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Biden Calls Putin A War Criminal For First Time; Zelenskyy Urges U.S To Do More In Moving Speech To Congress; U.N. Says, One Child Becoming A Refugee Every Second In Ukraine; WH: Biden Spoke "From His Heart" In Calling Putin "War Criminal;" Zelenskyy Urges U.S. To "Do More" In Moving Speech To Congress. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 16, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This as Putin's forces are brutality targeting civilians as they seek food, shelter and escape from the fighting.

Our correspondents are at key locations in Ukraine and here in the U.S., for CNN's live team coverage of the Russia's war against Ukraine.

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

This hour, we begin our war coverage with the words of the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine. President Biden now calling President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, the Russian president a war criminal, and President Zelenskyy putting new pressure on the United States to do more to end Putin's aggression in Ukraine.

Here's CNN's White House Correspondent M.J. Lee.


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

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (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 our 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 in 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: Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities.

LEE: And the civilian death toll continues to rise.

ZELENSKYY: It went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values.

LEE: President Zelenskyy imploring the U.S. to do more, once again asking it to have a no-fly zone over his country despite the U.S.'s repeated refusal.

ZELENSKYY: 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 includes 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: Remember pearl harbor, terrible morning of December 7th, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you? Just remember it. Remember September 11th, a terrible day in 2001, when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from your air?

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

ZELENSKY: President Biden, you are the leader of the 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 (on camera): On President Biden referring to Vladimir Putin as a war criminal, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying that he had been speaking from his heart, that he had, in part, been responding to seeing the images of barbaric action across Ukraine.

We have in recent days seen U.S. officials increasingly using the language war crimes, including the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and some U.S. Lawmakers. There are, of course, legal processes that are in place to determine whether war crimes have been committed and those investigations are ongoing separately. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. lee at the White House for us, thank you very much.

On the ground in Ukraine, Russia's attacks on civilians are truly relentless and ruthless with people so desperate for food among the latest targets. CNN's Oren Liebermann is following all the breaking news in the war zone.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On the streets of Chernihiv in Northern Ukraine, they came looking for bread when the Russian shells landed. A regional official says ten people were killed in the bombardment, the latest victims in the Russian attacks that have claimed more and more civilian lives.

In the city of Mariupol, hundreds sought shelter in the drama theater. Their fate now unknown after the city council says Russia bombed the building.


The word, deti, was written on both sides of the building. It's Russian word for children.

Recent drone footage reveals the larger devastation inside the southern city, conditions described as unbearable and just hell by residents who have been able to flee.

ANDRII OSADCHUK, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Almost 350,000, 400,000 people now locked in the city without food, water, heating supply. Now it's too cold in Ukraine and the fate of thousands of people is absolutely uncertain.

LIEBERMANN: Another apartment building hit in the capital Kyiv, near the city center. The streets are deserted for a 35-hour curfew. Even escape has become difficult. A civilian evacuation convoy en route to the city of Zaporizhzhia came under Russian attack, according to local officials, wounding five.

Ukraine has struck back destroying a number of Russian helicopters near the occupied city of Kherson. The conflict raging as negotiations show some promise. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he hopes for compromise. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vows his country will not fold.

ZELENSKYY: The meetings are ongoing, as I am told. The positions are sounding more realistic. But we need more time to get decisions in the interest of Ukraine.

LIEBERMANN: With acts of protest growing more public in Russia, President Vladimir Putin called some of his own citizens traitors.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Obviously, the west will try to rely on the so-called fifth column, on national traitors, on those who earn money here with us but live there. And I mean with there, not even in the geographical sense of the words but according to their thoughts, their Slavish consciousness.

LIEBERMANN: Meanwhile, the U.S. is working on getting more lethal aid to Ukraine, which is pushing for more advanced weaponry. NATO reiterating that the alliance is united in a decision not to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We see death. We see destruction. We see human suffering in Ukraine but this can become even worse if NATO took actions that actually turned it into this into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.

LIEBERMANN: Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


BLITZER: Thank you very much, Oren. Let's go live to the Ukrainian capital right now. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is on the scene for us. Sam, so, what's the latest on the ground in Kyiv tonight?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there have been, as we've got used to now, air ride sirens, Wolf. There have been sounds of distant shelling, I have to say, mostly in the west of the city, where President Zelenskyy's adviser has said is one of the locations where the Ukrainian Armed Forces may be striking back, maybe counterattacking. There have been counterattacks or attacks conducted ambushes all over the country but this seems of a different order and they explained why we are currently under a 36-hour non-stop curfew, Wolf.

And I think it also is part in the context of this, we were speaking -- I was speaking earlier on stage with the deputy prime minister, one of the intellectual live wars in the Zelenskyy administration, and asked why it was -- and pressed her on why it was that the big question of NATO wasn't raised directly in Zelenskyy's speech.


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 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 now being encircled by 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 me. So, this is where he fails.

So, I am absolutely sure that he is uncomfortable in every moment that he's sitting in his bomb shelter, his fate ills in nature with his assessment. And the chain of command with disinforms, and the senior management around, shows that they know nothing about our nation. And this is the strength that we have against this terror.


KILEY: Now, Wolf, another demonstration of this Ukrainian resistance came out today when President Zelenskyy, after he had addressed Congress in that historic moment, was enjoying a brief piece of optimism after a Special Forces operation to recapture the government mayor of Melitopol, who have been abducted by Russian troops.

Special Forces managed to release him, much to the delight of the president, and, indeed, Ivan Fedorov, excuse me, the mayor of Melitopol, who also said that he was pretty exhausted from the experience he had been held for several days, asked for a couple days off, and was told, no, you are a young man, you can get back to work after one day off, Wolf.


BLITZER: Sam Kiley reporting for us from Kyiv, Sasm, be careful ever there, we will stay in touch.

Just ahead, president Zelenskyy played a heart-stopping video today during his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. We are going to show you the emotional footage when we come back.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, delivered a very dramatic plea to Congress for additional assistance as his country tries to fight off Russia's unprovoked invasion.


He also presented a really heartbreaking video of the devastation Ukraine has already suffered from Putin's war. Just a warning, the footage is very disturbing.

Let's discuss with Congressman Jim Himes, he's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

How far did that truly impassioned video, that message from President Zelenskyy go today? If a no-fly zone is still out of the question, as far as the U.S. is concerned, will the U.S. -- do you believe, will the U.S. Provide fighter jets to Ukraine?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, thanks for having me, Wolf. As you might imagine, 500 or so of my colleagues watched that film together today. This is not a shrinking violet group of people but you could hear a pin drop after that video in the Congress. And it hardened our resolve to do more.

Now, a lot has been done. An awful lot of weapons are flowing into the hands of the Ukrainian military. Russia's economy has been brought to its knees and it's slowly making its way back to the Stone Age. But there is an awful lot more that we can do, and that includes, in my opinion, planes.

I've said this a number of times now. We are providing all sorts of lethal weaponry as is, anti-tank guided munitions, Stingers, when I say we, I mean the west. There are 15 or so countries that are doing this. To me, the president of Ukraine, who is the hero of this story, has asked for planes. I think we should give them to him. I think there probably is a way to do that mechanically such that it's not coming from a NATO airbase or whatever. But we need to give this man who is so heroic in his standing against the brutality of the Russians what he needs.

BLITZER: Yes. We are showing our viewers this standing ovation. You were there that President Zelenskyy received when the Ukrainian president was addressing all the members of the House and Senate.

Your colleague, Senator Chris Murphy, is warning against telegraphing, his word, to Russia, what sort of defects that support Ukraine should get. Do you share those concerns?

HIMES: Well, I think the Russian military is discovering each and every day the hornets' nest that they have stirred up. First, because the Ukrainian people turn out to care a lot about the independence of their country and are motivated by their incredible leader, and, secondly, the west has united.

And, I mean, I say this with no joy, because this is thousands of dead human beings, but the Russian military is being absolutely battered, tank after tank, thousands of dead Russians. So, I don't think that the fact that west has united to stop this crime.

And, by the way, that was another thing that was important about today. We are starting to think about this negotiation, two combating parties. This is not a war in the sense that we often think about war. This is a crime being committed against the Ukrainian people. And that video really brought home how this vulnerable fledgling democracy.

You didn't show the very beginning part of the video, which showed an awful lot of the beautiful parts of Ukraine has been very literally criminally violated in a criminal way by Russia. And that was just a great reminder for the U.S. Congress.

BLITZER: Yes. It's interesting that you speak about a crime, because President Biden today called Putin a war criminal only to have -- and this was pretty awkward, only to have the White House come out pretty quickly and walk that back, saying that the president of the United States was just speaking from his heart.


But, as you know, this is the president of the U.S. He gets a daily intelligence briefing with the most sensitive information. He's calling out Putin for targeting civilians, saying this is a war criminal. His direct quote, I think he is a war criminal. Why do you think the White House so quickly walked that back and sort of embarrassed the president in the process?

HIMES: Well, one hopes that, at some point, Vladimir Putin meets the accountability that he so richly deserves. It would be most appropriate, of course, if the Russian people who are being so badly hurt by their leader's actions were the ones to deliver that accountability. But barring that, we shouldn't equivocate about this. We should stay totally clear-eyed. This is not two parties fighting each other.

This is a brutal dictator who decided to attack without provocation and without cause and with some of the most insane justifications ever that this country with a Jewish president is run by Nazis, that they're drug addicts. I mean, it was just -- this is -- we need to remember the terrible, terrible crimes. Maybe I can say it more easily than the president can say it. But all you need to do is watch T.V. or see any social media for about two seconds to realize the brutality of the crimes that Putin has committed.

Now, the president probably needs to be a little careful about how he talked about it, because any time you are talking about legal action, you want to be a little careful about not compromising subsequent trials, et cetera, but maybe I can say it more easily. Putin is just a brutal criminal, guilty of some truly horrific crimes against the people of Ukraine and, frankly, against the basic sense of decency that so many of us share.

BLITZER: And I think almost of your colleagues in the House and Senate agree with you on that. Congressman Jim Himes, thank you so much for joining us.

Coming up, how a grandmother and her family are aiding the war, making armor for the Ukrainian military. Stay with us, lots more on all the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: There is more breaking news out of Ukraine. President Zelenskyy now says at least 103 children have been killed in the war so far, this as Ukrainians are doing whatever it takes to try to help their country survive.

CNN's Ivan Watson shows us how one community is joining the fight.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A melody in a time of deep uncertainty, a family hard at work, turning their living room into a make-shift workshop, producing locally-made armor for the Ukrainian military.

So this is heavy. This is a flak jacket.

These flak jackets are the work of this grandmother and former seamstress. Russia's invasion of Ukraine pulled 68-year-old Irina Prochenka (ph) out of retirement to work as a volunteer sewing flak jackets for Ukrainian soldiers.

Irina says she sows these flak jackets with love. And it's with that love that she hopes it will help protect defenders.

In the kitchen, Irina's son, a lawyer, crafts the blue and yellow arm bands that security forces wear on their arms to identify themselves. How many do you make in one day?


WATSON: 200?


WATSON: This family workshop, part of a larger improvised production chain that sprouted up in the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia. It's the brainchild of Vitali Golovenka (ph). He takes orders from soldiers and members of the territorial defense requesting armor before they head to the frontlines.

Before the war, Vitali was a lawyer and an amateur re-enactor of scenes from the First World War, when Ukrainian nationalists not against Russian Bolsheviks. Several days into this modern war, Vitali says he asked his mother-in-law, Irina, to help sow armor when his son's godfather couldn't find a flak jacket before heading off to combat.

This operation relies on donations and improvisation.

This is some padding for the flak jackets to go around the armor plates and they're made from the material they used for floor mats for cars.

The armor plates come from scrap metal scavenged from old cars, welded and reworked by volunteer mechanics and field tested.

So, Olyek (ph) has taken out a plate to a firing range. And this is six millimeters in width. And they tried different kinds of firearms and rounds, and he was able to block some rifles but a sniper's rifle punched right through as did a machine gun. They're not using this width for their flap jackets.

The team settled on a width of eight millimeters. Vitali says this new model will go to a fighter within the hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My normal work is to defend people in a court of law. But now, we have to defend people's lives from the enemy, from the killers who, for some reason, want to kill me, my little daughter, my grandmother and so on.

WATSON: This is just one example of the collective war effort that has sprung up here, ordinary Ukrainians doing their part to protect their homeland.


WATSON (on camera): Now, Wolf, this kind of -- you can't help but marvel at the industriousness of Ukrainians who were able to put together home-made armor in less than three weeks that this war has gone one.

[18:30:10] But it also underscores that some of the soldiers, some of the territorial defense members who are being mustered and sent to the frontlines do not have enough vital defense equipment as they go into harm's way, which has been part of the Ukrainian president's message to the U.S. Congress today.

BLITZER: It certainly was. Ivan Watson reporting for us, thank you very much.

Now to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, the United Nations now says one child is becoming a refugee every second as this war plays out. Let's get the latest on the situation in Poland right now, where more than half of the 3 million Ukrainian refugees have held.

We are joined by Nancy Dent, Senior Communications Officer for the International Rescue Committee. Nancy, thank you so much for joining us.

So, from what you are seeing on the ground where are you in Poland, what are the biggest challenges these Ukrainian refugees are now facing?

NANCY DENT, SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Thank you so much for having me. So, this week, the International Rescue Committee has been meeting with local organizations and local authorities from across Poland to assess the needs of refugees who have been arriving in the country but they moving on from reception centers to cities and towns elsewhere across the country.

Obviously, alongside trauma counseling and shelter, one of the main things that refugees need right now in Poland is cash. Most of them have taken cash from Ukraine, the Ukrainian currency, which they can't now use in Poland and exchange rates are not in their favor. Obviously, exchange rates are really high. And so the cash they brought with them worthless. And this is a huge issue. Families can no longer purchase essential items for their baby, medicine, food. And that's something that is going to become a real challenge, you know, not just to refugees arriving on the borders but people who have been here for a few weeks now.

BLITZER: As you know, Putin shows no signs of deescalating his war against the Ukrainian people. Are the refugees you are speaking with prepared to live in exile potentially for months, maybe even years?

DENT: No. I mean, people are arriving by the day and they are more unprepared and underequipped for even the journey to the border, let alone for the months and maybe even years ahead. One mother I spoke to was crying. And she recounted collecting her daughters from the polish border in their pajamas as her husband dropped them off from the other side.

Many of the people the IRC team is speaking to and described wanting to stay as close to Ukraine as they possibly can. People really are expecting and hoping for the conflict to end and for them to be able to return back to Ukraine in the coming weeks or months. BLITZER: Nancy Dent of the International Rescue Team, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. The International Rescue Committee, I should say. Thanks for all the good work.

And for information, this is for our viewers, information you need to know about how you can help these humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and you will be able impact your world.

Just ahead, we are getting new information right now about the bombing of a theater where hundreds of Ukrainians, men, women and children, were simply sheltering. We will go live to Southern Ukraine when we come back.



BLITZER: There is growing concern this hour about the fate of hundreds of people who were simply sheltering in a theater that was bombed by the Russians in Southern Ukraine.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in the region for us. He's in Odessa. Nick, what are you learning about the situation at that theater?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. Wolf, the pictures emerging from the aftermath of this airstrike are utterly terrifying. They show the entrance to the drama theater of Mariupol, a place in the bowels of which hundreds of people were sheltering. They show the entrance to it utterly destroyed and significant damage to the building.

Now, captured a matter of days earlier, a satellite image shows the words children in Russian on the front and aft of that particular building. So, no one can be in any doubt what that building had been used for. And so it does appear, according to local officials, there are enormous concerns that some of those hundreds, possibly as many as a thousand people sheltering inside that theater might be injured or even dead after that enormous airstrike.

Now, also, too, video has been emerging for some time about the conditions inside that shelter, showing dozens, hundreds at a time of civilians sheltering down there in the dark. At one point, one of the narrators on the video points out the cloak room is being used as a place to dispense food with women, children and the elderly getting priority there. Food a scarcity by itself, dark, terrifying down there for the children. And, certainly, I think, the conditions down there worsening significantly as the siege around Mariupol has continued.

Remember, this is a city which has been surrounded by Russian forces for well over a week now, shells consistently, some saying shells arriving every minute or so. At times, small amounts of aid has been allowed in. There have been sporadic moments in which humanitarian convoys have been allowed out. But it is fundamentally possibly as many as hundreds of thousands of people trapped by this Russian siege.

And that drama theater, a place where many clearly felt they were safe, but it does appear to have been the site of a Russian airstrike. Russia has said the Ukrainian nationalists somehow did it themselves, again, nonsense, and, again, a sign of Russia's targeting of civilians, if not, indiscriminate disregard for their safety. Wolf?

BLITZER: It explains why so many are now saying Putin is a war criminal.


Nick Paton Walsh in Odessa, in Southern Ukraine for us, thank you for much.

Now back to the breaking news, on the hundreds of millions of dollars of new U.S. aid for Ukraine just announce this after President Zelenskyy's very emotional plea to the U.S. Congress.

Let's go to CNN's Military Analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel Leighton, the Ukrainian president is clearly not going to get his no-fly zone that he has been desperately pleading for but he is going to get some other sophisticated equipment, including some U.S. drones.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And these drones are actually quite significant because it will make a huge difference in the way this war is prosecuted.

This is the switch blade drone, a launch of switch blade drone, developed fist by the Air Force Special Operations Command, and used by the army of the Marine Corps in the U.S. And here's an aerial view of it as you look at it from the ground up.

This weapons system is very significant because it actually is a type of kamikaze drone that can actually go after a particular target. And when it hits the target, it explodes and it just disappears along with the target that it has hit. So it's a very important weapons system.

BLITZER: Another key delivery from the U.S., we're told, what, small arms and, what, 20 million rounds of ammunition. That's pretty important.

LEIGHTON: It is, absolutely, Wolf. There are 7,000 small arms in this package that President Biden has just signed, 20 million rounds of ammunition. And what this means is that they have all of these different packages that will allow for a lot of weapons to be used. These weapons will be used to target small arms engagements. They'll be used to target individual soldiers on the Russian side and they will be critical to the Russian war effort.

BLITZER: What about the Javelins?

LEIGHTON: The Javelins, Wolf, are quite significant here. This is the traditional anti-tank weapons system. It's a guided missile system about. It's about 3.6 feet long, shoulder-fired, and a single soldier can operate this. The range is 8,200 feet and it is designed basically to kill tanks.

BLITZER: Yes, so important right now. Thank you so much, Colonel Cedric Leighton, helping us appreciate what's going on.

Coming up, we witnessed some truly heartbreaking atrocities from Russia's invasion of Ukraine but do these attacks constitute war crimes? Stay with us. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: President Biden today calling Vladimir Putin a war criminal for the first time. The White House later clarifying the president was just quote speaking from his heart. But are these attacks war crimes?

CNN's Anderson Cooper sat down with a chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court for his view. Listen to this.


KARIM KHAN, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: We have reasonable grounds to believe crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You have reasonable grounds to believe that alleged war crimes, alleged crimes against humanity have been committed?

KHAN: Absolutely. And, you know, one sees, one thing is clear, I mean, the law is clear on this, it is a crime to intentionally target civilians. It is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects.

Now, of course, there has to be further investigation. Were those civilian objects being used to launch attacks that made them legitimate targets? But even then, it's no license to use cluster bombs or use disproportionate attacks in a concentrated civilian areas. There's a duty of distinction.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS".

Fareed, so you heard from the ICC chief prosecutor. So, why is the White House all of a sudden trying to walk back what President Biden said earlier today, he said, flatly, I think he -- referring to Putin -- is a war criminal?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Wolf, I think probably because the president spoke more from his heart than his head, by which I mean, of course, it seems as though Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes in just the way that the gentleman who is explaining to Anderson keeper intentionally targeting civilians, which the Russians are doing over and over again every day is a war crime.

Look, the invasion, itself, is a total violation of the U.N. charter and of international law. It's an unprovoked invasion against a sovereign country. But the reality, the political, the harsh political diplomatic reality is there is going to have to be a negotiated peace here. And so, people are going to have to sit down with Vladimir Putin and sign pieces of paper and it becomes very awkward and difficult to do that if you just accused him of being a war criminal.

So my guess is what the administration is trying to do is balance the understandable desire to express outrage, moral outrage, but at the same time recognize that he is the ruler of Russia. It's a very powerful country. It is going to have to be a part of the eventual solution and end of this war.

BLITZER: The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, the man you've interviewed. I have interviewed. He says talks are not easy, but there is hope for a compromise.

How do you assess that when Putin is smearing pro-Western Russians as, quote, national traitors?

ZAKARIA: Look, the Russians are playing a very, very brutal game in Ukraine, but within Russia as well. As you know, hundreds of thousands of people have fled Russia.

Lavrov's comments are significant, though, Wolf, because the information I have from sources who are pretty well-informed is that the Russian demands in the negotiations with Ukraine have lowered.


They have gone away from the completely fantastical idea of total overthrow of the regime, denazification, whatever that means, demilitarization of the state in perpetuity to more practical demands.

So I think the Russians are feeling the pressure, both from the Ukrainian resistance but also from these very lethal Western sanctions, and as a result, there's a little bit of a coming to terms with reality on their part.

BLITZER: All this is coming, Fareed, as China is weighing how much to support Putin's war. It seems China has a lot to lose potentially. What's your calculation at this point?

ZAKARIA: It's a very tough question, Wolf. The Chinese have been trying to play a balancing act and not very well. They are trying to -- what they get out of supporting the Russians is they view American hegemony as their principal challenge to being able to rise to the kind of power and influence they want.

So, anything that erodes that hegemony, anything that contested, they support. That's why I think that's why Xi has developed this close relationship with Putin.

On the other hand, the Chinese -- the principal complaint that the Chinese have made about the United States has been that we violate state sovereignty, Iraq, et cetera. Well, this is the most blatant violation of state sovereignty. And the Chinese want to have good relations with not just the United States but also Europe because China is deeply intertwined economically with Europe and the United States, ten times as much as Russia.

They're trying to play this balancing game. They will probably stay more aloof than engaged in this, but I don't think they come out of this looking very good.

BLITZER: I think you're right.

Fareed Zakaria, thank you so much for joining us.

An important programming note, be sure to watch Fareed Zakaria every Sunday, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS", 10 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

More news right after this.



BLITZER: President Zelenskyy's passionate address to Congress today was but the latest example of a war leader and as a communicator.

Our Brian Todd is joining us right now.

You've been going over everything that Zelenskyy has said, what he's done to come across to get his message across as well.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We've combed through all of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's war-time addresses, his other speeches to parliaments and his messages to his own people. What we found is clear evidence that Zelenskyy and his team have gotten the upper hand in the information war by dominating social media and other platforms.


TODD (voice-over): From his bunker in Kyiv, the 44-year-old former TV comedian has again proven to be a captivating war-time speaker.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): In the darkest time for our country, for the whole of Europe, I call on you to do more.

TODD: In his virtual address to the U.S. Congress today, Volodymyr Zelenskyy seemed to know he could strike the most deeply felt emotional chords by evoking two of America's greatest tragedies which drew the U.S. into wars.

ZELENSKYY: Remember Pearl Harbor, the terrible morning of December 7th, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you.

Remember September 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities independent territories into battle fields.

TODD: But the Ukrainian president didn't stop there. He paused to play a video showing images of buildings in Ukraine being blown apart, women and children in distress, wounded children on gurneys and in hospitals. Then he started speaking English and appealed to President Biden personally.

ZELENSKYY: You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world.

SUSAN GLASSER, CO-AUTHOR, "KREMLIN RISING": It was emotional, visceral and forcing members of Congress not to avert their gaze. President Zelenskyy has certainly emerged as probably Ukraine's single most effective weapon of the war.

TODD: Zelenskyy tailored his message deftly when he spoke to the Canadian parliament this week, with a personal reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has young children.

ZELENSKYY: Imagine that at 4:00 a.m. each of you, you start hearing bomb explosions, severe explosions. Justin, can you imagine hearing you, your children hearing all of these severe explosions?

TODD: Analysts praise Zelenskyy for dominating the information war with his skillful use of social media and other platforms. It hasn't gotten Zelenskyy the no fly zone he wants but the strategy has drawn an influx of other weapons and stiffened his country's resistance compare that with the pale, isolated countenance of the man in the Kremlin who ordered the invasion.

SAMUEL CHARAP, AUTHOR, "EVERYONE LOSES: THE UKRAINE CRISIS": Oh, he's so far removed from Russians and their day-to-day struggles by comparison to Zelenskyy who's staying with his people even as the capital's being shelled. The contrast couldn't be starker.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say there are not many down sides to Zelenskyy's media strategy. One expert does warn if Zelenskyy reaches a peace deal with the Russians, his own countrymen might see this as an unacceptable compromise given how he's framed this whole thing as a battle of good versus evil -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, excellent reporting. Thank you very, very much.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.