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CNN TONIGHT: Ukrainian President: "Fate Of Ukraine Is Being Decided Right Now"; Russia Attacks Kyiv From Multiple Directions; Ukrainian Parliament Member Says She's Armed And Ready To Fight. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 25, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage of Ukraine crisis continues.
Let's hand it over to Wolf Blitzer, and CNN TONIGHT.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Anderson, thank you very much.
We want to welcome our viewers, here, in the United States, and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. And this is CNN TONIGHT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(VIDEO - SERIES OF LOUD EXPLOSIONS SEEN & HEARD IN KYIV)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A series of loud explosions are being seen and heard in and around Kyiv. And there are reports, of heavy fighting, in a town, about 20 miles, south of the capital, and now in an eastern suburb, as Russian forces are clearly closing in.
The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now. That, according to President Zelensky, in a brand-new address to his nation that is under attack
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This night will be very difficult. And the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians. This night, we have to stand ground. The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Air raid sirens have been blaring, throughout much of the night, in the capital, as Zelensky confirms Russian forces are indeed closing in rapidly. The U.S. is concerned Kyiv could fall, to Russia, within a matter of days, maybe sooner. The Russians have taken over an airbase, just north of the city, and are also advancing along two routes, from the north, and at least one from the east.
Zelensky warns, Russia will use all available forces, to break the resistance, and is advising Ukrainians, tonight, to stand ground. Many civilians are though heeding calls, to fight however they can. Others have escaped the capital, and the country indeed, by the tens of thousands.
Zelensky posted a video earlier, to show that he's still very much engaged in the besieged capital, along with key members of his cabinet, even though he believes he's the enemy's target number one.
The situation is so dire, the Biden administration believes Russia will threaten to kill the families, of Ukrainian soldiers, if they don't surrender.
The U.S. has gone so far now, as to announce it will sanction Vladimir Putin directly, along with his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and some Russian national security officials.
This is a very rare step indeed, to sanction a world leader. And it follows the European Union's decision, to do so. They did so first, along with the U.K. But Putin is showing no signs of backing down tonight.
NATO's Response Force has been activated, get this, for the first time, since NATO was established, back in 1949, to defend the Alliance. NATO's Secretary General says more than 100 jets are in high alert, in more than 30 locations, along with more than 120 ships, from the High North to the Mediterranean.
We have total coverage tonight, across Ukraine, as well as in Moscow, and wherever the breaking news takes us.
But let's begin with CNN's Alex Marquardt. He's in the capital of Kyiv.
Alex, President Zelensky minces no words. He says Kyiv could fall, under Russia's control, by tonight. What are you seeing, and hearing, tonight, on the ground, in Kyiv?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A very honest assessment, from President Zelensky there, Wolf.
And from all the evidence that we have seen, and that we are hearing? He is right. There is growing evidence that the Russians are really coming, at this capital city, of 3 million Ukrainians, from all angles.
Just moments ago, we heard what we believe to be the closest explosions, to the city center yet. That is coming from the west, which is directly in front of me. We know that, over the course of the past 24 hours, some of the fiercest fighting, in Kyiv, has been, to the north and northeast of this city. Our own Matthew Chance was up, at an airfield, yesterday, that was taken by the Russians.
We know that Russians are marching on the city, from the east. And we've just gotten word that there is some fierce fighting, also taking place, about 30 kilometers, or 20 miles, to the south. So really, from every different direction, Wolf.
So, you had that honest assessment, from President Zelensky. But, at the same time, he says that the Ukrainians are putting up a fierce fight. And there is evidence of that. So far, the Russians have not made their way, into the city.
President Zelensky's saying that some - that hundreds of Russian service members have been killed, but also admitting that there have been significant losses, on the Ukrainian side, as well.
The President has warned that tonight will be a real test - a real moment, of a test, for this country, and for this city. He said that the "Fate of Ukraine is being decided right now."
And Wolf, to give you a sense, of where we are, right now, not only have reservists for the Ukrainian Military been called up, there has been a general mobilization, of all men, from 18- to 60-years-old. Anybody, who wants a weapon to fight, can be given one.
And the Ministry of Defense, not too long ago, called on Ukrainians, to put together Molotov cocktails, to throw at advancing Russian forces. That's where we are right now.
There is a lot of pride, in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. There is a lot of patriotism. And a lot of people are saying that they're going to go out and fight. But that just gives you a sense, to which the Ukrainian forces, are outmanned and outgunned.
So, we are hearing more explosions, in now and around Kyiv. We are hearing air raid sirens go off in the city. We are seeing some of - some flashes, in the distance, as those explosions happen. So, mounting evidence, Wolf that this fighting is getting closer and closer, to the capital city.
BLITZER: I take it - take it Alex, the explosions have been getting louder and louder, as they get closer and closer, to where you are, in the center of the city.
MARQUARDT: That's absolutely right. And the latest ones are, we believe, just a couple of kilometers or miles away, to the west.
And, I believe, that we have some video of that. So, let's take a listen, so you can get a good sense of where - of what we are hearing, from this vantage point downtown. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
(VIDEO - SERIES OF LOUD EXPLOSIONS SEEN & HEARD IN KYIV)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: So, that obviously coming from a resident, of that area, again, to the west of the city.
And I just want to re-emphasize, Wolf that we are now seeing and hearing this kind of explosion, coming from every direction. That is in the west, we believe, over near the Kyiv Zoo. To the north, which has been the real concern for this city, that is where we have seen the most significant fighting.
Remember, Russian troops, coming down, towards Kyiv, from the Belarusian border, where tens of thousands of Russian forces have gathered, over the past few weeks, for what they have called "Exercises." Now, clearly obvious that it was - it was - they were gathering, for this invasion.
We came up from the southern part of - we came up into Kyiv, from the south, not too long ago. And now, we're being told, some of the fiercest fighting tonight, is taking place, about 20 miles, from the capital, down there, just south of Kyiv, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget, Kyiv is a big city. It's a city of almost 3 million people, heavily populated. And if the Russians are attacking, all these various areas, in and around this city, God only knows how many people might be getting killed, and injured, in the process.
Alex, I'd like you to stand by. We're going to get back to you, for any new developments. I know, this is a dangerous situation. I want you to be very, very safe. It gets too dangerous? You go to that bunker that I know you guys have, over there. But standby. We'll get back to you, soon.
In the meantime, I want to go straight to Moscow. Nic Robertson is on the scene for us there.
Nic, what do you know about Russia's plans tonight? Because the Ukrainian President Zelensky says, tonight could be the night that the Russian forces move into the capital.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: In one word, ominous. I think, that's the best way to describe the plans.
The Russians have said they've gone into de-militarize and de-Nazify the country. President Putin holds President Zelensky in absolute, the lowest regard possible. I mean, he's sort of venomous towards him, in the tone and the type of language that he uses.
So, there certainly does seem to be enough reason, to believe that there will be an effort, to topple the leadership, to kill the leadership. That's one part of the title.
But I think the other very ominous thing that we learned, over the past few hours, or so, was when President Putin spoke, and he accused the U.S. Military, of advising the Ukrainian Military, to put their weaponry, in civilian areas.
Now, this is right out of Russia's playbook of operations. If they say "Oh, we've seen - oh, dear, we think that the Military is hiding the Military equipment, in the civilian neighborhood," that tells you, the Russians are going to go and attack the civilian neighborhoods, despite the fact that 24 hours ago, they were saying, "No, the civilians should be safe."
The other thing that Putin is doing, as well, he's called on the Ukrainian Military, the Ukrainian people, to turn on their own government, completely misreading the situation.
So, this is an environment now, where essentially President Putin has declared open season, on civilian neighborhoods, to achieve his Military victory. Where it stops in the city? Decapitating the leadership is still the best guess, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nic, we're going to get back to you as well. Nic Robertson, in Moscow, with the latest from there.
I want to discuss, what's going on, right now, and bring in retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel Davis.
And Julia Ioffe, a veteran journalist, on Russia. She knows what's going on. A Founding Partner, by the way, at Puck News.
Colonel Davis, considering what we're hearing, on the ground, what we're seeing, Kyiv, the capital under siege, right now. We're hearing lots of explosions going on, in and around the city. How worried are you that the capital could fall?
LT COL DANIEL DAVIS (RET), U.S. ARMY, SENIOR FELLOW AND MILITARY EXPERT, DEFENSE PRIORITIES: Well, I mean, based on all the things that are being reported, and the things that your correspondents are seeing, on the ground there, I think, the chances are much higher, than I thought maybe even 12 hours, 24 hours ago.
Because the assumption was that the Ukrainians were going to find a little bit tougher, and have a slower go, and maybe even set up some significant defenses, within the city.
But so far, it honestly doesn't look like the Ukraine Military, as an organization, has been able to even slow down the Russians. I mean, I heard some complaints earlier today, say that the Russian advance was going slower.
But as your correspondents had just pointed out, they are advancing on the capital, from literally every direction. And wherever there's been a pitched battle? The Russians went. They put down the Ukrainians, and they moved completely forward. Now, I think that this kind of brings out a point that needs to be brought out that no one's talking about yet.
If President Zelensky sees that the Russians are coming, and that his forces can't stop it? The last thing he should be doing, is putting his people, in harm's way, by telling them to go out, and throw Molotov cocktails, handing them AK-47s, they have no idea how to use properly. All he's going to do is end up getting people killed, and it's not going to change the outcome.
DAVIS: I think, right now, he should really be pressing with what "The New York Times" is reporting that he's willing to negotiate, a declaration of neutrality, with Russia, in Israel. That's where he should go. That's what can save his people, at this point. And that's probably all.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think, Julia? Because I don't think there's any indication at all, at least I haven't seen any indication, that Putin and the Russians are ready to negotiate anything.
JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER & WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: I think that's right, Wolf.
And although I understand, the concern, about people getting killed, and that it's might feel irresponsible to tell them to make Molotov cocktails, and shoot AK-47s, at Russian tanks, I think, politically Zelensky is in a very tough spot.
What is he going to do? Just negotiate and give up Ukraine's sovereignty or Ukraine's potential membership to NATO? I think it's going to look to like he's cutting and running or, acceding defeat, before it's absolutely necessary.
And it seems like the mood in the country is such that people want to fight, and they want their President to fight. And I don't - that might be at odds with kind of keeping casualties low. But I think the mood is that they want to stand up to the Russian conquerors.
BLITZER: Colonel Davis, Russia, as you know, has amassed what, nearly 200,000 troops, maybe 190,000 troops, around Ukraine. Many of those troops are now in Ukraine. How much more brutal could this entire assault get?
DAVIS: Well, it could go a lot worse. Evidence indicates that this has been a phased approach.
And that, Russia did not just like roll all these 200,000 vehicles, and tanks, and other personnel in, but they're doing it in a phased approach, to make penetrations. And then, they'll bring other, what's called, Pursuit forces, to go through that. And that's when you could see some rapid roll-ups.
But I do want to point out, officially, from the Kremlin, they have said, after Zelensky made that comment, earlier today, they officially said, they're willing to talk, about this, and they're actually talking with Israel too.
But the other thing in this is, look, this is the hard reality. If it's evident that militarily, you can't stop Russia, then it doesn't matter how brave a face you want to put on there. There's no point in putting civilians, in harm's way, if the end result is going to be the same.
Whether you - whether you make a negotiation, whether you even say, "Hey, I'm going to surrender the capital, so it doesn't get hit," or you say "No, we're going to fight to the end," the end result is the same. The difference is how many people have to die before that. And, I think, the leader, has a responsibility, to take care of his people.
BLITZER: Now, this is moving very, very rapidly, indeed.
Julia, U.S. officials, as you well know, suspect Putin's goal is, first, to topple Kyiv, the capital, put his own pro-Russian government, in place, either arrest or kill Zelensky, and maybe other cabinet members, and their families.
Ukrainians have become a lot more independent, more anti-Russian, over the past eight years, haven't they?
IOFFE: Yes. And, in part, that's Putin's handiwork. The more he wanted to forcibly bring them into his embrace, the more he's driven them away, and toward the west.
And if Ukraine was a country that was much more divided, before 2014? Putin certainly remedied that. And these days, I don't think Ukraine has ever been as unified. You have opposition politicians, praising President Zelensky, even though they used to criticize him. There is a real rallying around the flag effect.
And I just want to get back to the point about negotiations. I think, if we've learned anything, from the last couple of months, is that the Russians don't want to negotiate. Putin made that very clear, in his speech, declaring the invasion. And it's something that a lot of his ministers and officials have echoed.
The goal isn't NATO anymore. At least not the stated goal. I don't think it was ever about NATO and neutrality. He talks about de- Nazifying Ukraine, Ukraine, which has a Jewish president and a Jewish Prime Minister. The goal is to - the goal is regime change. I don't know how you negotiate that.
And I don't know how, you know, civilian casualties or not, of course, you want to save people's lives. But there is also a political aspect, and a kind of, for lack of a better term, a spiritual aspect to this.
The Ukrainians don't want to be defeated, before they have to be. And that might be irrational. And that might be emotional. But I think emotions are running high - so high right now. And it's hard to not understand that. BLITZER: Yes, Putin made it very clear, in that speech that he gave, he doesn't even regard Ukraine as a country. He sees it, obviously, as part of Russia.
Julia Ioffe, thank you very much. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, thanks to you, as well. We appreciate both of your expertise, tonight.
DAVIS: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're keeping a very, very close eye on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, tonight. Explosions are being seen, in and around the capital. This is clearly Putin's war, right now. Why did he choose to do this, right now? We're going to take it to a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
We'll discuss, as our breaking news coverage continues.
TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
BLITZER: The breaking news, this hour, explosions, many explosions, in and around Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, coming from several directions. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(VIDEO - SERIES OF LOUD EXPLOSIONS SEEN & HEARD IN KYIV, AS RUSSIA ATTACKS FROM MULTIPLE DIRECTIONS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: God only knows how many people are being killed, right now.
Our crews are in the capital city. They're among those seeing and hearing these awful, horrendous sounds. We'll go back to our correspondents, in just a moment as new information comes in.
But I want to bring in my next guest. He says President Putin's goal is bigger, bigger than simply taking over Ukraine. He has a larger plan. We're talking about Putin. His plan is to re-establish, the former Soviet Union, before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the USSR.
We're talking to the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, the former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker. He's joining us right now.
Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us. As we say, I wish we were meeting under different circumstances.
We're monitoring this assault on Kyiv that's going on right now. How big of a blow will it be, if Ukraine's capital falls, to Putin, in the coming hours? KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, CENTER FOR EUROPEAN POLICY ANALYSIS, SENIOR ADVISER, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: This would be the devastation of Ukraine, that if the capital falls, I think the country falls, and Russia will have successfully taken over all of the country. I think they will leave their forces, on the territory of Ukraine. They will seize the control of the borders, of Ukraine, to the west to Europe.
And this is one more piece in the puzzle. Putin has taken over Belarus. He's taken control of the Security Services in Kazakhstan. He's taken pieces of Georgia and Moldova, already taken pieces of Ukraine.
But now, if he gets the whole thing, this is one more, big step, on his project, to re-establishing a Russian Empire.
BLITZER: And recreating the USSR, is that - is that what you're suggesting?
VOLKER: Yes. I think the USSR is slightly different because that had a communist ideology, which I think Putin despises.
I think he feels that the leaders of the USSR let the country down, because they allowed these territories, to become independent, to slip away. And he thinks that was based on a foolish attachment to communist ideology.
Putin is using nationalism, and religion, as a way to unify the Russian people. And I think he is intending that he will re-create, re-accumulate the lands, but do a better job, in holding them together, and exercising power.
BLITZER: You were the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Been to NATO headquarters, in Brussels, many times. It was established, NATO was established, in 1949, as you well know.
And now, for the first time ever, the 30-member NATO Alliance has activated what it calls its NATO Response Force. NATO's Supreme Allied Commander says the Force is flexible and combat-credible.
So, what do you say? What's the significance of this historic move, the first time ever?
VOLKER: Look, well, Wolf, this is a good move. It is important that NATO show to Russia, that we will defend NATO Allies. "If they're attacked, we will come to their defense. There will be a direct conflict with Russia, if they do that. Therefore, Russia should not touch NATO." That's very important.
But the problem with this, is it doesn't address the immediate issue, of Russia's attacks, on Ukraine. This NATO Response Force is not going to be deployed, to defend Ukraine. It is there, to reassure and protect existing NATO allies. We need to have more on the table, what we can do, today, tonight, to help the Ukrainians, fend off this Russian attack.
BLITZER: In "THE SITUATION ROOM," a few hours ago, I spoke with Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And he told me that to protect the Ukrainian citizens, which is the immediate need, right now, the U.S. and NATO should declare what he calls a no-fly zone, over Ukraine.
Would that be worth the risk? What's your reaction to that, Ambassador?
VOLKER: Yes, I think, this is a very serious idea that we should be looking at. Maybe not all of Ukraine, because, I think, the closer we get to Russian territory, the more we put our own planes, at risk, of Russian ground-to-air missiles that could take our planes down.
But if we're talking about preventing airborne attacks, or missile attacks, against civilian populations, in Ukraine, this is certainly worth looking at.
We did this, if you remember, over the Kurdish areas, in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was trying to exterminate the Kurds, in Iraq. It bought them time, and it allowed them to build one of the most stable and prosperous pieces of territory, in Iraq, these days.
I think Ukraine needs time and needs support. I would add one thing to what he said as well. In addition to a no-fly zone, over Kyiv, and parts of Ukraine, I would like to see a corridor established, where we are able to continue to deliver supplies, and Military equipment, to the Ukrainians, so they can continue to defend themselves.
They've depleted a lot of stuff in the past few days, Stinger missiles, Javelin missiles. We should be opening up a pipeline, to help them, even if we don't put U.S. forces, in harm's way.
BLITZER: Yes, those are all very, very strong ideas.
Ambassador Kurt Volker, we'll continue this conversation. Thank you very, very much. And thanks for your service, over these many years.
I want to get back to Kyiv, right now, the Ukrainian capital, where Russian forces are clearly closing in. Is tonight the night, the capital of Ukraine could actually fall? Or, can the Ukrainians actually save the city?
CNN is there live. We have reporters, on the scene. We'll check in with them, right after this.
TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: More explosions, in and around Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, tonight, as Vladimir Putin's war against the country has now entered day three. Some of the newest video is coming in. We're going to share it with you, as well.
I want to check back with CNN's Alex Marquardt. He's in the capital of Kyiv, for us.
Alex, so tell our viewers what you're seeing now, what you're hearing now? What has been going on over these past several minutes?
MARQUARDT: Well, Wolf, what's really striking is that it is incredibly quiet, in this city, until that silence is pierced by the sounds of the fighting.
We have heard some of the closest explosions, to the center of downtown Kyiv, in just the past hour. It is to the western part of the city, just a couple miles or kilometers away. That is - that is - those are the closest explosions, the closest signs of fighting, as Russians look to encircle the city that we have yet seen.
Now, straight behind me, to the east, we are also getting reports, of more, fierce fighting. And then, again, to the south. And now all that is coupled with what we know that the Russians have been making their major push, coming in from the north.
So, this city is gradually getting encircled, Wolf. We've heard predictions from the U.S. side that this - that this city could fall, in a matter of days.
The Ukrainian President's saying that, that it's a very decisive moment tonight, for Ukraine that the fate of Ukraine is being decided right now. And we are seeing the signs of that escalation, as we speak, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, as you correctly point out, it's very quiet, until there are loud explosions, going on. And, once again, I can only imagine, how many people are getting killed, in all those strikes.
Alex, standby, stay safe, you and your team. We'll get back to you soon, as well.
And as we watch, the capital, Kyiv, situation there, unfold, I want to bring in Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. He's been well-briefed by U.S. officials.
Just, you just heard that report, Senator, from Kyiv. Do you have any Intelligence, on the state of play, on the ground? How awful is it?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, Wolf, just about every step here has been predicted. We understand the strength of the Russian Military, the capacity of the Ukraine Military, to defend itself.
We knew that Mr. Putin had a desire to take over Kyiv, and to overthrow the government. So, that's not a surprise that we see this campaign taking place. It doesn't diminish the tragedy of the events. The Ukrainians are going to fight. Mr. Putin has really unified Ukraine's national pride, and their sovereignty. And you're going to see the resistance. We saw it today. It's not moving as smoothly as Mr. Putin had hoped. And that's good news that you're seeing the resistance.
But we have to be realistic and recognize that, from a Military point of view, the Russians have put everything, they have, into taking over Ukraine.
BLITZER: How should the U.S. respond, Senator, if Russia seizes Kyiv, captures, and then kills the president, President Zelensky? He says he's their target number one. If they do that, what should the U.S. do?
CARDIN: Well we need to continue to work, with our Allies. Unity is our strength. In working with the Europeans, we've been able to impose some very crippling sanctions, on those that are the closest to Mr. Putin, as well as to the way Mr. Putin finances his operations. They're going to be very effective, in hurting him, keep power.
We're also seeing popular objections, by the Russian people themselves, protesters that are out there.
The cost of this campaign, the fact that there's no reason, and there's no provocation, for this Military action, by Russia, all that's affecting the popular sentiment, within Russia itself, which we think could have a major impact, on Mr. Putin. So, we got to reinforce that.
We have to give the Ukrainians everything they need, to defend themselves. We need to make it very costly, for Mr. Putin, as personal, as we can do that, and make sure that the information is made available, to all people, including Russians, as to exactly how Mr. Putin is leading that country, and leading them, in the wrong direction.
BLITZER: I spoke earlier, with Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who says that the U.S. and NATO allies should impose a no-fly zone, over Ukraine.
The former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, he agreed. He thought that was a good idea, at least for parts of Ukraine.
Do you also agree?
CARDIN: Well, I think we need to consider all options, except introduction of American or NATO troops into Ukraine. But to enforce a no-fly zone, you are putting the Americans or NATO forces at risk. And there is always a possibility, of a confrontation, directly with Russia.
So, it has to be in a way that is aimed, at protecting civilian population, or a way, in which we can try to neutralize, some of the activities that are taking place, without a direct confrontation, with Russia.
So, it's not easy to enforce a no-fly zone. But it is something that, I think, we need to consider, particularly, as we see the attacks, on civilian populations, and the casualties mount, in regards to civilian losses.
BLITZER: Yes, civilian losses are growing. Casualties are growing, awfully, awfully hard, right now.
Senator Ben Cardin, thank you so much, for joining us.
CARDIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ukraine's President clearly fears this could be the moment that Russia takes Kyiv, the capital.
Our teams are on watch, right now. They're in the capital. They're across Ukraine.
Despite the Russian bombardment, Ukrainians are indeed putting up a ferocious fight, to try to save their homeland.
We're going to bring in a key member of the Ukrainian Parliament. She's still in Kyiv, right now. And she has told CNN, she's willing to take up arms herself.
We'll discuss what's going on, when we come back.
TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
TEXT: BREAKING NEWS.
BLITZER: Dramatic developments, unfolding, right now, in Ukraine.
Ukrainians across the country are taking up arms, as Russian troops are clearly closing in. One of them is Ukrainian Member of Parliament, Kira Rudik, who's in Kyiv, the capital, posted a picture of herself, holding a Kalashnikov weapon. And she's joining us right now.
Kira, thank you so much for joining us.
Tell us, first of all, why you decided to post that picture?
KIRA RUDIK, MEMBER, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT, MEMBER, GOLOS PARTY: Well, because it was super-unusual and super-crazy, for myself, to understand and realize that I'm holding a gun, and I'm ready to bear arms, and I'm ready, go and shoot, the other human beings.
And the reason for that change was because Russian soldiers are coming to Kyiv, and Russian soldiers are trying to take what is actually not theirs. And it's such a weird switch, from your ordinary life, when you are thinking that they may come, but you're still a Member of Parliament, and you're doing meetings, and legislation, and talking to people.
And then, one day, you just know that they're coming, and then you have to do something. And that's when you get a gun, and then you learn how to shoot it. And then, you - and then, you understand that you need to get a group of resistance, which we did.
And now, we are helping, our army, to fight Russians, to fight Russian soldiers that are coming to Kyiv, and that are trying to take Kyiv, right now, when we are talking with you.
BLITZER: How intense - how intense, is the fighting, in the capital of Kyiv, right now? What are you seeing? And what are you hearing? Because, we did hear loud explosions, booms, going on, throughout the past hour or so.
RUDIK: So, for the last two days, there has been like 11 Air Force attacks. And they are very often, right now.
So, for the last couple of hours, we had like at least three sirens, so, when we had to go, to the bomb shelter. And you see the stairs, behind me. This is under them, my family and I, we hide here. So, it's intensifying.
And there are Russian forces on in the north and the south of the city. But they're not moving and making great progress. We are throwing them back. And we are actually biting them very, very hard. As the last, like two days, there has been 3,000 people, of casualties, in Russian Army. So, that's a fantastic result, for Ukrainian army.
BLITZER: Do you think Putin underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian people?
RUDIK: I am absolutely sure. He underestimated the readiness of our army. And he underestimated that, on every step of the way, of his soldiers, they were given like a really hard resistance. And people are arming themselves, people are fighting them, at every inch of our soil. This is what the citizens have to do. And this is what we do.
BLITZER: Did you ever think, Kira that you and so many other civilians, in Kyiv, and elsewhere, in Ukraine, would be taking up - taking up, and learning how to fire a rifle, a Kalashnikov, in your particular case, because the Russians are moving in?
RUDIK: Like, if you would have told me that three days ago, I would have said, "Wolf, you are crazy." But now, this is our new reality. And we have to - we have to do the best, what we can, in this new reality.
It's war. It's active war that is happening in Kyiv now. And we are part of it. And we are not leaving, because this is our city, this is our country. And there is like no Putin's soldiers, who will be telling us, what to do, and where to live.
BLITZER: Kira Rudik, good luck to you. Good luck to your family. Good luck to everyone, in Kyiv.
RUDIK: Thank you.
BLITZER: It's an awful, awful situation. I know tens of thousands of Ukrainians are trying to get out. They're going to Poland and elsewhere, as quickly as they can. You're staying put. We will stay in touch with you. Good luck. Thank you so much.
RUDIK: Thank you.
BLITZER: And, to our viewers, stay with us, because we're watching every move, in the Ukrainian capital, right now, and indeed across Ukraine, with its president, President Zelensky warning, this could be the make or break moment, in the Russian invasion.
The horrifying scenes of bloodshed come with equally ugly and false claims from Vladimir Putin. He's basically claiming that he's simply fighting neo-Nazis. He's fighting neo-Nazis, he says, in a country. That country, by the way, the leader of that country is Jewish, lost family members, in the Holocaust. And Putin is making outrageous claims, like that.
An expert, on Russia, and Ukraine, standing by live, to join me. We'll discuss how he believes Putin is actually using tactics, tactics, like those, this is what this professor says, of Adolf Hitler. That's next.
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BLITZER: We're keeping a very close eye, right now, on the assault on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, fears growing tonight that the capital could fall in the coming hours.
Remember, it was just 48 hours ago that Putin began this nationwide invasion, in the first place, under the pretense of the de- militarization and de-Nazification, his words, of Ukraine.
Now, my next guest says, these moves are Hitler-like tactics. We're talking about the Yale professor, Timothy Snyder. He's the author of several books, on Russia and Ukraine. He's joining us right now.
Professor, thank you so much.
As you know, Putin is claiming that Ukraine's leadership, in particular, President Zelensky is a neo-Nazi. You point out that it's not only absurd, but it's actually cruel, considering the fact that Zelensky is Jewish. He's a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. Talk a little bit about this. TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR, "ON TYRANNY," PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: Yes, this charge of de-Nazification, it's meant to confound us, and discourage us, and confuse us. But the basic reality, is that Putin has everything turned around.
Ukraine is a democratic country, not an authoritarian one, like Russia. It has a Jewish president, who won more than 70 percent of the vote, which is, I have to say, unthinkable, in pretty much any other country, in the world. It's a multicultural bilingual society. And that's what makes it unbearable, for Putin.
Precisely the fact, that somebody, from a national minority, come out of nowhere, and be elected president? That's what's despicable for Putin. Because Putin just can't imagine that someone, who's in power, can voluntarily lose power. And that's what he's punishing Zelensky for.
BLITZER: What is his narrative, all about? I'm talking about Putin. What is he trying to achieve, his bottom line goal?
SNYDER: Well, his bottom line goal is to - there are two. The first is, militarily, he wants to come into Kyiv, arrest the political and civic leaders, of the Ukrainian State, and get them out of power, and try them, in some way, probably.
And this is where the genocide language comes in. I think it's very likely. And he's said as much that he intends to use the genocide, and de-Nazification language, to set up some kind of kangaroo court, which would serve the purpose, of condemning these people to death, or condemning them to prison, or incarceration.
But meanwhile, because he's using the language of de-Nazification and genocide, he's also diluting, or trivializing, or perverting, these concepts, which are so important to us, so important our recollection of the war, and then our sense of what we can learn from history.
BLITZER: Another really awful remark that Putin made, and he's made so many, has been that Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, shouldn't even exist, at all. How dangerous is a statement, like that?
SNYDER: It goes back to your first question. I mean, that is straight out of Hitler's playbook, 1938, 1939, to claim that a democratic neighboring state is some kind of artificial creation that doesn't deserve to exist.
The whole basis of post-war international law is that States recognize one another, as States. It's not for dictators, to decide, who's a real country, and who's not a real country, who's more equal than someone else, who's big brother, and who's a little brother.
When you say that a state doesn't exist, as he said, when you say that a nation doesn't exist, as he said? What you're doing is you're setting yourself up, as the person, who has the right, to destroy that state, and the right to destroy that nation, which ties together with all of this. Because, the way you destroy a nation, is you invade it, and you take away its leadership, which is, I'm afraid, what Putin has been planning to do.
BLITZER: You think he's going to try to capture and kill President Zelensky?
SNYDER: Yes. I believe that - I believe that that's been the goal, from the beginning. And, I think, it's pretty clear, in his language. And when we think, about trying to stop Putin, that's the particular thing that we should be thinking about.
And, by the way, we should be looking, with admiration and courage, at Volodymyr Zelensky himself, at his sheer physical courage, you know? I mean, Putin is someone, who has to be 50 feet away from the French President.
Zelensky, under fire, stays in his capital, takes selfie videos, of himself, right and remains with his people. Whatever happens next, that's an example of just simple physical courage, which, I think, we ought to be remembering.
BLITZER: Professor Timothy Snyder, of Yale University, thank you so much, for joining us. I want to continue our conversation, down the road. Appreciate it very much.
And we'll be right back, with much more on all the breaking news.
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BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much, for joining us. Please join me, tomorrow, for a special two-hour Saturday edition, of "THE SITUATION ROOM" that begins live, at 5 P.M. Eastern.
Our breaking news coverage continues, right now, with "DON LEMON TONIGHT."
DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: Thank you, Wolf. We'll be watching tomorrow.
This is "DON LEMON TONIGHT."