Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Millions Trapped By Russian Attacks Amid Urgent Evacuations; U.S. Intel Says Putin Feels Ukraine A War He Cannot Afford To Lose; U.S. Bans Russian Oil Imports As Gas Prices Hit Record High; U.S.: At Least 13,000 Russians Arrested For Protesting War; First Capitol Riot Defendant To Go On Trial Guilty On All Counts. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 08, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. In a bombarded city, millions of civilians remain trapped by Russian attacks, as Ukraine pushes ahead with urgent and dangerous evacuations.

The total number of refugees now surpassing 2 million. Tonight, U.S. intelligence officials are warning Vladimir Putin believes he can't afford to lose this war and his forces in Ukraine will likely double down soon.

Here in the U.S., President Biden is banning Russian oil and other Russian energy imports to further punish Putin. Americans are now bracing for even more even paying at the pump as gas prices just hit a record high.

Our correspondents are standing by with more of CNN's global team coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war.

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

The humanitarian crisis unfolding in the war-torn Ukraine right now is worsening by the hour. Million of trapped civilians are at risk of being attacked by Russian forces at any time, even while trying to evacuate.

CNN's Clarissa Ward will join us live from Kyiv in just a few moments with a heart-breaking look at older and vulnerable Ukrainians simply struggling to survive. But, first, CNN's Oren Liebermann has more breaking news on the war.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In northeast Ukraine, not far from the Russian border, the city of Sumy was supposed to be safe, if only for a few hours. Ukraine and Russia agreed on a single evacuation corridor open for half of Tuesday but the agreement has not protected the city. The announcement came after Ukrainian official say a Russian air strike killed 21 civilians, including two children, overnight. Russian strikes have destroyed homes in the city, flattening neighborhoods. Western leaders have already accused Russia of targeting preapproved safe routes in Ukraine.

The city of Mariupol in the south has been isolated by Russian forces, according to a senior U.S. defense official, cutting off hundreds of thousands from water and electricity for days. But that official says the Russian forces have not entered the city.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has not gone according to plan, U.S. officials say, slower, clumsier and meeting more resistance than the Kremlin anticipated. Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no signs of stopping no matter the cost.

AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We assess Putin feels aggrieved the west just not given him proper deference and perceives this is a war he cannot afford to lose.

LIEBERMANN: U.S. intelligence estimates with low confidence that Russia lost between 2,000 and 4,000 troop in combat but they still retain an overwhelming majority of the combat power, the U.S. defense official says, with new advances east of Kyiv. Russian forces still have not been able to encircle Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, with their assault stalled from the north, the official says.

Ukraine says the Russian invasion has killed more than 400 civilians to date, including 38 children, calling it genocide, and accusing Russia of war crimes, which Russia denies.

Russia's invasion has now created more than 2 million refugees according to the United Nations. While millions flee, others stayed to fight.

In Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, a Ukrainian police officer says goodbye to his son. For how long, no one knows.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressing the British parliament.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We will not give up and we will not lose. We will fight until the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost.

LIEBERMANN: He showed once again his mixture of composure and defiance. Zelenskyy urged the western nations to ban Russian energy imports, a move President Joe Biden announced today.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine.

LIEBERMANN: The European Union says it will cut gas imports by two- thirds this year and phase out Russian oil completely before the end of the decade. A daunting goal since Europe relies much more heavily on energy imports from Russia.

Meanwhile in Moscow, the Russian stock market remains closed for the eighth consecutive business day with the ruble in freefall. McDonalds announced its temporary closing its restaurants in Russian. Starbucks, Coca-Cola and others taking similar steps.

Anti-war protests on the streets of Russian cities continue. CIA believes security forces have arrested as many as 14,000 Russians for protesting, the price, Putin it seems, is willing to pay in pursuit of his goals.

Oren Liebermann, CNN at the Pentagon.


BLITZER: Thank you Oren.

Let's get more right now on what civilians are facing in embattled areas of Ukraine right now.


Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is joining us live from Kyiv. Clarissa, this war is taking a toll on almost everyone, especially older and vulnerable Ukrainians. Tell us about that.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, across the country there are hundreds of thousands of people who are pinned down under heavy fighting. They have no access to things like heat, electricity, cell phones. They're isolated, cut off, afraid.

We saw some of the hardest hit, some of the last people to be evacuated. Some of the most vulnerable coming from that bombarded Kyiv suburb of Irpin. And there were harrowing scenes, heart-breaking scenes and really a sense of urgency that humanitarian corridors need to be opened up and opened up soon so that more people can get to safety.


WARD (voice over): Incredibly, they emerge, some still standing, some too weak to walk, after more than a week under heavy bombardment in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

Volunteers help them carry their bags, the final few feet to relative safety. There are tearful reunions as relatives feared dead, finally appear after days of no contact with the outside world.

Many are still looking for their loved ones. Soldiers help where they can. For Larissa and Andrei (ph) it is an agonizing wait. Their son has been pinned down in the hotel he owns. We wait, we hope, we pray, they tell me. This is the grief of all mothers, of all people, Larissa (ph) says. This is a tragedy.

Every time the phone rings, there is a scramble, anticipation that it could be their son's voice on the line. This time it is not. Excuse me, I can't talk, Andrei (ph) says. I'm waiting for my son.

They are not the only ones waiting. These residents of a nursing home were among the last to be evacuated from Irpin. They have been sitting here now for hours. Confused and disorientated, many don't know where they are going. A volunteer gently guides these women back to wait for the bus.

Valentina tells us she is frightened and freezing after days of endless shelling and no heat. I want to lie down, she says. Please help me.

But for now, there is no place to lie down. The women are shepherded on to a bus. Their arduous journey not over yet.

For Larissa and Andrei (ph), the wait is finally over. Their son is alive.

ANDRIY KOLESNIK, IRPIN RESIDENT: The only words you can tell to the phone. Like, Mom, I am alive. Mom, I am alive. And that's it.

WARD: I'm the happiest mother in the world right now, she says. My son is with me. But not every mother here is so lucky. And for many, the wait continues.


WARD (on camera): Now, Russian media is reporting that the Russian military is calling for another cease-fire again tomorrow. That would start at 10:00 A.M. Moscow time, 9:00 A.M. Kyiv time, and opening up humanitarian corridors again in five different cities, the same where they were supposed to open today.

But as we saw, Wolf, with the exception of the northern city of Sumy, those evacuations today, those humanitarian corridors, particularly in the south eastern city of Mariupol, were not exactly what had been advertised or proposed or claimed that they would be by the Russian side, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, what was the Ukrainian reaction to that cease-fire proposal?

WARD: So, we just had word from the Ukrainian armed services from one of their telegram channels, one of their social media channels. You know, and what they said, essentially, it is difficult to trust the occupier.

And that's the position that Ukrainians find themselves in at the moment. They want to believe that this is a sincere and concerted effort to help these civilians. They want to make it work. It has been very difficult to do that in the past, particularly when the humanitarian corridors recommended by the Russians actually would have taken these poor Ukrainians who have been under Russian bombardment out into Russia. But I do feel that there is a sense that there really is a sincere effort to try to make this work in some way.

[18:10:04] And so I won't say there is a glimmer of hope but let's just say Ukrainian authorities want to make it work if they possibly can. But they're not counting on it happening in the way the Russians are advertising gist yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's see what happened. All right, thank you very much, Clarissa Ward, please stay safe over there.

The breaking news continues next. The flood of refugees fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine as now top, once again, 2 million people and a rapidly growing in the humanitarian crisis.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has now topped 2 million people, worsening the humanitarian crisis spark by Russia's unprovoked invasion.


Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is in Moldova for us tonight. Ivan, tell us about the refugees you are meeting and you're seeing.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, that 2 million number is just staggering. You can't really wrap your head around it. But every one of those people is somebody who had a life, had a future planned out and that has all been ripped out from under them.

Hundreds of thousands of people passing through Moldova. This is a tiny country, the smallest of Ukraine's neighbors, with just a population of .2.5 million. And the government and the people have improvised in how to care for these refugees. For example today, we were at indoor squash courts and pickle ball courts that have been taken over by aid organizations to house people, to give them a warm meal, to let kids who have been stuck on buses for 70 hours, some kids I saw play and get to run around for a bit.

And the refugees are shocked. This war is less than two weeks old. They're still trying to absorb the reality of it. But they're also angry and defiant. Listen to this woman, Marina, that I talked to.


MARINA AVDEEVA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: We are Ukrainians. It is our land. My son was born in independent Ukraine. It is our land, independent. Nobody can enter our land. And if you, if someone is entering, we have to answer because it is our mother land. We have no other choice. We are very peaceful people. We are not Nazi. We're just on our land, with hands up. Please, we want to live. We want to be happy. Stop shooting, please.


WATSON: Now, the reason, Wolf, she says we are not Nazis is because the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, they claim that they are conducting the de-Nazification of Ukraine, taking out fascists. Marina is a Ukrainian Jew from Odesa.

That squash court area was being helped by the world Jewish Congress, by the Jewish community of Moldova. Many of the Ukrainians passing through there are ultimately on their way to Israel or other European countries.

And some people are saying how can you accuse us of being Nazis if we are Jews running away from the Russian military. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. Good point, excellent point. The Jewish community in Odesa, very strong Jewish community, historically speaking as well. Ivan Watson on the scene for us in nearby Moldova. Thank you very much.

Let's get more on the breaking news. Dan Stewart is joining us. He is the Head of Save The Children U.K. Dan, thank you for joining us.

How dire is the situation on the ground right now for Ukrainian children fleeing this Russian invasion?

DAN STEWART, HEAD OF NEWS, SAVE THE CHILDREN U.K.: Well, what we're seeing every day here in northern Romania is an endless stream of refugees coming across the border. They are cold, they are exhausted, and most of them are women and children. I think it is important to stress just how bitterly freezing it really is. And I don't think the temperature has gone above zero much in the last couple weeks. Today, it was minus three. And these are the conditions that our children and mothers are coming across into, of course, and that's what they're facing now, they're fleeing in some of the most horrendous violence imaginable.

BLITZER: They certainly are. This is an incredibly traumatic experience clearly for these kids, for these children. What long-term emotional developmental effects do you most worry about?

STEWART: Well, the long-term emotional and psychological impact of this conflict is one of our biggest fears at the children moment. I was talking to a mom yesterday actually who told me that she and her three kids had literally two minutes to leave their home when one their friends found the car that could take them to the border. That's literally two minutes to abandon their entire life and leave their home behind. And when I met her outside the children's programming, her nine-year-old daughter, who's her youngest, was really quiet, really withdrawn. And her mom said that sometimes, she just starts crying.

So, we are really, really worried about the long-term impact. It is difficult to tell right now what that will be. But what is really critical is that we reach children now to start helping them to bounce back. These children are really resilient but they need our help in order to recover. In that same part of our programming, which we (INAUDIBLE) child friendly space, which is somewhere children can play and start to recover, and be looked after by our trained teams.

Another mom told me how she and her two daughters had been bombarded for six days and had to hide in their basement.


When they came out, their house had been almost entirely destroyed. It had been hit directly twice. And while the mother was telling me these things, her daughters were playing. They were making friends with other refugee children, they were making bracelets for each other. And I think that just goes to show you, with the right support, children can bounce back. But we really need to do that on a much, much larger scale that we are now. The scale of this crisis is just huge.

BLITZER: It's huge indeed. Dan Stewart of Save the Children U.K., thanks for joining us. Thanks for all you and your teams are doing. We are really grateful.

And for more information how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world, so important.

Coming up, we're getting new intelligence on Russia's military setbacks in Ukraine and how that could impact the war going forward.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news on the war in Ukraine. We're just getting word that Russian forces are making a new advance on the capital Kyiv from the east, as the northern push toward the capital remains stalled, at least for now.

Our Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is in western Ukraine for us. He's joining us live. Jim, U.S. and NATO officials say Russia has made at least so far very little progress in nearly two weeks of this war. It is day 13 right now. What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, speaking to U.S. officials acknowledge the current U.S. intelligence assessments, they raise several consistent points. One is the outperformance of the Ukrainian military in defending this country, two, frankly, the underperformance of the Russian military in gaining ground here, and also, greater speed and agility of the U.S. and its NATO partners getting weapons to the Ukrainian military.

That said, there is concern as Russia runs into these obstacles, that its campaign is only going to get bloodier and more ruthless.


SCIUTTO (voice over): Nearly two weeks into the invasion, the war in Ukraine has become a slow, grinding conflict, not the blitzkrieg advance the Russian military had planned and hoped for.

HAINES: Russia's failure to rapidly seized Kyiv and overwhelm Ukrainian forces has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory that probably had originally expected. SCIUTTO: U.S. and NATO military assistance to Ukrainian forces has flowed in quickly and in enormous quantities. Today, the U.S. and partners have provided some 17,000 anti- tank missiles, including the Javelin and AT4 shoulder fired systems, and according to a senior U.S. official, some 3,700 anti-aircraft missiles, including the stinger shoulder-fired missiles, the vast majority since the start of invasion.

These missiles have had an immediate impact on the battlefield. This is a shoulder-fired missiles shooting down a Russian attack helicopter.

BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It is a race between our ability and NATO's ability to push forward supplies, such as the 17,000 missiles that have been recently approved, to get those into the hands of the Ukrainian war fighters before the Russians can regroup and get their logistics lines of communication and capabilities up to snuff.

SCIUTTO: Military losses are harder to gauge. According to two senior U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence, U.S. estimates of Russian military assets lost or inoperable range as high as 8 percent to 10 percent, close to double the losses the U.S. assessed last week, as it has gathered more information.

The U.S. estimates the Ukrainian military has lost a similar percentage of its forces. These estimates mostly account for losses of equipment, including jets and helicopters, tanks and armored personnel carriers and supply trucks, which are easier to verify.

As for losses of personnel, the U.S. estimates Russia has lost somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 soldiers, though this assessment comes with low confidence. The U.S. does not have reliable information on loses of Ukrainian military personnel.

On the battlefield, Russian forces has advanced more quickly in the south, from Russian controlled territory in Crimea, more slowly in the east and the north, though they continue efforts to surround cities such as Kharkiv.

A senior U.S. official tells me the U.S. believes Russia is still several days from being able to surround the capital Kyiv, and after that, faces a protracted battle to occupy the city itself.

HAINES: It's our analyst assessed that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and not stead may escalate. We assess Putin feel aggrieved, the west just not give him proper difference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to loss.


SCIUTTO (on camera): The civilian toll has been devastating. U.N. estimates 474 civilians killed, including 29 children, 861 injured. But the U.N. says the real toll likely to be considerably higher, just so hard to count reliably. And as Putin pushes forward, the U.S. expects him to use a time-worn strategy, from Chechnya in the 90's, Syria more recently, and that is to attack cities, attack civilians deliberately killing civilians. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. It sounds like he's going to get a whole lot worse. Jim Sciutto, in Ukraine for us, Jim, stay safe over there. Thank you very, very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with Retired U.S. General David Petraeus, the former CENTCOM commander, also former CIA Director. General, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, the U.S. now believes, what, 8 percent to 10 percent of Russian military assets have already been destroyed in less than two weeks of fighting.


Can they sustain that rate of loss for several more weeks or even months?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, it remains to be seen, Wolf. I very much agree with Jim's assessment. This is a grinding affair. Also, the assessment by Retired General Anderson that, again, it is a race between our efforts to supply the Ukrainians and the Russian effort to actually resupply their forces, their logistics have been woefully inadequate so far and to get sets so they can finally launch what they believe will be the main effort attack on Kyiv.

Of course, they want to replace the Zelenskyy government with one that is pro-Russian. That's the overriding objective. But it is also a race, I think, Wolf, to see how long the Russian soldiers can maintain the intensity. They're about to enter the most difficult of all combat, and that is urban combat. We used to discuss how long can you keep soldiers doing this, how many more buildings, how many more rooms can a soldier enter? Each time they enter, the adrenaline is pumping. It is a very grinding, draining experience.

And I don't know that Russia has the replacements. You will recall in Iraq and Afghanistan, we replaced some of our forces every six months. Our soldiers, our army soldiers were replaced every 12 months, 15 months during the surge, a long time in combat, but we always have that rotation going. I'm not confident that Russia can replace the forces that it is losing, much less the entire complement of the forces when they're spent, when they culminate.

And, again, this is not just physical and it is grinding physically, again, urban combat, but it's also the mental toll that urban combat takes on those who are the boots on the ground. And when you strip away all the other systems, and logistics and tanks and artillery, and so forth, this really comes down to infantry on the ground who are going to have to go in after Russia has pummeled, in some cases, rubble, areas of the city and clear those.

And in the meantime, on the other side, you have the Ukrainian defenders fighting for their homeland, determined not to let Russia take their capital. And this is going to be a tremendous showdown. And I'm not, I'm not convinced that Russia can just crush Ukraine the way that many observers perhaps thought before we saw how woeful some aspects of Russian tactics, logistics and even campaign design have been.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly hasn't happened yet.

The CIA, Director, you heard her, says -- you've heard him say Putin overestimated his own military capacity while underestimating Ukrainian resistance, as well as the international response. Why did Putin, so gravely, by all accounts, miscalculate?

PETRAEUS: Well, I'm sure that, first of all, a lot of his adviser are very cowed, very intimidated by him, you even saw that actually with his showdown with his intelligence chief. And one of those bizarre, surreal conferences that he had, long speech and so forth.

Beyond that, of course, they did prevail in a way in Syria. Of course, the way they prevailed ultimately was they destroyed Aleppo. Again, it was Syrian forces on the ground though. It was not the Russian forces. They were doing the air, the bombing campaign and some special operations. The same in Grozny. If you remember, that was a long protracted campaign.

There're some real differences here. Number one, the sheer quality, capability, innovativeness, resourcefulness of the -- not just, again, the Ukrainian soldiers, it's also the partisans unison, even the other resistance. This is equivalent of the French in World War II, who are just finding every diabolically creative way to make life difficult for the Russians, whether it's jamming their frequencies, changing road signs, or actually picking off the fuel trucks in that 40-mile convoy to exacerbate the logistical challenges that Russia is already experiencing.

So, again, this is going to be a tremendous showdown in Kyiv. And again, I don't know how long the Russian soldiers can keep at this. If you think of the losses, I mean, their approaching, the very high estimate there, is starting to approach what we lost in 20 years of combat in Iraq. And I remember how difficult some of those weeks and months were. I can't imagine what the strain must be on the tactical level, commanders, those above them. And, of course, they've even lost some multi-star generals, another one of them just in recent 24 hours or so.


BLITZER: Yes. It's not going well for them. And we'll see how desperate Putin becomes.

General David Petraeus, as usual, thank you so much for your analysis. We appreciate it.

PETRAEUS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: There is more breaking news we're following. Record high gas prices here in the United States, as President Biden announces new punishment for Putin.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, President Biden seeking to up the pressure on Vladimir Putin to end his war in Ukraine by banning Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the United States.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent M.J. Lee. M.J., give us the latest.

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is an idea that the White House had been deliberating on for days as Russia continue to escalate its attacks across Ukraine. And what we saw the president say earlier today was that this is a move meant to inflict further pain on Putin. This, of course, is a reference to the slew of sanctions that we've already seen the U.S. and its allies impose on Russia throughout this crisis.


The president also saying that the U.S. will not be a part of subsidizing Putin's war.

What we have seen in Washington over the last couple of days or so is this idea of imposing a ban on Russian energy here in the U.S., gaining real traction both in the House and the Senate. We saw bipartisan groups of lawmakers in recent days introduce this idea of a ban and we know from our reporting that in private and public, lawmakers have been ramping up the pressure on the White House to essentially saying to the president, you need to get behind this idea.

Now, one of the things that has complicated this decision, of course, the U.S. taking into consideration the fact that for the European allies, that it has been in consultation with, this is a lot more complicated because the E.U. has a lot more exposure to Russian energy. And the other thing, of course, is a rise in gas prices the White House is certainly very nervous about that. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, M.J., thank you very much, M.J. Lee at the White House.

The ban on Russian oil comes as U.S. gas prices hit a record high. CNN Business and Politics Correspondent Vanessa Yurkivich is working this part of the story for us.

Vanessa, are the drivers you've spent on to prepared for the prices to get a whole lot worse?

VANESS YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, some analysts Wolf, are suggesting that we could see $5 gallon gas in the next month or so. But $4.17, that is the record today, just behind me you see behind me, $4.27 a gallon. Here in New Jersey, prices are rising fast, up ten cents in the last 24 hours, up 55 cents in the last week.

Drivers we spoke to say they are willing to pay a little bit more at the pump if it means supporting the Ukrainian people.

And, Wolf, new tonight, four big corporations saying they are suspending business in Russia, McDonald's, Starbucks, Pepsi and Coke suspending businesses there. Starbucks and McDonald's say that they are temporarily shutting their cafes and restaurants. Pepsi and Coke saying they're suspending some business and sales of products there.

Now, Wolf, this came after public pressure. We saw hashtags on Twitter calling for boycotts of these companies, saying that they needed to cease business with Russia. Tonight, they announced that they have done so. They feel that it is in their values to do so.

Wolf, all of this, the news about the corporations adding to big automakers and credit card companies pulling business from Russia, that means that the Russian economy is going to be feeling an even greater squeeze this evening. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Vanessa, thank you, Vanessa Yurkevich reporting.

Just ahead, we have details of new U.S. intelligence indicating that Vladimir Putin may double down, yes, double down in Ukraine, feeling it's a war he cannot afford to lose.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, U.S. intelligence now indicating that Russian President Vladimir Putin feels Ukraine is, quote, a war he cannot afford to lose.

Let's get some more from Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Renewed Democracy Initiative and former world chess champion.

Garry, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, the CIA director today said Putin's government has already arrested 13,000 or 14,000 anti-war protesters.

Is that -- is that the sign of a leader who is confident his people are with him?

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, RENEWED DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE: No. It's a sign of desperation. Putin can't afford for Russian people to learn the truth about war in Ukraine. If you say war in Russia, if you stand with the no war poster, you can end up in jail for three years. If you are telling the truth about the losses, mounting losses of Russian troops in Ukraine, then up to 15 years in prison.

So, Putin is desperately trying to close Russian, to turn my country into information bubble, because the news from Ukraine, from the front line are really, really dark for him and for his commanders.

And you're right. He can't afford losing the war. No dictator can afford to show weakness. So he will double down. But it seems that all his efforts to subdue Ukraine are failing. BLITZER: U.S. officials estimate, Garry, that Russia has lost 2,000

to 4,000 soldiers. Eventually those dead soldiers are going to start coming back in body bags to Russia. Will that change the way Russians see this invasion?

KASPAROV: Look, I think the number is probably much higher. But, OK, it is in thousands, and yeah, body bags to Russia might be a real problem. So, a few days ago, the Russian minister of defense already announced losses. I think nearly 500. So, typically a multiple by ten will so we're talking about a number they can't hide.

And it is not just numbers of body bags but also the morale, the spirit of the Russian army. All the news from the Ukrainian front line is telling us, they don't want to fight. They are scared. They don't understand what they're doing there. And they are opposing people that are fighting for their freedom, for their country.

And I think we are witnessing the change in the minds of Russians who are fighting in Ukraine and inevitably, this realization that they were sent to this unjust criminal war will come back to their homes in Russia.


BLITZER: Garry Kasparov, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it, of course.

And as this war unfolds, the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has shown certainly great, great courage and remarkable skill in getting his message out to the world.

Our Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Brian, Zelenskyy has become a very powerful communicator and a very strong leader.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He has indeed, Wolf. You know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has come further from his days as a TV comedian than anyone could have imagined. He's still got a knack for performance, but it is his gravitas that has buoyed the Ukrainian people in recent days.


TODD (voice-over): A defiant Volodymyr Zelenskyy receiving multiple standing ovations from the British House of Commons.

ZELENSKYY: We will not give up and we will not lose, we will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, on the streets.

TODD: Zelenskyy, likely reminding his audience of the wartime inspirations of Winston Churchill who addressed the same body after evacuation of Dunkirk.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

PROF. KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Of course, he's definitely trying to channel Winston Churchill. One thing that's very important to remember about Zelenskyy is he is a performer.

TODD: Zelenskyy's use of social media and other platforms has allowed him to dominate the information war from his interview with CNN's Matthew Chance from his bunker.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAIN: First of all, everybody has to stop -- stop fighting.

TODD: To a bold address from behind his desk yesterday. The first time he was seen there since the invasion began.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I'm staying in Kyiv, in my office. I'm not hiding, and I'm not afraid of anyone.

TODD: To a video posted on Facebook from the streets of Kyiv with his cabinet on the second night of the invasion delivering a similar message.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): The president is here. We are all here. Our military are here.

TODD: Analysts say no doubt Zelenskyy's messages have stiffened the backbone of the Iranian military and its citizens and have resonated inside his enemy's borders.

SAMUEL CHARAP, RAND CORPORATION: Some of his recent video messages, it must be said, have been quite powerful, including the message to the Russian people and he basically called on them to resist this war which was quite emotional.

TODD: The images of Zelenskyy meeting with his troops as they prepared for battle, of selfie videos posted from the streets.

ZELENSKKY (through translator): This is our land, our country, and we are defending all of it.

TODD: These are product, analysts say of a leadership team which knows how to connect with younger audiences.

DARDEN: They're very in tune with that younger generation. These guys really master social media in a way that has been very effective.

TODD: Contrast that with the autocrat in the Kremlin who sits distanced from aides at long tables and whose messages to his country seem increasingly disconnected.

DARDEN: He appears fearful. We just get the sense of a man alone. Where Zelenskyy is among his people, among his team and in the fight?


TODD (on camera): All of which means that if Zelenskyy is killed, imprisoned or driven out, the loss of the messages to his people will be truly devastating to Ukrainians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Important point, indeed. Brian Todd, thank you have very, very much.

We're going to have much more on the Russian invasion of Ukraine ahead.

There's also breaking news we're following, guilty verdicts for the first January 6th rioter to go to trial. Details and what it could mean for hundreds of other defendants.



BLITZER: There's much more ahead on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but there's other breaking news we're following. The first Capitol riot defendant to go on trial has now been found guilty.

Our senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid is working the story for us.

How significant, Paula, is this verdict?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a high-stakes case for the justice department. It was a test of prosecutors' ability to tie the actions of an individual to those of the larger crowd that stormed the Capitol.

Now, Guy Reffitt of Texas was convicted after a week-long trial that gained national attention when his own son Jackson testified against him. Jackson testified that his father had, quote, snowballed into a far-right extremist following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, and that he'd become increasingly hostile to political figures who he believed were breaking the law.

The son also testified that his father threatened him and his sister that if they turned him in, they would be traitors and, quote, traitors get shot.

Wolf, the most damning evidence from Reffitt came from Reffitt himself. He repeatedly recorded himself in various forms talking about what he was doing during the attack. Now, lawyers representing other defendants, they're definitely watching this very closely, as we saw this was a swift verdict and that sends a message that federal prosecutors have evidence to support the charges and the juries may not be sympathetic to those who allegedly participated in the Capitol riots.

So today's conviction could speed up plea deals in other felony cases. Reffitt is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very significant development, indeed. We'll stay on top of it.

Paula Reid reporting for us, thank you very, very much. And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in

THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, is also available as a podcast. Look for us on or wherever you get your podcasts.

Once again, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.