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Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) Is Interviewed About Ukraine-Russia War; U.S. Formally Declares Russia Committing War Crimes In Ukraine; NATO: Up To 15,000 Russian Troops Killed In Ukraine War; More Than 3.6 Million People Flee Ukraine; Senators Grill Jackson Over Record On Third Day Of Confirmation Hearing; Joe Biden's High-Stakes Europe Trip For NATO Summit Begins; Madeleine Albright, First Woman To Serve As U.S. Secretary Of State, Dies At 84. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 23, 2022 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- clear weapons. In the face of serious challenges much like the war in Ukraine we witness today, Albright was an advocate for peace around the world. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the nation's highest civilian honor. Madeleine Albright was 84 years old.
Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer and the Situation Room in Brussels.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, President Biden just landed here in Brussels for critical talks with U.S. allies about Russia's war against Ukraine, as the bombs keep falling and civilians keep dying. The U.S. now formally declaring that Kremlin forces have committed war crimes.
This hour, we're getting new glimpses of the widespread destruction from Russia's invasion and a new estimate of the toll on Vladimir Putin's military. NATO now estimating that as many as 15,000 Russian troops have been killed on the battlefield.
Our correspondents are on the frontlines in Ukraine and a key locations here in Europe and in the United States as Putin's war heads into a second month.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Brussels and you're in the Situation Room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're live at the European Union headquarters here in Brussels tonight where President Biden has just arrived for urgent meetings with key allies as Europe faces its worst military and refugee crisis since World War II. CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly begins our coverage tonight.
Phil, the stakes could hardly be higher for President Biden tonight.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, high stakes and a palpable sense of urgency as Western leaders are set to meet for hours over the course of the day tomorrow to try and do something anything to reset a dynamic that President Vladimir Putin has made clear is not going to shift anytime soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden arriving in Europe for a diplomatic sprint with the highest of stakes. As Russian strikes continue, even as Ukrainian forces mount their own offensives, dynamics driving palpable and growing concern about Russian escalation from the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned are you about the threat of chemical warfare right now, that Russia will use chemical weapons. How high is that threat?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a real threat.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): And the world.
JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: And the use of chemical weapons with totally changed the nature of the conflict. And it will be a blatant violation of international law and will have far reaching consequences.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): On the same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declare the U.S. has assessed "that members of Russia's forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine." U.S. officials now pressing for an unequivocal show of Western unity and new measures to ramp up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, including sweeping new sanctions on Russian government officials and oligarchs, measures to block sanctions evasion, and an increased NATO troop presence in Eastern Europe, including four new divisions set for deployment.
JULIANNE SMITH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: We're going to have to make a series of ongoing assessments about our first posture that will take us weeks and months into the futures.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Biden's arrival coincided with the first delivery from the $800 million in new U.S. security assistance. Even as Western leaders grapple with the acute danger of a moment, Putin finds his invasion stalled, something Biden addressed directly earlier this week.
BIDEN: And the more his back is against the wall, the greater severity the tactics he may employ.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): As the White House urgently works to shift the dynamic on a conflict that shows no signs of abating.
JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There will be hard days ahead in Ukraine, hardest for the Ukrainian troops on the frontlines and the civilians under Russian bombardment. This war will not end easily or rapidly.
(END VIDEO TAPE) MATTINGLY: And Wolf, U.S. officials are confident there will -- that there will be, in the words of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, a substantial set of outcomes after the meetings tomorrow. One of the overarching pushes over the course of the next 24 hours to maintain that unity that has been almost unprecedented on the western side over the course of the last month, in the words of Jake Sullivan, for as long as it takes, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly here in Brussels for us. Phil, thank you very, very much.
Things are moving very quickly. We're learning new details of the scope of Russian casualties in Ukraine. And NATO now saying up to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed.
CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Kyiv for us tonight.
Fred, these are very heavy losses for the Russian military. Update our viewers on the very latest.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf, those would be very high losses for the Russian military and certainly seems to us as though there are several fronts with Russian military might very well be on the backfoot. One of them, of course, being here around Kyiv, especially in the northwest of this city. In fact, just as we went to air right now, we heard some multiple rocket launching systems that went off here in the Ukrainian capital, those will be Ukrainian multiple rocket launching system, obviously firing towards Russian positions.
But if you look at those figures that NATO put out and NATO sources a gave to us, they're quite interesting to see because they say a lot of the info that they're getting comes from the Ukrainians, they say that the estimated figure could be as low as 7000 but as you said, as high as 15,000. There's another one that's also really interesting as well is that they say they believe that between 30 and 40,000 Russian troops may have already been taken out of the battle. So that means either killed, captured or wounded, obviously, not fighting on the ground anymore, that would be a substantial part of the Russian firepower.
Of course, there are some estimations, estimations that up to 10 percent of Russia's military power that was originally amassed around Ukraine could already not be functional anymore. But again, very hard to determine whether that is really the case. Of course, the Russians have been saying Vladimir Putin's spokesman yesterday to CNN that everything is going according to plan for the Russians. But certainly, if you look at the situation around the Ukrainian capital here in Kyiv, but also if you go down to the south near Crimea towards Kherson, there seem to be some places where Ukrainian forces seem to be making headway is quite interesting, because our own John Berman spoke to an advisor for the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and he also said he couldn't divulge too much. But he did say that there were areas where Ukrainian forces are making gains, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Fred, admits all of this, Russian forces are really wreaking havoc on civilians throughout Ukraine. They're destroying various Ukrainian cities like Mariupol, update our viewers on that as well.
PLEITGEN: Yes, you know that is absolutely correct. And Mariupol is really one of those. It's really the place, I would say, where you can see that entire tragedy. And some would even say crime unfold there, obviously, a lot of shelling is going on. We've obtained some video that shows some of the aftermath of that with, you know, things on fire there around Mariupol.
There's also some drone footage that shows the aftermath of some of those strikes that the Russians are conducting there. Of course, a lot of that you can see on your screen right now, a lot of that done with multiple rocket launching systems. You know, those are territorial weapons, those are weapons, like the one that was just fired off here. They're not pinpoint weapons, they cover a great deal of ground.
And you can see there in Mariupol just the extent of how many houses have been destroyed there, how many buildings have been destroyed there. And of course, you know, the civilians suffering from all that Mariupol, of course, one of those cities where people have been evacuated, but certainly very difficult situation as the Russians also now shooting into that city from ships as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're in the capital city of Kyiv, Fred, it's an area where Ukrainian forces say they are pushing back the Russian military. What's happening where you are tonight?
PLEITGEN: Yes, you're absolutely right. I mean, one of the things, you know, we've already just said that we have the multiple rocket launching system, it just went off the air. But it's really a theme that we've been seeing throughout the entire, I would say, about past 36 hours that you have heard the thunder of battle, especially in the north east of Kyiv. And the Ukrainians are now saying, there's one district called Irpin, which is a key area towards the Northeast -- Northwest of the Capitol, and there they say they've pushed the Russians out of about 80 percent of that place. And they say even the National Police of that place is back.
Now it's still under fire, but the Ukrainians are saying there are some gains that are being made. They're not sure whether they're going to be able to hold those areas. They're obviously trying as hard as they can. But they certainly believe that at least right here they have the Russians on the backfoot.
And one of the things that we also have to say, Wolf, is that here around Kyiv, you don't see much in the way of Russian airpower, Russian jets, Russian drones. And one of the reasons is, is that the Ukrainian Air Force is still very much in the battle real to speak to a pilot. Here's what we had say.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) PLEITGEN (voice-over): Counted out early in the war, but still going strong. Against all the odds, Russia has not managed to ground Ukraine's Air Force. We spoke to fighter pilot Andre (ph), who was in an undisclosed location and hiding his identity for safety reasons
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): At first, Russian pilots dominated in quantity of fighters and newer equipment. Now, they're starting to refuse to fly because we're shooting them down. We try to work with tactics.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Andre says he flies an SU27 air superiority fighter This is video provided by the Ukrainian military of the same model, an older plane but one that's still effective.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I shot down Russian planes. Unfortunately, I cannot say which and how many and how exactly, I shot them down. Air to air missiles, ground to air missiles were repeatedly fired at me.
There was a flight when we flew three against 24. It means our three fighters repelled the attack of their 24 aircraft.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): It's impossible for us to verify those claims but during our interview, we heard what seemed to be a Ukrainian jet taking off.
Andre says the U.S. helped teach him and his fellow airmen how to beat the Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have our tactics, we conducted the clear sky exercise with our American friends. We now are using some of the tactics we learned from the Americans.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The U.S. and its allies initially believed Russia would own the skies over Ukraine just days after their invasion. But the spokesman for Ukraine's Air Force says they were ready.
YURIY IGNAT, UKRAINIAN AIR FORCE SPOKESMAN (through translator): We've been preparing for this scenario for eight years. It cannot be said that our military did not think this would not happen. We've destroyed 100 aircraft and 123 helicopters already.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): A lot of Russian aircraft have been taken down by shoulder launched missiles supplied by Western allies, but the Ukrainians also still operate longer range systems like the S-300. The Air Force spokesman says Ukraine wants Western missiles and U.S. jets.
IGNAT (through translator): I'm talking about NATO integrated air defense systems, an F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon. They may be unused or decommissioned ones but they could serve the Ukrainian military.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): For Andre, the battle for the skies over Ukraine is personal. Both his mother and his wife are helping in the effort to fend off the Russians, he says, and that he too is willing to sacrifice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Everyone's afraid of being killed. It's one thing to die with honor. Another thing is to die without honor.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The U.S. has said, Ukraine's Air Force remains largely intact and combat ready. The battle for the skies another area where this outgunned nation is persevering against all odds.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
PLEITGEN: And Wolf, of course, the Biden administration has also said that it would not set up a no fly zone in Ukraine. Of course, that'd be something that would be a big escalation in all this. But it is supplying the Ukrainians with help in the form of those shoulder launched antiaircraft systems and also other aid as well. Of course, we've been talking about that a lot.
As, once again, on this evening, we are continuing to hear those outgoing barrages of fire coming from Ukrainian positions firing obviously towards those Russian positions, something that's been a theme here as the Ukrainian say they are trying to make headway and tried to push the Russians out of the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Fred, just be careful over there. We will stay in touch. Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
The breaking news continues. And we're live here from Brussels with the very latest on Russia's refusal to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. We'll talk about that and more with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's next. Stay with us.
You're watching the situation room. We're live from Brussels.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, President Biden arriving here in Brussels as the United States goes on the record accusing Russia of war crimes and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Let's get some more on the late breaking developments. Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is joining us. He's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, the U.S. publicly, officially, formally declaring Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine. The last time you and I spoke you told me you think war crimes have been committed, the U.S. needs to call out the leadership of Russia. So, what exactly does that look like?
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, Wolf, I hope what it looks like is maybe putting a bit of pause in some of the Russian leadership. I believe you will see NATO go forward and sanction virtually all the members of the Russian parliament, the Duma. I think there ought to be ability as well to potentially name those military commanders who are raining this hell on the Ukrainian citizens. I think they need to be held responsible.
And President Biden has got a big, big day tomorrow. He's got to maintain the coalition of NATO. maintain the G7, which includes, you know, obviously, major powers like Japan outside of Europe, and you've got the European Union. So keeping particularly on some of those frontline states who are quite nervous all together. Continuing to ratchet up the pressure economically and in terms of calling out the war crimes and making sure the flow of military materials. Those S-300 that could have longer range ground to air, additional drones that they get into the Ukrainians hands as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: And as bad as it is right now, and it's horrible, it couldn't get even worse. The Kremlin spokesperson, for example, Dmitry Peskov on CNN refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. What is the U.S. intelligence assessment on the likelihood of Putin actually using tactical nuclear weapons?
WARNER: Well first of all, let me say one of the things that we've seen over these 27, 28 days is this huge renewed confidence from the Ukrainians that, you know, they can hold off. And as your reporting was earlier, even in certain places push back the Russians, that drives Putin who is more and more isolated into more and more of a corner.
And this idea that he would threaten at least tactical nuclear weapons or threaten the use of chemical weapons, something that Putin has used, we believe in the past, puts us again into hugely uncharted territory. And I think you'll, you know, this is where you -- the President, along with the alliance needs to draw those red lines, but they boy o boy (ph), the unity, the alliance now will be tested like nothing before.
BLITZER: Two NATO officials, Senator, tell CNN that as many as 15,000 Russian troops already have been killed during these first four weeks or so. Does that line up with what you're hearing? What's the latest you can tell us about the actual situation on the ground in Ukraine?
WARNER: Well, Wolf, those numbers are a little bit higher than what we have, but frankly, they're all ranges. And both the number of Russian soldiers killed, the number of Russian soldiers wounded, actually, the number of Russian soldiers that have been captured, I think, is way beyond anyone's expectations of even a couple weeks ago.
And this information I -- what I would like to get more intel on is how is this being conveyed to the Russian people? Do they realize when do these coffins and body bags start coming home? When do people find out that their sons or daughters may be captured? That, I'd like to get some more visibility on because I think that would start to also weaken some of the will of the Russian people. We're already seeing the pressure put on the oligarchs that there's many of them that are at least privately grumbling? How much that will translate into Putin's inner decision making circle. That remains to be seen.
BLITZER: Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, thanks so much for joining us. Always good to have you here in the Situation Room. Appreciate it very much.
WARNER: Wolf, stay safe.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news -- thank you very much. There's more breaking news we're following. We'll have the latest on the refugee crisis. More than 3.6 million Ukrainians have now fled, fled the country as a result of the Russian invasion. Stay with us.
You're watching the Situation Room. We're alive from Brussels.
BLITZER: We're live in Brussels tonight at the European Union headquarters and we're following the breaking news. The United Nations now reporting more than 3.6, 3.6 million refugees have fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
CNN Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez is in Romania hearing some of their stories.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pianist Tetiana Shabaieva from Odessa, tonight, she's playing for Ukrainian refugees like herself.
TETIANA SHABAIEVA, FLED ODESSA: It's really important I think because it's a concept that I want to play for people and to give my energy.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Shabaieva fled with her 13-year-old nephew Nikita who she's helping raise, her mother and her five-month-old daughter Monique Amelie (ph).
SHABAIEVA: It was too much for my baby, too much because she can't sleep when it's all the time alerting. And this bombarding.
NIKITA SKRYPINIK, FLED ODESSA WITH HIS AUNT: It's very scary when you (INAUDIBLE). It's very scary.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): They left in a hurry leaving everything back home in Odessa and historical and strategically important city on the Black Sea.
SHABAIEVA: Suddenly I must take some luggage. Put -- how I can put all my library that I keep all my life. I have a big library in my apartment. MARQUEZ (voice-over): In Bucharest, nearly two weeks now, Monique Amelie already doing better.
SHABAIEVA: I will confess that I have everything that I need for life. My baby start to sleep, my baby starts to eat.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): But if not for her baby --
SHABAIEVA: But you know inside of me, it's a fighting. Because if I would not have a baby, I would be for sure go and fight.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): -- torn between family and fighting for her country. For now, they're staying in what was the Romanian office for Greenpeace.
(on camera): What is it today?
CRISTIAN NEAGOE, GREENPEACE ROMANIA: Today it's a place for refugee moms and their kids and, I don't know, a place where they can feel safe.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Several organizations help manage about 100 refugees in 660 different locations. The Greenpeace refugee center is the hub, Putin's war of choice, the motivation.
IRIINA MATAAESCU, CO-COORDINATOR, MOTHER HELPING MOTHER: How can we not help?
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Right.
MATAAESCU: How can we not be here with open arms and doors?
MARQUEZ (on camera): It strengthens your resolve --
MARQUEZ (on camera): -- to help.
MATAAESCU: Yes, it's motivating us, of course --
MARQUEZ (on camera): All right.
MATAAESCU: -- from angriness to kindness somehow.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Shabaieva only had a few days to prepare, still each note struck emotion.
SHABAIEVA: Thank you for everyone look out for my country. Me, my family and the many families like I and my family. Thank you very much.
MARQUEZ: Shabaieva discovered her hometown came under rocket attack while she played making the music more emotional and the support here all the sweeter.
(END VIDEO TAPE) MARQUEZ: So look, as the number of refugees have declined, the number of Ukrainians coming across the border has actually the crock declining in recent weeks the number looking for permanent places to stay in places like Bucharest that is actually going up for Shabaieva and her nephew. They are now looking to say for the longer term. He by the way, that young man of 13 wants to be an engineer and he hopes to go back to Ukraine someday to help rebuild it. Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Miguel Marquez in Bucharest, Romania for us. Thank you for that report. Joining us now Pete Walsh. He's the country director in Ukraine for Save the Children. Pete, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for all that you and your teams are doing.
Tell us what you're seeing all across Ukraine right now. How's your organization trying to help Ukrainian children whose lives have been so offended by this horrendous war?
PETE WALSH, COUNTRY DIRECTOR IN UKRAINE, SAVE THE CHILDREN: Well, thanks very much for the invitation, Wolf. And firstly, I think we just have to remind ourselves that this current extremely violent conflict that has been escalated since the 25th of February, 24th of February, actually began for many children in 2014. In the Donbas region, we saw a huge amount of conflict with children having to find cover and shelter from bombs and bullets.
And it's only now that we're seeing, you know, the effects of this conflict, actually layering on to the original conflict we started in 2014. So for children, this is for many children in Ukraine. This war started in 2014.
BLITZER: And it's nonstop and it's getting, obviously a whole lot worse, the mental toll on these kids is horrendous. Tell us a little bit about that.
WALSH: Sure, so these, you know, violence, ground attacks and arrow explosions are forcing families and children's into basements into makeshift bomb shelters, trying to shelter from the bombardments around them, and gunfire in the streets.
It's, of course, a serious situation that could cause immediate harm or danger or even death to children, but can also have significant immediate psychological and long term psychological impacts on those children as they try to find their place in life.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right, Pete. And we're grateful once again for what you're doing. Pete Walsh of Save the Children. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. An important note to our viewers once again for information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine go to cnn.com/impact and help Impact Your World.
Coming up, another round of sharp questions and interruptions for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Also ahead, former President Bill Clinton will join me live in the Situation Room. We'll discuss the life and legacy of the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who died today at the age of 84. This is The Situation Room we're live from Brussels.
BLITZER: We'll bring you more on the breaking news on Russia's war on Ukraine in just a few moments. But first CNN's Paula Reid takes a closer look at day three of Judge Katanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court confirmation hearing and another round of very sharp questions from Republican senators.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson facing a second day of intense questioning from lawmakers in a hearing that was at times chaotic.
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: That's not what I've said, Senator.
REID: And contentious.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TEX): I just want to watch your protest.
REID: Republican senators once again use significant portions of their allotted time to focus on Jackson's judicial record in child pornography cases.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You're a mother. You seem to be a very nice person. Are you aware of how many images are out there on the internet involving children and sexually compromising situations?
REID: Senator Graham repeatedly interrupted Jackson's attempts to explain previous sentencing decisions.
JACKSON: No senator, I didn't say --
GRAHAM: That's exactly what you said. To put their ass in jail, not supervise their computer usage.
JACKSON: Senator, I wasn't talking about versus --
GRAHAM: You just said you thought it was a deterrent to supervise them. I don't think is a deterrent.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Senator, would you let her respond?
JACKSON: Senator, every person in all of these charts and documents, I sent to jail because I know how serious this crime is.
REID: Senator Cruz also later joining in.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): You sentenced him to 28 months. Why?
JACKSON: Senator, I've said what I'm going to say about these cases, no one case can stand in for a judge's entire record.
DURBIN: Senator, would you please let her respond?
CRUZ: No, not if she's not going to answer my question.
REID: Committee chairman Dick Durbin admonished his Republican colleagues for their talking points appearing to appeal to movements like QAnon which peddles false conspiracies about Democrats and pedophiles.
DURBIN: Your nomination turned out to be a testing ground for conspiracy theories and culture war theories.
CRUZ: And videos --
REID: Cruz, Jackson's Harvard Law School classmate made news with his question about the upcoming affirmative action case going before the justices next term, where Harvard is a defendant.
CRUZ: We are on the Board of Overseers of Harvard, if you're confirmed, do you intend to recuse from this lawsuit?
JACKSON: That is my plan, Senator.
REID: Democratic lawmakers again using much of their time to allow Jackson to talk about her record and the historic nature of her nomination.
JACKSON: I do consider myself having been born in 1970, to be the first generation to benefit from the Civil Rights Movement. And so what my being here, I think is about at some level, is about the progress that we've made in this country in a very short period of time.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
REID: As the hearings wrap up, it's unclear if Jackson's confirmation will receive any Republican support. Now, Senator Graham, despite voting to confirm Jackson to be a circuit judge less than a year ago, he's a likely no and other possible Republican yes votes say they're still evaluating or they're saying nothing at all. So Wolf, this could be one of the closest Supreme Court confirmation votes in U.S. history.
BLITZER: We'll find out very soon. Paula Reid, thank you very much. Other breaking news that continues next. We're live here from Brussels with more than the U.S. formally declaring that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine. We'll talk about that and more with the White House principal deputy national security adviser. Stay with us.
And later, here in the Situation Room, former President Bill Clinton joins me to remember former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died today at the age of 84.
BLITZER: We're back live here at the Belgian capitol where President Biden arrived just a short time ago to meet with allies about Russia's invasion of Ukraine now entering its second month.
Let's get some more of the breaking news. Joining us the principal deputy national security adviser to the president John Finer. John, thanks very much for joining us. As you well know, the President will meet with NATO allies at this emergency summit tomorrow. But how many more options do they realistically have to actually punish Russia without provoking an even more fierce response from Putin?
JONATHAN FINER, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Wolf, first of all, thanks for having me. I think you'll see the President tomorrow talking about this set of issues with our closest allies. And I think you'll see him focusing on the three-key aspects of our strategy first, continuing to provide all of the assistance, including security and military assistance. The Ukrainians that has allowed them to perform much better, frankly, on the battlefield than many of the experts expected coming into this conflict and certainly better than I think the Russians expected, which is why this has been a longer and bloodier for the Russian military going into this.
Second, I think you will see them talking about increased sanctions and other pressure steps that we can take to keep the pressure on Russia, it's already done a significant amount of damage to Russia's economy as you and others, no one ever reported.
And third, will be NATO troop presence on Russia's border in allied countries. You know, that is about reassuring allies in the face of Russia's aggression, and about demonstrating to Russia what President Biden has said, which is that Russia should not test it even one inch of NATO territory in the course of prosecuting this horrific and unnecessary war.
BLITZER: As you know, John, President Biden says the prospect of Russia's using chemical weapons is a, in the President's words, a real threat. Putin spokesman didn't rule out using nuclear weapons in an interview with CNN. Is the West prepared with a coordinated response if Putin were to use chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons?
FINER: Wolf, look, this is obviously something that we look at very closely. We have not seen any indications up till now that would cause us to adjust our force posture or our alertness but he's not -- there's nothing we could take more seriously than the possibilities that you've just described.
I will say, by the way that the use of nuclear weapons in this context would be unconscionable by the Russians, and that they should believe that and know that themselves having just signed on as a member of the UN Security Council, permanent member of the UN Security Council to a statement that said that nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought, and we think that they should live by those words.
BLITZER: That's why it was outrageous to hear what the Peskov the Russian spokesman had to say yesterday. The Biden administration is now formally publicly officially declaring that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine. Does the U.S. believe that designation will have any impact whatsoever, though, on Putin's calculations?
FINER: Look, Wolf, this does not seem like a government, does not seem like a president, does not seem like a leader who is subject to shame, who is likely to alter his behavior in light of pronouncements like this, but it is very important regardless for the international community to stand for the proposition that there are ways in which war should not be fought. And that includes the deliberate targeting of civilians and some of the other outrageous steps that the Russian military has taken in the context of this fight.
We have made that declaration, our European allies have made that declaration as have other countries. And I think, you know, all they're doing is describing what your viewers have been watching unfold on your screens for some time, which is just an outrageous targeting of civilians by the Russian military during the course of this conflict.
BLITZER: YEs, this so, so horrible. President Biden's principal deputy national security adviser, John Finer, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it very much.
Coming up, we have other news we're following including sad news. Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become the U.S. Secretary of State has died at the age of 84 of cancer. CNN's Richard Roth has details of her truly remarkable career and her influence on western foreign policy after the Cold War.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As a diplomat were attacked and treading gingerly on contentious issues all the norm, Madeleine Albright was never one to mince words.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not cojones. This is cowardice.
ROTH: Whether it was her colorful use of language condemning Cuba for shooting down U.S. pilots, or her strident assessment of the leader of Iraq.
ALBRIGHT: I don't think as a world has seen, except maybe since Hitler, somebody who is quite as evil as Saddam Hussein.
ROTH: The Iraqi dictator was said to be so incensed by Albright's verbal attacks, he published a poem in Iraqi newspapers calling her an unrelenting serpent. Albright's response was one of quiet defiance. From that moment forward, she wore a brooch in the shape of a serpent at every meeting with the Iraqi leadership, and she began using her pins as she called them as a way of sending subtle messages without uttering a single word.
Born Marie Jana Korbelova (ph) to a Czechoslovakia and diplomat, Albright and her family fled the former Czechoslovakia after the Nazi invasion in 1939, and later found safe haven in the United States in 1948. She became a U.S. citizen married media tycoon Joseph Patterson Albright, and had three children, all while working on her PhD and learning multiple languages.
In 1982, Albright took a prestigious position as Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University, but it was the shock of her husband asking for a divorce around that same time that changed the course of her life.
ALBRIGHT: There was an identity crisis. As it turns out, I think those next 10 years were the ones that were the most influential.
ROTH: She poured herself into her work becoming foreign policy adviser to then presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton in turn tapped her for the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations after he won the White House. As UN Ambassador, Albright became known for her tenacity and determination to elevate us interests at the UN through what she called aggressive multilateralism.
ALBRIGHT: We must summon the spine to deter the support to isolate and the strength to defeat those who run roughshod over the rights of others.
ROTH: She pushed hard for U.S. boots on the ground in the Balkans. The U.S. administration chose diplomacy instead, a decision that came at a costly human price, and even bigger regret the failure of the U.S. to intervene to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
ALBRIGHT: I Madeleine Korbel Albright.
ROTH: Lessons learned from her past and the present, as Albright cemented her place in history becoming the first ever female U.S. Secretary of State on January 23rd 1997. And the Kosovo conflict erupted in 1998, Albright lobbied forcefully for NATO intervention. The NATO led effort helped Kosovo gain independence from Serbian control, and the ICC indicted Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes.
ALBRIGHT: Never again will there be massacres and mass graves.
ROTH: Through it all, Albright's experience as a refugee who found the American dream was omnipresent in her life.
ALBRIGHT: My life reflects both the turbulence of Europe in the middle of the century, and the tolerance and generosity of America throughout its existence.
ROTH: In her later years, Albright's comments and supportive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton backfired.
ALBRIGHT: There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.
ROTH: She apologized for the timing of her so called undiplomatic moment in a New York Times op-ed and seize the opportunity to make a passionate case for gender equality by saying, my hope is that young women will build on the progress we have made, but that will happen only if women help one another. And for those who do that, there will always be a special place of honor.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: That was CNN's Richard Roth, remembering Madeleine Albright, who died at the age of 84.
And coming up, I'm going to speak live with former President Bill Clinton. He'll share his thoughts on the loss of Madeleine Albright. That's coming up very, very shortly.
Also, there's more breaking news we're following. We'll continue to watch all the late breaking developments on President Biden's high- stakes trip here to Brussels to huddle with allies as Russia's invasion of Ukraine unleashes terror on millions of people. We're live from the European headquarters, our special coverage continues next.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden, now he's here in Brussels for an emergency NATO Summit on Russia's war against Ukraine. The Alliance considering new ways to punish Vladimir Putin's brutality --