Return to Transcripts main page

Isa Soares Tonight

Ukraine Braces For Anniversary Of Russian Invasion; Putin Honors Fallen World War II Troops On Fatherland Day; Eleven Palestinians Killed During Israeli Raid In Nablus; Ukrainian Troops Train On U.K.'s Challenger 2 Tanks; First Look At Ukrainian Town Battered By Russia; Pilot's Selfie Shows Chinese Balloon; Extreme U.S. Weather. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 23, 2023 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, HOST, ISA SOARES TONIGHT: Hello, and a very warm welcome, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, we are hours away from a somber anniversary of the

night Russia fired the first missiles and rolled the first tanks, of course, into Ukraine, sparking the biggest land war in Europe since World

War II. Well, the U.S. calls it an attack on democracy itself.

And Russia's actions have once again thrown major world powers into a stark divide. It's been a year stained with blood and grief. We have seen grave

human rights abuses, entire towns leveled, countless families, homes, as well as lives utterly destroyed. There's a generation of Ukrainian children

scarred by war. And it sparked a massive migration, with more than 8 million refugees fleeing to safety right across Europe.

The war has brought Ukraine closer to the West than ever before -- closer, I should say. And the EU and NATO nations are rallying behind Kyiv and

working to bring it into the fold. EU leaders promising they will not rest until Ukraine wins and is rebuilt. Well, tonight, Ukraine's allies are

holding vigils. In France, as you can see right there, the Eiffel Tower is lit in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

But despite solidarity and resolve, the war goes on with no end in sight. Russian bombs are still falling. The frontline is a long, bloody mess, and

Ukrainian cities are under attack. I want to go now to Ukraine, where we find our Sam Kiley. And Sam, you are in eastern Ukraine, of course, where

we have seen Russian forces really concentrate their offensive. What are you hearing from Ukrainian forces on the ground there, a year into this

war? What is their assessment?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The short answer to that is that they believe that they can win, and that they will win. And

the reason that they believe that, Isa, which is it might have been a boast that they would have made perhaps in the middle of the Summer last year,

and they have been a little hollow, is that they have proved that they can do so.

They managed to recapture the whole of -- almost the whole of Kharkiv Province, at least, all of the areas that were captured by Russia in their

very rapid advance. They have held the Russians at bay here in the east of the country. And in November, they captured 40 percent of Kherson province

crucially with the Kherson -- the city itself, the only provincial capital that the Russians captured at the beginning of their war in their very

rapid advance.

Now, at the same time, the Russians are now picking on those frontline towns and villages, whether it's Kherson or Kupiansk, much further north.

Every day, civilians have been targeted. Civilian areas are being targeted whilst of course, the Russians are focusing their military rage on the

military mission, which is here in the east, to try to at least capture the rest of the so-called Donbas Province.

But the Ukrainians believe that they can win, they know that they've got to win, quickly. This is really important to them. The government does not

admit -- does not even talk about casualties. But I can tell you anecdotally, from the people that we've been talking to over many months

here, but particularly in the last 5 weeks or so, which is the period we've been here, we are hearing again and again that the casualties among the

Ukrainians are high.

They are paying a very bitter price indeed for just holding the Russians at bay. And that gives added energy, I think, to their demands and pleas for

the strategic weapons they want to be able to force the Russians back, perhaps cause a collapse in the Russian lines before more Ukrainians have

to die, and that is a phrase they use frequently, Isa.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Sam Kiley for us there in eastern Ukraine. Appreciate it, Sam.


While Russia's president is marking Defender of the Fatherland Day, a holiday honoring soldiers who died in World War II, Vladimir Putin laid

flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier, he's staying silent about losses his forces are suffering right now in Ukraine. But the boss of the

Wagner military group isn't. Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a photo showing dozens of dead Wagner fighters in Ukraine.

Our Fred Pleitmen(ph) -- Pleitgen, pardon me, joins me now from Moscow. So Fred, Russia, I think it's fair to say, has been having some trouble on the

battlefield, in particular in the eastern of Ukraine where we just saw Sam Kiley. How is President Putin trying to re-rally the Russians here a year

on? What is the message?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa, I think on the whole, this military campaign hasn't gone anywhere near what

Russia would have thought or the way Russia would have thought it would have gone. If you remember, at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine,

the big invasion of Ukraine, I was actually at the border, on the Russian side, near Belgorod, close to Kharkiv.

And you know, the Russian troops that we saw there were very confident, they thought they were going to win that thing within a couple of days.

Now, of course, in the meantime, there have been all of these setbacks, some of which Sam was talking about for the Russian military.

Nevertheless, support for the war in Ukraine, for what Russia call its special military operation remains very high here in Russia, as do the

approval ratings of Vladimir Putin, who, as you say, is indeed trying to continuously rally this nation. Here's what we're finding.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia's tomb of the unknown soldier, commemorating Soviet troops killed in World War II,

while the invasion in Ukraine is taking a heavy toll now.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): The sacred duty of the state is to take care of those who defend the country.

PLEITGEN: A year after launching the major invasion, Russia's leader has been busy trying to convince his people, he has a plan for victory.

PUTIN: We are confident in ourselves, confident in our strength. The truth is on our side.

PLEITGEN: But the truth is also -- it's been months since the Russians have made any significant progress on the battlefield. Smaller gains coming

mostly thanks to the mercenaries of the Wagner private military company. After a recent spat, in which he blamed Russia's defense ministry for a

high death toll for allegedly not providing enough ammunition, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin now sending battlefield greetings from near Bakhmut.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, HEAD, WAGNER GROUP (through translator)): We congratulate all the guys who are fighting here on the front lines, in the

hospital, the military who are fighting for our motherland. Volunteers, those who work hard and make much needed ammunition.

PLEITGEN: But ammunition and weapons remain issues hampering Russia's offensive operations. Former Putin adviser Sergey Markov tells me.

SERGEY MARKOV, FORMER PUTIN ADVISER (through translator): President Putin mobilized in November, addition of 300,000 soldiers. But they have been not

used in affecting on the front because they have not been equipped by weaponry and other stuff for themselves.

PLEITGEN: On the home front, support from what the Kremlin calls its special military operation remains strong. Even as only a few streets away,

boarded up shops show the toll sanctions are taking on Russia's economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got ourselves into this ordeal. We have to see it through to the end. It's like in a common street fight. If you give in, you

will take the beating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think we will see the end of it anytime soon. I don't know what this end will look like. But I don't think there's

anything good for Russia in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe we did the right thing. It's just that we should have hit them stronger from the start. There's no question that

victory will be ours.

PLEITGEN: Vladimir Putin acknowledges that times are tough for many Russians, but claims he had no other choice.

MARKOV: Forms of majority of the nations are fighting for Russian survival or existence. We have 1,000 history. If our generation will be responsible

for stopping Russia. What reason to leave?


PLEITGEN: So there you have it, Isa. It's a battle as Vladimir Putin tries to portray it for the very existence of Russia as a nation. That's

certainly what the Kremlin seems to be trying to put out there. And certainly, the way that the Kremlin also trying to portray is that it is

taking place in Ukraine. However, they are trying to make it out to be a battle of Russia against the West, specifically of course, Russia against

the United States. Isa?

SOARES: Yes, which has always been his narrative all along. Fred Pleitgen for us in Moscow. Appreciate it. Thanks very much, Fred. I want to go back

to Ukraine, our Christiane Amanpour joins me now from the capital, Kyiv. Christiane, great to see you. What we have seen, I think it's fair to say

throughout this week are Ukraine's allies, NATO standing strong or even stronger, I should say a year into this conflict.


At least, that's what we've heard from many leaders. How rock-solid, though, Christiane, is this alliance, given the financial cost of this war,

and the domestic challenges that many are facing at home?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, it really does look rock-solid right now from here and from where we saw leaders around

President Biden in Warsaw and before that, around the U.S. Vice President and other officials in the Munich Security Conference with all the NATO

allied leaders there as well all saying the same thing, that we are in this for the long haul.

And interestingly, what Fred said about Vladimir Putin's narrative, that this is, you know, a fight for Russian existence, well, from this side,

obviously from Ukraine, that would only be true if it is an expansionist Russia, if it's a Russia with imperialist dreams. It is not a fight for

existence, otherwise, for normal Russia within its internationally- recognized borders. And so, that is the bottom line.

And that is what's being fought for. The international borders, the U.N. recognized international rules of the road and sovereignty and democracy. I

spoke to the Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland who has taken charge to a great extent of the political aspect of this for the U.S. government.

This is her view one year on.


VICTORIA NULAND, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: This is just all so unnecessary and evil. You know, this is all about one man's fantasy of

conquest. Vladimir Putin's decision that Ukraine ought to be his rather than a sovereign, free country. And the suffering in Ukraine is

unbelievable, as you illustrated there. But they are standing tall and they are standing strong because they are fighting for their land and for their



AMANPOUR: And that is what we hear from everybody that we talk to, Isa, from government officials to ordinary people in the street because there is

no such thing as ordinary people anymore. Civilians have become soldiers in one form or fashion, and they are all fighting for their existence. And so,

that is what we hear, of course, from the government, we have heard that, yes, thank you all very much. This is enormously welcome and needed aid,

but speed is of the essence now.

SOARES: Yes --

AMANPOUR: We need to speed it up. That is going to be their mantra for this coming year.

SOARES: And given, Christiane, what you just outlined, I am wondering how concerned the alliance is. And I know you've been speaking to many

stakeholders in Europe about what we've heard from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that Beijing is considering providing lethal support for

Russia's war, something of course, that's been echoed by NATO's chief, Jens Stoltenberg.

AMANPOUR: Very concerned. To be fair, they say that they have no evidence yet of a state supported, i.e., Xi Jinping supporting the transfer of any

arms to Russia. But there are concerns, and again Victoria Nuland said that they are worried about potential private, so-called private Chinese

companies, for instance, helping with certain satellite imagery and others, the Wagner Group or others who are active on the frontlines against


So that is a worry. They're very concerned, and they hope that Wang Yi's trip to Moscow to visit with Putin, and apparently, according to Putin, Xi

Jinping plans a visit in several months. We'll see if that happens. But they're hoping that they can persuade China to act in the cause of ending

this war and not further fueling it on Russia's side because China claims to be neutral, and they want China to not compromise that avowed neutrality

by sending any weapons to this conflict.

SOARES: Our Christiane Amanpour for us this evening in Kyiv, Ukraine, appreciate it, thank you, Christiane. And still to come tonight, the

Israeli prime minister defends a deadly raid in the West Bank. We'll have more on the fallout and after effects. That is next.



SOARES: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is defending the deadliest single raid in the West Bank in years, vowing to quote, "settle

accounts with those who attack Israelis." Israeli soldiers carried out an operation in a crowded area in Nablus on Wednesday, targeting three wanted

Palestinian militants. Those three were killed along with at least eight other people, including civilians.

Palestinian officials say almost 500 people were wounded, more than 100 by gunshots. Mr. Netanyahu praised his soldiers, saying, they acted with

heroism. He says the targeted militants had killed an Israeli soldier and were planning new attacks. Well, eyewitness accounts and video emerging

from Nablus are giving us a clear idea today of really what happened during that raid.

We're about to play one surveillance video that appears to show a Palestinian man being shot as he fled, and we warn you, it is disturbing.

So, we have blurred his image.





SOARES: Well, several men were seen running as shots rang out. One fell forward, lying face down in the street. We do not know his condition. An

Israeli army spokesman says, quote, "I understand this is a challenging visual", calling the video, quote, "problematic". He says the IDF will

provide more information once they have it.

Well, the director of the Red Crescent in Nablus says Israeli snipers were firing live ammunition from rooftops during the raid. He tells CNN, that's

why many people were shot in the head, shoulders, as well as the back. He also said, drones fired bullets and tear gas. The IDF confirms drones were

used, but denies their fired live ammunition. Here's more of what the Red Crescent director told CNN.


AHMAD JIBRIL, PALESTINIAN RED CRESCENT (through translator): It's the main market of the city of Nablus. It is too crowded with citizens. Most of

those who were injured and killed are shop owners and unarmed citizens, who were shopping. Bahra(ph) is 72 years old, was shot with ten live bullets

all over his body, and he wasn't causing any threat.


SOARES: Well, let's get more now from Miriam Berger, a staff writer for the "Washington Post". She's live tonight for us in Ramallah. Miriam, thank

you very much for taking the time to speak to us. You're in the West Bank. Just give our viewers a sense of the mood there right now, and really, what

has unfolded, as we just outlined in the last 48 hours from your perspective.

MIRIAM BERGER, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, thank you for having me on. You know, the mood here is very sad and very angry and frustrated.

Today, you know, to mourn those who died yesterday, much of the West Bank has been on strike, with everything from schools to businesses closed.

People feel really unsafe.

This is -- you know, there's near the -- for a year now, there's been near daily raids across the West Bank. Israeli military raids often targeting

places like Jenin and Nablus. And, you know, there's been a lot of -- there's been combatants killed, there's been civilians killed, and a lot of

civilians killed, and people who have also been injured.


So, there's just -- yes, there's a lot of -- of a lot of fear right now and anger and frustration, and not really knowing where to take that.

SOARES: And of course, Israel says it was trying, Miriam, to prevent the attacks, and it was targeting three wanted militants. But as you've heard

us say, you know, nearly 500 people, according to Palestinian officials, were injured in the raid. What are locals telling you? What have you been


BERGER: So, there's been sort of -- over this past year, sort of a rise of new armed groups. Often very localized, young people, you know, with their

friends organizing in places like Nablus. You know, yesterday's raid was just happening during the day, so there were so many people who were just

out and about.

And you know, this is -- you know, as you said, this is a city that, you know, is known for its -- you know, historic old city, and was, you know,

bustling with its -- you, know, day-to-day. So, yes, people are quite afraid, and you know, these raids have been ongoing for quite a while. This

is just, you know, often there at night. And this was during the day.

SOARES: And like you said, we have seen increased raids, you know, in the West Bank. We've seen two this year alone in what's been a very violent

start to the year. We've seen that several Arab states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, as well as the UAE, have come out and condemned the Israeli

forces for that raid. Does condemnation go far enough for those who were seeing these raids with -- more frequently?

BERGER: You know, that's not really my place to comment. But you know, what I can say is sort of what's happening on the ground and what people

are facing. You know, there's -- so far this year, more than 60 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and

settlers. About some 11 Israelis have been killed as well in Palestinian attacks.

You know, this is a really high rate of killing so far for Palestinians. It's the highest since the end of the second Intifada. And so, this is

just, you know, in recent years, just an unprecedented level of violence, and that is something, you know, that is very much shaping the conversation

right now, happening amongst people in the West Bank.

SOARES: And the rise in this violence and these raids comes, of course, as we see the most right-wing government in Israel's history. How much,

Miriam, has this played a part in this, you think?

BERGER: You know, it seems that it definitely has. You know, I'll note that under -- it was sort of like a wide coalition government last year.

You had a very high number of Palestinians also killed. This is sort of when this operation breaking the wave -- Israelis started in the West Bank.

So, you know, it isn't just because of this government.

These have been policies that have been ongoing. But definitely, I mean, the -- you know, the National Security Minister Ben-Gvir has been, you

know, pushing for a lot of harsher policies against Palestinians. You know, he doesn't necessarily have a say in what's going on in the West Bank, but

you know, in east Jerusalem, there's already been an increase in house demolitions, and the rhetoric from these -- you know, from a lot of these

ministers, you know, have expressed wanting to annex the entire West Bank, and what not.

And so, there's, you know, a lot of -- there's been an escalation in that kind of talk from people who are now in power. And we've seen, so far,

quite a deadly start to the year. In addition to a high number of arrests, and wounded, and, you know, houses demolished and other kinds of

restrictions, and you know, issues in the daily life.

SOARES: Miriam Berger, really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. Thanks, Miriam.

BERGER: Thank you for having me.

SOARES: Well, I spoke earlier to the former president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who had fascinating insight, really, on both of our top

stories tonight. He told me that he understands why the West and Ukraine don't want to give an inch of territory to Russia. But he explained that

the crisis that's happening in Ukraine is not happening in a vacuum. Have a listen.


JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, FORMER COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT: I am afraid that the West or Europe and the United States is very strong, very united and as they

should be. But they are also not paying attention to other problems. So this war has in a way sucked the attention of the world from other

problems, mainly climate change, but also other conflicts.

There are more than 100 conflicts going on in the world, and nobody seems to care about them.

SOARES: Our attention clearly, as you said, has been focused on the war in Ukraine, and quite rightly so. But what else are world leaders neglecting

here, in terms of crises?


SANTOS: Well, many people are questioning what is considered a sort of a double standards. What happened in or is happening in Israel with the

Palestinians and the settlements, many countries in the south are saying, well, why is that not condemned? And why what is happening in Ukraine is

condemned? Both are violations of international law.


SOARES: Well, my full conversation with Juan Manuel Santos tomorrow, same time, of course, same place right here on CNN. But still to come tonight,

Ukraine's allies renewed their pledges of support for the Netherlands, says even greater steps will be necessary to hold Russia to account. I'll speak

to the Dutch foreign minister just ahead. You are watching CNN.


SOARES: Well, in central London, activists have painted a giant Ukrainian flag directly outside the doors of Russia's U.K. Embassy, marking one year

since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The group said they're hoping it will remind Vladimir Putin that Ukraine is an independent state with the right

to self determination.

Well, outside the British capital, Ukrainian troops are learning to handle some heavy battlefield weaponry. British Challenger 2 tanks, 14 of the

armored fighting vehicles are set to arrive on Ukraine's frontline in just few weeks, and for Ukraine, they can't come soon enough as I discovered.


SOARES (voice-over): Ukrainian servicemen training in the south of England. A seven-day crash course in Britain's Challenger 2 tanks due to

start arriving in Ukraine next month. Not typical recruits, these men are older, with more life experience preparing to take what they learned back

to the frontline.

"We have one goal, one objective, to liberate Ukraine", Alex tells us. A 24-year-old tank driver from Zaporizhzhia, he served in the military since


"We've gained a lot of experience," he says. "A little bit more and we will be ready to go home."

Britain has already given basic training and drone warfare to more than 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and have been training tank crews since January.

Like other Western countries, the U.K. pledged further military aid this week.

BEN WALLACE, U.K. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE: The key is to make sure we can maintain them through this year, as Russia uses sort of meat

grinder's tactic of its own, where the Russian army doesn't care about its own people; it just grinds through them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): That brutality on display along the front lines. And behind them, with Russian casualties mounting, as Moscow

presses on with its spring offensive, 14 British Challenger 2 battle tanks will start to arrive in Ukraine in the spring, according to the defense

ministry, with 14 more potentially on the way.

The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have a joint plan to send 100 Leopard 1A5 refurbished tanks. The U.S. has committed 31 of its Abrams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I definitely think it will give them an edge. I don't know about tipping the scales; hat's far beyond my scope, I

think. But with the technology compared to the Russian variants, the T-80s, T-90s and stuff like that, I think it's leaps and bounds ahead of their


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Now more than a year since the war began, these service members will hope the incoming hardware has a

devastating impact on the battlefield.


SOARES: Well, across the world, Ukraine's allies are standing united and telling Moscow that they will not back down.

On a visit to Kyiv, Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said, his country will soon send 10 Leopard 2 tanks, four more than originally

promised. And speaking in Brussels, NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg said, Russia's years of aggression must end.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We don't know when the war will end but what we do know is that, when the war ends, we need to ensure that

history does not repeat itself. This is part of a pattern; Georgia 2008 and Donbas, Crimea, in 2014.

And then the full-fledged invasion last year. We need to ensure that we break the cycle of Russian aggression.


SOARES: The NATO chief there.

Well, Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra has told the United Nations that Russia's aggression is slowly destroying Ukraine and that Moscow must

be held accountable. The Dutch foreign minister joins me now from the U.N.

Minister, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us. This week, we have seen really allies putting on a pretty powerful show of force

and unity. We've also heard from President Putin, though, who has signaled that this is not going to end anytime soon.

What would you say, what are your reflections, really, a year into this war?

WOPKE HOEKSTRA, DUTCH FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, first of all, ma'am, thank you very much for having me.

I think the most critical point to understand here is that there is actually no victory, there is no substitute for victory on the battlefield.

As when Ukraine is not able to sustain itself, if it's not able to push forward, it can never be successful at a negotiation table.

So it is up to us, to the Americans and the Europeans, to make sure we enhance (ph) them, we help them to stay strong on the battlefield, because

that actually gives them the best opportunity at a future negotiation table.

SOARES: Let's talk about enhancing them then, as you've laid out there, Minister. I've spoken to speak to the Lithuanians and the Poles, both of

whom have called for an increased sense of urgency, in terms of delivery of artillery and the pledged tank support to Ukraine.

What is taking so long?

HOEKSTRA: Well, indeed, and I think they're very right in articulating that the Ukrainians need all types of weaponry. But they also need, with

significant speed, because they're literally in the fight of their lives.

So it is up to us to make sure we not only get these things to them but we get them there as fast as possible. That's our obligation, that's our

incentive and it's precisely what we're working on. When talking about ammunition, when talking about high caliber weapons, when talking about

tanks, that's what we're currently doing.

SOARES: Is it a supply issue?

Is it really manufacturing issue?

HOEKSTRA: Well, it is a combination of all. But, frankly speaking, you know, on the one hand, we've all done a very good job in anticipating and

responding to Ukrainian requests in the last 12 months.


HOEKSTRA: At the same time, when we look back, I would've wished us to start -- to have started the tank conversation actually even earlier,

because that would've mattered today on the battlefield for our Ukrainian friends.

SOARES: What about starting a conversation earlier about jets?

Because both the Poles and the Lithuanians say they back it.

Do you think, Minister, it's a question now of when rather than if?

HOEKSTRA: Well, of course, it's a very sensitive discussion. And what I've articulated and what the Netherlands has articulated before is that, from

our perspective, there are no taboos.

But what we do need to take into account is that it's actually best to have these type of very sensitive conversations first, with each other, behind

closed doors. And naturally, when you're talking about this type of weaponry, it's something that we would always do together with our allies.

So this is a discussion we're having with our North American friends and our European friends. And once we reach a conclusion, that's the moment to

actually share that with the rest of the world.

SOARES: Understood.

And we heard from President Biden, Minister, in Warsaw this week. Of course, following his trip to -- surprise visit to Ukraine, that Putin had

unleashed what he said a murderous assault on Ukraine.

From what I understand, you want to set up a criminal tribunal against Putin. Just talk to us about when this could begin and what it would


HOEKSTRA: Well, first, let me say that it was fantastic the president was there, because it is a very important signal to the world that the U.S.

stays committed in full. That means a lot to the world at large but, of course, also to Ukrainians.

The thing is, when we talk about accountability, yes, on the one hand, you know, the very first thing we need to do is make sure the Ukrainians are

going to win this war. But when this is all said and done, it is of tremendous importance that we show to the world, that we show to survivors,

basically, we show to prosperity that, you know, this is not acceptable.

And that, like we did in the case of Nuremberg, like we did in the case of Tokyo, we show that justice will be done. We are doing that through the

Ukrainian prosecutors themselves. We do that through the ICC.

But in order to make sure that the crime of aggression, what some call the mother of all crimes and the evasion, the thing that started the war, for

that, actually, we might as well need a special tribunal. And we've articulated that we're willing to contribute to making sure that such a

tribunal will come into existence, will see the light.

SOARES: And could president Vladimir Putin ever stand trial, Minister?

HOEKSTRA: Sorry, I couldn't copy.

SOARES: Just asking whether you think that president Vladimir Putin would ever stand trial.

HOEKSTRA: Well, you know, it is, in the end, it is up to the legal experts and to the court to say who they want to prosecute and how they want to go

about it.

But for me, one thing is crystal clear: it is not just the Russian army; it's clearly Kremlin leadership and Putin, in the very first place, who's

responsible for all the horrors that we see, for all the aggression, for the rape, for the murder, for the abduction of children, the most horrific

things. And that is where the leadership is. That's where the responsibility lies.

SOARES: Foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra, really appreciate your taking the time to speak us. Thank you, sir.

HOEKSTRA: Thank you, ma'am, thank you.

SOARES: Still to come right here tonight, we head to the war here in CNN London's studio for an in-depth look at the front line in the war. That is






SOARES: Welcome back, everyone.

It's the evening of the first anniversary of Russia's war in Ukraine and we wanted to take you to the battered town of Vuhledar in the southeast there.

The area has been under heavy Russian attack for weeks. CNN's Alex Marquardt has an exclusive look inside.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This fight for Vuhledar right now is one of the most important and

difficult in the country. While the fight for Bakhmut is largely symbolic, this is a very strategic fight for both sides.

Vuhledar is unique and that it sits at the intersection of two main active fronts in Ukraine, the southern and the eastern front. That is why Russia

wants to try to push through here to launch an offense into Donbas.

It is believed that this is one of their shaping operations, the beginning of a larger offensive to come in the next few weeks.

But they are struggling very badly right now. They have lost a huge amount of men and armored vehicles as they try to cross fields, including

minefields, where the Ukrainians have been able to inflict a huge amount of damage on their troops.

At the same time, the Russians are absolutely pummeling this town. You can see all around me, these are soviet-era apartment blocks now largely empty,

the residents have fled and almost every single one destroyed in varying degrees. All of the windows have been blown out. Craters here in the ground

where children used to play.

Ukrainians have the benefit of the higher ground here and these buildings to use in the fighting. But as with so many of the battles here in Eastern

Ukraine, it is a fight of attrition, who can hold out the longest.

The Ukrainian side saying they need more ammunition to be able to keep the Russians at bay, to keep them from advancing -- Alex Marquardt, CNN,

Vuhledar, in Eastern Ukraine.


SOARES: Well, I'm joined now by Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at RUSI and a friend, of course, of the show.

Great to have you back. Now we saw there, Alex Marquardt, that exclusive report right here in Vuhledar. Just explain to us the importance, the

strategic importance, primarily, of Vuhledar for the Russians. For so long, we've been focusing on Bakhmut.

NEIL MELVIN, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, RUSI: Yes, essentially since November last year, we've seen the lines largely static.

We saw a little bit of fighting around Bakhmut, an intensified competition to control that town.

In the last two weeks, the Russians have launched their long awaited offensive. And Vuhledar is one of the towns they are trying to capture.

What they're trying to do, I think, is have a three pronged offensive, to really enclose this space here, which is Donbas.

So Vuhledar is one of them, Bakhmut is the second one. And just up here, Kreminna, is the third one. This is where the Russian forces are now trying

to grind the Ukrainians back. And in Vuhledar, they put a lot of troops in there and they've suffered a lot of losses, actually, you see --


SOARES: Let me give up you as a close-up of that because I think that's really important. What we have seen is Crimea, you were saying Luhansk,

Bakhmut -- we've seen a lot of the fighting in Bakhmut, of course, over the last several months.

Today, we've seen video of Prigozhin, who leads the Wagner group, in Bakhmut.

What are you expecting to see in the coming weeks?

Because in the last 24-48 hours, he was complaining he didn't have the weaponry. Now it seems he's got it.

So in terms of an offensive, what will that look like?

MELVIN: Well, during the winter, Prigozhin and his forces, which are these Wagner private security forces, they were focusing on Bakhmut. And they

were really, I think -- it was part of a political play that Prigozhin was trying to make at that point, where he was challenging the Russian ministry

of defense, trying to say, you're not doing enough.

Look, we can actually make progress here. It looks like he may have had his wings clipped a little bit, because the ministry of defense cut him off

from artillery supplies. Now they seem to have reinstated that relationship.

So I think we are going to see him more part of this coordinated effort to have this three pronged push now, where you see troops coming down here,

Bakhmut here and up from Vuhledar. This is the Russian -- is to take this area here, the Donbas.


MELVIN: This is the minimum sort of point of victory, I think, for Putin to claim that the war has been worth it, if they can control that


SOARES: Do we know how many Wagner group soldiers there are there?

Do we have an idea how many Ukrainians are in this area?

Can you give us an idea of size?

MELVIN: Well, I think we know that, around Vuhledar, there are at least two brigades of Russian troops. And each brigade --


MELVIN: -- is about 4,000 troops. So this is -- they've been focusing here. We don't really know on the Wagner side because, in fact, what we've

seen is massive losses. They had this human wave warfare for much of the winter. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Wagner troops are being killed.

So they're also trying to reconstitute. But even just in Vuhledar, some of the intelligence assessments last week, the Russians may have lost 3,000

troops, alone, in the assault that has taken place there. So although there's a lot to --


SOARES: Where are they getting everyone?

The Russians, where are all these men coming from?

MELVIN: Well, during the winter, they mobilized 300,000 troops. So the winter was really trying to reconstitute the forces that they lost when --


SOARES: Back here into the wider (ph), yes.

MELVIN: Yes, when the Ukrainians broke through, as we saw, when they came in Kherson here and Kharkiv in the winter months.

So the Russians have been building up these forces. And now this is what's starting to drive this long offensive here.

But then they're putting a lot of troops in there, making very little progress. So their trading lives for small amounts of territory. And that's

what the Ukrainians are really trying to do. The Ukrainians are keeping their elite forces back. They're looking to do the offensive perhaps around

April. And as we heard, some of these tanks, armored vehicles --


SOARES: Might be arriving --

MELVIN: -- might be arriving --

SOARES: -- like the British ones that we saw today.

MELVIN: They are trying to absorb this pressure all along this front. And we've seen, actually, the Ukrainians also mobilizing people, quite old (ph)

people. I mean, we've got people who are in their 60s now in this area, sort of trying to resist the Russians.

SOARES: Let's leave Donbas and the east for a second. Let's focus on the south, because the bridge that you and I discussed several months back in

Crimea, that is open.

What's the importance of that?

I mean, is there still an interest from the West?

Do they still believe they can reclaim Crimea?

MELVIN: I mean, realistically, it's going to be a long shot, I think, for the Ukrainians to reclaim Crimea, at least this year. But it's very

important that they put pressure on Crimea. So there must be an option, I think, for the Ukrainians to pivot their forces, to perhaps break down into

this area in the spring.

Keep the Russians guessing.

Will they then come this way, will they move up that way?

And to try and attack these northern parts of Crimea, where the Russians have already dug in. But actually getting into Crimea is very difficult.

You can see, I think here, there's a lot of marshland. There is only really two land groups; either come in on this side or on this side. And the

Russians are waiting. They've been digging in now. The bridge is open, of course; they can resupply their forces.

But what the Ukrainians do have now is a new generation of weapons that the West has supplied --


MELVIN: -- the U.S. that will allow them to actually hit parts of Crimea, even from this front lines --

SOARES: -- for longer range missiles --

MELVIN: -- they can get here already, yes.


Let me ask my team, my director, just play a little video. I think it's really important for our viewers to see. It's an animated video of the

gains and the losses over the year. And as it plays out, you can see the color shifting, you know, ever so slightly.

Do you think, Neil, that, actually in reality, either side can claim a win?

That they are winning right now, given how little it has changed, this map?

MELVIN: I mean, at the moment, it looks a bit like a stalemate. And this is, I think, the concern we saw today -- Secretary of State for Defence in

the U.K., Ben Wallace, talking about a year before we can expect the Ukrainians to possibly win.

That could be raising concern, I think, in many countries about whether the West can sustain that kind of commitment. Certainly, it's quite likely that

Ukrainians can make significant territorial gains by pushing down into this area.

In the springtime, they will be looking perhaps to come around here, as I say, to pivot either one of these ways. But to push the Russians out of all

of this territory and Crimea --

SOARES: They've got so much to focus.


MELVIN: -- it's very difficult and the Russians, as I say, they've got at least 300,000 troops. It's a lot of people. So even if the Ukrainians can

break through, there's a lot of defensive lines, a lot of Russian forces that are standing in their way.

SOARES: Neil, always great. Appreciate it.

MELVIN: Thanks so much.

SOARES: Thank you very much.

And still to come right here tonight, a tale of two winters. Some parts of the U.S. are getting snowed under while others are seeing record heat. We

will show you, next.





SOARES: The Pentagon has released this photo of an American spyplane flying next to the suspected Chinese spy balloon.

And you can see here on the pilot's selfie, the shadow of the plane on the balloon, as well as its payload. The U.S. spotted the balloon last month

and shot it down several days later, after it flew across the country. Debris from the balloon is being studied at an FBI lab.

We are seeing extreme weather in the U.S., with historic conditions coast to coast, really. And as some parts of the country get hit by massive

blizzards, others are dealing with a heat wave. It is creating an unusual temperature difference, you can see on the map, right across the United


Dozens of states from California to Minnesota through Maine are dealing with winter weather alerts, heavy snow as well as power outages. A rare

tornado even hit the state of New Jersey.

But in the Southeast, high temperatures would make you believe we are in the month of June.

Well, I want to bring in Adrienne Broaddus, who's in the Upper Midwest in Minnesota.

And Adrienne, I can just make out you, a lot of snow.

How much more snow are we expecting?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hopefully the snow has stopped. It's tapered off. It's still blowing a little bit and, yes, I'm on what I like

to call a big snow mountain. I'm going to walk toward you, so you can see a little bit of what's happening here in Bloomington, Minnesota, also known

as the Twin Cities.

This is normally a sidewalk. If you look up there, you can see the sign letting people know that this is a crosswalk. But no one is walking along

this sidewalk. Right now, I will tell you, it is about 15 degrees but it feels more like -2.

The layers are key to our survival. The roads, still a little bit dicey; travel, nearly impossible overnight, because the visibility was reduced.

Across the state of Minnesota, for example, there were more than 350 crashes since the start of this winter storm. At least 31 of those crashes

resulted in injury.

One injury was serious, according to local authorities here. And about 275 vehicles ended up off the roads, so not only have the plow trucks across

the state been busy but some of those tow drivers, too.

The advice for folks in Minnesota and other parts of the Midwest, if you don't have to go out today, stay inside because, as you see here, this car

is rolling along just fine. But it's a little slick on the roadways.


SOARES: Yes, I've seen some cars behind you clearly not hearing, nor heeding the advice, Adrienne.

But what about power?

How many houses are we looking at here without power?

What are people telling you?

BROADDUS: I think you asked me, what about power?

There are some people in some parts of the Midwest that are without power. Keep in mind, this is a storm that impacted more than 60 million people.

Here in the area where we are, there are no reports of power outages.

The big challenge here in Minnesota is not only the snow but also, like, for example, in Illinois and Michigan, the ice. So in Michigan, there are a

lot of downed power lines and a lot of power outages.

SOARES: Adrienne, really appreciate it, thank you very much. Stay warm, at least try to.

And finally, tonight, astronomers have made a galactic discovery using the James Webb space telescope. The telescope spotted six massive galaxies that

existed between 500 million and 700 million years after, of course, the Big Bang, when the universe was actually formed.

These galaxies are so colossal, in fact, that scientists are rethinking how they formed, as well as how they evolved. Astronomy professor Joel Leja

from Penn State University describes them this way, "Universe breakers, they have been living up to their name so far."

And that is for sure, as we saw in those pictures.

That does it for me tonight, thank you very much for your company. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" with Richard Quest is next. I shall see you tomorrow, bye-