved in above.


One night, he says, four drunk soldiers pushed open the basement door and screamed, everyone out by the count of 10 or all will be killed. He says women were screaming, children crying, and as he was the last one through the door, he was blasted from behind with a shotgun.

He says nothing was left of the leg, all bones destroyed, just a puddle of blood in minutes. He says two days later, some Russian soldiers helped him get to hospital. He still thinks they're beasts, not people.

The Russian invasion of areas around Kyiv violently interrupted and ended many peoples' lives and some would somehow survive brutal intimate encounters, leaving them forever changed.


BLACK (on camera): Jake, overwhelmingly, the thing you notice talking and meeting survivors like these is they are still deeply shocked. They are often very softly spoken, have struggled to explain and come to terms and understand what it is they just lived through, especially those who experience the casual cruelty and the willingness to indulge in grotesque violence that defines Russia's temporary talk position occupation of communities around Kyiv, Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Black in Kyiv for us, thank you so much.

The Pentagon says Russia did notify the U.S. ahead of its missile launch today. Press Secretary John Kirby telling reporters the Biden administration did not deem the test a threat to the United States or allies, unquote.

Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr, who's live for us at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what can you tell you say about this new missile Russia tested today?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, as an intercontinental ballistic missile, Jake, of course, it has a very significant range, more than 6,000 miles and would by definition be theoretically capable of striking the United States. That is not what happened today, of course. Launch from northern Russia, heading east -- to the far east on this test flight and impacting out there without any incident.

The U.S. was able to track it the entire time. U.S. satellites, U.S. intelligence assets have a very significant capability to track these kinds of missiles. They put off quite a heat signature they can track that and quickly calculate the trajectory and where they're going. So that is why, technically, the Pentagon comes to the conclusion, not a threat, not a threat to the U.S. or allies.

But this is Vladimir Putin's continuing modernization of his advanced weapons program. This is a missile that will replace a Soviet-era one that is in the inventory. It will be more modern. It is said to be capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads.

So to be sure, the U.S. watching all of this very carefully, and the Pentagon, even for saying it's not a threat to the U.S. or allies, saying that this was not something a responsible nuclear power should have done in the current escalating tension, of course, the U.S. canceled one of its own regularly scheduled ICBM tests earlier this month -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara, you also have some new reporting how Secretary of Defense Austin staying on top of all these possible nuclear developments.

STARR: Well, let's start -- exactly, but we should start with the point now the Pentagon says it has absolutely no evidence, nothing to indicate that the Russians are moving their nuclear weapons around so that's good news.

But again, you come to Putin's uncertain temperament his escalatory language and that resulted in the defense secretary we're told keeping extremely sharp eye on Russia's nuclear inventory, he gets briefed about it two to three times a week at the highest classified level. So he is completely up to date and were there to be some kind of development, he will be notified, obviously, very quickly. The president would be briefed.

They don't see that right now. I want to emphasize that, but there's enough concern in these current times that they are indeed keeping a sharp eye on it around the clock -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

A Russian billionaire facing sanctions over Putin's war now publicly condemning the invasion. Oleg Tinkov writing on Instagram, quote, I don't see a single beneficiary of this insane war. Innocent people and soldiers are dying. Generals, waking up with a hangover, have realized they have a shit army, that's a quote.

Of course there are idiots that write the letter Z, but there are about 10 percent idiots in all countries. Ninety percent of Russians are against this war, unquote.

Switching to English at the end of this post, Tinkov called on the West to, quote, give Mr. Putin a clear exit to save his face and stop this massacre.

Joining us now to discuss, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, who served as U.S. special representative to Ukraine negotiations under President Trump. And also with us, of course, Julia Ioffe, founding partner and Washington correspondent at "Puck", who's done great coverage of this entire conflict.


Thanks so much to both of you for being here.

Mr. Ambassador, Tinkov is one of a very small list of Russian businessmen who have come out publicly against the war. Does this move the needle at all for Putin?

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS: It doesn't really. I think he has doubled down on everything he has done here. He's put himself out on a plank really where he needs a military victory to save face and trying to see what he can cobble together at this point given the initial failures to declare such a victory in order to sustain his claim to power Russia.

TAPPER: His claim that 90 percent of Russia is against this war is an interesting one. It's not supported by polling but then again people say if you're a Russian sit wherein and someone asks what you think about put be you say you s Putin. There was a shift in sentiment where they stopped blaming Putin and also the Russian people because of the atrocities, is there any way to know how many people in Russia support this war?

JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: I don't think there's a solid way to know, unfortunately, it's like going into a bank held by hostage-takers and asking the hostages what they think of their hostage takers, it's not a very scientific way. But I don't think it's as high as 90 percent of Russians not supporting the war. I do, unfortunately think that total control of the media landscape, after, you know, two decades of near total control of the media landscape has born fruit for Putin, and I think a lot of people in Russia do generally support this war.

You're seeing, for example, a lot of mothers of fallen Russian soldiers saying they support this war especially because their kids died in this war because they don't want to think their children have been killed for nothing.

TAPPER: Right, but beyond that, you talked about the propaganda in Putin's Russia. A lot of Ukrainians who talk to people in Russia, as you know say they're zombiefied. They -- and this is what caused the Russian soldiers to perform these atrocities, they really think the Ukrainian people are these demons.

IOFFE: Are these Nazis.

Again, when you hear this all day, everyday when it's all around you even if you're not directly watching the television, it's just there and it's seeping into your consciousness for months and now decades, right? About how Putin is always right, about how Ukrainian has been taken over by neo-Nazis. This isn't something that has entered the Russian informational bloodstream in the last three months, it's been happening the last eight years, that's a long time and in that eight years, independent sources of information in Russia have been whittled down to now nothing.

So, there's no -- I mean, the people who are getting information, independent information are people who already don't believe the government, right? They're purposely setting up a VPN, turning it on and going to find information because they already know what they're hearing from the television is probably not true. So it's, you know, self-selecting but I do think a large majority of Russians really do support this war, and I think an important point, especially after Bucha is that there's a psychological component of it, too.

They don't want to think that their country is capable of such horrors. They want to believe they're on the side of good, like I think most people, most human beings want to believe they're moral and good and that their country is good.

TAPPER: What's your take on this? Do you think 90 percent of the Russian people are opposed to this war as the businessman said?

VOLKER: No, I think Julia is right, a great many support the war but that is based on a completely controlled information environment and I think the Russians will be reasonable people when they get real information on what is happening in Ukraine, I don't think you'll find there's resistance to that it's just that Putin is carefully trying to curate what it is that his own people are hearing.

And I think this missile test we saw today plays into this because with the failures they've had militarily, Putin needs to find way to see continue to convey images of strength. So launching a new ICBM is a way to try to compensate for the fact that well, it hasn't gone the way on the ground he wanted it to.

TAPPER: So I interviewed Zelenskyy, President Zelenskyy, on Friday and asked him if he was worried what the CIA Director Burn had been warning about, maybe Putin going as far as to use a tactical nuke. Here is part of what he said to me.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Not only me, I think all of the world, all the countries have to be worried, because you know it can not be real information, but it can be truth. When they begin to speak about one or another battles or involved enemies or nuclear weapons or chemical -- some chemical, you know, issues, chemical weapons, they should do -- they could do it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: His larger point was Putin had as such little regard for human life, why wouldn't he? And interesting also that he gave that answer in English, most of the interview in Ukrainian.


Do you think Putin would use a nuke?

IOFFE: I think he could, I don't know if he will but I think he could. He has put it on the table several times, not taken it off the table and so far, he's done everything he said he would do and done things that he said he wouldn't do. So I don't see a reason to take it off the table for him, I think he is totally capable. And then what does the West do if it's a tactical nuke, do we respond in kind? How do we respond if we don't respond forcefully enough, how do we live in a world where battlefield use of nuclear weapons is now a thing? It opens a whole new can of worms.

TAPPER: What do you think?

VOLKER: Well, I think Putin is using the threat of nuclear use to cause the West to hesitate, to make sure we don't provide everything we can to Ukraine to help them out and I think as Julia says, any battlefield use of a nuclear weapon is a game changer. It is changing the nature of war that we've seen ever since nuclear weapons were first used in World War II, and that is not something we want to see.

I think we need to do more to be actually warning Putin off any nuclear use and that there will be a forceful response if he does do that and I think that way, we can actually turn this threat back on him as well, too. This is not going to go well for Russia if they do use nuclear weapons.

TAPPER: Ambassador Volker, Julia Ioffe, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, the scene in Mariupol and what may be the last chance to save tens of thousands of Ukrainian caught in the crossfire. Plus, the new deal aiming to address the migrant crisis as we learn thousands of Ukrainian refugees also trying to cross borders into the U.S.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead today. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine warned the Russian assault on civilians in the surrounded port city of Mariupol is, quote, far more scary and large scale than in Borodianka. Borodianka, of course, is the Kyiv suburb that we visited where I saw the ruthless devastation inflicted by Putin's army firsthand, apartment buildings, residential, civilian apartment buildings gone.

Now, all eyes on the steel plant still under Ukrainian control where hundreds of Ukrainian civilians are sheltering in the basements of the facility. AS CNN's Matt Rivers reports, that is only a fraction of the tens of thousands of terrified Ukrainian still in Mariupol desperately waiting for a safe passage out.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Azovstal steel plant housing Mariupol's last line of defense, if the defenders here fall, so goes the city.

A few days ago, George Kurparashvili says he was right in the heart of the fight.

GEORGE KURPARASHVILI, AZOV BATTALION COMMANDER: Honestly I'll tell you that I've never seen such a brutal, devastating war, because Russians are just trying to execute civilians.

RIVERS: He spoke to us via video chat from undisclosed location. Severely injured during the fighting, he says he was smuggled out to recover. He is a Georgian national and commander in the Azov battalion, one of the few remaining units left defending the city. He says he was among the soldiers fighting the Russians, while at the same time taking care of hundreds of civilians sheltering the area, some of which purportedly seen here in video CNN can't verify posted on Ukrainian government's social media.

So, how long do you think your group can take care of all those people and yourselves?

KURPARASHVILI: It's hard to answer. That's hard to assume. Time is short, that's all I can say.

RIVERS: Tens of thousands of citizens in besieged Mariupol still need to be evacuated. On Wednesday, a slight glimmer of hope. A humanitarian corridor agreed to by both sides where civilians could evacuate Mariupol, heading to Manhush, Berdyansk, and then onward, eventually to the Ukrainian held city of Zaporizhzhia. The city's mayor urging people to use it.

He said: Dear people of Mariupol, during these long and incredibly difficult days, you survived in inhuman conditions, you may have heard different things, but I want you to know the main thing, they are waiting for you in Zaporizhzhia. It is safe there.

Video from Mariupol City Council shows buses lined up ready to take those who wanted to leave. It's unclear how many got on, but a regional official says fewer people left than he hoped.

For many, leaving is a difficult choice, it requires trusting the Russian military will not harm those trying to leave, yet this is the same military that has spent the entire war systematically targeting civilians across the country. And yet, the city has become unlivable. For the military units still

resisting, Kurparashvili says they're caring for soldiers and civilians sometimes for the same injuries due to Russian shelling.

KURPARASHVILI: If a child, child or soldier, and often times a soldier says go ahead, take your child, it's a priority.

RIVERS: A commander inside the steel plant has urged the international community to set up an evacuation route using a third party, another country that may be able to facilitate transfer of soldiers and civilians to safety. If that doesn't happen, Kurparashvili says Russia will continue the bombardment and it will end only one way.

KURPARASHVILI: There will be nobody left in this area. There will be dead all the children, not talking about the soldiers but civilians will be eliminated. It's going to be on us, on a civilized world.


RIVERS (on camera): And, Jake, I asked -- I asked, George, why won't the members of the Azov Battalion which he as a part surrender, and he said that they are utterly convinced that if the surrender, the Russians hate them so much they believe they would be killed in Russian custody.


And he said they're not going to, quote, give them the pleasure. He said there is no chance that they will surrender. They'll either be evacuated or they will die fighting -- Jake.

TAPPER: Matt Rivers in Lviv, Ukraine, thank you for that report.

Coming up next, warnings of a new supply chain traffic jam with back- up possibly originating at one of the biggest port cities in the world. Stay with us.



TAPPER: To the money lead, another challenge for the Biden administration, a supply chain backlog with no sign that it's going to pick up anytime soon.

One major slowdown is in China, specifically, Shanghai, the world's third largest city, which is still on lockdown due to COVID cases. That means, of course, cargo sitting in Shanghai ports cannot move.

As CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich reports for us now, some companies are warning the White House that this backlog could soon have a life threatening ripple effect here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This small box made of something called boardstock plays a big role in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

CHAC SASSON, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, THE CHALLENGE PRINTING COMPANY: Without the products that we produce, the pharmaceutical product cannot get to the market.

YURKEVICH: The challenge printing company says it packages more than 1,000 drugs, including life-saving cancer prescriptions. Getting them out the door quickly --

SASSON: As of right now, it has been very challenging.

YURKEVICH: It's because they're still intense consumer demand on a supply chain still in crisis mode. The company says it can't get materials from their suppliers in order to package these critical drugs. Everything from FDA approved inks, boardstock and paper. There are no substitutions.

What is the warning you're issuing?

SASSO: We're facing a potential public health crisis in this country if it is not properly addressed by the government.

The Department of Health and Human Services.

YURKEVICH: The company is raising the alarm, writing to over 15 government agencies, including the White House.

What is the administration's response? And what are they doing to address this?

BRIAN DEESE, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: The president has made it clear that he's willing and ready to do what it takes to make sure life-saving medicines or other things in the economy get where they need to get.

YURKEVICH: But the relentless slowdown of the global supply chain is working against consumer demand. Flexport, a freight forwarding company that tracks cargo around the world, is watching China closely, where exports are stalled because of COVID lockdowns.

PHIL LEVY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, FLEXPORT: It's a serious danger. I don't think we've sounded the all-clear at all.

YURKEVICH: Instead, hundred of cargo ships waiting in ports waiting to transport. Flexport said eventually they're heading this way. Potentially creating major traffic jams at U.S. ports again.

LEVY: This is not just Americans wanting to have so many imported consumer goods. Even those goods that are produced or packaged in the United States, you need to bring in parts, ingredients, whatever, when those get interrupted, it interrupts American production as well.

YURKEVICH: And a challenge printing company, they have a new drug to package. COVID therapeutics, bringing another new challenge. The company says months-long delays from millions of rolls of this foil from overseas.

How critical is this as part of the prescription drug?

SASSO: No this, no drugs. Without this, you can't give out drugs in a zip lock bag.


YURKEVICH: The White House says they are aware and addressing these issues with pharmaceutical packaging. But they're also addressing the supply chain largely with a two-prong approach. First addressing med issues like unclogging U.S. ports but also, long term procedures like creating a digital platform where companies can share data on any issues they may be seeing. But, Jake, they are watching China very closely.

The White House calling what they're seeing there concerning. Yet there's not a whole lot they can do, Jake, because the U.S. is just one part of the global supply chain. Jake?

TAPPER: That's a disaster coming down the road. You're sounding the alarm. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Ahead, oh, boy, could the mask mandates come back? One of the reasons why the Biden administration might actually appeal this week's big ruling down in Florida.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Turning to our health lead now, the Justice Department says the Biden administration could soon appeal the ruling that is striking down mask mandates for public transportation if the CDC determines that the requirement is necessary to protect public health.

Now, analysts say an appeal could be a risky move for the Biden administration, generating further confusion for Americans, potentially creating a precedent limiting the CDC's authority to enforce future public health rules to end a mandate that was set to expire in less than two weeks.

Here to discuss, former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Dr. Frieden, thanks for joining us.

So, COVID hospitalizations have started to tick up in parts of the Northeastern United States. But, nationally, they're at nearly the lowest levels of the pandemic. Does that suggest to you the mandate on trains and planes is not necessary anymore?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Things like mandates are always going to be judgment calls. There's a clear need to recommend that people wear masks. And if you're immuno suppressed or otherwise medically vulnerable and people around you aren't masking, you need to up your mask game and use an N-95.

But, Jake, as you indicated, the bigger issue is if a legal fight results in undermining the ability of federal and maybe even state and local public health departments to protect people not just from this variant but future variants, or future health threats, then we are less safe.


TAPPER: Some transit systems in airports are still requiring masks and that is creating a confusing situation for people. What's your advice to people who are unsure about whether they should continue to wear masks? I'm not talking about immuno-suppressed individuals. Let's say somebody a little overweight or somebody who's a smoker, somebody who's over 60, should they wear masks?

FRIEDEN: When in doubt, mask up. It is a very small price to pay for a very large reduction in the risk that you will get infected, be at risk for long COVID, possibly get seriously ill, or make someone else seriously ill.

TAPPER: The CDC's vaccine advisory committee just wrapped up a meeting a short while ago. They're looking at second booster shots. Now, the FDA has authorized the shots for people 50 and older. Would you like to see this expanded? Is it necessary for everyone to get a second booster?

FRIEDEN: It doesn't look like the current data suggests that everyone should get a booster. But certain people would likely benefit from it. The data that we have from other countries strongly suggests that people who are older, people who are immuno suppressed get substantial benefit from an additional booster dose. So, definitely something we would recommend.

One of the things that's quite concerning, in this country, there are more than 15 million people over the age of 65 who are not up to date with their vaccines. They haven't gotten a first booster. And that is a problem. Because whether it is omicron or the next variant, they're quite vulnerable to severe illness.

We're still having hundreds of deaths a day from COVID. So we are not fully out of the woods. Much as we wish this pandemic were over. It's not yet.

TAPPER: The CDC has recommendations they have, but they often point to how a perfectly healthy person should act. For instance, it's very easy to surpass guidelines for daily salt intake for one meal. How should Americans view what the CDC says as we move into this new phase of COVID?

FRIEDEN: We need to think about balancing risks and benefits. If on the one hand you're healthy and want to go about your life and you're not at risk of exposing others who are vulnerable, then go for it. If on the other hand, you have immuno-suppression or you live with someone in their 80s or 90s, you really need to think twice about possibly getting infected.

There are a few things that are facts. Facts, masks drastically reduce the risk of getting infected. Fact, you can spread this virus even if you feel perfectly fine. And those two facts together indicate that at certain times, masking can protect you, your family, and people around you.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Tom Frieden, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

In our politics lead, right now, President Biden is meeting with top defense officials as Russia announces a test launch of its new intercontinental ballistic missile.

And, moments ago, the president speaking with reporters ahead of this important meeting.

CNN's MJ Lee joins us now live from the White House.

And, MJ, we just heard from President Biden as he is meeting with senior U.S. military officials. Tell us more.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is having this very important meeting with some of his top military officials. One of the things that he said to reporters is that he said there are weapons going into Ukraine, being provided to Ukraine, almost on a daily basis. He also said there needs to be a calibration based on what is actually happening out on the grounds in Ukraine that is certainly the assessment that we expect, to discuss with his top military officials.

The weapons comment is pretty striking given that we have reported that U.S. officials are now currently discussing the possibility of an additional weapons package, amounting to around $800 million. This comes, of course, as we are seeing intensifying fighting, particularly in the eastern region. And there have been concerns that Ukraine forces are simply going to run out of equipment, including ammunition. And we have heard so often from various Ukrainian officials that they really need --

TAPPER: Okay. MJ, we have some sound from the Biden meeting. Let's play that.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- the cabinet table, I'm honored to welcome to the White House. (INAUDIBLE)

Above all, I want to thank you --


BIDEN: -- families, longstanding service that you all put in.

I also want to recognize the groundbreaking nature of this gathering. For the first time, in the proud history of the armed forces, we not only have highly qualified woman as a vice president but as deputy secretary of defense and two women combatant commanders.


And it's an important milestone. I think that speaks to how we are doing in our country, making sure that women succeed in military throughout their careers.

As I said when I got elected, I don't think people thought I meant it. My administration will look like America. I mean that sincerely. Not just the military but across the board. That's where our strength comes from.

And today, I want to hear from all of you and your assessments on what you're seeing in the field and across our forces. And the strategic environment is developed rapidly. That mean our plans and force posture have to be equally dynamic. Things are changing.

And, you know, ensuring the American people, our interests and the interests of our allies means having to constantly adapt to anything and everything that's happening around the world. And we're seeing this very day the need for adaptation as a consequence of us standing with Ukraine against Putin's brutal and unjustified war.

I want to applaud the exceptional work you're doing to equip Ukrainians to defend their nation. I don't know about you but I've been to Ukraine a number of times before the war. I've spoken to them. I was deeply involved in what was going on in Ukraine.

And I knew they were tough and proud. I tell you what. They're tougher and more proud than I thought. I'm amazed what they're doing with our help, in terms of providing advice and weaponry we provided, along with the rest of NATO.

Weapons and ammunition are flowing in daily. And we're seeing just how vital our alliances and partnerships are around the world. Our allies are stepping up, amplifying the impact of our response, and NATO is united, focused and energized as it's ever been.

When I was a kid in the United States Senate, in my 30s and 40s, I was chairman of NATO subcommittee, the Foreign Relations Committee. I -- not because of me or any particular thing, but I've never seen NATO as united. I'm confident in my view, this is Biden speaking, that I don't think that Putin counted on being able to hold this together.

And I've spoken well over 150 times to our NATO allies, like yesterday or how many -- how many?


BIDEN: Twelve. Yesterday, for a couple hours. They're stepping up.

And the same is true in the Indo-Pacific. Our allies are the foundation for the future. We want to see in that vital region of the world.

The central and dispensable mission to deter aggression from our enemies is on display to fight to win wars and remain critical to American power. As commander in chief, I rely on your advice to maintain the military aid, to remain the ultimate guarantor of America's security. Quite frankly, even though I've been vice president for eight years, in the Senate for 36, I didn't fully appreciate how the rest of the world literally looks to us as the leader of the free world. I mean, looks to us in a very precise, specific way. And something you all fully, fully understand.

And I rely, as I said, on your advice and your ability to maintain our military edge. And in return, I promise you, I hope it has been demonstrated since I've been president. That we as a nation will uphold the sacred duty we have to hold our military men and women to prepare, properly equipment you before we send you into harm's way. And when we do, to care for you and your family when you come home, and that's why we're doing so much at veterans affairs as well. It is a sacred obligation.

So I want to thank you all again. I'm looking forward to the discussion. And I thank the press for coming in. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for coming!

TAPPER: It doesn't sound like he's going to take any of those questions.

Let's go back to MJ Lee at the White House.

MJ, your thoughts on what the president just said.

LEE: Yeah, you know, one thing that really stood out is the president saying this was a fast-evolving situation on the ground in Ukraine, and he also said in front of his military leaders that our force posture, the U.S.'s force posture, has to remain dynamic.


And we have seen these discussions playing out in public as well. And we are seeing that reflected in some of the announcements that we have seen coming out of the U.S. and of course that includes what we were talking about before we went to the president's sound, about discussions of an additional weapons package when currently, as we speak, there is equipment that is being sent to Ukraine and arriving in the region from the previously approved package of around $800 million.

So I think at this point in time, U.S. officials are keen on emphasizing that there is sort of a recognition. And that the U.S. and its allies are certainly hearing sort of the very desperate cries for help that we have been hearing from various Ukrainian officials.

One other part that really stood out, it was a little bit difficult to hear exactly what he said in all of that. One thing I did make out was when he said the rest of the world looks to us as the leader of the free world. Obviously, there is a real sense of responsibility and a real sense of responsibility to really react in kind and to sort of meet the moment.

One thing that I asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in the briefing room a few moments ago, the question of how has the president been processing some of these horrific images of civilian death that are so readily available, videos, photos coming out of Ukraine. And she said he has been processing it in the same way that other Americans are. That he is responding with grief and sadness.

And that he is very consumed by this conflict. That he obviously has many other priorities but this is certainly something that is taking up so much of his time right now, Jake.

TAPPER: The U.S. is unveiling a new round of sanctions on Russia. Who are they targeting this time?

LEE: Yeah. It includes a major commercial bank in Russia. Also, 40- plus individuals and entities that are close to prominent Russian oligarch named Konstantin Malofeyev. And the reason they're being targeted including acting on behalf of the Russian government, evading sanctions, and spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda.

There are also companies that are being targeted that are in Russia's virtual currency mining industry. So that's something new that we haven't heard before. This also comes as the State Department is announcing a new round of visa restrictions on hundred of Russian nationals. These are people that they have determined have worked in support of war or have committed human rights violations.

So, obviously, this is the other end of the spectrum. We are seeing equipment and weapons being sent to Ukraine. There are also the economic sanctions on punishment, that the U.S. and its allies are continuing to roll out as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. MJ Lee at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Once considered the bread basket of the world. Next, the struggles facing Ukrainian farm here's are now finding themselves on the front lines of this war.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, the hits keep coming for Netflix. And I'm not talking about popular shows like Ozark. After losing subscriber, Netflix just lost billions of dollars. So what are the streaming giant's plans to turn things around?

Plus, they grow the grain that feeds most of Europe. Now these Ukrainian farmers are not only fighting for their livelihoods. They're fighting for their lives. And leading this hour, Ukrainian officials say the evacuation corridor

for hundreds of innocent civilians trapped in Mariupol did not work as planned. Earlier today, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said 120,000 Ukrainians are still stuck in that besiege city that's now under constant Russian bombardment. A Ukrainian marine inside the Mariupol steel plant where civilians are trapped released a video message saying he does not know how much time they have left.

Two senior U.S. officials telling CNN, Russia has made as of now no major territorial gains so far since they launched their offensive in eastern Ukraine.

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us now live from Lviv, Ukraine, in the western part of country, with more on this reporting.

Jim, we're just a few days into this offensive. So, how significant is this assessment?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is early. But early on at least, the Russian forces not showing any new remarkable ability to gain territory so quickly. The U.S. has observed what it believes to be probing attacks, testing, perhaps, Ukrainian military defenses, in that region. But the big picture going forward, the U.S. does not see that Russia has solved the problems that led to its slow progress and eventual reversal in the north. Things like supply lines.

They're also looking at the weather in the east. It is muddy there. They expect that to confine much of the Russian armor, supply trucks, et cetera, to roads. And that's a problem because we've seen that. You and I have both seen it here. And the Russian convoys are very vulnerable to Ukrainian ambushes.

TAPPER: And, Jim, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that he thinks up to 120,000 Ukrainians are being trapped in Mariupol. The Ukrainian prime minister said the corridor did not work as planned.

So, what are you learning?