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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Video Shows Fires, Destroyed Buildings West Of Kyiv As Ukrainian Forces Fight To Regain Territory; Biden: U.S. Would Respond To Any Chemical Attacks In Ukraine; Growing Questions About Russian Defense Minister: Not Seen In Over A Week & Declining Calls From U.S.; Italy Looking Into Superyacht That Some Say Belongs To Putin; India, China & Brazil Prop Up Russia During War Through Trade, Despite Pressures From West; Sources: Wife of Justice Thomas Pleaded with Meadows to Overturn 2020 Election in Texts Obtained by January 6 Committee. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 24, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, intense fighting breaking out just outside of Kyiv tonight as Ukrainian forces make more gains around their capital. With Putin growing more desperate, the United States is preparing for a possible chemical weapons attack in Ukraine.

Plus, the man in charge of Putin's war not seen in public for more than a week. Who is Sergei Shoigu and where is he?

And a mystery, $700 million yacht docked in Italy now. It's got two helicopter pads, a hanger inside, a gold toilet paper holders, does it belong to Vladimir Putin? My guest tonight will show you the proof she says that it does. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, intense fighting breaking out tonight just outside Ukraine's capital city. As we are just getting new drone video from the town of Vulytsya Popovych, just 12 miles west of Kyiv. You can look at this and see the widespread devastation, buildings on fire.

The Mayor they're telling CNN, it is extremely dangerous there tonight as Russian forces are shelling the town. The shelling comes as Ukrainian forces though are making significant gains tonight around Kyiv retaking territory east of the city. You can see what appear to be Ukrainian soldiers surrounding a Russian tank here. We're hearing from another soldier in that particular town who said, "We are advancing along the entire front line. We are advancing successfully. We will keep this village."

Well, the cost of the fighting is catastrophic, though. This is new video in from Mariupol in the south of Ukraine. The city council posted this. This devastation is hard to fathom, this part where they literally drive underneath the cell tower and then they show you the buildings, you got burned out cars lining all the streets when they show you out the window, apartment buildings, as they drive by just completely bombed out.

This sure looks like in a sort of aftermath of Chernobyl, exterior wall is all that is left of this building you're seeing coming up here on the left. It is just unbelievable. This is a city that was home to 350,000 or more people a month ago. We have no idea how many are still left there.

Tonight, Ukraine is putting a price on what this fight is formally telling the United States that it needs 500-anti aircraft missiles and 500 anti-tank missiles a day to keep fighting the Russians a day. Now, there is no response from the U.S. government yet on that. But in Brussels tonight, President Biden put Putin on notice should he choose to use chemical weapons.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would the U.S. or NATO respond with military action if he did use chemical weapons?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.


BURNETT: Now, there are fears Putin could be on the path to using chemical weapons. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy today making this very specific claim about an attack in eastern Ukraine.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): Today, by the way, there were phosphorus bombs in the morning, phosphorus Russian bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again.


BURNETT: Phosphorus causes severe burns. It is a violation of international law to use it in any attack on civilians. NATO Secretary General tonight says the alliance has mobilized its chemical weapon defenses.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Our top Military Commander General Wolters has activated NATO's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements and allies are deploying additional chemical and biological and nuclear defenses to reinforce our existing and new battle groups.


BURNETT: Our Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT live in Kyiv tonight. Phil Mattingly is in Brussels with President Biden at that NATO meeting. Sam, let me begin with you as we're showing devastation on the ground

near where you are, but also the Ukrainian forces appearing to notch some more significant victories around Kyiv. What is the latest tonight?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think the most dramatic event has been the Ukrainian forces attack in Berdyansk where they knocked out and blew up a Russian ship that was docked in the dock there in this very important port city. Massive explosion followed by several other what they call secondary explosions. That's when the ammunition or fuel or both inside that ship is detonating.

Now, in and of itself, not necessarily a significant strategic move by the Ukrainians but a good illustration of how they're trying to put to best use the sort of weapons that they're demanding, begging NATO to increase their supplies to them.


And now they've going through what NATO has estimated what the Ukrainians could use over a week that the Ukrainians are saying they're going through in a 24-hour period, they have been enjoying a degree of success here in Kyiv, pushing back the forces in Makariv to the west around Irpin. We're just showing those pictures of drone images from the northwest of Kyiv. These were all consequences of the ongoing fighting that is very intense, Erin, to the northwest and now I was just today in the east of the city where they are also claiming a number of successes.

But these are all about protecting Kyiv. They haven't necessarily got control at all of the battlespace elsewhere in the country. And of course, Mariupol, you were showing those images, they're extraordinary images of this completely destroyed city going to go down in history as one of the iconic destructions of an entire city conducted in any age.

But this one really, really, really dramatic, very important location, controlling the last piece of government territory on the Azov Sea. Still the Ukrainians are holding out. Still they're desperately asking for those weapons, Erin.

BURNETT: It is incredible, just that picture driving along that edge of the town under that fallen tower. Sam Kiley, thank you so much, reporting live from Kyiv tonight.

Let's go to Brussels where Phil Mattingly is. He is covering President Biden's trip to meet with NATO leaders. So Phil, we hear President Biden say the U.S. and NATO will respond if Putin uses chemical weapons, but he's very careful to not say how. To say it would depend on what the use was. So what is the President's thinking on this right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, we've gotten a sense of the scale of the concern with U.S. officials over the course of the last several days with their public statements, increasingly public warnings to President Putin warnings that a chemical attack may be imminent. It was a central point of discussion here in Brussels with NATO leaders, with EU leaders about what may happen, what people are seeing and what the response would be.

But perhaps more important at this point in time is what's been happening behind the scenes just four days after Russia launched its invasion, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, signed a directive creating a special team of individuals known as a Tiger Team to start working through potential contingency plans related to bio weapons attack related to chemical attacks, related to potential incursions into NATO territory, and potentially Russian strikes on supply chain convoys.

Those are all issues that have been working through the White House system over the course of the last several weeks multiple meetings a day going through contingency plans and options. And if it sounds familiar, it is, there was a tiger team set up in the lead up to the Russia invasion to ensure that if the invasion did in fact occur, which U.S. officials have become increasingly convinced would happen in the weeks leading up to it, the U.S. and perhaps most importantly, its Western allies would be prepared to respond.

And we've seen the scale of the response, that still escalating today, more sanctions, more humanitarian assistance, more aid to refugees. And I think it's important to note that when you listen to the President today, so much of the talk was about unity. Yes, that's about the sanctions regime. Yes, that's about weapons and lethal assistance and humanitarian aid, but it's also about what may come next and there's no question about it. U.S. officials are very concerned that a chemical attack may be one of those things and the West will need to stay united on that front as well, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Phil, thank you very much.

I want to go down to the former Director of National Intelligence, retired Lieutenant General James Clapper. And General, let me ask you about this, President Biden says today, "We would respond if Putin used chemical weapons." Now, he very clearly did not say exactly how, what would you advise President Biden to do if Putin uses chemical weapons?

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is a question, Erin, that I need to salute humility before responding. And I think the President was right to not specify just what we do because it will be, if there is such an incident, very situational dependent. Having said all that, my advice would be if infringes - if there is such a chemical attack, we can confirm it and all of that, that we respond in a conventional manner kinetically and try to find some linkage between as a target between the chemical attack and its origins. That would be my advice. Again, all do humility, and you have to, I mean, this is tough stuff and it's very situational-dependent.

BURNETT: So the thing about chemical and any sort of a tactical nuclear strike, whether it'd be mines or something thing is that obviously you can ensure that it would stay localized. [19:10:04]

So if Russia were to use chemical or nuclear tactical weapons, the chemicals, the radiation could move, right? Could waft on the winds, could go to NATO countries, Europe, would you consider that an attack on NATO?

CLAPPER: Again, it would depend on the situation. For me if it affected any people in NATO territory, if it affected - if it damaged property, facilities on NATO territory, I would consider that an attack.

BURNETT: So that brings me then to the what. I mean, NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tells CNN today that he thinks it's still unlikely there will be a full-fledged war between Russia and NATO. Do you agree with that at this point?

CLAPPER: Well, not exactly. I mean, the Secretary General almost has to say that for public consumption. At the same time, the likelihood of this happening, though, is greater than it ever has been since World War II, you just can't ignore that in my mind.

BURNETT: So the Ukrainian government says Russian forces looted and destroyed a lab near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that had some highly radioactive waste and the lab was used to monitor that. There were these samples that were highly toxic. This is what they're saying.

Obviously, we can't confirm the specifics on this, but this is something you've been extremely worried about. When you hear that reporting, what do you say?

CLAPPER: Well, as you know, Erin, we discussed this before, I've been very concerned about the 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine and the very cavalier, reckless way the Russians have regarded them. So if there is an inadvertent attack or a witting attack, if power is cut off, which prevents a cooling of radioactive material, there just all kinds of potential here for a real catastrophe.

And it would be Chernobyl to 2.0 and it wouldn't just affect Ukraine, this would be a regional disaster. So I'm very concerned about that and anything to do where the Russians are attacking or looting or whatever they're doing that relates to a nuclear facility is dangerous.

BURNETT: Gen. Clapper. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next questions growing about the man leading Putin's war, the Russian Defense Minister. He actually has not been seen in public for at least a week. And according to the Pentagon, he is not answering any calls from his U.S. counterpart. So where is Sergei Shoigu?

Plus, is this Putin's yacht? It has a dance floor that turns into a swimming pool, gold toilet paper roll holders. It is the example of excess. We're learning a lot more about this mysterious and massive ship tonight docked in Italy.

And the country is still propping up Putin's invasion, paying Russia for oil, weapons, even fertilizer, so who's still on that list? You're going be really surprised.



BURNETT: Russia trying to silence speculation surrounding defense minister Sergei Shoigu who hasn't been seen in public for at least a week, in the middle of this massive war. State-run Russia TV, 24 TV interrupted a live interview today. They interrupted a live interview to cut to a few seconds of a video that shows Shoigu.

He's there on the screen in one of the boxes on the Zoom. Zoom similar appearing to brief President Putin. It's not clear when that video of him was actually taken. The Pentagon, meantime, saying Shoigu has been declining calls from his U.S. counterpart even before the invasion began. Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT in Washington.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the earliest days of the war, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was in plain sight, the long standing and well known face of the military. Now in recent weeks, he's been all but invisible. He can be seen briefly in this video newly released by state owned television, but it's not clear when it was recorded. He is not wearing his uniform and he does not speak, so speculation about Shoigu's position is running wild.


ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Everything about the reputation of the Russian military, it is about Shoigu, so he needs to be present. He needs to be visible for this very reason and he's not.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through interpreter): Mr. Shoigu, your assessment?


FOREMAN (voice over): Shoigu came into the war firmly behind Russia's stance on Ukraine. Even as his armies' advanced bogged down and casualties mounted, he told Putin on March 11th, all is going according to the plan. His loyalty to Putin is widely considered unshakable. Their relationship stretching back decades to include not just work, but also shared vacations, riding horses, fishing, relaxing in the Russian countryside.


SOLDATOV: He was always, always extremely loyal to Putin, never questioned his actions, never showed any ambitions to become someone bigger than the Minister of Defense. That's his thing, to stay loyal to Putin.


FOREMAN (voice over): Yet, when CNN asked a Kremlin spokesperson to explain Shoigu's sudden disappearance, the answer was terse. The defense minister has a lot on his plate at the moment now is not exactly the time for media activity. And it all comes in the wake of a Reuters report that another Putin insider has quit his job and left the country over the war with Ukraine.


FOREMAN (on camera): For now, it's anyone's guess what has happened to the Defense Minister. All we really know is that he is missing in action, with no real explanation as to why, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Tom.

So let's get some more on that. Evelyn Farkas is the Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.


And Evelyn, you've met Sergei Shoigu. You're one of the few who actually can put personal aspect of this. We see him shirts off, hanging out fishing with Vladimir Putin. They're close. Putin loves those pictures. He let Shoigu get in one with him. What is Sergei Shoigu like and why do you think Putin did trust him so much or I'm using the past tense here, does, perhaps, we don't know.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA/UKRAINE/EURASIA: Yes, Erin. So all accounts of Sergei Shoigu before I actually met him in person was that he was a personable, agreeable guy, quick to smile. The North Koreans always like round faces. They think they're friendly. He kind of looks the part, he looks friendly.

He was known as a very good manager. And that's actually why Vladimir Putin picked him because his predecessor was a corrupt former furniture salesperson, salesman, and wasn't doing a good job. The military did not have confidence in him.

So he brought in Shoigu who for 20 years was the head of the federal emergencies ministry, which is sort of like a FEMA on steroids. And Shoigu was this likable guy. He was very loyal to Putin. I met him in 2013, when we had a meeting, a bilateral meeting here actually in Washington. And he got along well enough with Secretary Hagel, who was our Secretary of Defense at the time and with a Secretary Kerry, who was also at the meeting.

And then as you said, he was a frequent companion, at least, in the media of Vladimir Putin's going hunting with him, he was an outdoorsman. He was never seen as a threat to Putin, because he's from Tuva out in the East and, also, I think he has mixed ethnicity. So he's not a Russian, Russian, ethnically pure Russian.

And so for whatever reason, that was regarded, he was regarded not as a threat to Putin, but as a loyalist and somebody who could help him really build up the military, which still needed very much building up and so he was in charge of the modernization that Putin launched (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: It's amazing when you talk about how much ethnicity matters and I know he's from an oblast, kind of similar to a state or region that borders Mongolia.

State TV showed a brief video of him today, Evelyn, of course, it was pre recorded. We don't know when. He didn't speak and it was not wearing his military uniform. This is the guy who's supposedly in charge of the entire ministry of defense in the biggest war in decades for Russia, what do you read into this?

FARKAS: I'm worried about what happened to him. It may not be him at all. Certainly, if he's not wearing his uniform, that's the signal. He's being sidelined. He's worn his uniform in all the pictures. And frankly, Putin already put a couple of high-ranking intelligence officers in house arrest, because of this botched campaign.

In the past, we've seen the head of the GRU, the military intelligence. In 2016 or 2018, he suddenly died after meeting with Vladimir Putin and that was in the face of failures. The failure to poison Mr. Skripal if you remember with novichok, in the U.K. that was botched. It was uncovered by the West. So maybe something is happening to Shoigu along those lines, either house arrest or perhaps worse.

BURNETT: Unbelievable. All right. Thank you very much, Evelyn. I appreciate your time.

And next, another mystery. This $700 million yacht right now, as I speak, it's docked in a port in central Italy and it's - look, those are not brass. Those are real gold. Gold toilet paper roll holders, so whose is it? Well, my next guest and has done exhaustive reporting, wait till you see this. She says it's Putin's.

Plus more breaking news, new text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, telling Trump's chief of staff to overturn the election.



BURNETT: Tonight, Italy's financial police in the midst of an investigation to determine if Vladimir Putin owns this giant yacht. It's the one right in the center of your screen like the massive one and it dwarfs everything else. It's estimated be worth $700 million. It's at an Italian marina tonight.

The Anti Corruption Foundation headed by top Putin critic Alexey Navalny has done incredible work on this and says that they can prove it belongs to Putin after extensive investigative work. They're now calling for the yacht to be seized.

Now, it is a yacht like no other, with one worker who helped build it telling The Sun in London, "It's like a mini city." It has a tiled dance floor that turns into a swimming pool. A giant seating area that's as big as a hotel lobby. The dining area has just one table with seats for 20. There are gold toilet paper roll holders in the bathrooms.

OUTFRONT now, Maria Pevchik. She is the head of the investigative department with Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation. And Maria, your reporting on this has been exhaustive just so incredibly thorough. I will note, of course, we haven't been able to confirm who owns the yacht, but tell me what you discovered in your investigation when you went through painstakingly the crew, and who they are and where they're from that led you to conclude that this is, in fact, Vladimir Putin's yacht.

MARIA PEVCHIK, INVESTIGATIVE DEPT. HEAD, NAVALNY'S ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: Well, hello, good evening. Well, we've been investigating Putin's corruption for over a decade and if there is one golden rule about how Putin's corruption works is that Putin never ever keeps his assets under his own name. That's just impossible.

So he uses this network of people, his friends from childhood, friends from university, friends from KGB, relatives, et cetera, to store his huge wealth and they act as nominee shareholders. So straightaway we knew that. It's absolutely - it is completely irrelevant who actually owns this yacht on paper. It could be anyone.

It could be a random person, a passerby, it really doesn't matter. The way to prove, there is one way to prove that something belongs to Putin and this is done by looking into who manages an asset like that.


So we obtained a crew list, so a list of every employee on this yacht and what stood out straight away was that pretty much everybody but the captain were Russians. They all had Russian passport numbers, had visa numbers, and they had Russian names.

It was few dozen of them so we decided to just go one by one by one, checking them on every data base we have access to. And we have access to a lot of them because Russia is a very corrupt country and so many databases have been leaked. You can purchase any sort of data on the black market.

So we just started to go person by person, and I don't know, seconds in (ph), we hit it. Turns up he is referred in other peoples' phone books as working for, as an employee of FSO, this is a militarized government agency that is responsible for Putin's personal protocol- based security. This is the agency that maintains his official residences, that provides security for Putin, et cetera.

And as we kept going down the list, there was another employee, and another one, and another one, and it all added up. These peoples' job is literally to protect Vladimir Putin, this is what they do, this is what they're paid for by the taxpayers. Why, on earth, would they all, as a group, travel to Italy regularly to work part-time on one of the most expensive yachts in the world? Only one explanation, and that's that it's Putin's yacht.

BURNETT: That it's his. So, you have called for, you know, this yacht to be seized as in fact others have in Italy and other countries have been able belong to oligarchs.

You know, you've done incredible detailed reporting on what's in the yacht -- six guest cabins, six levels, an entire deck just for the owner and that person's companion. Jacuzzi's elevator shafts, hanger for a helicopter when it actually lands, two pads, I know, but there's a place it literally opens up so the helicopter can go in. All of this is your reporting.

And this stands out, it seems, even compared to other excesses we have seen on these Russian yachts.

PEVCHIKH: Well, does it really, like it's, have you seen Putin's palace? Have you seen the other things that Putin owns? His taste is very questionable and we know that he, his rule of thumb is if something is expensive and gold, he loves it.

So I'm really not surprised by what's inside the yacht and I'm sure there's plenty of other exciting things there we don't know about it yet and that we will find out. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more pictures and I'm sure they will leak.

BURNETT: Yes, and I do note, need to make sure we say this, the yacht's captain denied Putin owned or has been on the yacht to "The New York Times", and the shipyard manager denied to CNN that but Italian police say the issue of ownership is under their investigation. I want to ask you one other crucial thing that you've done so much work on and I've been watching.

The U.K. sanctioned over 1,000 individuals and businesses because of Putin's invasion of Ukraine and got new sanctions today that targeted somebody that you've done a lot of reporting on, Polina Kovaleva. She is step daughter of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, lives an incredibly gilded life with parties and yachts and dancing and drinking. What do you make of this decision to target not just Russian oligarchs but family members, or even, you know, the -- I don't know that she's formally a stepdaughter, but I don't think he's married to her mother -- but people who are close to the lives of these inner circle and wealthy Russians?

PEVCHIKH: I think this is just brilliant, and I think every country now should do the same and the U.K. has set a very high bar, very good standard for sanctions, and it's -- they have taken it to a different level, because again, corrupt people don't just put assets under their own name. They use other people. They use their relatives, sometimes very distant relatives sometimes, just their friends, et cetera, to keep the money they have stolen from the Russian taxpayers.

So including people like, including people like Lavrov's step daughter, one official step-daughter into the list is a very good move and what needs to happen now is that the sanctions, they just need to expand and more people need to be brought in into this circle, so immediate official family first. Then, I don't know, lovers, mistresses, their children, et cetera. Then, friends, close associates, et cetera.


It's like this game, you know, for kids like whack-a-mole, you know? Those guys rearranged their finances so quickly that you need to be very swift, very quick and just, you know, shut them down every mouse, and make sure they cannot find a different solution to keep their money in.

BURNETT: Yeah. Well, Maria, thank you so much. I mean, as you point out, people start looking -- you look at the mistresses and the ex- wives and where the money can be going, a lot that can be done, if you buy into the fact that stopping the money flow matters. There's a lot more to be done but this is a huge step, and I know including her was I'm sure, in large part, due to your work. Thank you so much.

PEVCHIKH: Thank you very much, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the biggest democracy in the world, yet India is the one openly choosing to openly pad Putin's pockets. That's not the only country tonight.

And the shocking text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. We're learning tonight that she pressured Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows to overturn the election, writhing and I quote, the majority knows Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history.



BURNETT: German chancellor Olaf Scholz conceding that European nations made a, quote, very conscious decision to not sanction Russia's number one export and money maker, oil and gas. It comes as President Biden used his NATO meetings to tout the sweeping penalties and U.S. and NATO allies designed to, quote, cripple Vladimir Putin's economy. Hard to cripple something when you're not taking out the biggest part of it.

And what he didn't say was that there are still many countries, including members of NATO who are propping up Russia and funding this war by continuing to do business there.

Gabe Cohen is OUTFRONT.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Putin's international support shrinks, India is showing they're still a friend, reportedly buying up 3 million barrels of discounted Russian oil, spurring pressure from Western nations like the U.S. to isolate the Kremlin and crush their economy with sanctions. Since the war started, the two nations kept trading with Russian oil exports to India up 6-fold, that cheap oil is just a drop in the bucket for India which imports far more from other countries. But it reflects the strategic partnership neither nation wants to lose.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): India is one of Russia's key partners. The relationship between our states is of strategic and special privileged nature.

COHEN: It's a bond build on defense spending. India buys somewhere 60 and 85 percent of weapons from Russia, key to containing Pakistan and China along their border, while India is slowly diversifying that spending, there is still another contract to buy $5.4 billion air defense system from Russia, along with $1.3 billion line of tanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you can't certainly break that relationship. Indian defense prepared, as it were, is going to be very, very seriously hampered.

COHEN: So, Indian's response to Russia's atrocities in Ukraine has been careful and calculated. On a call last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to Putin to end the violence, but at the U.N., India was one of 35 countries that abstained from a vote to condemn Russia for the invasion. Several nations are taking a similar approach to Russia, balancing pressure from the West and their own political and economic interests, remaining neutral enough to keep trading with both sides.

China is buying up more Russian oil and is vowed to keep their normal trade relationship. Complicating that, the Kremlin's asked China for military and economic support according to U.S. officials.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: This is something we're monitoring closely.

COHEN: Brazil voted to condemn Russia at the U.N. but still plans to buy Russian fertilizer, which makes up about 20 percent of their imported supply, as their massive agriculture industry faces a shortage. But the key export facing Putin's economy is energy and a huge portion still goes to Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is providing a sufficient lifeline for the Russian economy to keep it afloat.

COHEN: Countries like Germany, France and Italy have pushed back against calls to cut off that supply immediately, though the E.U. says it will slash gas imports by 66 percent this year.

OLAF SCHOLZ, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): To do that from one day to the next would mean plunging our country and the whole of Europe into recession.

COHEN: The U.S. could sanction nations for doing business with Russia. In India's case, the White House says they haven't crossed the line, though it's unclear where that line actually is.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The rest of the world is watching where you're going to stand as it relates to this conflict.


COHEN (on camera): Now, Erin, some experts think, as this war escalates, it will get harder for countries to stay neutral. And yet, there was a U.N. vote today to call for Russia to stop its invasion, 38 countries abstained, they stayed neutral. In that vote a month ago to condemn Russia, only 35 countries abstained.

So, based on that, it doesn't like more countries are necessarily heeding pressure to pick a side.

BURNETT: The really important point. Thank you so much, Gabe.

So, on the back on that report, I want to bring in Luisa Kroll, the executive editor of "Forbes".

So, Luisa, the economy has been battered, right? But, obviously, if the single biggest part of your economy is energy, which it is and people are still buying it, those people -- those countries are funding your war. And it's not just China. It's U.S. ally India, openly signing deals, it's the EU. It's core countries of NATO.

It's Germany. It's France. It's Italy, buying Russian energy, therefore funding the war and weapons that are used in Ukraine and could be used, of course, against themselves.

It's pretty staggering.

LUISA KROLL, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, FORBES: Yeah, I mean this is why when Biden basically issued the sanctions against oil and gas, I mean it was very calculated. Europe wasn't going to go that way because they rely so heavily on Russia for oil and gas. You know, it's kind of one of those things, you're dammed if you do, you're damned if you don't.

So many of these countries are tied to Russia and right now, they're trying out to figure ways in the future to be less dependent.


But what do you do right now? They're in a very tough situation, and that's why you still see the money going back and forth.

BURNETT: Yeah, it is incredible. I get that it's tough. On the other hand, I'm thinking, gosh, you guys had eight years to come up with a solution here and you waited until they actually crossed over the line, and it's unbelievable.

KROLL: Exactly.

BURNETT: But, Luisa, from your reporting, I know you've been watching this, the French car maker Renault announced it suspended all work at the Moscow factory but did that after being hit with criticism because it actually said it was going to restart production this week for a few days, right, so closed it, kind of said, we're going to open a few days, got slammed, they're going to close it back down again. Do you think we're going to see more of this, other Western companies

trying to --

KROLL: We are seeing.

BURNETT: Go ahead.

KROLL: Yeah, we're seeing a lot of that. I mean, there are over 400 companies that have pulled out entirely, but there are dozens and dozens that have kind of said let's wait and see, I mean, whether it's like Dunkin that still has franchises says they won't invest but can't do anything about it. Kimberly Clark, Procter and Gamble, a lot of them said we'll do things like still sell the infant formula, we're going still to sell diapers but won't sell candy. That's when they came out this week with Nestle saying we'll sell some stuff but won't sell Kit-Kats.

And the rationale is they're trying to help the middle class of Russia, but a lot of people think you got to cut that off as well because that means there's still money going in and helping prop up the economy that's going to be them used to fight the war. So, you know, it gets more complicated instead of less, I think, as time goes on.

BURNETT: All right, Luisa, thanks so much. I always appreciate talk you to you.

KROLL: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, mother and son managed to escape Kharkiv but what they witnessed has had a profound effect on the five-year-old boy.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Show them how you play, she says. I'm shooting at a tank, he says.


BURNETT: Pus, the remarkable text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to Trump's chief of staff, pressuring him to overturn the election, and quote, do not concede.



BURNETT: The United States is prepared to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. That announcement came today from President Biden who plans to visit refugees in Poland tomorrow.

Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT today in Bucharest, Romania, where refugees are trying to adapt to a hardened reality.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Dance therapy for Ukrainian moms and their children in war.

How was the dancing, Yeagor (ph)?

YEAGOR: Awesome (ph).


MARQUEZ: You're a very good dancer.

Not exactly shy Yeagor, 5 1/2 years old, he and his mom Tetiana are from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, suffering indiscriminate rocket attacks since the war started.

How are you doing? How is he doing?

I'm playing soldiers, he says. His mom adds -- yes, soldiers. He's always saying air raid.

If me and you were playing air raid, how would you play?

Show them how you play, she says. I'm shooting at a tank, he says, any tank I can hit.

How do you explain what's happening in Ukraine?

He saw everything, she says, and now he's repeating it. I think he'll play regular games when this is over, he calms down, games like cars and trains.

No. No, says Yeagor. It will be the same. I like it.

Yeagor, his mom and godmother are one of dozens of families being housed by Jesuit refugee service in the local children's cancer charity, Magic Association.

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: The mothers, they can be tough when they're with their children, but when they come and speak to us privately, they break down.

MARQUEZ: You are a very good dancer.

SOPHIA: Thank you.

MARQUEZ: Ylena and Sophia Orlova, 7 years old, arrived days ago from Dnipro. Russian attacks have been pushing toward and hitting the strategic Dnipro region. The city's population, nearly a million.

Orlova and several of her relatives are refugees, but not everyone.

My son is 18 years old, she says. He has an injured leg but wasn't allowed to cross the border.

My son is in Ukraine. She can barely speak the words.

Today's dance class, a welcome distraction.

Today, this was a stress relief, she says. For two days, we didn't eat or sleep. We're grateful to relax.

The dance instructor, a refugee, too. He fled war in Cameroon.

I want them to feel joy, he said, because I know how it is to be in their places. It's very hard. It was very hard for me, too.

Sophia wanted to dance in Ukraine but was too young. Today, a bit of hope.

My dream, she says, came true.

The simple activity bringing comfort to moms and kids, refugees far from home.


MARQUEZ: My God, to hear that young boy talk about playing war, bombing tanks, it was so critical. These are the most vulnerable of refugees. Places like Bucharest and the country of Romania and so many NGOs that pitched in, to try to start doing the long term stuff, housing, and education, medical care, all the stuff they're going to need in the months and years ahead -- Erin.

BURNETT: Miguel, thank you so much.

And next, the breaking news. We have obtained text messages that show the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pushing Trump's chief of staff to overturn the 2020 election.



BURNETT: Breaking news: the January 6th Select Committee has obtained more than two dozen text messages between former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Ginni Thomas. She is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

These are incredible text messages because Thomas urges Meadows to push ahead with efforts to overturn the election incredibly explicitly. Take a look at this one. This is November 6th.

Thomas tells Meadows, quote: Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back.

It's unclear how Meadows or if Meadows responded to that particular message. We don't have his side of it. There's a lot more where this came from.

And Ryan Nobles is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill breaking this story.

Ryan, this is amazing stuff. This is the very prominent, powerful wife of a Supreme Court justice texting the chief of staff in the White House. What else does Ginni Thomas say?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty clear, Erin, that she sided with those closest to Donald Trump who believed that he had actually won the election and that it was being stolen from him. She implored the then chief of staff Mark Meadows to do everything he possibly could to try to stand in the way of certification of Joe Biden's victory, including encouraging these questionable conservative lawyers that were spreading false claims of election fraud, like Sidney Powell.

This is an exchange between both Thomas and Meadows on November 19th. Ginny Thomas writes: Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking American down.

Of course, the Kraken is how Sidney Powell described herself. And then, of course, there's January 6th itself, Erin. We know that Ginni Thomas was here in Washington on that day. She watched part of President Trump's speech at the ellipse and said she went home after the fact.

She reached out to Meadows on January 10th, just four days after the violence and chaos here on Capitol Hill and said, quote: We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the VP and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams. Those who attacked the capitol are not represented of our great team of patriots for DJT. Amazing times, the end of liberty.

This is the wife of a Supreme Court justice suggesting that Mike Pence, the vice president, should have stood in the way of a certification of the election results. It is now part of the January 6th investigation -- Erin.

BURNETT: Incredible stuff though. Well, thank you very much, Ryan.

And thanks to all of you.

"AC360" begins now.