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Today: Biden in Brussels for High-Stakes NATO, EU & G7 Summits; NATO Agrees to "Substantially move Forces" on Eastern Flank; U.S. "Tiger Team" Planning Potential Responses if Putin uses Chemical, Biological or Nuclear Weapons; Ukraine: Russia Deploying Weapons to Belarus; Zelenskyy Claims Russia Used Phosphorus Bombs, Gives Few Details. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2022 - 12:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm Abby Phillip in Washington. John King is off today. We have a lot of news to cover today; President Biden is in Brussels for an emergency meeting with the European leaders about the war in Ukraine exactly one month to the day since Russia invaded.

This morning, several major announcements were made including new sanctions targeting more than 300 Russian politicians. The U.S. will also welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, and will give $1 billion in humanitarian aid. The President spent the morning meeting with NATO leaders, where they also heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who repeatedly called for NATO to do more.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: You can give us 1 percent of all your planes 1 percent of all your time 1 percent NATO is yet to show what NATO can do to save people's lives.


PHILLIP: We're going to get straight to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins who is in Brussels. So Kaitlan, there have been a bunch of critical announcements from the Biden Administration just this morning. Tell us about what they are planning to do to further strengthen these sanctions.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, part of this announcement today, Abby is something that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has called for which is sanctioning those Russian lawmakers and we are told that the United States is going to sanction hundreds of Russian lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament, in addition to more Russian oligarchs and dozens of Russian defense companies as part of this show of force that is coming with President Biden to these urgent summits that he is holding here in Brussels today. Three separate meetings, all with power players across the globe as they are trying to squeeze Putin now that this invasion has hit its one month mark and is only going forward with the White House saying that there is no clear end in sight right now so President Biden having this meeting focused on President Putin and his actions today.

Of course, this is only the first meeting that was pretty abruptly scheduled, which is remarkable, in and of itself, that they put something like this together in days when normally a meeting like this takes months to put together.

And these NATO leaders will meet again in June, they talk about the fact that this is likely going to still be something that they are discussing when they meet them and what they are going to talk about between now and then when it comes to force posture and force present.

But President Biden is leaving this meeting today with the NATO allies, Abby saying that they believe NATO is more united now than ever. And that, of course, is a message that they are trying to hammer home because they are saying that's the last thing President Putin wanted to see as part of his invasion was actually bringing the West together with Europe and of course, uniting them in a sense in kind of reinvigorating NATO.

And so this comes as they are also talking about the other aspect of this invasion, which is the refugee crisis that it has caused, 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since this invasion started. A lot of them are obviously in Europe. And that's why you're seeing that $1 billion in assistance that the U.S. is going to provide in humanitarian assistance.

But Abby, they're also announcing that the United States will take up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, if they want to come to the United States, that's a big deal, because the U.S. doesn't even normally come close to taking 100,000 refugees per year of all total refugees.

And this is just for Ukrainian refugees. So it does speak to of course, what you'll see for the rest of President Biden's visit here, which is when he goes to Poland, a country that has experienced this firsthand taking in over 2 million refugees that we should know in a few hours, we will see President Biden.

He's going to give us a press conference and debrief reporters on these meetings that they have held these critical talks that they've held behind the scenes here at Brussels Abby.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Kaitlan a busy, busy day for President Biden, we'll check back with you. But let's go now to White House Reporter Natasha Bertrand, who's also in Brussels. Natasha, the NATO Chief Stoltenberg said that allies agreed to bolster NATO's military position in Eastern Europe. Tell us more about what that means.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, obviously, this was a really key priority of these discussions today. And what they've decided is that they're going to massively increase the number of troops in that Eastern Flank of NATO in those countries who obviously are feeling very threatened right now by Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

And they're also going to double the number of NATO battle groups that are in the eastern flank countries, again, because of this need to defend them against a possible Russian attack, even if it's accidental, right?

Even if an errant missile or drone were to land in NATO territory, the conflict is just so close to say Poland, to those Eastern Flank NATO countries that they feel the need right now to make all of these plans a reality now because of the new security environment.

And they're also a new plan by the United Kingdom just announced earlier today that they're going to send about 6000 new missiles to Ukraine to help them defend themselves so the talks today of course were not isolated to just defending the NATO alliance although that was a key priority.


BERTRAND: There were also about how the alliance can send support to Ukraine to help them defend themselves against the Russians. Now, I did ask earlier today of Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Chief, whether any of these changes in force posture on NATO's eastern flank are going to be permanent?

Because that's the big question that some of the Baltic countries have had is whether the United States and NATO member countries are willing to put a permanent troop presence there in order to defend against any possible Russian attack.

And he really would not go into detail about that. He said that they're preparing for the long haul here, given the new challenges posed by Russia. But when John Kirby was asked something very similar earlier today, he did say that the Pentagon is looking at how to make kind of long term changes to the United States force posture in Eastern Flank NATO countries, given the new security realities, here's what he said.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Here in the United States, I mean, we had before the war 80,000 troops in Europe, we now have 100,000. Now, those are on temporary deployments. I'm not saying that that's going to be the future footprint. But we are in the Pentagon looking at what the future footprint ought to look like to make sure that we can bolster particularly NATO's Eastern Flank.


BERTRAND: So obviously, the challenges to the NATO alliance to Europe are top of mind here, of course, but they are also trying to figure out the best way that they can continue that military support directly to Ukraine Abby.

PHILLIP: Natasha Bertrand, thanks for all that reporting. And joining me now from Brussels is David Sanger, the White House and National Security Correspondent for "The New York Times". So David, you've been writing a lot about this over the last several weeks.

But these announcements today that the White House plans to sanction 300 Russian politicians seems to be an effort to prevent Russia from trying to squirrel away from some of these sanctions. How significant are these latest developments?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's interesting that they went after the Duma, the members of the parliament because they're the decision makers. Now, of course, many European countries had already done that.

But I think the real behind the scenes conversation here in Brussels, has really been about how you ultimately choke off the one last big piece of revenue that the Russians have coming in. And that's for its sale of gas to Europe, particularly Germany and Italy, because that's what's continuing to fund the war and keep Putin economy afloat.

And of course, that's what the Europeans have been most reluctant because they can't figure out the alternative to it. I think you'll be hearing President Biden talk in the next few hours, about some long term plans, emphasis on the long term to wean Europe of rife in dependency on Russian gas.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's a major point of contention. And we're going to be looking, as you said, for some answers on that. But we're also learning that NATO is planning to reinforce its chemical, biological and nuclear defense system, because they're afraid that Russia will use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

It comes as you and others are reporting about these tiger teams, these groups of national security officials who've been meeting to basically sketch out what the response would be if Putin were to go there and use those kinds of weapons.

What does this all you know, taking this all together? What does this mean to you about whether the Europe and the United States are ready for something like this to happen?

SANGER: Well, the story that we published last night, basically says that the tiger teams are have been tasked by Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser, to go look at a couple of different scenarios Abby.

One of them is that a frustrated Vladimir Putin uses chemical or biological or maybe even a battlefield nuclear weapon to basically force the Ukrainians into surrender, or to warn the West to stay out of Ukraine.

Now, Jen Stoltenberg, the NATO Chief has talked over the past two days about his fear that if they do that the chemical residue or even nuclear radiation could drift into NATO countries. And they have to decide does that constitute an attack?

He said today that they are going to be boosting their own sensor capability, and getting equipment to the Ukrainians that will enable them to protect themselves against chemical attack. That gives you a sense of how heightened the alert level is here?

In an odd way it's the fear that their success so far with the sanctions, and Russia's failure to get very far with its traditional invasion, could force Putin to go the next step.

PHILLIP: Right, the fear that Putin becomes the cornered you know sort of like a cornered animal on the battlefield. You know the big picture of all of this I think in some ways is what President Zelenskyy has been talking about.


PHILLIP: He said he wants 1 percent of NATO's planes and tanks, but he's also asking just in general, for more long term security guarantees, to what extent are NATO leaders going to be talking about that? What kind of security guarantees can they give to countries like Ukraine that are not in the alliance?

SANGER: Well, this is their problem, because they did give Ukraine a security guarantee. The United States, Britain, Ukraine and Russia together gave a security guarantee in 1994 to Ukraine when it gave up its nuclear weapons, weapons that have been left there from the old Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, that security guarantee was pretty nonspecific. And it hasn't done them a whole lot of good in the past four weeks. So the Ukrainians want something that is closer to Article Five protection, that is to say, the protection that NATO countries have that if attack, all other NATO countries will come to their defense.

They're not going to get that if they were going to get that you just let them into NATO. And I think the question is, can you design something that is between what was in that 1994 accord and what NATO countries get that would satisfies Zelenskyy and would actually mean something.

PHILLIP: Exactly that these are the biggest questions facing President Biden in all the world leaders today. David Sanger in Brussels thank you so much for joining us on that! And coming up next for us dramatic new video the Ukrainian say they have taken out a major Russian warship. We will bring you the latest on the situation on the ground and in the cities off of Ukraine.



PHILLIP: This just into CNN Russian missile strike has killed six people waiting for aid in Kharkiv that is according to the Regional Governor there. And take a look at these dramatic video huge plumes of smoke and fire that's a Russian warship just west of Mariupol in the port of Berdyansk.

And Ukrainians there say they've destroyed a 370 foot warship that was the very first Russian warship to enter that port. We are also getting our first look at the City of Izium after days of intense fighting there. This video shows the burnt remnants of what used to be a school and a church and now there is just debris everywhere.

Smoke and fire in the City of Chernihiv just 90 miles Northeast of Kyiv what's left after all of that is damaged buildings and rubble in the streets. The City's Mayor says they don't know how many people have died so far. But the United Nations reports that more than 1000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the war started. CNN's Phil Black has more on all of this from Lviv in Ukraine. Phil, what more do you know?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So let's start with that destroyed Russian ship Abby those explosions started we're told around 7 am local time in Berdyansk. The ship is a large landing vessel the - the Ukrainian Navy says it was attacked and destroyed and in the process of that attack two other ships were damaged video from the site shows other Russian Navy ships scrambling to get away from those explosions and fires scrambling to get away from the docks.

They say a fuel tank was also destroyed, and a fire managed to move into a weapons depot which perhaps explains why there were so many successive explosions. It was a big result. But what we don't know is how they did it.

The Ukrainians haven't revealed what capability they deployed in order to attack and destroy a Russian naval ship in a Russian controlled port. You mentioned Izium moments ago; this is a key city in the East of Ukraine where there has been intense fighting in recent days. And where we understood there was an effort by Ukrainian forces to mount a counter attack and push out the Russians.

The video from there, well, it's pretty extraordinary. It shows that the city has essentially been destroyed, really. And that's what a local council member from the city has told us as well. The damage is incredibly extensive. The Russians had today said that they are now in control of Izium. The Ukrainians they disagree with that they say the fight is still very much ongoing.

PHILLIP: And we're also getting some word from Ukraine's armed forces. They're saying that Russia has started transferring weapons to Belarus, what more do you know about that as well.

BLACK: So at the very start of this war, the Russian forces that move south across the Belarusian border into Ukraine towards Kyiv was supposed to capture the capital very quickly, didn't really turn out that way. They then moved or switch their efforts to try and encircle the capital that hasn't been going very well either, because in recent days, the Ukrainians haven't just been defending.

They had been counter attacking and driving Russian forces back. Now the Ukrainian military says that Russia is redeploying equipment and weapons to the Belarusian side of the border to assist with that effort of encircling the capital.

We'll have to wait to see whether or not that proves to be true. But broadly speaking, there is a lot of analysis at the moment that suggests that Russia is in at the moment focusing on resupplying reorganizing and getting ready to mount new offensive operations Abby. PHILLIP: After that campaign to take Kyiv has stalled for many, many weeks now. Thank you so much. We'll get back to you. And coming up next for us, a major change to NATO's defense posture what this means for U.S. troops? We will be discussing all of this with the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.



PHILLIP: Just into CNN Ukraine's President is claiming that Russian forces are using phosphorus bombs against civilians in Ukraine. Here's what he told G7 leaders this morning.



ZELENSKYY: This morning I received information that the Russian troops have used phosphorus bombs against peaceful civilians in Ukraine. There is a real threat that Russia will use chemical weapons in Ukraine.


PHILLIP: Phosphorus ignites on contact with air and it can cause life threatening injuries. And in some cases, it's banned by international law. But CNN is not able to confirm or verify the claims that it was used. But the State Department has also told CNN, it is aware of the reports but not in a position to confirm their veracity.

Joining me now to discuss this and more is Congressman Adam Smith, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. So Congressman Smith thanks for being here. And let's start with that the NATO Chief said that Russia was using chemical weapons - if Russia is using chemical weapons, it will change the nature of this conflict.

With that, and with this news of the phosphorus bombs being potentially used, what is the U.S. prepared to do if Putin does escalate this conflict into the chemical space or, you know, tactical nuclear weapons?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, first of all, the Russia and Putin have been indiscriminately bombing civilian targets with a wide variety of weapons whether the phosphorus claims are true or not Putin and Russia have committed war crimes and are conducting a devastating war in Ukraine.

And we must be 100 percent clear on that. A big part of the reason why President Biden is in Europe right now meeting with NATO partners is to answer that question, what do we do if Russia introduces chemical weapons? There are a wide range of options.

At the moment, what we've done and what President Biden has done a good job of is say, we're going to help Ukraine in every way we can, and we've gotten a ton of weapons into them that have made a huge difference, and also a ton of humanitarian aid.

But we will not directly confront Russian troops, because we don't want to set off a war between NATO and the U.S. and Russia, that leads to World War III, if chemical weapons are used, it is quite possible that we could have some sort of limited response to target the units that were using those chemical weapons.

There's a wide range of options on the table. But it's crucial that the U.S. and our allies be on the same page on that. And that's what President Biden is doing in Europe right now.

PHILLIP: But do you think that that could or should trigger U.S. troops on the ground, let's say if there is a chemical or nuclear attack that that then kind of almost spills into NATO territory?

SCHIFF: Yes. Well, first of all, I don't personally want to jump out front here and try to set policy for the entire United States government. I'm in regular contact with Chairman Milley Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council to discuss what they're thinking about doing to offer my ideas.

But I think we need to let President Biden you know, set the actual policy for how we should respond. I will say that I think it would be unlikely that we would directly use U.S. troops. We certainly have standoff options that would be less risky and less confrontational.

But again, I want to make sure the President and our NATO partners set that policy. But I will say, you know, I joined the president in warning Russia that that would be an escalation that would make us focus on an even different and higher level of response than what we've done to date.

PHILLIP: You just said earlier that you believe that Russia is committing war crimes, and the U.S. has now formally declared Russia is committing more crimes in Ukraine. But the question is what now realistically? What can the United States do to stop Putin and to stop these crimes? Is there any recourse for what we are seeing happening on the ground?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, we are doing a lot right now. The sanctions against Russia that have been well documented that have had a devastating impact on their economy, the confiscation of property from their oligarchs, the sanctions against individual members of the Duma and individual supporters of Putin, a lot is being done to cripple Russia and it is having an effect.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, we are arming the Iranians. We are sending in a wide range of weapons that are helping in this fight. So we are very active right now trying to confront that, up to the point of not wanting to start a direct war and a direct conflict with Russia, which is the balance we must strike.

So we are doing it and it's having an effect as you were reporting before I came on Russia has been stalled. They're not able to achieve their initial objectives or even their secondary objectives. So goal number one is to block me invasion and make it clear that Putin cannot achieve his aims.

Then, yes, we get into a very difficult spot. What does Putin do at that point? We are in negotiations and discussions with our allies about how we approach that, but make no mistake about it. A lot is being done to confront Putin and those war crimes that he has committed.

PHILLIP: And those sanctions that you talked about. They are working to you know constrict the Russian economy but they haven't seemed to have had an impact on Putin's strategy on the ground his decision making.