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New Day Saturday
Pres. Biden Meets with Polish President To Discuss Ukraine Ahead Of "Major Address"; Ukraine Retakes Territory On Eastern Outskirts Of Kyiv; Ukraine Tells U.S. It Needs 500 Javelins And 500 Stingers Per Day; U.S. Readout Obtained By CNN Offers Rare Insight Into Russian General Thinking; Teen Dies After Falling From Florida Amusement Park Ride. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired March 26, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Buenos dias. Good morning and welcome to your "New Day." It is Saturday, March 26th. I'm Boris Sanchez.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christi Paul. Thank you so much for spending time with us this morning. Our colleague Wolf Blitzer joining us from Warsaw, Poland where President Biden is now meeting with Polish President Duda.
Wolf, it's so good to have you there and get your perspective on all of this. Talk to us about what we just saw a couple of moments ago going into this meeting. And how pivotal this meeting is in determining what the U.S. next steps are.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it really, and a pivotal moment in this war in Ukraine. Good morning, Christi and Boris.
We're watching history unfold here in Warsaw right now, the President of United States he's preparing to speak to the very, very high stakes of Russia's brutal war against Ukraine. Moments ago, you're right, the President arrived for the meeting with the Polish president, President Duda to discuss the escalating refugee crisis and the response of the United States and its NATO allies.
Later today, President Biden will deliver what the White House is calling a major address on Ukraine, on the war, what the conflict means for the world, what it means for the refugees don't be meaning, by the way, with Ukrainian refugees and American humanitarian workers in the course of this morning, as well. It's all so, so critically important. At the same time Ukrainian forces say they're going on the counterattack around the capital of Kyiv. A U.S. official says Russian troops are in a defensive position right now, at least in some territories, and Ukrainian forces appear to have retaken territory to the east of the capital of Kyiv.
Let's get all the light breaking developments here in Warsaw, our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins has been with us all day. She's going to be with us for the -- throughout all of this coverage.
You're at the presidential palace right now. The President of United States, the President of Poland, they're about to start what is called a restricted bilateral meeting and then be expanded to include other topics.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And just momentously President Biden and President Duda sitting side by side, Wolf as they are going in. They -- you saw this formal welcome that President Biden got here where they played the U.S. national anthem, the Polish national anthem there, the tables are prepared for President Biden and President Duda to sit down with their top aides, including Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, as well. A lot of this will be the U.S. reaffirming their commitment to helping Poland with the humanitarian crisis. They're playing a major role in and helping with the humanitarian crisis, obviously caused by Russia.
And so, millions of the refugees who have fled Ukraine have come here to Poland, it has created issues for Poland. Of course, they need help, they say welcoming these people, though they say they don't view them as refugees, as President Duda said yesterday, when they were getting a briefing with the officials who are on the ground, working with a lot of these refugees, he said they view them as guests, they view them as brothers and sisters talking about how they obviously want to help them as they are fleeing this Russian invasion.
And so, one interesting part of yesterday, what you saw where President Biden was with President Duda was in Jezow (ph), that has been not only a place where they are talking to refugees on the ground, talking to humanitarian officials, who are helping run points on this. It's also become one of the main hubs for getting that Western military aid into Ukraine. That has been a big aspect of this. And it's been one of the key roles that the United States has played is in giving Ukraine these defensive weapons, these anti air missile -- air -- anti-aircraft missiles, these anti-tank missiles. That has been a key part of this.
But you're seeing the latter half of President Biden's trip really focus on the human toll that this invasion has taken and what that has caused. And of course, that is something that is going to be long standing. That's not something that's going to change anytime soon, because while many of these Ukrainians are hopeful about returning home, obviously it's a very long time away, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they're meeting at the presidential palace, which is not very far from where we are right now. Right now, here in Warsaw. Then they're going to be heading to this football stadium, this new football stadium here in Warsaw to meet with the refugees. This will be a powerful, very emotional moment and experience for the President of United States to see more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Poland by 300,000 we're told are here in the capital of Warsaw right now. Many of them will be there. The President will have an opportunity to sit down and hear some of the stories from the mostly women and children and grandparents, older people because the men between the ages of 18 and 60 are still over there in Ukraine. They're fighting, and they're not really supposed to leave the country at least right now.
COLLINS: No, they're not allowed. If you are a male, aged 18 to 60, you are not allowed to leave Ukraine right now. So you're seeing these families split apart, not only if they've been forced out of their homes, brought here with only the clothes on their back, essentially, after making this very arduous journey. A lot of them are also without brothers, husbands, uncles and whatnot, who had to remain in Ukraine, obviously to fight.
And so, that is going to be a big aspect of this. It is notable President Biden will be coming face to face with these Ukrainian refugees here in Poland, not in Ukraine. Yesterday, he said he wanted to go to Ukraine to see this firsthand, to see the war and the invasion of clothes. But he indicated that he wasn't allowed for security purposes. Obviously, it is an act of war zone. And White House officials when asked if President Biden had planned to go to Ukraine on this trip, essentially ruled it out saying it was just much too difficult.
And so, he will get to meet with Ukrainian refugees, though here when he does wrap up his meeting with President Duda. That we should see President Duda and President Biden any moment now on camera, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And we'll see if they make any statements and answer some reporters' questions right at the top of their bilateral meeting. We're watching it closely. Kaitlan is going to be with us all day as we watch history unfold here in Warsaw.
Right now, I want to go to Ukraine. A senior U.S. defense official says Russian forces are in these defensive positions, at least around the capital of Kyiv. They've stopped repeat stops their ground movements toward the city.
CNN's Phil Black is joining us from the Lviv right now and in western Ukraine.
Phil, intense fighting still ongoing and several other directions around the capital, certainly elsewhere in Ukraine right now. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What's the latest?
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Russian military says that it hit key Ukrainian targets overnight, its cruise missiles striking and destroying a weapons warehouse and a fuel depot. That matches recent Western intelligence assessments which say that Russia will continue to fire from afar with its airpower and its artillery because its ground forces have been struggling, as you say that has been particularly noticeable this week, as Ukrainian forces have mounted counter attacks in key locations. And with some success, notably out around the capital Kyiv.
Now, a senior Russian General has made comments which suggests much of what we've seen from Russia so far in this war, has in fact, been a deliberate diversion, a distraction and attempt to divide and weaken Ukraine's forces. He says that Russia isn't interested in storming cities, it is simply approaching them in circling them in order to tie down Ukrainian forces. So that now that is done, it can focus on what it really cares about, which he says, is the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. This is all very different to what Western governments and experts believe Russia has been trying to achieve here. The common assessment is that Russia believed it could essentially win a lightning invasion within just a few days very quickly taking the capital, that hasn't happened.
So in that context, it is difficult to accept these latest explanations at face value. They could simply be an explanation, or messaging, if you like to a Russian domestic audience over the limited recent progress on the ground by the Russian military. It could be yet another diversion, or there is a theory that suggests it could be a reassessment of some kind by Russia about what could be realistically achievable here on the ground based upon what they've been able to do so far.
Ukraine and the world, we are looking to see if Russia does change its tactics in the coming days, Wolf.
BLITZER: We will be watching together with you Phil Black in Ukraine for us, Phil, thank you very, very much.
Once again, the President is set to meet with Ukrainian refugees here in Warsaw as well as U.S. humanitarian workers to witness this crisis firsthand. The -- it will be a very emotional moment for this President of the United States.
Right now, more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have actually fled Russia's violent assault on Ukraine. And over half of them more than 2 million of them have come here to Poland. They're registered as refugees now in Poland.
CNN's Melissa Bell is at a train station for us along the border. Melissa, what are you seeing over there?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is one of their first stops as they see from Ukraine. This -- the train station in Przemysl, we've been here now a couple of weeks we've often and you're quite right it is emotional for anyone who witnesses these scenes who comes face to face with these refugees. Because you can only put yourself in their shoes, what do you leave with when you have to leave your home, you leave with what you can carry, your children. You leave with a bag or two and often pets. We've seen a lot of those amongst the belongings that the refugees have with them.
Now they've been coming through here to Przemysl station and it continues, as you can see, a trains just arrived from Odessa. And as you'll see as well on these pictures will first show you around the train station. These are the scenes day and night, as the trains come in more than one month after this conflict began. You're seeing the elderly, the disabled women and children coming with what little they have. Now, also, I'm going to show you the extraordinary setup that there is in here, these volunteers that have come and that are here again, day and night, ordinary people, NGOs, who stepped into the breach ready because the sheer number of people who are coming through this station in the first few days in the first few weeks, and that continue to come through were simply too great for any government to be able to step into that breach.
And so, this organization has been set up to deal in a town of some 60,000 people Wolf. In the first few days they were seeing 50,000 refugees come through places like this train station or the border crossing, that's not very far away. That's now fallen a bit, but you're still seeing thousands and thousands of people arrive with what little they have every single day. The logistics of dealing with that naturally vulnerable populations, people who arrive with nothing, you need to be fed, clothed, watered, heated up, given some warmth and some hope.
And of course, the more time as possible we've been talking about people coming from further and further in Ukraine, who've had to flee some of the besieged towns, the scenes of such extraordinary violence, and who therefore carry with them, not just their meager belongings, but the great trauma of what it is they've been running from, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very, very emotional moments indeed coming up for the President of the United States. And Melissa as I say, when he sees firsthand what you've been seeing, not for days, and days and days, these thousands and thousands of refugees crossing from Ukraine, into Poland, to Romania to other countries along the border with basically a wheelie suitcase. And that's about it, they don't have much, they've left everything behind. President will get to experience that.
Kaitlan is with us as well. And we know President Biden he gets emotional with these kinds of moments.
COLLINS: He is and when he ran for office, remember that was a big thing that we talked about was his empathy. That is a factor that his allies obviously say believe works in his favor. And this is something where the President, you know, he has a lot of experience with Ukraine. This was his portfolio when he was vice president he was dealing with, obviously, when Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
And so, all of this is playing into what the President his background is it and when he was talking yesterday about how he's disappointed he said, that was the word that he used, that he can't actually go into Ukraine. A lot of that he said he wanted to be able to meet with these women and men, these Ukrainians who have been displaced from their homes who have had to flee and have had their lives have been touched by this invasion.
And so, I think that will be an aspect of it. And you notice the White House is blocked off several hours for President Biden to go and meet with these refugees. It'll be here in Warsaw at the stadium nearby, not just far from where Wolf and I are sitting here. And the President's obviously goal there is just to talk to them, that we will see that we will have reporters in the room as he is there to speaking with them. But I think that's been a big aspect of this. And that's why the White House waited until this trip, they wanted to announce that the United States is going to take up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. They're pledging these hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance, humanitarian assistance to help them because of what's happened here.
And so, I think that's been a big aspect. So much of this is obviously focused on the security and military assistance part of this, the humanitarian and highlighting the toll that this invasion has taken on people's are big part of this well.
BLITZER: Yes, U.S. is going to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, which is for the U.S. a big deal, but Poland has already taken in more than 2 million --
BLITZER: -- Ukrainian refugees. And they've been told they can say at least for three years without any problem and get medical benefits, all sorts of other benefits. You got to give the Polish people a lot of credit for that.
BLITZER: Kaitlan's going to be with us. We're standing by, we're waiting to hear we think from the President, United States President of Poland, they've got a photo up at the top of their bilateral meeting. We'll have coverage of that that's coming up.
I also want to bring in our military analysts, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. Also the former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, he was also the Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations up.
You know, Ambassador Volker, the President stopped by a meeting earlier between top U.S. and Ukrainian officials. Could these face to face meetings spur the U.S. to provide the additional support that the Ukrainians are pleading for right now, specifically, more weapons?
KURT VOLKER, FMR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, I think it could have an impact because a couple of things first off, to hear directly from them, how things are going on the ground, what they see what they need, I think that will have an impact on our leaders. And in addition to that, what you're reporting as well, that the Ukrainians have been quite successful in blocking the Russian ground defensive, pushing back a little bit and now the Russians using this kind of statements as we heard to provide a political cover if you will, for not focusing on the major cities anymore and only focusing on the east.
This is tremendous progress. And it is reason why we should be pouring on the gas now. And helping Ukrainians push back as hard as they can.
BLITZER: You know, General Marks, the -- this morning the Russians are claiming new military strikes, but they're pushing on Kyiv, the capital is clearly stalled. Where do you -- what's your assessment? Where do things stand on the ground a month into this war in Ukraine?
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, it's very difficult Wolf to describe who's winning and who's losing or what the inevitable outcome might look like. What I would describe right now in military terms is this is a stalemate in that the Ukrainians have really taken the offensive, taking the initiative away from the Russians, they're now setting the tone of the engagement, which is phenomenal. And in tactical terms, how that will operationally play out remains to be seen over the course of the next weeks. But the Russians at the same time, who are refusing to engage the Ukrainians in ground combat, because they're getting kicked around the battlefield, they're losing when they have to engage directly.
So they're stepping back and they're resorting to these terror tactics that we've been describing for several weeks, which are dumb bombs, artillery and rockets and going after stationary targets, churches and hospitals and schools and apartment buildings. This is not the art of war. This is simply a brutal approach toward, you know, causing some type of a political instinct that makes no sense right now.
So when you take all of that, in balance, you realize Ukrainians are gaining tremendously, but the Russians are still able to create this incredible damage.
BLITZER: I'm curious Ambassador Volker, what you think some of these Polish proposals that had been floated out there. I wonder and basically, the U.S. is basically said to, no, we're not interested. We don't think that's necessarily a good idea. But one part specific proposal that was put out there was having some sort of NATO peacekeeping force deployed to Ukraine. What's your assessment of that?
VOLKER: Well, I don't think that that's very likely to happen. I think that creating or helping Ukrainians create some safe space in Ukraine, for the receipt of humanitarian assistance and its distribution in Ukraine. I think that's a very doable and worthy activity. If we don't have a NATO consensus to do it, it could be done under a UN auspices, or it could be done just as a coalition of countries at the invitation of the Ukrainians.
As far as a peacekeeping force goes, I think we're really where we're at a stage. And what the Ukrainians want to do is push the Russian forces back. And that's not going to be a peacekeeping operation, that's going to be a Ukrainian military operation. And as we heard Spider say, the Russians retain the ability to bombard Ukrainian cities. So the Ukrainians want to push them back as far as the tent and pushing them back to the east. That might be achievable there, the Russians have tighter supply lines, they are over extended trying to get to Kyiv or some of these other places.
So, this is a moment for the Ukrainians to push back.
BLITZER: But on that point, General Marks if the Ukrainian military is going to be successful and pushing the Russians back, they're going to need a whole lot more equipment provided by the U.S. and the other NATO allies, right?
MARKS: Completely. You know, this meeting in Poland could have been, it could have been far different. This could have been the administration of the last rites. And it's far from that right. The Ukrainians have achieved such incredible success right now. This is the moment as Ambassador Volker just said, this is a moment to really lean in, reinforced that success. The pipeline exists, the procedures, you know, into the details of how this logistics and supply really works have been well-established forward presence of NATO in Poland or Romania.
So those handoff points are now established. And it just needs to be reinforced. So the pipeline stays really, really robust going forward to give the Ukrainians exactly what they need, in spite really (INAUDIBLE). So it's not surprising, and it's (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Kaitlan, you and I, we've spent a couple of days now here in Warsaw. You've had an opportunity. I've had a little bit of an opportunity to walk around and get a feel for what's going on in this capital city of Poland right now. And you've seen some pretty remarkable developments.
COLLINS: Yes. It has been just notable to be here on the ground. You know, yesterday, President Biden was about 60 miles away when he was having these meetings --
BLITZER: Sixty miles from Ukraine?
COLLINS: Sixty miles from the border of Ukraine.
COLLINS: Having these meetings, meeting face to face with a lot of the U.S. forces are here, that's been a big aspect of this trip as well is this effort to potentially establish what could end up being a more permanent position here, a more permanent, larger force posture. And as President Biden was saying, yesterday, there's about 100,000, U.S. servicemembers in Europe, that has not been seen in some time, those numbers are really remarkable. And U.S. officials don't seem to be telegraphing that that's changing anytime soon.
And so seeing that presence also will be really notable, I think and whether or not it stays like that.
BLITZER: Yes. And let me just get Ambassador Volker, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. If you see, you will see now about 100,000 as Kaitlan points out U.S. troops here in Europe, it wasn't that long ago, I don't know. When you were ambassador to NATO, there may have been what 60, 70,000, 50,000 U.S. troops that's really expanded dramatically has it?
VOLKER: It has. And you're about right, those were the numbers when I was there, and that was about 14 years ago. Since then, during the Obama and Trump administrations, we drew down even lower, we were probably in a range of 30 to 35,000. So this is a dramatic ramp up. And it's important because what it is showing is that NATO's commitment to collective defense to protect all of the allies, including the Baltic states, including Poland, including Romania, it is serious, it is robust in its resource.
So, Russia is going to know that it's not going to go any further than attacking Ukraine. And that's not going well. We have to make sure that Putin does stop there. So he knows that he has no option, no possibility of attacking any NATO countries successfully.
BLITZER: Yes. And for those of us who thought the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991, that was the end of the Cold War, may have been the end of the Cold War for a while. But that Cold War has come back pretty dramatically right now. Hundred thousand U.S. troops, and the President met with members of the 82nd Airborne Division, only yesterday about 60 miles or so from the Ukrainian border. That was a significant statement in and of itself.
Major General Spider Marks, Ambassador Kurt Volker, to both of you thank you very, very much.
Kaitlan is going to be with me for the rest of the day I think. We've got a lot of stuff going on. We're standing by for live coverage of the President's meeting with the Polish president, President Duda that's expected shortly we expect that to come and we'll have that.
Plus a lot more. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our coverage of this historic day when we come back.
SANCHEZ: We're still following the latest developments from President Biden's visit to Poland where in the next hour the President is set to meet with some Ukrainian refugees, as the Russian assault in Eastern Europe continues with no immediate end in sight.
Joining us now is a lawmaker who visited the Ukrainian Polish border earlier this month, Congresswoman Susan Wild, she's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.
Congresswoman Wild, we appreciate you sharing part of your weekend with us. I want to get your thoughts first on the Polish proposition to have a more expanded and more permanent NATO presence in that country. Poland is also pushed for a peacekeeping force to be sent into Ukraine. Your response to those ideas.
REP. SUSAN WILD (D-PA): Good morning, Boris. Thanks for having me.
You know, I just was it obvious exactly where the President has recently been just a few weeks -- weekends ago. And I know he's meeting with refugees today. And he's going to find that to be a very moving experience. I know that I did. Poland deserves to have the full support of NATO. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty in response to this crisis. I saw it firsthand. I saw the Polish government responding very, very well, but also Polish citizens, who were literally driving up to the border to offer the Ukrainian refugees' refuge in their homes.
So we as part of NATO and all of NATO need to do as much as we possibly can to help Poland as well as Ukraine. We know the history here. Poland has itself been invaded by Russia, and we've got or by the Soviet Union, and we must make sure that that the Poland is safe as well as Ukraine.
SANCHEZ: Congresswoman, you signed onto a bipartisan letter this week, urging the administration to do more, to help Ukrainian refugees. The White House announced they'd taken up to 100,000 from Ukraine. What more needs to be done to help these people fleeing this invasion?
WILD: Well, let me just say, I think we are we and the other NATO allies are doing a tremendous amount in the way of humanitarian aid and military assistance. I know that the President announced that 100,000 refugees would be admitted. I think the idea is that the initial wave will be to join Ukrainian family members who are here in the United States. My district has a large number of them, and I have been very much in touch with that community. I think it's a great first step.
I think that ultimately, we are going to need to accept more refugees. But keep in mind because of proximity, most of the Ukrainians who are fleeing, would prefer to stay in Europe and be closer to Ukraine so that they can return to their homeland if and when it is safe, and they have a lawn rebuilding process ahead. That's for sure.
SANCHEZ: Congresswoman, Ukrainian officials say they need 500 javelin and 500 Stinger missiles a day, a day to keep up this fight.
You were under the impression last month that Poland's offer of sending some old Soviet jets, some MiG 29s to Ukraine, that was still ago. The Pentagon turned it down. Is it time to revisit that idea? Can the West keep up with some of these requests from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
WILD: Boris, let me just say, I'm not a military expert, but I was there in a bipartisan group of members of Congress, and yes, when we left Poland, we were under the clear impression that those MiGs were going to be transferred from Poland into Ukraine. When we got back, we learned that Poland decided that they wanted to transfer them first to the United States to our airbase in Germany. And that's where the deal fell apart.
And I -- we all felt that those mates needed to be transferred. I wouldn't have won the war for the Ukrainians necessarily, but it absolutely was something that President Zelenskyy was asking for. And I still would like to see that happen.
Having said that, I'm aware of the request for the javelins and stinger missiles. We need to provide as much as we can, and every single NATO country needs to help out. I don't know whether we have the capacity to provide that many. As I said, I'm not the military expert here, but we need to do everything we can. But at the same time, we're going to have to make sure that we are protecting the countries around Ukraine, which of course, are the potential next target by Russia.
So it's always a -- you know, we have to plan ahead. We have to be strategic about this. But I am in full support of providing as much assistance to Ukraine as we possibly can.
SANCHEZ: And Ukrainian officials would be happy to get it. They say they need all the assistance. They can get their hands on. Congresswoman Susan Wild --
SANCHEZ: -- we appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
WILD: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: New Day is back in just a few moments. Stay with us.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Poland where President Biden is getting ready. Actually, he has been meeting already with the Polish President Andrzej Duda. It's an important meeting to determine the nature of what happens next as far as Poland and the U.S. concerned in the war in Ukraine. The two Presidents are meeting to discuss also the refugee crisis and the response of the U.S. and its allies.
President Biden will also meet with Ukrainian refugees and American humanitarian workers. There was a form of arrival ceremony. We're showing your viewer some pictures earlier today at the presidential palace not far from where we are here in Warsaw.
As the war enters its second month, Russia says the first stage of the war is over. This is what Russia claims, but their advances clearly have stalled in some critically important areas. And now, a senior U.S. defense official tells CNN Ukrainian forces have been trying recently to regain territory from the Russians. This is potentially a very, very significant.
Christi and Boris, we're watching all of this unfold. We anticipate some -- we anticipate getting perhaps some statements from the President of the United States, the President of Poland, and then they'll be heading over to this football stadium not far from where we are to meet with these Ukrainian refugees.
PAUL: Wold, we're so grateful that you're there that you could bring us all of that, firsthand, there in Warsaw. Thank you so much.
SANCHEZ: Thanks, Wolf. PAUL: We're going to be with you throughout the rest of the day.
Also, I want to tell you about the CNN exclusive, an inside look at a Russian military leaders, quote, outburst, while meeting with U.S. military officials last week.
SANCHEZ: According to a readout of the meeting obtained by CNN, U.S. officials described what they viewed as a revealing moment from this Russian general. CNN's Barbara Starr has more.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Russia's war in Ukraine stalled and the U.S. sane morale is a problem for Russian forces, CNN has learned of a rare meeting in Moscow between U.S. and Russian military officials, which according to a U.S. readout of the meeting contained a, quote, revealing moment from Russian Major General Yevgeny Ilyin, a general with extensive experience dealing with Americans.
As the meeting ended, the readout says, an attache on the U.S. side casually asked about Ilyin's family roots in Ukraine. According to the readout, the U.S. official said that general's stoic demeanor suddenly became flushed and agitated. Ilyin replied he was born in Ukraine and went to school in Donetsk. And then said, according to the readout, the situation in Ukraine is tragic, and I am very depressed over it before walking out without shaking hands. The attache wrote in the readout, "The fire in his eyes and fluster demeanor left a chill down the spine."
Meetings with Russian officials are typically scripted, but the two attache said they had never witnessed such an outburst by Russian counterparts at an official meeting. The readout by the officials concludes, "At the very least, it is clear that morale problems among Russian forces are not limited to frontline troops." The readout describes only the impressions of the U.S. officials and does not definitively explain Ilyin's behavior. Such readout are typically too sensitive to be made public.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Readouts of this type are important because they give us an insight, a potential insight into what the Russians are really thinking. But it also shows that there is some kind of a morale problem within the Russian hierarchy and that extends possibly all the way up to the top.
STARR (voice-over): The Russian Ministry of Defense did not respond to a CNN request for comment on the meeting, or the readout. But the Kremlin has denied reports of low morale among its forces in Ukraine.
DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN PRESS SECRETARY: You would probably have to doubt this information. You have to doubt it and you have to think twice whether it is true or not.
STARR (voice-over): As Russia faces stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, if the Americans are correct, and morale was an issue, it's a challenge the Russians can ill afford.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We've seen increasing indications that morale and unit cohesion is a problem. And yes, that absolutely translates into potential military effectiveness issues.
STARR: A Russian general flushed and agitated, according to the Americans, just one more mystery about what really may be going on behind Kremlin walls.
Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
SANCHEZ: Thanks to Barbara for that report.
After the break, we're going to bring you the very latest about what we know regarding the shocking death of Taylor Hawkins, longtime drummer of the legendary rock band The Foo Fighters. That was not him. We'll be right back after a quick break.
PAUL: We are hearing now from the family of that 14-year-old boy who was killed after falling from an amusement park ride in Florida.
SANCHEZ: Tyree Sampson was visiting Orlando with his football team over spring break and now investigators and his family are trying to figure out exactly what happened. CNN's Leyla Santiago has the details from Florida.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boris, Christi, the family of Tyree Sampson simply wants answers. I spoke with his father Yarnell and he says he wants to know exactly what happened, what led up to the death of his only son. He described his son as being kind and talented with hopes of one day playing pro-football and those are dreams that he will never be able to see through.
The father tells me he has not spoken with authorities or anyone from the amusement park. He says he found out about this through social media.
YARNELL SAMPSON, FATHER: I felt like somebody hit me so hard in my stomach. I just lost, I lost, lost wind. And the pain behind it could never be taken away. And sorry is not going to take it back. And no monies, no -- nothing in the world to replace the young man. And it's just sad, it's sad that a young man bright future was taken away from him in -- over a ride, an amusement part.
SANTIAGO: And Tyree Sampson was from Missouri. He was in Florida with his football team for spring break, as part of that was the visit to Icon Park. So the big question as to what led up to this and where investigations stand, the Orange County Sheriff says that they believe at this point that it was an accident, that there are no criminal charges right now connected to this. And that's based off of interviews with employees and witnesses and reviewing videos of what happened that night.
But still, the state, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is investigating, has someone on site to look into that question of what happened here. I want you to listen to audio from 911 calls that came in Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Orange County Fire and Rescue.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) 8433 International Drive at the slingshot. Someone fell from the ride. We are responding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. I have help on the way. I have -- I received a couple of calls. Is the patient awake?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know. He's face down. He has blood on his feet. We don't know. We don't know. Someone said he was breathing but I'm not sure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct. All right. I have help on the way. Are you with him now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Yes, we're all here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: And we looked into previous inspections from the state. Back in December when state inspectors were there for part of the permitting process for the Orlando FreeFall, that's the name of the ride, bottom line is they pass, they found no deficiencies in that inspection. We got our hands on it right here. But months later, now we're in March, and that ride is shut down indefinitely.
BLITZER: All right, we're back here in Warsaw. This is the photo opportunity, the President of the United States and the President of Poland. They've been meeting together with our senior advisers. This is a major, major meeting that the President is having here in Warsaw.
You see President Duda of Poland making a statement. And the President will make a statement. The President is accompanied by his Defense Secretary ,you see Lloyd Austin over there, you see Secretary of State Tony Blinken, of course sitting next to the President. This is big meeting.
Let's listen in and see if we can hear what they're saying.
PRES. ANDRZEJ DUDA, POLAND (through translation): -- are happy to welcome them here just as we are happy to welcome U.S. soldiers who are coming up to us in order to strengthen the eastern flank. We are grateful for this help back. Let me also stress, Mr. President, we are a serious partner. We are a credible ally.
We do everything we can in order to live up to the task of defending our country ourselves. That is why we adopted a new bill, the Act on Defense of the Republic of Poland. And that is why as early as next year, we will start to allocate 3 percent of our GDP on defense, that is why I want to -- and we want to increase those pendings also in the years to come.
We want to equip our armed forces with modern equipment. And that is why in the future, we want -- we intend to buy well tested and modern military equipment that is produced in the United States of America. But of course, we would be very much interested in establishing a cooperation with the United States in this respect. And we are delighted with every element of this cooperation that is developing, such as the possibility to co-produce in Poland like hoax.
And right now, we would like to have more forums offset, cooperation also in the military sphere. So Mr. President, all the bonds that I mentioned, all of that is strengthened immensely by your visit, Mr. President, and we are so much grateful for that. This is also important for the representatives of the U.S., a business circles.
Wherever you can, Mr. President, they feel that this place is safe and secure. So Mr. President, we are so much grateful for your visit. But let me stress one thing, sir, this is a very difficult situation, what is happening in Ukraine right now. This Russian aggression and this huge tragedy of the Ukrainian people. All of us together, are experiencing it with them.
And this also creates a great sense of threat for my compatriots, for the Polish people because we know what Russian imperialism stands for. And we know what it means to be attacked by Russian Armed Forces, because our grandfathers and great grandfathers experienced that. Sometimes even our parents experienced that.
So thank you for your presence. And thank you, first and foremost, for your incredible leadership, strong leadership. Thank you for this very strong voice of the United States, which leads us and which very resolutely calls on Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine.
We stand with the United States. And along with the United States, we want to pursue this policy, and we very much hope for decisive and strong leadership of the United States across the entire NATO and also we hope that we will further strengthen the Euro-Atlantic bond.
Thank you, Mr. President, once again, for your presence.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. President --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).
BIDEN: Twenty-five years ago, when I spoke at a university here in Warsaw, after having led the effort for Poland to join NATO, I used the phrase -- and my Ambassador reminded me of this -- I said -- started off by saying, "For your freedom and for ours." "For your freedom and for ours." I meant it then, and I mean it now. You know, Mr. President, we have -- the most important thing that binds us together are our values, freedom, freedom of the press, making sure that people are -- that government is transparent, making sure people have the right to vote, et cetera.
And I -- we had a very -- and I hope we haven't kept you waiting. It's good to be back in this room again, but I hope we didn't keep you waiting too long. But we were discussing a lot of things in private, not the least of which was that, as I pointed out -- and my colleagues, I'm confident, agree with me -- is that America's ability to meet its role in other parts of the world rests upon a united Europe and a secure Europe.
We have learned from sad experience in two world wars, when we've stayed out of and not been involved in stability in Europe, it always comes back to haunt us, the United States.
So I've been saying for a long time -- as a senator who visited here and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, as Vice President for eight years, now as President -- that stability in Europe is critically important to the United States in terms of our interest not only in Europe, but around the world.
And so, what we talked about is the need for us to stay in constant contact and know what one another are doing. The United States and my colleagues on this side of the table heard me say it many, many times, we take Article 5 as a sacred commitment, not a throwaway -- a sacred commitment that relates to every member of NATO.
One of the things that I thanked the President for downstairs was the fact that the single-most important criterion in this time of a changing world -- so much has changed, and not just here but in other parts of the world -- is that NATO stay absolutely, completely, thoroughly united. That there be no separation in our points of view, that whatever we do, we do in unison. And everyone, comes along.
I'm confident that Vladimir Putin was counting on being able to divide NATO, to be able to separate the eastern flank from the West, be able to separate nations based on past histories. But he hasn't been able to do it. We've all stayed together. And so, I just think it's so important that we, Poland and the United States, keep in lockstep in how we're proceeding.
And also, we do acknowledge that Poland is taking on a significant responsibility that I don't think should just be Poland, it should be the whole world -- all of NATO's responsibility.
The fact that you have so many, so many Ukrainians seeking refuge in this country of Poland, we understand that because we have, in our southern border, thousands of people a day -- literally, not figuratively -- trying to get into the United States. But we believe that we, the United States, should do our part, relative to Ukraine as well, by opening our borders to another hundred thousand people. And -- but that's -- and in addition to that, I think it's important that we are in constant contact as about how we each wish to proceed, relative to what Russia is doing, and how to proceed.
And so, I -- I just want to thank you, Mr. President, for being available, for being so cooperative, for being -- and letting us know exactly what's on your mind. It's on the mind of the Polish people, what their concerns are and what they think our responsibilities are.
But I'll end where I began, and that is, we take as a sacred obligation Article 5, a sacred obligation, Article 5. And you can count on that. And not just -- I'll end where I began, for your freedom is ours.
So, thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys. Thank you. Thank you, guys. Thank you.
BLITZER: Very important meeting underway now. There you have a very important meeting underway right now, this expanded meeting between the U.S. and the Polish leadership. It's significant several times, Kaitlan, the President said, we take it as a sacred obligation, Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, the NATO charter that if one NATO country is attacked, all 29 other NATO countries are attacked at the same time. And the U.S. is making this commitment to Poland, right on the border with Ukraine. The U.S. will be there with you if the Russians moved in to Poland.
COLLINS: Well, and it was so interesting. So this is the expanded meeting where you saw several aides on each side of the table. President Biden's aides, President Duda's aides after they had spent a lot of time together, essentially one on one, each just had one of their aide in the room just for the last hour or so where they've been meeting since we saw them go into the presidential palace together.
And so seeing them talk about this, Wolf, and seeing them talk about the history here where President Duda was saying we know how this feels because we were once invaded by the Soviet Union. He said our grandfathers and grandmothers remember this all too well, talking about obviously, in 1940s, what happened there. And President Biden himself talking about the history of when Poland joined NATO in 1999. Obviously, that was what brought that Article 5 commitment into play there.
BLITZER: So important indeed. We're going to have so much more on President Biden's historic visit here in Poland throughout this day on CNN, including what the White House is calling a major speech on the humanitarian refugee crisis.
Our coverage will continue. But right now, Smerconish is coming up.