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U.S. Warns Russia Could Intensify Kyiv Attack Soon; Putin Puts Nuclear Forces On High Alert; U.N. Says, 520,000-Plus Refugees Have Fled Ukraine Amid War; U.S. Warns Russia Could Intensify Kyiv Attack Soon. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 28, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Anderson Cooper in Ukraine and me in D.C., we're going to host a special live coverage at 8:00 P.M. Eastern only on CNN. Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tweeter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. You can listen to our podcast if you missed a show.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The U.S. warns Russia could intensify its attack on Kyiv very, very soon as Kremlin forces are being slowed but not stopped by Ukrainian fighters. A mile's long Russian military convoy is now on the move just outside the Ukrainian capital tonight. This as Vladimir Putin is raising fears of an even wider and potentially much more dangerous war by putting his nuclear forces on high alert.

We'll go live to our correspondents on the frontlines of this conflict with reports on Russia and Ukraine as well as 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.

This hour, U.S. officials fear Russian forces could be preparing for a second wave of their invasion of Ukraine. They are warning that the worst of this war may be coming soon especially for residents of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, this city under siege now for a fifth night.

Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us. Clarissa, the fight for Ukraine rages on and on. What's the latest?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, we have just heard recently from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who accused the Russians of war crimes for killing civilians, most noticeably today, in the city of Kharkiv.

He went on to say that the world should help basically to prevent Russia from being able to use the skies, essentially calling for a no fly zone. He also said that in terms of those talks, those negotiations between a Ukrainian delegation and Russian delegation that took place on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border today, that they had not really yielded the results that they would want.

He mentioned the fact that Russian strikes continued throughout. But he did say that there were some areas of conversation where they were reviewing them to see whether there might be something that they can build on there.

I'll tell you for here on the ground though, Wolf, it was a little bit quieter for a while those talks were going on. But almost the moment they ended, we heard several loud explosions. I won't say we're hearing more explosions tonight but I will say that they do appear to be more intense.

Of course, we've been hearing the air raid sirens a couple of times as well but that is now standard procedure for most evenings here in Kyiv. But the big worry really becomes, as you mentioned in your introduction, Wolf, this massive convoy, miles long of Russian troops, armor weaponry that appears to be bearing down on the capital.

We know that Ukrainian forces have gone above and beyond in terms of repelling attempts of Russian forces to enter the city but this is something the likes of which we haven't seen yet. And as you mentioned, U.S. officials have warned that they could start to implement other tactics, they could start to be less discriminatory about shelling or striking civilian areas. There's the potential that they could cut communications, electricity and a host of other options that have many here in Kyiv tonight fearing for the worst. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, Clarissa, as you were reporting and you're seeing first hand on the ground over there, the defense of Ukraine is not just being waged by members of the Ukrainian military, everyday citizens are also getting involved, aren't they?

WARD: It's true, Wolf. And it's been pretty extraordinary to see. The first couple of days you saw people in the state of shock and profound fear, understandably. Today on the streets, we were seeing a lot more defiance, people of all ages, men, women, coming out, volunteering, digging sand bags, building defensive positions. We interviewed one grandmother, a retired economist who is now building Molotov cocktails in her backyard and had some salty words to say about how she would greet the Russians if they do make it this far.

And we've also just seen extraordinary acts of courage in other parts of the country, one town in central Ukraine where a convoy of Russian tanks found themselves blockaded by men driving their cars, refusing to move the car, parking them in front of those tanks until eventually they were forced to turn around.


And then another part of the country, the town of Berdyans'k, that's in the southeast, near Mariupol, which is now entirely under Russian control, it was one of the most striking sights, Wolf. A group of people went up to the municipality building, the central town hall, if you will. They were carrying Ukrainian flags and they stared those Russian soldiers in the eyes and began singing the Ukrainian anthem.

So, make no mistake, we are seeing extraordinary acts of bravery, of resilience, of courage and resistance but the question is how long is that sustainable if Russia doubles down on this assault.

BLITZER: They seem to be doing. Clarissa Ward, stay safe over there. We'll get back to you.

I want to, right now, get an update of the bloodshed in Ukraine second largest city where Russia is being accused by President Zelenskyy of committing war crimes. As CNN Alex Marquardt reports, residential areas have been bombarded.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The fighting in Kharkiv getting a little bit closer to home on Monday. This is video from one of five residential neighborhoods in Ukraine's second largest city. Two people can be seen running and then crawling as a hail of rockets rains down.

Across the city to the east, more video shows a chaotic scene after a still smoking missile falls and lodged in the street. Further north, buildings come under fire from rocket strikes exploding over the apartment complex.

From those apartments, a man says the Russian world, you say, it's already right on my doorstep. Two bodies lie motionless on the floor. Kharkiv City Council says the Monday's shelling left 31 injured and one dead.

U.S. officials say the Russians have hit civilian targets and Monday's attacks in Kharkiv have the hallmarks of Russian weaponry.

Russia meanwhile has insisted throughout its invasion that it will avoid civilian areas. The people of Kharkiv probably seeing things very differently.


MARQUARDT (on camera): At the same time, Ukrainian troops were remarkably successful over the weekend that repelling Russian forces in Kharkiv. There were street battles in that city between the two sides, Kharkiv, very much alongside the capital Kyiv in the sights Vladimir Putin's army. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt, in Kyiv for us, thank you.

As Russia's warn Ukraine unfold, there's another significant provocation from Vladimir Putin. Tonight, he has put his nuclear forces on high alert.

Let's go to our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's reporting for us live from western Ukraine. Jim, so what is the U.S. response to Putin's nuclear alert? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The view of the U.S. military, Wolf, like that of the White House, is that his threat is largely a manufactured one with Russian forces on their back foot, you might say, over the weekend, not going according to plan so far, slower progress. This was an opportunity for Putin to distract, perhaps strike some fear or at least the idea of fear into the eyes, into the hearts of western leaders.

That said, I'm told that any time the world nuclear is mentioned or a threat involving nuclear forces, particularly from the country with the largest number of nuclear warheads in the world, is something they take seriously, the U.S. military takes seriously. They are also conscious that it's part of Russia's military doctrine first use of nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, first use of those weapons is part of their doctrine in response to conventional attacks. They're aware of that as well.

Add in one more dynamic, a cornered Vladimir Putin is one that becomes more unpredictable. That said, big picture, they're not considering this an imminent threat but yet another piece of just how much Vladimir Putin can, if you make such decisions, can threaten not just Ukraine but Europe and the world.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a huge problem indeed. And there also concerns, as you and I well know Jim, within the U.S. intelligence community, very deep, serious concerns about Putin's state of mind, right?

SCIUTTO: Yes, there are. Listen, with a dose of uncertainty again with Vladimir Putin, I spoke to Senator Mark Warner this morning, of course, he is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he said, let's grant that Vladimir Putin's mind is a black hole, right?

They can't hope to have knowledge of the way he is making decisions but there's a structural problem here that U.S. officials, intelligence officials, the military are aware of, and that is he's a very tight circle of advisers that he listens to. He's been increasingly isolated in recent months and years during the COVID pandemic.


You've seen those images of him at the end of very long tables, even as he's meeting with some of his closest advisers. And that lack of people around him that can tell him either different opinions, different analyses or even hard facts or bad news creates a bad decision-making environment, which concerns the U.S.

One man with that much power, not necessarily good information can lead to bad decisions and that's a principal concern of U.S. officials right now, particularly with all the force that Putin has amassed here now on the ground in Ukraine.

BLITZER: So, so worrisome. Jim Sciutto in Lviv, in Ukraine for us, Jim, thank you very much. Stay safe over there as well.

Just ahead, Russia unleashes a deadly new rocket attacks on Ukraine's second largest city. Coming up, we're going to break down Putin's latest moves and what comes next. Stay with us.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news for the battle of Ukraine. The mayor of the country's second largest city now says nine people were killed in Russian rocket attacks earlier today. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine is accusing Russia of war crimes for targeting civilians.

Meanwhile, fierce battles continue in various parts of the country. CNN's Matthew Chance got a firsthand look at the aftermath of one ferocious battle that left a Russian convoy in ruins. We want to run you, some of this video is graphic.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There has been a ferocious battle here on the outskirts of Kyiv. And this is one of those Russian Soviet-era vehicles, which is completely burned out. You can see this is a bridge, actually. It's an access point to the northwest of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The Russian column that has come down here has been absolutely hammered.

Obviously, we're still in a very exposed situation right now. But let me just bring you along here, there's debris everywhere, the twisted metal of these vehicles. This is obviously just a truck carrying supplies. We saw the armored vehicle in front there. I mean, looking around, absolutely -- look at this. I mean, what kind of munitions does it take to do that to a car, to a vehicle.

I know that -- I was speaking to the local Ukrainian commanders here. They have been saying that they were using western anti-tank missiles to attack these columns. Look, so recent in the battle. This vehicle is still smoking. There's still smoke coming out the back of that. Ammunition boxes on the ground, there's unexploded grenades in various -- like pineapple grenades everywhere, a real scene of devastation along this bridge.

Look, there's evidence, I don't want to show you this too much because there's a body there. That's a Russian soldier that is lying dead on this bridge, lying there dead on this bridge, as his column has attempted to drive in and been thwarted.

The thing is what's happened over the past couple of days since this invasion begun is that the Ukraine -- actually I was crouching down right by a grenade there. Look. And I didn't see that. So, let's move away from that.

Look, I mean, you've got the Ukrainian military that is battle- hardened from its fight in the east of the country. They have been fighting Russians and Russian-backed rebels in that region for a long time, and so they know what they are doing. They have been bolstered by the arrival of stinger missiles and anti-tank Javelin missiles from the United States and from other countries as well in the west. In fact, just yesterday, Sweden was delivering 5,000 anti-tank missiles to this country to help Ukrainians defend against the Russian invasion. And so it's with the help of that weaponry that they have been able to really cause the Russians a significant amount of pain.

It's also something to do with the Russian tactics as well. If they thought they were going to come into this city or come into this country and there was going to be a broad surrender that the military were going to roll over, that they weren't going to fight, then that was, obviously, you look at this, these images of this twisted metal, that was obviously a massive miscalculation on the part of the Kremlin.

BLITZER: That was CNN's Matthew Chance, a very courageous journalist, reporting from just outside Kyiv, Ukrainian capital.

Right now, I want to bring in CNN's Bryan Todd. He's retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack, now a Wilson Center Global Fellow at The Kennan Institute.

Walk us through, if you can, a little bit of what's going on from the military perspective right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. The landscape of this battle is changing really by the minute, and General Zwack, we're very fortunate to have you here to break it down with us. Of course, many eyes are on the battle of Kyiv as Russian forces amassing mostly in the west and approaching the city. You saw Matthew Chance's riveting segment there, that ambush of that Russian convoy just outside Kyiv. How do you see the battle for Kyiv playing out in the coming hours?

BRIG GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET.), WILSON CENTER GLOBAL FELLOW, THE KENNAN INSTITUTE: Thank you. First, the first evening of the Russian special operations and paratroopers tried to take -- they took Antonov Airport. It looked like they had a bridge head and they're going to be rushing forces down. A lot of people expected them to go right for the center and try to catch the Ukrainians off guard. They didn't do it. Now, they have been moving down clumsily. They have taken resistance in losses. They are now also, again, coming in now big from what we're seeing and they have a choice.


Do they go for the center, the seats of government and pay a bloody, brutal cost? The whole world is watching. The media is watching. Russia is increasingly watching. Or do they try to encircle? But this is something that takes 70,000, 80,000 people to do. And the Russian force structure, I'd like to say, they're huge but they're not that big. And this is dangerous for them.

TODD: All right. Let's about a little bit of the bigger picture here, and the troop movements, where the Russians have captured territory, the directions that they're moving in. We do know that in Kyiv, in Mykolaiv and in Kharkiv, the Ukrainians are putting up resistence. But the Belarusian troops could be coming in, according to our sources. How does that change the landscape of the battle?

ZWACK: Actually, I don't think it changes that much. Actually, I think it's the beginning of the long end of the Alexander Lukashenko regime, because most of those Belarusian troops, maybe 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 active and then a quarter million, if you will, reservists are conscripts. And the same thing as the Russian conscripts, they are now encountering fierce Ukrainian resistance from Slavic brothers. I think this is -- Belarus had those protests in 2021. I think this is the beginning of the end for them.

TODD: Okay. Let's talk about the convoy that we've observed here, just outside Kyiv, three-mile long Russian convoy. They're having problems resupplying their forward units. Talk about that.

ZWACK: All right. Just look at this. This is happening all over Ukraine. And you have these soft skinned vehicles, again, driven mostly by conscripts, not combat troops. You need combat troops to protect them because the wolves are out there, meaning the partisans. You're going to be getting points of resistance. We got to remember that from '41 to 1944, the fiercest resistance to the Nazis in the partisan fight was over this ground in Ukraine, in Belarus. And this will be really, really hard to sustain and -- yes.

TODD: All right. Well, it's going to be really interesting to see if they can resupply these convoys, get their forces ramped up in and around Kyiv as the battle unfolds in the coming hours, Wolf. We're going to be watching this in real-time as that battle for the capital city unfolds.

BLITZER: Excellent analysis. General Zwack, thank you very, very much for joining us.

Coming up, the Ukrainian refugee crisis worsening tonight as the Russian military opens fire on residential neighborhoods and civilian casualties grow. The United Nation says 520,000 Ukrainians have fled the country.

Our special coverage will continue.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. We've just received some grim new numbers from the United Nations. It says at least 406 civilian casualties have been reported and 520,000 Ukrainian refugees have now fled to neighboring countries.

CNN's Scott McLean is on the scene for us in Lviv, in Ukraine, with more on the desperate exodus from the Russian invasion.

Scott, a very, very tense and emotional scene at the train station there.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf. And, look, for every person who has managed to get out of Ukraine, there are plenty more who are trying to leave still. It is difficult to go by car, going by foot. You may well end up stuck outside for hours on end. So, the train is the best option for a lot of people, especially those with small kids, but as we found out today, it is still far from a sure bet. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN (voice over): At the train station in Lviv, no one knows when the next train to Poland will come but they wait in frigid temperatures just in case. Suddenly, an announcement sends people rushing for platform five. Some cross the tracks to get there but police turn them away.

Please keep calm and go down the stairs, shouts the officer. How can I not panic? Let us in. My kid has a disability. He's downstairs with our bags, she tells us. We traveled three days from Berdyans'k.

I'm nervous, another woman traveling with a toddler tells us. This mother pushing a stroller says everything in just a single glance.

Under the platform, it's a free for all but sometimes gets tense. People push their way to the front but police allow only women and children. Men are told not to bother. This woman is offered a place on the train with her baby but not her husband and she won't go without him. No, I can't, she says. He has everything. He has friends there. And how will he get there? Not by train.

At the top of the stairs police usher women and children through the crowd tossing suitcases and pulling children up by their coats. It's all a bit overwhelming for kids and for mothers.

They are packing as many people as they possibly can onto these trains but there are still many people, including women and children who likely will not make it.

This Nigerian woman who came from Kyiv two days ago is one of them.



It's insane. I never want to be in this position in my life.

MCLEAN: You're tired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I couldn't sleep for days. Yes, I'm so happy, at least, I could get into the train.

MCLEAN: with most Ukrainian men barred from leaving the country, the men turned away are almost entirely foreign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We find a taxi, but he told us we need a lot of money, $500, $600.

MCLEAN: For the waiting families, the next train is due a few hours later. But many who have traveled for days just to get here, it can't come soon enough.


MCLEAN (on camera): Now, that first woman that you saw who traveled three days with her disabled son, she did manage to get on the train. She was one of the last people to board. As for the foreign men left behind, some say it is very unfair that they have been stranded and unable to board these trains. Others have told me that they are content to stay behind for a few days as long as it means that children are getting out safely. Wolf?

BLITZER: Such a heartbreaking scene, indeed. Scott McLean in Lviv for us, thank you very much.

We have also seen a deadly new round of rocket attacks in Ukraine's second largest city. Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is nearby on the Russian side of the border. Fred, the fight for Kharkiv is fierce but Russia is facing unexpected setbacks. Tell our viewers what you're seeing.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf. It certainly seems to us as though they are facing some setbacks here. And, really, if you look at the offensive that the Russians are conducting right now on Kharkiv, it really is almost an ideal situation for Russia. The place where I am right now, Belgorod, where most of the Russian forces are staged, it's right across the border from Kharkiv, so the Russians can replenish their forces, they can move in weapons close to that area. And yet you have seen Russian forces come out of there with flak vests hung in the windows of trucks, as though they were taking sniper fire when they were inside.

The other thing that we're also seeing, Wolf, and this is something that we found actually quite remarkable is that there's a lot of broken down Russian military vehicles even on the Russian side. It apparently haven't even made it into Ukraine. For instance, today, we saw multiple rocket launcher called an Uragan, which is a massive weapon and certainly one with a lot of firepower, that was stranded by the side of the road with some soldiers trying to repair it. We even saw a heavy howitzer, which seemed to have toppled over in a ditch, as though it had been maneuvered there, and then the ground was soft or something and had just toppled over.

So, apparently, some logistical problems that can be seen on the side. And we have seen that throughout the past couple of days, with vehicles having to be towed, vehicles having to be repaired. On the other hand, we also do have to say, Wolf, that some of the reports we have been getting out of Kharkiv was someone of the shelling there in civilian areas as well, we did, today, observe the Russian shell a lot of artillery rockets from this area towards Ukraine. Obviously, a lot of those will be going towards the Kharkiv area.

And we also saw the Russians move more mobile rocket launchers towards Kharkiv as well, more of those Uragan rocket launchers, they have a range of about 70 to 75 miles, very powerful weapons. So, it does seem as though, from our vantage point, obviously impossible to say with any sort of certainty that the Russians are moving a lot of heavy forces closer to that town, possibly to try and escalate the assault on that area. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Fred, thank you very much, CNN's Fred Pleitgen reporting.

Just ahead, we'll have more on breaking news out of Ukraine. Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: We're getting word tonight that the Russian military has now moved into a heavily contested city in Southern Ukraine. The defensive lines of Ukrainian forces appear to have fallen back as Kremlin vehicles rolled into Kherson.

Let's get some more in the situation across the warzone. CNN's Anderson Cooper is in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Anderson, I understand there were air sirens, people heading to bomb shelters where you are earlier today. So, what's the mood there tonight?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's certainly a very different mood than what is happening in places of Kyiv or in Kharkiv, where we have seen fighting in the streets, bombing. There were two air raid sirens tonight. But for the most part, most people here are able to continue their daily life, obviously watching very closely.

There's lot of fear. There's a lot of concern. We have seen long lines of people signing up to be part of the defense forces, if that becomes necessary here in Lviv. There are locations where people are making Molotov cocktails, where people are signing up, and also just trying to help those who are trying to get to the Polish border, the line to get to the Polish border. If you have a vehicle, it can take more than 24 hours just to get there as the line snakes for miles along the highway of cars just bumper to bumper. We passed that as we were coming in today.

But there's a lot of fear here and a lot concern about what may lie ahead. But, certainly, right now, all eyes really are on Kyiv.

BLITZER: You're, earlier in the day, Anderson on the Polish -- along the Polish border with Ukraine. What's the level of desperation among Ukrainians who are simply trying to flee their country?

COOPER: Yes. It's really a nightmare just for its women in children. We focus obviously on the battlefield and forces that are fighting, but for families, you were seeing so many families that have just been torn apart, the men have to stay behind, women and children going to the border to trying to get out as best they can. You saw Scott McLean's piece of people taking trains there and the chaotic situation at train stations in a place Lviv.

Once they get to the border, they have to go through checkpoints, they have to register, and that process can also just take many hours, an entire day, it's women and children.

[18:40:00] It is freezing cold here. It is really just a miserable scene at the border. You see hundreds, if not, thousands of women and children, kids not sure what's going. There are some organizations that are getting them food, getting them coffee. But there's a lot of just concern, a lot of fear about what they are leaving behind and what lies ahead for them.

BLITZER: Anderson, stay safe over there. We will stay close touch with you.

And an important note to our viewers, Anderson will have much, much more from Ukraine later tonight on a special two-hour edition of Anderson Cooper 360. That's coming up at 8:00 P.M. Eastern. Anderson, thank you very, very much.

Let's go do White House right now. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us. Phil, the Biden administration is turning up the heat on Russia even more today, pretty dramatically. Are they seeing results?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the scale of the economic punishment laid out by the U.S. and an alliance of more than 30 countries is simply without precedent in terms of the amount of areas of the Russian economy that they're attacking, the intensity of the sanctions they are using to attack that economy and you're seeing results immediately.

Now, to be clear, these sanctions are expected to take more effect, have more impact over time. But in just one day, you saw the ruble drop more than 30 percent at one point today against the dollar, less than one cent.

Now, it recovered a little bit overtime but this underscores one of the most critical moves that U.S. and their allies agreed to, and that was freezing the assets of the Russian Central Bank as well as freezing the ability to do transactions in the U.S., the E.U. and the U.K. with that central bank.

And the reason why is this, Wolf. Over the course of the last several years, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has utilized the ability to build up his foreign currency reserve. That's essentially trying to insulate the Russian economy from sanctions from the west, giving him an opportunity to basically utilize that money to block some of the sanctions that would be put in place.

If you freeze those assets, they are not housed in Russia, they are housed in places around the world, and they are in currencies, not in Russian ruble, you essentially undercut the central bank's ability to stabilize their own currency, you create the potential for inflationary spiral that have massive impact on the country. You pair that with the inability to provide liquidity to the banking sector, then there's a potential for a financial crisis as well.

Wolf, we saw lines at ATMs throughout Russia over the course of day. The bite is happening now and so is the back and forth on the diplomatic front. Obviously no diplomatic talks right now but we did learn today the diplomats of the United Nations, 12 Russians were expelled from the country. The U.S. said it had been in process over a series of months. It was because of potential national security issues, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Phil Mattingly reporting for us at the White House, thank you.

Coming up, how dangerous is Vladimir Putin now that his invasion of Ukraine clearly is not going according to his plan? I'll ask the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, he is standing by live.



BLITZER: The breaking news we're following tonight. The United States now warning that Russia could soon intensify its attack on Kyiv as out gunned Ukrainians remarkably slow Vladimir Putin's invasion for a fifth day.

Joining us now, CNN national security analyst, James Clapper, former director of national intelligence.

Director Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, Putin is facing unprecedented pressure right now from the West. He's also facing the embarrassment of this offensive not necessarily being pulled off as smoothly as he originally thought. Do you fear Putin will lash out even more dangerous -- in more dangerous ways right now, now that he's backed into a corner?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I do. I think he's probably even more frustrated than he was before. He did not expect two things. I don't think he expected resistance of the Ukrainians, Ukrainian people and I don't think he expected a lackluster performance of the vaunted Russian army. So, that's got to contribute to heightened frustration.

I think what it will do is -- you know, I'm not unique here, I think he's going to double down on heavier fire power, particularly artillery which the Russian army is always big for. And it's going to become very brutal and very nasty in the Ukraine. That's what I anticipate.

TAPPER: You've been very blunt in your comments and you say Putin has become more unhinged than you've ever seen him before.

Is this a different Putin now than you dealt with, for example, when you were director of national intelligence?

CLAPPER: Well, what I draw on is his public demeanor and behavior. You know, classically, Putin is almost a machine. He's cold, emotionless, almost like an armamentum (ph) when you see him in public.

Well, he events anger and the incoherence of some of his statements is very different for him. So, it's clear there is a rage there which has probably been festering for about 30 years. You know, he's had all the time to sulk and grieve about the injustices done to the Soviet Union and now, Russia, and this has all come to a head now.

So, you know, it bears watching and I'm sure my former colleagues in intelligence community are watching this very intensely.

BLITZER: As they should.

Putin, as you know, has also put Russian nuclear deterrent forces on what's called high alert.


How great is the risk of the very serious miscalculation right now that could have truly devastating consequences potentially?

CLAPPER: Well, it's, you know, we are in a higher state of risk than we were a week ago. That's very clear. I do think the administration did exactly the right thing, and not -- not react by a concomitant raise in our alert level. And there is the issue of what -- what exactly was meant by what he said.

The first thing I would be interested in is are there any physical manifestations of a higher state of readiness for the soviet strategic nuclear forces, specifically, for example, have more mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed out of garrison at a higher rate than possible? Or are there additional sea-launched ballistic missile carrying subs that have deployed?

So you would be looking for those sort of physical manifestations of a heightened alert. This could -- maybe meant nothing more than a heightened state of command and control. Ensure that your communications are -- are up to snub so you can actually transmit orders. It may -- it may have been nothing more than that but the fact that he said it is, for me at least, raises a concern.

BLITZER: Do you see an off ramp at all for Putin?

CLAPPER: You know, I have been brainstorming a lot about that, and it is hard for me to come up with a face-saving off ramp at this point for Putin. I -- I just don't know what -- what that would be. I wish there were one.

BLITZER: Me, too.

The former director of national intelligence, retired General James Clapper, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation.

Just ahead, there is more on the breaking news. I will speak live with a key member of Ukraine's parliament hunkered down in the capital tonight as Russian forces are closing in.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We are following the breaking news. A miles long Russian military convoy is positioned just outside of the capital city of Kyiv and the United States is now warning that Vladimir Putin's forces could soon intensify their attack.

Let's discuss with Ukrainian parliament member, Kira Rudik.

Kira, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it very much.

What is the situation where you are in Kyiv? What is it like tonight?

KIRA RUDIK, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Hello. I thank you for having me. So, tonight, there was a peaceful negotiation that obviously resulted in heavier air strikes after -- right after the negotiation ended up. And right now, their air strikes intensified and there are more of alarms for the whole night.

We anticipated this because I -- let me give you some tips and tricks on talking to Putin. When he says I want peace, this means I'm getting my troops to kill you. If he says it's not my troops, it means it's my troops and I am gathering them. And if he says, okay, I'm retreating, this means I'm regrouping and getting more troops to kill you.

So it's not news for us when he went on a peaceful negotiation and I repeated peaceful negotiation, that it will end up bringing more troops, destroying more buildings and trying to kill more Ukrainians. And today is the first day of the sanctions working in Russia, and obviously Russians start feeling the price of Putin's crazy war on themselves and he gets more and more frustrated that's why he is raising the stakes.

So this intensifying of the situation is expected for us. We knew that things like this will happen. So, we are just getting stronger and stronger. We are also using this time to prepare more to get the supplies and, you know, Wolf, what I learned? That I am, as a woman, can survive on one banana and probably half a cream cheese package, but 15 armed men really need lots of supplies.

So I spent my day today really gathering everything that I can so the resistance team that I formed can survive the siege if there will be one. And we anticipate that there will be a siege in Kyiv.

BLITZER: Ukraine has held off Russia now from Kyiv, the capital, for five days. Kira, you say this means Putin will be raising stakes so what do you fear the next few days are going to look like?

RUDIK: So, our first fear son air force attacks that will be intensifying, and we have seen today, already. So, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, there will be more of them to create terror and to create fear, which we expect. That's why we are not afraid.

Second, is he bringing more forces and he will actually try to close in and out to Kyiv. This is something that we are fighting from our side to make sure that he cannot close the entrances and exits to the city.

This is where the resistance comes in. And, of course, we will be trying to get into the negotiations.

BLITZER: We are going to continue this conversation, Kira. And be careful over there. We will stay in touch. Thanks very much for joining us.

Kira Rudik is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

That's it for me.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.