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State Media: Xi told Biden "Conflict not in Anyone's Interest"; Key Ukrainian Port City of Mariupol Facing Daily Attacks; Poland: At Least 2M Refugees have Arrived from Ukraine; U.N. Human Rights Office: 800 Plus Dead and 1,300 Plus Wounded; Some U.S. Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Curb Russian Crypto Use; CNN Speaks to Mayor of Vilnius on City's Support for Ukraine. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 18, 2022 - 11:00   ET



BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: This hour in a high stakes phone call the leaders of the world's largest economies declare they have a

responsibility to ensure peace. I am Becky Anderson, hello, and welcome back to "Connect the World" and our continuing coverage of the war in


Diplomacy and devastation today in that war discussions happening at the highest levels. We'll have more on those in a moment. First, let's check

the situation for you on the ground in western Ukraine.

Russia struck inside the city limits of Lviv for the first time today, just 70 kilometers from NATO member Poland. Missiles hit a plant used to repair

aircraft. Many Ukrainians had fled to Lviv hoping to escape scenes like this.

This is the aftermath of a strike on another apartment building in the capital Kyiv. Official say 60 people have lost their lives there since the

war began. Meantime, Ukraine's president had an update on that theater that was bombed in the southern city of Mariupol. Let's have a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We have managed to rescue 130 people, but there are still hundreds of Mariupol people under the rubble.

Despite all the difficulties, we shall continue the rescue operations.


ANDERSON: Well, that is Ukrainian President; meantime, China's President says as the world's largest economies, Beijing and the United States have a

responsibility to work for peace.

That is according to Chinese state media reporting on a video call between Mr. Xi and U.S. President Joe Biden, that core has just ended after almost

two hours. Now look, this was a critical conversation as China grows increasingly closer to Russia, although it is unclear just how much sway

Beijing has with Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin himself is scheduled to be on his own call right now with French President Emmanuel Macron. Here is the Russian President on a rally earlier

in Moscow where he praised troops fighting in the, "special operation in Ukraine", as he calls it.

I want to get you two more on this call; this potentially consequential call between the leaders of the world's two superpowers, David Culver is in

Shanghai. Arlette Saenz is at the White House. David, let's start with you. What do we understand to have been said between Xi and Biden?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Becky, I'm just checking some of the feeds of latest information to come in. But one of the biggest

focuses has been from state media to put out some of these quotes rather quickly, we should point out.

And I think that's in part because what we saw earlier in the week with the Jake Sullivan, Yang Jiechi meeting that was in Rome, that between two very

high level individuals representing the U.S. and China.

And in that meeting, it seemed that U.S. was coming across quite strong trying to push that there be consequences. Should China take any action to

aid Russia? And then leading up to this video call between President Biden and President Xi, it was the U.S. that likewise was again pushing that same

narrative, the Chinese were saying that this was going to be a call to discuss common interest.

So as soon as this video call started, little after looks like it was nine o'clock Eastern time in the morning. So as you pointed out, just shy of two

hours. Shortly after it started that we started to see readouts from state media stressing from President Xi, that there was a desire to see this

conflict and to push peace to push tranquility for the U.S. and China to shoulder the responsibilities here jointly.

What you don't hear and likely will not come out of this is a direct attack on Russia's actions from China or any sort of criticism at that or even a

labeling of this being an invasion. They've avoided that word here in Chinese state media.

In fact, a lot of Chinese state media has just parroted what the Kremlin has put out and some of that propaganda and disinformation that has been

put into the domestic audience here.

But perhaps this is indicative of President Xi pushing towards a direction of trying to bring this conflict to an end defuse it as much as possible.

It'll be followed up, presumably by actions. It'll tell us if that's the case, because those actions will have to come from either President Xi

directly calling his best friend, that's how he's labeled President Putin.

Or it's going to have to come from actions taken by Chinese regulators and the central government here to show that they are not going to allow any

sort of businesses to continue or to profit off Russia in the midst of this, this invasion.

And so, these actions we're going to see where they come in the coming days and weeks that are probably going to be the timeframe that we're looking at

with how China will react. But we've already seen some steps in that direction, Becky.


CULVER: And Chinese banks, for example, some of them have halted doing business in Russia, we saw that China has blocked Russia from getting

aircraft parts. We've even seen that China allowed the ruble to continue following when it could have taken some action to buffer it a bit, but it

plummeted and China did not do anything to stop that.

So perhaps these while they may seem like small steps are indicators that this is how China is going to be moving forward, if anything Becky, quite

frankly, to protect their own economy here.

ANDERSON: Yes, this is so important. Arlette as David suggested, we understood, going into this call the Biden's message would have been very

clear, there will be real consequences. Should Beijing support for President Putin move beyond words to actions. Do we have any sense from the

White House perspective as to how this call nearly two hours went?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, we're still waiting to hear from the White House their version of what happened between

this call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. So far, the White House has only told us that the call lasted about an hour and 15


But if the call came as President Biden was really looking to deter China, from directly getting involved in this conflict between Russia and Ukraine,

the U.S. had feared that China might comply with Russia's request to provide military support in some way.

But U.S. officials while they say that they are hoping that China could help really put some pressure on Putin, they're also cognizant of China's

words and actions heading into this call. And listen to this assessment that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to offer yesterday.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It appears that China is moving in the opposite direction, by refusing to condemn this aggression, while

seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter. And we're concerned that they're considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to

use in Ukraine.


SAENZ: So we'll see what kind of assessment they will now offer after that now that this call has concluded. But one thing that officials have been

clear with that that President Biden was going to be direct and candidate with Xi about the consequences that he would face.

If China were to directly aid Russia, whether that is militarily or economically, Blinken has also outlines that the U.S. is ready to impose

costs on China if they do move forward with any assistance to Russia.

But so far, the White House has not outlined what those cost consequences might look like as they're still deliberating how exactly they would

respond to any Chinese involvement or support of Russia tangibly going forward.

But bottom line here, this call is very consequential, not just for what's happening between Russia and Ukraine, but also the relations between the

U.S. and China to global powers that have been quite tense over the course of the past few months.

ANDERSON: Yes, which let's be frank. And, you know, it would be an understatement to suggest that the relationship between the U.S. and China

is anything but delicate at this point.

As David suggested, the meeting the seven hour meeting between Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor for Joe Biden, and his Chinese

counterpart in Rome, earlier this week would have done a lot of the groundwork for this call, would have given Joe Biden the sense of where

Beijing is at this point.

And I just wonder, going into this what leverage the White House really feels it had or has over China, given the state of its relations at this


SAENZ: Well, I think one thing, you know, that call was a seven hour or that meeting, face to face meeting was a seven hour meeting that was very

intense. I think that the fact that this call between Biden and Xi is even happening is indicative of the U.S. believing that there is something they

can work towards.

Of course, there are global economic concerns for both the U.S. and China in all of this. And so the U.S. is really hoping that they can exert some

type of influence in China aware of the delicate relationship that they are balancing with them.

ANDERSON: China Ambassador to the U.S.


ANDERSON: All right, thank you. And I think the reason that you stop there is that we have just heard from the Chinese ambassador to the UN, he's

speaking on Ukraine, so let's just have a listen to what he said.



ZHANG JUN, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: China has stated its position on the Ukraine issue many times. Under the current situation it is

the shared desire of the international community to achieve a ceasefire as soon as possible to avoid more civilian casualties and prevent a massive

humanitarian crisis, which is also what China is hoping for.

Direct negotiations between the parties concerned are the fundamental way to solve the problem. Russia and Ukraine have held four rounds of

negotiations. And also they are staying in touch with each other. With negotiations continuing there's hope for ceasefire and a peaceful future.


ANDERSON: Arlette, that is the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, we've been talking about what we've been describing as a potentially very

consequential call between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.

Ultimately and for the sake of our viewers, who will be trying to sort of stick all of this diplomacy together, does the U.S. at this point, look for

China to mediate, to actually help provide a solution in all of this?

SAENZ: Well, I don't think that the U.S. is anticipating that China will be acting as the mediator in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, but they

are hoping that there will be some type of way that they can influence Putin, or at the very least not be assisting Putin, as he conducts this

attack against Ukraine.

The U.S. has been watching very closely, China's moves regarding these requests from Ukraine, and they've indicated to allies that they have shown

some willingness to support Russia tangibly.

But we'll see if there is anything any other new developments, I wasn't quite fully able to catch what the ambassador was, was saying right there.

But we'll see if the U.S. side is able to offer any other update about how they're viewing China's moves right now.

Of course, this call also gives Biden a chance personally himself to try to decipher what exactly China is thinking in this moment. You had that

meeting between Sullivan and his counterpart earlier in the week. But the President has gone knows Xi Jinping well, going back to his time as vice

president and was hoping to get a little bit more insight into where things stand in his head at this moment.

ANDERSON: Yes. And near to our discussion between the leaders of the two most important nations in the world, certainly when it comes to the size of

their economies, Arlette, for the time being thank you very much, indeed.

Is China quietly pulling away from Russia's sanction ridden economy? That is a good question. CNN digital is explaining the four ways that Beijing

maybe making life harder for Moscow amid its invasion of Ukraine, that

Part of the discussions we were having with David earlier on, it's well worth a read. Well, Russian forces are stepping up their bombardment of

Chernihiv in northern Ukraine near Belarus.

Local officials are reporting at least 53 deaths since Wednesday. My colleague Fred Pleitgen has more on the growing civilian toll in what is

Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war, and I have to warn you, his report does contain some disturbing images.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As Vladimir Putin's Military rains, bombs, rockets and artillery on Ukraine, civilians are

paying the highest price, scores killed and maimed. In Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, rescue workers dig out the bodies of an entire family killed when a

residential building was hit.

Dozens more civilians lost their lives and attacks. The Ukrainian government now confirming that U.S. citizen James Whitney Hill was among

those killed. I asked Chernihiv's mayor to tell me about the situation in his city.

VLADYSLAV ATROSHENKO, CHERNIHIV, UKRAINE MAYOR: The intensity of the shelling is increased. It's been indiscriminate, apparently random. We're

not talking about certain military infrastructure buildings being bombed. In reality, houses are being destroyed. Schools and kindergartens are being


PLEITGEN (voice over): This graphic video shows the gruesome aftermath of an attack on people waiting in a bread line in the same town. Witnesses say

at least 10 civilians were killed. Russia's military cynically claiming it wasn't then.

MAJ. GEN. IGOR KONASHENKOV, RUSSIAN ARMY: All units of the Russian Armed Forces are outside Chernihiv blocking the roads and no offensive actions

are being taken against the city.

PLEITGEN (voice over): Other cities are getting shelled as well. One of the hardest hit Mariupol in the southeast. Several were killed and wounded

mostly women and children when a maternity ward and children's hospital were hit last week.

And then the main theater where the U.S. believes hundreds of people had taken shelter was bombed. A small miracle the bomb shelter under the

building held up helping some of those inside survive, though it's still unclear how many. Authorities say efforts to pull people from the rubble

are being hindered by the total breakdown of public services and the threat of further Russian attacks.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Aerial images show the building was clearly marked as having children inside, leaving Ukraine's Defense Minister irate.

OLEKSII REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: You can see from the maps from the drones that are around this big letters of children were written

so that the pilot of the plane which was throwing the bombs could see and still in spite of that, this monster has bombed the theater.

PLEITGEN (voice over): Russia has denied it was responsible for the attack and the Russians claim they only target military installations, sending out

this video of them allegedly destroying Ukrainian howitzers.

But the UK's defense ministry says the Russians are increasingly hitting cities with heavy and less accurate weapons because they're simply running

out of precise munitions as the war drags on, experts believe it will only get worse.

MASON CLARK, LEAD RUSSIAN ANALYST, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: They're very intentionally targeting water stations and power supplies and internet

towers and cell phone towers and that sort of thing, and a very deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for the defenders to hold out and try and

force them to capitulate.

PLEITGEN (voice over): But despite bringing massive firepower on civilian areas, the U.S. and its allies say Russia's offensive in Ukraine has

stalled and recent territorial gains have been minimal Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Lviv, Ukraine.


ANDERSON: Well, Scott McLean is on the ground for is in Lviv, where missiles fell earlier. Scott, you're live on CNN, what was targeted?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Becky, yes, we had a chance to go out to that area earlier today, a couple of hours after those bombs actually

fell. And we managed to get a vantage point above the airport runway in Lviv; this is in the western part of the city.

This is sort of a choke point into the city where that a checkpoint nearby and we were able to see smoke coming from a building just beyond that

runway. According to local officials that is an aircraft repair facility.

It is not clear obviously whether that was the intended Russian target or not, but it is not uncommon or it hasn't been lately for the Russians to

target airports especially in the western part of the country cities like Lutsk, cities like Ivano-Frankivsk and now here in the Lviv.

This is the first time that bombs have fallen within the Lviv city limits. But as I found out, this city has been preparing for war for weeks.


MCLEAN (voice over): This is the kind of lesson that few people want to have to teach and fewer want to have to use in real life. It's basic first

aid for a community coming to grips with the reality of war.

MARIAN PAKHOLOK, CIVIL ENGINEER: I'm afraid because we are not prepared. I am not a professional soldier. But I understand it is better to mean --the

enemy been prepared and with the right skills.

MCLEAN (voice over): Dr. Robert Lim is an American war veteran working with the global surgical and medical support group its bringing medics, doctors

and surgeons to Ukraine to train civilians. It seems fun now, but these scenarios may soon become reality.

Civilian training held in a local gym attracts engineers, teachers, dancers, all kinds of professions and age groups, including high school

students suddenly forced by the war to put their own plans on hold.

VIKTORIA HLADKA, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I don't understand and know when I will in future study, because now its part time and I don't know what can

be tomorrow.

MCLEAN (voice over): Lim is teaching people battlefield survival skills, like how to apply a tourniquet or how to keep an injured person breathing.

With 23 years of experience as an army surgeon, he is also training doctors to prepare for the type of wounds rarely seen in civilians during


DR. ROBERT LIM, VETERAN ARMY SURGEON: If you're in New York City or London or another big city, most of the injuries are blunt. So it's a car accident

or a fall or something like that.

Or as most of the injuries on a battlefield are going to are penetrating wounds that might injure an artery or major vessel, all with a small

fraction of the resources there used to do what you can with what you've got.

MCLEAN (voice over): In many parts of Ukraine, medical supplies and facilities are getting harder to come by. And then the worst hit areas many

hospitals are now operating in basements with only flashlights to avoid attracting Russian bomb.

Dr. Tania Boychuk is a dermatologist from Western Ukraine, one of dozens of medical professionals sharpening their skills for battle.

TANIA BOYCHUK, DERMATOLOGIST: In normal life, dermatologists do not provide first aid. Do not stop bleeding. Do not do tourniquets and punctures.

MCLEAN (voice over): With her day job on hold, she's planning to join the military and she won't wait for the fighting to come to her.

BOYCHUK: I plan to go to the war front, my close friends were now and I want to be there too.



MCLEAN: And speaking of putting things on hold the Americans who are teaching those first aid courses to both ordinary civilians and to doctors,

medics and surgeons, they have put their lives on hold in the United States, their jobs, their wives, their kids to come here for, for some an

indefinite period of time out of really a sense of duty.

One other thing to mention quickly, Becky, and that's that, of course, Lviv has become a safe haven for according to city officials, some 200,000 plus

people. And what you're looking at here is a demonstration of each one of these strollers or buggies represents one child that's been killed since

this conflict began since this invasion began.

And so the organizers who put this all together in support of displaced people say that they would very much like to keep it that way. The governor

of this area said that this attack on Lviv shows that the Russians hold nothing sacred not women, not children, not displaced people either, Becky.

ANDERSON: What a powerful reminder of the wanton loss of life of children there in this conflict. Thank you, Scott. Well, more Ukrainians managed to

escape Russia's bombardment. We'll have more on the new protected routes from the worst hit.

Ukrainian cities will live along the Polish Ukrainian border, plus some 20,000 Ukrainian refugees cross into Poland every day. Well visit a small

town where so many of the displaced to try to figure out where they will end up next.


ANDERSON: Civilians in some of the Ukrainian cities worst hit by Russian attacks have another chance to actually get out. The Ukrainian government

says there is an agreement for nine what are known as humanitarian corridors today.

And one of these links the besieged city of Mariupol to - which is still under Ukrainian control. Well, on Thursday, some 800 private cars carrying

more than 2000 people left Mariupol through the same route.

The Ukrainian government also has plans to deliver humanitarian aid to several towns. Let me get you to Melissa Bell. She joins us from the Polish

border now where so many Ukrainians are passing through. And I say so many and we are talking more than a million. I mean, it is absolutely

remarkable, the numbers that we have seen, what's the story where you are?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Quite extraordinary figures Becky, and of course, Poland is feeling the pressure of what's happening just across the

border, all the more keenly, as those strikes are taking place in Lviv over the course of the last 24 hours.

Now we've just had interesting piece of news that's come through to us, Becky that we've had confirmed. And this is that the Polish government is

officially going to request the next NATO meeting, their peacekeeping mission be set up and sent into Ukraine, now this is of course significant

since we'd be talking about NATO boots on the ground peacekeeping boots, but boots, nonetheless, Becky.


BELL: So that would be a huge development and something that would really represent a shift from what NATO has been doing so far, staying very much

on this side of the border along its eastern flank.

Now, of course, the other NATO members would have to approve that so far, when NATO ministers have been asked about this kind of thing. They've said,

look, all options are on the table. And I think it'll be an interesting measure of how bad they believe things have gotten across the border, if

they were to choose to go along with that idea.

But to give you an idea of just how keenly, the Polish Prime Minister feels about this, he's been speaking about in a press conference, you know, he's

just come back from a trip to Kyiv, where he met President Zelenskyy saying, look, the bombs are falling now on our doorstep.

There is another reminder, of course of the proximity of all this to Poland, as you say, the sheer numbers of refugees that have been coming

through towns like this one just behind me, people are gathering out to head back because of what's happening in Lviv.

People who tell us look, we've simply cannot stay here on the other side of the border. While that's going on, just across the border, we're going home

to support our men. In the meantime, though, it is more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees that have already come in to Poland.


BELL (voice over): It's been a long road. Liberty may lie ahead. But at least safety has been reached for now. Ukrainian children and their mothers

who've made it just across the border to Poland, their first night of peace spent in a school gym, so much of what is here provided by volunteers.

ADAM WASOWICZ, VOLUNTEER: In the beginning, the aid flowed spontaneously from many different sources. But I must admit these were not from the

government. I do not hide that we are disappointed here because this volunteering has accelerated. We are starting to fade here.

BELL (voice over): But still more refugees arrive at the border town of Przemysl - about 1000 per train, and several trains a day. Carrying what

little they can have of their former lives, pinning their hopes of survival on the kindness of strangers, mainly women and children who've left their

fighting aged men behind.

ALESSANDRA OVSIIENKO, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: It's difficult. And really, I don't know what I feel. Because I have a little baby, I love my family, I

hope I had plans. And now I don't have plans.

BELL (voice over): Of the more than 3 million who fled Ukraine, about 2 million have come to Poland, a figure that means that the country's

population has risen by 5 percent.

WOJCIECH BAKUN, MAYOR OF PRZEMYSL, POLAND: We react very quickly, but we can do this for three or four weeks, not for long time. So we just wait for

reaction, our government as well as EU countries.

BELL (voice over): In Brussels, the commissioner in charge gave a tour on Thursday of the Emergency Response Coordination Center, from where the

European Union is organizing its largest emergency response to date.

JAENZ LENARCIC, EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER FOR CRISIS MANAGEMENT: We now have 1 million refugees per week. So if this goes on, if this goes on 10 more

weeks, yes, we could reach the figure of 15 million people.

BELL (voice over): European transport ministers meeting last weekend in the Polish city of Krakow to try and figure out the problem of bottlenecks

caused by the sheer number of people arriving at places like Przemysl station, seeking peace and for now, just safety.


ANDERSON: Well, Melissa Bell reporting thanks you Melissa. Well, still ahead is rumored to be the richest man in the world. But Vladimir Putin has

gone to great lengths to hide his assets. Up next CNN investigates the Russian president's life of luxury.



ANDERSON: The U.N. Human Rights Office announcing at least 816 people have died and more than 1300 have been injured since the invasion of Ukraine

began, 59 of those who have died were children.

Most of the casualties from heavy artillery shelling multiple launch rocket systems and airstrikes the Ukrainian city of Lviv once a safe haven for

people trying to flee these attacks coming under Russian bombardment inside the city limits for the first time, you can see smoke rising in the

distance here.

Initial information according to Ukraine's Armed Forces is that Russia launched six missiles towards the city most likely from war planes over the

Black Sea; two of those missiles were intercepted.

Well, Ukrainian and Russian forces are both facing an increasing number of casualties. CNN's Ivan Watson is live in the central Ukrainian city of

Vinnytsia. And Ivan you've been speaking to people on the ground soldiers who are taking part in the fight. What are they told you?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I've gotten kind of a view of just one battalion's perspective in the battlegrounds

protecting the Ukrainian Capital to the northwest of Kyiv. A major commanding around 400 soldiers in the territorial defense, almost all of

them volunteers who joined after February 24, the day of Russia's invasion into Ukraine.

And he described Russian forces that proved to be underwhelming, not nearly the terrifying superpower that he had feared that were short of food and

fuel and water but had an abundance of ammunition.

And he described his platoon's tactics of aggressive resistance, breaking them up into 10 fighters at a time, mostly armed with soviet era rocket

propelled grenades, and ambushing columns of Russian vehicles, but at quite a significant cost. Take a listen.


WATSON (on camera): Had your battalion had casualties?


WATSON (on camera): People killed, people wounded.

TAMARIN: Yes. I prefer not to tell the number of people but we have I already lost my friends and people who --me. We have people who wounded.

WATSON (on camera): What is the weapon that is hurting your men?

TAMARIN: The most dangerous, its artillery.

WATSON (on camera): Jews, your battalion have an estimate for how many Russians they killed?

TAMARIN: For now we destroy almost 200 Russians and captured alive close to six or eight soldiers.


WATSON: Now this major is a veteran of the war that started in the Donbas region of southeast Ukraine in 2014, a war between Ukraine and Russian

backed separatists. The officer says the only real difference between this conflict and that one is the sheer numbers of Russian troops now and the

use of Russian airpower which has been active and which he says the Ukrainians do not have adequate defense against.


WATSON: When it comes to his own troops, he says they have enough weapons, but they could always use more. And he listed things like drones, infrared


And he did say that his own forces this is just one battalion, not an elite Ukrainian battalion has already received some of those shoulder launched

rockets that are so deadly missiles rather, that are so deadly against Russian armored vehicles. So he says they have already felt and fired

weapons that have come from allies outside Ukraine. Becky.

ANDERSON: Ivan Watson is on the ground for you folks. Thank you, Ivan. Well, just ahead could Russian or Russians find a way around crashing

international sanctions through crypto currencies, so I'll be talking to an expert about digital assets and the Kremlin?


ANDERSON: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted severe reactions from the west to Moscow has been effectively isolated from the world economy,

hasn't it?

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently is describing the ruble as being in a free fall, adding that the Russian Central Bank access to its

reserves has been largely cut off and the CIA Chief telling U.S. Congress that Vladimir Putin "deeply underestimated the economic consequences of

invading Ukraine".

Well, a - and a hidden fortune. How does Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly maintain a life of luxury? CNN's Drew Griffin investigates.


DREW GRIFFINS, CNN 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 and 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 Alexey Navalny group, they claimed that this gilded

luxurious Palace fit for a king was built for Vladimir Putin.

MARIA PEVCHIKH, HEAD OF INVESTIGATIONS, ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: This palace is very much a symbol and miniature represents Russia. But he no

longer sees himself as a government employee as an elected figure. He sees himself as a tsar as King of some sorts. And that you know Russian self-

cause deserves a palace.

GRIFFINS (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 a paid by Russian oligarchs by Russian state owned companies, money from Russian people from regular people were stolen and

diverted into building this horrendous thing on the Black Sea.

GRIFFINS (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 murmurs about Putin being the richest man in the world. And he may be, it's very, very hard to try to

understand what his wealth is, and where it's held.

GRIFFINS (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's all his when he asks.

TOM BURGIS, AUTHOR, KLEPTOPIA: He is closer to something like The Godfather, but ultimately, they owe everything they have to the box. And

with a click of the fingers as he has shown in the past, Putin can take everything from an oligarchy. However rich and however influential they may

see they are ultimately dependent on him.

GRIFFINS (voice over): Fight the system interferes in politics and faces 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


MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, FORMER RUSSIAN OLIGARCH & OIL TYCOON: 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.

GRIFFINS (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 strategy is far beyond personal riches.

DOUGHERTY: He wants to rebuild. Russia is a great power. And you will just have to go back to the czarist days to understand that.

GRIFFINS (voice over): Just look at the gates of Putin's purported Palace, a golden two headed ground Eagle, a symbol of Russia, similar to the two

headed crowned eagle that is a top the gates of the Winter Palace that belonged to Russia's last Tsar. Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


ANDERSON: Well, my next guest has been studying how crypto currencies have been cited at a potential way for the Kremlin to dodge those sanctions and

their financial fallout.

She co-wrote a report for the Brookings Institution that says and I quote here, "the perception of Bitcoin is providing perfect anonymity belies an

inaccurate understanding of how the technology works and fails to address the complex dynamics currently at play between cyber criminals, sanctioned

entities and law enforcement agencies".

Well, Sarah Kreps is a professor of government at Cornell University. She's also Director of the Cornell Tech Policy Lab, and she joins us now from

Ithaca in New York. Thanks for joining us.

Firstly, and many of our viewers will, perhaps be aware of the stories during the rounds that crypto currencies are being used by those being

sanctioned to dodge these sanctions. So just explain what's going on here and what you understand to be the situation?

SARAH KREPS, JOHN L. WETHERILL PROFESSOR, CORNELL UNIVERSITY: Right. No, I think they're very much is this narrative that the digital currency world

is the Wild West. And there was a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, just along those lines when Senator Warren introduced legislation that was

intended to kind of crack down on this.

But I really think the premise of that legislation is a bit misunderstood in terms of how digital currencies work, and really how susceptible they

are to the type of illicit activity that would be necessary to get around the sanctions regime.

I mean, the block chain on which these transactions take place is a ledger. It's transparent. It is pseudonymous, but these transactions are connected

to personal wallets. It's pretty clear who would be of interest to law enforcement and those assets first of all have been frozen from the

beginning. And the major exchanges are cooperating with these sanctions regime.


ANDERSON: Is there though enough enforcement going on? Are the regulators in the end and you suggest that the regulators are sort of embedded the

crypto regulators are embedded within the legislation for these sanctions.

But is there enough enforcement or investigation going on because by hearsay, certainly, I am hearing that there are many who are at least

liquidating their positions in places in crypto in places where they can at this point, and that could be billions of dollars.

KREPS: Right. But I think the important thing to note is that when a transaction is at the level of billions of dollars that is most clearly

flagged by law enforcement as being suspicious, and so then they can track that down.

I think we need to keep in mind what the real intent is. And the intent is to go after these large transactions. And those are really hard to do on

the block chain in a way that is not going to elicit the law, the scrutiny of law enforcement.

ANDERSON: On the flip side, we are hearing about a significant amount. And I'm talking about millions of dollars being donated or the equivalent of in

Crypto currency to Ukraine, and how might that work?

KREPS: So I think that's a really important story here, which is that Ukraine is - that these digital currencies are being used to transfer money

quite quickly for humanitarian aid for military aid, things like - first aid kits to the Ukrainians. And so I think that has really been kind of a

big story here that we need to, I think recognize as a real virtue of these digital currencies.

ANDERSON: Yes, fascinating. Thank you. We'll continue to watch this story. It's been good to have you and your insight is really important. Well ahead

on the show, the capital of Lithuania makes a swipe at Russia changing this street name to honor Ukrainian fighters. My conversation with the mayor of

Vilnius is up next.


ANDERSON: The war in Ukraine has inspired a compassionate response across Europe. People in the UK, for example, can now take part in a new

government plan called homes for Ukraine.

Any official say anyone considering open their home or opening their home to people fleeing the war will be offered close to $500 a month to help

with expenses. Well, more than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began.

You got to pause, haven't you ready just to take that number in 3 million people in 23 days. Thousands of them have come here to Lithuania; the

country's capital Vilnius has expressed its undying support for Ukraine even renaming a street Ukraine hero's street but not just any street.

It's the section of road where Russia, the Russian embassy is located. And it follows a similar move by Latvia. Well this state in the era of Vilnius

said that now quote "The business card of every employee of the Russian embassy will be decorated with a note honoring Ukraine's fighting and then

everyone will have to think about the cruelty of the Russian regime against the peaceful Ukrainian nation when writing this street name".


ANDERSON: Well, I spoke with the mayor earlier. And I asked him why it was so important that he renamed that street, that more part of our

conversation has a listen.

REMIGIJUS SIMASIUS, MAYOR OF VILNIUS, LITHUANIA: To understand Ukrainians very well, and we understand what is this fight all about? It's about

freedom and how we can help. I was personally in - Kyiv two and a half weeks ago, just the day before this massive invasion.

And again, it's very clear that we have to support both informational support and support means to fight with weapons, we are the city, we don't

have weapons, but we have our political position.

So of course, we do want to say that we do understand perfectly who the aggressor is, and who the victim is, and who is a hero, and who is a

villain. So that's what we do. We also have sent - for his criminal brutality.

ANDERSON: You are playing a humanitarian role at this point by welcoming in Ukrainian refugees, thousands of them. Just explain exactly what it is that

you are doing as a city?

SIMASIUS: Don't force the city as we don't have direct border with Ukraine self-costs, people go through Poland to the U.S. And currently, we have

several, several thousand people, including people in the U.S., which is just around 1 percent of all citizens and witness, but this is important.

Children already go to schools and so on. But that's only one part of this, this signature and help people accepted very, very well. And we'll accept

as many as possible. But we of course, also send humanitarian help to Ukraine, in order for people to be treated medically properly in Ukraine.

And also help which is not just the --, but also help to Ukrainian military, which is collected by Lithuanian NGOs.

There are just from people and then private, not big companies, there's more than 25 million Euros created and collected in two weeks. But for us,

of course, we - help which is accommodation and medical support.

ANDERSON: Yes, and I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly, that you say the Ukrainian kids are already in school. Just explain what sort of

infrastructure you are putting in place for Ukrainians who have fled this bloody conflict?

SIMASIUS: First at the moment actually, were month and a half ago, we have already calculated how many people we are ready to accept as municipality,

it was not big numbers like in the municipality - flats, we were able to accept around thousands people and in some other locations couple of

thousands more. But of course, the biggest support comes from families within families.

We didn't use this capacity of municipal housing yet, the full scale. And majority of people are living at some individual houses and apartments

provided by individual people.

ANDERSON: And refugees using public transit, as I understand it, in Vilnius for free, correct?

SIMASIUS: Yes, that's true. That's all of this like fuel welcoming example. For us public transport this is for free. Of course we are very generous in

case of cars with Ukrainian plates as well with not start punching them if they are parking not in a place which is not we have to pay for parking

because we do understand that everything is very, very complicated.

But of course thousand for medical care and educational first things from humanitarian perspective and Lithuanians are very much focused on this and

we are focused with this as well, but also providing help to Ukraine itself. I mean buses and minibuses always heading to the Ukraine.

ANDERSON: What sort of state people in men, women, kids who are arriving in Vilnius, and how long will you be able to cope?

SIMASIUS: We will be able to cope as long as possible. But we don't want even to calculate or to push people to decide somehow on how long will they

stay? Will it be temporary or permanent? Will they go further to other states?

Or will they stay in --? Will they go back to Ukraine a little bit safer? Or will they be staying for many years? For children what kind of school

they wanted them, we have English schools, we have - Indian schools, we have Russian schools.

We didn't have regarding school yet, but probably we will have. So we will allow people to choose and we try our best in supporting them. So we don't

calculate for that.


SIMASIUS: If we'll have more citizens because of this, this word, unfortunately, we will, unfortunately, because of course, we want peace in

Ukraine; we will accommodate all of those people.

ANDERSON: Remember, if you'd like to help people who may be in need of shelter, food, water, and clothes, whatever it is, please go to .Thank you for joining us and for those who have offered their help, good on you. It's a very good evening from Abu Dhabi.