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The Situation Room
Russia Unleashing War On Ukraine; Biden Says, Aggressor Putin Chose This War; Zelensky: 137 Ukrainian Soldiers Dead After First Day Of Fighting. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 24, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We pray for the people of Ukraine.
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Our coverage of the breaking news in Ukraine continues now with Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Russia is unleashing war on Ukrainian in a massive and deadly attack from land, sea and air. We're getting reports of major artillery fire tonight as thousands are fleeing the assault that has shattered peace in Europe and triggered a very dangerous global crisis.
President Biden says Vladimir Putin chose this war in a sinister act of naked aggression. He's ordering new sanctions, promising they will be devastating for Russia and his deploying thousands of additional U.S. troops in Europe.
Our correspondents are near the front line and in other key locations for CNN special war coverage.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Russia's war on Ukraine is now entering a second night with Kremlin forces launching major artillery fire witnessed by CNN reporters.
Go straight to Ukraine for all the breaking news right now. CNN's Jim Sciutto is on the ground in the western city of Lviv. Jim, Russian invasion forces have been moving deeper and deeper into Ukraine. What is the latest?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a very latest, in fact, just confirmed in the last couple of minutes here, and that is that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has ordered a general mobilization order for the military.
This involves a lot of things. It involves the conscription of conscripts, it involves calling up reservists for military service and they're delivery to military units, I'm now quoting from the order, and institutions of Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Also, critically as part of this order, it now bans all male citizen from the ages ever 18 to 60 from leaving the country. So, this is quite a dramatic step. It shows that Ukraine really calling on all of its citizens of military age, quite a broad range there, 18 to 60, to stand up and fight.
It shows you what this country is capable of in terms of pushing back against this Russian invasion. But it also shows you just how grueling these next few days and weeks can be of fighting, that as Russian forces continue their assault on this country from the air, on the ground, and from the sea.
SCIUTTO (voice over): Ukrainian airports under bombardment, air raid sirens across the country, explosions in the capital of Kyiv, these are scenes of what many thought could never happen, an unprovoked Russian invasion into Ukraine on a massive scale, the biggest war in Europe since World War II. Russian forces began hitting targets across Ukraine overnight. A senior U.S. defense official said Russia has now launched more than 160 missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced what he called a special military operation. He refused to call it a war.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.
SCIUTTO: Today, President Biden implemented a massive wave of sanctions in response to the invasion.
BIDEN: This is going to impose severe cost on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time. We have purposely designed these sanctions to maximize a long-term impact on Russia.
SCIUTTO: He made it clear that U.S. troops would not be sent to fight in Ukraine, but the Pentagon announced that some 7,000 U.S. troops that have been placed on standby would be sent to Europe to bolster the defensive NATO response force.
BIDEN: I've also spoke with Defense Secretary Austin and Chairman of Joint Chief General Milley about preparations for additional moves should they become necessary to protect our NATO allies.
SCIUTTO: Ukrainian forces are fighting back. They say they shot down at least two Russian helicopters and five other aircraft. A senior U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence assessments tells me there is fairly good resistance by the Ukrainians, particularly around the city of Kharkiv.
However, it is the U.S. view that Russia has already established air superiority over Ukraine, its intent to control at least the eastern two-thirds of the country.
Russian troops allowed a CNN team to film them on the ground, these forces less than 20 miles from the Capital of Kyiv.
And tonight, Ukraine says the Russian military has taken control of Chernobyl, the site of the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster. Some Ukrainian citizens attempted to flee with a possible refugee crisis developing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family stays in here (ph) and I feel like I don't know when I will see them. I don't know if any of them will die or my friends will die.
SCIUTTO: As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urges calm and shows strength.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINE PRESIDENT: Dear world leaders, leaders of the free world, if you don't help us today, with a strong and powerful response, war will come knocking at your door tomorrow.
SCIUTTO: The horrors of Putin's war are becoming apparent, in multiple cities, civilians were killed as Russian forces shelled residential areas and beyond.
SCIUTTO (on camera): It is 1:00 in the morning here in Ukraine. Last night, it was around 5:00 A.M. when this began. So, we're just 20 hours in and this really, in the view of U.S. intelligence, just the first of many phases of action from the air, on the ground, but also a phase that the U.S. believes Russia is planning for a political phase, that is to surround the capital of Kyiv and arrest, even kill perhaps political leaders, replacing them with leaders friendly to Russia.
This is a daunting time. It is a harrowing time in this country. Lives are being lost. And the country with that now general military mobilization we were discussing, it is really calling on all, calling on everyone to do their part, to stand up and try to defend their country. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto, stand by. We'll get back to you. Thank you very much. Stay safe over there.
Right now, I want to go to a major target of Russian forces right now, Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv. Our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us.
Clarissa, you've been with innocent civilians who are so, so desperate to try to escape the violence. What are you seeing?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right Wolf. Well, what a difference a day makes. Last flight we were standing out here, the square behind me was brightly lit and it was tense, make no mistake about it. But there was nothing like the level of activity that we are now seeing today. There have been explosions, artillery strikes throughout the day, people here completely panicked, having no idea where to go, fearing that there could be an all-out assault on this city, Ukraine's second largest city, just 20 miles from the Russian border, and they went took shelter wherever they could.
WARD (voice over): Kharkiv residents scrambled to find shelter as Russia's brutal assault unfolds. Deep underground, scenes reminiscing to the Second World War, and the shock just sinking in that what was unimaginable is now reality, as 36-year-old Daria (ph) tells us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like you wake in a totally new reality at 5:00 A.M. and you find out that the world is no longer the safe place you imagined. We are an independent country, Ukraine, and we are not the same as Russians. And we don't want to be a part of Russia or any other country. Sorry for getting very emotional and I couldn't believe it's happening, really.
WARD: Yesterday this was just an ordinary metro station full of people going to and from work. Today, it has become a de facto bomb shelter. And there are just hundreds and hundreds of people who have descended on this place fearful for their life and uncertain of what the future will bring. And the thing you hear over and over again from people, is where can we go? Where is it safe now to go in Ukraine?
And I want to be clear about something. This is not a front line city in Ukraine eight-year war with Russia. This is a thriving metropolis of 1.4 million people who have never experienced anything like this in their entire lives and now they're being forced to literally camp out with their families, their pets, their loved ones, they grabbed whatever they could from their homes, and they brought it here. And they don't know what is next for them. They don't know what the new Ukraine will look like and what place they will have in it.
Many we approach are too overcome to speak.
I'm asking if they're very afraid. They're very nervous.
Look at the situation around you, this woman says.
I'm so sorry. It is a terrible, terrible situation.
There is no doubt here about who is responsible for this conflict but few can understand why.
So, it's interesting, I just asked them what do they think of President Putin. Do they think he's crazy? They said he's not crazy, he's sick. He's sick. We just want to live peacefully.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just hope that some people in Russia may see this and just step against with Putin and the war.
WARD: A simple plea for mercy that has so far fallen on deaf ears.
(END VIDEOTAPE) WARD (on camera): So, Wolf, there is now a curfew in place here from 10:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. And the Kharkiv civil military administration has also issued a set of appeals. They are looking for drivers not to be involved with any military activity but just to ensure that the basic services of the city could continue. And they're also asking people to continue to donate blood. Apparently 400 people showed up today to give their blood for their country. They're really just looking to build up stock at the stage as the situation continues to deteriorate, Wolf.
BLITZER: It clearly is deteriorating. Clarissa Ward, we'll get back to you as well. And, ince again, stay safe over there.
I want to bring in our CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance. He's in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
Secretary of State Blinken, Matthew, he said today that Russia intends to encircle and threaten Kyiv. He went on to say, we believe Moscow has developed plans to inflict widespread human rights abuses and potentially worse on the Ukrainian people. What are you seeing there in the Ukrainian capital, the threat that is ongoing?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, let's hope that that assessment is not right, but, unfortunately, all the signs are that it could well be. It is tonight here in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Capital, extremely quiet. The lights across much of the city have been extinguished. As the city waits nervously for what the next stage might be in this Russian invasion of the country and this Russian assault of the city. Of course, we reported on all those airstrikes the night before.
We just had a statement in the last couple of minutes, Wolf, which I want to bring to you now from President Zelensky of Ukraine. He said a bunch of things. But one of the things he said is this. Look, according to our information, the enemy, which probably, of course, he means the Russians, the enemy have marked me as target number one. They've marked my family as target number two. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.
We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entering Kyiv and that talks to the very deep-seated Ukraine concern at the moment. Certainly, it's a concern amongst Ukrainian officials that the Russian plan, which we're seeing pan out in the city is to encircle it, is to take it over, is to decapitate the leadership and to replace the government with a pro-Russian puppet.
And, of course, what Volodymyr Zelensky is saying in this latest public statement that he's made on social media within the past few minutes is that he believes that he is the number one target, obviously as president of the country, but also his family are targets as well. So, very disconcerting times that we're witnessing here obviously in the Ukrainian capital tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: It is a truly horrible situation. We're showing our viewers, Matthew, some video you and your crew shot earlier today. Tell us what else you saw on the ground today. CHANCE: Yes. So, I mean, in terms of this idea that there are saboteurs and Russians close to Kyiv in the city itself, well, I mean, you may well be talking about the Special Forces that we stumbled upon earlier today in what was frankly an astonishing and unexpected encounter.
We headed out to a crucial, strategic airbase on the outskirts of Kyiv where we were told that the Ukrainian military had been in a fire fight with Russian Special Forces who have been dropped there.
It wasn't clear who was in control. We headed towards the gates. There was a checkpoint with soldiers there. And I, in my broken Russian, you know, went up to those soldiers and said, look, can we do a live shot here, they were like, well, it is dangerous but step over there.
And before I went live, I said, look, where are -- who is in charge here? Who's in charge? Is it the Ukrainians or the Russians? And they said it is the Russians who are in charge. And I said, okay, well, in that case, where are the Russians if that is true? And they said, we are the Russians. And it was an incredible moment because I didn't -- we didn't realize that we were speaking to the Special Forces that have been airdropped there just a few hours before and had, at that point, effectively taken over that strategic airbase on the outskirts of Kyiv. Take a listen to the live report we did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE: You could see over here, there are Russian airborne forces.
They have taken this airport. You can tell they're Russian. I've spoken to them already. You can tell they're Russian. They have got that orange and black band to identify them as Russian forces. I've spoken to the commander on the ground there within the past few minutes he said they are now in control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE: They're in control then, as I say. But we made a hasty departure after there was a confrontation. I think it may have been some sort of a counterattack from Ukrainian military forces. I don't know whether you have got that video but it was quite hairy, a lot of fighting going on and as we sort of witnessed that and then made our way out back to the capital.
BLITZER: You've been doing amazing reporting, Matthew. Thank you so much on behalf of all of our viewers. We'll get back to you as well.
Let's discuss what is going on right now with the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price. Ned, thank you so much for joining us on this historic and very ominous day.
Russia, as you know, is attacking Ukraine from three sides. What is the latest, Ned, that you could tell us, just how extensive is this Russian military assault? NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, Wolf, this is what we've been warning about, not for days, not for weeks, but, really, for months now. You may recall that we first started issuing these warnings late last year, late 2021, speaking of unusual military movements, 50,000 troops turned into 100,000 troops, turned into more than 150,000 troops, that by the time this week rolled around, Russia had amassed forces along Ukraine's borders, inside what should be the sovereign independent country of Belarus. Those forces, those strategically positioned assets have now begun moving on Ukraine apparently in an effort to mount a full-scale invasion.
But to the point you were making with Matthew, this is really a Russian war against three elements. It's a war against the Ukrainian states and the Ukrainian territory, going after Ukraine's territorial integrity, the Ukrainian government. Of course, Vladimir Putin has sought to destabilize, to threaten this government and previous Ukrainian governments, really, since 2014. But deeply concerning, it also appears to be a war against the Ukrainian people. This is an effort on the part of Putin not only to take over territory, not only to destabilize and potentially overthrow government but to harm, to threaten, to crush the Ukrainian people. You've heard our dire warnings about the atrocities, about the human rights abuses, about the potential war crimes that we think Russia may be prepared to perpetrate. This is something we have warned urgently about in an effort to stop.
BLITZER: The secretary of state, Tony Blinken, says all evidence suggests that Russia intends to encircle and threaten Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Could Ukraine's capital actually fall? Do you think it could? And if so, how soon?
PRICE: Well, we have a good idea of Russia 's intent, and that is absolutely accurate, that they do seek to encircle and threaten Kyiv. But what we also know is that the Ukrainian people, our Ukrainian partners, they are brave, they are strong, they're resilient and they have been reinforced. They've been reinforced by the significant supplies, material that the United States and our partners around the world have provided them over the course of the last year.
The United States alone provided $650 million worth of defense and security material. We authorized our NATO allies to provide U.S. origin equipment that was requested by our Ukrainian partners. And you heard from President Biden before this invasion started that, as Vladimir Putin made the disastrous decision to move forward, we would double down on that support for our Ukrainian partners. That is what we will do to give them what they need to fight for their country.
BLITZER: Just moments ago, Ukrainian President Zelensky revealed that, according to his information, he's, quote, and this is what he said, he says he's target number one and he suspects that Russian sabotage groups are already there in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. How much danger is Zelensky and his family for that matter in right now?
PRICE: Well, Wolf, we've been in close contact with the Ukrainian government, with our Ukrainian counterparts, not only over the past 24 hours but in recent days. As you know, President Biden had a discussion late last night with President Zelensky. Secretary Blinken had discussion earlier today with Foreign Minister Kuleba. That communication and that coordination will continue.
But we do know that Russia, the Russian Federation, has sought to destabilize and weaken, not only this Ukrainian government, but successive Ukrainian governments since 2014. And President Zelensky does, in many ways, represent, even personify, the democratic aspirations of Ukraine, of the Ukrainian people. So, of course, he would remain a prime target for Russian aggression.
President Zelensky and his team, they are going to make decisions in the coming hours, in the coming days based on what is in the best interest of them, what is in the best interest for the Ukrainian people, what's in the best interest of the Ukrainian state.
BLITZER: Do you have information already, Ned, that Russian sabotage groups are already in Kyiv getting ready to do what is an enormous fear right now, go after Zelensky and other leaders of the Ukrainian government?
PRICE: Well, as you know, over the course of several weeks now, we have consistently declassified and revealed to the American public and the international public a good deal of our intelligence. And several weeks ago, we made the point that Russian agents had already infiltrated Ukrainian, they were operating inside of the country.
I'm not in a position to tell you right now precisely where they are but we know that the Russian government orchestrated this and has been working on this for weeks now. This is part of their playbook. Just as we have seen other elements of their playbook play out just as we warned, the provocations, the false flags, the disinformation, the theatrical staged meeting of the National Security Council, the call on the part of these so-called people's republics in the eastern part of Ukraine to support Russian speakers, false claims of genocide.
Look, Wolf, we wish we had egg on our face. I wish, frankly, if I were sitting here today and saying that we were wrong, that our information was wrong. Unfortunately, our information has been proven correct at every turn. That is why we have deep concern about what it is that we may see the Russian Federation attempt to do in the coming hours and the days and that is precisely why we're going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners in the coming hours, in the coming days.
BLITZER: And you were totally correct, you and the U.S. government urging all Americans to get out of Ukraine as quickly as possible and in recent weeks and you removed all embassy diplomatic personnel as well. They would have been targets certainly of the Ukrainian -- of the Russian military.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, thanks for all you're doing, thanks so much for joining us.
PRICE: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue our breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. There is a lot more going on. We're going to go back to Ukraine and see what is happening right now. Bottom line right now it is not, not good.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're following the very disturbing, breaking news on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I want to bring in CNN's Scott McLean. He's on the Ukrainian/Polish border right now. Scott, what are you seeing.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, basically, everyone that we've talked to has told us some version of the same story, and that's that they simply did not think that Russia was going invade their country. They woke up this morning and obviously realized that they were very, very wrong. And they put their things in a bag, grabbed their children and took a taxi or took a train or a bus or however they can get to the border.
Where we are, this is a pedestrian crossing so people are crossing here on foot. Some people are going in the other direction, to Ukraine, a surprising number of people. They're also people going up to the border to meet up with their loved ones.
Now, the reason that you're not seeing hardly anyone here is not because people are not crossing, it's because but the actual border, which you can see the lights there, there is a huge backlog. And, in fact, I spoke to one gentleman whose wife is waiting in that line, she has been there for four hours in the cold. It's about 30 degrees, freezing cold here, and she says she still has less than half a mile to go before she gets to the place where the Ukrainians will stamp her exit stamp and then she'll come through the Polish side of the border.
Here is how one other woman described the situation to us earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Poland control -- we crossed two, three minutes, but Ukrainian is really -- it looks like hell. Because -- I didn't know -- a lot of kids and -- now for border -- it is almost women with kids, and a lot. And I am seeing like people, they stay all night, because then we left -- you cannot see where this finishes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN: So, the reason that there are so many women with children, we know, Wolf, is because Ukraine is not allowing men between the ages of 18 and 60 to leave the country, though we're trying to get some clarification because we did speak to one Ukrainian man who told us that he was 26 years old and had just crossed the border. Now, the Polish authorities say that they have been ready for this influx of people. We haven't seen them until just recently when they've been bringing these buses. One of them actually just left. But they're passing out these leaflets and basically says that you're Ukrainian and if you're crossing the border, you will be allowed inside the country and then it gives directions to some resource centers where those buses are actually taking them. There is eight dotted up around the border, up along the border, and then they're going to be sent elsewhere, where if they don't have a place to stay, the Polish authorities will provide one to them.
And one other point, Wolf, and that is that people in Poland here, they're worried as well. The last few towns that we drove through on our way to the border here, they all had very long lines at all of the gas stations, not because polish people think that the Russians are going to invade but there is just so, so much uncertainty about the situation right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Scott, be careful over there, Scott McLean on the border between Poland and Ukraine.
I want to dig deeper right now with the retired U.S. Army general, David Petraeus, the former commander of the U.S. Military Central Command, former CIA director as well. General, thank you so much for joining us.
As you know, Ukraine is now facing another night of Russian assault by land, air and sea. The U.S. is warning that all evidence, in their words, all evidence suggests Russia will encircle the capital of Kyiv. What are you watching for as this war, General, unfolds?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), CHAIRMAN, KKR GLOBAL INSTITUTE: Well, what I'm most watching for, Wolf, is whether the Ukrainians will fight, and I think they answered that question today. The airfield that you discussed in the discussion with your other reporter, that actually apparently has been contested.
It is not secure for further air assaults tonight by Russian forces.
A number of helicopters and planes have reportedly been shot down, substantial Russian casualties and so forth, all aggregated, of course, from social media and various news reports and so on. And that is the big takeaway from today, that the Russians were slow, they were delayed. I don't think they can use that airport tonight to push more forces into it so that they could then go into Kyiv.
So, I'm not sure they're on their timeline except for the force that has come north out of Crimea, which does seem to have made pretty good headway. No major cities taken today, only real objective has been Chernobyl and I'm sure that wasn't heavily contested.
So, that is what I'm looking at today. And I think this really drove home what a lot of us have said, and that is that this is an enormous country. Yes, Putin did well against Georgia, Chechnya, he basically destroyed Grozny to save it, and, yes, he stabilized Syria and so forth, but this is a very, very big country, a very large population and a population that seems determined to resist.
And even the statement by President Zelensky that you discussed earlier, that is quite significant. He's not fleeing the capital. He knows he's target number one. And, of course, what Vladimir Putin most wants to do is to replace him with a pro-Russian regime leader.
BLITZER: We just heard from President Zelensky, General, that by his count, 137 Ukrainian soldiers have now been killed during these first hours of this war. What is your reaction?
PETRAEUS: Well that's a terrible loss. And, of course, today is just a terrible day in general for not just for Ukraine but, really, for democracy as well. This is an assault not just on Ukraine but one on democracy. But, clearly, that loss is tremendous and even by our standards, say, in the really tough days of the surge in Iraq, in a single day, to lose what we lost I think in our worst month. So, it tells you the intensity of the fighting, but apparently there have been substantial Russian losses as well, and, as I mentioned, aircraft shot down and armored vehicles also destroyed.
Again, Ukrainians will overwhelm -- the Russians will overwhelm the Ukrainian forces. There is no question about that. The question is how much could they be delayed, how much would they pay for this, and then how difficult will it be for them to start to control major population centers. That is going to be the real challenge. That is manpower- intensive, soldier-intensive. And I just don't see those numbers even in this 190,000 force after you take out all of the others other than the infantry that are going to be so important for that task.
BLITZER: The Ukrainian president, President Zelensky, just ordered a general military mobilization, he's banning all Ukrainian male citizens 18 to 60 years old from leaving the country. The Ukrainians told you the strategy is to make their country, and I'm quoting you now, like a porcupine, difficult for Russia to digest. How do you assess the Ukrainian response to far?
PETRAEUS: Well, again, I think it has been quite resolute. Again, this is one day in a lot of rhetoric prior to this. I've been to the frontlines in the Donbas and I heard very determined soldiers. But, again, it is different when the bombs start to drop. I heard the Ukrainian parliamentarians at the Munich Security Conference, where they said, yes, they will fight.
And this seems to convey that kind of very determined spirit, which is all important. This is really what counts. And if they want to make life very, very difficult for the Russians, there is an awful lot that they can do.
BLITZER: Yes. There is an enormous fear, this fighting in Ukraine. This war in Ukraine could escalate and move beyond the borders of Ukraine as well. General David Petraeus, let's continue this conversation. Thank you so much for joining us.
PETRAEUS: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: There is more breaking news just ahead, as Ukraine mobilized its military for all-out war with Russia. U.S. troops are also on the move. Thousands are being moved from the United States to Europe right now.
BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, Ukraine's President Zelensky now says 137 of his country's soldiers are dead after this first full day of the war, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At least 316 Ukrainian soldiers have been injured in the fighting so far, according to the president.
Let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's joining us once again from Lviv in Ukraine. Those are big, big numbers for the first day.
SCIUTTO: It shows that this conflict getting bloody very quickly and we're not even only 24 hours in. And when you look at the president's statement, you can hear it is certainly a somber tone as he announces those figures that you mentioned already, Wolf, 137 Ukrainian soldiers dead, 316 wounded. A somber tone and I might say a frustrated tone as well.
He says that other NATO members are too afraid to let Ukraine in. He says, who is ready to guarantee Ukraine's succession to NATO? Honestly, everyone is afraid. As you know going into this, Wolf, really, that was considered a far off prospect at best for Ukraine but one that NATO was certainly not willing to take off the table, neither was the U.S., despite that being Russia's key demand.
The position had been, and it has been a consistent one, that that is up to NATO allies and to applicants, in effect, to alliance.
Russia wanted to take that off the table. It was not considered something imminent by any means. But there you hear from the Ukrainian president some frustration about the aid they've received and haven't received, frankly. They feel like, we've heard this a number of times, they're fighting alone. They're getting military assistance from the west but they are not getting military support from the west. They feel alone.
And when you hear him announcing those first figures, not even 24 hours into the invasion, it shows you just how bloody this is and the cost that they are now bearing.
BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Jim Sciutto in Lviv for us, we'll get back to you as well.
I want to go to Moscow right now. Our CNN Contributor, former Moscow Bureau for CNN Jill Dougherty is joining us.
Jill, we're seeing anti-war protests in Russia right now. How are Russians in general responding to Putin's attack?
JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, some of the polls are showing that among the general public, there is quite a bit of support but there are people who do oppose this war. And we saw some of them on the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and some other Russian cities today protesting and immediately arrested, taken off the streets. It is obvious that the government doesn't want this to develop any time of momentum.
But, certainly, the, you know, penalties for coming out against the government on the street or protesting are really pretty strong. So, we're not seeing that much of it. But I think what is really interesting right now is you have obviously the physical fighting in Ukraine, but here in Moscow, it is the economic war that is in focus.
And today, even before President Biden gave his speech outlining those really draconian sanctions that they're going to be unfolding, President Putin gathered together with the Russian leaders, business leaders at the Kremlin. And he made an incredible case of saying that this war, this -- I should say he does not call it a war, but this conflict was unavoidable and he really put it in existential terms. He said, it is hard to comprehend how country could have continued to exist. So, then, he went on to say that, obviously, this is going to effect the economy but stick together. We need unity and be patriotic and support our effort.
And then that other kind of over the top statement came from the foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, who is a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, putting it in those terms of saying, this is not a war, we're trying to stop a war and, in fact, she said, stop a global war.
So, this is really the rhetoric that you're getting from the Kremlin. Part of it is for the world but part of it is definitely for domestic consumption. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty on the scene in Moscow, we'll get back to you as well.
We're following all of the major breaking news on the war in Ukrainian, much more of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news: At least 137 Ukrainian soldiers are dead tonight after the first day of fighting. That is coming from Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Let's go to our senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt.
You've heard shelling there today. Why is that area of such particular concern, Alex, as a Russian target right now?
ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a key port city. A key city on the sea of Azov.
When President Putin announced this war and he doesn't call it a war, he called it a special operation. He said this was about the Donbas and about defending the Donbas against a Ukrainian offensive. That is where we are now and now we're seeing Russian and pro-Russian forces quickly moving in on either side of this key city.
Just about 15 miles that way to the east where we have heard this increase in shelling over the course of the past 24 hours. You have those pro-Russian breakaway republics that president Putin has now recognized, where president Putin said he's soon going to be sending peacekeepers, the leader of the breakaway enclaves calling on Russian forces to move in and we have indications that they are moving into those areas.
The question now, when will they cross into land that is still held by Ukraine, because President Putin in his recognition of those areas said that it was just -- not just the land that they're holding now, but the broader provinces that they are in. Luhansk and Donetsk, where I'm standing right now.
And the back behind me, Wolf, President Zelensky said some of the toughest fighting that Ukrainian forces are up against now are Russians coming out of Crimea and moving towards Mariupol, which is another town about 100 miles away. So, now, you have these two sets of forces on other side of Mariupol moving in quite quickly and this city now wedged between them, Wolf.
BLITZER: Alex Marquardt on the scene for us, stay safe over there, Alex. Thank you very much.
Here in Washington, President Biden is vowing that Vladimir Putin's naked aggression, his words, could not go unanswered as Russia wages an unprovoked war in Ukrainian.
Let's go to our White House correspondent MJ Lee.
MJ, President Biden spoke to the American people when this war. How did he prepare them for the economic impact here at home?
MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, rising gas prices is an issue that the White House was already sensitive to. So, given the escalating situation that we're seeing on the border, it is an issue that the White House is going to be watching even more closely and the directing a message to the American people.
People that are worried about what this might mean, especially to their wallets. And he also had a broader message about why the American military is getting involved in the first place. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know this is hard and that Americans are already hurting. I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump. This is critical to me.
But this aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse. America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom. This is who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Now there were a couple of things that President Biden pointed to as things that they could try to do to limit the spike in gas prices. One thing was just keeping a close eye on energy supplies and trying to limit any major disruptions in those supplies. The other one, of course, is something we have heard from the White House before and that is releasing more barrels of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve.
Now the reality of course that the White House is very aware of, including the president, is that high gas prices, that is not something you can fix overnight. You are pretty limited in what you can do to try to fix that problem. So, this is a political problem, as well as an economic one that the president is keenly aware of, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, MJ. Thank you very much, MJ Lee at the White House.
Much more of our special coverage on the war in Ukraine right after this.
BLITZER: Breaking news: the Ukrainian president says Russia has marked him as a target, target number one. And worries that Russian saboteurs have already infiltrated the city of Kyiv.
CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at Putin's invasion plans. He is also joined by a very special guest, former NATO supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Russians by all, accounts have unleashed this attack at a furious pace. Wolf just introduced General Joulwan.
General, thank you very much for joining us.
You told me a short time ago you believe this is like that German Blitzkrieg of 1939. They're coming in from three different directions, from the east, from the north, from the south.
Why do you believe it is like the blitzkrieg? Where do you think they are pushing the hardest? GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Because
they're not going to stop. They're going to go day and night and I think their target is right here at Kyiv.
TODD: All right. So let's talk about Kyiv. By all accounts, again, they are pushing in from this direction and from Belarus. How long do you think it will take them to fully encircle, possibly capture the city and can it be stopped?
JOULWAN: Within 24 to 48 hours. They will be, they already have troops in Kyiv. We have to stop the momentum.
Let me be clear, NATO and the U.S., it's great to talk about supplies we're going to give them, but the momentum must stop or else this is going to be tragic.
TODD: How to do that though as far as Kyiv is concerned?
JOULWAN: Well, you know, we know how to put an air cap over Kyiv and prevent the sort of bombs they're going to drop on that city and kill a hell of a lot of people. There's work for NATO and the United States and the leader of NATO to do to try to prevent the carnage that's going to take place in Ukraine. We're better than that as a nation.
TODD: Well, I'm going to talk to you about where some of the fighting is most intense, we're told by Ukrainian officials. Heavy fighting around Crimea, around the city of Kherson, right about here. Apparently, they're pushing toward Mariupol.
JOULWAN: They want to build a road here and that's widening the area that they're occupying and they have the sea port down here. So, they're on their timetable and I just think we've got to do something to stop this momentum. Our president must take the lead for the alliance to work.
TODD: All right. Let's talk about the broader picture here. You talked to me about possibly broader ambitions for Putin. If he occupies much of Ukraine, I'll use the green here for that. He can use that possibly as a base to establish a land route to Kaliningrad where they have a big naval presence. He's got to go through NATO countries to do it, right?
JOULWAN: That's a trip wire. I don't think he'll want to do that. But there is a chance he wants to reestablish the former Warsaw Pact countries, and that includes Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, et cetera. He wants all of that to be back in the fold as we call it under Russian control.
TODD: All right. Well, General Joulwan, thank you very much for your expertise. We appreciate it.
Wolf, we're going to continue to monitor this in real time. It is moving at a very fast pace.
BLITZER: Yes, moving very quickly, Brian. Thank you very much. General Joulwan, as usual, thanks to you as well. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back in two hours,
9:00 p.m. Eastern, with the latest on the war in Ukraine.
Until then, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNET OUTFRONT" starts right now.