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NATO Chief Warns Bakhmut May Fall In The "Coming Days"; Zelenskyy: We Defend Bakhmut So Russia Won't Have "Open Road"; Zelenskyy Pleads For Biden To Send U.S. Fighter Jets To Ukraine. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 08, 2023 - 21:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, a wartime president with a message to the world.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): We will have victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in an exclusive interview, with CNN, of the urgent battle for Bakhmut.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Things are looking rather grim, for Ukrainian forces, in and around the City of Bakhmut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The execution video of a Ukrainian POW.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: U.S. aid to Ukraine, and Republican skepticism about spending more.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I said, "No blank checks."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What President Biden told him in the warzone, and his plea for American warplanes.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Are Western fighter jets, U.S. fighter jets, the weapon that will make or break a Ukrainian victory?



BLITZER: Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

At this very, very moment, Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and his nation, are facing a critical time, in Russia's invasion, now in its second year.

For the first time, in some eight months, the Russians could, could be on the cusp of capturing a Ukrainian city, Bakhmut, in the east, the site of the longest and bloodiest battle of this war. NATO Secretary General warned that Bakhmut may fall in the coming days.

Today, Ukraine's military claims to be holding off Vladimir Putin's army, in areas, around the city, saying they killed more than 100 Russian soldiers, in a 24-hour period. But they also acknowledge, the Russians are still advancing and they're advancing fast.

We're live in Ukraine's capital, we're seeing, as Alex Marquardt, is standing by, with the very latest, from the ground.

But first, President Zelenskyy says if the Russians gained control of Bakhmut, it could change the course of the entire war.

Here's part one of my interview.


BLITZER: Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us at this crucial moment, in your country's history.

I want to start with the battle for Bakhmut. Ukraine, has put up a tremendous fight, and inflicted massive losses, on the Russian side. But in recent days, Russian forces have made some critical gains there. Why have you decided not to withdraw from Bakhmut?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Firstly, thank you, and all your audience, for this opportunity, to talk to you. And international support is extremely important to us. And the international support is no less important than the support with weapons. That's why, thank you, again.

As to Bakhmut situation, we understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory, a small victory, even by ruining everything, in Bakhmut, just killing every civilian there. They need to put their little flag on top of that, to show their society. It's not a victory for them. It's more like support to mobilize their society, in order to create this idea of they're such a powerful army.

For us, it's certainly (ph) different, this is tactical for us. We understand that after Bakhmut, they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, to Sloviansk. And it will be open roads for the Russians, after Bakhmut, to other towns, in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction, in the east of Ukraine. That's why our guys are standing there.

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. President, some of your own Ukrainian commanders have actually questioned holding on to Bakhmut, as their forces are suffering very heavy casualties, right now. Amid worries that could hurt Ukraine's ability to launch a spring offensive, what do you say to those commanders?


ZELENSKYY (through translator): Firstly, it's not related to the official position of those commanders. That's why we're having the meetings of Chief of Staff, when everyone is talking openly, about things, which are basically close to everyone else. So, we're waiting for the information, to come in.

More than 20 people are present, at this meeting, from the Intelligence Services, and the Security Services. We also have the National Guard's commanders, and every single commander. That's why I never heard anything like that from any of those commandos. How can I treat this? It means that someone has his own opinions. But it does look like a fake, and created in Russian Federation that we have -- that our troops should be retreating.

BLITZER: How much do you believe, Mr. President, that the battle for Bakhmut has actually weakened Putin's forces? How many men has he lost, in this fight, for Bakhmut? Do you know?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We know every name, who is being lost there. We're treating it very seriously. We lost in times less than Russia lost there. They are not -- they don't care about their people. They just like throw them under the bullets. And we're standing strong. We have a defensive mission there, very much like in different directions. Russia is trying to attack. But it's invaded.

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. President, a very disturbing video has emerged, in recent days, appearing to show the execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war, by the Russians. The soldier has now been identified. He was fighting, as you know, near Bakhmut.

And I want to warn our viewers, right now, we'll play a little clip. This is graphic. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You son of a...




BLITZER: His last words were "Glory to Ukraine." What goes through your mind Mr. President, watching that truly horrific execution, of one of your soldiers?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): This is the show of the Russian attitude towards POWs. They don't have any laws of war, or international law of any conventions. It's a question that these people, they don't respect anything. They don't fight, like soldiers.

It's, for us, it's war, for our freedom, for democracy, for our values.

For them, it's terrorism. That's the attitude. And they post these videos. They just killed a guy, who refused to surrender, and he said, "Glory to Ukraine." That's where you go. This is the face of this war. This is the face of the Russian Federation.

BLITZER: The White House expects Russia will aim to go on the offensive, the military offensive, on multiple fronts, this spring. What are you preparing for, Mr. President? Do you anticipate Russia will attack, on multiple fronts, in the Donbas? Or does Putin have broader ambitions across Ukraine?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Intelligence works every day with our partners' Intelligence, the U.S., U.K., the European Union countries. We constantly exchange information. And we don't have any secrets from each other. We're all on the same side of information.

And we think that in a Donbas direction, Russia started its offensive. This is the offensive. This is what -- it looks like the slow aggression, because they don't have enough strength and forces. And, on the other hand, we see the concentration of force by Russians. We are ready for this. We are getting ready for this. And we're getting the information from our partners. We understand that we have to be ready for everything, and we have to concentrate, strengthen forces, and new weaponry, from our partners, in order to conduct our counteroffensive operation.


BLITZER: A lot more to come, with President Zelenskyy.

But first, we got to CNN's Alex Marquardt. He's joining us live, from Kyiv, right now.

Alex, you've just come from Eastern Ukraine, where you spent some time, some considerable time, on the frontlines, around Bakhmut. So, where does the fight, there, stand, right now?

MARQUARDT: Wolf, it is extraordinary, extraordinarily fierce fighting. And it has been, for months now.

I was speaking with a senior Pentagon official, who said it is very impressive, how the Ukrainians are holding their ground. They're making the Russians fight for every inch. Where the Ukrainians have to withdraw, they're doing it in a smart way. So the Ukrainians are holding on for now.


The Russians are making a significant push. They have made some gains. Now, as you know, Wolf, the Russian forces have been led by those Wagner mercenaries, largely those contractors, mercenary contractors, and convicts, who have died by the thousands.

But they have made some gains at trying to encircle the city, particularly lately, in the north of the city, as they try to cut off the main supply route that Ukraine uses, to resupply its troops. We have seen Wagner forces pushing into the east of the city. Quite significantly, we saw Wagner forces replacing the Ukrainian flag, on a tank, with their own flag. We saw the head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in the eastern part of

the city. But Prigozhin also complaining about the lack of support, from the Russian military. Wolf, the Ukrainian military has done a very good job, at degrading Russia's military and forces there.

We've seen Wagner having to use some of their more elite forces, in this fight, backed up by Russian airborne forces. So, this is not just the cannon fodder that Wagner has been accused of using, before.

There have been lots of questions, Wolf, why President Zelenskyy keeps committing to this fight, because many analysts believe that it is not very strategic.

But what President Zelenskyy has shown is that the Ukrainian forces are very much degrading, and weakening the Russian troops, there, so that if they were to take Bakhmut, they wouldn't be able to make much progress, going further west, from there.

A lot of analysts and officials disagree with President Zelenskyy that it would be an open road, for Russia, if Russia were to take Bakhmut, because it's not very easy, to move west or north, from Bakhmut, and they would be in a very weakened state.

At the same time, Wolf, because so many thousands of men have lost their lives, and this fight has been going on, for so many months, if Russia did take Bakhmut, it would be a significant symbolic victory for them.


BLITZER: Certainly would be.

Alex Marquardt, stay safe over there. Thank you very much.

We'll have much more of our exclusive interview, with President Zelenskyy, in just a moment, including the disagreement with the Biden administration, over sending U.S. fighter jets, to Ukraine, and we'll ask the White House directly where that effort stands. That's next.

Plus, what President Biden told President Zelenskyy, during that dramatic trip, to the warzone.



BLITZER: Back now to our exclusive interview, with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

We continue now with his country's ongoing push, for the United States, to send modern fighter jets, to Ukraine, to help defeat Russian forces. To date, to date, President Biden has said, no. So, what does Zelenskyy think it will take, to get a yes?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: President of Biden recently said that you don't need these F- 16 U.S. fighter jets, at least not right now. Did he give you an explanation for that, when you met face-to-face, recently, in Kyiv?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): The fighter jets issue is difficult. We're waiting for this decision, to be taken. And I'd say like the fighter jets supply, it's a part of the defense of our infrastructure, energy supplies, and other strategic supplies, because it's a part of the air defense. And that's what it is.

And we don't have the fighter jets, to deal with it, and to counteract the Russian hits. And we really need this, and really appeal to President that they could start training Ukrainian pilots. And President Biden told me that it will be worked upon. And I believe that United States will give us the opportunity, to defend, and defend our skies. This is the thing the U.K. is helping this, and a number of European countries.

BLITZER: Are Western fighter jets, U.S. fighter jets, other Western fighter jets, Mr. President, the weapon that will make or break a Ukrainian victory?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Yes. We believe so. In this war, there were several pages. The artillery supplies, 155 millimeters. Then the next page was HIMARS and supplies.

And now, other page, we've got air defense systems, for Ukraine, being sent, in order to preserve Ukrainian infrastructure, and energy supplies. And fighter jets are part of this structure. And, as you know, we also had a page on the tanks. And as soon as we started opening this page, the tanks will be supplied to Ukraine.

BLITZER: I just want to clarify, Mr. President, did President Biden tell you that fighter jets to Ukraine are still possible?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We spoke about fighter jets. And you make your own assumptions. President Biden has this position, from his advisers, aides, in a military direction, that what Ukraine doesn't need, at the moment, and jets, according to that were not needed.

And I said, "No. We need those jets." And it's a clear sign of a part of our air defense, to defend infrastructure, and population, because we can't receive 20, 30 range (ph) air defense systems, for Ukraine, because it's a long process, to receive those systems at Ukraine. We don't have that, and we won't get it in one or two years, because this manufacturing is a long process.

But what fighter jets could do, they could help us, to defend ourselves. That's why we need it urgently.

And I explained it to President Biden. And I said, "Let's just start the training mission." And I have the confirmation from the Polish, and the U.K. side that they would go ahead, with the training mission, tomorrow.

[21:20:00] And the coalition of the fighter jets, for different countries, they want to have the U.S. decision. That's why, as I said, a lot depends on the U.S., here, because we're talking about a training mission and the supply of fighter jets, by other countries. They wait for the United Nations -- United States' decision.

That's what I said to President Biden. And I said, "OK, let's work on this issue." So, a ball was in the court of the U.S. President. So, we expect what will be decided soon.

BLITZER: What was it like, Mr. President, to have President Biden, on the ground, with you, in Kyiv, for the first time, since the war began, as those air raid sirens were blared -- blaring around you?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We are not afraid of sirens, to be honest. We've learned to live with them. We worked with the President. We left presidential palace, and we went outside. And we've had a look at the very own (ph) memory Wall of Remembrance of our fallen heroes.

And I'm happy that the sirens didn't affect President Biden, or his team. So, we paid our respects, to the fallen heroes, despite the sirens. And it really supported me, from the inside. It was such a cool signal.

And that's respect to the President of the United States. We showed that we're not afraid of the sirens, we're not afraid of Russia. We want to pay our respects, to someone, who gave their lives, to freedom and democracy, all over the world, not just one person, who went crazy and tried to scare the world, with some missile attack. This visit, as a whole, was very symbolic and very motivating one.

BLITZER: What did it mean to your country, to Ukraine, the people in Ukraine, to have the President of the United States, there, walking on the streets with you?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): It's a calm, immense calm, and protection, confidence, at the full protection, full calm. Canadian (ph), none of us will get until the end of the world, because war is not peace, and nothing nice about the signals, of the words, of the feelings, through the presence of the U.S. President, in Kyiv. They went on to such a different level. We have this feeling that "You're not alone." There's a feeling that "America is with you, and other partners." And that shows that of course we will prevail.


BLITZER: So, the big question, right now, will President Biden change course, and send fighter jets, to Ukraine?

Joining us now, the White House National Security Spokesman, John Kirby.

John, thank you so much for joining us.

Why are Ukrainian pilots actually training, with the 162nd Fighter Wing, if President Biden's answer, on F-16s remains, no, at least for now?

JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: This isn't really training. It's an assessment.

And it's only a couple of pilots, Wolf. They're out there in Tucson, Arizona. And the main thing that we're trying to do there is to assess their ability, to use some of the U.S. weapons systems, on their fighter jets, on their MiGs, in particular, some precision-guided munitions that we're providing them, so that they can be more precise, in their targeting.

And so, we're trying to assess, again, with a small number too, what, how they can mission-plan, and how they can execute the delivery of those kinds of weapons off of their jets. That's what's going on, right now.

BLITZER: President Zelenskyy told me that these fighter jets are make or break for Ukrainian victory.

But the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, Colin Kahl, told the House Armed Services Committee, last week, it would take some 18 months, to train Ukrainian pilots, to fly these F-16s.

So, what options does the U.S. have, for bridging that logistical divide?

KIRBY: Well, what we're focused on, right now, quite frankly, Wolf, is the kind of fighting that we expect that the Ukrainians are going to be doing, in the weeks and months ahead, here, as the weather improves. And this is based on their assessment, of the fighting that they're going to be doing, in the weeks and months ahead.

And we're really focusing on those four As, Artillery, Armored capabilities, like tanks, Ammunition, and of course, Air defense.

And I saw the interview with you, and President Zelenskyy. He talked a lot about air defense. And the air defense systems that the Ukrainians have, they're using, quite effectively.


It's important to note that in this now year of war, the Russians have not achieved anything near, or even approaching air superiority, over the skies of Ukraine, because so many of us, our allies and partners, have helped provide competent and capable air defense capabilities, and the training that goes along with that.

BLITZER: What is the White House's assessment, right now, John, of how long Ukrainian forces can actually hold that City of Bakhmut?

KIRBY: Well, we obviously want them to hold it, and completely take it back, from the Wagner and Russian military forces that are trying to take it from them. And they've been fighting very, very bravely.

It is vicious, close, very, very close combat. Both sides have been really slugging it out. And the Russians have just poured manpower into this, sometimes ill- trained, ill-equipped, mostly convicts, or -- and I would say, majority convicts, that they've taken out of prisons, to fight over this town of Bakhmut.

And it's clear to us that what's really driving this, Wolf, is Mr. Prigozhin, and his own greed. There's a mine there, in Bakhmut, and we think that he's the reason why Bakhmut has become such a focus, for Russia, right now. And that's why that they -- that's why they're fighting so hard for it.

BLITZER: So, what is the Administration's assessment also, right now, and this is related, of Ukraine's ability, at some point, to retake Crimea?

KIRBY: That's going to be up to President Zelenskyy. And he needs to determine, A, what he wants to do here, come spring, and where he wants to go, and how many forces he's going to apply, to that effort.

We'll certainly provide information, and advice, and that kind of thing. But ultimately, it's going to be up to President Zelenskyy, to determine, what his goals are, and how achievable they might be.

BLITZER: John Kirby, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

KIRBY: You bet. My pleasure.

BLITZER: All right, still, there's still a very deep divide, in Washington, on whether to spend more money, on Ukraine. President Zelenskyy has a message for the top House Republican, who has repeatedly said, he doesn't support any quote, "Blank checks" for Ukraine.

And Speaker Kevin McCarthy has now responded.

This is CNN Primetime.



BLITZER: Last year, Congress approved $113 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine. But future funding is in doubt with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and no end in sight to the war.

My exclusive interview continues now with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.


BLITZER: The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the House of Representatives here in Washington, Kevin McCarthy says he supports Ukraine but doesn't support what he calls a blank check -- a blank check for Ukraine. That criticism is being echoed by former President Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, possible leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

How worried are you, President Zelenskyy, how worried are you about this trend among some Republicans that it could threaten the flow of support to Ukraine?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I would like to thank the bipartisan support of Ukraine. And it's very important. Of course, the internal policy in the U.S. and there's foreign policy. And I would like to thank United States on the foreign policy, there is a unified position to support Ukraine. And I would say one that, for instance, here, there are Republicans and Democrats visiting Ukraine, sometimes in a joint group, sometimes in separate groups, everyone supports us.

Recently, I had a meeting with representatives of the Republican Party and thankful to congressman who visited Ukraine. They told me that they want to support Ukraine very much like the Democrats with -- don't want to slow down. We have a different approach. We want to give more and now, but not dragging it forever. That was their signal.

And I told them openly that it doesn't matter the format for us. Please understand us, we are fighting. We're not inventing things. It's very important that you come and see for your own eyes. We really ask you.

Clearly, on some levels, we can make mistakes, but we're following all this. And it's obviously on different levels. So the army minister of defense, if we have mistakes, we're trying to rectify it all. We're very open about this. Because we know that without the U.S. support, it will be very difficult for us.

And I think that Speaker McCarthy, he's pretty right and pretty not in some point, but I'm very grateful for his position. And I met him in Congress and he supports us. And it's absolutely true.

The only thing that means he never visited Kyiv or Ukraine, and I think it would help him with his position. I'm not trying to influence his position. He's a free person, and he could have any position which he chooses, moreover, that he's occupying a certain level as he represents his voters, his electorate.

And I want to say that it's very important when someone comes here and sees in his own eyes the consequences of war, and sees how everything works.

But when you come to us, when the Democrats and Republicans come to us, they see the supply routes, every shell, every bullet, every dollar.


And everyone sees that. That's very important. It changes the point of view. You're still believing in all these rumors or whatever the Russian federation is spreading.

But everyone who was here, who had free access to everything what we're doing, the logistical process, everyone was saying we do not have any questions to you. That's why I invite Mr. McCarthy to Ukraine. Like I told Mr. Biden, your visits here is an extremely important signal of supporting -- of supporting Ukraine.

And when he came, he realized that people -- not only people in Ukraine support him, people in the U.S. support him, and people are grateful for that. And with this visit, he gives people motivation. It's very important.

And as to Mr. McCarthy, he has to come here to see how we work, what's happening here. What war cost us, which of people are fighting now, who fighting now. And then after that, make your assumptions or he's an independent person of peace. Yes, let's do that.

BLITZER: On another related military issue, Mr. President, so far the U.S. has ruled out your long standing request for these longer range missiles over concerns they would be used by Ukraine to target deep inside Russia. Can you assure American officials that Ukraine won't launch attacks using American-provided weapons on Russian soil?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We're not interested. I was saying on many occasions, we're not interested in Russian land. That's why it's not us who started this war but Russia did.

We never tried or break anyone's sovereignty, even such a huge aggressive Russian Federation. That systems -- the long range very much like a munition and weaponry we need in order that our people stop dying.

We cannot just, you know, cross the Dnipro River at the moment. And they're shooting and they keep shelling and we don't have the weaponry to reach them. That's why I'm emphasizing the long-range weapons U.S. manufacturers or any European partners manufactured. We need only to protect our peaceful civilian population.

And if we can push Russians even further with these long range missiles or artillery, they will not threaten us any longer. This is a main task for this type of long range weapons.


BLITZER: The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has now responded to President Zelenskyy's invitation, we just heard it, to visit Kyiv.

CNN's Manu Raju spoke with McCarthy. Manu's joining us right now.

So, what did he tell you, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, he rejected that call to go to Kyiv, because he, in his view, says there should be no blank check to Ukraine. Now, he's been saying that for some time, that he will not simply allow money to be approved by -- to Ukraine. And this comes, unless there's some scrutiny to it, he says, and this comes as these voices within his own conference on the Republican side have gotten louder and more opponents to approving more aid to Ukraine.

But when I asked about what exactly what President Zelenskyy told you, Wolf, McCarthy pushed back.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Let's be very clear about what I said no blank checks, okay? So, from that perspective, I don't have to go to Ukraine to understand where there's a blank check or not. I will continue to get my briefings and others, but I don't have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv to see it. And my point has always been, I don't write blank checks for anything.


RAJU: It's a bit unclear exactly what McCarthy means by no blank check. When Congress has approved to pass aid to Ukraine, there's been some - -there's a process that goes back and forth between Congress and the executive branch, the White House, about exactly what the aid is needed -- is needed for Ukraine. The Defense Department comes and gives classified briefings to members of Congress so members can understand exactly what money is needed and where it is going.

But nevertheless, a sign here, Wolf, of the challenges ahead and the new power dynamic on Capitol Hill with Speaker McCarthy indicating here, again, no blank check, and also, he has no plans to visit Kyiv despite President Zelenskyy's offering.

BLITZER: Yeah, invitation.

All right. Thanks very much, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.


Would President Zelenskyy ever speak directly with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to end this war? And when does he predict Ukraine finally might be able to secure its freedom?

We'll be back with more right after this.


BLITZER: Our CNN primetime exclusive interview with the president of Ukraine continues right now with the biggest question of all, how does this wherever ever end?


BLITZER: As you know, the United States has been warning China against providing lethal weapons to Russia. Have you been briefed, Mr. President, recently by U.S. officials on where this all stands? Do you expect China to take that step?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I would like to have all the countries support the end of the war and on the side of all other security directions which were -- so the war we have a lack of. [21:45:01]

And we're interested to have China on the side of the nuclear safety and security.

The U.S. doesn't have much in common with China. We understand that. And how the U.S. will be living with China, it's a matter of between U.S. and China.

But when the war starts on the, you know, European continent, which is happening today in Ukraine, we have to be interested in limiting this war and ending this war. That's why this factor should unite us. Russia is an aggressor.

Russia should not be on the sovereign Ukrainian territory. It should go away not with force, but to retreat itself to respect -- respecting the international law. It shouldn't be occupying the nuclear power plants because it's the threat to the whole of the world.

I'm talking about Zaporizhzhia power plant. That's the risk. And we -- other countries should do this, all of them despite their geopolitical differences. We have to be interested in peace from the sovereignty to territorial integrity to the end of this war.

BLITZER: Under what conditions, Mr. President, would you be willing to speak directly with Vladimir Putin?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I think that today, we don't have any circumstances to talk to the Russian Federation President because he doesn't hold his words. He's -- he -- we don't have any confidence in him. And he killed thousands of people.

In order to discuss a diplomatic resolution of war as a whole and configuration of this diplomatic decision, not military, but a diplomatic decision, in order to do that, Russia should leave our territory. And after that, we're happy to join the diplomatic tools. In order to do that, we can find any format with our partners just after that.

BLITZER: So what does the end game, Mr. President, look like? How do you define victory in this war?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We will have our victory. I think that victory will end up with the understandable security decision for many years to come and I'm sure after this war, there will be more understandable situation in the European continent, and more stable situation in -- on the European continent, and Russia will not be able to threaten any other countries fighting for their freedom and independence.

If Russia's troops will not leave Ukraine territory, it means war will be raging in Ukraine -- in the Europe on and on and on. And that's why in any -- at any point, there will be another war which will lead to the Third World War, and we totally understand that. Number one issue, they have to leave Ukraine either should be pushed

out of Ukrainian territory or through the negotiations and agreement with other partners. They have to leave our territory and then only then we can talk about diplomacy. Now, we have -- would have had to say if we will leave it, it will be just a calm before another storm.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Mr. President, that Ukraine could win this war this year, 2023?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): It all depends on the field of the supply of material and military support. Only on that. The longer it will take, the less motivation our fighters will be without any supplies of weaponry. That's why the motivation will vain because if we not give people weapons, they cannot go into offense. And if you wait -- if you wait and wait, the victory will come later.

But I'm not doubting this victory. It only depends on time.


BLITZER: President Zelenskyy gets personal in a moment when I asked him about his children, and what it is like to raise them in this time of extreme turmoil.



BLITZER: Amid all the pressures that come with leading a country at war, Ukraine's president also has an important job of father, raising an 18 year old and a ten year old. That is where we go next in our exclusive interview with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.


BLITZER: The last time you and I spoke, Mr. President, you shared with me that your son and your daughter have had to grow up quickly because of this horrific war. How are you and your family doing now? What do you tell your children?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Thank you for your question. Thank you for mentioning the children, because it's because of them we're fighting.

My daughter joined the university and she studies there, and my son is attending the school in Ukraine. They're both in Ukraine. They're very much like other Ukrainian kids.

We live with sirens. Today is a different situation where we got used to it, but we want victory. We don't want to get used to war, but we got used to the challenges.


Everyone wants one thing, to end the war. Very importantly with our victory. Nobody trust Russia anymore. And probably the next generations won't be trusting Russia. This is true.

They grew up and they don't need to be told anything. All our children in Ukraine, they're grown-ups, but with children faces, but they're very grown up. They understand everything. They're sure in everything.

They're not mediators of this war. They only support the victory for Ukraine.


BLITZER: My special thanks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for this very candid, lengthy interview.

You can catch me tomorrow, of course, in "THE SITUATION ROOM", 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota starts right after this.