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CNN Live Event/Special

Ukraine Bracing For Russian Attacks As War Hits One-Year Mark; Sullivan On Travelling With President Biden Into The Ukrainian War Zone: We Were Heading Into The Unknown; Power: We Don't Have Any Evidence That U.S. Assistance Is Being Misused Or Misspent. Aired 9- 10p ET

Aired February 23, 2023 - 21:00   ET





Almost exactly a year ago, missile attacks, against the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. To most, this was a surprise attack and invasion. The Ukrainians didn't see it coming. Nor did the Europeans. The one consistent voice cautioning that an invasion was likely? The U.S. Intelligence Community.


ZAKARIA: Another surprise for the world. The intense resolve of that entertainer-turned President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Unlike others in his position, he did not flee. Indeed, he's only left the country a handful of times, to plea for guns and ammunition.

And for the last year, he's faced off, from across the border with Vladimir Putin, who has ruled Russia, for more than two decades.

The key player, who is not a participant, in the war? The United States of America. It is the country that has organized the sanctions against Russia. It is the country that has been the single biggest provider of military and non-military assistance.

And tonight, on this special program, you will hear from two top officials on America's National Security team.

First, the Biden administration's key player, on countering Russia's war, in Ukraine, the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, who was with President Biden, in Kyiv, this week.

Also, USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, the official, responsible for making sure the U.S. is assisting the people of Ukraine, in the horrible humanitarian crisis created by Russia's war.

They will answer questions directly from Americans, and Ukrainians in the war zone.


ZAKARIA: Good evening, and welcome to a live CNN Town Hall event. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We are coming to you, from three countries, tonight, the United States, Russia and Ukraine.

As Russia's invasion turns one-year old, our questioners have a lot on their minds. And they are seeking answers about America's commitment, to help Ukraine, defeat Russia.

This hour, we will speak to a soldier, on the frontlines; a mother, who was uneasy about America's resolve; and a child, who is looking for protection, from the United States of America.

And the people with the answers are joining me now. President Biden's right-hand man, on Ukraine, National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, joins me here, on the stage, right now.


ZAKARIA: As does USAID Administrator, Samantha Power.


ZAKARIA: Jake Sullivan, Samantha Power, so glad you're here with us. Such an important night. The audience is getting ready to ask you questions.

But before that, while they prepare, let's go to our reporters in the region. They've been covering this conflict, for the last year, in and out of Ukraine. We've had teams there all the time.

Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is in Moscow.

Senior National Security Correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is in Dnipro, in Ukraine.

And the Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Kyiv.

We'll hear from Fred and Alex, later, in the program.

But now, Clarissa, I want to ask you something very simple, to help us set the stage. What is the state of this war, right now? You've been covering it for - ever since it began.


And when we watched explosions, one year ago, lighting up the night sky, the expectation from Intelligence services was that Kyiv would fall, in a matter of days.

While, one year later, Kyiv is still standing. You can see the lights are still on behind me, despite a ruthless concerted Russian campaign, to target civilian infrastructure. [21:05:00]

And the Ukrainian military has been able to launch several very successful counteroffensives, relying on a mixture of courage, obviously, but also creativity, savvy international support, and cutting-edge technology that has been crucial in pushing back Russian forces.

But Ukrainian authorities now, Fareed, are saying that they want to take back all the territory they've lost. They want to return to 1991 borders. And that is going to be very tricky, because the situation now is still grim.

Particularly in the eastern part of the country, it is a grinding war of attrition, looking more and more like a stalemate, every day. And that's why you're hearing Ukrainian leaders, coming out, every day, asking for that heavier weaponry, they say that they need to finish this off.

I spoke to one senior Ukrainian official, last night, who said that they had pushed this home, to President Biden, once again, and that quote, "It is now in America's hands. And they understand."

ZAKARIA: Thanks for that, Clarissa. And stay safe out there.

Now we get to our special guests. National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. And USAID Administrator, Samantha Power.

Jake was one of just three aides, who accompanied President Biden, on that surprise trip, to Kyiv. So, I want to first ask you, Jake, this was really an extraordinary trip.

The President, first time in history, a U.S. President has entered a war zone that the United States did not control. So, I've taken that overnight train, to Kyiv. And you're going through Poland. And you're in a war zone, for a large part of it. So, I'm guessing, U.S. planes could not enter that war zone.

What was it like for you there? What were you guys thinking? There's a period there, where the President was not protected, the way the President normally is, right?

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, first of all, Fareed, thank you for having us tonight.

And I want to thank CNN, for putting a spotlight, on this war, one year after it began. And it's just so important that we get the chance to talk about all of these issues.

The trip actually began with a long plane flight, from Washington, stopover in Ramstein, in Germany. And then, we landed in Poland.

And in fact, the President had to take an hour-long car ride, in an unmarked SUV, not his normal limo, that we're all used to seeing, with a very small a motorcade, pull up to the train station, and board this train, and late at night, in the dark, for a 10-hour trip, overnight, to arrive in Kyiv, the following morning.

And as you said, the United States didn't control the airspace, didn't control the ground. We were entering a country, at war, heading to a capital, at war, a country that has been subjected to routine and repeated bombardments, by the Russians, and without any of the normal security capacity that would usually accompany a president. So, we were heading into the unknown, because this was unprecedented.

The President was up much of the night, not so much worried, about his safety, as he was worried about making sure that he was going to maximize his time, on the ground, in Kyiv that he was going to have the kind of conversations, face-to-face, with President Zelenskyy that would allow us to move forward, in our support.

And most importantly, that he could stand up, and say to the world from right there in Kyiv, as you just heard Clarissa say that a year ago, people were bracing for the fall of Kyiv. And a year later, Kyiv stands. Ukraine stands. And America stands with Kyiv. And there was no more powerful way to send that message than to have the American President, go do that.

So, it was a mixture of deep anxiety, but also a kind of building pride, about serving a president, and being part of a country that is trying to support Ukraine, in its hour of need.

ZAKARIA: So, let me ask you about the next thing that Clarissa said, which Ukrainian officials say they're trying to press on the Biden administration, "Give us the tools. We will repel the Russians completely. We'll kick them out of Crimea. We will take back the Donbas. But you're not giving us that kind of offensive weaponry that we need to take it."

What did President Biden and you say when the Ukrainians told you that?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, I want to make sure to protect the private conversations that President Biden and President Zelenskyy had, because they built a real relationship of trust. And they did have deep conversations, about precisely what kinds of capacities, and what kind of training, Ukraine needs, to be successful, in this effort, to take back the territory that Russia is currently occupying.

But let me just say this, Fareed, this week alone, on the day the President arrived, he brought with him an announcement of more artillery, more ammunition, more HIMARS, on the back of major announcements, about American tanks, and armored vehicles, and so much else of America's high technology capacity.


And today, the United States announced a further $2 billion, in security assistance, to Ukraine, all designed for a specific purpose, which is with our Military, looking hard at this set of problems, what can we do, to give Ukraine the tools that it needs to win. And we will keep working with them month-by-month, to figure out, if there are additional tools that they need. And that was the message that President Biden gave to President Zelenskyy that we're going to continue to look at what is necessary, and make sure that we provide what is necessary that Ukraine has what it needs, to succeed on the battlefield, so, it is the in the best possible position to secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

ZAKARIA: Let's take a question, from the audience. I want you to meet Walter Landgraf. He served in the U.S. Army, for 19 years. He has a question for Administrator Power.


WALTER LANDGRAF, U.S. ARMY: Thanks for the opportunity.

What vital interest does the United States have in Ukraine? From a national security perspective, it seems that avoiding nuclear war with Russia is most important. However, the continued material support, to Ukraine, raises the possibility that nuclear escalation might occur.

Our strategy seems to rely on the rationality, of Vladimir Putin, to not go nuclear. Is this wise?


Well, you've heard President Biden himself speak often, to the importance of avoiding exactly that scenario. He's been very attentive to the risk of escalation. And the strategy that has been pursued has been very measured.

But what is at stake in Ukraine, are values and interests, so core to the United States. I mean, imagine, just wanting your freedom, and your independence? I mean, this country is predicated on exactly those two values.

Imagine the counterfactual, where we walk away, or we didn't show up, in the first place, and what that would mean, when a dictator who has shut down civil society, shut down independent media, shut down dissenting voices, in his own country, then can just turn his sights, on a neighbor, and with impunity, take over that country? I mean, what would that mean, for our allies in Europe? What would that mean, for our own security, over time?

So I think, Americans understand bullies, and the importance of standing up to bullies. At the same time, again, we're very alert, to the risks, given that Russia is a nuclear-armed power, as you rightly say.

But that is, again, how we are in the position that we're in now, building a coalition, of countries, coming together, making sure that this isn't just the United States, and Russia, that this in fact, is Ukrainians, on the frontlines, Ukrainians doing the fighting, and a coalition of 50 countries, rallying behind them, and including actually today, 100 - more than 140 countries at the U.N., signaling still a year into the war, their support for Ukraine's self-defense. ZAKARIA: And, Jake, what about this issue of nuclear escalation? Are you confident that Vladimir Putin is bluffing, when he says he may escalate to other means? He said that various points in the past.

SULLIVAN: Well, what I can speak to is what we see. And we do not see any change in Russia's nuclear posture. And we've made no changes in our nuclear posture.

So, we are constantly vigilant. And we also maintain regular channels, to the Russian government, to be able to talk to them, about the risk of escalation, and also to communicate the severity of the consequences, of the use of nuclear weapons.

But from our perspective, sitting here today, we do not see movements, in Russia's nuclear forces that lead us to believe that something fundamentally has changed, from how things have been, over the course of the past year.

ZAKARIA: Let's bring in Yegor. Yegor is a soldier, in Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces. He's working as a tactical medic, on the frontlines. For his safety, we're not going to tell you his last name, or his exact location. But he is on the frontlines, in the east of Ukraine, just a few miles from Russia's troops.

Yegor, for someone, who's been living on the frontlines, day and night, give us an idea, what is life like out there.

YEGOR, UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: So hello, everyone.

Of course, the situation on the frontline zone is difficult. It depends on many factors. If we speak about our direction, direction of my unit, we have a lot of challenge. Basically, we have fights, every day, into every night.


You know, now, it's night in Ukraine, and some time ago, it was enemy tank attack. Our enemies try to break through frontline zone. Yesterday, only in our direction, the enemy had hundreds of their (ph) soldiers. And what should they say? We continue to hold our territories.

ZAKARIA: Does it feel to you like the Russians are trying to break through? I mean, does it feel like there's a lot of new Russian forces coming at you?

YEGOR: Yes, it's true.

ZAKARIA: Yegor, stay right there. Because, if you can, we have to take a break.

When we come back, I'm going to ask Yegor, to pose a question, to the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. His question, and many more, ahead on this special hour.




I'm joined here, in D.C., by National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and USAID Administrator, Samantha Power.

And joining us again, from the frontlines of the war, Yegor, a Territorial Defense soldier, in the Ukrainian Military.

Yegor, I know you have a question, you want to ask Jake Sullivan. What would you like to know?

YEGOR: Yes, I have a very specific question, for Mr. Sullivan.


Is U.S. government planning or considering launching the production of ammunition specially, for Ukraine? I mean 155 caliber shells, 120 calibers mines, and of course HIMARS missiles.

Do you consider this plan? And if your answer positive, could you please tell me, when are you going to realize this? Thank you.

SULLIVAN: Well, first, Yegor, before I answer the question, I just want to say that as you stand out, on the frontlines, tonight, you're defending the freedom of your country. But as President Biden said, in Warsaw, two nights ago, you're defending freedom everywhere.

And so, I want to say thank you, for your bravery, your courage, and for the men and women, who are fighting with you. We are grateful for all that you do, the sacrifices that you are making. And we can't even begin to imagine the difficulties, and the trials that you've gone through.

What we can do is everything in our power to get you the equipment, and the ammunition that you need. And you mentioned 155-millimeter artillery shells, 120-millimeter tank shells, and other systems, like the HIMARS missiles that you also just discussed.

One of the things that we are working hard at it, President Biden's direction, is to increase the production of all of these types of ammunition, here in the United States, but also in NATO countries, so that the total supply of each of these different forms of ammunition grows month by month, and we can continue to move to the frontlines, this ammunition, in the quantities that is necessary, for you to be able to mount a successful defense. And for you to be able to take back territory that has been occupied by Russia.

This is not something we can do with the snap of the finger. But it's something that we are putting immense effort, and resources into.

And Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin every month gathers 50 countries together, in Europe, in order to take stock of our progress.

And every two weeks, President Biden authorizes a new package of ammunition, to send to Ukraine. And we are trying to ramp up the numbers of that as rapidly as we possibly can, because we recognize that it is so central to your success in the fight.

So, we will continue to do all that we can do, on this very specific issue that it's not just about rhetoric, or words, it's about actually delivering the goods. And that's what we're trying to do.

ZAKARIA: Yegor, thank you so much for joining us. We pray that you and your compatriots return home safely, to your families.

We have Yegor up there, because of Starlink, Jake. And I wanted to want to ask you something that's always puzzled me. The Ukrainian army is able to communicate with this - with among itself, Ukrainian society is able to communicate, because of Starlink, which is essentially the will of one private individual, in the United States. Is that how it should be?

And people, in Ukraine, have told me they worry that if Elon Musk loses interest, in them that will suddenly turn the battlefield dark, for them, the Ukrainian army won't be able to communicate with one with one another.

Should the U.S. government be playing a role in this rather than Elon Musk?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, the fact that there is a company that has sent up enough satellites, to create a resilient system, for internet communication, and telephone communication, even in a war zone, even when Russia, is day-by-day trying to take out Ukrainian communications? That is a good thing. And it should be praised.

But of course, there should be more options. There should be more availability of the internet, more competition. And we'd like to see more companies enter the picture, to be able to offer a range of choices.

Now, having the United States be the internet provider, the U.S. government, in the United States, or in Ukraine, or anywhere, is not the way that we have designed the distribution and the availability of internet communication. We have relied upon the private sector for it.

But there are steps the U.S. government can take, working with other governments, to stimulate and support more of these types of companies, being able to deliver more internet, to more people in Ukraine, but yes, also here in the United States, and elsewhere around the world.

And in fact, something that USAID does, I don't need to speak for Samantha on this, is look to expand internet access, everywhere, through ways in which we can break down the barriers, to the provision of that internet access, in Ukraine, and everywhere else, because there should be many different options available.


But we also should give credit, where credit is due. And Starlink has been a critical element, in the defense of Ukraine.

POWER: And if I could just add one thing, Fareed?


POWER: Just on the specifics of Starlink. As it turns out that was a public-private partnership. It was actually a partnership between USAID, in getting the terminals delivered, in a timely way, I mean, within days, if not hours, of when Putin invaded.

So, it'd be very hard for a CEO from far away, to know where they should go, to have the connections on the ground, with Ukrainian officials. Because USAID and the U.S. government has been working with the Ministry of Digital Transformation, with the cybersecurity experts, on the ground.

I mean, one of the untold stories of this war is how secure Ukrainian communications have been, notwithstanding Russia's known proclivity, for hacking, and trying to use asymmetric means, in order to destabilize countries. That's the product of years of partnership, with the Ukrainians.

And so, often when you see a private sector actor, and one as important as this one, we can't discount that? But it also stems from some hustle and some catalytic work, by U.S. government actors, frankly, in order to get out of the way, and just bring the private sector together, with the Ukrainians, who know what they need, and when they need it.

ZAKARIA: Samantha Power, let me ask you a question that really is fully in your bailiwick, because, and it's something a lot of Americans think about, a lot of Republicans have been clamoring about, which is, before the war, Ukraine was regarded as by, if you looked at various indices, a very corrupt country. There was a lot of corruption in Ukraine, transparency, international, all those kinds of measures.

How can you be sure that these massive amounts of aid that the United States, and Europe, is sending, into Ukraine, are getting to the people they need to get to that there isn't corruption, graft, siphoning off? What kind of assurances can you give?

POWER: Well, one thing, just stepping back, and recalling, a year ago, Putin's speech, where he described his motivation for invading Ukraine?

At the heart of it was his panic, over the progress that Ukraine was making, to integrate itself, to Europe, for starters, to become more democratic, and to take on this corruption fight, because, that endangered so many of his and his cronies' ill-gotten gains.

So actually, what you've seen, particularly since 2014, is the strengthening of a whole series of anti-corruption institutions, within Ukraine. Are they panaceas, for decades, generations, where corruption was a major issue? Absolutely not.

But you've seen USAID, and other U.S. government actors, throw their weight behind the support for independent media, including actually once this war broke out, a year ago, getting flak jackets, and helmets, and sat phones to independent media, but also making sure that they could survive a war, and continue to report, on what Ukrainian authorities were doing, in a critical way, as a check and balance; civil society organizations, judges.

We just launched a new initiative, with the GAO, here in the United States, to help Ukraine build out its Supreme Audit Institution.

And that is going to be incredibly important, for reconstruction, and all the resources that are flowing in with regard to the very large investments that we make in providing monthly direct budget support, so that health workers can be paid, and educators can be paid, and people with disabilities can get support, when the Ukrainian budget is under such strain and such pressure.

That we do on basically a reimbursable basis. We don't provide resources, unless we see the receipt for the expenditure. And up to this point, we don't have any evidence that U.S. assistance is being misused or misspent.

But again, the key is not resting on anybody's goodwill or virtue. It's checks and balances, the rule of law, the integrity of officials, and when something is spotted, because there're going to be issues, that that gets smothered, that the people get fired, that they get prosecuted.

And what's amazing about this last year is at the same time, people like Oleg (ph) have been fighting, in the trenches, the fight against corruption has been continuing, the Rada (ph) has been continuing to pass laws of whistleblower protection, and on e-procurement, so that procurement is more visible, to Ukrainians, but also to the rest of us. And that fight has to continue alongside the Military fight.

ZAKARIA: I want to bring in Artem Kulyk. He is an interpreter, for the International Rescue Committee. He's a native Ukrainian.

Artem, you have a question, for the National Security Adviser?


I wanted to ask, do you have a regret that if the United States has started supplying weapons, earlier, a lot of innocent lives would have been saved?


SULLIVAN: So in 2021, the first year of the Biden administration, the United States provided far more lethal assistance, weapons to Ukraine than in any previous year in U.S. history, Javelins and other critical anti-armor systems to help build the Ukrainian defense. And we flowed that assistance as we were seeing the Russian troop buildup in the spring of 2021 and we kept flowing it as we saw the subsequent buildup that actually led to the invasion.

Now, at the end of the day, any time a country ends up in the kind of crisis that Ukraine did when Russia rolled in with its full scale invasion -- of course, we'd want to do more and faster and get as much as we possibly could into the hands of the Ukrainians. But I have to say, that our ability to flow assistance very rapidly in the lead-up to and in the early weeks of the war played a critical role in supporting the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people in defending the city of Kyiv and ensuring that Kyiv did not fall.

And for that, I think the United States and our allies and all of the other countries supporting Ukraine played not the vital role because the vital role was played by the Ukrainian people but a critical role and one that we continue to play to this day with what we are supplying.

ZAKARIA: But, Jake, let me ask you about that. There does seem to be a pattern. The Ukrainians ask for something, the administration is ambivalent. Time passes, there's a clamor around it that builds, and then it starts leaning toward it and then finally delivers.

That's what happened with HIMARS, that's what happened with Patriots, that's what happened with the Abrams tank. Fighter jets is now the issue.

It feels like if you're going to do it three or four months later, why not do it now given the speed is of the essence? What is going on that always leads to this pattern where you do eventually say, yes, but it's now four, six months later?

SULLIVAN: So, first, Fareed, the way that our military and our intelligence community make recommendations to the president is they look at the needs of the Ukrainian military during the phase of the war that they are confronting at that time. In the early weeks of the war, what the Ukrainian military needed to defend Kyiv was anti-armor systems, basically missiles that could stop tanks in their tracks so they couldn't roll over Kyiv and anti-air systems like Stinger missiles to shoot down the helicopters that were bringing in paratroopers to try to take over the city from the air.

In the second phase of the war, Ukraine really needed artillery in the east to stop the more traditional advances of the Russian military. As we head into the spring, what Ukraine really needs is armor -- infantry fighting vehicles and, yes, tanks. Now -- and we're providing those.

The president was advised by his military, Abrams tanks, the American tank doesn't make sense for this fight. What they really needed were Leopard tanks, German tanks that a bunch of countries in Europe own. But the Germans said we won't provide our tanks unless you, the United States, provide your tanks.

And President Biden said, if me providing Abrams tanks, even if it's not the most sensible military move will help unlock German tanks to get to the front lines and also will sustain alliance unity, I will do it. I tell that particular story as it relates to F-16s because these

decisions are not just people sitting around and say, thumbs up, thumbs down. A wide variety of factors go into the decision to provide a particular system, to train up the Ukrainians on it and then to get it into the fight. And when it comes to this --

ZAKARIA: So, will they get -- will they get fighter jets?

SULLIVAN: When it comes to F-16s, this is important for the current phase of the war. That this point is important for the current phase of the war, which is they're about to mount a significant counteroffensive. From our perspective, F-16s are not the key capability for that offensive. It is the stuff that we are moving rapidly to the front lines now.

F-16s are not a question for the short-term fight. F-16s are a question for the long term defense of Ukraine, and that's a conversation that President Biden and President Zelenskyy had.

ZAKARIA: We will be back in a moment to talk about a potentially disturbing escalation in this war. Will China begin to arm Russia?

We'll talk about that when we come back.





ZAKARIA: Welcome back to Washington, D.C. and a very special CNN town hall, "Russia's Invasion of Ukraine: One Year Later."

I want to go live to Kyiv, Ukraine, and bring in Lesya Karnauh, a mother of three. She has a question for USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

Lesya, welcome. What is your question?

LESYA KARNAUGH, UKRAINIAN MOTHER: First, I would thank to all American people for their unbelievable level of support since this war began. My father is 60 years old soldier now in Ukraine army is fighting to protect and defend us. My children are unable to go to school and we are here because of what you have given us to protect our families.

All my friends and family, we are very grateful for your -- for all American people for your help. And we want to live normal lives in peace, but Russia has brought war to us.

I would like to know if Americans see how similar they are to Ukrainians, and do Americans understand that we share the same values and we are just like you?


We love our families, we love our children. We want to progress and we want to see our children happy and safe.

I would like you to know we do not have hate in our hearts and we do not want to take peace from anyone in this world, even though the world has come to us. Please don't believe misinformation about us.

And can you tell me please how the normal American feels about us? Thank you.


I mean, first, let me say that the reflection I think of how much commonality Americans do feel with Ukrainians is the flow of support that has been sustained over the course of this last year. It is the bipartisanship in a town that isn't famous for it anymore, but Ukraine has been not only a galvanizing issue, but a uniting issue for our own country which has been very divided in recent years, and that's as recent as the end of last year where an enormous new appropriation was given to USAID and to other parts of the U.S. government to be able to support schools, to be able to support keeping the lights on, rebuilding the pipes, providing generators, boilers as Putin seeks to weaponize winter.

And I wish someday that you'd be able to travel to the United States and even when the war is over, you'll probably see the remnants of the blue and yellow flag flying in the most remote parts of this country. And so I think, you know, that commonality is there, that spirit of solidarity is there.

But the other thing you all have done is you have just awed us with your bravery and your resilience. So that is a separate dimension of this. That is something we have learned about Ukraine over the course of this conflict, that mothers, you know, using their sewing machines to pull household items together to make flak jackets. Others pulling pipes and mirrors together to make periscopes to provide to soldiers like Oleg on the frontlines so they can see over the trenches.

The way that all of society has come together and just refuses to be intimidated and bullied, it has inspired the world. It has inspired the American people and I think that's why you see that kind of solidarity is that we have gotten to know you and your hearts through the way you have come together and the way that you have fought for freedom.

ZAKARIA: Lesya, thank you. That was just a wonderful moment.

Let's go live to Russia now. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow.

Fred, you've been in Moscow for much of the conflict. Tell us how do ordinary Russians see all this, and how are they living their day-to- day lives?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fareed. Well, I would actually say a lot of Russians see the war in Ukraine very similar to the way that Vladimir Putin sees the war in Ukraine, if you look at the approval ratings for Vladimir Putin, we always have to take them with a grain of salt. But according to an independent pollster, they're at around 80 percent at this point in time.

And I would describe the support for the special military operation as the Russians call it as not necessarily enthusiastic among most people and I think one of the things that Administrator Powell said is absolutely correct. Dissent is obviously very dangerous here in this country.

Nevertheless, there are things that Vladimir Putin is laying out there in his reasoning for going to war that do resonate with a lot of Russian people. There are a lot of people here in this country who believe that the east of Ukraine is essentially Russian territory, historically Russian territory. There's a lot of people who believe that territory was infringed upon by the United States, by NATO, and that somehow this conflict now is one between Russia and the West, and specifically between Russia and the United States.

So, right now, there's no public pressure on Vladimir Putin to end this war and it certainly doesn't seem as though he's inclined to do so any time soon, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Fred, what is life like day-to-day for Russians? Do they feel the war in any sense?

PLEITGEN: That's an extremely important question. I'm really glad you asked that, Fareed, because I think a lot of people would be very surprised to see what life is like here in Moscow. There's till a lot of Western products on the shelves, card payments are possible, electronic payments are possible.

If you wanted to, you could basically block out the fact that this country is at war. Of course, then there are the symbols that the war is there. There's "Z" symbols in a lot of places, "V" symbols, the symbols of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

By and large, I would say, as far as the economy is concerned, it's been hurt by the sanctions but not crippled by the sanctions so certainly economic pressure is not something that will cause Vladimir Putin to change course.


ZAKARIA: Thank you, Fred. Fred Pleitgen from Moscow.

Let me ask you about that, Jake Sullivan.

The IMF projects that the Russian economy is actually going to do better this year than the British economy or the German economy. There are reports -- "The New York Times" had a long report on how countries like China and India and Turkey and Iran are supplying all kinds of goods to the Russians that perhaps, you know, they would -- they thought they wouldn't be able to get when Western companies left.

Does this mean that the sanctions are really not working?

SULLIVAN: No, it doesn't. First of all, the Russian government has put an enormous amount of effort into trying to prop up the economy and they are spending down their sovereign wealth fund, basically the money they've got in their government bank in order to prop up the economy and to keep those numbers looking good on paper.

But underneath that, there are signs of fundamental structural rot in the Russian economy. Their ability to access high technology which mostly comes from the West, their ability to access the brains of some of the smartest people in Russia is becoming constrained by the fact that those people are flowing in droves in hundreds of thousands. Their ability to keep replenishing their war machine with the components they need to build the missiles and bombs that they're raining down on Ukraine has been hampered badly by these sanctions.

And the thing about the sanctions, Fareed, is that they have a compounding effect. They get worse over time, month by month. They hollow out the Russian industrial base, the Russian technology base, and the fundamental foundation of Russia's ability to hold on to a modern economy and to the future.

So, are there more steps that we can take? Absolutely. And tomorrow, the G7 will announce a new and quite powerful round of sanctions including aimed at countries that are trying to backfill the products that are denied them from these sanctions.

And so, you will see as time goes on the continued erosion of the quality and capacity of the Russian economy even as Vladimir Putin races to spend money in an effort to prop it up.

ZAKARIA: Let's now talk about China. We have another audience member who is here in D.C.

Joseph Ogundeyi is a project manager at a nonprofit. He has the floor with a question for Jake that gets right to the heart of the matter.

JOSEPH OGUNDEYI, NONPROFIT PROJECT MANAGER: Yes, hey, Jake. I was wondering, do you feel that U.S. sanctions will actually have an impact on drawing a closer relationship with Russia and China and pushing them together?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think it's a great question and we've all been watching the relationship between China and Russia closely since early last February when President Putin traveled to Beijing for the Olympics to meet with President Xi.

But what I would say is that the kind of cartoonish notion that these two countries have become unbreakable allies is belied by a few facts.

First, China actually even today abstained on a U.N. Security Council or U.N. General Assembly resolution. They didn't vote with Russia. They have been very careful in how they posture themselves publicly in their comments. They have tried to pitch themselves as somehow not standing fully in Russia's camp when it comes to the war in Ukraine, and their top diplomat recently was in Europe trying to sell the idea that China's not all in with Russia.

But there are also disturbing signs about the ways in which China is supporting Ukraine, is not standing up and speaking out about the terrible atrocities being committed in Ukraine. And, of course, they have not taken off the table the possibility of providing military assistance to Ukraine although we haven't seen them do it yet.

So it's something we watch very closely and President Biden has a simple message to send when he talks to President Xi. China should not be supporting the Russian war effort because the Russian war effort is all about trying to destroy and subjugate a neighbor in violation of every principle of human decency and every principle of international law.

And that is a message that not only the United States is carrying but countries around the world are carrying. As Samantha said earlier, 141 countries today voted to condemn this war and to show that the vast majority of the world recognizes what is happening here and who is at fault and it is Russia.

ZAKARIA: But let me follow up on that question and ask, is it a sign that the administration's relationship with China is so broken that the Chinese don't feel they have anything to gain by being -- by trying to play some kind of even neutral role here and are in some ways pushed closer to Russia?


The administration maintains the Trump tariffs. It has put sanctions on high tech to try to prevent technology transferred to China.

From the Chinese point of view, do they look at this and say, what do we have to gain? The relationship with the United States is terrible anyway. They are trying to contain us.

SULLIVAN: I don't believe that China's approach to Russia is a referendum on its relationship with the United States any more than I believe it's a referendum on their relationship with Europe. They bet big on building a better relationship with Europe and the nations of Europe.

In fact, when we came into office, it was weeks after China and Europe had agreed to a major investment treaty. That's now on the shelf. I don't think that the reason that China is making its decision is about any other country, us or the European Union or otherwise. They're making a decision based on what they see is being in their national interest.

And I think in the early weeks and months of this war, they thought Russia would roll over Ukraine and this would end up being good for them. As they see the extent to which Russia continues to show every single day that it is acting in monstrous ways that I think deep down, many people, even in the Chinese government, find difficult to deal with, they're just trying to get through. They're trying to find a way in a very awkward space to not oppose Russia but to not fully support them either. That's a difficult place for them to be but I don't think that's about us.

Now, President Biden has been absolutely clear, he has a very straightforward approach when it comes to China. We are in a competition with China and we are going to compete vigorously, but we are not looking for conflict and we will manage that responsibly. That's how he approached his meeting with President Xi last fall in Indonesia, and that's how he will continue to approach this relationship going forward.

ZAKARIA: Samantha Power, do you think that this is an inevitable alliance between two autocracies? President Biden often talks about a world of democracies and a world of autocracies. Is this world we're up against? Which is a sobering thought because I mean -- you know, the three largest nuclear powers in the world and you have two, Russia and China, allied and in a sense their missiles pointed at the United States.

POWER: Well, what I see as USAID administrator traveling to developing countries is China making -- continuing to make a whole series of investments often causing those countries to incur an awful lot of debt but really caring a lot about its standing in the global self and this gets to Jake's point about the awkwardness of throwing its lot in with a naked aggressor committing war crimes as a matter of state policy.

I mean, when you set out to de-electrify a country in the dead of winter, that is enshrining the intentional destruction of civilian infrastructure as a war aim. It's very unusual, and to do so publicly and flamboyantly, that is -- that creates great awkwardness for the People's Republic of China.

And with so much of the Global South voting to condemn this war, seeing themselves at stake. You know, what would it mean to a developing economy if a neighbor, a larger neighbor in sub-Saharan Africa can come across a border and take land and take resources?

So, you know, I think that China's longer game, right, involves establishing legitimacy, shaping the international order in its own image, certainly diminishing the role of human rights and other things that are deeply problematic. But in order to do so, they're looking for votes in the U.N. They're looking for support. They're looking for trade partners. They're looking for markets for their goods.

And what Russia is doing is bringing them into circumstances that I think fundamentally are not in their economic interests, not in their -- the interests of, again, expanding their standing which has been so fundamental to Xi's approach to leadership from day one.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us.

Up next, we are going to talk to someone in Ukraine who has been living through this war and she is just 14 years old -- when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Welcome back to the CNN town hall. Russia's invasion of Ukraine, one year later.

I'm joined here in Washington, D.C. by the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and the USAID administrator Samantha Power.

And we have a very special guest joining us from Kyiv. This is a 14- year-old Lera. My team first met Lira in September when we were in Ukraine for an interview with President Zelenskyy. She's an amazing young woman.

Lera, hello. Good to see you again. What would you like to ask?


Most children feel the safest around their close ones. Can I as an average Ukrainian teenager really on Americans to make me feel that type of safety?

ZAKARIA: Samantha Power?

POWER: Well, I think as you know firsthand, Lera, safety, the feeling of safety comes from a lot of things -- above all, knowing that those around you are safe.

It must be harrowing for you to know that your loved ones are likely to be called out to fight on the front or are on the front. Safety comes from being in your school and knowing that you're going to be able to continue to learn. The ability to know that you're going to have food on the table the next day or that your -- when you try to logon to do your schoolwork, that there's going to be electricity.

And what we are trying to do as a government is attack all of those issues that Putin is trying to undermine and destroy at once, and we're only able to do so because the Ukrainian people are tackling all of these issues at once. The farmers are still out in the field planting, sometimes using bomb detectors or metal detectors to make sure there's no unexploded ordnances.