Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Life Or Death for Civilians Trapped Inside Mariupol; Interview With Ukrainian Parliament Member Kira Rudik; Four U.S. Service Members Killed In NATO Training Crash; U.S. Officials: Russia Used Hypersonic Missiles Against Ukraine; Three Million Have Fled Ukraine Since Russian Invasion Began; Former Ukrainian President Calls On Biden To Visit Kyiv Next Week; Russia State News: WNBA Star To Be Held At Least Two More Months. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 19, 2022 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Mach 5 missiles. American officials say Russia launched hypersonic weapons inside Ukraine. The development poses a new threat to Ukraine's ability to fend off Moscow military.
Deadly mission. A training exercise in Norway goes sideways and ends with a fiery crash and four U.S. Marines dead.
And a nation of refugees. The shocking new number from the United Nations today. They say Vladimir Putin's invasion has now forced one in five Ukrainians to flee their homes.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And this is a special Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
This hour, street fighting inside the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Today, open gunfire inside the city center. Russian missiles continue to pound civilian targets.
And we are now getting a clear look at the damage at a theatre hit by a Russian air strike. Look at this. From the sky, you can see -- still see the word, "children", written in Russian next to the rubble.
A top official says there's no chance to lift the siege and get people out of that city.
And in a new message today, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he is ready for direct peace talks with Russia. But Turkish officials say Putin right now is unwilling to meet.
Our CNN reporters are covering the story from the front lines and around the globe. Let's get straight to our senior international correspondent Sam Kiley. He's on the ground in Kyiv. Sam, let's start with what could be one of the deadliest attacks on Ukrainians since the war began. And I hear the sirens now going off behind you.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes indeed, Wolf. Those are the air raid sirens. We haven't had them at this time for some days, but they are almost a pretty regular occurrence, frankly.
Now what we're talking about in terms of this very severe attack against Ukrainian forces is on a barracks in Mykolaiv. I should warn viewers that the pictures coming from that location are pretty upsetting. They are very graphic. And that is because this is the location that was pounded with missiles where local soldiers have said to the media that small number that survived, that upwards or around 200 people were based.
Now they were hit overnight with a very severe level of destruction with pinpoint accuracy. This indicates, of course, that the Russians do have the capability to use accurate weapons if they choose to, unlike where they necessarily in cities like Kharkiv especially northern parts of Kyiv where they've been using multiple rocket launching systems to attack civilian targets.
But this is a devastating blow to the battle -- in the battle for Mykolaiv. This is an important, strategic town not only because it has a port, but it controls access to the next stage if Russians were to capture it to go on to Odessa and to try to join up the towns that they're trying to capture on the Azov Sea.
Of course, the most dramatic example of that, Wolf, you've already mentioned there is the ongoing siege of Mariupol, where in the downtown area, we're now getting information that there is street to street fighting in the center of the town, even as civilians continue to try to flee. They've been fleeing down so-called humanitarian corridors frequently under attack from Russian forces, Wolf.
BLITZER: Those air raid sirens go off as we just heard, the suggestion is the warning is get into a shelter, right? Some sort of bomb shelter? Is that right, Sam? Because you've been in the Ukrainian capital now for a while.
KILEY: Yes, that is the signal to civilians and indeed military personnel around the city and it's not just in this city, of course. It's in every city, every village almost has an air raid system.
I'm not exactly sure how they trigger it, but here, usually fairly swiftly after we're hearing sirens, except quite frequently we hear the outstanding explosion of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles going up into the sky.
KILEY: And day before yesterday, I reported from a location where one of those missiles or a missile of similar type, knocked down a Russian ballistic missile and destroyed a number of buildings and homes, killing one person.
It's almost daily occurrence here, Wolf. And yes, many people in this city do spend their lives, or at least their night lives, under ground. The pictures you're seeing from the -- these are the latest of the missiles that hit Kyiv.
It was intended for some other target but the warhead unfortunately survived the downing by an anti-missile missile system, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Sam Kiley, be careful over there. Stay safe as I always say. If you've got to get into the shelter, of course, get there right away.
Thanks very much. We will stay in very close touch.
Let's discuss what's going on in the Ukrainian capital right now. Kira Rudik is joining us. She's a key member of Ukraine's parliament. Kira, thank you so much for joining us. We've spoken several times.
When you hear these air raid sirens going off in your city of Kyiv, what do you do and what does it suggest to you?
KIRA RUDIK, MEMBER, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Hi, Wolf. Thank you so much for having me.
Well, when we hear the air raid sirens, we all have to go to the bomb shelter or at least somewhere safe. So after we talk with you, I will go downstairs and will sit with everybody who's here with me under the stairs. This is where we used to hide.
It became like a new normal here in Kyiv on the fourth week of war. When you hear air raid sirens, you sometimes do it even automatically. You don't think about it. You know, this is what you have to do.
And for the last three to four days, the shelling of the city has been intensified, really, so. And you have seen the destructions that the rockets and the missiles are causing.
So I was there at this building that you're showing that lost a wall and it's unbelievable and it's terrifying and it's so humiliating. Like, you have your life together and then it's open for the public and people are dying.
And I was talking to the people there who had to flee their houses out of nowhere that were destroyed and all their things, all their belongings are like blown in the air.
This is what Putin is doing to our country. This is what he is doing to our city. This is exactly why we are asking for a no fly zone that we were told we are not getting, but it doesn't mean that we stop needing it.
And he is definitely targeting the civilians. He's precisely targeting the civilian buildings.
BLITZER: So what does all this suggest to you? Because the Russians seem to be stalled outside of Kyiv, but do you fear that means Russia will only increase its bombardment, especially its arial bombardment of your capital city?
RUDIK: Yes. In between that we spoke, we had a 35-hour curfew. During that time, Russians tried to attack but they only got to the outskirts of the city and they were pushed back.
So now we expect that they failed to surround us. They failed on the ground so they will increase the air force attacks and again, we don't have much to counter act on these attacks.
Our military systems are firing the missiles to hit Russian missiles, but you see in many times they fail. This is again exactly why we need additional air force protection. This is why we need the support. When Putin sees that he cannot win on the ground and he obviously cannot win on the ground, he's just trying to take our cities down like he did in Kharkiv and Mariupol and this is what he's trying to do in Kyiv.
BLITZER: The U.S. Defense Secretary, Kira -- Lloyd Austin, says Russia is making significant gains in the southern part of Ukraine and Mariupol, for example, is under siege as we speak right now.
God only knows how many men, women, and children are being killed. What do you need from the West? You're not going to get a no fly zone from the U.S. and the NATO allies, but what else do you need right now to try to hold off this Russian assault?
RUDIK: Well, first of all, we need jets. We need jets to fight them in the air. This is the first and the foremost request that we are making. And we are trying to get in from Poland. We were promised that we would get them from Slovakia, so this is their number one right now.
As for the rest, we are extremely thankful for all the supplies and financial support that we're getting from the United States, but I'm sorry to say that at some point, we'll need more. Because the war is when nothing is enough and we are fighting against one of the largest armies in the world.
RUDIK: So whatever support we are getting right now is the oil to our fire so it allows us to fight more. But it does not allow us to win. And for that, we would need military support from the NATO. We would need that.
BLITZER: Kira Rudik, stay safe over there. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people in Ukraine. We will of course stay in close touch.
Kira Rudik is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
RUDIK: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. There's heartbreaking news out of Norway. The country's prime minister confirms four U.S. Marines when the aircraft they were traveling in crashed during a NATO training exercise.
I want to go to CNN's Kylie Atwood. She's over at the State Department for us. So Kylie, what do we know about this crash?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the deadly crash occurred during a regular NATO exercise in Norway. This was an exercise that was planned, according to NATO, about eight months ago. It has nothing to do with Russia's invasion into Ukraine with the ongoing war there.
Even though, of course, we have seen NATO bolster its presence on the eastern flank, this exercise was independently planned. And as you said, the leader, the prime minister of Norway said there were four U.S. service members who were killed as part of this exercise. They were on an aircraft that crashed during the exercise.
Now the United States hasn't confirmed. For their part, we did hear from the U.S. Marine corps who said there were four U.S. Marines who were involved in an accident in Norway. They haven't provided any more details or any confirmation of those who were killed in this.
They said the Norwegians are the ones who are leading the investigation into this incident. And Wolf, this happened as President Biden is headed to the region next week. Of course, he is going to Brussels for this extraordinary leaders level summit with his NATO allies to talk about the ongoing war in Ukraine, Wolf.
BLITZER: He'll be there together -- all 30 NATO allied leaders will be there in Brussels on Thursday for this truly extraordinary meeting. We'll see where else, if any place else, in Europe the president of the United States winds up going.
Kylie, we'll get back to you. Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us.
Coming up, U.S. Officials say Russia fired hypersonic missiles for the first time in combat. This as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says Putin has bigger problems on the ground.
The House Armed Service Committee Chairman Adam Smith is standing by live. We have several critical issues to discuss.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says Europe is facing its largest security challenge in generations. Here's how Secretary Austin assessed the situation on the ground in Ukraine today. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: In terms of the Russians' progress in the south, I would say that they continue to make incremental gains. I would also say that they used some brutal, savage techniques in terms of the way that they've been targeting civilian populations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: With us Congressman Adam Smith. He's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us. What do you make of those comments from Secretary Austin? Is Russia becoming more brutal? Hard to believe they could be much more brutal in light of the setbacks it's facing because they've been so brutal already.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Think of it as continuing brutality and continuing to target the civilian population because their military plan -- their initial military plan failed for a variety of different reasons.
One, they underestimated the opposition. Two, they just weren't very well organized. And to make up for it, they're just, you know, doing destruction on civilian populations basically to try to break the population.
It is continually brutal. It is clearly and unequivocally a war crime. They are not taking on combatants. They are taking on civilians intentionally as part of their strategy driven by their incompetence at the start, but driven more than anything as you and I were talking a little bit before we came on, you know, this is Putin's effort to try to expand the Russian empire and he doesn't care how much destruction he levels in doing that.
He's got a very -- he's got a way of looking at the world that we had hoped was 100 years out of date or At least 80 years out of date. So I think Secretary Austin is spot on. This is a brutal, violent, criminal campaign that Putin is conducting.
BLITZER: As you know, new video now shows two hypersonic missile attacks by the Russians in Ukraine. The first time they've actually admitted to using these missiles since the war began. Can you explain exactly why this is so significant?
SMITH: Well, hypersonic missile is a missile that is tougher to defend against. It moves more quickly and ballistic missiles are primarily dependent upon gravity for their speed. Shoot them up and they come down.
A hypersonic or a cruise missile is dependent upon its projection and this makes them go really fast and they're maneuverable. You can move them around to make them avoid air defenses. They're not necessarily more destructive in terms of the fire power they pack, but they're pretty close to impossible to shoot down.
BLITZER: Yes, that's really, really important. The "New York Times", Mr. Chairman, reports that the United States is considering having Turkey, a NATO ally, supply Ukraine with Russian-made S-400s, one of the most powerful long-range anti-aircraft systems in existence. Would you support that move?
SMITH: Yes, absolutely. I think that's -- yes, I was listening to your interview with a member of the Rada earlier in Ukraine and I think the air defenses are crucial.
SMITH: And frankly, the S-300s that we're talking about getting in from Slovakia, the S-400 would be even better. Also a lot of the surface to air missile systems that the U.K. and some others are talking about bringing in that have higher altitude capability than the stingers that they've been using. Those would be crucial.
Jet fighters are going to have a tough time surviving particularly a MIG 29 against Russian fighters and against Russia surface to air missile defenses. But things like the S-300 and other higher grade surface to air missiles can really, you know, take down Russian missiles and Russian planes and help Ukraine get a little bit more control of the skies overhead.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. The British ministry of defense said today that Russia has been quote, "surprised by the scale and ferocity of the Ukrainian forces", but how long do you think the Ukrainians can actually hold out amid this relentless Russian bombardment?
SMITH: I don't know. But I do know that the Ukrainian people are incredibly courageous, will to fight and they're fighting for their country. They're fighting for their lives. They bring a passion to that that I don't think Putin fully understood.
I was in Ukraine last august and it was clear that the Ukrainian people were willing to stand up against Russia. He should have understood that. We need to help them as much possible. The more damage we can do to the Russian troops and the more damage we can do to the Russian economy, the tougher it is for Putin to keep doing this.
And that's what we have to do. We have to rally the world. I also thought it was incredibly important that President Biden spoke to President Xi -- I think it was yesterday, might have been two days ago -- to drive home the point that China's not going to get a pass. They're not going to be able to sort of go under the radar and help Russia in their brutality and then act like they're not. We're going to shine a light on it so that China can't bail out Russia. I think that's a real important part of the policy and diplomacy that we need to engage in.
SMITH: You're right. The president -- President Biden did spend about two hours on the phone with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. That was yesterday, on Friday. Here's a picture that the White House released. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this of that two-hour call. Listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president detailed, you know, what the implications and consequences would be if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Based on what you know and I know you get really excellent intelligence briefings, without revealing any classified information, what can you tell us about what to anticipate the Chinese response to be?
SMITH: I think they're in a real dilemma right now. You know, they were hoping to have a partnership with Russia because Russia and China have one common goal. They want to bring down the west. They want to weaken us and weaken our allies. And I think China saw an opportunity in that.
But China's also trying to make friends in the world. Throughout Africa, throughout Latin America, even in Europe. They had this 16 plus one, 16 countries in Europe that were working on their belt and road initiative.
If China is seen as backing this brutality, those people are going to move away from them. You know, we do have some intel on what China's thinking about this. I think they're in a real dilemma because they don't want to abandon Russia, but we are going to make it clear if they help Russia, just where they stand and that will hurt them, too.
So I think they're trapped at the moment. We've got to keep the pressure on them and make sure that they don't help Russia in this fight.
BLITZER: If that do, President Biden told Xi, you're going to pay a big, big price for that kind of assistance to the Russians.
Congressman Adam Smith, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, thank you so much for joining us.
SMITH: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate the chance.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Up next, the United Nations now estimates -- get this -- nearly 10 million Ukrainians, 10 million, are now displaced as this war rages in Ukraine. Ten million people out of their homes. Many of them inside still Ukraine. More than 3 million have fled to other countries.
We're live on the ground at the Poland-Ukraine border when we come back.
BLITZER: New pictures in to CNN. Pope Francis visiting 19 Ukrainian refugee children in Rome today. The Vatican says the children are getting treatment for cancer and neurological diseases. Some are being treated for severe injuries from the blasts.
In Ukraine, a curfew now in effect in the city of Zaporizhzhia according to a local officials The curfew will last until Monday morning.
And in the city of Lviv, after Russians launched six missiles towards that city, the mayor there is pleading for a no fly zone.
And the U.N. reporting at least 850 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the invasions started in late February. The U.N. says at least 64 of those killed are children. The Ukrainians put the number of children killed at more than 100.
Nearly 10 million people in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes since Russia started its brutal invasion. According to the United Nations, to put all of this into perspective, it's greater than the combined populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C
More than 3 million of those people have actually fled Ukraine entirely for other countries.
CNN's Melissa Bell is on the ground for us in Poland where we're seeing the greatest number of refugees. Melissa, update our viewers on what you're seeing.
MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This, Wolf, is one of the stations on the Polish-Ukrainian border.
I want to give you an idea of what's going on here. It's about 10:30 at night local time and still all this activity through this door.
Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing on the train from Lviv, 90 percent of them women and children. As you can see, they come with their pets, with a suitcase. Literally what you can take out of the door as you leave.
I'd just like to show you what's going on here because it's been extraordinary, the scenes we've been seeing.
Again, 10:30 at night in this train station. These are volunteers out here with food and water and candy. Because what you're talking about are kids getting off these trains. Toys to try and console them and people that will try and get them to where they need to go.
When you think about it, Wolf, what's been going on here is, just in the space of over two weeks, more than two million people that have crossed this border that need housing.
Down that hallway, those are older people. They don't get priority. It is the women and children who are put in the rooms. There are cots that have been lined up in this rooms we're being kept away from inside the train station.
Others are taken straight out here and put on to these buses. I hope you can see them. You'll see the crowds of the latest refugees who have arrived heading on to those buses.
They're going to be taken off into temporary accommodation, maybe a night or two. And we visited some of those. You're talking about school gymnasiums, classrooms, turned into makeshift shelters where they will spend one night, two nights, then be moved further on.
The point is that so many of these people arriving here really just want to stay close to the border. They hope they're going to be able to get back really quickly to their fighting-aged men who have been left behind.
Many have been saying we think this war will be won and we'll be able to get home quickly.
The strain on Poland is extraordinary. It isn't just the number of people who have arrived here. It's the fact they've arrived that quickly. State services haven't had a chance to get organized. The European Union is only starting to get its act together.
We're talking about people who have come in to welcome these refugees and tell them they have a place to stay. Give them shelter, food, water.
The operation is almost unimaginable and no one could have expected it would take place. It's the kindness of strangers that have stepped in. And it's been quite impressive.
The mayor of this town telling us, look, we've done it, we're doing it. It was the entire population in terms of numbers in this town arriving every day initially. We're going to run out of energy and we're going to need more help, and pretty soon -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, 44 million people live in Ukraine. Ten million have been displaced. About seven million of them internally gone from their homes elsewhere inside Ukraine. More than three million had fled to neighboring countries.
We give those countries a lot of thanks for what they're doing. Like Poland, for example, having taken in more than two million Ukrainian refugees. Give them a lot of gratitude for what they're doing.
Melissa Bell, on the border. She's in Poland for us. Thank you, Melissa, for that report.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians have also flocked to the western city of Lviv since Russia began its invasion about four weeks ago.
CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is at a refugee shelter there.
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, I'm on the campus of Lviv University. At peacetime, this would be a gym where you would see sports events held, wrestling matches even.
But as you can see now, it is housing hundreds of displaced families. Each one of these rows is about 12 beds. So of course, there's no sense of privacy here for these families.
I'm going to crouch down because I want to show you how people are sleeping here.
This is just a basic wood palate. You have a very thin piece of foam here and a thin mattress. All this bedding you see here has been donated by volunteers. So you're really down to just the rudimentary basics.
And we've seen a lot of children here living in these conditions. Some of them for days, weeks.
Some of those families come from the east of Ukraine, some of the most affected areas like Kherson and Kharkiv. They tell us they had to flee in only a matter of minutes with only what they could carry with them, just a suitcase or backpack.
They're reliant on the kindness of strangers, a lot of volunteers who are bringing, again, those basic supplies, food, any necessities that people need.
Yes, the city council is pitching in, but again, a lot of kindness from strangers here.
And I've been asking the families, what's the plan here? Are you going to move further west? Cross the Polish border and find safe haven in western Europe?
Many are telling me, nope, we're going to stick it out. We're going to wait here until we can get back home.
Regardless of how unrealistic that sounds to us, as many of the areas now occupied by Russian forces.
There's a great sense of community here, solidarity here. Everyone in Lviv feels like is pitching in to help out.
But you have to wonder how much longer can families live under these conditions -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Awful conditions, indeed.
Salma Abdelaziz, thank you very, very much.
And this is important. For information how you, our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, can help the people of Ukraine, go to CNN.com/impact. You will impact your world.
President Biden will travel to Europe next week, joining NATO world leaders in person in Brussels. Today, former Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, told CNN that
President Biden should visit Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv while he's in Europe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRO POROSHENKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I know that President Biden plans to go to visit Europe next week. And I think that he -- (INAUDIBLE).
Why don't very good friend of mine, very good friend of Ukraine, Joe Biden, the leader of the global world, would demonstrate now the leadership? Why don't he can visit Kyiv next week?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The chief diplomatic adviser to President Zelenskyy told me on Friday in THE SITUATION ROOM he hopes President Biden will meet with the Ukrainian president in Ukraine while on this trip to Europe.
Saying, and I'm quoting him now, "One should not be afraid. If you are brave, you have not to be afraid. You win the war."
CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us from the White House.
So, Arlette, what are you expecting from President Biden during this upcoming trip? He leaves, got a big meeting in Brussels at NATO headquarters on Thursday.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House describes President Biden as someone who is a big believer in face-to-face diplomacy. And he will have the opportunity to engage in just that when he travels to Europe next week.
On Thursday, he has a day chock full of meetings, starting with that extraordinary NATO summit where they will talk about defense and deterrence efforts in the wake of Russia's aggression towards Ukraine.
Of course, this will give Biden the chance to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to NATO allies, especially as there are several countries which are bordering this conflict at the moment.
Additionally, the president will hold and meet with the European council as well as meet with G-7 leaders where they can talk about a host of issues ranging from sanctions to the humanitarian assistance they are offering in the wake of this crisis.
Now, sources say it's highly unlikely that President Biden would travel to Kyiv, as you have heard Ukrainian leaders call for.
But these meetings he's participating in Brussels will really give the president a chance to work in person with those allies that he's been crafting responses to Russia's aggression over the course of the past few months. As they are trying to offer further support to Ukraine in the middle of this war and attack by Russia -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Arlette, thank you very much. Arlette Saenz at the White House.
Just ahead, new tonight, the British prime minister -- listen to this -- Boris Johnson, says Putin, the Russian president, is in, quote, "total panic" right now, fearing a pro-democracy uprising in Moscow. That's from Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the U.K.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: "Total panic." That's how the British prime minister is describing Putin's state of mind right now. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Being terrified of the effect of that Ukrainian model on him and on Russia. He's in a total panic about a so-called color revolution in Moscow itself.
And that's why he's trying so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine. And that's why it is so vital that he fails.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's discuss with retired Major General Paul Eaton and CNN global affairs analyst, Susan Glasser.
Susan, what's your reaction to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's comments? Very blunt.
First of all, do you agree with him? You've spent some quality in time in Moscow covering Putin over the years.
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, I learned one thing, which is not to get too far inside the mind of Putin.
In part, because he often has told us very bluntly himself what he's doing and thinking. And if you listened to Vladimir Putin over the previous months, you would have understood he did not consider Ukraine to be an independent country. And was quite serious about going after it.
I'll tell you, listening to Putin in recent days, especially his chilling speech at that Nuremberg-style rally, especially his speech to the nation.
He sounds increasingly like a hard-edge, almost, figure from the 20th century dictatorships of the past in that he's willing to undergo a massive crackdown inside of Russia itself. And Boris Johnson is correct that Vladimir Putin has feared and worried about a, quote, unquote, "color revolution." Ukraine had one back in 2004.
BLITZER: Yes. I think you make excellent points.
General, let me get your reaction to the news, and this is pretty alarming.
U.S. Officials are now confirming that Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week.
Tell us a little bit why this is so significant. What are these weapons designed to do?
MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON, U.S. ARMY, RETIRED: Wolf, there's been a lot of hype around the hypersonic weapons. And the issue with hypersonic, when you're talking about 5,000 kilometers or 5,000-plus kilometers an hour, it's hard to knock these weapons down.
So once launched, they're fire and forget. And they're dangerous to the arrival point.
So if what we have been told is true, then it puts everything into a new category.
And one can also say that the launch point for hypersonics, be it aircraft or land based, opens up a new target opportunity for Ukrainian forces and for NATO forces if they determine that these weapons are a viable threat to NATO.
I believe they are. And I believe that NATO is studying this very closely.
BLITZER: Yes. If these weapons were to hit any of the NATO allies, it would change the game dramatically, right away.
Susan, you hear the Ukrainians' assessment of massive Russian troops getting killed. Does that resonate at all inside Russia?
GLASSER: Well, look, Wolf, for many years, the biggest moral force inside Russia and late Soviet society were the soldier's mothers.
They were huge grassroots activists in Afghanistan, even during the Soviet times during the war in Afghanistan, during the two Chechnyan wars.
It was the soldiers mothers who shamed the Kremlin. So that is absolutely a possibility.
If you look for who might resist President Putin now, of course, it's going to be the mothers who are losing their sons in a war many of them never knew their sons were fighting. BLITZER: General, Putin is increasingly obviously desperate. What
would be an even more merciless Russian army look like? In other words, how much more brutal can the Russians get?
EATON: The Russian army has proven itself to be incompetent at combined-arms warfare. And we've painted the Russian army to be 10 feet tall back in the '70s when I was the captain Commanding Rifle Unit on the inner German border.
We made a mistake then. We have made a mistake now.
All the Russian have available apparently is heavy artillery, cruise missiles, missiles of some underdetermined size, and recently introduced hypersonics. So they have no game.
This is an army that relies entirely upon heavy destruction of U.S. -- heavy destruction of civilian targets within Ukraine. Unfortunate, but that's all he's got.
BLITZER: A lot more men, women, and children are about to get killed.
General Eaton, Susan Glasser, thank you to both of you.
Coming up, we'll have the latest on the case of WNBA star, Brittney Griner, who's been detained in Russia.
BLITZER: The State Department is pressing the Russian government for access and information about WNBA star, Brittney Griner.
CNN's Brian Todd has more on Griner's detention.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her whereabouts inside Russia are unclear. And now, it appears American basketball star, Brittney Griner, will be held by Vladimir Putin's regime for at least two more months.
A court in Moscow has extended Griner's arrest until May 19th, according to the Russian state news agency, TASS.
We asked a former top U.S. official about the chances of Griner actually being released that day.
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm afraid that on May 19th, they'll issue another delay.
Maybe they'll have her appear, if they want to make a bigger deal out of it and get the media to take some pictures and elevate this issue further.
Clearly, it's not in the interest of her loved ones to have this elevated. But this is how the Russians operate.
TODD: Griner has been in custody since being arrested after her arrival at a Moscow airport a few days before the war in Ukraine began. Russian authorities say she had cannabis oil in her luggage, discovered by a K-9 team.
They've accused Griner of smuggling significant amounts of narcotic substances, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
TASS cites a Russian prisoner advocate as saying Griner shares a cell with two other women. And that at 6'9", her bed is too short for her.
TODD: The timing of the Ukraine conflict, the sanctions, and America's tensions with Putin, analyst say, are likely working against Griner.
ANDREW HAMMOND, FORMER BRITISH ROYAL AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE: It complicates it enormously because the whole relationship has broken down across the board, diplomatically, economically, culturally, politically, even militarily.
TODD: Biden administration officials say Griner's case is a top priority, that they're working diligently to secure her release.
We asked a former White House hostage advisor what could be going on behind the scenes.
DAN EGLI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE HOSTAGE ADVISER: You try and grab something that you have to work with them on, some avenue to start a conversation. Beginning with, you know, proof of life, proof of condition, location, anything to increase our hope and keep the dialogue going.
TODD: While a prisoner swap for Griner with the U.S. remains possible, one analyst says Putin could also be overplaying his hand.
HAMMOND: This could backfire with the rest of the world being against Russia is not enough. They could now have the global basketball community against them.
If I was Vladimir Putin, I'll be careful about how I play this.
TODD (on camera): As worrisome as Brittney Griner's case is, there are two other Americans also being held in Russia whose cases are very high on the agendas of U.S. officials.
Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, former U.S. Marines, have been in Russian custody since 2018 and 2019, respectively. Both arrested and convicted for crimes they have emphatically denied. And both, we're told recently, have suffered serious health issues there.
Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Thank you, Brian.
Coming up, more on the breaking news in Ukraine. We are just learning right now some Mariupol residents are actually being forced -- get this -- to go to Russia. We will have the latest on what's heaping on the ground when we come back.