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Don Lemon Tonight
Russians Intensify Indiscriminate Attacks On Civilians; Western Assessment: As Many As 10,000 Russian Troops Killed; CNN Investigates Vladimir Putin's Rumored Wealth. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired March 17, 2022 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. I'm here in Eastern Europe in Slovakia, Ukraine's neighbor. And our breaking news, Russian forces intensifying their indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Debris from a down missile striking a residential building in Kyiv, killing at least one person. Chernihiv in northeastern Ukraine coming under heavy attack. At least one American citizen killed in that city by Russian military fire.
And tonight, we'll learn more about Minnesota native James Hill, and Vladimir Putin rumored to be worth $100 billion, reportedly enriched by corrupt oligarchs and said to be the owner of this 190,000 square foot mansion, really more of a palace on the Black Sea. Experts say his vast wealth is hidden. A CNN investigation is just ahead.
We have a whole lot to get to in this broadcast. We're going to begin with CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He is live for us in Lviv. Fred, hello to you. We're getting new video of a horrific attack in Chernihiv that killed dozens of people, including a U.S. citizen. You spoke to the city's mayor earlier today. What can you tell us?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Don. Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, the attacks on Chernihiv have definitely been increasing a lot.
One of the things that we have to make clear to our viewers, that Chernihiv is a really important city for the Russians, because it is right in between the capital of Kyiv in Ukraine and the Belarusian border. And the Russians haven't been able to take it in the last three weeks, but it has been encircled.
This is one of the reasons why the mayor told me he believes that the attacks are now increasing. He says, especially over the past couple days, there have been a lot more artillery attacks, indirect fire attacks. And, you know, you've had 53 people killed in that town on Wednesday alone. Of course, one of them being Mr. Hill who, of course, was one of the victims of that.
But the mayor himself says public infrastructure being targeted, civilian areas being targeted. And he told me, he believes that things are going to get worse in the next couple of days as the Russians intensify their attacks also on civilian infrastructure, Don.
LEMON: You know, officials tell CNN that the city of Mariupol is being hit by 50 to 100 artillery shells every single day, Fred. I mean, what is the latest on the humanitarian corridors? Are people getting out of that city?
PLEITGEN: Apparently, some people are getting out. Bur you're absolutely right, the humanitarian situation in that town is absolutely awful. The folks at the local council in Mariupol said that there are still more than 300,000 people who are hunkering down and who haven't been able to get out yet.
We have to keep in mind that even when those humanitarian corridors work, there's really not that many people who actually do make it out because things are congested, because it is quite difficult. A lot of people, quite frankly, are also quite afraid to get out because they have to go through a sort of area that's controlled by the Russians before they can get to fairly safe areas.
You're absolutely right, the Russians still hitting that town very, very hard. You know, 80% of the buildings in Mariupol have already been damaged in three weeks. That's a massive onslaught. Thirty percent of the buildings there are damaged beyond any sort of hope of being repaired.
And then, of course, you have that hit on the theater in Mariupol where miraculously people were able to survive that because they were in the bomb shelter.
But the authorities here can't even get the people out who were still stuck under the rubble because they say they simply don't have any services anymore. They don't have any emergency personnel anymore because of the onslaught that is going on by the Russians. And quite frankly, they're also still facing that indirect fire from the Russians as well as they try to do that, Don.
LEMON: All right, Frederik Pleitgen. Frederik, thank you very much. We appreciate that.
I want to turn to the city of Kharkiv where thick smoke is dominating the skies after a Russian airstrike hit a massive market, setting off a series of fires. That's according to the officials in the eastern Ukrainian city.
So, joining me now is Maria Avdeeva. She is a disinformation and security expert who stayed in Kharkiv throughout the war to document how Russian forces are destroying her city.
Maria, thank you. You're very brave. We appreciate you joining us here on CNN. You've been living through constant shelling to post these videos for the world to see. What has it been like to watch your city get destroyed day after day after day? I mean, today, it was your famous market, but so many others -- so many other landmarks and homes have gone up in flames! MARIA AVDEEVA, KHARKIV RESIDENT: Thank you for having me. Yes, it is already more than three weeks that I'm staying in Kharkiv and it is very difficult to see the historical city center in ruins because I live quite close.
And every day, when I go out, I will walk around the district which used to be lively, used to be a beautiful Kharkiv. And now, it's completely empty. People are hiding in the underground, in the shelters. There is no one on the street. And the constant shelling continues.
So, for these three days, there were very intensive shellings by close ammunition. I actually saw myself a rocket, 500 meters from where I live. It is a school near there and the rocket was just on the pavement.
And then it is all over the city where you can hear the shellings going on, continuing, and they hit residential areas, which means that people that lived here don't have any place to come back now if they left Kharkiv or they have to leave now in the underground. I have seen yesterday families with children living there for these three weeks. It is very hard to see Kharkiv like that.
LEMON: Yeah. Wow! Right on. You posted this video of an area that weeks ago was filled with people. And you're trying to fight Russian disinformation with those posts, all these posts that you're putting up. What kind of action have you been receiving? Are these videos breaking through? Do you think people are seeing them and they're having an impact, Maria?
AVDEEVA: Yeah, I wanted to do that because immediately when Russia started this war, when the aggression started, I saw the huge wave of disinformation in Russian state media that claimed that Russia actually needs to protect from Ukraine. They even do not call it a war. They call it a special military operation. They try to hide losses. And what is more important, they deny the killings of civilians and deny attacks on residential areas.
And that's why I decided that it is very important to show the people around the world what is actually happening on the ground, because they will see it from someone who is here, who is staying in Kharkiv, and who sees every day the new destruction around the city. And people do watch these videos. I have got so many messages throughout the world with support for Ukraine, and this is also very important.
I ask people, international community, to make pressure on their governments for more support to Ukraine with weapons, with defensive weapons, with anti-aircraft systems because Russia is bombarding our cities from the sky. And we are asking for a no-fly zone above Ukraine, and there are already some movements in that direction, especially from the Baltic states.
So, these all works. Our effort works. But then I also got some threats from Russians trolls that they will get control over Kharkiv soon. But it's not going according to Putin's plan and Russian troops' plan, because they are not able to get control over any major Ukrainian city yet.
And that's why they terrorize civilians, why they bombard the residential areas, because they cannot get any success on the ground military operation. And on the contrary, Ukrainian forces are pushing the Russian troops back to the Russian border.
LEMON: And Russian missiles are hitting close to where you live. Do you see a point when you may have to leave Kharkiv yourself, Maria?
AVDEEVA: Well, the most threatening and critical situation is in Mariupol right now. So, when the city is encircled, I think that Russian troops will at some point try to do so. But Kharkiv is much bigger city. It is 1.5 million city -- it used to be 1.5 million-city because now so many people will, of course, flee Kharkiv, so it is almost all empty.
But then, of course, I don't want to stay in the city until the moment if there will be attempt for this encirclement. And I don't want to stay when the Russian troops might come into the city because this will be threatening my personal security. Of course, it is a very large point because they will be looking for people like myself.
So, I really don't think this is the situation at the moment. I see and I speak to Ukrainian military and they say that they are holding the borders of the city very firmly. I think that very soon, we will get more support. We are already getting support, but we will get more support in terms of weapons from our partners. So, that will allow Ukrainian forces to counterattack and probably we will see a ceasefire at some point.
So, I really hope that I will be able to stay in the city. What is very worrying is that I don't think that the city will be able to get back to normal life soon because so many buildings are destroyed, so many residential buildings, and it means that people will have no place to come back. So, it will take much time to rebuild Kharkiv again and to make it again a beautiful city.
LEMON: It will take years if not decades to get all of that back. And Maria, listen, I hope your videos break through, and you're doing something that is really important. Thank you so much for joining. Stay safe, stay brave, and we'll talk soon. Thanks a lot.
AVDEEVA: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Bye-bye.
LEMON (on camera): Bye. Thousands of Russian troops killed in just three weeks of Putin's inhumane war on the people of Ukraine. Was Russia unprepared and what will Putin do now?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people. (END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: As explosives hammer Ukrainian cities, western officials believe Russia has lost thousands of soldiers since the war began. With both sides taking heavy losses, who can hold out the longest is the question.
So, joining me now to discuss, CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, thank you so much for joining. These estimates are -- I mean, there are a lot of losses. Russian losses are ranging between anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000. That doesn't even get into the injured soldiers. Is this true and how long can they sustain that?
CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED AIR FORCE COLONEL: Well, we are not quite sure how true it is. We know that they've had significant losses, Don. As far as sustaining this, you know, after a while, it gets to be impossible because even the most populated armies are going to run out of people and the Russians don't have the luxury of having an endless source of people, endless source of military-aged males. It is just not going to work for them in the long run.
LEMON: You know, General Petraeus is saying that the Russians were woefully unprepared for this fight. Do you agree? And if so, why do you agree?
LEIGHTON: Well, yes, I think -- I think they were woefully underprepared. And what you are seeing when you look at the map, Don, is right in these areas, there has basically been no movement. They've achieved some gains in northeastern Ukraine, of course fairly significant gains in the south, but very few gains that actually took over many of the larger cities.
So, what you are seeing is an army that has stalled out. And the fact that they have stalled out tells you that there is a problem with logistics, there is a problem with communications, there is a problem with their intelligence, and there is a problem with their morale. So, these factors have contributed to making this army not as good as it was on paper.
LEMON: A poorly performing Russian military can actually be a more dangerous one. Am I wrong?
LEIGHTON: Not at all. In fact, you know, when you look at some of the things that are happening in and around Kyiv right here, you see them stalled out in the northwestern area. They are close to the city, but they haven't moved. And although there are reports of scouts coming into the city limits and that they're making contact with some of the Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainians are able to beat them back. This is one of those things where if they get -- you know, if they stay in these positions, they are going to have issues in terms of command and control and keeping the troops under control. And when that happens, a lot of what the commanders end up doing is acting in desperation and that may mean far more brutal tactics that will be employed against cities like Kyiv and other major cities in and around Ukraine, and that's going to be a major problem, especially from a humanitarian standpoint.
LEMON: The Pentagon is saying that Russian troops are no closer to Kyiv tonight, but behind the lines, that they are moving more long- range artillery into position.
What does that tell you about their next moves?
LEIGHTON: So, this kind of goes in line with what we just talked about, is they're moving the artillery up. That indicates that they are preparing to pound the cities into submission, especially Kyiv. Kyiv is still the center of gravity, what they're looking for. In other words, the main point, the main objective of the Russian thrust.
And when they do that, when they move artillery forward, they're looking at destroying the city. And that is definitely an issue that the Ukrainians are going to have to contend with. And if they can, they need to try to knock out those artillery pieces.
LEMON: The defense ministry saying that Russia is using older and less precise weapons that are more likely to hit civilians. I mean, wow! What does that tell you, Colonel?
LEIGHTON: That tells you that they are using old tactics because they don't have anything else in their arsenal. They do have precision- guided munitions and they do use them when they feel it appropriate, but they don't have enough of them.
And part of their strategy is actually, Don, not to use them. It is actually to go back to the old weapons, to those days of terror and World War II and other conflicts where precision-guided munitions were not even known, were not even a factor. And that brings about a much more horrific piece of warfare that we thought was in the past, and that's a major problem for us.
LEMON: Colonel, thank you. Once again, we learned a lot. The audience -- the audience as well. We appreciate it.
LEIGHTON: You bet, Don. Absolutely.
LEMON (on camera): Tonight, we are learning that an American citizen has been killed by Russian military fire in the city of Chernihiv. His name is James Hill. He is a native of Minnesota. He was in Ukraine to be by the bedside of a Ukrainian partner, his Ukrainian partner, who is suffering from an illness. More tonight from CNN's Camila Bernal.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bombing has intensified. No way out. That was the last post from American James Hill before confirmation of his death. His Facebook detailing a chilling account of his last days in Ukraine. Intense bombing. Still alive. Limited food. Room very cold.
KATYA HILL, JAMES HILL'S SISTER: At one point, a missile went by him and landed at a distance.
BERNAL (voice-over): According to his family, Hill was waiting in a bread line with several other people when they were gunned down by Russian military snipers. His body was found in the street by the local police. Hill was in Chernihiv with his partner, Ira (ph), who is Ukrainian and battling MS.
HILL: He was not going to leave Ira's (ph) side in her condition.
BERNAL (voice-over): We're hanging in there, he wrote on Monday. Very cold inside. Food portions are reduced. Bombing and explosions most of the night. Hard to sleep. People getting depressed.
In his post, he described feeling helpless, hungry and cold, while narrating a war. Intense bombing last night for two hours. It was close to hospital. Machine gun fire could be heard. It stopped just after midnight.
Hill even encouraging political action, posting this on March 7th. For my American friends and relatives, please pressure your local representatives to expedite American visas for Ukrainians, especially for families with children and skilled workers.
HILL: My brother was the helper that people find in a crisis.
BERNAL (voice-over): But while he wanted to help others and find a way out, it was too late.
HILL: We don't know where my brother's body is. So, that kind of closure, the family won't have right now.
BERNAL (voice-over): Camila Bernal, CNN, Los Angeles.
LEMON: Camila, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Strikes this morning in Ukraine's capital, hitting an apartment building, killing at least one person and injuring more. I'm going to speak with a member of Ukraine's parliament who is in that city right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Russian forces intensifying their indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets. Part of a missile struck, an apartment building in Kyiv. Local officials say at least one person was killed and several others injured.
Back with me tonight is Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a member of the Ukrainian parliament. We're so happy to have her back. Thank you for joining us once again. You are still in Kyiv, even though I've spoken with some members of the parliament who have been commuting and leaving the capital. Why are you staying?
IVANNA KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE, MEMBER OF UKRAINE PARLIAMENT: I think it is important to be near the people that are trying to protect the capital, that -- and it is a responsibility to ensure that the authorities, the officials are nearby and not leaving and trying to protect the country with them as well. We all to the extent are commuting (ph) if there is anything that we can do in some other countries.
At this point, as we are talking with you, the sirens are off again in Kyiv. It is the third siren already this night. So, I'm hoping that our air defense will be able to protect the city yet again and we will have less possible destroyment of the city tonight.
LEMON: I wonder about your daughters, Ivanna. You have two daughters. Are they safe? What do they say when you talk to them?
KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Yes, they are safe at this moment. And what do they say? They are living through with the whole society, this war. My older daughter actually started writing poems, started drawing pictures. Well, she's an artist, but she started drawing pictures specifically exclusively about war. So, I think that's how she's finding refuge. She says, the younger one as well, they are saying that they will never forget and they will never forgive, what is important.
I think that that is something to understand for Putin and for all the Russians engaged in this war, that they are right now preparing the generation of our kids not being able to accept this neighbor with its policies and with its attacks over the country and the war that they have waged. So, it is not us who will be able to push back, then it will be our kids.
LEMON: President Zelensky spoke with German leaders today after addressing the Congress here in the U.S. yesterday, and leaders in the U.K. the day before that. Do you think his words are helping bring more support to your country right now?
KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: I hope so. I hope that his words, the words of other politicians, and the words of other civilians and average people that you are giving the floor to, that you are giving the voice to, are knocking on the -- not on the doors but on the hearts of all the free people, the free world, in order to press their governments to get additional support to Ukraine. I see the changes in the policies across the globe, specifically in the E.U. countries. But this is still -- I'm sorry to say, this is still not enough and the support still has to be stepped up both militarily. And also, in terms of sanctions, that should be comprehensive towards Russia and towards representatives of Russia, and coordinated among the free nations.
LEMON: The sanctions opposed on Russian are by far the harshest in history and they have dealt a blow to Russia's economy. The U.S. is providing $800 million in new security assistance, including aircraft systems, weapons, drones, ammunition and armor. What will it take to stop this man, meaning Putin, Ivanna?
KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: The resolve and readiness of all the free nations to stand behind Ukraine and to stand up to the challenge and stand against Russian federation. At this particular moment, Europe is still paying billions and billions of euros, buying Russian gas and oil and coal from Russian federation. So, that is supporting through that and sponsoring the Russian war against Ukraine.
So, additional sanctions, I think, also are important against members of the families, those people that are taking decisions, who are close to taking decisions, oligarchs and Russian federation. All the business (ph) should be just recalled for the U.S., for countries in Europe, for their families so that they would feel that this is personal, and that would also change the point of view there.
Unfortunately, according to the Radio Free Europe, more than 70% of Russians do support this Russian, Putin's war against Ukraine. So, therefore, we also have to target the Russian society for them to actually understand and not feel the (INAUDIBLE) and hope that they are feeling from this war, but rather shame and that they would stand up against Putin internally as well.
LEMON: Ivanna, thank you so much. I appreciate you appearing again. Be safe and may your daughters be safe as well.
KLYMPUSH-TSINTSADZE: Thank you.
LEMON: A church, an amphitheater, a tea house, and a hockey rink.
And I'm not talking about a small city. I'm talking about what is believed to be Vladimir Putin's 190,000-square-foot palace. CNN investigates Putin's wealth after this.
LEMON (on camera): The DOJ and the Treasury Department are working with the European Commission and seven other countries to go after one of Putin's biggest supports, and that's the oligarchs. CNN's Drew Griffin reports.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the shore of the Black Sea, it can only be described as a palace, 190,000 square feet. From the air, you can see the church, tea house, an amphitheater, and reportedly an underground hockey rink with a no- fly zone and a no-boat zone.
This, according to an investigation last year, by the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's group. They claim that this gilded, luxurious palace fit for a king was built for Vladimir Putin.
MANA PEVCHIKH, HEAD OF INVESTIGATIONS, ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: This palace is very much a symbol and miniature of Putin's Russia. He no longer sees himself as a government employee, as an elected figure. He sees himself as a czar, as a king of some sort, and that, you know, he deserves a palace.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN can't independently verify Putin's connection to the palace. And Putin's spokesman denies the Russian leader owns it or any palace.
Maria Pevchikh from Navalny's anti-corruption foundation says they have proof, that their sources and documents all point to the palace as an example of how the oligarchs corruptly enrich Russia's president.
PEVCHIKH: It has been paid by Russian oligarchs, by Russian state- owned companies. Money from Russian people, from regular people stolen and diverted into building this horrendous thing on the Black Sea.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): According to the investigation and a whistleblower who came forward, the money for the palace came from a Russian investment fund company that solicited charity donations from the Russian oligarchs.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There are these rumors about Putin being the richest man in the world. And he may be. It is very, very hard to try to understand what his wealth is and where it's held.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Rumored to be worth more than $100 billion. Officially, Putin claims an 800-square-foot apartment, a few cars, and a modest salary in 2020, valued at about $140,000.
But his official income is irrelevant. Russia watchers say Putin controls Russia by determining who gets money and who doesn't, who gets to run business, who skims profit, and how the wealth is passed. He doesn't need any assets listed in his name, says journalist Tom Burgis. It is all his when he asks.
TOM BURGIS, AUTHOR, KLEPTOPIA: He is closer to something like the godfather. Ultimately, they owe everything they have to the boss. And with the click of the finger, as he has shown in the past, Putin can take everything from an oligarch. However rich and however influential they may seem, they all ultimately depended on him.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Fight the system, interfere in politics, and face his wrath. Exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted of tax evasion and fraud, spent 10 years in a Russian prison, he says, for not playing Putin's game. He claims Putin is paranoid, dangerous, and must be stopped.
MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, FORMER RUSSIAN OLIGARCH AND OIL TYCOON (through translator): All the accounts of all the oligarchs who function as Putin's wallet must be stopped. They must all feel the pain right now and it must continue until the war ends.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Newly imposed sanctions from the West have now made it hard for many of the Russian billionaires to do business outside of Russia. Yachts, bank accounts -- frozen. Inside Russia, the economy shows signs of crumbling. But chipping away at Putin's brutal hold on power through economics will take time. From his actions, observers believe Putin's strategy is far beyond personal riches.
DOUGHERTY: He wants to rebuild Russia as a great power, and you almost have to go back to the czarist days to understand it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Just look at the gates of Putin's purported palace. A golden two-headed crowned eagle. A symbol of Russia similar to the two-headed crowned eagle that is atop the gates of the Winter Palace that belonged to Russia's last czar.
(On camera): Don, the fact is, financially, getting to Vladimir Putin may be impossible and even getting to his oligarchs through the seizures and sanctions is tremendously difficult. They have gone to great lengths to hide their assets behind multiple shell companies safely in western countries like the United States. One expert telling CNN, there is literally no paper trail. Don?
LEMON (on camera): All right. Drew Griffin, thank you very much.
I want to bring in now CNN's global affairs analyst Susan Glasser. Susan, hello to you. Wow! Stunning. This level of wealth is really staggering here. Has Putin made himself a czar?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, that always was the framework, improbably enough for this former KGB lieutenant colonel who was hanging a portrait of Peter the Great in his modest office as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s, who had been this post-war Leningrad with crumbling houses around him.
And now, you see the grotesque enormous wealth that Navalny investigation from last year said in new report. You know, it is really extraordinary, the level of detail that they were able to turn up just about this particular over the top (INAUDIBLE) is a crazy word for something so big and grotesque.
LEMON: You know, all of these governments are now going after oligarchs' wealth, Susan. And it is really amazing. Do you think that they can keep this up? Do you think that it is going to put pressure on Putin? I mean, if he is the one who has doled out the riches in the first place, how effective could this strategy be?
GLASSER: Well, look, that's -- the question is, what is the goal (INAUDIBLE)? First of all, there is the question of who, if anyone, is Vladimir Putin listening to anymore, right?
And so, certainly, this is the system that enabled him at the beginning of his tenure. It might have been even more effective to crack down on the oligarchs. Now, some decades in, you see the physical signs of isolation. Putin at the end of those long tables. So, if he listened to the oligarchs, he probably wouldn't have been in this war in the first place.
So, that's one question that one has. But the flip side is, you know, causing him potentially to lose support enormously from these wealthy people who are used to offering with impunity in the west and going to their apartments in London and sending their kids to school in the United States, in Europe, that is cut off to them now. The question is, what kind of backlash does that generate on Putin?
LEMON: Putin and his oligarchs, Susan, have had decades to hide and to hoard their money. Can sanctions inflict real pain on Putin and his cronies?
GLASSER: Not to the personal level. These are people who, as you've seen, are literally grotesquely rich. You see that in some of these super yachts that are being impounded by the Italians and the like. I mean, just absolutely levels of thievery and corruption that are grotesque. So, it is not going to affect them personally in terms of how they live their lives except that they can no longer go to Europe.
But, you know, Dubai is still open to them. Look at the property that they have there. You see private jets still going there today while much of the rest of the world is closed off to those Russian oligarchs' wealth.
But I think it is a very important factor in understanding the nature of the government that Putin has put together, the system in which a small number of people, you know, basically looted the country for their own purposes.
LEMON: These oligarchs owe everything to Putin. So, is it them or the Russian people who will need to decide Putin has gone too far?
GLASSER: Well, again, you look at the nature of the regime that Putin has. And one thing is that over time, he has been more than two decades in power, he has become progressively more isolated and surrounded really by the remnants of the -- security services, the (INAUDIBLE) as it is called in Russian, that he has surrounded himself with.
These are not the big business people, although many of them have benefitted from corruption and gained large personal wealth as well.
And so, the question is, the system of one-man authoritarian rule, it has really gone in the other direction. Rather than oligarchs having a say over Vladimir Putin, he seems to have put more and more power on himself personally.
And his speech that he gave yesterday, Don, was just absolutely chilling. I mean, I really -- I would recommend anyone to listen to a translation of that. Almost Stalinist in its promise of a new purge inside Russia to accompany the horrific military action on Ukraine next door. It is really suggesting of a new level of reversion to 20th century-type dictatorship inside Russia. It is very scary.
LEMON: Susan Glasser, thank you so much. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.
LEMON: (on camera): The defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, speaking today about the atrocities committed in Ukraine. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LLOYD AUSTIN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: These attacks that we've seen most recently are -- appear to be focused directly on -- on civilians. And of course, that -- you know, if you attack civilians on -- purposely target civilians purposely, then that's -- that is -- that is a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): But does he think Putin will be held accountable? He is meeting with NATO defense leaders right now, and I will get a chance to ask him about the critical decisions they are making tomorrow. Make sure you tune in for my exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tomorrow throughout the day on CNN, and the full interview at 10:00 p.m.
Thank you so much for watching, everyone. Our live coverage continues with Hala Gorani.
UNKNOWN (voice-over): This is "CNN Breaking News."
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to our viewers around the world this hour and in the United States, as well. I'm Hala Gorani reporting live from Lviv, Ukraine.