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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S.: Putin Likely To Escalate War With No Regard For Civilians; IAEA Loses Contact With Safeguard Monitoring Systems At Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant; Ukraine's First Lady Lashes Out At Russia As Millions Flee Ukraine; CIA Chief: Russia Has Arrested Up To 14,000 Anti-War Protesters; U.S. Gas Prices Hit Record High: $4.17 A Gallon; Russian State TV Releases Pic Of WNBA Star, Mocks Sexual Orientation. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 08, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Look for us on or wherever you get your podcasts. Once again thanks for watching.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, U.S. officials with dire warnings tonight about Putin that he is angry, poised to double down in his 'appetite for other countries in the region is only growing'.

Plus, they fled the Nazis during World War II and now they're fleeing another enemy. We're live in the border of Ukraine and Poland tonight.

And the former Foreign Minister of Russia, how far does he think Putin will go. He's my guest tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news, the U.S. warning tonight that Putin is angry and could double down at any time. Here's the director of the CIA, William Burns.


WILLIAM BURNS, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. He's likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties. Where that leads, I think, is for an ugly next few weeks.


BURNETT: And a top State Department official warning Putin may now be eyeing other countries in the region.


VICTORIA NULAND, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: His appetite has only grown with the eating, so we can't allow this to stand.


BURNETT: "His appetite has only grown with the eating." These chilling warnings come as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA tonight says it's lost contact with the key monitoring system at Chernobyl, which was taken over by Russian forces during the invasion.

Top IAEA officials saying they're deeply concerned not only because Chernobyl is still filled with massive amounts of deadly radioactive waste, but also because the 200 people that are working there to keep things under control are essentially hostages. They've been on the job for almost two weeks straight and their situation is said to be worsening.

Tonight, I spoke to the governor Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. A city that has been under intense shelling and tonight he told me that even in the face of all of this, they will continue the fight no matter what.


OLEG SINEGUBOV, GOVERNOR, KHARKIV REGION (through interpreter): We've been holding the line successfully for about 10 days now and as you know, we are all fighting against one of the most powerful armies in the world. Our troops have been fighting fiercely and courageously within the Kharkiv region and the city of Kharkiv itself. And now I would like to say that Kharkiv is under our control. We will fight until the end.


BURNETT: Kharkiv is under Ukrainian control and they will fight till the end. The Governor there you saw, Oleg Sinegubov, also told me about 800,000 people have left Kharkiv region. He estimates anywhere from 400,000 to a million people remain. That is the fog of war, just to have such wide ranges and so much uncertainty.

He did say supplies are coming in continuously, but that if that were to stop, they're only two days away from total chaos. The people of Kharkiv, meanwhile, are looking at destruction every day on their streets. The governor though says that they can rebuild that when the time comes. But for now the focus is on one thing and one thing only and that is to fight.


SINEGUBOV (through interpreter): We understand, we can and we will rebuild our city later. But what's most important for us now is our independence, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our dignity.


BURNETT: Their dignity. And meanwhile, the U.S. estimates that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian troops have been killed, which includes claims by Ukraine that it killed a top Russian general near Kharkiv, the governor confirmed that to me, confirmed the killing near his city and the capture, he said, of the Russian Deputy Commander of aviation troops. He said that they captured him today in downing a plane.

Tonight, Russia is sending more military equipment into Ukraine. This is new video that we're showing you. It's a nine-car long armored Russian military train. It is moving deeper into Ukraine and just coming up from the south, from Crimea. And as we come on to the air tonight, the strikes continue across Ukraine, the death toll continues to mount, 21 more people killed during airstrikes in the town of Sumy according to a Ukrainian official and explosions now in the southern city of Mykolaiv, lighting up the sky. And we're going to take you there in just a moment in these early hours of the Ukrainian morning.

There is some talking going on behind the scenes. The Prime Minister of Israel spoke to both Zelenskyy and Putin today after meeting with Putin over the weekend. Zelenskyy tweeting that they discuss ways to end the war and violence and today's calls come as Ukraine's Foreign Affairs Minister says he will meet with his Russian counterpart on Thursday. That is in Turkey. A new level of talks.


Whatever stake you put in that it is a new level from anything we've seen thus far. We are live tonight across Ukraine as well as in Poland where the refugee crisis is intensifying.

I want us to start with Nick Paton Walsh. He is in Mykolaiv, as I said. And Nick, we just saw a video of that shelling tonight that you have been hearing and seeing, what is the latest where you are?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin. We think that shelling you heard was, in fact, outgoing shelling here but it really feeds into a pattern of intense nervousness here in Mykolaiv. The Regional Head, Vitaliy Kim, a man who's been galvanizing locals using his Telegram channel over the past weeks, essentially saying that he believes the Russians will try and take this port city 'at any cost' and asking locals to rush out onto the streets and bring spare tires to any intersection they can find.

We saw that ourselves randomly just sort of cars turning up, emptying their trunks and leaving spare tires at these intersections. The point being that if they do see Russian troops in the city center that locals or troops could then set fire to those tire barricades causing a thick fog of smoke and obscuring the view of any Russian troops that come in here.

Interestingly, enough hours later, the same regional head said, look, hey, guys, you've been amazing, within a matter of hours you filled every intersection with these tires. And please do not set fire to them until we absolutely have to. That said, he said he did not believe tonight would be violent, it will be dawn, which they would have to expect some sort of Russian move towards inside this city.

We've seen the up and down, the ebb and flow of fears here about where Russia would be, where they have managed to get to. And certainly right now, if I step away, you need to sort of see how utterly black and silent this bustling port city is tonight. There's literally only that one light and you can see ahead of me actually visible. And so the fear, I think is that this is some place which Russia has

to have control of if it is the move on towards a desert, the third largest city in Ukraine further around the Black Sea coast. There have been suggestions that the shelling that we saw on the outskirts of the city as we drove in, in the early afternoon, were in fact Ukrainian artillery, trying to target Russian positions as they moved across the north of the city in a bid to perhaps try and circle it on this, the eastern side of the riverbank here, the Dnieper River.

Real fears that this is the next place that Russia is going to try and move into. How they would actually realistically do that is baffling frankly, because we have seen their heavy weapons in action around the city, in the city in the past days and weeks.

And the notion that their armored columns are trying to move into a place here, which is as I said, literally has managed in a matter of hours to fill all of these intersections with spare tires as barricades would be an extremely tough fight for the Kremlin. But rationality hasn't always been on this side, Erin.

BURNETT: No, it hasn't, but amazing how quickly they move to defend themselves and to fight as we just heard the Kharkiv Governor say for their dignity and for their honor. No abatement in that sentiment. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much there from Mykolaiv.

And I want to go now to retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, Ronald Marks, former CIA official who oversaw actions against Russian spying operations and our reporter on the ground in Kyiv, Matthew Chance. So thanks to all of you.

Gen. Kimmitt, I'd like to start with you. You heard Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary of State, say Putin's appetite is only grown with the eating. Now we do know what 10 percent of the military assets that he had deployed have failed to do what they want to do here, Nick talking from Mykolaiv saying it's impossible to imagine how they could come in and take it quickly, given the resistance that they're facing.

So we see those failures of performance and imagination. And yet, Putin's using, what, less than 20 percent of his overall military, none of his air force essentially thus far. So do you expect him to ramp up but he has gotten hungrier with the eating?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I'm not sure how he could get any hungrier but he can certainly put some more meals on the table. You're right, he's only got about 10 percent in there and they have had a tough go of it. And you can see the toughest phase is now coming, their urban combat phase.

My concern is that he will just keep plowing like a bulldozer. He will just be plowing armored vehicles and more troops and more troops and more artillery. It may be a blunt instrument, but like a bulldozer, it will move slowly. It will take a lot of - they will take a lot of casualties. But it comes down to the determination, does Putin want this and will he keep putting in thousands and thousands of troops to take these cities. [19:10:02]

BURNETT: Ronald, the Governor of Kharkiv, when I spoke to him today spoke to me in Russian, okay, and I say that because he is one of many in Kharkiv who speak Russian as a first language, also Ukrainian. We see that across all of Ukraine. It is not a proxy for wanting Russia to be in charge of their country, not in any case. Okay? And that is something that perhaps Putin fundamentally misunderstood.

You heard the Governor say the - you didn't hear him, but he told me that if Putin thought that he would be welcomed with flowers and that didn't happen. So the CIA Director today, Mark says, that Putin went to war based on a set of assumptions that he's been proven wrong on every single count. Do you believe Putin so completely miscalculated something that was blatantly obvious to anybody who spent any time in that country?

RONALD MARKS, FMR. SENIOR CIA OFFICIAL, OVERSAW ACTIONS AGAINST RUSSIAN SPYING OPERATIONS: I hate to be his briefer right now. I'm sure he's got a lot of explaining to do. I mean, I think we have somebody who's been in office now for 20 years. He surrounded himself with people who support him and dare not object to him. I mean, I think we saw a similar pattern with Saddam Hussein.

When you get that kind of power and you've maintained it for that long, you don't have people around you who are going to tell you no. I also think he was deluded by what he had done in Georgia and in Chechnya, those were relatively small operations. They were conducted primarily by special ops people and there were additions to that.

But the bottom line was that these are small territories. We're talking about a nation of 45 million people, the size of Texas, 200 and some odd thousands square miles on land. This is a major offensive. We haven't seen something like this from the Russian army, perhaps, since the old battle days of the Cold War in the Czechoslovakia or wherever else and that was friendly territory.

So I think he really overestimated just by virtue of his own arrogance, by virtue of his own isolation. Also, I've got to tell you, he's a spy not a military man. I'll cede to my military friend over here, but I'm going to tell you something right now, spies are spies, and they have a limited understanding of firepower and other potentials here.

So he enjoys the army I'm sure, loves running around, seeing all the uniforms and all that, but truly understanding how you use those forces in what's turned out to be, frankly, a combination of a World War I trench war with the Bay of Pigs for him, losses right and left that he did not expect, so I'm sure right now, like I said, I would not care to be his briefer.

BURNETT: Well, and the level of fatigue and exhaustion, you're in country and you're a Russian soldier, now it's been two weeks, you're gone from home, you don't have enough supplies, you don't have anyone giving you new supplies, you're now supposed to go door to door in urban combat. I mean, just the actual literal fog of war when you're talking about human beings, the hurdles are incredibly high.

And Matthew, to that effect there is now a separate set of negotiations. The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been involved. He went and flew to Moscow this weekend. He talked to us Zelenskyy. He went to Germany. Separate phone calls with them today. He's had been asked by Ukraine to try to broker peace and appears to be trying to do so. Does anyone have any faith that these talks will actually go anywhere, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, and also to add to that, Erin, I mean, on Thursday, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine will be meeting in Turkey and that's the highest level meeting they've had for a long time. I mean, certainly since the start of this war and for a long time before that and so that's a potentially hopeful sign as well.

Look, I mean, on the Ukrainian side of things, they're saying, look, we don't trust the Russians. We trust that army. We don't trust the negotiations, but at the same time, behind the scenes, and there's got to be an understanding on the part of the Ukrainians at this point, that if the Russians are asking for neutrality, for Ukraine to step away from NATO, if the Russians are saying, look, we need you to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and those breakaway republics in the east of the country, you're never going to get them back.

Well, that's going to be very hard politically, of course, for the Ukrainians to swallow. But at the same time, it's not a great concession to say goodbye to territory you don't have, you're never going to have back. It's not a great concession to say, look, we'll back off from demanding NATO membership when they're really never going to get NATO membership anyway and everybody sort of acknowledges that even privately the Ukrainians.

And if they can do that, for the sake of preserving the - well, imposing some kind of peace and getting some kind of peace deal with the Russians, then that may be something that can come out of these talks. I mean, the question for me is; are the Ukrainians feeling so confident now, because of the military victories they've achieved on the battlefield they don't feel they need to sue for peace for this country.


BURNETT: Right. And, of course, General, the reality of it is no doubt they have to be aware that the while they have done what nobody perhaps thought possible and they have done it, they can do it for a while back to the point we made originally, 80 percent of Putin's firepower has not been used. He has fresh reinforcements and Ukraine does not. I mean, just to state the obvious.

KIMMITT: Yes, that's true. And I think the fundamental point is Putin has shown no regard for the Ukrainian civilians, he's shown no regard for the infrastructure or the people. The question is, does he even show that same regard for his own troops or will he keep pulling them in, pushing them into the fight, pulling them in from Russia and just steamrolling this, he may lose 50 percent of the soldiers, but does he care?

BURNETT: That's the unfortunate reality. Of course, so far, they haven't even seemed to sue to take those bodies home, so his actions would show that he does not.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate your time.


MARKS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, we're going to take you to Ukraine's border. An elderly couple finally got out of the country after spending eight days sheltering in a subway station.


VLADIMIR CHUMAKOV, FLEEING Ukraine (through interpreter): The fear, the crying children, when I saw a pregnant woman entering the metro, I understood this could not be forgiven.


BURNETT: Because the U.S. says up to 14,000 Russians had been arrested for protesting Putin's invasion. This at the possible cost of 15 years in prison. Think about that courage. Does it show serious cracks in Putin's popular support? The former foreign minister of Russia is speaking out tonight OUTFRONT.

And the first image released of the U.S. basketball star who is currently detained, arrested in Russia.



BURNETT: Ukraine's First Lady writing an impassioned letter on the plight of the millions of people who are now refugees due to Putin's invasion. People who two weeks ago were at school and at work now with nothing.

She says, "Look into the eyes of these tired women and children who carry with them the pain and heartache of leaving loved ones and life as they knew it behind."

And we have talked to some of those people and you see their eyes and the weeping and just the complete and utter loss. Right now it's more than 2 million people who've left Ukraine since the invasion began. That's just the latest numbers from the U.N.

Now, the majority of them have gone to Poland, including Jewish refugees who had fled the Nazis during World War II and spoke to our Sara Sidner who's OUTFRONT in Medyka, Poland which is sort of the main border crossing with Ukraine. Sara, you spoke with a group of elderly Jewish refugees now being forced to flee due to another war, what did they tell you? SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. We talked to a woman

who I'll call Ms. Rita (ph). She was 84 years old. And she talked about having her family having to flee the Holocaust and she made it to a small town in Ukraine where she has lived ever since. And then suddenly, bombs are falling.

And she said, we all started to run. She said there was only about 10 Jewish people in that area, but they all started to run but she said this time it wasn't just Jewish people running, it was everybody running, trying to get out of the way and survive this war.

And I asked her, is this just - are you sick and tired of running, and she says, I'm sick and tired of all of this. It's just so terrible. And that's just from one person. There are thousands and thousands of people coming over the border every single day. You see this line, it is in the wee hours of the morning here, and people are coming one by one. This is just one border and it's the walking part of the border.

And so you will see people and you'll see the military helping people, especially if they have children. It is really, really, really busy all day and all night. We've also seen a lot of, as you know, women and children, and we spoke to one of the children who had left an area of Kyiv.

He was a little boy, 11 years old, and just a week and a half ago, he was going to school like everybody else and they had their home and they had their life. And his parents were doing their work, and then suddenly he had to flee. Let's listen to a little bit of what little Bowden (ph) had to say about what it was like just getting here to safety.


BOWDEN (through interpreter): I was hearing explosions all the time. I was scared because I knew that the rocket can hit my house or the home of my relatives. That's what scared me. The soldiers from Russia don't want to stop. They don't know where to stop. They're dropping bombs all the time.


SIDNER: And he says it so matter of factly. At this point, we don't hear much crying here and that usually is a sign that the kids are in shock. They are just waiting to get somewhere warm. You see a lot of mothers cradling children, taking them over in little pushcarts, holding them tightly because it is freezing here. Actually, it is just starting to snow, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you very much. It's one of the most hard things about it is just seeing the children and how in so many cases there isn't a lot of emotion, just the trauma that is hitting them and how they're managing it, it's just incredibly hard to see.

And it is true that all along those borders, what you really see are women and children, elderly women and children and groups of women and children, that they kind of meet each other on the way and then they start traveling together for safety. All of them, just resorting to anything they can do to try to get across that border.

Scott McLean also went to the Ukraine-Poland border, which is near the city of Lviv and filed this report.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For more than a million Ukrainians, the road to safety in Poland is filled with checkpoints, bumper to bumper traffic and seemingly endless anticipation. Valentina Dekhtiarenko and her family had been waiting to cross the border for more than 24 hours. They're still nowhere near the front of the line.



VALENTINA DEKHTIARENKO, FLEEING UKRAINE (through interpreter): I don't know what's waiting for me and my family. We're going into the unknown and it scares us.


MCLEAN (voice over): Everyone in their cars is willing to wait, closer to the border, Eden Hubble (ph), buses drop people off by the dozens to cross on foot, joining lines that stretch for blocks and for hours, Max Amelin is taping and zip tying leftover insulation from his heating business to his daughter's feet to make sure she's warm while she waits for hours in the frigid cold.


MCLEAN (off camera): You just wanted to make sure that your family got here safe?

MAX AMELIN, FLEEING UKRAINE (through interpreter): Yes. He saves us and that's all.


MCLEAN (voice over): When they get to the front of the line, Max will have to stay behind as a man of fighting age. His in laws aren't leaving either.


NATALIA AMELIN, FLEEING UKRAINE (through interpreter): It's very difficult. It's so hard. My heart is ripped into pieces. My parents stayed back in Kyiv region. I don't know even what is going on with them now. It's so scary.


MCLEAN (voice over): Ilona Gutnichenko with her young daughter and godson in tow, fled the heavy shelling of Irpin, just outside Kyiv.


ILONA GUTNICHENKO, FLEEING UKRAINE: It was terrible and we left only two days ago. Sat on the last rain. We didn't believe that in 21st century, it can be the real war.


MCLEAN (voice over): Valentyna also fled Kyiv. She's never been forced from her home, but she's no stranger to tragedy.


VALENTYNA, FLEEING UKRAINE (through interpreter): My husband died at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, do you understand? And that's what they are doing now. They are destroying the whole world. It is outrageous. People around the world shall not be silent.


MCLEAN (voice over): This elderly couple fled Kharkiv, but only after spending eight days sheltering in a metro station. On the eighth day, an explosion shook their underground hideout.


CHUMAKOV: The women were hysterical. I understood, this is not going to pass. This horror cannot be endured. I cannot express it, the fear, the crying children. When I saw a pregnant woman entering the metro, I understood this cannot be forgiven.


MCLEAN (voice over): From here, many have no idea where they'll go when they get to Poland or when they might be able to come back.


MCLEAN (on camera): Now, many of the people we met along the border going to Poland told us that they had friends or family in Poland or elsewhere in Europe that they plan to stay with for now. But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that he's worried that the next wave of refugees won't have the same connections, the same resources as the first wave and there'll be a lot more vulnerable.

Almost everyone tells us they didn't want to leave at all. They just felt like they had no choice. They're less concerned about where they're going and more worried about having a homeland to come back to. Erin?

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Scott. It's really important to make that point too that some of the people who left early did have connections, the places to go, that's why they were able to leave and that some of the subsequent waves may not. Thank you so very much.

Well, OUTFRONT next, top U.S. officials say Putin is angry and frustrated the war dragging on. He thought it would last just a couple of days, greeted with hugs. Well, what is going on inside the Kremlin? Does anyone getting through to him? The former Foreign Minister of Russia speaks OUTFRONT next.

Plus President Biden bans Russian oil imports and has this honest warning for Americans.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin's war is already hurting American families at the gas pump and with this action it's going to go up further.




BURNETT: Breaking news. Dissent is growing in Russia over the war in Ukraine. The CIA Director Bill Burns telling the House Intelligence Committee that roughly 13,000 to 14,000 Russian citizens have now been arrested for protesting against the war. I just want to note that they're doing that now in the face of a new law that can send them to prison for 15 years. They're still doing it.

Of course, it also comes as the CIA concludes Putin is so determined to win the war that he will escalate the conflict without any concern for civilians. Obviously, there's been no concern shown thus far, to know that that can escalate, you just have to think about the significance of that.

OUTFRONT now, Andrei Kozyrev. He was Russia's foreign minister under Boris Yeltsin.

Mr. Kozyrev, I really appreciate your time and your willingness to speak to me.

So, you know, look, 13,000 to 14,000 people arrested for protesting who are willing to go to prison for up to 15 years is a pretty stunning thing. I think we can all look inside ourselves and say, would you be willing to go out and take those risks? That's a lot of people who are willing to do that.

So, Putin is facing greater resistance than he expected in Ukraine. Is any of this getting to him or not, do you think?

ANDREI KOZYREV, FORMER RUSSIAN MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS UNDER PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN: Yes, of course. Inevitably. You know, no dictator leaves room even if he's behaving like a lunatic. Of course, he lives in this society and he has, you know, little about his life, but we know that he has two daughters and they probably age of my children more or less because we are same age, and of course, those younger guys, they are on Internet. They watch Western sources of information.

So they know the reality. It's only the elderly there who probably believe the propaganda from TV. So yes, that creates a pressure on everyone there. So he feels the pressure, and maybe that's why they are trying to double down and know even bog down the resistance in Ukraine which they will not succeed to do. It's -- it's a bizarre situation for him.

BURNETT: So it's very hard to get to talk to people in Moscow now because these new rules, right?


So, there's essentially new media operating, just Russian state media, right? There's no independent media whatsoever.

Here's what two women in Moscow, though, were able to tell us about the war.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cannot stress how much pain we feel now. It hurts because they're our friends and our relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just scared, shocked and I don't believe our government.


BURNETT: I know, Andrei, that you speak to people who are there. How powerful is this sentiment? I think that's the question people have is it especially in light of these sanctions, is it something that will become so powerful that it could displace Putin and therefore change his action or could it end up turning in his favor and turning against the west because of the sanctions?

KOZYREV: Well, it's a double edge, yes. There will people who will blame the West, but, you know, most of people will sooner or later, blame their own leader. Like, here in America, they don't speak of other things rather than under Bush, it was good, Obama, it was bad or something like that, you know? So people usually look for their own leaders and they blame or praise their leaders.

And going -- speaking of resistance, you know, I today gave two interviews in Russian language, of course, to Russian broadcasters who are still there in Moscow, real heroes, and they are broadcasting on internet because the young people there, many of them are interviewed (INAUDIBLE) --

BURNETT: So can I ask you about them, though? I think -- because this is the thing that captures everyone around the world. That is incredibly brave, and I don't know how many people would have the willingness to do that and risk going to prison for 15 years or who knows what? It is incredible that they're willing to do that.

KOZYREV: Absolutely. It is, as I said, they are real heroes and look at this, if you could see it, that is the cover of a magazine which is still published in Russia today and that's the cover and the Swan Lake. The Swan Lake was on. BURNETT: Broadcast during the failed coup for Gorbachev.

KOZYREV: Exactly, and so they show this swan lake dance before swans and, you know, it speaks for itself because they threaten them to close, the newspaper or magazine, but they said they would not publish a word against the war, but they found a way --

BURNETT: To make their point clear.

I do appreciate your time and your perspective. I do think it is an important part of the story for people to keep in mind, that even though 14,000 people as an example out of 40 million might not like a lot, what it may represent is so significant of any sense of that, even seeing those sorts of websites are so important for the world to understand.

Thank you so much, Andrei. I appreciate your time.

KOZYREV: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the U.S. announcing a ban on Russian energy imports, OK. And that's important, and it needed to happen.

But the reality is that China is the single biggest buyer of Russian oil. So the Chinese haven't changed a single thing. They're still buying it. So, is Putin still going to get hundreds of millions of dollars to fight this war?

And breaking news, a Russian national in the United States now facing charges for failing to register as a foreign agent.



BURNETT: The price for a gallon of regular gasoline hitting a new record of $4.17 in the United States and President Biden warning that the price is going to go up, after he announced a ban on Russian energy imports to the United States.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is targeting the main artery of Russia's economy. We are banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy, that means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine.


BURNETT: Okay. It's an important statement that needed to happen, but a powerful blow it may not be, OK? U.S. imports of Russian oil had already declined significantly from last summer. The Department of Energy says imports have already dropped to zero. The president's doing the right thing, but the reality of it is, we really aren't buying Russian oil right now. The European Union is a bloc is actually the biggest buyer of Russian

oil, when you look at all of those countries together. Now, they said they'll cut imports by two-thirds this year, but they're not ending them. Not ending them or anywhere close to it, and China is the single biggest buyer of Russian -- the single biggest country buyer and they're not cutting back at all.

OUTFRONT now, Andrew Lipow. He is an oil industry expert and president of Lipow Oil Associates.

And, Andy, I really appreciate your time. Look, the reality of this is, the E.U. is cutting back, but not -- right, they're going to keep buying a third of what they were buying and China is not cutting back at all and if anything, buy at a discount, and get a quote, unquote deal, and Putin would still a whole lot money, more money than he would a few months ago. I mean, if you don't see a significant change out of China, Putin is still getting enough money, isn't he, to finance this war.

ANDREW LIPOW, PRESIDENT, LIPOW OIL ASSOCIATES: Well, he certainly is. In fact, since February 23rd, which was the day before Russia invaded the Ukraine, oil prices are up 28 percent or $33 a barrel.


In order to really impact Russia, the world needs to reduce the total amount of oil that it's willing to buy.

BURNETT: Right. Because I know it seems like a simple point, but one barrel of oil looks like another. So if you can get your oil out of the country and go mix it up and no one will know what they're buying and no doubt there's going to be a lot of nefarious players who try to assist them in this.

So, you talk about a 28 percent increase since the day before the invasion. Well, you know, that invasion had been coming for a while. So, I went back further, Andy and I went back to Brent crude to last summer. Prices went up 70 percent.

So even the big drop in purchases that Europe says it's going to do, Putin has already made up for that with the increase in prices. I mean, it would seem he could lose a lot of buyers and still not feel a tremendous hit if China is still there.

LIPOW: Well, that's really the problem is that the oil prices have risen faster than the world is willing to reduce its purchases from Russia and in the lead-up to this invasion what we had seen was world economies were re-opening, demand was increasing at the same time the supply wasn't returning as fast. And in fact, from OPEC what we found is while they increased their production quotas, they failed to meet those targets creating an ever bigger shortage of crude oil.

BURNETT: So, Andy, oil of course, is traded in dollars and Putin has had significant efforts to cut him off from any dollar-denominated assets or funds, so if China will buy this oil or Europe is till buying the third that it's buying knowing that it's funding this war, how is Putin getting paid to even access the funds?

LIPOW: Well, we should think about this in two ways. The European refiners are selling their gasoline and diesel locally and they're receiving euros for it, but you then go to the bank and exchange those euros for dollars and pay for the crude oil in dollars that they're buying from Russia. For China, what can happen is China can pay for the Russian oil in Chinese currency and Russia can in turn then buy consumer goods from China with that currency completely avoiding dollar transactions.

BURNETT: So, bottom line is it all does come down to China at this point in so many ways.

Andy, thank you so much for your perspective and analysis. I really appreciate it.

LIPOW: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: And next, the first picture of the WNBA star that was arrested in Moscow just released by Russia, as Russian state television mocks her sexual orientation.

Plus, an eleven-year-old from Ukraine being held as a hero, making his way to safety alone, no adult, nothing more than a plastic bag and a passport.



BURNETT: Breaking news. A Russian national facing charges for failing to register as a foreign agent in the United States, the Justice Department accusing Elena Branson of working in the U.S. on behalf of the Kremlin and having direct communication with Putin before fleeing back to Russia in 2020.

Meanwhile, in Russia, state media releasing a new photo of the detained WNBA player Brittney Griner. A former top State Department official telling me last night that Griner is, quote, the perfect hostage for Putin.

Lucy Kafanov is OUTFRONT.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the first image Americans are seeing of WNBA star Brittney Griner since her arrest in Russia. The police mugshot appearing on a segment that aired on Russia's main state-owned news channel, including more CCTV footage showing Griner at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after arriving on a flight from New York sometime in February. It depicts a service dog alerting Russian customs officials, triggering a search of Griner's luggage.

Officials are then shown examining what appears to be a plastic bag containing electronic vape cigarettes. IRINA BEGISHEVA, RUSSIAN CUSTOMS SERVICE (through translator): An

expert determined the liquid is a drug, cannabis oil. A criminal case has been opened against an American citizen for smuggling a significant amount of drugs.

KAFANOV: The Russian segment also mockingly referenced Griner's sexual orientation, in a country known for harsh anti-LGBTQ laws.

Griner's wife among those pleading for her release.

Like many female athletes, Griner has spent her winters playing basketball in Russia, where the pay is better, seen her being greeted by fans in 2021. But the warm welcome is now a harsh reality. If convicted, the seven-time WNBA all-star and two-time Olympic gold medalist could face up to ten years in a Russian prison.

Griner is not the only American languishing in Russian custody. Two other Americans, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, have been convicted and imprisoned in Russia in recent years, but are former Marines.

In 2020, Reed was convicted of endangering the life and health of police and says he was drunk and doesn't remember the night he was arrested. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

His family in Texas spoke on the phone today with President Biden when he visited the state. They had repeatedly asked for a meeting. The White House says they're still working on the timing for a formal meeting.

JOEY REED, TREVOR REED'S FATHER: We want to talk to the president and say, you're the only man in the world that can bring him home and you can do it today. We need him to do it.

KAFANOV: Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018, charged with espionage, convicted and sentenced to 16 years, including time in a forced labor camp.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been seeking the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed for some time, both of whom are unjustly detained. We have an embassy team that's working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia.


KAFANOV: But as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, and the diplomatic rift between the U.S. and Russia grows wider, the possibility of release for Americans held in Russia could become more difficult with each passing day.


KAFANOV (on camera): Now, the Reed family says President Biden was apologetic for not meeting with them in person in Texas, but what this points to, Erin, is the challenge these families of Americans detained in Russia are facing right now, which is a complete uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones as the conflict in Ukraine escalates -- Erin.

BURNETT: Lucy, thank you so much.

And next, an 11-year-old from Ukraine traveling hundreds of miles and crossing the border by himself -- by himself, to safety.


BURNETT: And tonight, the story of an 11-year-old boy from Ukraine that is touching many around the world. I'll show you Hassan, he fled his town in Ukraine, the town was under attack. He crossed the border alone. He had nothing more than a plastic bag. He did have a passport and a number written on his hand.

Well, Hassan took a train to Slovakia. And a message posted in Facebook by Slovakia's interior minister, Hassan's mother said she's a widow and she had to stay behind because she's still caring for her mother, so Hassan traveled hundreds of miles across the border alone and was finally greeted in Slovakia.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.