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Inside Politics

U.S. Couple Desperate To Complete Adoption Of Kids Trapped In Ukraine; Survivors Pulled From Rubble Of Mariupol Theater; Russia Terrorizes Ukraine's Cities As Putin's War Enters Fourth Week; NYT: 7,000+ Russian Troops Killed In First Weeks Of Fighting; "Children" Spelled Out Outside Building Bombed By Russia; Sources: U.S. To Send Switchblade Drones To Ukraine; 4 Russian Warships Spotted Passing Through Japanese Strait; Images Of War: Pictures From The Front Lines In Ukraine. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2022 - 12:00   ET



WENDY VAN ASTEN, ADOPTING CHILDREN FROM UKRAINE: How long they will stay safe. So, I don't know, prepared. Yes. I mean, we've been in this process for four years and we are fighters and so are they. And so, we're just going to keep trying and we are going to keep trying to encourage them when they will allow us to.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR: Well, we are praying for their safety and that one day where you can give them a hug here in the United States as well. Wendy and Leo Van Asten thank you so much. And CNN's breaking news coverage of the war in Ukraine continues Inside Politics with John King, starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing this very sober news day with us. Dramatic developments this hour is Vladimir Putin's invasion enters its fourth week. Russian missiles terrorizing Kyiv. Ukrainian forces launch a counter offensive and nothing short of a miracle in Mariupol, somehow some way under tons of brick and steel. People endured Ukrainians survive.

Officials on the ground, say first responders have pulled survivors from the wreckage from Mariupol theater pummeled by Russian airstrikes. Hundreds were trying to ride out the shelling there. This hour, it is unclear how many have survived and are still alive. But those inside you can see here, tried to warn warplanes above, writing children in big white Russian letters on the asphalt, outside that theater. Russian forces bombed the building anyway.

Ukraine's president says, "everything is a target" inside his country. In Kyiv, the capital, rescue workers scaling rooftops. You see it there in an effort, frenetic effort to save people trapped inside high rises, also hit by Russian strikes. Elsewhere, an important strategy shift to keep an eye on.

A top Ukrainian adviser claims its military right now is in the middle of a counter offensive. Diplomacy is still stalled. Tomorrow though, President Biden will speak with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Stopping Chinese military help from flowing to the Russians is a top priority of that call.

Again today, Volodymyr Zelenskyy says, he needs NATO and the West to do more. Russia, he says, "has already crossed all the red lines." In another of his country by country appeals to lawmakers, Zelenskyy reminds Germans of their post Holocaust promise.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: Every year, politicians say never again. Now, I see that these words are worthless. In Europe, a people is being destroyed.


KING: We start our coverage this hour in Odessa in Ukraine south, our CNN international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh right there. Nick, what is the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I mean, obviously at this stage, as you mentioned, John, the hopes are that the number of dead and injured from that barbaric airstrike on the drama theater in Mariupol, will be low at this stage. We still don't from last night, know how many people precisely were inside that cavernous, almost labyrinthine basement under the drama theater.

You pointed out yourself, how dirty Russian for children was written so large outside on the asphalt, to tell those flying above what they would potentially be targeting and that made no difference. Clearly, in terms of the volume of explosives dropped there by the Russian military. They kind of nonsensically suggest that Ukrainian radicals did it to their own people.

What we have heard is similar that we heard last night that the explosions hit the entrance to that bomb shelter, causing devastation. And that intense shelling last night meant that rescuers found it hard to get in. It's obviously got easier today.

And now, two separate Ukrainian officials are saying that there are survivors coming out from that bomb shelter. It still doesn't answer the question of how many people were there and how many of those have been injured or lost their lives as a result.

But frankly, the limited information we have is possibly some of the better news that we could be looking for. None of that though, detract from the fact that this was a place visible from space as a place where children were and online in social media postings, showing how densely packed the conditions in there were, quite clearly utterly startling, breathtaking, frankly, decision for Russia to drop that airstrike, John?

KING: Just had a doubt. Nick Paton Walsh, grateful for the live reporting from Odessa. Let's move on to Lviv now in western Ukraine, CNN's Scott McLean has been there, of course, for the bulk of the war. Scott, what is the latest there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, today is St. Patrick's Day, but it feels a lot like Groundhog Day. That's because yet another day we are seeing now more civilian sites targeted by Russian bombs in Kyiv, a missile was struck down. It hit an apartment building, killing at least one, injuring three others that we know of. It started a fire, that fire crews quickly had to put out there. This has been a pattern in recent days.


It seems like, for the last several there has been at least one or several apartment buildings that have been targeted by these Russian strikes, and often causing fires that have burned out the entire building. We're also learning that 21-people have been killed in a town, not far from Kharkiv after the Russian shell that town.

We also learned about a breadline and attorney of north of Kyiv, where people were queuing for food and were hit by another Russian striker. One possible explanation for all of these civilian casualties is that, according to a British military assessment of the situation, some Russian aircraft are shooting from farther away in order to minimize the risk to planes and pilots.

Unfortunately, that also makes things much less accurate on the ground. We know that Russia likes to encircle cities, and that is making the humanitarian situation in many places very dire. Mariupol is probably the best example of that, where hundreds of thousands of people have been trapped for several weeks. And while there has been a trickle of people managing to get out of that city in private vehicles, that is very much a drop in the bucket.

President Zelenskyy, says that yesterday, humanitarian corridors simply did not work. There were some people, as I mentioned, who got out of Mariupol, but through unofficial routes, and even those parts of the convoys there were actually hit by Russian shelling. John?

KING: Scott McLean, live for us in Lviv. Scott, thank you so much to you and your team for the important reporting. Let's get some important insights now from the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Evelyn Farkas. Evelyn, let's start with the point that Scott McLean was just making there and Nick Paton Walsh before him. Two things sadly, in this invasion can be true at once. We are seeing Russian army incompetence, Russian army logistic problems, Russian army advanced problems.

And then, we are also seeing though, at the very same time, while you might celebrate that if you're on Ukraine side as you should be in this conflict, Russians' responses that indiscriminate, more indiscriminate bombing. When you see Russia strike a theater with it words, children in giant letters outside. What does that tell you about Putin's mindset and Russian strategy?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE, EURASIA: Well, John, it tells me that nothing has changed. The Russians are just as completely criminal when it comes to international law, Geneva Conventions, protection of civilians during warfare, and of course, this isn't even a just to war, it was completely unprovoked and it's a war of choice.

Today's international criminal court actually discuss the war. The president of the criminal court called for to end, based on what's happening to the civilians. So, it is desperate, it's also criminal. And on the army, I mean, of course, they're still - they still have other equipment coming in. I'm reading about equipment coming from the far east.

The Japanese apparently have alerted, at least this was reported in the press, alerted us to new shipments, potentially of tanks, et cetera. But the Russian morale and the army in the organization, the lack of logistics, and communications is clear. So, they can't really go in right now, but that could also change.

KING: So, the question then is, how do the Ukrainians with the help of their allies try to take advantage of it. You mentioned Russia morale, you're quoted in a very thorough New York Times piece today. I want to read some of it.

Pentagon officials, say that a high and rising number of war dead can destroy the will to continue fighting. The result, they say has shown up in intelligence reports that senior officials in the Biden administration read every day. One recent report focused on low morale among Russian troops and describe soldiers just parking their vehicles and walking off into the woods.

So, from an intelligence standpoint, and a strategy standpoint, if you're the Ukrainians, you're trying to take advantage of that. The question is, how?

FARKAS: They've taken great advantage of it, John. We've seen it and CNN has been showing all this footage of Ukrainians picking off tanks. You know, hitting the front of a column, the back of a column, coming out of - seemingly coming out of nowhere.

So, they know that they don't need to fight these armored units in the open, but they need to do is pick them off, instill fear in the heads of every soldier that around the corner is some civilian who's or some member of the military who is going to attack them.

And of course, aircraft falling out of the sky, which is also happened because of the stingers and other equipment coming in, will make that range go farther up, that also affects the willingness of the Russian military to fight. So, it's a compounding issue.

And as I mentioned in the part where I'm quoted in that article, but on New York Times article, this impacts on morale because the soldiers to begin with, thought they were going in on a training exercise. I don't know what they told the pilots but certainly that's what we hear from media accounts from the captured prisoners. That's what they were told going into Russia in the vehicles.

KING: So, you mentioned, help going into Ukraine that can shoot higher into the sky against missiles and against aircraft that would include, potentially include S-300 batteries, a Russian made Soviet originally - Soviet anti-missile batteries, that many of the countries in the region still have this.


Slovakia's defense minister said today, they would give them an immediately, but first and you have to understand this from his perspective, he needs a backup plan. He needs a replacement so that his airspace, his country is safe. Put your Pentagon hat back on, you know how available our Patriot missile systems or other U.S. or NATO missile systems that are spread already thinly around the world. How quickly can the United States or another NATO ally backup Slovakia, so they can put those missile systems on flat beds and move them into Ukraine?

FARKAS: Yes. I mean, this is the irony, John, because of course, the countries that have the old Soviet systems are the ones that are most, greatest threat after Ukraine from Vladimir Putin attacking them in theory. So, they are not going to want to give up anything they have for nothing. Rightfully, they should ask for some sort of guarantee.

But as you pointed out, we only have so many batteries. I'm pretty sure that the ones that we rushed to Poland earlier were coming from Germany, where the U.S. has or has had a substantial number of them. You know, they can be moved around. I hopefully, we're figuring out what to do. But I'm confident that we'll get these into the hands of the Ukrainians, and it will make a big difference.

KING: Evelyn Farkas, as always, grateful for your very important insights. Thank you.

FARKAS: Thanks, John.

KING: Up next for us. The Ukrainian military says, it is launching a counter offensive in and around the capital of Kyiv, and another key cities.




KING: New satellite images show increasing shocking destruction across Ukraine as this Russian invasion enters its fourth week. Right there you're looking at before and after pictures of homes in Volnovakha. That's a town in the southeastern part of Ukraine, scorched and destroyed.

Let's get some important perspective from the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Director Clapper, grateful for your time. We showed that one town there. I just want to show some others. If you are gathering intelligence, if you were the DNI, you're gathering intelligence for the president of United States to share with the Pentagon, potentially to share with the Ukrainians about what the Russians are up to.

This is Mariupol, this is that theater. These are the Russian letters spelling, children on both sides, clearly visible from the sky. This is the aftermath of that theater. If you're analyzing this to try to help, what is the Russian strategy? Does this take a lot of thought? Or is it simple savage?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I don't think it takes a lot of thought, John, to me, as a layman, I'm not haggling over war crimes, because that's clearly what the Russians have resorted to. And the reason for a course is the fact that they have essentially failed in a conventional tactical attack. So, they're resorting to what they can do, which is wanton destruction, and the killing of innocent civilians. And I think that's a testament to the failure of their initially planned campaign.

KING: And I'm moving through some of these photos. This is more of Volnovakha, you see that. Again, you see a square area here, a gathering place and buildings. You see it here, just simply destroyed. You move on here. This is a picture Saturday, on Chernihiv, you see the bombs, the flames coming up from the indiscriminate bombing.

The question Director Clapper is, what can be done to help in the sense that we talk? Well, let's talk about this one. For example, right now, there are these new switchblade drones, and we can show some pictures what they can do the United States as in the new military assistance to Ukraine. You get some of these smaller, switchblade drones.

They're kamikazes. They're handheld essentially, deployed from the battlefield. And they can come down and they can hit a tank if they see a tank, or they can hit a convoy if they see a convoy. How effective can they be, though, when most of these devastating strikes we just went through are coming either from airplanes or from missiles fired from far-far away?

CLAPPER: Well, I mean, I think you answered your own question, John. They're not going to help unless they can be directed towards an artillery piece. So, I mean, this is one piece of the pie, it's one bullet, I use the term, a general rubric. That is are fairly simple to operate, can be operated by one person. And so, they're helpful.

So, in the totality of what we're providing, or what the NATO allies are providing, this is helpful. This particular system may not be helpful against, particularly if the Russians are firing long range missiles from within Russia. So, you need other systems for that. So, the S-300 system, which is a much more capable air defense system then stinger, another range regime, that's helpful.

So, as you build this mosaic of weapon systems that can be made available to the Ukrainians in which they can operate and maintain since they're familiar with Soviet and Russian design systems. That's all to the good. KING: All to the good, fascinating point. So, the Japanese ministry of defense told the United States and presumably a shared with other countries as well, that it saw some Russian ships coming from bases over here. It's a reminder again of how vast Russia is. But coming essentially from the Asian front of Russia, passing through the straits here into the Pacific Ocean, conceivably to reinforce either with troops or materiel.


The effort in Ukraine, what would it tell you about the state of the Russian military? A, the state of the campaign in Ukraine and the state of the Russian military writ large? If they're having to find resources way over here and take the long haul, all the way over here.

CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, obviously this is a testament to the problems the Russians are having. To me it's an acknowledgement of the depletion of many of their combat units, don't know what's on the ships or the troops or material. But the Russian Far East is already thinly defended.

So, if the Russians are now pulling forces or material from 11 time zones away, acknowledged that the sale time, which is quite substantial to actually get them to Ukraine, I think is a quite a statement about the state of things with the Russians, and the depletion of their combat forces and material for that matter in Ukraine.

KING: And one last one, Director Clapper, you mentioned the mosaic, and I think it's an important point to make. I just want to bring up the map that shows these NATO countries around here. Slovakia, for example, today said, it's willing to give some of those S-300. The higher altitude anti-aircraft missiles, but it needs a backup plan first.

If you were still in your DNI job, and you're talking to your colleagues and all of these countries around here, and you realize that a lot of the Russian firepower is coming from inside of the border here. What are you talking about? What contingencies? What ideas? What out of the box equipment are you thinking about? If we won't put our own boots on the ground. If we won't put our own military on the ground. What can we give the Ukrainians to help? What kind of conversations are happening?

CLAPPER: Well, what actual equipment that they might move or obtain is sort of not, you know, the intelligence thing. But what I would be thinking about and discussing with them is anticipation of more of the strike that occurred fairly closely to the Polish border. So, what systems do they need to move in place?

Patriots come to mind, or other air defenses, some anti air and a counter fire that would counter or say artillery or missiles. And that's what they should be thinking about. If I were to make a recommendation to the president, I would certainly command more U.S. trigger pullers deployed to the eastern flank as a deterrent.

KING: Director Clapper, as always sir, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you. Ahead, simply heartbreaking images. You're seeing just a few of them here are the realities of war. We talked to a photojournalist who is right there, capturing this horrific devastation.




KING: The powerful images of Russia's war on Ukraine are gripping, moving, disturbing and worse. We all look on heartbroken, as Ukrainian citizens are destroyed. People forced to flee in the wake of these brutal unprovoked attacks. With me now is someone who has been right there on the frontlines, capturing these images. Photojournalist Heidi Levine, she's been documenting the war in and around Kyiv for The Washington Post.

Heidi, grateful for your time today. I want to start just by showing some photos you took around Irpin, where people are trying to flee. You see the damage bridge there, you see. And again, if you just pause and watch, you see crutches there, you see a pet carrier there. If you take time to look at the humanity of the photo, it is remarkable.

And you have a series there. You've been doing this for more than 30 years. You've been in Iraq. You've been in Syria. You've been in Gaza. And yet, you say yourself and when you talk to your colleagues with decades of experience covering war, they are shocked by what they are witnessing, and fearful of what comes ahead. Help explains?

VOICE OF HEIDI LEVINE, PHOTOJOURNALIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, it's true. I have not met any journalist who's been working as long as I have in these and complex zones and covering wars that it just, I mean, every time I bump into somebody that I know or somebody I don't even know, we're just a shock that what we're seeing is actually happening. I mean, how could this be happening in 2022?

It feels like, we have learned absolutely nothing from the from history. And every time I see people fleeing and people carrying their elderly parents, their grandparents, their pets, and I'm not just talking about one pet, I've met families that are carrying three dogs, their babies, their cats, and elderly women and men, covered in snow the other day during a brief snowstorm.

I even tried to help a woman to warm her hands and her shirt was showing and I could see that she was wearing geriatric diapers. And to be honest, I mean, I woke at three o'clock in the morning that after photographing that day, and you know, I was just having nightmares and I think I just can't imagine being on the other side of my camera.

I mean, if people ever imagined that photojournalist or anyone on documenting this conflict or any other conflicts are shielded by our lenses, and it's absolutely untrue, we are feeling very emotional