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Zelensky Says, Fate Of Ukraine Being Decided Tonight; U.S. To Impose Sanctions Directly On Putin; CNN In The War Zone As Ukraine Under Siege; Biden Nominates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson To Supreme Court; Zelensky Confirms Russian Forces Are Close To Kyiv. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 25, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Don't miss CNN's State of the Union this Sunday morning. My colleague Dana Bash will talk to Republican Senator Mitt Romney, plus NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. That's at 9:00 A.M. and noon Eastern, Sunday on CNN.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. New explosions in Ukraine's capital as Russian forces may be preparing a major assault tonight. Ukraine's president warning just a short while ago that the country's fate is being decided tonight.

Also tonight the Biden administration has decided to punish Vladimir Putin for his aggression, ordering sanctions directly against the Russian president. And NATO is taking unprecedented actions as Putin's war threatens Europe.

We're covering this crisis as only CNN can with our team of correspondents in the war zone, in Moscow, and here in Washington.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Only moments ago, air raid sirens blared in the Ukrainian capital as the country's president just delivered an ominous warning. In a video message, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, and I'm quoting him now, listen to this, this is what he said, this night will be very difficult and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians.

He added, this night, this night, we have to stand ground. The fate of Ukraine is being decided, he said, right now. All of this as he confirms Russian forces are closing on the capital from the north and the east.

We have more now on the battle for control of Kyiv. CNN's Jim Sciutto is on the ground in Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The city of Kyiv under siege, attacks close to the city center with Russian military vehicles seen on the city streets. The sound of gunfire echoed in residential areas. Air raid sirens sounding across the capital, the U.S. now concerned that Kyiv could fall into Russian control within days.

And the civilians of Ukraine are paying a horrible price of war. Citizens who fled to the safer western part of the country still finding themselves under threat and the Ukrainian military doing their best to halt the Russian advance, claiming to have inflicted some 800 Russian casualties and destroying more than 30 tanks, seven aircraft and six helicopters. Russia denies losing any aircraft to the Ukrainians.

The Russian advance is going forward. Overnight, Russian units pushed into Ukraine from three sides, including an amphibious attack near the city of Mariupol. CNN witnessed the aftermath of fighting on a bridge to the city of Kherson.

Ukrainian President Zelensky today released video of himself defiant on the streets of the capital, trying to rally his nation.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINE PRESIDENT: We are all here defending our independence, our state, and it will remain so. Glory to our defenders.

SCIUTTO: Zelensky spoke with President Biden today saying they discussed strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an anti-war coalition. But earlier, he expressed frustration with the west, saying sanctions on Russia are not enough.

ZELENSKY: This morning, we are defending our country alone. Just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world looked on from a distance.

SCIUTTO: Zelensky appealed directly to Vladimir Putin for talks.

ZELENSKY: There is fighting all over Ukraine now. Let's sit down at the negotiating table to stop the death of people.

SCIUTTO: For his part, Putin has called on the Ukrainian people to rise up against Zelensky's government.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA PRESIDENT: Do not let banderites and neo-Nazis use your children, wives and old people as human shields. Take power into your own hands.

SCIUTTO: Despite the overwhelming odds, the Ukrainian spirit has been on full display. Ukraine released this exchange between Russian and Ukrainian forces on the black sea before the Ukrainians were killed.

And their last word.



SCIUTTO (on camera): Tonight, CNN has new reporting that the U.S. believes Russia is threatening Ukrainian soldiers that it will kill their families if they don't surrender. These are mob tactics and yet here in Lviv and elsewhere, we are seeing uniformed Ukrainian military in full combat gear. They are ready to defend these cities. Wolf, they're not backing down.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto on the ground for us in Ukraine, thank you very much.

Let's go to the Ukraine capital right now where air raid sirens have been going off throughout tonight. Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us there.

Clarissa, President Zelensky addressing his nation once again tonight, and we're just getting the sound. Tell us about his message.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very grim warning essentially, Wolf, that Russian forces, he says he believes, will attempt to storm the capital. This is a city of 2.9 million people, Wolf. Tonight, take a listen to what he said.


ZELENSKY: This night will be very difficult, and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians. This night, we have to stand ground. The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.


WARD: He went on to say that our main goal now is to finish the slaughter. He claimed that Ukrainian forces have killed hundreds of Russian forces on the battlefield today. He also said that not only are they fighting on the front line, they're fighting on the diplomatic frontline.

He mentioned the fact he had spoken to President Biden today, as well as the leaders of Germany and France, expressing gratitude for all their support. But make no mistake, Wolf, this is going to be an incredibly tense and, frankly, probably terrifying night for most people here in the capital.

As we were driving into the city earlier this evening, you could see just how outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian military is. We came across a convoy, a Ukrainian military convoy, what appeared to be a multiple rocket launcher that had been hit by some kind of aerial bombardment from the Russians. There was a huge amount of smoke, Ukrainian firefighters desperately trying to stop the flames. Then we also saw the body of one Ukrainian soldier who clearly died.

And it shows you in such stark contrast from what the Ukrainians' capabilities are how the Russians are essentially able to opportunistically pick off military vehicles from the skies when and as they see them. And, obviously, they simply do not have the weaponry that the Russians do.

We also passed, Wolf, closer to the capital a large group of civil defense volunteers. They had a huge pile of tires. One can only assume the goal was to try to set fire to those tires and block the road and create some kind of a smoke screen should Russian forces come passing through that road. But, obviously, that is not going to be any real match for the sophisticated military that they are up against, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want you to stay safe over there, Clarissa Ward on the scene for us. We'll get back to you.

Also right now, we want to get a better sense of where Russian forces are advancing and why the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is in so much danger tonight. We're joined by CNN's John King along with former NATP Supreme Allied Commander Ret. General Wesley Clark.

John, the U.S. is deeply concerned that Kyiv, the capital, could fall to the Russians within a few days.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's walk through it, Wolf, I'll show you why and also just use the map, the value of the map. You just said that great live reporting from our brave correspondents on the scene. Jim Sciutto out here in Lviv, even there, air raid sirens, in Kyiv, the capital, under assault. Our Sam Kiley and others have been here, Kharkiv, the second largest city and a lot today.

You see the arrows down here, Wolf, of the scope of this is what tells you the Russians are quite serious. And even though they -- you hear from the Pentagon, you hear from the Ukrainians about the resistance, you also hear the Russians are now accelerating their attack on the entire country.

This is about the size of Texas. Amphibious infantry, that's the Russian jargon for marines coming in here as well as ground troops from Crimea heading up toward the Donbas, some heading toward the city Kherson as well. And then you move up here. So there's fighting down here and then Kyiv, the capital. Obviously, seizing the state of power would be absolutely critical.

I just want to bring us in closer to this. You remember yesterday, our Matthew Chance said he left Kyiv and went up here to the northwest, to Antonov Airport. He ran into troops who identified themselves as Russian. He believed they were special operations forces, the back and forth between the Ukrainians and the Russians over who is in charge. But today the Russian defense ministry went public and says it now controls this key airport.

Again, you see the proximity to Kyiv and General Clark, I want to bring you in on that point. Just to make the point, this is not your any run of the mill airport. This an airport with long air strips where you can land military transport planes.


Explain if the idea is to take the capital of Kyiv, why is that so important?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's right. That's right. I mean, they wanted to hold that airport. They wanted to seize that airport so they could air land paratroops in there and then grab the Kyiv and add to the siege that's going in around Kyiv.

KING: And so, Wolf, you get just the sense, that's just one of the targets. General Clark has much broader perspectives about what he believes is a dire day.

BLITZER: You know, and a really remarkable move, NATO, for the first time since it was established back, what, 1949, it has activated what it calls its NATO response force. Tell us about that.

KING: So, let me bring this up and then General Clark, of course, once the NATO supreme allied commander, can help us with the context. This is, again, if you look at the map from this perspective, all the blue are the NATO countries that surround.

And so what has happened, this emergency NATO response forces never been activated to protect NATO countries. It was always used to project force elsewhere. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general saying it could be deployed. It could be up to 40,000 troops. There are ground troops. There are air and sea assets as well. Not the full force being deployed right now. But, Wolf, it's an addition to the troops.

We already know the United States and the other NATO allies have sent more troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland. So, why this is so important? You see the NATO ring here. Well, look at where Ukraine is. When we started this week, Russia, yes, has a puppet government in Belarus but here was the line essentially. So, these NATO countries had a buffer. Ukraine.

If Vladimir Putin takes Ukraine and that goes away, essentially, what you get is 33 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, Vladimir Putin gets to extend perhaps a new iron curtain right there on NATO's doorstep, right, General, that is what you are so concerned about?

CLARK: That's right, John. I am concerned about it. But I'm also concerned about the people in Kyiv. For -- since -- really since Harry Truman, provided assistance to Greece fighting a communist insurgency in 1947, the United States has helped countries defend their independence.

In Kyiv, we've got 40 million -- in Ukraine, we've got 40 million people who have an independent country. I'm looking at Kyiv itself. It's going to be besieged. It's under artillery fire and so forth. You have got over 2 million people in there. And the orders that Putin has given apparently is to besiege it and clear it, and that means unquestionably hundreds, maybe tens of thousands of civilian casualties.

And for NATO, that's fine. We've activated the reaction force but we're not going in to Ukraine. We're not going to do anything for those people. So in my lifetime, what I've seen is the United States helps nations defend themselves against external aggression.

And we're asking, what can we do? The sanctions are great, but what can we do tonight, tomorrow, the next day, to help Ukraine and Ukrainians hold on to their independence and stop the impending slaughter in Kyiv?

KING: And, Wolf, you can hear from General Clark there. Again, just come back to map of Kyiv, it's between the size of Chicago and Los Angeles. It's nearly 3 million people, as General Clark notes, not only the seat of government, a giant metropolitan city, the largest city in Kyiv under siege tonight.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask General Wesley Clark, what can the U.S. do and NATO allies? There are 30 countries that are members of NATO right now. What can, what should they be doing to save the lives of those thousands of people in Ukraine who potentially the next day or two could be killed?

CLARK: Well, that's the question. And I think we should go to the United Nations. We should call on Russia to do an immediate halt of its operations. We should declare a safe zone around Kyiv and maybe every part of Ukraine, west of the Dnieper River, let say. Tell Russia to halt. Tell them to stop.

They don't have the right to do this. As President Biden said, this is illegal. And the sanctions on Putin, they're great. But I remember being in the Balkans and I remember what that hardship was, Wolf. And I probably and you do, too, I'm sure, where slaughter went on for years. 200,000 people were killed and finally the United States stopped it. We have to stop this.

BLITZER: The former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark, John King, guys, thank you very, very much, an important explanation of what's going on.

There's more breaking news that's just coming in, President Biden now preparing to take very dramatic new steps to turn up the direct pressure on Vladimir Putin.



BLITZER: Were back with our breaking news coverage of Russia's war against Ukraine. Ukraine's president is now warning that his country's fate is being decided, he says, tonight. Here's more of what President Zelensky said in a new video released justice a little while ago.


ZELENSKY: Our main goal is to finish this slaughter. The enemy losses are very grave. Today there were hundreds of killed soldiers who crossed our border and came on our land.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: This comes as the United States is now ratcheting up sanctions on Russia by directly targeting Vladimir Putin as well as his foreign minister.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, you asked President Biden yesterday about imposing new sanctions directly against Putin. He waffled yesterday but since then he changed his mind. What happened?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And yesterday he said this was still an option on the table, just not one they were taking yet. But today they have decided to do so. After the president spoke with European allies today, of course, European allies were the first ones to take this step by going after Putin and one of his top aides, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who now the United States will also add to its sanction list.


Of course, this is a largely symbolic move, Wolf, but it does carry a lot of weight.


COLLINS: When did President Biden make the final decision to sanction President Putin?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was made -- it's been on the table for some time but through coordination and discuss with our European partners over the last day or so.

COLLINS: Does it include a travel ban, by chance?

PSAKI: I believe that would be a part of the U.S. component, yes.

COLLINS: So, President Putin would be banned from traveling here?

PSAKI: There's more details of it that again will be out later today. There are very limited examples of this being done, as you all know. But that is a standard part.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, last month when I first asked President Biden about this idea of sanctioning President Putin and he said it was something that was on the table, Putin's spokesperson respondent and said that if they took that step, that extraordinary step, that the United States has only taken for very few leaders, a handful of leaders, really, Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said that he believed it would amount to a break in diplomatic relations.

Now, the Russians have not responded since the White House confirmed earlier today that they are going to be sanctioning President Putin, but we should note this comes after the European Union did so earlier today. Now, the United States and Canada has also just joined on as well, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, very, very dramatic and important steps. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

Let's discuss with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a key member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He's also Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air National Guard. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, what's your reaction to the U.S. now sanctioning Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov directly?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): It's good. It should have been done yesterday. It should have been done awhile ago. Sanctions, look, I mean, the more we can do, the better this inflicts pain on Russia. Sadly, it also inflicts pain on the Russian people. It will help to skyrocket the price of energy, which also benefits Vladimir Putin, but there is no doubt every sanction we can do, we should do. We should -- including ban them from using SWIFT. That is a decision that has to be made with our European partners. That's what we can do to make it painful.

Stopping the attack, quite honestly, Wolf, the Ukrainian people are fighting much harder than I think Putin expected. But they will be outmatched and outgunned ultimately by somebody that is very willing to lose his own troops. And he doesn't care, Vladimir Putin.

I heard General Clark, and I agree, that I think this is time where we need to, at the invitation of Ukraine, declare Ukraine a no-fly zone enforced by NATO and the United States. We certainly have the capability to do that. The air space is still contested by the Ukrainians. We could certainly shut down Russian air operations, even if we don't directly engage Russian troops on the ground.

BLITZER: Yes, because President Biden keeps saying the U.S. and the NATO allies will not send troops, forces directly into Ukraine since Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

The Ukrainian president only moments ago, and you heard this, Congressman, warned Russian forces are advancing on Kyiv, the capital, and said, quote, the fate of Ukraine is being decided, he said, and I'm quoting him, right now. Can the Ukrainians, do you believe, hold their capital or will it fall?

KINZINGER: Well, let me add to even what the president said. I think the fate of the west is being designed and determined tonight. I don't believe Vladimir Putin will be able to hold Ukraine. We have seen in their fighting spirit that even if the troops basically take over Kyiv and all their strategic positions, the Ukrainian people are not Russian. The Ukrainian people do not identify as Russian. And they will fight Russian troops in the streets until Russian troops, similar to what they did in Afghanistan, will tuck their tail and go home.

But listen, what is next? Is it the country of Georgia, a third of it, which is occupied right now by Russia? Is it the Baltics? Is there continued meddling in the Balkans? Are there other countries not in NATO that Vladimir Putin lays? He's threatened the use of nuclear weapons. That shows you how dangerous this man is. And he only stops when his bayonet hits a brick wall.

The United States and NATO must be that brick wall tonight. I would love to see us declare at the invitation of Ukraine that Ukraine is a no-fly zone and we will enforce that. And I've got to tell you, Wolf, for anybody that thinks that somehow we're going to be equally matched with Russia, NATO and the United States would crush Russia in the air in a second. We have to remember how good we are at that. That can be the thing that can give the Ukrainians a fighting ability to prevent the occupation of Kyiv, but they won't go quietly into the night.

BLITZER: But if U.S. and NATO war planes shoot down Russian planes flying over Ukraine right now, that could trigger a growing, an escalation of this conflict between NATO, including the United States, and Russia and let's not forget, Congressman, Russia is a nuclear power.

KINZINGER: Well, that would be a determination for Vladimir Putin.


And I think the fact that you and I here have to truly determine whether or not, you know, Vladimir Putin would be willing to use nukes or to threaten nukes shows how dangerous this man is. And if we give him Ukraine and say, well, now he's satiated, we're going to be once again in this position whenever he determines it's the rest of Georgia or it's whatever other country he lays a determination on next.

I think this is the moment when the Russians have been defeated in some cases in the battlefield, when you see these Ukrainian heroes that have risen up, blowing up bridges or the 13 on the island that told the Russian warship to basically screw off. Like this is the moment where, if we step up and I'm not saying we have to bomb stuff on the ground, but we declared this is a no-fly zone, not because we want to fight Russia, but because the legitimate government of Ukraine has determined that they want our help to defend the skies. Then it's on Vladimir Putin.

He knows, trust me, Wolf, he knows he cannot win a direct engagement with the United States. At some point we have to be willing to stand tough and to have him back down. He's not going to do it until he knows we're serious.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Adam Kinzinger, ominous situation unfolding as we all know, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we'll get a live report from the Polish border where thousands and thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing Putin's invasion.



BLITZER: More on the breaking news. Ukraine's president warning only moments ago that his country's fate is being decided tonight, he said, tonight, as Russian forces close in on the capital Kyiv. Let's go to CNN's Scott McLean. He's in Poland right near the Ukrainian border for us. Scott, you're there at a train station talking to people, a lot of folks fleeing Ukraine right now for good reason. What are they telling you?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are telling me that they are relieved to be here and that it was not easy to get here. The folks that you're seeing behind me just coming up these stairs are just arriving on a train from Kyiv where one woman told me that it was stopped on the tracks at passport control for about 12 hours for the Ukrainians to check everyone's documentations.

Believe it or not, these folks are the lucky ones. Obviously, some people are waiting outdoors at pedestrian crossings for hours on end.

Let me just show you over here. This has been set up by the Polish authorities. This is resources to help people find a place to stay. Most people are showing up not knowing where they're going to sleep tonight. Some Polish people have opened their homes to strangers, women and children to stay with them for the near future.

Now, of course, Ukraine is not allowing men between 18 and 60 to leave the country. We met one man, though, who did manage to convince the Ukrainians to let him out. And he described the chaos of just getting on the train. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people, they just didn't have the tickets. So, they just stormed the train. I mean, it was almost like a stampede. People were like trying to get inside no matter what. Nobody was actually checking tickets because, I mean, obviously, most people didn't have any tickets.

MCLEAN: It was chaos?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was chaos. It was chaos. It was a lot of people like pushing around and -- but, I mean, people run to escape, to run for their lives, so I don't blame them.


MCLEAN: Yes, it is pretty tough to blame them. And, Wolf, I also spoke to another man in his 20s. He lives here in Poland. He was waiting for his family to arrive. I asked him whether he would go back to Ukraine, knowing that if he did, he wouldn't be able to leave.

And he said he will go back, not if the situation gets better, but if it gets worse. He says he's willing to fight and die to defend his country, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Scott McLean, thank you to all the Polish people on the scene over there. Scott, thank you very, very much.

As Russian forces are closing in on Kyiv tonight, let's get more on Vladimir Putin's strategy. CNN Contributor Jill Dougherty is in Moscow for us. Jill, is Putin hoping Ukrainians will overthrow their own government?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIR: Well, in effect, that is what he said today, really an extraordinary statement by President Putin. You know and everyone knows he's a former KGB officer. And I think you could describe this really as psy ops, psychological operations, a Russian president speaking directly to the Ukrainian military. Let's listen to what he said.


PUTIN: Do not let banderites neo-Nazis use your children, wives and old people as human shields. Take power into your own hands. It looks like it will be easier for us to come to an agreement than with this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis that have settled in Kyiv and taken hostage the entire Ukrainian people.


DOUGHERTY: So, in other words, saying to those soldiers that they should rise up against their own government. It's really an important moment.

But, you know, there's a lot going on, Wolf. You have the sanctions. Obviously, the sanctions against President Putin and the top leadership, the foreign minister, Lavrov, really probably won't affect the president because he has his money pretty much locked up in places that people don't know about. But it's really a shot over the bow.

And there was a statement. It was made by Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, before President Biden came in with those sanctions but after the U.K. announced the same ones against the president.


And she said we've reached the line with the point of return begins. And they've warned that before that they are really ready to pull the plug on relations. So, it's a very serious moment, diplomatically as well.

BLITZER: I certainly is, Jill Dougherty on the scene for us, thank you.

Once again, just ahead, we'll have more on the breaking news, Ukraine's president warning that the capital city of Kyiv is in serious jeopardy of falling to the Russians tonight.


BLITZER: More breaking news tonight. An urgent warning from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said moments ago that the fate of his country will be decided tonight as Russian forces intensify their attack.

Let's discuss with William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador, thanks for joining us. [18:40:00]

The Ukrainian president is also vowing to stay there and fight, not try to get out of there. Residents of Kyiv are taking up arms. The Ukrainian defense minister is urging them to make Molotov cocktails. What does all this saying to you about the resolve of the Ukrainian people, and you know them well?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, I do know them well. I'm proud to know them well. They are resolved. You're exactly right. President Zelensky has, I'm sure, surprised President Putin for his resolve and his firmness against this enormous threat.

President Zelensky has his own views about where he needs to be, and he thinks he needs to be there in the capital and he needs his people to see him there. He has stepped up as a leader, Wolf. This is pretty impressive. And he's leading a very resolved, determined, a brave nation who is standing up to this enormous military power that the Russians have arrayed and have got there all the way to Kyiv and other places.

So, this is a challenging time for the Ukrainian people. They're going to fight. They have fought. Several people have said that the Ukrainian military has blocked the Russian military on their approach. They haven't stopped. And it's going to be hard to stop. But they've given up a great fight. They've put up a great fight. So, this is an impressive move.

BLITZER: So, I understand it's impressive, but does it show, Ambassador, the type of resistance Putin would face if he were to try to set up some sort of pro-Russian puppet government?

TAYLOR: Wolf, it's so interesting, the clip you showed of President Putin trying to address the Ukrainian military. This is just another demonstration of how little he understands Ukraine. Ukraine, the military and the people and the president and his team and even the opposition, the political forces are determined. They are determined to resist.

And if he tries to put in a puppet regime, it won't last because people will go to the streets. They'll reject them. He may think that the people will welcome. No, the Ukrainian people will reject any puppet that President Putin tries to impose on them and they will continue the fight.

BLITZER: President Zelensky, as you know, he is warning that the Russians are now advancing on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. How big of a blow will that be if Kyiv falls?

TAYLOR: A big blow, a big blow. And one question will be what happens to the government, what happens to the president. I'm sure they are taking good care of him. He's important. As I say, he's kind of the face of the resistance, of the government. And if there is another government put in, if Russians do take Kyiv, then the legitimate Ukrainian government will move somewhere else and will continue the fight. It will get support from the international community, I'm sure. But it will be a blow. It will be a major blow if they can take over the capital.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bill Taylor, thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, much more on the breaking news out of Ukraine as the capital city of Kyiv endures another night of very intense Russian shelling.

Also ahead, President Biden makes good on his promise to nominate the first African-American woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. We're going to have more on this historic selection right after the break.



BLITZER: Much, much more on the unfolding war in Ukraine in just a moment. But right now, there's other breaking news we're following.

President Biden has nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would be the only third African American and the first Black woman to sit on the nation's highest court.

Let's get more from CNN's chief national correspondent, Jeff Zeleny and CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip, the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

First to you, Jeff, tell us more about this truly historic nomination.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is what President Biden has had his mind really thinking about for going back two years. In fact, two years to the day when he was a candidate for president, he said he wanted to nominate the first black woman to the Supreme Court and today he did just that. He has been spending about a year or so reading the writings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, as well as some other finalists but he really was drawn to her. She was a front-runner essentially from the beginning, even as he looked at other candidates.

We learned that he had an interview with her on Valentine's Day at the White House, February 14th, a secret meeting. And last night, he offered her the job. She's been on the federal bench for about almost a decade. She's been confirmed three times in the Senate and was in the White House this afternoon with the president.

BLITZER: Very impressive indeed.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm pleased to nominate Judge Jackson who brings extraordinary qualifications, deep experience and intellect, and a rigorous judicial record to the court. JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Justice Breyer,

in particular, not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have, but he also exemplified every day in every way that a Supreme Court justice can perform at the highest level of skill and integrity. Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat, but please know that I could never fill your shoes.


ZELENY: Judge Jackson was talking about Justice Breyer because she clerked for him in 1999, the beginning of her legal career.


And, of course, she also spent time as a federal public defender. One of the key rare qualities for a Supreme Court justice. Her confirmation will be going on for about six weeks or so. They want to get a vote on her my mid-April, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, they certainly do.

Abby, this is really a very significant moment. Give us a sense of the history, the president and Judge Jackson just made at the White House today.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, never in this country's history has someone who looks like her ever been nominated to a seat on the Supreme Court. It's a really extraordinary thing after all of this time.

And when you think about the fact that Judge Brown Jackson who talked about her parents. Her parents grew up in a segregated south. The amount of time that has elapsed between a different era in our nation, where we are now, is really not that much. It's in her lifetime, effectively. And I think it really just signifies that the time has come for this particular moment for black women to be represented on the court and with her potential appointment to the court, she would also be increasing the number of women on the court as well, which I think will say a lot about a parody on the court after all of these years.

Wolf, you know, black women put Joe Biden in the White House. He was standing side by side with his vice president, another black woman who was a prosecutor in her own right, and then nominating another black woman to the Supreme Court, fulfilling an important promise that he made to his base, to write frankly what has been wrong in American history, that up until this point, really only because of racism in this country, have we not had a black woman on the Supreme Court. It's a very, very important moment, putting the politics aside.

BLITZER: Very important indeed. Black women should have been on the Supreme Court a long, long time ago. Finally, it looks like it's about to happen. Assuming confirmation goes forward.

Abby, thank you very much. Jeff, thanks to you as well. Important note to our viewers. Be sure to join Abby Sunday morning for

"INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY," 8:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

We'll have more on the breaking news coming up next, including a very dire warning from Ukraine's president who now says Vladimir Putin's war machine could take the capital city of Kyiv tonight.



BLITZER: Tonight, the president of Ukraine is pleading for his people to stand their ground as Russian forces are advancing on the capital and the country's fate is being decided.

Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just three years ago, Volodymyr Zelensky may never have envisioned himself deal with the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II.

Zelensky was known to Ukrainians then as a comedian, playing the role of a schoolteacher in a series "Servant of the People."

On that show, Zelensky's character unexpectedly became president of Ukraine after ranting about corruption. Then, life imitated art. Positioning himself as a political outsider, running on a platform of fighting corruption and ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky won a landslide victory over the incumbent Petro Poroshenko in 2019.

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: His background he's Jewish. He was comfortable in what's called the Russia world. He made a great career for himself as a comedian and businessman in part by appealing not just to Ukrainians but also to Russians.

TODD: Just a few months into his presidency, Zelensky became enmeshed in the scandal that led to then President Donald Trump's first impeachment trial. A phone call in which Trump leaned on Zelensky to investigate allegations of corruption against Joe Biden's family in Ukraine, allegations that were never supported by any evidence.

Zelensky made no promises on the call and later denied Trump pressured him.

HERBST: He handled it well because he understood that what he's being asked was outrageous.

TODD: But this crisis makes the Trump phone call seem almost trivial. This was the 44-year-old president's message to his country yesterday.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINE (through translator): The enemy has marked me as target number one. My family as target number two. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. TODD: According to "Axios", Zelensky told E.U. leaders in a video

conference yesterday, this might be the last time you see me alive.

How enormous is the pressure he's under right now?

SAMUEL CHARAP, RAND CORPORATION: It's really tremendous. I mean, he to a certain extent is alone and it's clear that the Russians have put a target on his head. I certainly don't envy the position he's in.

TODD: By Friday night, Zelensky's warning to his nation was dire.

ZELENSKY: This night will be very difficult. And the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians.

TODD: Is he in over his head?

CHARAP: You need a real Churchill-type leader to excel at a moment like this. I think he is scrambling and trying to find the right tenor and right message.


TODD (on camera): As he struggles to keep himself and his nation alive, Volodymyr Zelensky is also fighting against Russian misinformation and propaganda, specifically the constant refrain from Vladimir Putin and his acolytes that they are trying to, quote, de- nazify Ukraine, referring to Zelensky and his cabinet as neo-Nazis.

Zelensky is Jewish and said, recently, quote, how can I be a Nazi? Tell this to my grandfather who spent World War II fighting in the infantry of the Soviet army against the Nazis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well-said, indeed.

Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.

I'll be back in two hours, 9:00 p.m. for "CNN TONIGHT." And once again tomorrow for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. That's from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

In the meantime, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" live from Ukraine starts right now.