Return to Transcripts main page
Don Lemon Tonight
Vladimir Putin Doesn't Care For Civilian Casualties; President Biden Approves Banning Russian Oil; U.S. Reacts To Poland's Decision; Millions Fled For Their Life; Ukraine Badly Needed NATO's Help; American Brands Closing Businesses In Russia. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 08, 2022 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Stay with CNN for the latest from Ukraine. The news continues. I want to turn things over now to DON LEMON TONIGHT. Con?
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Anderson, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become a symbol of fighting back. I wonder how much encouragement, does that encourage the people there?
COOPER: You know, people here are incredibly encouraged not only by his strength, by his resilience and his determination to stay in Kyiv. I mean, that's a huge thing. You know, there were people who maybe had doubts about him. He had been an actor, former comedian. He won overwhelmingly in the election here. But he has really rallied this nation and, you know, I think there's great love for him in this country right now.
LEMON: Yes, Anderson, it's been a long day. I've been watching you all day. We'll see you tomorrow. Have a great night. Thank you, sir. Be safe.
This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. And we're going to begin with our breaking news, of course, a chilling warning tonight. Vladimir Putin is likely to escalate in Ukraine with no concern for civilian casualties. Which is pretty dire considering the scale of damage and destruction and death already wrought.
The director of the CIA predicting an ugly next few weeks in a country where homes, schools, and churches are already being blasted out of existence. I want you to take a look at this. It's devastation, it's in the northeastern city of Sumy.
Local officials say at least 21 civilians including two children are dead now. Everyone who could fleeing today when a temporary evacuation route was opened. Now Russia is announcing a new ceasefire in Sumy, Kyiv, and other cities starting in about four hours. So, we're going to be paying close attention to that all evening long and morning long here on CNN.
Ukraine's response, quote, "it is difficult to trust the occupier." That as President Joe Biden takes a very big step today to support Ukraine announcing a ban on Russian oil imports and warning there could be a spike in gas prices right here at home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy. That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine.
This is a move that has strong bipartisan support in Congress and I believe in the country. Americans have rallied support -- have rallied to support the Ukrainian people and made it clear we will not be part of subsidizing Putin's war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The Pentagon tonight dismissing an offer from Poland to transfer all their MiG-29 Fighter Jets to the United States for delivery to Ukraine, calling the plan not tenable. Sources telling CNN that Poland's off -- offer caught the White House completely off guard.
That as the U.S. is sending two patriot missile batteries to Poland calling them a defensive deployment to counter any potential threat to the U.S. and NATO allies amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In the meantime, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, we're just talking about, and thanking President Biden for the embargo on Russian oil after his stirring and defiant speech to the U.K. House of Commons by video echoing Winston Churchill's famous war time speech during World War II.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): We will not give up and we will not lose. We will fight till the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And there you see the House of Commons giving Zelenskyy a standing ovation.
Let's get now to the region, we're going to -- CNN's Michael Holmes is on the ground for us in Lviv tonight. Also with me, as we begin tonight, General Wesley Clark, former NATO allied supreme commander.
Thank you, gentlemen, both of you for joining us. Michael, today at least 21 civilians including two children were killed in a Russian air strike in Sumy. Every day we are learning of more atrocities as Russia intensifies their fight. Is Russia gaining ground? What do you know? [22:05:01]
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don, I think it's fair to say Russian forces are gaining ground in the south and the east. They're trying to join up captured territory stretching from, you know, occupied Crimea in the south along that corridor north to Donbas. And we've seen what's happening in the port city of Mariupol which is in that corridor and is really strategic, essentially surrounded.
People still unable to get out of what is a horrible situation there because according to Ukraine the Russians keep on bombing the escape routes. Around the capital Kyiv the advance fair to say is snail's pace still. Russia trying to encircle the city. So far unsuccessfully.
And as we've discussed, Don, the analysis has been that this has not gone the way the Russians planned. It is too slow, it's too bogged down. Poor resupply and fierce and effective Ukrainian counter attacks. You know, that's meant Russia going back to that playbook of if things aren't going well just bomb civilians and try to break the country's spirit. So far that spirit is unbroken, Don.
LEMON: Yes. General Clark, I want to bring you in now. We are learning tonight the U.S. is sending patriot missiles to Poland as a defensive deployment to counter any potential threats to U.S. and NATO allies. What are patriot missiles designed to do? What do you -- what do you think of this move?
WESLEY CLARK, FMR. SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, NATO: Well, these missiles will shoot down short-range ballistic missiles that would be coming from Belarus or from Russia. These ballistic missiles might be armed with weapons of mass destruction or simply carrying ballistic warheads.
But the fact that we are deploying these patriot missiles now, the fact the Pentagon says the Polish aircraft transfer to the Ukrainians is untenable indicates to me that we are receiving intelligence that Putin is not backing down. He is escalating. He's more prepared than ever to consider doing some unreasonable damage and terrible atrocities in Ukraine, plus, he is looking for an opportunity to strike out at NATO.
LEMON: It is obvious that Ukraine is desperate for more assistance, General. And earlier today it sounded like Poland fighter jets might end up in Ukraine via the United States. Pentagon, dismissed that idea, saying that it was untenable. Why do you think that is and do you think that could change?
CLARK: Well, I think it could change. I think this is an hour by hour mounting crisis that we're not fully seeing but is happening behind the scenes, Don. What you've seen the Russian forces bogged down. You've seen them failing in logistics. We've seen them (Inaudible) even not much progress even in the south. Very tough Ukrainian resistance.
Putin wants this operation over before the middle of March. His whole government depends on it. There is no off-ramp for him. He wants to force Zelenskyy out and so he is going to escalate. And done path of escalation is he raises the nuclear alert level and we have to take that very seriously.
We don't know if it has been raised tonight. We don't know what's happening with his nuclear weapons. But we know the president is not going to respond in that tit-for-tat game but the deployment of the patriots to me, is an indicator that the pressure has risen a little bit and that Putin is feeling it.
He can't get back at the United States for the increasingly tough sanctions so he is going to use what he has, which is the threat of weapons of mass destruction. And he did say that nations that put sanctions on that's the equivalent of war.
When I heard that statement I thought, well, this is the same kind of statement as when he said Ukraine isn't really a nation. It's like an -- it's like an authorization for your side to do something that you shouldn't be doing. And in this case, it's the threat of nuclear weapons and possibly the use of a nuclear weapon.
LEMON: That is a frightening prospect. Michael, are people aware of that there, the average citizens aware of that prospect or they're just dealing with the everyday bombardment from Russian soldiers?
HOLMES: Yes, I think, yes, I think it's the latter, Don. Yes, they're aware of what's being said and the hyperbole and the bellicose comments coming out of Moscow. But their day to day is survival.
I mean, when you look at the humanitarian situation in this country, it really beggars belief. I mean, time to get the head around the numbers. I mean, we are up to two million people fleeing this country according to the U.N. Two 2 million people. A million of those have gone to Poland alone. Well over half of them are kids, Don. And they're the ones who have gotten out.
Now the number of internally displaced, those who've, you know, fled their homes but not their country, that's in the millions, too. And the U.N. of course is fearing that the outflow potentially could reach five million.
Again, get your head around that number of people leaving in a matter of a couple of weeks. You know, aid workers are saying they've never seen anything like it. The flow just doesn't stop. And the other thing too, about that, Don, is this could be a long term, years' long issue. I mean, there is no indication that those people are going to be able to go home if they still have a home any time soon.
So that's I think where the minds of Ukrainians are focused at the moment. Day-to-day trying not to die and trying to get out of the country if they can.
LEMON: Also, there is this heartbreaking moment that we saw when a Ukrainian police officer says good-bye to his distraught son as his family flees Irpin, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv. What's the latest on that humanitarian crisis that you have been talking about? What do you know, Michael?
HOLMES: Yes, exactly. I mean, that was -- that was just heartbreaking watching. You know, Don, we've seen so many heartbreaking things. I mean, you watch Alex Marquardt's report, Clarissa Ward's, you know, Matthew Chance, all of our people out in the field there who have been meeting people and, you know, Clarissa's report today on a nursing home. My God. I mean, it's just so hard to watch that sort of thing.
And I think, you know, Ukrainians, they're just up to their necks in it. It is not stopping. It's incessant. And you know, the people even that we meet here who have escaped. You know, I did a story the other day at a foster home and the woman who was running the foster home, they had hundreds of kids there who have come from other parts of the country.
And she said that the thing that is heartbreaking to her is when there is an air raid siren those kids are terrified. They go into panic attacks. Here when there are air raid sirens, you know, we haven't had any, you know, bombs and missiles but for those kids who have come from places where there have been, they go into panic attacks. You know, there's a lot of kids in this country and who have left this country who are going to be needing a lot of psychological help going forward.
LEMON: Michael, General, thank you very much.
So, they fled Kyiv just days before the Russian invasion but they didn't flee the country. American Joe Reimers and his Ukrainian wife Dasha went west to Lviv where they're now helping refugees find places to stay and they both join me now.
Hello to both of you. I'm so glad to see you both. Joe, we'll be speaking since I understand Dasha is concerned about her English but, please, if you have something to say, Dasha, feel free to jump right in. This is your platform and your time to say whatever you want.
So again, we are grateful you're joining us. Joe, you just got married in June --
DASHA REIMERS, FAMILY SHELTERING IN MARIUPOL, UKRAINE: Thank you.
LEMON: -- after living in Ukraine for four years now. Did you ever imagine something like this would happen?
JOE REIMERS, AMERICAN LIVING IN UKRAINE: No, you know, and I guess that's one of the many privileges of being an American, right, is big problems like this are always things that happen in other countries. And then I moved to one of those countries and now we're here. But in all the reading we did about the first year of marriage this wasn't something we were prepared for.
LEMON: Yes. So, Dasha, let's try this and just see. How are you doing? D. REIMERS: Yes. Depends. Sometimes sad sometimes angry. We are
trying to do something just to, for not to think about my family all the time. But yes. We're doing OK here.
LEMON: Yes, I imagine it's tough. Your life has been up ended in the last two weeks. Joe, how did you have the foresight to get out of Kyiv? What happened?
J. REIMERS: I think, you know, honestly, we can't even really say it was our foresight. We felt like we had the opportunity to go and the reports were getting more concerning, and you know, my parents in America, I think were very concerned about it and so we -- and we -- and also Dasha's family was in Mariupol, her 13-year-old sister was there, and we were more concerned about what would happen in that part of the country.
And so, we had an opportunity we thought to have her sister come to us so she would be away from anything that might happen there, and so. So that and also maybe helping my parents to sleep a little better at night we decided to come and now obviously we're thankful that we did.
LEMON: Yes. You feel safer there but it's still, I mean, Lviv is, you know, there is trouble there and you're not in complete safety even there, Joe.
J. REIMERS: Yes, you know, that's all -- that's a guessing game. It depends on, you know, what we read one day I'll be sure that there is no way Putin will try to expand the war this far west in the country. Other days you're not so sure about that. But we feel that we're safe here for now. We feel that we are able to do important work while we're here. And so for now we have made the decision to stay.
LEMON: You are both living in Lviv along with Dasha's sister and brother, 18, and therefore cannot leave the country. I understand that you haven't left Ukraine in part because you want to stay with them. Is that correct?
J. REIMERS: Yes, that's right. So as probably a lot of your viewers know men from 18 to 60 can't leave the country right now unless they have three or more kids or I think there are some really narrow medical exceptions to that. And so, we didn't want to leave him here with Dasha's family also in Mariupol, we didn't feel right leaving and then once we got here to Lviv, like I said we just, we felt like there were things we could do here and we felt that the situation here was safe at least for the time being.
LEMON: Dasha, how is your family doing?
D. REIMERS: They are hiding in the church basement for the last nine days now and there is no water, gas, electricity in the city. Of course, Russian soldiers want --
J. REIMERS: They're not letting them evacuate the city. D. REIMERS: Yes. And also, they won't let someone else to bring
humanitarian help. So, they were prepared for that from what we understand. And they had enough food and water for themselves but then people started coming to the church and there are more than 20 of them there now. So, we talk rarely. The connection is very bad there. So, I don't know.
LEMON: It was -- they didn't evacuate because they had to take care of your grandmother, is that right?
D. REIMERS: Yes. Their first idea was not to leave because they have to take care of her and now since like they found a thing to do there so they have a lot of people they feel responsible for and, plus, now they don't even have the ability to leave even if they would want to.
LEMON: How long do you think they can hold out with the --
J. REIMERS: Yes.
LEMON: Joe or Dasha, how long do you think they can hold out, you know, in hiding with, under the circumstances?
J. REIMERS: We -- that's hard for us to know because, you know, cell service is so limited there right now. We talked to Dasha's dad very briefly yesterday morning and that was the first time we've been able to get any communication from him for about two and a half days before that.
And we also know that when we talk to them, they're doing their best not to scare their children about what the situation is really like there so we don't know a lot of specifics about how much supplies they have.
I remember not this last time but the time before when we talked to them, Dasha's dad said, you know, we have a better basement than a lot of people here in the city so we can't complain.
So, he's, you know, most of the family is staying there in the basement, but he works with an organization that cares for the elderly and widows in their city and so he has been going around from what we understand to deliver them food and supplies and from what we understand he won't leave until all of those women are able to leave and many of them are, you know, live in their beds.
They are not able to really walk on their own, and so it would take some kind of mass evacuation we think to get them out, which, so far has not been possible.
LEMON: Let's talk a little more. Because I was looking at my notes and you told my team that almost everyone is involved in the war effort. And our reporters have seen people setting up road blocks, women making camouflage netting, people taking up arms, even civilians making Molotov cocktails. And I understand that you both have been helping refugees find places to stay. Can you -- can you tell us about that?
J. REIMERS: Yes, so, you know, when we -- when we came here, we were in a situation where we were in a city that we had only traveled to a couple times briefly and didn't know where to stay and, you know, thankfully we got here early enough that we were kind of able to learn our way around the city a little bit and Dasha has an aunt and uncle and cousins living here so she got pretty connected with the community here.
And she started doing a lot of things, but one thing she did is kind of made a directory of places all around Ukraine that are taking in displaced people and refugees, phone numbers they can call, and just started connecting people, people we know and contacts with people we know in Kyiv or other places in the country who fled here and helping them find a place to stay.
Because as I'm sure you've heard, the western part of the country here is just overwhelmed with displaced people.
LEMON: Dasha, what do you want people to know about you, your family, your country?
D. REIMERS: I was thinking about it. You know, it's interesting because you never want to be this person people are watching on TV and feel pity for, right? And we are the same people. We had normal life here. We were happy. And we just want this to come back. We just want this back. So, I don't know if you can help us somehow, we'll be grateful.
LEMON: Dasha, Joe, thank you so much. We appreciate it. You guys be safe. OK?
J. REIMERS: Thank you for having us on.
LEMON: Thank you very much.
Up next, Ukraine's youngest member of parliament. What he is saying in Kyiv tonight and seeing.
LEMON: This is our breaking news tonight. The Pentagon calling Poland's offer to transfer fighter jets to the U.S. for delivery to Ukraine not tenable.
I want to bring in now Sviatoslav Yurash, he is the youngest member of Ukraine's parliament. Good to see you. Thank you so much for joining us again.
I want to get your reaction to this news the Pentagon dismissing Poland's proposal to transfer fighter jets to the U.S. for Ukraine. How big of a blow is this for Ukraine?
[22:25:04] SVIATOSLAV YURASH, MEMBER, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Well, it is shameful. The reality is that we need those skies closed down. The fact is all the options have been now proposed. The reality is that NATO doesn't want to do it, we'll do it ourselves. We're showing creating some of the first aces (Ph) since Second World War that we can shoot down Russian planes en masse. We just need the means to do so and this offer was a step in that direction.
The point here is the fact that even such an offer is thrown back to us is a grave sign of the west's unwillingness to see those images and to respond to them with conscience. The reality is all these children dead, all these civilians dead, all these residential buildings destroyed the least you can do is give us the means to fight this. And those certainly an air power -- those planes are our means to try and achieve, to take over, take back the skies over Ukraine.
LEMON: So then two questions. Can Ukraine stop the Russian onslaught without significant air power?
YURASH: The reality is that's exactly why we were speaking of the no- fly zone because it is very hard to assess exactly what's the future if the Russians can land anywhere, can shoot anywhere, can try and basically attack in any part of our country.
LEMON: So, if you could speak directly to the U.S. president or to the Pentagon or someone in charge here who could get those planes to you, that equipment to you, what would you say to them?
YURASH: Give us the means to win this. Give us the means to try and fight this. Give us the means to prove to the world you cannot just take over countries. You cannot just destroy the second biggest -- the second country in Europe and face no consequences.
LEMON: There are indications that the Russian military is now approaching Kyiv from the east after the breakdown of that large Russian convoy. How under threat is your city tonight?
YURASH: The reality is we've been fighting for the outskirts, the west of Kyiv to keep those supply lanes to the border with the European Union open. And the battle is in the region there every single day. I'm coming there every day and basically seeing the carnage, seeing the people flee, seeing the destruction Russians are causing.
The fact of the matter is that those supply lines are key for the last week and they shall remain our priority moving forward. The point is Kyiv itself has been mostly cleared of any Russian agents, Russian reconnaissance, people or Russian divergence but the battle for the outskirts and the battle to keep Kyiv unsieged is waged right now.
LEMON: Sviatoslav, you know, the U.S. President Joe Biden banned -- banned Russian energy imports today. Do you think efforts to strangle Russia's economy, does that help your cause at all?
YURASH: Well, Russia has broken every single rule there is in the international community. Every single point of international law. So, the point is punishing it and throwing it away from those normal relations with the world is only rational because, again, to not punish such actions is to show the world you can act in this manner and this shall reverberate around the world.
LEMON: The reports are coming in about the number of civilians killed. I think it's 21 civilians including two children were killed in the Russian air strike that was in Sumy. I just want to ask you. Do you believe this is war crimes?
YURASH: These are all extremely reminiscent of the horrors of the Second World War. What we are teaching children right now shall not be repeated. It is repeating right now. The point is the world is sitting back and saying well, you fight your war. Here are some guns. It's all well and good but we need more than that. I think when you teach a generation not to repeat those mistakes of the past you show them the very opposite by not acting here in Ukraine.
LEMON: President Zelenskyy addressed the U.K.'s parliament today and yesterday we saw him in his Kyiv office for the first time since the invasion began. How worried are you about his safety and your own safety as a member of parliament?
YURASH: I am not that very -- not that far away from where he sits in that office. The point is that as far as the willingness and ability to defend Kyiv we are developing it every single day and the point here is we cannot give up on our capital.
This is a city for which so much has been given and this is a city which we received for the story Second World War of Kyiv, the status of hero city. So we shall prove that status once more.
LEMON: I want to put this up. This is, we see photos with you and your weapon and then in Kyiv there it is right there, and then in Kyiv 18,000 volunteers and reservists picked up weapons in the early days of this invasion. Tell us about the fight. Are you confident Ukrainian forces and volunteers can keep your city under Ukraine's control?
YURASH: We have been proving that for the last two weeks. We've been gathering the forces. It's much more than 18,000. Kyiv is a city of millions. And many of them have left. We have plenty of more joining the territorial defense forces, Ukrainian armed forces, joining patrols, joining the territorial guards.
So, the point is all these structures of the Ukrainian army are showing its capacity by pushing back the Russians the last two weeks out of Kyiv and keeping those supply lines to the west of the country open. We are proving that point very much.
LEMON: I want to know what you think of the ceasefire, the quote, I think the quote was like you can't, it is difficult to trust the occupier. What do you think of the ceasefire announcement that starts in a few hours? Do you view that as a trap?
YURASH: Russia has broken those ceasefires time and time and time again, so I have no ability to be confident about this ceasefire. The point is as far as Russians are concerned, they have broken so much more over the 20 years of Mr. Putin's rule that to say with any confidence about anything Putin confirms or agrees to as something that shall stick is not a possibility.
LEMON: Sviatoslav, thank you. Stay safe.
YURASH: Thank you very much.
LEMON: There are now more than two million people who have fled Ukraine. Worsening an already major humanitarian crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: We are not Nazi. We are just on our land with hands up, please, we want to leave. We want to be happy. Stop shooting. Please.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The number of refugees, look at that, trying to flee the Russian assault on Ukraine growing by the day. The U.N. saying more than two million refugees have left the country or are trying to get out like this crush of people, it's at a train station in Lviv.
U.N. officials saying most people are trying to cross the border into Poland, Romania, Moldova, or other neighboring countries where some have family connections but many do not.
CNN's Scott McLean reporting tonight from the Ukrainian side of the border with Poland.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For more than a million Ukrainians the road to safety in Poland is filled with checkpoints, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and seemingly endless anticipation. Valentina Dekhtiarenko (Ph) and her family had been waiting to cross the border for more than 24 hours. They are still nowhere near the front of the line.
VALENTINA DEKHTIARENKO, FLEEING UKRAINE (through translator): I don't know what is waiting for me and my family. We're going into the unknown and it scares us.
MCLEAN: Everyone in their cars is willing to wait. Closer to the border even hobble, buses drop people off by the dozens to cross on foot joining lines that stretch for blocks and for hours. Max Amelin is taping and zip tying left over insulation from his heating business to his daughter's feet to make sure she is warm while she waits for hours in the frigid cold. You just wanted to make sure your family got here safe?
UNKNOWN (through translator): Yes. He saves us and that's all.
MCLEAN: When they get to the front of the line, Max will have to stay behind as a man of fighting age. His in-laws aren't leaving either.
NATALIA AMELIN, FLEEING UKRAINE (through translator): It is very difficult. It's so hard. My heart is ripped into pieces. My parents stayed back in Kyiv region. I don't know even what is going with them now. It's so scary.
MCLEAN: Ilona Gutnichencko with her young daughter and godson Intow (Ph) fled the heavy shelling of Irpin just outside Kyiv.
ILONA GUTNICHENKO, FLEEING UKRAINE: It was terrible. And we left only two days ago. Sat on the last train. We didn't believe that in 21st century it can be the real war.
MCLEAN: Valentyna also fled Kyiv. She has never been forced from her home but is no stranger to tragedy.
VALENTYNA, FLEEING UKRAINE (through translator): My husband died at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Do you understand? And that's what they are doing now. They are destroying the whole world. It is outrageous. People around the world shall not be silent.
MCLEAN: This elderly couple fled Kharkiv that only after spending eight days sheltering in a metro station. On the eighth day an explosion shook their underground hide out.
VLADIMIR CHUMAKOV, FLEEING UKRAINE (through translator): The women were hysterical. I understood this is not going to pass. This horror cannot be endured. I cannot express it. The fear. The crying children. When I saw a pregnant woman entering the metro, I understood this cannot be forgiven.
MCLEAN: From here many have no idea where they'll go when they get to Poland or when they might be able to come back.
Scott McLean, CNN, near the Polish border in Ukraine.
LEMON: Thank you, Scott, I appreciate that. In the introduction to that story, I said Moldovia. I should have said Moldova. I didn't even realize I said it, so thanks to the producers.
President Biden today blocking all Russian oil and gas imports to the U.S. and there is much more negotiating going on behind the scenes about what the U.S. can do and should do. That's next.
LEMON: The fight for Ukraine continuing on land and in the air almost two full weeks now into this Russia, Russia invasion. You're watching what happened when a Russian attack helicopter was shot down by Ukrainian forces. That happened over the weekend.
Tonight, the Pentagon is dismissing Poland's proposal to transfer their MiG-29 Fighter Jets to the United States for delivery to Ukraine.
So, joining me now to discuss the former Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He is the author of "Here, Right Matters: An American Story."
Colonel, good to see you again. Thank you very much.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby says that fighter jet deal is not tenable and fighter jets departing a U.S. NATO base to fly into contested air space with Russia raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance. Is he right and is this cautious approach in the United States' best interests?
ALEXANDER VINDMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN AFFAIRS FOR THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: It's not. It is some sort of absurd game of not it. In fact, in that same statement and I admire Admiral Kirby, he also said that Poland is free to go ahead and push those aircraft over the border directly.
But of course, we all know that Poland is also a member of NATO so that logic is not very sound. I think the problem of course fundamentally is this was supposed to occur in kind of covert channels, this was supposed to be a secretive transfer of aircraft that became public.
But in so doing, we're now risking the ability to transfer these aircraft that are vitally important to Ukraine, instead are figuring out a creative way of getting there. And also, fundamentally misplacing our fears about somehow escalating this conflict.
The belief, the misplaced belief that Russia is going to respond to NATO when it's bogged down in Ukraine is fundamentally logically flawed and that somehow this is going to result in an escalatory spiral -- spirals toward nuclear war is even more far-fetched.
So, I think we're just in our heads too much thinking about how this could, worst-case scenarios like we have been with Ukraine's collapse, eminent collapse before this started even now the dooms saying. Yes, there is going to be a catastrophe unfolding. The Russians are bombing cities.
That's why these aircraft need to be transferred so that the fact that, so that the Ukrainians can try to take control of their skies and prevent fire raining down on their cities. So, I think we just need to transfer them as quickly as possible.
LEMON: Why is the possibility of nuclear weapons becoming involved, why do you think that is far-fetched? I mean, Vladimir Putin is not a rational actor in any of this. VINDMAN: I don't agree with that assessment. I think the fact is he
has been trained to respond in a particular way over the course of his tenure and that is mainly the result of the fact that he hasn't been held accountable. We understand domestically what happens if somebody isn't accountable. They are emboldened.
There is a long trend line of Putin being emboldened whether that interfering in Ukraine's election in 2004, precipitating the Orange Revolution, attacking Georgia in a war, the Chechen -- the Chechen war was his first war actually and then the war in 2014 in Ukraine and a war in Syria, interfering in U.S. elections.
There is a trend line here. He has been encouraged to believe the consequences were going to be low and he's also encouraged by the fact that we had a Republican Party in the United States captured by Donald Trump that seemed to signal that Putin was our friend and that cheerlead and band wagoned for them -- for him also encouraging this idea that the costs would be low.
So, from his perspective this was completely rational. Of course, he was in, he made some very, very fundamental flaws with the fact that he believed that the Ukrainians were not going to resist this and it was going to be an easy operation, the fact there was not going to be a consequence from the international community.
Those are all fundamentally wrong. But he was trained in a particular way. We also need to recognize that this is a man that sits a football field away from his closest advisers because he doesn't want to get sick. The Russians have families too. They don't want to go engage in a mutual destruction either.
And again, bogged down in Ukraine in this war that's not going anywhere near to plan, they would be loath to engage in a confrontation with NATO. We -- this is basically some more of the same. Turkey has been providing unmanned combat aerial vehicles. These would be Ukrainian pilots flying Ukrainian planes because they'll be gifted to Ukraine back across the border to defend themselves in a military, special military operation not even a war according to Putin's own language. So, I think this is again, the risks are negligible.
LEMON: Are we then just, meaning the United States, prolonging the inevitable here about getting involved directly somehow?
VINDMAN: I think that's right. I think the fact is that we're still -- we still have some wishful thinking about how quickly this is going to end. Some people (Inaudible) to suggest that --
LEMON: In the meantime, people are losing lives every single day. Go on. Sorry to interrupt.
VINDMAN: Exactly right. We've -- no, that's exactly right. We're going to be in a position where we may have to make some difficult decisions. Things that seem beyond the pale right now like a no-fly zone, after a thousand -- tens of thousands of Ukrainians are killed and the U.S. population, the European population demand action is not going to seem as unreasonable.
So doing, making some calculated risk-informed decisions now is going to be better than letting this unfold, trying to sit on the sidelines, and then being dragged in into something that's even more consuming because the Russians are going to do their -- Putin in particular is going to use incrementalism.
He's going to see vulnerabilities, the fact that we're hemming and hawing about these aircraft, he's going to ratchet up the tensions on us, he's going to continue to bomb Ukrainian cities. This is the way he operates. He doubles down. And we're giving him the opportunity to do so.
So, taking action now is actually a good way to help Ukraine resolve this issue on the ground, which is where this is going to be decided, through this -- this clash of militaries. And if we help Ukraine fend off the Russian military, that's how this ends. That's how we compel Putin to go to the negotiating table. That's how Zelenskyy sits across the table from Putin and figures out a diplomatic solution to this.
LEMON: Colonel Vindman, we always enjoy having you on. We appreciate your expertise. Thank you so much.
VINDMAN: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Remember this? Here it is. McDonald's opening in Russia. But that was 1990. Today they're closing. Stay with us.
LEMON: As the world recoils in horror from Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine, today some of America's most iconic food brands added their operations to the growing list of countries and companies who won't be doing business there.
McDonald's and Starbucks shutting down their restaurants and their cafes. Coca-Cola also suspending sales. And Pepsi will stop selling Pepsi Cola and 7-Up, although it will still market milk and baby food products.
McDonald's has been a major presence in Russia for more than three decades, with nearly 850 locations. When the first restaurant opened in Moscow in 1990, thousands turned out to taste the burgers and fries and the company says it now employs 62,000 people in Russia.
But its CEO releasing a statement saying -- which reads in part, "our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine." The parent company that owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell saying it is suspending all investment in Russia. But most of those restaurants are independently owned franchises and will likely remain open for business. We'll continue to update.
Next, the shelling continues as another day of war begins in Ukraine. We're live on the ground there. Also, Fareed Zakaria gives us his take. That's right after this.