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Zelenskyy to U.S.: "We Need You Right Now"; Ukraine-Russia Talks Set to Resume; Mykolaiv Braces for Potential Russian Ground Attack; Charity Worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Freed from Iranian Prison; Moscow May Be on Brink of Foreign Debt Default. Aired 10-10:40a ET

Aired March 16, 2022 - 10:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): This is CNN. I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi. The time here is 6:00 in the evening. You are watching CONNECT


"We need you right now," that appeal from Ukraine's president addressing the U.S. Congress by video just moments ago. Lawmakers on their feet for

Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Russia continues to pound his country. Mr. Zelenskyy invoked previous attacks on the United States.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001, when evil tried to turn your

cities, independent territories in battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from air. Yes, like no nobody else expected it. You could not stop


Our country experience the same every day. Right now, at this moment, every night for three weeks now, there is Ukrainian cities, Odessa and Kharkiv,

(INAUDIBLE) Mariupol and (INAUDIBLE), Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death.


ANDERSON: He then switched to English and made a direct appeal to Joe Biden.


ZELENSKYY: To be the leader of the world means to be leader of peace. Peace in your country doesn't depend anymore only on you and your people.

It depends on those next to you and those who are strong. Strong doesn't mean big. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens

and citizens of the world.


ANDERSON: Well, with Russia stepping up its strikes, Mr. Zelenskyy asked for a no fly zone. Barring that, air defense equipment and further


Will he get the help he's asking more?

We will hear more from President Biden next hour. Meantime, talks are set to resume today between Russia and Ukraine. Earlier Mr. Zelenskyy said

Russia is taking a "more realistic position" in these discussions.

I want to bring in correspondent Scott McLean, who is in Lviv and Kylie Atwood at the State Department and Jill Dougherty, who covered Russia for

many years for us as our Moscow bureau chief.

Thank you all for joining us.

Kylie, let me start with you. The Ukrainian president just addressing Congress. The lawmakers on their feet as he closed out his speech and

appeals, asking for more help from the U.S.

Will he get it?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, an incredibly powerful and moving plea there. He referenced some attacks that happened

against the United States in recent years to really draw in the Americans to understand just how consequential and scary this is for the Ukrainian


His first ask was to ask for this no-fly zone. He's not expected to get that. I think you have seen very clearly from the Biden administration that

they believe doing so could escalate the situation rather than deescalate the situation.

NATO is on the same page. You see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle not advocating for that because they think that could take a situation that

already is out of control and make it even worse. He did ask for more defensive weaponry.


ATWOOD: And we are hearing that the United States and NATO are going to be providing more surface to air missile systems to Ukraine. So that is

significant. It demonstrates that they are beginning to provide even more support, specifically some of the support that President Zelenskyy is

asking for.

And when we hear later today from President Biden, just in the next couple hours or so, it's expected we will hear the same from him, which is the

United States stands behind the Ukrainian people, has been providing immense humanitarian support and weaponry.

And he may talk about the new surface to air missile systems that the United States and NATO allies will give to Ukraine.

I think it will be interesting to see what President Biden says in response to Zelenskyy's challenge to the world here, saying that the institutions

that have been set up have not worked, saying there needs to be new alliances, new institutions.

Because I think that the Biden administration really feels that NATO has been effective here, as effective as it can be in the face of this crisis.

We'll look to see what he says about that -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Let me get to Scott.

Thank you.

This is all about what is going on on the ground, of course.

What is the situation as we speak?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyiv continues to be pounded. There's parts that continue to be pounded by artillery strikes. Mariupol is getting

a little better and some people are able to get out to Zaporizhzhia. But even when they get out, they not necessarily safe there, either.

We just got new images there was some kind of military strike. There was a crater left right between the train tracks. There's serious damage to the

building itself, a secondary station in that city.

Imagine if you just survived two weeks of living in a cold basement with very little food, very little water, no electricity for the last two weeks,

you finally manage to make it out and you realize that this city is being hit by these military strikes.

It seems like the number of safe places in this country is dwindling from day to day, which makes it all the more remarkable that you had this visit,

yesterday, from these three prime ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland, make their way into this active war zone to meet with

President Zelenskyy and back out again.

Those three prime ministers are back in Poland. Now that they are in safe territory, I spoke with the CEO of Ukrainian Railways, less than an hour

ago about that journey to ask how they managed to pull it off and why they were traveling by train.

The reality is, air travel is not an option and they felt the train was a much better one. Despite the attacks on a day-to-day basis against the

train infrastructure -- and what I thought was really interesting is the train they took was a special one. It had four cars. The only people who

were on it were members of their delegation.

They had special security arrangements but the CEO found it curious that they were tweeting about their journey into Kyiv before they arrived there

safely. He praised the prime ministers for being there and for the symbolism of the trip.

But he also said they were naive in giving away the fact they were en route to Kyiv before they arrived there, because the CEO himself travels from

city to city and is secretive about his location because he believes he's a potential target. And he felt the prime ministers were a target as well.


Jill, let me bring you in here, because President Zelenskyy has described the Russian position in talks as more realistic at this point. You are

keeping your ear to the ground on all things from the Russian perspective.

What are we hearing from the Russian side?

JILL DOUGHERTY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY AND WILSON CENTER: In a way, it's what we're not hearing. The Russians have kind of stopped talking about,

you know, a demand for the denazification, as they call it, which is, of course, fictitious, of Ukraine. And that might be significant.

I think where we're moving is, if this happens, it could be a definition of what Ukraine would be in this short future -- or longer future -- as an

unaligned country.


DOUGHERTY: We all know that Ukraine is not going to, in the near future, become a member of NATO.

So what will it be?

I think that's where you're getting some type of definition.

Is it kind of like Sweden?

What is it?

It would have an army. The Ukrainians definitely want that.

But what would that be?

Of what would that consist?

It's that type of definition. But it's very hard to understand exactly what those negotiations that have been going on are going to yield. And a lot of

this is kind of subtle. I'd say that's probably the biggest thing the Russians aren't saying.

And Becky, getting back to the speech by Zelenskyy, there's an information war, too, not just a shooting war. And Zelenskyy is quite amazing, as a

former comedian/entertainer in the way he talks to his audience: speaking in English, talking about Pearl Harbor, 9/11; that video that he showed,

which is really graphic and really emotional, you can bet that will be all over the internet.

So his ability is really outstripping the Russians' ability in the information, messaging war. The issue now is it's a shooting war but

there's no question he's winning in this information war.

ANDERSON: And to your point, let's just hear a little more of what he said today to lawmakers in the U.S. Here he talks about the familiar "I have a

dream" speech.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): I have a need. I need to protect our sky. I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you

feel when you hear the words, "I have a dream."


ANDERSON: President Zelenskyy speaking in the past hour.

To all of you, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

Well, Kyiv remains under curfew today. Residents of Ukraine's capital bracing for another terrifying night of Russian attacks, after incoming

fire damaged an apartment building and other residential targets. At least two injuries are reported.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Watch now the moment of this attack.

Other Ukrainian cities also taking heavy fire. This drone footage showing devastation in the city in northeast Ukraine, not far from hardhit Kharkiv.



ANDERSON (voice-over): And this video showing the aftermath of what witnesses say was an attack on Chernihiv that killed 10 people, who were

lined up waiting for bread.

To the south, people in the besieged city of Mariupol aren't waiting for the humanitarian corridor to get out; a convoy of over 3,000 vehicles

making a risk-filled journey to Zaporizhzhia. That city reporting incoming Russian fire for the first time during this 21-day war.



ANDERSON (voice-over): Ukrainian forces are hitting back. This video showing Russian military helicopters blown up by Ukrainian fire during a

military strike on Kherson's airport.

And another sign today that Vladimir Putin's war is not going as planned. The U.K. defense ministry saying the Kremlin is calling in military

reinforcements from across Russia to replenish its losses in Ukraine.


ANDERSON: Mykolaiv is in southern Ukraine, not far from Kherson, and residents there enduring heavy Russian bombardment. Many have fled. Nick

Paton Walsh reports those remaining are bracing for a full-scale Russian ground assault.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): This is the road down which Russia's war of annihilation may lurch. And its

emptiness speaks only of what is to come from Russian held Kherson up here, to the vital port of Mykolaiv.

They know what it is to be in Russia's way.

"Out of 18 homes, 10 are left in our village," she says. "No electricity, gas, water or heat."

"The only ones left are those who can't leave," another adds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WALSH (voice-over): They are young, edgy, guns raised, unsure who we are. "Press" written on our vests and press cards slowly calms them down and

they apologize.


WALSH (voice-over): But this is not an army in full control of its destiny.

The trenches are where the rockets land every night. Some are from Odessa, Moscow's eventual target here. Others from just down the road.

WALSH: He's saying his house is just over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WALSH (voice-over): It's important to see what tools Ukraine has been left with by a world that seems so concerned. They fight for their homes but

tell me they captured Russians, who seemed unaware why they were even here.

"They said they can't understand what's going on," he said. "They can't go back because, back there, they're being shot for retreating. So they

advance or surrender."

Dusk in Mykolaiv has sounded this way for weeks. But unbroken morale takes different forms. And this is a police chief, driving a birthday gift to the

governor, with a captured Russian machine gun soldered onto it.

It does not distract from the seriousness of the twilight world in which his colleagues work.

Any drunk or man changing his car battery after curfew could be a Russian saboteur, they fear. There really is no way to check by looking at phones

and in trunks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WALSH (voice-over): The city is dark, bar their lights and the flash of a distant enemy's bombs. An urgent hospital call for blood has gone out. They

rush to help. The savagery of Russia's targeting measurable in how dark this four-floor hospital keeps itself at night, invisible not from a power

cut but to avoid Russian bombs.

Mykolaiv has been fearing encirclement for days. There is heartbreak for those who leave. Amid the shared agony, still a tussle to get onto buses to

Moldova. The men stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this my wife. Zenia (ph) is my daughter and Inia (ph).



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WALSH: What will you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language). This is my country. This my country.

Why they want to do it?

No apologies. My home.

WALSH (voice-over): And there is heartbreak for those who stay. Svetlana (ph) lost her husband in a rocket attack Sunday that killed nine outside a



SVETLANA (PH), BEREAVED WIFE AND MOTHER (from captions): In a moment, everyone gone.


WALSH (voice-over): The violence here is a chain of moments of blinding grief.

SVETLANA (PH) (from captions): The rockets landed and my husband just exploded and the blood came out from his head. And he is still lying there

in the blood. And they took me here. In pieces.

WALSH (voice-over): Pieces left to wonder alone.


ANDERSON: Nick Paton Walsh joining us from Odessa.

Nick, what do we expect to happen in Mykolaiv and also in Odessa, where you are now?

WALSH: Yes, it is clear from the satellite images of Ukrainian assaults on the international airport in Kherson that Ukraine is trying to push down

that road to launch a counter attack.

At the same time, the level of destruction on the villages either side of that road is clearly a sign that Russia has designs to move up from the

southeast in toward Mykolaiv.

And we have seen suggestions from social media videos that Russia is moving forces into that direction. They most likely have some sort of land

connection from the Russian mainland through to that area.

We also know that, over the past week or so, Russian forces have been trying to head over the north of Mykolaiv down to its west, to effectively

cut it off. Clearly Mykolaiv has done a phenomenal job resisting multiple Russian bids to get in.

But encirclement could be a perilous situation. That would add to the regularity of shelling that we have seen as well. The fate of Mykolaiv

essentially decides when any Russian operation against Odessa might begin.


WALSH: They can't really move here unless they either bypass and felt they've effectively dealt with Mykolaiv. And so we have seen around Odessa,

too, over the last couple of days, more military activity, shelling reported by local officials against the coastline along here.

They say that's Russian forces testing the air defenses here. They also claim, Ukraine, to have shot down two Russian jets over the Black Sea and

there are reports of Russian warships in the Black Sea area. So concern certainly something. Maybe afoot here, there is a full moon potentially in

the days ahead.

That may or may not prove decisive in what Russia plans to do here but it is the third largest city, key port, maritime access from here and it

really will speak to whether Vladimir Putin continues to have this desire for some broader control over all of Ukraine or whether he's seen how badly

it's gone and has begun to reduce his ambitions -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. That strategy is very unclear at this point. Nick, thank you to you and your team.

Coming up, crippling Western sanctions are taking their toll on Russia's economy. Now for the first time in a century, Moscow could actually default

on its foreign debt.

And later, NATO is trying to shore up its eastern flank as Russia makes advances in Ukraine. We're live at the NATO headquarters with the very

latest for you.

Plus, the British prime minister confirms Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been freed by Iran. What we know about her release from prison and the

fight it took to get her home. All that coming up after this.




ANDERSON: Today, two British nationals are returning home after being held for years in Iran.

The prime minister tweeting, "I am very pleased to confirm that the unfair detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori in Iran has

ended today and they will now return to the U.K.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's MP tweeting this photo, saying, "Nazanin is now in the air, flying away from six years of hell in Iran."

Well, it is remarkable to see that image. Nada Bashir has the latest from London.

This is has been a torturous six years for Nazanin. Just remind us of the struggle to get her free.

NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCER: Absolutely. That photo will have come as a welcome relief to her family, her husband and daughter, who have been

campaigning now for six years for her release.


BASHIR: There's been moments in the past, of hope where they thought she might be able to come home to the U.K. and of course those hopes were

dashed quickly. So now to see that, confirm the photo of her on the plane and the confirmation from prime minister Boris Johnson is a huge relief.

She was arrested in 2016, accused of working with organizations plotting to topple the Iranian regime. And Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, made

that appalling blunder, saying she had been training journalists.

And he had to apologize in the House of Commons. But she did serve the full five years. In April she was handed a further one-year sentence and a

travel ban, accused of spreading propaganda against the Iranian regime.

So this has been a long and arduous battle for freedom, not only for Nazanin but also her family. Her husband going on at least two hunger

strikes, demanding that the government takes --


ANDERSON: Let me stop you for a moment. I want to go to Nazanin's husband, who is speaking right now. Let's listen in.

RICHARD RATCLIFFE, NAZANIN HUSBAND: We've had scary conversations the last couple of days. People just trying to make sure she's well behaved when she

comes back. And (INAUDIBLE).


RATCLIFFE: (INAUDIBLE). We live in the future, not in the past. So we'll take it (INAUDIBLE).


RATCLIFFE: I'm not sure (INAUDIBLE). I mean I think it's going to be the beginning of a new life, a normal life. There will be bumps, no doubt and

all the normal squabbles we had before.

But yes, I think we're really looking forward to (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: I can't imagine how difficult it's been, all the (INAUDIBLE).

(INAUDIBLE) break the good news to your little girl.

RATCLIFFE: We still don't quite believe it. I think when we see Mummy (INAUDIBLE). It's -- certainly last night and probably on Sunday, when the

(INAUDIBLE) will come back, (INAUDIBLE). I don't know what it means.

I think it's going to be (INAUDIBLE). I think -- really grateful to all of you (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) which is crucial. But yes, I think -- I don't

-- homecoming is a journey, not an arrival. I don't think it will be just today. It'll be a whole process.

And hopefully we'll look back in years to come and be a normal family and this will be a chapter in our lives and there are many more chapters to



RATCLIFFE: Thank you.

No, and thank you also -- and I should say it to the government, to all the (INAUDIBLE) staff, and we've had lots of (INAUDIBLE) along the way behind

closed doors. (INAUDIBLE). But the care and the support, (INAUDIBLE) different ministers have at different points. It's been a tough journey for

all of us for lots of different reasons.

And I'm really grateful for the grace and the patience and the (INAUDIBLE) they've shown to get her home.


QUESTION: If you're walking back in the same door, can we go out there?



ANDERSON: That is Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter, Gabriella, who was just 22 months old when her mom was detained in Iran. Her mom is on her way

home now, which is a remarkable story. It's been six long, torturous years for Nazanin. But she is now on her way home.

Nada, it's a remarkable story. And Richard Ratcliffe, I think, doesn't want to say very much before she actually gets to the U.K. and they can see

each other.


ANDERSON: And as he says -- and just begin to be a normal family again. But he must be very, very emotional.

BASHIR: Yes, absolutely, the beginning of a new life as he described it. It will be particularly for their daughter, who has spent so much time

apart from her mother.

This is a very welcome, positive development for Nazanin's family and for others campaigning for the release of those still in detention of Iran, as

mentioned by Liz Truss. They are still campaign for their freedom -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Like you say, it's a good day but there are others that the U.K. will still work to get released. Thank you, Nada.

We will take a very short break. Back after this.




ANDERSON: I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi. We are following Russia's military offensive as its invasion of Ukraine stretches into the 21st day.

That's three weeks of war.

Center stage and pleading for help, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy tells the U.S. Congress in his words, right now, the destiny of our country is being

decided. He called on American companies to step up and leave Russia immediately.

The U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Russian counterpart today, marking the highest level known contact between the U.S.

and Russia in weeks.

Meanwhile, the U.K. says Russia is calling in military reinforcements from across the country to replace losses in Ukraine. At the same time, Moscow

still ruthlessly targeting civilians, ramping up its shelling of the capital of Kyiv.

And America's top diplomat has been speaking to CNN about Ukraine joining NATO. Anthony Blinken says the war is about Vladimir Putin, quote, "denying

Ukraine its independent existence."

Meanwhile, Russia could be in foreign debt default for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution more than a century ago. Moscow is due to pay $117

million in interest payments on government bonds today. But Western sanctions have frozen Moscow's foreign currency reserves.


ANDERSON: So the Kremlin warning the payments may come in rubles. For more, here's Anna Stewart live from London.

Explain what's happening here.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are interest payments on dollar denominated debt. So Russia's finance minister said they would be paying,

quote, "unfriendly country creditors," where rubles are frozen. The problem with that is rubles will not wash with investors due to the terms and

conditions of this specific debt.

There is a 30-day grace period. So we could see this default not be declared for several days or the full 30 days. But credit agencies can

decide if Russia looks like it's not going to follow through on its obligation, they can call it in as a default today.

Now in terms of the impact, it is symbolic. Russia has not defaulted on foreign held debt since the Bolshevik Revolution. So we're talking over

some 100 years ago. In terms of the real impact, it would make borrowing much more expensive. It would lock it out of some capital markets.

But due to sanctions, that has already happened. I would say there's also a concern here, not so much on this default but what it could mean for

corporate debts and whether they would default on those. That would have a much bigger impact for Western banks, given how much they hold.

And investor confidence would be shattered. It already is right now but defaulting on sovereign debt would mean that wouldn't probably recover for

decades to come, regardless of what happens on the ground in Ukraine.

ANDERSON: Yes, that economic squeeze is absolutely on, isn't it. Thank you.

Senior NATO military officials say they have tried to reach Russia through what is known as a deconfliction hotline. They have written letters but the

attempts to make contact were unsuccessful. Right now NATO defense ministers are holding an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss

reinforcing their eastern borders.

Natasha Bertrand is live at NATO.

Russia's attacks have been getting closer to NATO's doorstep.

Just how nervous is that making those defense officials?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's making the contingency planning a lot more urgent and it's also why they have tried to

reach the Russians unsuccessfully via this hotline.

They have made a number of attempts to communicate with them but they have received no response. They say this military to military channel is open.

But military officials told us it take two sides to communicate.

This raises additional concerns about how close Russia is getting to NATO territory. Earlier, they targeted a military in Western Ukraine about 10

miles from Poland, raising alarms there of what would happen if there was some kind of unintentional military escalation.

The senior NATO military officials did say they do not see NATO right now as a direct target of Russia. They believe that Russia is very preoccupied

with Ukraine and would not launch a deliberate attack on NATO territory.

But there are risks and accidents do happen. That's why they have to be prepared for potentially anything. That includes potentially moving NATO's

air defense system closer to Russia's borders.

So discussions around the movement of that system are happening now and will be likely finalized by June. There's a lot of concern here. There's a

lot of discussion about the future of the NATO alliance and how the nature of European security has changed since Russia launched this invasion.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. Joe Biden will travel to Europe next week to meet with world leaders, to participate in the NATO summit.

Still to come, not so long ago, a Chelsea match ticket would have been something to brag about for some people. Now you can't buy one. More

details on why, after this.