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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S.: Russian Forces Now In Defensive Positions Near Kyiv, No "Interest In Terms Of Ground Movements" Towards Capital; Putin Compares Russia To J.K. Rowling: West Trying To "Cancel" Us; U.N.: "Increasing Information" About Mass Graves Believed To Be In Mariupol, One Grave Estimated To Hold 200 Bodies; Ukrainian Official: Private Fighters In Ukraine To Kill Zelenskyy; Biden To Visit Ukrainians Who Fled To Poland After Announcing U.S. Would Accept Up To 100K Refugees; Sources: January 6 Panel Considers Questioning Wife Of Justice Thomas. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 25, 2022 - 19:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf will be back, again, tomorrow reporting live from Poland throughout the day, including a special Saturday edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" from 5 to 7 pm Eastern.

Erin Burnett starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, Russia forced to make a major shift on the battlefield as Ukraine's president now puts Russian troop deaths at more than 16,000.

Plus, it's known as Putin's private army and tonight a top official tells CNN the Wagner Group is in Ukraine with a mission to kill the president.

And a Russian oligarch says his life is completely destroyed. He doesn't know how he'll survive. Sanctions changed his life overnight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, Russia's staggering losses. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tonight giving new insight into the number of Russian soldiers who have died fighting Putin's war.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): Sixteen thousand of Russia's military are lost. Why is it so?


BURNETT: Sixteen thousand in just over four weeks. We can't independently confirm that number, but it is near the range that U.S. intelligence is also talking about. It is in any absolute term an incredible loss of military life and a perspective matter, 16,000 in more than a month is compared to more than 2,300, 2,300 Americans dying during the entire 20-year war in Afghanistan, 2,300 in 20 years versus 16,000 in a little more than 20 days.

If true, it is a massive toll and most likely one of the reasons that Russia is calling in back up. Now, Putin moving in troops from the independent country of Georgia, a country Russia invaded and took a region of back in 2008. And it all comes as Russia may also be losing its grip on the crucial Ukrainian region of Kherson.

A senior U.S. defense official telling CNN that there is now Ukrainian resistance in areas in Kherson that were under full Russian control. That official saying, "We would argue that Kherson is actually contested territory again." And Kherson is crucial. It is an area along the Black Sea, so it's a crucial sea access. It was first occupied by Russian forces on March 3rd after days of devastating strikes.

But just yesterday, the mayor of the city posted this photograph that you see of a Ukrainian flag draped on the side of City Hall. And this could be part of the reason of why a Russian general in a public briefing said, well, the Russians are now and actually, he says, always we're only focused on the Donbas region, not on all of the other cities they invaded around the country, including the two biggest in all of Ukraine, Kyiv and Kharkiv. Gen. Rutskoy trying to spin Russia's losses into a purposeful strategy.

The pivot coming after Russia's advanced is stalled across most of Ukraine and after it has inflicted an incredible cost on civilians. Mariupol tonight, the U.N. says it believes there are multiple mass graves, plural, emphasize this, multiple. One of them that they believe has at least 200 bodies.

We have reporters across Ukraine and in Poland where President Biden is tonight. I want to begin with Sam Kiley in Kyiv. Sam, what more are you learning about what Russia is now saying about its plans now?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in this extraordinary briefing being given in Moscow, the spokesman effectively for the Ministry of Defense completely changing the agenda, the military mission for the Russians from originally as Vladimir Putin described it, denazification, demilitarization of Ukraine and ultimately to try and topple the presidency and take over the country.

Now, the argument is, no, no, all along, it's just been about the Donbas. Those two areas in eastern Ukraine that have been unilaterally recognized by Russia as independent, predominantly Russian speaking areas captured in 2014. It's all about securing that region, a massive change in agenda.

And because of, ultimately, the Russian campaign has a run into the mud, it is not gaining the momentum it needs in order to capture Kyiv or indeed even cities like Mariupol that have been devastated, but nonetheless hold out.

And one of the reasons, I think, for this is what we learned today on the ground, which has been alleged by allies of Ukraine and Ukraine itself, poor discipline and chaos in the ranks of the Russians. This is how some of the people who've been victims of the Russians saw the Russians at work.


KILEY (voice over): Russian armors smashed in a Ukrainian assault east of the capital.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


KILEY (voice over): Ukraine now claims to have blocked Russia's offensive against Kyiv.

He said, "We've been engaged in a counterattack to recapture Lukyanovka. The operation has been a complete success. We decisively repelled the enemy."

At times, it's been a ferocious infantry fight and it's taken several weeks. Ukraine has also relied heavily on modern drones, here ambushing Russians from the air. Tank crews are sent running for cover. Ukraine has claimed that badly led Russian forces do have more manpower, but that they are reeling under unexpected attacks and lack of supplies.

"What they say may be true," according to Zina Khilko, who's tending to her wounded husband in the nearby Brovary hospital. Her village was overrun by Russians and she described dealing with Russian soldiers who were hungry, cold and out of control.

She said, "They wore my woman's hat, my coat, my boots. They wore our clothes. They took our bedding. I don't know what they've done with it. They slept, they ate, they wondered about, they stole our money."

A Russian soldier whom she said was drunk blasted her husband's leg off with a stolen shotgun.

"So then we were two days in the basement," she said. "We started stopping the blood flow and giving first aid. We've got two medics. I'm a midwife and there was a nurse with us." She said that two Russian officers later admitted that they didn't support Putin's invasion and others helped her evacuate her husband Vasil (ph) to Ukrainian lines.

Maxim, a professional Ukrainian soldier was shot in the shin during a firefight a few miles from the hospital. He shares Zina's contempt for Russian forces.

"Their commanders are sending their soldiers to the slaughter," he said. "These bastards, they're just sent to their deaths. The officers don't pity them. They don't even count their losses."

Civilians here do. Andre Mulya (ph) arrived at the hospital when we were there. He'd been helping his brother Dimitro (ph), a beekeeper, attend his hives when Russian shells fell among them three hours earlier. Mortally wounded, Dimitro was dead on arrival. He leaves a wife and three kids.

He said, "These aren't people. They aren't even animals. I don't know what to call them."


KILEY (on camera): Now, ultimately, Erin, we got to be very careful in terms of the allegations coming from the Ukrainians about the numbers of Russians dead or indeed from their allies in the Pentagon. But 16,000 does sound like an astronomical number. Of course, people don't know how many civilians have been killed in this war, except that given the wholesale slaughter in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Northern Kyiv and elsewhere, it's going to be very, very high. Erin.

BURNETT: It certainly is. Thank you very much, Sam, with that such an important reminder. We just really don't know about the death.

And OUTFRONT now, retired Army Major General Spider Marks and Steve Hall, former CIA Chief of Russia operations.

Gen. Marks let me start with you. Senior U.S. defense official tell CNN that Kherson does not appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was. Russian forces around Kyiv are now clearly in defensive positions. They're certainly not advancing and Russia is moving troops stationed in Georgia into Ukraine as apparent reinforcements of some sort. Where does the fight stand right now, General?

JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's very difficult to say that the Ukrainians are winning or the Russians are winning. What we see is this picture of tremendous tactical advantages being achieved by the Ukrainians, incredible will to resist, great capacity, great professionalism. They're fighting a three dimensional maneuver war, which the Russians certainly are not.

But then what we see on the other - the flip side of that is the Russians are stepping back refusing to engage with the Ukrainians because they're getting defeated quite severely in this type of maneuver combat. But they're using the artillery, and the rockets and they're hitting civilian targets, so you have these ghastly images of civilians that are being wounded and killed in these terror tactics, which is from the Russian perspective, a plus.

Then, you look at the Ukrainians and they're pushing back quite considerably. So you have a stalemate, if you will, at the tactical level yet to be seen what the operational results will be.

BURNETT: So Steve, Putin spoke today and in this speech, he railed about the West and he compared what is happening to Russia to what happened to J.K. Rowling when she took on some gender issues. Of course, J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Here's what he said.


book writer J.K. Rowling was recently cancelled because she, the author of books that spread far and wide in hundreds of millions of copies did not please the fans of the so called gender freedoms.


Today, they are trying to cancel a whole thousand-year-old country, our people.


BURNETT: See, there's a lot there to talk about, but I wanted to focus in on this word, cancel. That's the buzzword, right, among many in the West, certainly in the U.S. as cancel culture. It shows an incredible knowledge of what the West is doing at best of an obsession with what the West is doing. What's he doing here?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's amazing that we're talking about a British author, the author of the Harry Potter series here in the middle of the Ukrainian war. But you're absolutely right. What's happened is, is that the Russians have learned from their active measures campaigns in 2016, when they're trying to overturn our election and mess with everybody else's in the West, and they learn certain phrases, and they learn most importantly what are the dog whistles for the most populist parts of any society, whether it's the severe right-wing in this country or whether it's the same in France or Germany and other places in Europe.

And he's using that terminology to try to trigger those people. He understands that when you use the phrase cancel or cancel culture, a lot of people on the West will start to think, well, hold on, wait a second, maybe he's got a point there. Maybe there's something going on.

So it's really an interesting psychological operation almost that Vladimir Putin himself is using or trying to use against the West. He does this when he talks about traditional values in Russia. That's code for anti-gay, anti-LGBT, and racist, and misogyny and all that sort of stuff. That's the code that he uses, all very common in Russia. It's just interesting how quickly he's picked up on the western vocabulary on this.

BURNETT: Well, it certainly is because there are certain groups where if you say you're cancel, they're automatically going to jump on your side, there's not going to be any more questions asked and clearly he's trying to do that.

So Gen. Marks, Ukraine amidst all this and when you talk about a tactical stalemate, which, of course, could be just a sort of regroup and refresh for Russia, who knows. But Ukraine says it's killed another Russian general, so that is six so far. You're getting into sort of unprecedented territory in any military conflict with the number of generals, certainly in modern times, when they're not usually on the actual front line.

So does this surprise you that this is happening like this, because every few days we're hearing about a general killed?

MARKS: No, it doesn't surprise me because what the Ukrainians are doing, they're fighting a 21st century war against the 20th century opponent. The Ukrainians are blocking the communications, they're jamming the tactical communications of the Russians. The Russians do not have secure communications, they're resorting to cell phones, but those linkages and those international dialing codes back to Russia, are being blocked by the Ukrainians.

And so when you have a commander that is in information blackout, he has no situational awareness, he doesn't know why his units aren't fighting, he doesn't know why there's this big convoy that's not moving, so he's got to move forward to figure out what the heck is going on, puts himself at great exposure, gets out of his vehicle, talks to a couple of troops and then somebody puts a bullet in his head.

I mean, that's what's going to happen when you get up front and you're not protected and you're trying to lead from the front without additional protection.

BURNETT: Well, the person, Steve, who is supposed to be nominally running all this, although I know U.S. intelligence says there's no formal Commander for the war, which is pretty shocking when you've got it going in the north and in the east and in the south. But there's technically someone supposedly in charge and that's the Defense Minister for Russia, very inner circle Putin person, Sergei Shoigu.

He has been MIA though for about a week and then yesterday, he was seen on Russian TV in a video meeting with Putin, okay. So I want to show everybody this, because I mentioned it yesterday, but it gets really bizarre. Okay. Shoigu at the top left on Putin's screen. And when the video starts and in a zoom in here, you can see it, see? It's as if, well, it's a weird movement, and yes, you can see, right, as if it's a racked video, right, they're rewinding it, they're getting it, they're zooming in on it. In other words, it's not live.

And he's not wearing his military uniform. In fact, Steve, he appears to be wearing the exact same thing he was wearing the last time he was seen in one of these calls, which was all the way back on March 11. So what do you think is going on here?

HALL: Well, let's start with what we know, Erin. I mean, we absolutely know that the Russians and their predecessors in the Soviet Union even as far back as the tsarist days in Imperial Russia did this sort of thing all the time. Not necessarily with televisions, but certainly in the Soviet Union, it was commonplace to have somebody picture up if it hasn't been seen in a long time. As times progress, we got substituted videos, we got old videos that sort of moved in, so that's all very, very common.

And it seems to be pretty clear that that's kind of what happened here. I mean, it certainly appears to be what happened here with the most senior guy in the military, Sergei Shoigu. But the question is, really, it's sort of like Where's Waldo? Where's Shoigu? We don't know. All we have is this anecdotal stuff that looks like he's wearing the same thing, which by the way, Jill Dougherty caught Vladimir Putin doing precisely the same thing when he was making a couple of his ranting speeches, clearly taped back to back but used at different times later on.


So this is something that the Russians do. And with regard to Shoigu, you would think that he - if Rutskoy is out there, his deputy is out there making these commentaries about the goals of the war, you would think that Shoigu himself would also be out there because that's part of his job and yet he's not, so where's Shoigu, we just don't know.

BURNETT: Yes, we just don't know. It is a crucial question now. And you think if you're going to be saying, oh, everything's going to plan. We always wanted it to be this way. I mean, if you're going to come out and say such an absurd thing, you would come out and have the top guy say it, not his deputy when the top guy is who knows where. All right. Thank you both so very much.

And OUTFRONT next, horrifying new images inside that Mariupol theater moments after it was torn apart by Russian airstrike. We're finally getting images and we are finally knowing the death.

Plus, a group dubbed Putin's private army now said to be inside Ukraine. And according to one Ukrainian official, its mission is to assassinate Zelenskyy.

And the head of the International Red Cross coming under criticism tonight after being photographed with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov smiling and shaking hands.



BURNETT: The U.N. warning it has increasing information that there are mass graves in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol with some graves, they say, holding up to 200 bodies. This as we have our first look inside the Mariupol theater which was hit by that Russian airstrike. You remember the one that said child on both sides.

Well, there's videos showing people escaping down a staircase to leave debris on the floor and holes in the wall.


There were about a thousand people there, so most of them survived. That's all you can say about it, but a lot of them didn't. This video offering a glimpse of some of the major internal structural damage. The city council announcing the number, 300 people were killed in that attack. Let me just say that again, 300 people seeking shelter there, maybe all, virtually all women and children who had taken shelter there were killed by that Russian airstrike, 300 people in one strike.

OUTFRONT now Inna Sovsun. She is a member of Ukraine's parliament. And Inna, I am - well, I'm not glad to speak to you, but I am - thank

you for coming on. I'm sad to have to talk to you about this because it's awful. Can you actually grasp that 300 people killed in one instant almost all of them appearing to be women and children killed in one instant by a Russian airstrike?

INNA SOVSUN, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Well, that is just terrifying. I will tell you this, when we first heard the news about this theater, we did know that there were over 1,000 people there. And we did see a video which was shot basically a couple of hours before the missile hit, which was showing hundreds of people there, so we knew that the death toll will be terrifying, but we were still hopeful, but 300 people is so many.

But you have to realize that this is not the other old people who have been killed in Mariupol, because there was this story that was circulating in Ukrainian media recently about a woman, a teacher from Mariupol, she came to the Ukrainian-Hungarian border with four kids. One child was her own, one child who was the child of her sister, the sister went to look for water and never came back. The third child was a child of her neighbors who were killed in an airstrike and then she was running with those three kids who are in a vacation bus and she just found the kid on the street sitting next to his dead parents. And she just grabbed that kid and just took him to their vacation bus. And she managed to escape, but the bus that was traveling right after them actually came under fire by Russians, yet another bus with other kids being evacuated.

That is what is happening in Mariupol right now. There are kids sitting next to their dead parents not knowing what to do and where to go and Russians are not allowing for the majority of them to leave.

BURNETT: So Inna, Ukraine's - the U.N. believes there are mass graves now in Mariupol, plural, we don't know how many, but it is more than - many. They say some are holding up to 200 bodies. What have you heard about mass graves in Mariupol?

SOVSUN: We, unfortunately, have heard about that about a week ago. We actually have also heard about the mass graves in Irpin, which is like 30 kilometers from Kyiv, but then, of course, in Mariupol as well. But the worst thing is that there are so many more people who are dead in their own apartments or in their basements and we don't even know about that, because the rescue workers just do not have access to them. The rescue workers were not able to get to the children in the basement of that theater, because the site was constantly shelled by Russians, specifically in that site.

So I'm afraid that the death toll particularly in Mariupol would be just so big. We can't even imagine that as of yet. And again, (inaudible) Russians do not allow any help.

BURNETT: The suffering of those who are dying in that scenario is truly, truly horrible to contemplate. The defense ministry for Ukraine tonight is saying that Russia is taking Ukrainians to Russia, as far as the remote and isolated island of Sakhalin, all the way over in the Pacific, essentially as far east as you can go in Russia. Now, when we spoke last, you told me that Russians were relocating

Ukrainians to so called filtration camps in Russia, filtration meaning filtering them for what the Russians say are Nazi characteristics. And you said some of them have been forced to sign papers saying they will work for free. What's the latest you're hearing about this?

SOVSUN: Well, unfortunately, we are hearing more and more of that and it is actually getting closer and closer. Just the other day, my assistant got a phone call from your friend saying you work for an NP, can you talk to someone because I just got a phone call from my relatives who were given a phone on the border between Ukraine and Russia for 30 seconds phone call just to tell that they're being taken out of Russia.

So what Russians are doing on the streets in Mariupol right now, they're right in the areas that are under their control, speaking on the loudspeaker and saying that we - and you have to realize people in Mariupol do not have any mobile connection. They don't know what is happening in any other parts of the world except for the basement that they're hiding in.

And so the Russians are saying we have taken control of the whole south of Ukraine, we control Odessa, which they do not, so the only way for you to survive is just to escape with us to Russia. So you have to come with us.


And we are hearing more and more reports of that. Just today - tonight, a couple of hours ago, I read a big report of a woman who managed to escape and to deliver the message through the journalist about that. But it is actually continuing and the numbers of people who have been relocated is only growing.

And unfortunately, you already heard, you're announcing that the Red Cross has recognized this problem. They're trying to deal with it in a very, well, I would say, weird way by trying to help people in those filtration centers, which to me is completely (inaudible) unacceptable. But that is (inaudible) that there is a recognition that this actually taken place.

BURNETT: All right. Well, certainly a reflection that it is real. All right. Thank you very much, Inna. I appreciate your time.

SOVSUN: Thank you so much, Erin. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right. And next we are learning chilling new details about a group known as Putin's private army now believed to be in Ukraine, with the aim of assassinating Zelenskyy.

And a Russian oligarch reportedly worth four and a half billion dollars said Forbes, that was before sanctions, now says he doesn't know how he'll survive. We'll have his story next.



BURNETT: Tonight, a senior Ukrainian official telling CNN that a group of Russian military contractors nicknamed Putin's private army is allegedly in Ukraine with the goal of assassinating President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The mercenaries are a part of the Wagner group which consists of what could be several thousand fires. And they have a proven track record for committing horrendous acts of violence around the world.

David McKenzie is OUTFRONT tonight.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Russian mercenary takes a selfie video inside Syria. It's a recruitment style pitch, allegedly for the notorious Wagner group, a brutal force believed to be linked to the Kremlin. In the shadows of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian defense official tells us that Wagner contractors where in the country, and had a very specific mission.

What is the objective, do you think, in Ukraine right now?

MARKIYAN LUBKIVSKY, ADVISER TO THE MINISTER OF DEFENSE OF UKRAINE: They wanted to assassinate the leadership of Ukraine, our president and prime minister. So that was the goal and the couple of groups, the couple of people sent to Ukraine without any success.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am here. We are not putting down arms.

MCKENZIE: The primary target, he says, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ukraine's military says documentary evidence gathered by intelligence officials and special forces outlines their alleged mission. He says several Wagner operations have been eliminated, identified by their unique tags. CNN couldn't independently corroborate the account.

LUBKIVSKY: He needs to find all these people, and they need to go to the court. They absolutely illegal.

MCKENZIE: Wagner contractors in eastern Ukraine in 2014, exposed by research groups and CNN investigations. Their operations spanned the Middle East and Africa.

U.S. officials accused Wagner of multiple human rights abuses inside multiple countries. And this disturbing 2017 video, investigated by CNN, Wagner mercenaries appear to be torturing and murdering a Syrian man, as they make jokes.

The Kremlin said the incident have nothing to do with the Russian military operations in Syria. And they've repeatedly denied any links to Wagner. U.S. officials say that Wagner was started by this man, Dmitriy Utkin, a veteran of the Chechen conflict, and allegedly bankrolled by businessmen, Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to Russia's leader, he is nicknamed Putin's chef. And multiple U.S. sanctions, Prigozhin denies any involvement in Wagner. But the senior researcher at the Dossier Center says Wagner it's

Putin's private army. We agreed to hide their identity for his safety. They've spent years investigating Wagner's links to the Kremlin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They operate without any law, without any rules. They can do whatever they want. Then there is a call to MOD, or there is a call to Mr. Putin, with regards to this particular country. The response will be these are individuals. They have no link to the Kremlin.

Despite the invasion, and new allegations of an assassination plot, Ukraine's president says he isn't going anywhere.


MCKENZIE (on camera): Now, the Ukrainian military is telling us that in fact, Wagner is trying to recruit hundreds, that's even more mercenaries to that region, to join the fight against the Ukraine, perhaps in the eastern part of the country, Erin. Because this group has this plausible deniability would put in, they think this might be a way to increase the atrocities, as amazing as that might be, that are occurring in Ukraine -- Erin.

BURNETT: Horrible.

All right. Thank you very much, an incredible report. David McKenzie there from London.

I want to go now to Andrei Soldatov, the Russian investigative journalist, and the founder and editor of, the watchdog of Russia's secret service activities. His website has been blocked in Russia. He's reporting though, fearless it is, continue.

So, Andrei, what is the relationship between these mercenary group and Putin himself?

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, this relationship was quite close in the beginning. This group was founded and supported by his businessmen who is extremely close to Vladimir Putin and they knew each other in the 1990s. But later on, it looks like the Wagner group was subordinated by the Russian military intelligence. A special department is formed inside the GRU, the Russian military intelligence, who supervise this Wagner group's activities. So, now, it's within the Russian military intelligence.

BURNETT: So, the Russian minister of defense, the defense organization, Shoygu, he's still missing. The offensive and Ukraine's stalled. The Russian death toll seems to be astounding. What are you hearing, Andrei, about morale in the Russian military?

SOLDATOV: Well, it seems it has not gone really well. We have some interesting reports. First of all, the international guard, we have confirmed reports from the human rights activists and lawyers of the group, Algora (ph), at least 12 soldiers are the national guard refused to go to fight in Ukraine. They cited Russian laws that they're supposed to act inside the country because they are the national guard, not the army. So, why would the leadership want them to go to Ukraine?

They refused, and they were sacked. There are more reports about the national guard. It doesn't look really well.

BURNETT: It is interesting. Those specific stories you're talking about, they start to add up to something significant.

Andrei, thank you as always.

SOLDATOV: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the head of the International Red Cross seen smiling and shaking hands with Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister. What could be the explanation of that.

This is when the homes of the Russian oligarch worth $4.5 billion, calls home. After being hit with sanctions, what will happen to the mansion you see there?



BURNETT: Putin still controlling his oligarchs. "The Financial Times" reporting that Vladimir Putin personally approved Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich's involvement in Russia's peace talks with Ukraine. This is after the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reportedly asked President Biden not to sanction Abramovich.

Abramovich, thus far, is escaping most of the pain of sanctions even while staying in Putin's good graces. That's something.

But for many of the oligarchs who have been sanctioned, life has changed dramatically. This is Petr Aven, meeting with Putin on the day Russian invaded Ukraine. Pre-sanction, "Forbes" estimated he was worth about $4.5 billion. Aven now telling "The Financial Times" he's struggling to pay bills and saying, quote, we don't understand how to survive.

I want to bring in Andrew Jack, who interviewed Petr Aven. He's the former Moscow bureau chief of "The Financial Times", and author of "Inside Putin's Russia".

And, Andrew, I appreciate time. So, you went to Aven's penthouse in the very upper class neighborhood in London. He told you among many things, quote, our business is completely destroyed. Everything which we have been building for 30 years is now completely ruined. And we have to somehow start a new life.

What was this interview like?

ANDREW JACK, JOURNALIST & FORMER MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, Petr Aven is one of the number of oligarchs I've met over the years. He like his business partner Mikhail Fridman had built a business in the chaos of the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin. Privatization, construction of an organization, including the commercial bank, a retail bank, and also they made a lot of money ultimately out of the Russian oil center.

It was in 2013 or so, they actually sold out and extract much of their fortune from Russia and tried to reestablish himself with businesses in the West. So, they are from pretty modest backgrounds to billionaires, with huge influence of power. Now they see all that frozen with an uncertain future ahead.

BURNETT: Well, you know, it's interesting you said it. I mean, that's the story of many of the oligarchs. You start from virtually nothing and become a billionaire, in many cases, literally overnight. Aven also demonstrated in or in your interview, sort of a lack of sense of tone for the moment. He lamented that his wife went from cash machine the cash machine and cannot get out which she could.

Of course, this is all money the U.K. says is ill-begotten. Ukrainians are suffering an attack, Russians can't get money out of their ATMs. And then he says to you, quote, will I be allowed to have a cleaner or a driver? I do not drive a car, maybe my stepdaughter will drive.

So, I wonder from your perspective in this interview, the sea have any sense of self awareness or a feeling of a role that he played in empowering Putin over these years?

JACK: Well, I think he, like a number of other oligarchs, is trying to stress that they were operating much of their money actually pre- Putin. I think they are (INAUDIBLE) is this huge pressure building from the West that does not need to be an economic response. They realize there is a justification to sanctions.

What they would argue is that they themselves had very little power or influence under Vladimir Putin. And indeed they (INAUDIBLE) amongst others, you say they met Putin on many occasions, that he never had any real influence. He did not in any way influence the political decisions. He could not stop Putin and his most recent military actions.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Andrew, thank you very much. I should point out that he was at the penthouse of Aven in London. He also has that mansion in Virginia Water Surrey, it is unclear what will happen to his physical assets.

Andrew, I do appreciate your time very much. I also want everyone to know as we wrap this, Andrew had done reporting here showing that Mr. Aven has less than 20 days to leave the U.K. They basically said that he needs to get out.


Andrew reports that Aven has a lot of Latvian passport and a Russian passport, and also, this is really important, a U.S. visa. And he actually hasn't been sanction here in the U.S. despite those punishing sanctions in the U.K. So, we called the U.S. State Department, and tonight, they will not say whether they will honor that visa for telling us they can't discuss the details of individual cases.

But this is obviously a crucial question. Will someone like that, the U.K. has said completely under sanction, will they get safe harbor and United States? That's an open question tonight.

And next seniors, from Ukraine forced to leave everything behind as they struggle to make their way to safety. You're going to hear the shocking details from their long and dangerous journeys.

Plus, Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, maybe called to testify before the January six committee, after text after text shows her trying to get Trump's chief of staff to overturn the election.


BURNETT: The International Committee of the Red Cross under fire after its leader was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Russia's foreign minister and the war in Ukraine with all of the civilian targeting by Russians.

Peter Maurer is the president of the ICRC met with Sergei Lavrov in Moscow this week. Maurer says his conversations were about humanitarian needs and international humanitarian law. This comes as President Biden prepares to see the refugee crisis firsthand in a few hours in Poland.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFROTN at a train station along the Poland-Ukraine border. And Phil Mattingly is with President Biden in Warsaw this hour.

So, Ed, you have been covering the refugee crisis. What will the president see when he meets with refugees tomorrow?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is going to get a real sense of the scope of how dramatic this refugee crisis is, as more than 3 million people have escaped from Ukraine, the vast majority, more than 2 million of those, here in Poland. Here, it is approaching 1:00 in the morning. You can see that this is still the number of people looking to take trains further into Europe.

And this is a scene that even though the number of refugees that you are seeing here, in Przemysl, Poland has slowed down quite a bit in the last week, but there are still a large number of people coming through, looking for places and safe haven in Europe. And what the president is going to hear from many of these people, is the ordeal is that they've been through, one of the things that they've been hearing now in recent days, is journeys especially from Eastern Europe around Kyiv, taking close to five days to get here to the Polish-Ukrainian border. And that is because of Russian attacks on convoys, civilians trying to escape, all the hazards that they find along the way as well as checkpoints and curfews.

So that is really lengthening the amount of time many people are facing to try to get out of the country. And then, the one thing you hear over and over from anyone that you talked to here at this train station is that they really want the world to know that if they had support, that would be something that would be spared and say their neighborhoods. It's very likely that the president, when he's speaking with refugees tomorrow in Warsaw, that will beat exactly kind of thing will be hearing. The United States and NATO allies have been very reluctant to even entertain that idea of air support. But that is something that he's going to her over and over for many of these refugees.

BURNETT: Ed Lavandera, thank you very much, live along the Polish- Ukraine border tonight.

President Biden is meeting with refugees in just a few hours. It comes after he visited with U.S. troops also in Poland. And he was telling them that this is about much more than just Putin's invasion of Ukraine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is at stake is, what are your kids and your grandkids going to look like in terms of their freedom? What's your engaging in much more whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine.


BURNETT: Let's go to Phil Mattingly. He's with the President Biden.

Phil, obviously, the message the president wants to make, right? This is about much more than Ukraine. Ironically, the same message you hear from Putin for totally different reasons. But this is just hours away from when Biden will be meeting with refugees.

But the White House today, Phil, spent the whole day clarifying to major remarks by the president, which obviously was and how they wanted to spend a day. What more can you tell me about that?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, look, you're going to hear a lot more about that broad message of the urgency and the stakes of this moment, when the president gets with the White House, to describe as a significant speech here in Warsaw, in a few hours after meeting with those refugees. But before he can get to that point, the White House needs to clarify a couple of things, including probably one of the most delicate and significant areas of concern that we've heard over the course of the last 48 hours. That is related to chemical weapons.

He was asked at a press conference yesterday, would the U.S. respond? And he did say he has, and the nature of that response will depend on the nature of the use. But then, he was asked a follow-up about what that response will entail, and he said this.


REPORTER: If chemical weapons were used in Ukraine, would that trigger a military response from NATO?

BIDEN: It would -- it would trigger a response in kind.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Erin, it's the in kind that drew some questions from reporters today, thinking that it would likely be a response to a chemical attack.

Now, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, was asked about this, and made it explicitly clear the U.S. will not use chemical weapons. The response will be reciprocal, if the president was trying to say. But later on in a day, while meeting the 82nd Airborne Division, troops that are here on the ground, the president was detailing the courage shown by the Ukrainian people on the ground, and told those troops they were going to see it soon.

That raised questions given the steadfast position the president has not moved from, that no U.S. troops will be on the ground there, the White House quickly clarified that as well, making clear there has been no position change.


The president does not intend or planned to have U.S. troops in Ukraine.

But still, two moments that the White House needed to clarify a little bit in advance of a very big final day here in Warsaw, Erin.

BURNETT: Right, absolutely. Of course, you will be there with him for that.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

And next, the January 6 select committee now debating whether to question the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after damning text messages she sent to Trump's chief of staff.


BURNETT: Tonight, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas could be asked to appear before the January six committee, according to multiple sources. Now, members of the select committee are debating whether to call Ginni Thomas before the panel after sources say she pressured Trump's former chief of staff to overturn the election.

We learned there were 29 text messages between Thomas and Mark Meadows after the election. And I'll just give you this one from November 6 when Thomas writes: Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back.

Sources say the committee is trying to decide whether it's worth questioning a Supreme Court justice's wife. It's a pretty -- it's a pretty amazing moment we are in where this is even under consideration. But there are 29 more text -- 28 more text messages where the one I just shared came from.

Thanks so much for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime. You just have to go to CNN Go.

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