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Medical Aid Heads to East Palestine; President Biden Makes Surprise Visit to Ukraine. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2023 - 13:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Turkish president and prime minister to discuss the ongoing relief efforts from that devastating earthquake.

On Sunday, Blinken announced that the U.S. will send an additional $50 million in emergency funds to both Turkey and Syria. And Blinken also took a moment to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the thousands of lives lost.

And thank you again for joining INSIDE POLITICS.

My colleague Pamela Brown picks up our coverage right there.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. And you're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Historic, timely, brave, those words from Ukraine's President Zelenskyy about President Biden surprise trip to Kyiv just hours ago, Biden walking the embattled capital streets, promising America's unwavering support as air raid sirens blared and as Russia's brutal assault nears the one-year mark, a consequential trip at a consequential moment on this Presidents Day.

Biden laying a wreath inside Ukraine, which is an active war zone, where the U.S. military has no control. The White House giving Russia a heads-up only a few hours before President Biden arrived and delivered this message:


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin's war of conquest is failing.

One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The American stands with you. And the world stands with you.


BROWN: And we have teams standing by in Kyiv and in Moscow.

But we begin and Warsaw, Poland. President Biden will give a major speech there tomorrow.

CNN's Phil Mattingly leads us off with that -- Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Pamela, that speech was supposed to be the cornerstone of this entire trip, at least what was publicly known about this trip.

That has obviously shifted dramatically, almost as dramatically as the president's visit to Kyiv, dramatic in the sense that it was so secretive in nature leading up to it, remarkable because of some of the elements, Pamela, you mentioned in the lead-in, the fact that this was a U.S. president traveling to a war-torn country in a city that had been under fairly regular bombardment, where the U.S. had no military assets on the ground, no control of the airspace above them.

It's never happened before. And yet those were the stakes. That was the rationale behind President Biden's visit, a visit he'd been basically pleading with aides to try and set up for the series of months that led to an intensive background effort by a small circle of aides to put it together.

And if you want to know how this was received, well, this was how President Zelenskyy framed it:


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is really the most important visit for the whole history of Ukraine- U.S. relationship.

This conversation brings us closer to the victory. And we hope that, this year, the 2023, will become a year of victory.


MATTINGLY: And, Pamela, I think that's a critical point here, White House officials making very clear this was intended to send an unambiguous message of the durability of U.S. support, which has been so central to Ukrainian efforts to defend their country over the course of the last year, but at a very real inflection point for this war as it just gets past its 361st day, a recognition that that durability is an absolute necessity and must be maintained, not just from the U.S. side, but the entire Western coalition.

Now, as part of that, President Biden announced a roughly half-billion dollar additional supplement aid package today while he was in Kyiv, that aid package including artillery rounds, surveillance radars, Javelin systems, more of that likely coming from international partners in the days ahead, but all of this underscoring the U.S. effort to stay with this and not go anywhere anytime soon, Pamela.

BROWN: Yes, but, notably for Zelenskyy, F-16s weren't on there. That, of course, has been a big ask from President Zelenskyy, something that President Biden has said he's not willing to turn over just yet.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Let's go live to Kyiv now see. CNN's Alex Marquardt is there.

Alex, what has the reaction been to the president's visit?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, pretty much universally, everyone we have spoken with, Pam, thrilled to see that commitment, that U.S. commitment not just in the past year, but going forward as well.

Now, because this trip was such a surprise, because there was absolutely no announcement, it's not like we saw President Biden surrounded by loving crowds or people lining the streets. There was a huge element of surprise when we spoke with people to ask their reactions.

And then they would tell us how happy they were that he came here for those reasons of symbolism, because this is the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to remind the world that Ukrainians are fighting against Russians every single day, to remind Russia that the West and the United States, in particular, will continue to support Ukraine.


Here's a little bit more of what we heard.


ANATOLIY, KYIV RESIDENT (through translator): It is support for us and a message for the Russians that this issue must be resolved, and Ukraine must win. We hope that this visit will speed up the events.

I am in a good mood. This is a surprise that shocked everyone.

TANYA, KYIV RESIDENT: It's good news. It's American president coming here. It's good news, because world will hear about Ukraine and don't forget that we have a war and we suffer in different -- difficult time here.


MARQUARDT: It is a very difficult time here.

Pam, I just misspoke there. Of course, the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine. I did speak with one man who said the most important thing here, however, is victory. And they're going to get victory, they believe, through the kinds of weapons that the West and the U.S. have been offering.

Right now, there is a bit of a difference between what President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians have been asking for and what they have been getting. We heard today from a top member of the National Security Council, who said what was in that aid package today is for the near-term fight.

The U.S. wants Ukraine to focus on a counteroffensive in the south in the coming weeks using some new training methods, new tactical methods that they have been taught in their training in Germany, new weaponry that they're being offered, including armored vehicles.

And, at the same time, Ukraine is facing the beginning stages, we believe, of what is a Russian offensive that is also due to grow in the coming weeks, so far, Pam, Ukrainians doing a very good job of pushing them back -- Pamela.

BROWN: Yes, this visit from President Biden truly coming out at a critical time.

Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

And Biden's trip also comes just one day before Russia's Vladimir Putin was set to give his own speech.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow.

Fred, so what are the Russians saying about this remarkable visit?


Well, it's interesting. It's really a mixed bag of things that the Russians are saying. First of all, at the visit itself, the Russians making a big thing of the fact that, apparently, the White House notified the Russians before President Biden took this trip. And some of the reactions there are is that the Russians are essentially saying, look, he's here or he was in Kyiv at the mercy of Vladimir Putin, that Vladimir Putin essentially allowed the U.S. president to come to Kyiv.

However, there's some others, really hard-line military bloggers who become quite prominent here in Russia as the war has gone on, who said that this is absolutely a defeat for Russia, that President Biden can just go there without facing any difficulties from the Russian Federation. And they see it as a sort of sign of weakness from President Putin that this was allowed to happen in the first place.

But that's sort of part of it. But, essentially, what the Russians are also saying is that they believe that the fact that President Biden was there in Kyiv today shows that the U.S. is very much part of this conflict, some Russians even saying party to this conflict.

And it's really one of the narratives, Pamela, that the Russians have been trying to build over the past couple of months, especially as things have been quite difficult for them on the battlefield, is, they're saying, look, we're not just fighting against the Ukrainians, but we're also fighting against all these Western weapons that are pouring in, especially from the U.S.

So they're essentially trying to frame this as not Russia against Ukraine, but Russia against the West, and specifically NATO, and, of course, the United States. Looking to hear more from that when President Putin has his speech tomorrow, Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

Joining us now is Maryan Zablotskyy. He is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

Maryan, what did it mean to you, to Ukraine having President Biden there and this unprecedented visit visiting Kyiv?


Well, it was very spiritually uplifting, because we have had a lot of rumors of potential second Russian invasion, of threats of new bombings. But seeing, like, President Zelenskyy and President Biden walk in the streets of Kyiv under the active air raid alarm was very spiritually uplifting.

Basically, it was a message to Putin: Look, we are here. We are in the range of your missiles. And we know you will not do anything about it, because we are much stronger.

BROWN: It really struck me listening to a Ukrainian speaking to our Alex Marquardt, saying, "I'm in a good mood," hearing you say this was so uplifting, spiritually uplifting.

It has been such a rough year for Ukrainians as we near that one-year mark. Just help us better understand what it means to you to feel that, to feel uplifted after so many harsh months.

ZABLOTSKYY: It's very difficult.

It's harder to find the Ukrainian that has not lost some friends, including myself, in the war. But the main thing is what would be the end result. And with President Biden's visit and with this show of strength, we know that, in the end, we will be victorious. And that was very powerful for us.

BROWN: Biden vowed to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes. That was his quote.

How long do you foresee see that need?


ZABLOTSKYY: No, it really does not matter for us Russia.

Russia has been trying to engage in our matters for decades and probably for hundreds of years. And they have been trying to meddle with Ukrainian politics, with U.S. politics for decades nonstop on end.

You know, whatever it takes. It's a generational fight, not even for this generation, but for generations before us. It's a win-or-lose games -- game. We either become free forever or we will be slaves to Russia. And I'm sure that's how -- how they see it as well.

BROWN: And you believe Ukraine, in the end, will be victorious. I'm curious. As a child, you grew up idolizing former President Reagan

and other conservative icons. How does it feel that some lawmakers in the GOP in the United States are increasingly lukewarm about support for Ukraine? And what is your message to them?

ZABLOTSKYY: They have to understand and remember that Russia does not like Democrats or Republicans. They hate both sides. They hate -- they hate America.

And their true policy is not to either support either party, but to drive a wedge. But I'm pretty sure that we will have bipartisan support. Just a week ago, we had a communist monument removed right next to Parliament. And that was my dream.

So, I really hope that the Ronald Reagan monument will be installed right at the place where that Soviet communist monument was removed.

BROWN: I think that that's also Winston Churchill, if I'm not mistaken, right behind you there, where you are.

As you look ahead, Biden's visit comes as some of Americans' staunchest -- America's staunchest allies have been pressing Ukraine to begin negotiating a peace deal. You were just talking about how it's a zero sum game, either you win or you lose, for Ukraine's future.

Where does the possibility of a peace deal stand today?

ZABLOTSKYY: Look, some fights, you just have to win.

Russia is nonnegotiable because they are the country of murderers and killers. It's like negotiating -- negotiating with Putin is like negotiating with Ted Bundy. We are very grateful for having 31 Abrams tanks delivered to Ukraine. But U.S. has 8,000. Had we had just a couple of hundred, we would destroy a Russian army with just -- in several months.

So we would rather ask for that. It does not make much difference to U.S., although we are thankful for the aid that we already received, but we would rather much rather win on the battlefield. And that is very much achievable.

BROWN: Maryan Zablotskyy, thank you so much. Really fascinating to hear directly from you inside Kyiv. Thank you.

ZABLOTSKYY: Thank you.

BROWN: Let's continue the conversation with CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier and presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky.

Kim, I want to start with you.

So, you heard Zelenskyy talking about this, describing Biden's trip as historic, timely, brave. Talk to us a little bit more about the significance and the optics of this visit coming right now, at this time. KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it sends signals to a number of different audiences.

Of course, first of all, you get the two presidents meeting together, and Zelenskyy gets an opportunity to make his argument in person: Here's why we want the F-16s. Yes, if you give us long-range weapons, we promise not to use them in an offensive way against Russia, things like that.

But it also rallies the Ukrainian people and troops, who, according to some reports, are suffering middling to low morale, because they see this Russian war machine just going on and on. Russia, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense, is taking up to 800 casualties a day right now, but shows no sign of flagging.

And it seems like President Putin may simply double down in this speech that we're anticipating tomorrow. It also rallies Americans who might be feeling lukewarm about Ukraine that, look, I am aligning my presidency with someone considered a world hero, and we have to keep supporting them.

That makes an argument to some of the Democrats, at least, that might feel cold feet

BROWN: Right.

And it's notable it's also coming at a time too where Russia seems to be increasingly turning toward other countries, Iran, for example. There is some U.S. intelligence that China is considering sending over lethal weapons. And so, again, sending that message that the U.S. is standing strong, continuing to provide support to Ukraine, seems so significant.

I mean, but the bottom line here, Lindsay, is that it is an active war zone, where the U.S. military has no control. Tell us about the historical context here, a sitting U.S. president going to a war zone without U.S. military control.

LINDSAY CHERVINSKY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, President Biden is not the first.

At least 12 presidents have gone to war zones in the past, starting, of course, with Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. There are those famous pictures of him in his top hat visiting Union soldiers to boost their morale. But it is a big risk.


And, in doing so, I think President Biden is demonstrating the power and the purpose of the presidency. It is the biggest bully pulpit in the world. Even though we have things like social media and a partisan divide, the president is still really important. And I think that his visit demonstrates that to the American people. It demonstrates that to the world.

And the global response to Biden, being there, I think, reveals how much at least the Western world and Europe wants him to be engaged and wants the president to play that role.

BROWN: Kim, we have learned that Biden had a range of options for this visit. He chose to go to Kyiv. According to our reporting, he was adamant that's where he wanted to go.

The White House then gave Russia a heads-up about the trip just before. What was the strategy behind that?

DOZIER: Well, that was surely to make sure that, if Moscow was going to launch anything, it knew exactly who might be in its crosshairs.

And, look, by making this trip, going to Kyiv, as Republican, as well as Democratic lawmakers have done, as well as a number of European leaders, Biden has allied his presidency with the success or failure of Ukraine on the battlefield. He's also answered GOP complaints that he is weak, a flagging, elderly president by doing something that, yes, while presidents have gone to war zones before, he went to a place where U.S. troops weren't in control.

It was an extraordinary risk, because they don't know what Moscow is going to do. They basically were daring Moscow. He's going in. What are you going to do?

BROWN: Right.

And our understanding is, it's unprecedented for a U.S. president to go to an active war zone in modern-day history without a U.S. -- a large U.S. military presence.

Lindsay, how will history not only remember this trip, but remember Biden's leadership as a whole since the Ukrainian invasion began, which, of course, as we know, it began on his watch, when he was president?

CHERVINSKY: Well, historians are no terribly terrible future predictors.

But I think it's probably safe to say that President Biden's leadership in regards to the Ukraine war is probably one of the highlights of his tenure. He has shown a remarkable ability to pull together allies, to boost your defenses in a way that is not always necessarily self-serving, but rather puts forward the needs of Ukrainians first.

And his visit, as Kim said, really demonstrates that commitment personally, as well as staking his presidency to that commitment. And so I think that it will really be one of the first lines in any description of his time in office and his time as president.

BROWN: All right, Lindsay Chervinsky, Kim Dozier, thank you both.

Well, Ukraine's president says Biden's visit brings victory closer. Coming up, we will look at the state of the battlefield as we approach that one-year mark.

Plus, medical help for East Palestine, Ohio, is on the way more than two weeks after the toxic train crash that has people worried about their health.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is worse than what everybody thought it was. And the people in town are afraid.




BROWN: Authorities plan to open a health clinic in East Palestine, Ohio, tomorrow after the toxic train crash earlier this month.

People in the community say they're getting rashes, they're nauseous, they have headaches, after toxic vinyl chloride was released in a controlled explosion. Officials have tried to reassure residents that the air and water are safe, but the government's response has them anxious and upset.

CNN's Jason Carroll reports.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two weeks after the Norfolk Southern train derailment and the controlled release of chemicals by the company that followed, residents in East Palestine, Ohio, are increasingly worried about what's in their air, water and soil.

HEATHER MCTEER TONEY, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: When we think about the chemicals that we know have been released, they are known carcinogens. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen. We have to look at the health impacts to our vulnerable populations.

STATE SEN. DOUG MASTRIANO (R-PA): I'm senator Doug Mastriano. I'm south of East Palestine, Ohio, ground zero.

CARROLL: Public health concerns now shared in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania.

MASTRIANO: Look at these chemicals. Look at these colors, the chemical, and it has kind of a butane smell to it.

CARROLL: The governor of Ohio says air quality tests in more than 500 homes showed no detection of contaminants. Officials also say public water is safe, while private well water users should stick with bottled water for now.

Despite those guarantees, the toxic chemical spill is still causing uproar and criticism directed at Norfolk Southern.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Everything that's happened here, all the cleanup, all the drilling, all the testing, all the hotel stays, all of that is on Norfolk Southern. They caused it. There's no question they caused it with this derailment.

CARROLL: In addition to the thousands of fish found dead after the derailment, CNN has learned that two horses are being treated for smoke inhalation after the controlled burn, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Standing by their decision, Norfolk Southern's CEO says the burn was the right thing to do.

ALAN SHAW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN: I think we did what we needed to do. In order to prevent an uncontrolled explosion.

CARROLL: The federal government has deployed medical experts to help assess health concerns. People in this community have been reporting problems such as rashes and nausea.


The CDC also confirmed it will send a team to assess public health needs. But that is not stopping what some are calling the Biden administration's slow response to the disaster. On Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg responded with a letter to Norfolk Southern's CEO, writing: "Major derailments in the past and been followed by calls for reform and by vigorous resistance by your industry to increase safety measures. This must change."


BROWN: Jason Carroll joins us live from East Palestine.

So, Jason, why are residents there just now getting medical help from the federal government?

CARROLL: Yes, well, that's the question that some folks are asking here on the ground, as you can imagine.

I mean, we're now into week three of this. And there have been a lot of questions in terms of why clinics like this one that is set up here at the church behind me that is going to be opening tomorrow, why wasn't something like this set up last week?

So, again, these are just some of the questions that folks here have on the ground, but those who say that they are experiencing symptoms will, in fact, be able to come here tomorrow and get evaluated by experts if they feel as though they need that -- Pamela.

BROWN: And you're also talking to folks there on the ground about the potential long-term impacts they're worried about. Tell us more about that.

CARROLL: And that's really what we keep hearing from over and over again.

Yes, there will be a clinic here set up tomorrow. Yes, people can come here and get evaluated. But, Pamela, what happens three months from now? What happens three years from now? Will there be someone monitoring perhaps potential long-term health effects? Those are some of the worries that people have here on the ground, and they're still waiting to get answers to some of that.

BROWN: All right, Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

Well, Ukraine is getting even more military aid after President Biden's bold visit to Kyiv today, but will a successful trip mean new success on the battlefield? We will discuss, as Biden sends this message to Russia:


BIDEN: Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. I don't think he's thinking that right now.