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Zelenskyy Calls For No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine In Emotional Plea To U.S. Congress; Kyiv Under Curfew As Russia Shells The Ukrainian Capital; 5 Injured By Russian Fire On Evacuation Convoy Traveling To Zaporizhzhia; Three Million Migrants Have Now Fled Ukraine; U.N.: One Child Becoming A Refugee Every Second In Ukraine; Sources: Ukraine To Receive Key Air Defense System; Russian Forces Attack More Residential Buildings In Kyiv; Zelenskyy: World War III "May Have Already Started"; Daily Cases Rising In More Than Half Of E.U. Countries. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 16, 2022 - 17:00   ET


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Her husband calls her homecoming quote, a journey, not an arrival. The release comes after the British government settled a decade's old debt with Iran including the release of another dual national. Thanks so much for watching. Our news continues right after with a quick -- after a quick break with Wolf Blitzer and THE SITUATION ROOM.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, as Russia unleashes brutal new attacks on innocent civilians, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy makes a historic and moving address to Congress showing truly horrifying images of the destruction of his country and pleading with U.S. to do more to help.

President Biden is responding with hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid for Ukraine. He's also ramping up his rhetoric, calling Vladimir Putin a war criminal for the first time as Russian forces target apartment buildings, bomb shelters, and even a breadline.

Our correspondents are standing by in the front lines and here in the United States for CNN continuing live coverage of Russia's war against Ukraine.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: Let's get straight to the White House. Our White House correspondent M.J. Lee is joining us. M.J., tell us first of all more about the Ukrainian presidents very moving truly historic speech to both houses of Congress and President Biden's reaction.

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Zelenskyy receiving a standing ovation multiple times from members of Congress as he delivered an emotional speech asking the U.S. for more help. President Biden responding with a speech of his own saying that more help is on the way including in the form of drones and anti-aircraft systems. The President also moments ago, Wolf, slapping a new label on Vladimir Putin calling him a war criminal.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine. We are fighting for the values of Europe and the world.

LEE (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden responding to an impassioned, extraordinary speech from his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: He speaks for people who have shown remarkable courage and strength in the face of brutal aggression. Courage and strength that's inspired not only Ukrainians but the entire world. And the world is united and our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price.

LEE: Hours earlier, the Ukrainian president addressing a joint session of the United States Congress virtually from Kyiv as Russian attacks intensify across his country.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities.

LEE: And the civilian death toll continues to rise.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): It went on a brutal offensive against our values. Basic human values.

LEE: Zelenskyy imploring the us to do more once again asking it to support a no-fly zone over his country despite the U.S. his repeated refusal.

ZELENSKYY (though translator): Is this a lot to ask for to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much to ask?

LEE: Biden stopping short of endorsing a no-fly zone, but announcing an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, that package including Stinger anti-aircraft systems, javelins, and weapons like grenade launchers, rifles, machine guns and body armor.

The President also putting this new label on Vladimir Putin.

BIDEN: I think he is a war criminal.

LEE: With American lawmakers looking on, Zelenskyy invoking some of the darkest moments in America's modern history.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of December 7, 1941 when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember it. Remember, September the 11th, a terrible day in 20 --2001 when evil will try to turn your cities in dependent territories in battlefields, when innocent people were attacked, attacked from air.

LEE: At the end of his remarks, Zelenskyy switching from his native tongue to English to speak directly to President Biden.

ZELENSKYY: President Biden, you are the leader of the niche of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.



LEE: Now on President Biden referring to Vladimir Putin as a war criminal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters that he was speaking from the heart, but he was responding in part to seeing Vladimir Putin's barbaric actions. Those are her words.

We have seen in recent days, U.S. officials increasingly using the language war crimes, including the U.S. ambassador to the UN, and some U.S. lawmakers. We should note though there is a separate legal process that full unfolds to determine whether somebody has committed war crimes. Those investigations are ongoing. Wolf.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House for us. Thank you very much. Let's go to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv right now. Our senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is on the scene for us. He's joining us live. Sam, so what's the latest on the ground where you were?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there been some detonations that we've got used to. We've had air raid sirens again, tonight, this morning began with yet more attacks in Kyiv against civilian targets. They're hitting of some apartment buildings, and miraculously, nobody killed there.

And then the news that 10 people in Chernihiv, the north of here, were killed in a breadline. And then, as you know, a whole series of catalogs of attacks around the country.

And one of the interesting things, though, in all of this is the need, the urgent need to try to preserve the integrity of this capitol following Zelenskyy speech, asking for a no-fly zone. But what he didn't mention, and I press the deputy prime minister here on was that international organization that Ukraine had hoped to join, and were officially partly provoked Russia's attack, that this is how I went when I discussed it with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister.


KILEY: But he didn't mention NATO. Why was that?

OLHA STEFANISHYNA, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that NATO is something which is not as essential as a no-fly zone and more weapons and basically, capability to defend ourselves. But now basically, it's not about politics. It's about survival. Even in the biggest cities of Ukraine, which is -- which has now been circled by a Russian army, or even with the Russian army in there. These are the people who are standing in front of the tanks with the Ukrainian flag, having no fear with that, and this is what surprises Putin, and this is where he fails.

So I'm absolutely sure that he's uncomfortable in every moment that he's sitting in his bomb shelter, he fails in each of his assessment, and the chain of command which disinforms him, and the senior management around shows that they know nothing about our nation. So, and this is the stress that we have against this terror.


KILEY: Now this terror has been continuing, Wolf, with an air strike or a missile strike of some kind against the theater in Mariupol. The city originally of about half a million people entirely surrounded by Russian forces and Russian backed rebels. Many hundreds of mostly women and children were sheltering and had been sheltering in this theater and in its basement. Importantly, the airstrike according to local officials hit the theater and collapse the entrance to its bomb shelter or to its basement. And there's no detail yet on in terms of the casualties.

But also, this has been a place sort of symbolical most, it's one of the biggest shelters according to the local authorities, they're available to civilians for the last week or more. It's been sheltering many hundreds of people. They've been living underground almost full time, fed occasionally, in a city that has almost completely run out of food. There is no running water, no electricity in this location where local authorities said pregnant women, small kids, toddlers, were sheltering. They had a routine there were women and children and the elderly would be fed before any men.

So an environment already on the edge of annihilation, and now it's been hit with this strike. And on top of that, there was a convoy, a civilian convoy that tried to -- did successfully drive out to Mariupol to Zaporizhia. The five people were injured on that when it was shelled by Russian forces, Wolf.

BLITZER: And that theater with all the children in the shelter there it was clearly marked in Ukrainian children, children. It was clearly visible certainly sounds like a potential war crime to me. Sam Kiley in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Thank you.

Ukrainian authorities meanwhile, say humanitarian convoy was attacked by Russian forces in the south eastern part of the country.


Earlier today, at least five people as just reported were injured, including a child who's listed in serious condition. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is joining us now from Lviv in Ukraine. Let's talk about this, Fred. What are you learning about the strike on this civilian convoy?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, if it's part of a string of incidents that happened, where civilians were killed, or were wounded in various parts of Ukraine today, and certainly that convoy was one of those main incidents of the Ukrainians are talking about. It originated in the town of Enerhodar, people who had originally come from Mariupol. But Enerhodar, of course, is also that place where the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is from as well.

The convoy apparently was 70 vehicles. And one of the things that we have to keep in mind about evacuating from that area is the terrain is actually quite difficult. When you're trying to move large groups of people out of there, you're moving around a really large wide river, a meandering river, so convoys like that wouldn't move very quickly.

And with the Ukrainians are saying is that that convoy was already almost in Zaporizhzhia was very close to it, when it was shelled, and those five people were wounded, including a small child. So that's one of the major incidents. The other one was that one in Chernihiv, which is actually north of Kyiv, but really also very close to the border with Belarus.

You know, one of the things we have to know about that incident, Wolf, is that Chernihiv is one of those towns that the Russians really would have thought they would have already taken in this war but they haven't been able to so it is also under siege. People there were standing in a breadline when they took indirect fire unclear whether it was artillery tank fire, or maybe artillery rocket fire. 10 people killed in that. As you can imagine, Wolf, graphic images coming out of there that is, of course the softest of all targets. People standing outside in a breadline, again 10 people killed in that incident. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, horrible, horrible situations unfolding on the ground. Lots of civilians, women and children simply being killed by these Russian attacks. Fred Pleitgen in Lviv for us. Thank you. Coming up, Ukraine's President pleading, pleading with the President -- with President Biden and U.S. lawmakers to quote do more. I'll speak with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee about what additional steps the United States could take. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: In a major, very important shift this afternoon, President Biden publicly called Russia's Vladimir Putin a war criminal for the first time since his violent and totally unprovoked invasion of Ukraine some three weeks ago. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Putin a war criminal, sir? Are you ready to call Putin a war criminal?

BIDEN: I think he is a war criminal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: I think he is a war criminal flatly stating so by the President. The White House later issuing some sort of clarification, saying this is not necessarily a formal designation from the Biden administration. It was the President simply speaking from his heart.

Let's discuss with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. This is the President of the United States calling Putin publicly a war criminal. He's -- Putin -- the President is slammed Russia for deliberately targeting civilians, hospitals, maternity wards, killing a lot of children. Why didn't -- why is the White House trying to walk that back right now?

SEN. WARK WARNER (D-VA) INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, look, I don't know how the White House was parsing this. But, you know, the whole world has seen these images of Putin's brutal assault upon the Ukrainian people. Remember, it was literally weeks ago that Vladimir Putin and some of his senior leadership were completely sanctioned on an individual basis by us and a number of NATO allies joining Putin now joins the likes of Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Assad in terms of that rogue Hall of Fame of being individually sanctioned.

Now to see the level of these attacks, not dissimilar, frankly, to what Putin did against the Syrian people in Aleppo, but playing out real time. I'll leave the legal experts to parse the definitions. But I think war crimes have been committed against the Ukrainian people. And I think we need to call out the leadership of Russia.

And frankly, we need to extend the sanctions beyond the top layer of the Russian leadership to frankly, all of the members of the Russian Duma, who have -- had basically (INAUDIBLE) upset (ph), willingness to go along with these Russian with Putin's actions.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you and most of your colleagues, I'm sure I believe that Putin is a war criminal for what he has done over these past three weeks in Ukraine.

I know you just received a briefing on Ukraine. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff came out and dismissed reports that there's any serious moving on a potential diplomatic deal between Ukraine and Russia. What is your understanding?

WARNER: Well, on that diplomatic deal, I didn't get a chance to fully press that. I saw the report. You know, I think this war is going to go on. Listen, I would pray for a diplomatic solution. But in many ways that would be left up to the Ukrainian leadership and obviously the Ukrainian people clearly at every turn. The Russian military is not what it was built up to be their execution, frankly, in terms of not even taking out the Ukrainian Air Command systems but fact that over half of the Ukrainian Air Force or more is still up and operating is frankly, malpractice on the part of the Russian military planners.


I do think it's important that we continue to send them additional assistance, we're into literally tens of thousands of anti-tank tools, tremendous increase in the number of stingers. And I applaud the administration while not getting into the actual systems, but applaud the administration saying we will get longer range anti-aircraft tools to the Ukrainians were in effect. They could potentially even gain some control over their skies if they have those longer range anti- aircraft tools. So I think Ukrainians are doing quite well. But we need to continue to rush arms and equipment. And not just us, but are European and other allies as well.

BLITZER: As you know, President Biden responded to that impassioned plea by President Zelenskyy to Congress today by announcing more support to Ukraine, but that doesn't include fighter jets. Will the U.S. provide those requested planes to Ukraine?

WARNER: Well, Wolf, we're now at over $2 billion of assistance to Ukraine, that's more than ever in our history. And I would point out that the Ukrainian Air Force is much of it is still intact. They're frankly not flying that many sorties because if you get into Russian controlled airspace, the Russians do control that.

And I would point out that even if we were to send what had been requested earlier, a X number of additional MiGs, that wouldn't win the battle for the skies. And as we saw that dreadful bombing of that encampment west of Lviv close to the port, Poland -- Polish border, that was actually launched from Russian air space. So even additional MiGs or additional, you know, so called no-fly zone wouldn't have precluded that kind of Russian attack against something so deep in Ukrainian territory.

So, I think there are smarter ways, drones, these additional anti- aircraft long range, more often the anti-tank and other tools. The fact that we've seen so many of these Russian columns paralyzed by the bravery of the Ukrainians, oftentimes supplied by U.S. and NATO, I think we are wearing down a Russian military that thought that this was going to be over literally in a few days.

BLITZER: What's the latest assessment on Putin himself, because there's a lot of speculation out there, that there's something wrong?

WARNER: Again, I'm not going to get into intel assessments on Vladimir Putin. But a picture tells 1,000 -- is worth 1,000 words. We've seen picture after picture of Putin sitting at one end of a long table, whether it's with foreign dignitaries or frankly, with his own economic team or his military team, you know, chastising members who don't pop up exactly his responses.

This is a guy that for the last couple of years, during COVID, has become more and more isolated. So you take that combined with an autocratic ruling of 20 years, where nobody wants to tell the boss any bad news. I even wonder whether Putin is getting accurate descriptions of what is happening on the ground. Because my sense is I would fear that certain military leaders would be unwilling to tell the boss the bad news of how stymie the Russian forces are.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point as well. Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, thank you, as usual for joining us. WARNER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees now seek shelter in a town in neighboring Romania and they're sharing their truly harrowing stories of escape and heartbreak.



BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, the number of refugees fleeing the Russian onslaught of Ukraine now topping 3 million people more than half are in Poland but other neighboring countries are also facing growing crises including Romania. CNN senior national correspondent Miguel Marquez is in Romania for us tonight.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A stream of Ukrainian refugees, old and young. Even a dog named Oprah. Some looking for a hot meal, others a place to stay for a night or two. Who are you with here?

Svetlana Karpova her husband and two kids Dahveed (ph) and Maxine 11 and two, Dahveed (ph) has autism. How do you explain what's happening? I explained that there's a war but they don't really understand, she says. It's important for Dahveed (ph) for both of us to be with him.

The family from Odessa has now found a house here and plan to stay their lives up in the air. I hope there will be no people like Putin anymore, she says, then adds in English --


MARQUEZ: The city of Brasov in central Romania's Transylvania region hosting up to 250 Ukrainian refugees.



VICE MAYOR FLAVIA BOGHIU, BRASOV, ROMANIA: So you can see on them they are being more and more affected about what's going on. We've had stories about with people trying to contact their beloved ones for two days in a row and seeing them walk around being worried about what's going on back home.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A business center two weeks ago now an oasis of support, a place to sleep, eat, get a change of clothes, there's even a play area and childcare. All free of charge.

BOGHIU: Next week we're having kindergarten group starting in Ukrainian with the Ukrainian volunteer.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Natalia Vataman-Tytarenko is from Mykolaiv, a city under relentless Russian artillery and rocket attacks.

Putin united Ukraine with his war, she says. Ukraine is now united in its tragedy and pain. Natalia lives in Russia, but her sister, cousins, half brothers and friends are all back home in Ukraine.

Every morning when there's an attack, she says, we check in on our shared chat to see if everyone is OK.

Anna Polischuk arrived here on March 8th with her daughter and their friends. Her husband who was a driver, he is now fighting on behalf of their country.

We're all worried especially my daughter, she says, but there is no other choice. And I'm proud he's defending our country.

Ukrainians united. Those who come here leave messages like, thank you for the care. All people were nice to us. And we never felt hungry, cold or lonely.


MARQUEZ: It's that sort of sentiment that really gets you to see those messages out there. Look, Romania has received about 450,000 Ukrainian so far, most of them have left the country. But in this area, for some reason, about 70 percent are staying. And that is an ongoing issue.

So the place we saw today is short term. They're looking at medium term and long term housing, education, jobs, everything for these people because no one knows when they will go back home. Wolf?

BLITZER: I got to give these people, these neighboring countries a lot of credit for accepting now what more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees.

Miguel Marquez in Romania for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this exploding refugee crisis. Joining us now the Head of the News for "Save the Children U.K.," Dan Stewart. Dan, thank you so much for joining us. I know your organization is especially worried about Ukrainian children who don't have parents or caregivers. What are the specific risks those children face amid this war?

DAN STEWART, HEAD OF NEWS, SAVE THE CHILDREN U.K.: Well, yes, any children traveling alone, and what we are seeing in some instances, particularly in Poland, actually, is children who are, you know, their parents don't feel like it's -- don't feel like they can give themselves, but they want to keep their children safe. So they are looking for ways to get their children out of the country safely.

And for children who are on their own, you know, they are at particular risk of getting lost in the chaos. They're at risk of exploitation, or they're at risk of simply, you know, not being able to find the food and warmth and care that they need to stay healthy.

BLITZER: For people watching this unfold from afar, can you help us understand what exactly these kids, these children are facing as they flee? Just how traumatic is the situation?

STEWART: Yes, absolutely. Well, inside Ukraine now, children face danger and chaos at every time. And, you know, for many families that really starts with that agonizing decision about whether to stay or go. You know, no family should ever (INAUDIBLE) decide whether to retreat to a basement for days to try and ride out an onslaught there or flee amid escalating, raging, fighting all around them which is what we're seeing at the moment.

You know, I've spoken to families who have been on the road for days, who've been forced to abandon their cars on route because the roads have been so badly damaged. One family told me that as they (INAUDIBLE) the Romanian border, they could see the smouldering remains of destruction either side of the road around them as they walked along. And we've also seen a really big freeze, a huge cold snap here for the last few days where temperatures have plummeted to minus 10.

So we're also really worried about the risk of hypothermia among young children. Babies and young children are particularly risk because they're still developing the ability to regulate their temperature. And then beyond that, we've got the long term emotional impact of all this. Children are going to need a lot of support to rebound and rebuild after everything they've been through.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for all you're doing. Dan Stewart, the Head of News for "Save the Children U.K. We appreciate it very, very much. A horrible situation indeed.


An important note to our viewers, for information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world.

Just ahead even as Russian ground trips remain stalled in their push to take major Ukrainian cities, are there new signs that Putin's army is about to ramp up its brutal shelling of civilians? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM..


BLITZER: Additional supplies of key air missile defence systems that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says his country desperately needs could soon be on the way. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd on what the system is, why it's so important to Ukraine's efforts against Russia right now. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, who's the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says Ukraine can create their own no-fly zone if they have certain equipment and weapons. And this weapon system could really help. It is called the S-300PS mobile surface-to-air missile defense system.

[17:40:08] According to experts say, this is a Soviet era system, a competitor to the American patriot system. Some of the more common models of S-300s carry a 293 pound warhead. They have a range of 46 miles and here is the key capability. They can strike targets at altitudes of up to 82,000 feet. Stingers and other surface-to-air missiles cannot hit targets that high. The stinger can travel only 5 miles and hit targets at 12,000 feet.

Now missile experts say that the S-300s can hit fighter jets, other aircraft and they can strike some incoming Russian missiles like the caliber cruise missiles that Russia produces, but not ballistic missiles like Russia's Iskander missiles. One important note, if more S-300s are given to Ukraine, they would come from Slovakia, according to three sources familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN.

They say that Slovakia, a NATO ally of the U.S. has preliminarily agreed to provide Ukraine with this defense system. But first, Slovakia wants assurances that it can get replacement systems immediately, Wolf. They're looking for maybe the Patriot system to backfill for Slovakia in case they do give those S-300s to Ukraine.

BLITZER: So Brian, what are the downsides, potentially, of Ukraine getting more of these air defense missile systems?

TODD: Well, they are not foolproof, of course, Wolf, in war. One experts we spoke to says these -- the system could become targets themselves when they're deployed on the ground. The Russians could knock some of them out. Some of the less experienced Ukrainian recruits would have to be trained in how to operate the S-300.

But this expert also says if the Ukrainians can get more of these into their hands, properly operate them, they can make a significant difference in protecting Ukrainian civilian lives. And Wolf, it's going to be one more weapon that the Russian pilots and missile battery operators have to worry about in addition to the stingers, the javelins that have been so effective already for the Ukrainians on the battlefield.

BLITZER: Yes, this could be really significant indeed. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more all the late breaking developments in Russia's war against Ukraine with a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Retired Admiral James Stavridis. He's the co-author of the book entitled, there you see the cover, "2034: A Novel of the Next World War." It's now available, by the way, in paperback.

Admiral, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, the U.S. stopped short of a no-fly zone, stopped short of providing fighter jets to Ukraine. But how far do these specific anti-aircraft systems, the drones, how far do they go on the battlefield?

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: This is a significant step, Wolf. As you know, I've advocated -- I think you and I talked about it -- give the Ukrainians the tools to establish their no-fly zone. That keeps us on our side of the NATO border, but puts weapons where they're most needed on the frontlines.

S-300 very capable system. As Brian just said, it'll move the threat up in the air stack and make it much more dangerous for the Russians. And key thing here, Wolf, those S-300s can cover the supply lines. So when the javelins come in and the machine guns come in, and the ground fight kit comes in through Poland, those S-300s can protect those supply lines, keep it moving to the Ukrainians on the frontline system. Very good thing.

BLITZER: Yes, very, very significant indeed. We keep hearing, Admiral, that the Russian advances are now stalled. But Russia is just pummeling. You look at the video, you look at the pictures, pummeling these major cities throughout Ukraine. Can you say which side has the momentum now?

STAVRIDIS: You know, it's a tale of two wars, Wolf, in a certain sense. On the one hand, the Ukrainians are throwing everything they have emotionally, the material. These are men and women on the frontlines for Ukraine. And behind them are their children, their parents, their spouses, they will fight to the end.

On the other side, you have the Russians who have artillery. They have mass, they have aircraft that can drop dumb bombs. So you've got these two countervailing systems in the middle of this war. This minute, I would give the slight edge to the Ukrainians particularly coming off the speech today from their highly inspirational President Zelenskyy that's going to garner more aid, more javelins, more anti-air missile systems.

This is trending in a better direction. Recognizing Russia has the advantage of mass.

BLITZER: It's interesting you say that, Admiral, because the the British defense ministry now says Russia is facing so many losses. They're actually calling up reinforcements from across the country tapping into private military contractors, mercenaries even, as well as Syrian fighters. So what does that tell you?


STAVRIDIS: It tells me that the Russian model of warfare is flawed, bad generalship, they invaded on too many axes. They diluted their forces, too many reserves, too many conscripts, too much corruption in the arms procurement. They thought they were buying 50,000 tanks. They ended up with 15,000 tanks.

All of those shortcomings are coming home to roost. This is another indication, Wolf, along with pretty credibly reported request to China for additional military kit. When you put all that together, Russia campaigned in trouble.

BLITZER: The fear, though, is that some sort of miscalculation, as you know, Admiral, could actually send this war spiralling. President Zelenskyy actually says World War III, and I'm quoting him now, may have already started. As the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, how real is that fear right now? STAVRIDIS: First, for President Zelenskyy, it feels like World War III. His people are being flooded out of Ukraine, bombs are falling. I cannot say enough about his courage along with everybody else. It feels like World War III. But our job both on the U.S., NATO, the West, in President Zelenskyy are to avoid turning this into something that could evolve into a war between two nuclear armed camps, the Russian Federation and the U.S. and NATO.

So how do we do that? We steer a course down the middle. We give the Ukrainians what they need. And by the way, I would continue to advocate for fighter aircraft in addition to what we've given them, but we have to avoid that kind of miscalculation, which all too often has started a war that spreads around the world. We need to avoid that

BLITZER: Yes. Important point, indeed. Admiral James Stavridis, the co-author of the book "2034": A Novel of the Next World War." Thanks so much, as usual, for joining us. Really appreciate it.

STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, is the U.S. on the brink of another COVID surge after a truly alarming rise in new cases in Europe? We'll have that. We'll ask our expert when we come back.



BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the truly worsening war in Ukraine in just a moment. But first, an alarming rise in new COVID cases in more than half of the European Union countries including the U.K. and the Netherlands, both being a -- both of them are seeing an actual 48 percent climb in just one week.

Let's dig deeper with CNN Medical Analyst, the Emergency Room Physician, Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Wen, thanks so much for joining us. Why is Europe seeing this new rise, very alarming rise in new COVID cases? And do you think the U.S. could be next?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, we in the U.S. should be following what's happening in Europe very closely. Because in the past, we have lagged European countries by about three or four weeks when it comes to an uptick. It's unclear exactly what's happening there. Especially because these countries were hit hard by Omicron. And actually, some of them have a high rate of vaccination, higher than we do here in the U.S.

It might be because of this new variant, the stealth Omicron BA.2 variant, but we need to see what happens. And I think in the meantime, it's really important that even as cases are low here and individuals are going about their daily lives, our government has to do everything they can to stockpile tests to make sure that we have enough treatments and ensure that we have enough boosters.

The Biden administration has requested funding from Congress, but Congress hasn't given that funding. And that's really the wrong lesson to take away here. With anything that we've learned in the last two years, it's that money for prevention and preparedness is really critical.

BLITZER: If you're fully vaccinated, Dr. Wen, and boosted by the way, do you need to worry about another rise in cases?

WEN: If you're fully vaccinated and boosted, you are very well protected against severe illness, however, you could still get the coronavirus and transmitted to others. And there are a lot of people who may not want to get long haul COVID. And so the lower our case counts, the lower risk there is to you as the individual and to us as a society.

And let's not forget that there are millions of people who are immunocompromised, who are elderly, who have chronic medical conditions, who still don't feel totally safe returning back to pre- pandemic normal yet.

BLITZER: Should they get a fourth shot?

WEN: The immunocompromised individuals 7 million or so who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should get a fourth dose at this time. Right now, we're getting more data about should individuals who are elderly or other medical conditions should they get a fourth shot? My bed is at some point, the answer is yes. But we need to know exactly which group would benefit and also what the timing is because we also don't want to give shots too soon and too frequently, because there may be immune fatigue, meaning that a future -- that in the future there may not be as robust of a response.

BLITZER: Dr. Leana Wen, as usual, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay on top of this story, of course as well.

There's more breaking news that we're following in THE SITUATION ROOM. Details right now of the latest impassioned plea by Ukraine's President for help from The United States and NATO.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, new horrors on the frontlines of Russia's war against Ukraine on the heels of President Zelenskyy, very emotional. His very emotional address to Congress today. He shared a very graphic video of the assault on his country pleading for more help and challenging President Biden to be a, quote, leader of peace.

Also tonight, President Biden is taking his condemnation of Vladimir Putin to a brand new level, calling him a war criminal for the first time hours after announcing hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid to Ukraine.