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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Images Reveal Brutality Of Putin's War: Mall, Apts Ravaged; Putin Suffering Setbacks: Rally Remarks Cut Off As State TV Confirms Death Of Russian Commanders As Casualties Mount; Schwarzenegger Video Attempting To Break Through Putin's False Claims Now Has 700,000 Plus Views On App Used By Russians; Ukraine: 109 Empty Strollers Mark The Deaths Of Children Killed; White House: Biden Warned Xi Of "Consequences" For China If It Helps Russia. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 18, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll be back once again tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" from 5 to 7 pm Eastern.

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, new images this hour of the utter devastation in Mariupol. This as hundreds remain missing after a bombing of a theater in that same city.

Plus, Biden warns China not to help Russia, but will the Chinese President who calls Vladimir Putin his 'best friend' listen?

And he was a professional tennis player now trading his racket for weapons. Why he says he's willing to die to defend Ukraine. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, utter devastation in Ukraine. Tragic new images tonight from the southern city of Mariupol and these are new drone images. This is a shopping mall completely gutted. A month ago people were shopping there, completely gutted. It looks like the entire complex, which is massive, has been burned completely through.

This city has seen some of the worst damage from the Russian attacks thus far. We're also seeing these new images from an apartment building that Russia hit Mariupol. Look at that. Look at that picture. People were living there a month ago. It's unbelievable. Completely destroyed by Vladimir Putin's attack.

And tonight, a new satellite image showing a massive line of cars filled with people who are still trying to flee Mariupol. I want to make two points here. One; they say that more than 300,000 people are still in that city. We don't know the real numbers, but it's a lot. A lot of humanity still in that city that hasn't had any supplies since the 24th of February in terms of food and also we still don't know who's missing in that bombing in Mariupol under the theater that was marked children, 130 people have been rescued but Ukrainian officials say more than 1,000 had been taking shelter there when it was struck. So 130 rescued, we have no idea about the other more than 800.

And in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv today, a downed Russian cruise missile destroying nearby vehicles, wrecking several buildings, total devastation on the ground there. One missile landing near a kindergarten. These are the disturbing images that we are getting tonight and they are coming as Putin is demanding full-throated support for his war at home.

Today telling Moscow school teachers and state funded university students that they had to attend a rally against Ukraine. One elementary school teacher telling CNN that her friend was fired for refusing to attend. Putin telling the crowd this lie.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through interpreter): To free the people from suffering and this genocide is a main initiating reason and goal for Russia starting a special operation in Donbas and Ukraine.


BURNETT: I mean, that is just that - I mean, to free the people, anyone there see those bombed out apartment buildings while there are no there's 800 people missing underground in Mariupol and that's just the tip of this horrific iceberg. And by the way, it's unclear whether Putin's comments there were even spoken live or pre-recorded, the Kremlin won't confirm.

But this staged rally coming as Russian state television admitted, and this is important, because they did it for the first time that a Russian commander actually was killed in Ukraine. It's the first time they've admitted the death. Western officials say at least three Russian generals have been killed in addition and no confirmation from the Kremlin on that.

Today, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin telling CNN things are not going according to Putin's plan.


LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think, they have not progressed as quickly as they would have liked to. I think they envisioned that they would move rapidly and very quickly seize the capital city. They've not been able to do that. They struggle with the logistics, so we've seen a number of missteps along the way.


BURNETT: Yet, despite these blows to the Russian military, Putin's reign of destruction and death across Ukraine continues. Fred Pleitgen is on the ground in Lviv tonight, where missiles hit a military aircraft repair site this morning. Fred, what is the latest tonight?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Erin. Of course, you've been in the city and you know that in this Ukraine war that the Russians started that this was always seen as a place that was fairly safe, where a lot of people fled to from other parts of the country as well.

But, of course, one of the things that we found out in the early morning hours of this morning is that no place is safe here in Ukraine. There were air sirens that went off and then missiles that landed at an airplane factory not far from where we are right now, apparently with six cruise missiles that were launched by Russian planes over the Black Sea that then flew here. Two of them were intercepted, but four of them did land.

Nevertheless, the Ukrainian military says it believes that it's halted Russia's offensive, especially around Kyiv ...


... but also putting up a massive fight in other places as well like, for instance, Kharkiv. Have a look at this.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Another blow to Vladimir Putin's military, Ukrainian forces claiming they ambush this convoy of Russian airborne troops while CNN cannot independently verify the information. Russian state TV for the first time acknowledged that a senior airborne commander and several soldiers have been killed.

While still outgunned, the Ukrainians feel they might slowly be turning the tide.

"The armed forces of Ukraine continue to deliver devastating blows at groups of enemy troops who are trying to consolidate and hold the capture defensive lines," a Ukrainian Army spokesman says. The Ukrainian say they are launching counter attacks against Russian troops. This video allegedly showing an anti-tank guided missile taking out a Russian armored vehicle.

They also claim they've already killed more than 14,000 Russian troops and shot down more than 110 combat choppers. CNN can't confirm those numbers, but the Russians haven't updated their casualty figures in more than two weeks, instead claiming what they call their 'military special operation' is going as planned.

Russia's Defense Ministry released this video of helicopter gunships allegedly attacking a Ukrainian airfield. Still, Vladimir Putin clearly feels the need to rally his nation, making a rare appearance at a massive rally at Moscow's main stadium where a strange technical glitch cut off his speech but not before he praised Russian troops.


PUTIN (through interpreter): The best proof is the way our boys are fighting in this operation shoulder to shoulder supporting each other and if need be protecting each other like brothers, shielding one another with their bodies on the battlefield. We haven't had this unity for a long time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN (voice over): But the Russians appear to be so angry at U.S. and allied weapons shipments to Ukraine, they vowed to target any deliveries entering Ukrainian territory and they're hitting strategic targets as well, firing several cruise missiles at an airplane repair plant near Lviv.

While a Russian cruise missile dropped on a residential building in the capital, Kyiv, after being shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion brother of Kyiv's Mayor Vladimir Klitschko pleading for more help.


VLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, BROTHER OF KYIV MAYOR: This is genocides of the Ukrainian population. You have to act now. Stop battle (inaudible) and stop doing business with Russia. Do it now.


PLEITGEN (voice over): The Biden administration has said more aid and weapons are on the way as Ukrainian forces continue to put up a fierce fight, preventing Russia's troops from further significant gains.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And they really are putting up a fierce fight and continue to put up a fierce fight. One of the things, Erin, is that we are not coming to the end of week three of this war and one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that so far, the Russians have not been able to take a single large population center here in this country, despite the fact that they've had these brutal tactics that have been going on, so far very little in the way of territorial gains, especially this week.

But what we do see, of course, is the fact that civilians are continuing to be massively affected by this war, Erin.

BURNETT: Absolutely. All right. Fred, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to retired Army Major General James 'Spider' Marks and Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist and editor of, which is a watchdog of the Russian secret service activities. He's also a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and I'm really glad to have you back.

So Gen. Marks, let me start with you. The commander for U.S. Central Command today, Gen. Frank McKenzie, told reporters, "Russian soldiers don't appear from where I sit to be particularly motivated." And we keep hearing that, General. But, of course, they are purposely bombing and shelling civilians with artillery outside cities and they know that they're doing that, they're not clueless as to what they're doing. Help people understand what's really going on here. JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the fact that Gen. McKenzie indicated that, it's a spot on observation and there's nothing worse for a military unit than lousy leadership. And clearly what we see with the Russians is absent leadership, it's not taking place.

Ukrainians on the other hand, are stepping up. They are better equipped and they're actually applying combat power in a synchronized way. The Russians simply are not and the devastation that's occurring inside the cities will continue as long as the Russians have artillery, which they have plenty of and rockets.

And both artillery and rockets can be aerial weapons. They're not very well guided, you just shoot them in a certain direction and you can achieve this level of devastation.


But they also have missiles. They have precise smart weapon systems. What they don't have, they don't have good intelligence on the ground to mark those targets. So clearly what the Russians have done is their operation has stalled and now they're just going to step back and start to pummel these populated areas, which is the terror tactics that we've been talking about.

BURNETT: So Andrei, in Russia today, Putin had that that rally, right?


BURNETT: And he ordered teachers to attend. So anyone - people who work for the government in any capacity you have to go. And a 26-year- old teacher spoke to CNN and said, I'm not going to use her name, but said, "I refuse to go because this goes against my moral principles and I told them that it is not part of my work contract to attend such events, however, I also have a friend from another school who refused to go and was fired."

Andrei, when you hear this, is this significant, does it match with what you're hearing and, I guess, also, does it extend more broadly in Russia right now?

SOLDATOV: Well, we hearing some signal or some signs that, well, ordinary Russians now there (inaudible) and that there are casualties. There are people killed. Even in small towns and the central Russia, I know, personally, from my friends and colleagues that people know now that there are dead soldiers. They know that in three weeks of this war.

But I would not make it really big. Yes, these teachers, they are all these bases for Putin because schools are extremely important politically for Russia. It's there you have your polling stations and it's there the ruling party of Putin's United Russia actually got all this ratings and that's provided by the teachers, so they are extremely loyal.

And now because some of them, they show that they do not want to participate in this, that is very surprising for the authorities. But unfortunately, we are talking about small numbers.

BURNETT: Small numbers. I mean, I guess you got to start somewhere, but I think your context is so important.

So General, we look at these new satellite images that we're getting, one of the things we're getting is what Russia is doing. So what we're looking at here are construction of earthen berms, okay, basically, ditches and walls around its military equipment northwest of Kyiv. You look at these and see something significant. What is it?

MARKS: The Russians are transitioning based on this imagery. They're transitioning to a defensive posture, which means their offensive has been stalled. They're transitioning to defense so that they can resupply, reorganize, they can evacuate casualties, they can bring in some chow, they can bring in some additional equipment.

That means to the Ukrainians, this is your opportunity to move. Take the offensive now because transitioning from the offensive to the defensive, takes time, and it alters your perspective of the soldier that's been engaged. So the Ukrainians are aware of this and really need to kind of step up the pace of their operations. They can take the fight to the Russians now, which would be phenomenal.

They're doing it very well, but they really could start to push back.

BURNETT: So Andrei, Russian-state TV announced the death of the senior commander today. And it was notable because we hadn't seen it before. First of all, we're getting no casualty numbers out of them whatsoever and now, today, they do this announcement. Why did they do this one and not the prior deaths that we know about even among generals?

SOLDATOV: First of all, I wanted to stress that this announcement was made on a regional television, not in Moscow, and in the city of Kostroma where this regiment was based and now we have a military commander of his regiment killed while they actually had no choice but to admit that something happened.

So I would say we have some cracks in the system, because to be honest, the Russian military was not ready for such a long war.

BURNETT: And they perhaps weren't thinking they were going have casualties and now there's a huge number of casualties. We don't know exactly how many. Thank you both so very much.

MARKS: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, you just briefly saw it, the man who helped Arnold Schwarzenegger make his videos video to the Russian people.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: I urged Russian people and the Russian soldiers in Ukraine to understand the propaganda and the disinformation ...

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Plus, 109 empty strollers, each one representing the death of a child in the war in Ukraine.

And panic buying in Russia, fighting over pack of sugar. Kremlin responding saying it's because the people involved 'cannot cope with their emotions'.



BURNETT: Breaking news, dozens of Ukrainian troops reported to be dead after Russian strikes targeted a military base in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. That's according to journalists who were there. As Arnold Schwarzenegger's powerful message to Russians comes out, where he slams Putin's invasion of Ukraine, it is getting noticed now in Russia.

So here's how we know, the video now has nearly 700,000 views on Telegram. And Telegram is kind of it right now for a lot of people in Russia, it's the messaging app widely used by Russians due to the censorship of other apps. Now, Schwarzenegger is actually also only one of 22 accounts that Putin's official account follows on Twitter, where the video happen to also be posted. A video where Schwarzenegger also called Putin out by name.


SCHWARZENEGGER: I urge the Russian people and the Russian soldiers in Ukraine to understand the propaganda and the disinformation that you are being told. I ask you to help me spread the truth so that your fellow Russians will know the human catastrophe that is happening in Ukraine. To President Putin, I say: You started this war. You're leading this war. You can stop this war.


BURNETT: And he's not alone, the U.S. State Department and Ukrainian hackers also part of the effort to break through Russia's digital iron curtain of sorts to tell the truth about the invasion.

OUTFRONT now, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Of course, you know him and he's a friend of the former governor who worked with him on the video message also now the former director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. And Colonel, I really so much appreciate your being with me tonight. When this first came out yesterday and I watched it several times in a row, it is an incredibly powerful message from Arnold Schwarzenegger.


I know that it took six days from writing it to publishing it, according to The Washington Post, tell me how it came about.

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET), FMR. EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, Arnold was looking for a way to be helpful in this matter. This

is my area of expertise, so I figured I could offer some assistance in helping to move this to fruition. But mainly, he just knew that he had an opportunity to speak to the Russian people that he has a strong, long relationship with that he's one of the few voices that probably would resonate with a large portion of the Russian public and the individuals that he's worked with in the past, including very well known bodybuilders or individuals that the Russian people would recognize.

So he's trying to communicate to the Russian public. He was trying to communicate to the Russian soldiers that are part of this offensive in Ukraine, explaining to him what they're risking, that the soldiers know what they're risking, they're on the battlefields watching thousands of their colleagues and friends die, but they're throwing their lives away for Putin's war. And then to the Russian public, he was trying to communicate the fact that this is not the war that they think they were fighting. This is not a righteous war. This is not a war like World War II where they're defending themselves. This is a war of aggression.

BURNETT: So I want to play a little bit more of the message that you helped him craft where he spoke about his own father, who fought in the Nazi army during World War II. Here's Arnold Schwarzenegger.


SCHWARZENEGGER: When my father arrived in Leningrad, he was all pumped up on the lies of his government. When he left Leningrad, he was broken physically and mentally. I don't want you to be broken like my father. This is not a war to defend Russia like your grandfathers and your great-grandfathers fought. This is an illegal war.


BURNETT: Colonel, have you heard anything about how many people in Russia have seen this video? I mean, I gave that Telegram approximation, but what have you heard?

VINDMAN: Well, I think the fact is that it's permeated social media and has gone viral, certainly has gotten millions of views in the West. But these are folks in Russia that also have access to Western accounts and media, especially in the big cities. It's not getting through to the small towns and villages, at least not at the numbers that are going to be impactful.

But it's getting through and you could tell the fact that it's troublesome for the Russians, because they're censorship organizations are trying to knock it down. They're trying to pull it from the various sites and it's still resonating, still kind of penetrating.

And most importantly, as much of an effect it's having in Russia at this point, still building, it's only been out for about 24 hours or so, a little bit longer than that. It's also being listened to and heard by the Russian soldiers operating inside of Ukraine. This is a completely different kind of war. BURNETT: Yes.

VINDMAN: A very, very networked information war where folks still have access to their smart phones, they're watching things in real time, were seeing things in real time here that are happening thousands of miles away and this is a war that's being played out to kind of affect the domestic population in Russia, for Putin, his goal was to shape the external information environment and same thing for President Zelenskyy, his (inaudible) his own population as well as communicate with the foreign leaders (inaudible).

BURNETT: I think it's such a great point that you make, because one of the things I know - we were all surprised in Ukraine that they didn't ever shut down the internet. I mean, obviously, in Mariupol they have major problems communicating, but as you point out, many of these soldiers would have the ability to see it. On the traditional social media sites where they wouldn't if they were over the border in Russia.

So when you talk about his and why people in Russia would listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's not just because he's a celebrity, it's because of who he is. And he laid out his bond with his hero, the Russian bodybuilder, Yury Petrovich Vlasov, in that video and he's been to Russia repeatedly over the decades. He met with President Medvedev at one point. He's been there to promote movies. He opened the Planet Hollywood restaurant. He attended a concert to celebrate Gorbachev's 80th birthday. That wasn't in Russia, but it was obviously Gorbachev. And he talked about filming in Red Square for the 1988 movie Red Heat in which he plays a hero Russian police officer. Here's an old clip of him talking about that experience, Colonel.


SCHWARZENEGGER: There was a tremendous amount of excitement in Moscow, not only amongst the press, but amongst the youth. It was wild as a matter of fact, to arrive there and to have hundreds of kids tried to talk to us and communicate with us and hunt us down for autographs and some - and I had no idea that we had this kind of popularity there.



BURNETT: Well, now he does and he's trying to do something good with it. Colonel, who else could do something that would matter to the Russian public where they could see it?

VINDMAN: So something else needs to be said about Arnold. He's a world renowned figure, not just in Russia, but this video was actually resonating in China, in the Chinese social media landscape which is interesting.

BURNETT: Very interesting.

VINDMAN: Because, of course, the Chinese had the ability to knock it down, but they're letting it play. So it's kind of a tepid, tacit type of criticism of Russian aggression of sorts. And I would like to see some other figures. I mean, there are notable superstars out there that have done really well at the box office recently that could speak up.

There are people that have ties, family ties to that part of the world. That would be interesting to hear them come out. And just the way that commercial space industry has weighed in by withdrawing their resources and closing up shop there, it'd be good to have the Hollywood put some skin in the game and come out and do the same thing, especially in this moment where the Russians are pivoting to a defensive operation, that's still going to be bloody and protracted. They've gone too far away past where they should be with regards to secure supply lines. This would be the time to make sure that these messages are getting through to the soldiers as well as to the Russian public that's going to start hearing more about casualties.

BURNETT: Colonel, thank you so much for all of that insight and those points. I really appreciate you sharing it. Thank you.

VINDMAN: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, a stark and devastating monument in Lviv tonight, strollers in the town square, each representing the death of a child from the war.

And he calls Putin his best friend, so will Xi Jinping do something? Will he listen to Biden when it comes to not helping Russia?



BURNETT: One hundred and nine strollers empty in Lviv's central square, a symbol of the more than 100 children that Ukraine says have been killed since the Russian invasion. Another 1.5 million children have been forced to flee the country. Many of them to Poland, which is where Ed Lavandera is now.

The city of Medyka is right by the busiest border crossing between Poland and Ukraine and, Ed, I know you spoke to a group of women who just crossed over, you know, after fleeing the heavy fighting that we have seen in Kharkiv. What did they tell you?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, you know one of the things that is starting to kind of materialize here on the border between Ukraine and Poland is that there are so many people who are coming from the areas of eastern Ukraine that are seeing some of the most violent Russian bombardment and attacks in the entire country. And the one thing that stands out from these families that we're talking to is that they had been hoping that they could wait it out. They want today stay home. They were trying to wait and be as patient as possible but it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer safe to do that.

So I am really struck by the number of families we talked to, this one woman in particular said she had been traveling for two days to make her way with her child to get to this border point in Poland and that really speaks to, number one, the number of people trying to make that trek and that journey. And also, simply just how treacherous it is because Russian forces have been targeting civilians. So there is a great deal of concern. This is a little bit of our conversation with her just a few moments ago.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Right now, it's very scary. They are shelling relentlessly day and night. Fighter jets are in our skies. They are dropping bombs on us.

When we were leaving Kharkiv, half the city was obliterated. Cars were destroyed, turned over with broken windows, all riddled from the shelling. What we are leaving behind wasn't Kharkiv anymore. Such a beautiful city and country but in the end, nothing came of this.


LAVANDERA: One of the last straws for that woman was that her neighbor was killed in shrapnel from a missile attack that was next to their apartment building. So, that is the kind of stress, the kind of pressure, the kind of horror these families are seeing. And it has now become abundantly clear to many of them that those hopes of having -- being able to wait this out are not coming to fruition and that's why they are leaving in bigger numbers now.

BURNETT: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much live from that border crossing in Medyka tonight.

And there will be consequences if China gives military or financial support to Russia. That's what President Biden says. Now, importantly, he had a conversation today with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Two hours via video.

Yes, translation. So, you know, it wasn't that -- that full two-hour talk time but that is a lot of time and it's really important that they are talking. The question now is whether Xi will stand up -- stand up against Putin's aggression and stop helping him, a man that he calls his best friend.

David Culver is OUTFRONT in shanghai.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A friendship on full display. China's Xi Jinping hosting his northern neighbor and fellow autocrat, Vladimir Putin, in 2018. The pair happily sampling together a traditional Chinese pancake.

A few months later, they made a Russian version of the dish, complete with caviar and vodka. They have visited with China's iconic pandas together and have taken in an ice hockey game.

The cozy China-Russia relationship resulting in 38 face-to-face meetings since xi took power in 2013. State media says the pair has communicated more than 100 times, including phone calls and letters.

XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): Putin is also my best and dearest friend.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): For me, he is a good partner and a good friend that I can count on.

CULVER: Both men nearing 70 but showing no desire to step aside. Xi and Putin have worked to eradicate collective leadership in their countries, consolidating power and changing laws so that they might rule for life.


They have aligned their countries closer to one another, conducting joint military exercises and sharing a common adversary -- the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Putin and Xi Jinping have in common here is actually the desire to undercut U.S.' credibility to drive a wedge between Washington and its allies.

CULVER: But Russia's messy invasion of Ukraine has President Joe Biden turning to China, hoping Xi may be able to help end Russia's war. According to Chinese state media CCTV, Xi told Biden in a virtual meeting Friday that China and the U.S. have a responsibility to work for peace, saying, the world is neither peaceful, nor tranquil. The Ukraine crisis is something we don't want to see.

U.S. officials say Moscow has asked Beijing for help and the U.S. worries that any economic or military support China sends to Russia has the potential to change the balance on the battlefield, and could take the sting out of the Western sanctions currently crippling Russia's economy. The White House said Friday's discussion included the two leaders agreeing to maintain open lines of communication. China may see this as an opportunity to burnish its credentials as a major global player capable of step inning and solving the geopolitical crisis.

YUN SUN, DIRECTOR OF THE CHNA PROGRAM, THE STIMSON CENTER: So neither leaning towards Russia, nor leaning towards Ukraine, and instead try to present itself as a neutral-third party.

CULVER: American officials have warned China will pay a price if it does circumvent sanctions to do business with Russia or helps Putin militarily.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand, and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions.


CULVER (on camera): And, Erin, it is interesting to compare the readouts from both sides. The U.S. side stressing this was mostly a conversation about Ukraine with Biden warning Xi at the consequences should China help Russia. But interesting to look at state media here because in China, they are playing up that Xi pressed Biden on Taiwan, which China considers part of its sovereignty.

Xi warning Biden that if the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, Erin, he says it won't be good for U.S.-China relations.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. David Culver, fantastic report there from China tonight.

OUTFRONT next, Russians beginning to feel the sting of sanctions but are other countries about to suffer, too? As Ukrainian workers abandon their firms to fight.


DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: Well, guess where -- where all the farmers are. They got guns in their hand defending their land.


BURNETT: And from the tennis court to the battlefield. Former Ukrainian tennis star tells us why he went back into his country to take up arms and defend his homeland.



BURNETT: Russia admitting that its citizens have resorted to panic buying at grocery stores. Putin's top spokesperson forced to address the issue after video surfaced of elderly Russians fighting to get their hands on packs of sugar. It's what you are seeing here.

Now, we can't independently confirm when this video was filmed but it is significant because Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov acknowledged it and dismissed the images as people who, quote, cannot cope with their emotions. It comes as Moscow stock exchange has been closed for three weeks. The ruble is now worth less than one penny, and most western companies have completely stopped doing business in the country. All of this is a result of withering sanctions which took effect in the shortest timeframe we have seen sanctions happen in world history.

OUTFRONT now, Natalie Jaresko. She's the former finance ministry of Ukraine.

And, Natalie, I really appreciate your time and perspective so when you look at Russia and Ukraine and, obviously, given your experience, you know both economies so incredibly well. How much more could Russia withstand the terrible toll that these sanctions are already having on their economy?

NATALIE JARESKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN FINANCE MINISTER: Well, I don't actually believe that the sanctions are enough yet, and I think that there is a great deal of fear and there's certainly a press on the ruble itself as you mentioned. But outside of that, they are only beginning to feel what I think has to happen in terms of the isolation of the Russian economy.

BURNETT: So -- so, what else would you do?

JARESKO: Well, I would urge that we sanction all the state banks, not just a select few. We sanction all the state energy companies, state commodity companies, state logistics companies. And the reason to do that is to isolate out this economy, and put sufficient pressure on the economy, on the elites, on the average citizens to cause Putin to stop the war.

BURNETT: So, it's interesting. And it's important you point that out because obviously hear about the economy that could shrink by 30 percent in months but yet it's significant as you point out there is more that could be done that would be very significant.

Now, the consequences, of course, are -- are -- are painful in Russia but beyond that, also, painful, right, around the world and the World Food Programme is warning that other countries are going to really feel this from the war because of Ukraine, and Ukraine not having a planting season. They are a huge food supplier.

Here is the head of the World Food Programme.


BEASLEY: You have planting season starting again in Ukraine in about a month. Well, guess where -- where all the farmers are. They got guns in their hand, defending their land. They can't be planting their land.


BURNETT: So, I mean, this was the clear thing. Ukraine was clear there wasn't going to be a planting season. You are talking about, you know, an incredible provider of all sorts of agricultural commodities that feed through the entire world.

How bad will this be, Natalie?

JARESKO: This is extremely important and Ukrainians right now as you said are taking up arms. But the government is also asking them to please plant when they can. So, there are parts of the country where spring planting is supposed to begin.

In terms of how much territory will be planted, how much fuel would be available because much of the diesel and petroleum is imported from Russia and Belarus, it won't be. Or the extent to which they will -- farmers will be able to come back a second time and apply fertilizers and the types of things necessary to get yields up, I think we are looking at probably one-third, maximum two-thirds of the plantings happening on time and in the ability to export frankly speaking regardless of planting is completely cut off because all the ports are out of commission.


BURNETT: Well, I mean, at least if they could plant some for their own use, right, so you don't have this crisis get worse and worse.

One final, quick question for you. One thing that I -- I noticed when the war began was that in Ukraine, everybody lined up at ATMs. You know, politely and they waited. And they got hryvnia, the Ukrainian currency. And in Russia when the war began, we saw these lines and they were getting out dollars, they didn't want rubles. They wanted dollars.

Why do you think that is, Natalie, that Ukrainians immediately went -- their country is under attack and they go and get out hryvnia, they have so much confidence in their currency?

JARESKO: There are two reasons really. One is that Russians I think know very well that there are sanctions being applied to the central bank of Russia. And that devaluation, that 40 percent, 50 percent that's already occurred makes them panic and want dollars. They know that there is not going to be enough dollars to supply what their needs are.

On the other hand, in Ukraine, people have confidence because the entire global community, the Western world is coming to their support with financial aid. And IMF World Bank is going into the central bank of Ukraine reserves.

The challenge for Ukrainians isn't the currency. The challenge is being attacks and electronic ceasing of the banking system.

BURNETT: Right. Right. Of course. And luckily, that of course is not happened at least yet.

Natalie, thank you very much.

And next, he says he is ready to die for his country. I am going to speak to a retired Ukrainian tennis star who came back to the country ready to fight Russia.

And potassium iodide may have meant nothing to many in Europe weeks ago. Now, many want it, few can get it. We'll tell you why.



BURNETT: No one wants to die but it's our land. Those are the words of a retired professional tennis player from Ukraine as he trades his racket for weapons.

Alex Dolgopolov who played in Wimbledon from the U.S. Open is in Ukraine and vowing to remain through the war to defend his country and help any way that he can. And he is OUTFRONT now.

And, Alex, I really appreciate your time.

I know that when the fighting started, you were in Turkey and you decided that you wanted to come back in. You wanted to come back to Ukraine, and you -- getting -- I know you spent a few days even trying to get weapons training, so you would be even more prepared when you came back into the country.

Why did you make this decision? Tell me about it.

ALEX DOLGOPOLOV, RETIRED UKRAINIAN PRO TENNIS PLAYER NOW FIGHTING IN UKRAINE: Because it's my home. I was born here, and I see the country very united. I've seen many sports people, singers and stay here and helping out. So, why shouldn't I be here?

I mean, I'm a man so -- so I think I can -- I can help. I can send a message. I can gather money. I can bring everything to our army, what I can. And I can be useful, as well.

So, I don't think that all the people should leave, you know, their homes because then the city is empty and the army needs -- needs to see the people behind them.

BURNETT: I remember talking to one man who was in the reserves. He had fought in the Donbas but he was in the reserves and he had been called up and -- and I met him on the day he was called up. And he said, of course, he is afraid. No one who knows what they're doing wouldn't be afraid.

And I know you must have those fears, too. But -- but you've chosen to come back, despite, you know, the fear that no doubt you feel. And -- because of how much you believe in your country.

But it's a pretty incredible thing that you are willing to lose your life if it comes to that, Alex.

DOLGOPOLOV: Well, it's war. What can I say? You have to be ready to -- to die and kill, so I had to take that decision sitting in Turkey. And for sure, I had some doubts.

But why am I worse than any person who is staying here? And there is many famous people staying here. There is many normal people staying here, old people, children.

I mean, they for sure will need help, and I think if everyone thinks that I'll help from outside of the country, then that's a problem for the country. So I'm here. I'm going to help with what I can. If I need to fight, I'll fight.

BURNETT: So, Alex, you know, you played tennis obviously at the -- at the top level in the world, right? U.S. Open, Wimbledon and every other major tournament. You always ended your matches, you know, as you do with a handshake and you played against Russians.

And, you know, you obviously I'm sure like -- like everyone have friends who are Russian. Could you ever imagine that you'd be in a situation like this where you would be fighting against them?

DOLGOPOLOV: No, I never thought it would go this deep but now it's gone to another level. And since I think the second day of the -- of this war, they started really targeting civilians.

So, it -- it became a business of every Ukrainian. You can't just watch how -- how they shoot your people. I mean, once it's not a fight against armies, then it becomes a fight against, you know, the whole nation and that's what Russia doesn't understand.

They can never win because if I need to call my -- get my connections going to get into territorial defense, then you must understand that almost every man here is ready to take a weapon and fight. And how do you fight such motivated people?

Yeah, they bomb us. That's the problem. They bomb, bomb, bomb and civilians die.


But they took one -- one city, one big city because they are not really motivated. They're on our land and most of them are saying we don't understand what we're fighting for. And we do understand what we're fighting for, so that's like that.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Alex, I am grateful for your time and for sharing your story and your resolve with us. Thank you.

DOLGOPOLOV: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, a pill that can protect the body against some nuclear exposure. Suddenly, there is a huge spike in demand around the world.


BURNETT: Finally tonight, panic buying over nuclear fears. Potassium iodide pills have been selling out as Russia continues controlling nuclear facility, including Chernobyl which has been operated by the same staff without any break for weeks. The pills are used to protect against thyroid cancer from nuclear exposure. Anbex is one of the world's leading suppliers is completely sold out.

Here is what the Anbex's VP of sales told us.


TROY JONES, ANBEX VP OF SALE AND MARKETING: We have not seen any uptick prior to Russian's action -- Russia's actions. But now, we have purchase orders from many countries around Ukraine. On the 23rd, we saw more orders that we have seen since Fukushima in 2011.


BURNETT: It's incredible and tonight, he says there is simply no more supply to be had.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.