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Biden In Brussels As U.S. Formally Calls Out Russia For War Crimes; NATO Says, Up To 15,000 Russian Troops Dead In Putin's War Of Destruction; Madeleine Albright, First Female Secretary Of State, Dead At 84; U.S. Granted Access To Detained WNBA Player For First Time; Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Faces New Round Of GOP Attacks. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 23, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The alliance considering new ways to punish Vladimir Putin's brutality as the U.S. is now formally declaring that Russia has committed war crimes.
Also tonight, Russia's war of destruction is taking a growing toll on Ukrainian cities and on Kremlin forces. NATO now estimates that as many as 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in just the first war weeks of this war.
Our correspondents are standing by in Ukraine, in key location in Europe and in the United States for CNN's live global war coverage.
We're also getting powerful new reaction to the death of the first woman to serve as the U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Former President Bill Clinton, he will join us this hour.
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.
We're coming to you live from the E.U. headquarters in Brussels, just hours before President Biden joins with U.S. allies for emergency talks, critical talks on the war in Ukraine. This hour we're getting reports from the frontlines of a new barrage of outgoing fire in Northwest Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
CNN's Sam Kiley is standing by in Kyiv for us. Phil Mattingly is here in Brussels covering President Biden. We'll go to them in just moments. But, first, CNN's Alex Marquardt has more on all the breaking news on this war.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Vladimir Putin's war leading to staggering losses of his own men. According to NATO military officials, up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the four weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. The shocking number coming as the battle for Kyiv is raging. Ukraine now claiming it has not just defending off the Russian advance but pushing Russian forces back.
In the suburb of Irpin, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting, the mayor, who said his own house was destroyed, says 80 percent of the area has now been retaken and national police are going back to work there.
In the town of Makariv, just west of Kyiv, officials say it has been fully retaken. This video was posted by the Kyiv regional police and CNN has confirmed it's from Makariv.
Kyiv firefighters have had to work tirelessly to douse the flames from the Russian strikes, including on countless civilian homes, this man using his own garden hose.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was many, many bombs.
MARQUARDT: Today, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko said 264 civilians from Kyiv have been killed.
VITALI KLITSCHKO, MAYOR OF KYIV: Will listen bombing attack right now. This can be more.
MARQUARDT: It is the southern city of Mariupol that has come under perhaps the most brutal Russian assault. Drone video showing a shattered coastal town where local officials say more than 2,000 people have been killed and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says a quarter of the population is trapped. Buildings destroyed, machinery on fine. It's the end the man filming says.
The Pentagon says Mariupol has come under fire from Russian ships off the coast. This video shot in Crimea shows Russian cruise missiles being fired from ships in the Black Sea toward Ukraine. All the death and destruction by Russia in Mariupol and beyond adding up to war crimes, the U.S. now officially declaring on Wednesday.
BETH VAN SCHAACK, AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE FOR GLOBALCRIMINAL JUSTICE OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: We have all seen really horrific images and accounts from the extensive and unrelenting attacks on civilians and civilian sites being conducted by Russian forces in Ukraine.
MARQUARDT: In another blow to Putin, Anatoly Chubais, a Russian government insider for decades, is leaving his job, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Reuters is reporting that Chubais had left Russia and did not plan to return. This is the highest profile Russian official to quit since the war began.
Alex Marquardt, CNN at the State Department.
BLITZER: Alex, thank you.
Now to President Biden, he is here in Brussels, at a pivotal moment for him and for the NATO alliance as they work to try to stand up to Putin.
Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is traveling with the president. Phil, shortly before President Biden actually touched down here in Brussels, the U.S. declared Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. Give us the latest.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. It's the timing that just underscores the urgency of this moment, the high- stakes that President Biden faces when he launches into three separate serious meetings with European officials over the course of the day tomorrow.
And in that formal declaration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, quote, today, I can announce that based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia's force haves committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Now, both President Biden and Secretary Blinken said over the course of the last week that they believed Ukraine had committed war crimes, but this official and formal announcement came on public information and intelligence assessments and underscores that very real concern, which is only growing out of concern of escalations, in this case the use of chemical weapons, something U.S. officials have raised alarm about over the course of the last several days. And President Biden told our colleague, Jeremy Diamond, this morning before leaving for Brussels it was a very real threat. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, how concerned are you about the threat of chemical warfare right now that Russia is using chemical weapons? How high is that threat?
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think it's a real threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And that's not just the U.S. perspective, Wolf. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also talked about the threat of chemical weapons use earlier today and will be a subject of discussion during the meetings, the NATO meeting tomorrow. And it will be part of a wide-ranging effort to both address what has escalated over the course of the last four weeks in Ukraine, but also trying to ensure that there are new efforts to ramp up the pressure on President Vladimir Putin from the alliance that has come together and stuck together over the course of this month-long military action, and it will attempt to impose even more costs over the course of the next day or two.
It's the goal of the U.S. officials. They believe there will be outcomes. But they also understand this is a long process of war that doesn't show any signs of abating any time soon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly reporting for us here in Brussels as well. Also tonight, a senior U.S. defense official says Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces back to the east of Kyiv. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is in the Ukrainian capital for us. Sam, tell us more, first of all, about the battle for Kyiv that's under way right now.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the last 48 or longer hours, the last three days effectively, there's been very heavy fighting indeed in the north, northwest of the capital and in the absolute west, due west. There's been a lot of heavy use of multiple rocket launching systems. One went off -- very loud reports of multiple use of these artillery, almost certainly outgoing from the Ukrainians towards the city or in the environment of Irpin.
Now, Irpin has fallen to the government forces, rather been retaken as part of this counteroffensive that they launched more than a week ago. There have been two 36-hour curfews to get people off the streets in the capital city to make room for the military maneuvers that, as far as the Ukrainians are concerned, are going their way.
They also say that in the east of the city, and when I arrived here more than two weeks ago, now the concern was there was going to be a push in from that direction by the Russians. The Ukrainians are now saying they pushed the Russians back to as far as 70 kilometers outside the city. We've got no independent verification for that but we do have these images of ferocious fighting, those images you're looking at the moment coming from the east of the city, very, very intense fighting conducted there by a Muslim militia group that's part of the Ukrainian armed forces. Wolf?
BLITZER: Sam kiley in Kyiv for, Sam, stay safe over there. We will be in touch.
Just ahead, much more on Russia's war against Ukraine and how NATO forces are now beefing up troops deploy to defend the NATO alliance.
And we'll also look back on Madeleine Albright's legacy with former President Bill Clinton who chose her to become the first woman to serve as the U.S. secretary of state. Former President Clinton standing by to join us, that's next.
We're live her in Brussels, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're back with our live coverage from Brussels of emergency NATO talks on Russia's war against Ukraine. It's brutal. But there's another major story we're following this hour, a sad story, the death of the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as the nation's top diplomat. She was 84 years old.
Joining us on the phone right now, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us. Very sad news about Madeleine Albright, a woman you and I knew well. You, of course, named Madeleine Albright first as ambassador of the United Nations during your first term, then you nominated her to become the first woman to serve as secretary of state during your second term. How are you remembering her and her incredible legacy tonight?
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): Well, I was going back over my life with her starting with when we met in 1988, and I liked her the minute I met her. She was so smart, so well-informed and level-headed. And she thought -- by the time we started talking when I was running for president that we had both an opportunity and an obligation after the fall of the Berlin wall to try to finally build a Europe that was free, peaceful and democratic for the first time since nation states arose on the continent.
And she worked for it every day and believed in it. And she did a hell of a job at the U.N. and later at the State Department.
BLITZER: She certainly did. And you say few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served. That's a direct quote. How did her life experience prepare her to take on some of the biggest crises facing the United States and the world?
CLINTON (voice over): First of all, she knew how to live under a cloud of uncertainty. Her family had to flee Czechoslovakia twice, once because of the Nazis and once because of Stalin. And she didn't like either options because she knew that the Czechs wanted to be free to chart their own course in life. And it left an indelible impression on her.
They finally came to the United States, her dad was a professor at the University of Colorado. And Madeleine wound up teaching at my old alma mater Georgetown, where I think on at least two occasions she was voted by the students as the most outstanding faculty member. But she was far more than an academic partly because of the agonizing personal experiences she had been through as a child.
And she understood clearly that the people caught in the middle between Germany and Russia didn't want to trade Hitler in for Stalin, that they wanted to be free to chart their own course. And she pursued policies that were consistent with that, not only in Central Europe but also where we were trying to bring stability and opportunity to people in Latin America and in Asia. She didn't like authoritarian dictatorships and she didn't like arbitrary violence.
BLITZER: Secretary Albright met your wife, Hillary Clinton, through her work for the Children's Defense Fund. And said Secretary Clinton wanted to give a voice to those who can't speak for themselves. It's interesting because it's two women who both served as U.S. secretary of state. How unique was their relationship?
CLINTON (voice over): They were always, until the end of Madeleine's life, close friends, almost soul mates. And they agreed on not everything but almost everything. And they worked together closely. They tried to support each other, and she was a really brave and steadfast supporter of Hillary's when she ran for president both times.
But they also did a lot of things in the world together. And when Hillary was involved in the Irish peace process by getting in protestant and catholic women together and working for peace, Madeleine was supporting that. When Madeleine was involved in democratic initiatives around the world after she left the State Department, Hillary was supporting her. They had a wonderful relationship.
BLITZER: Yes. They certainly did. I understand the two of you actually spoke, you and Madeleine Albright, recently and actually discussed the issue of Ukraine, this horrible war that's going on. Can you share with us what that conversation that you had with Madeleine Albright was like?
CLINTON (voice over): Well, first of all, I knew that she had some health challenges, but I talked to her two weeks ago and she was in strong voice and her mind was sharp as a tack, and she was not about to focus on how long she had to live or didn't have to live because she knew she was getting good care and she couldn't do anything about that.
She spent the entire conversation talking about how Ukraine had to be defended and that we had put a lot of those and made a mistake to expand NATO. She said they're not going after NATO yet. And so Ukrainians have clearly proved that they didn't want to be part of Russia. And the idea that Putin was trying to sell the argument that a country with a Jewish president was actually a Nazi country was patently absurd. And she just wanted to support whatever we could do to back Ukraine.
And that's all she wanted to talk about.
She was happy. She was upbeat and she didn't want to venture in to her health challenges. She said, I'm being treated, I'm doing the best I can. The main thing we can all do now is to think about the world we want to leave for our kids.
BLITZER: I know that Madeleine Albright once attended a naturalization ceremony and remarked -- and this quote always stuck out with me when she said, and I'm quoting her now, only in America could a refugee from Central Europe become secretary of state. Mr. President, how does that resonate with you as Europe is now facing the greatest refugee crisis since World War II?
CLINTON (voice over): Well, I feel the same way Madeleine does. I think that we owe it to the Ukrainians to support them. The biggest Ukrainian diasporas are in the United States and Canada and they have done very well here.
I went -- a couple weeks ago, I was down playing golf with my friend, Governor McAuliffe, in Florida. And when we came up to the course, the person that greeted me when I got out was Wayne Gretzky, maybe the greatest hockey player in history, a Ukrainian-Canadian. I think that we all need to help them. If their country prevails, and in the end I think they will if we hang tough and give them the support they need, then they'll want to go home. And if it doesn't work out, we'll be enriched by having them in the United States and wherever else they choose to go. They're incredibly gifted people. And as we see, they're very strong-willed and resolute.
BLITZER: They are indeed. I know many of them myself, and it's a horrible situation going on right now. Mr. President, thanks so much for joining us and spending a few moments to talk about Madeleine Albright, a wonderful, wonderful woman and a great American. Thanks once again for joining us.
CLINTON (voice over): Thanks. She was a national treasure. Thanks for giving me a chance to say it.
BLITZER: Thank you. We'll continue these conversations hopefully down the road.
Coming up, we're going to break down the very chilling message from Vladimir Putin's chief spokesman who -- get this -- actually refused to rule out using Russia's nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Much more of our live coverage from here in Brussels right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're back with our live coverage from Brussels, where President Biden is preparing for emergency talks with key U.S. allies about Russia's war against Ukraine. NATO nations have even more reason to be worried about Vladimir Putin's intentions. The chief spokesman for the Kremlin leader refusing to rule out the use of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons in Ukraine during an exclusive interview with CNN Christiane Amanpour.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Could I quickly ask you, though, I need to ask you this because the world is afraid, and I want to know whether Putin intends the world to be afraid of the nuclear option. Would he use it?
DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESPERSON: President Putin intends to -- intends to make the world listen and understand our concerns. We've been trying to convey our concerns to the world, to Europe, to the United States for a couple of decades, but no one would listen to us. And before it is too late, it was a decision to launch a special military operation to get rid of entire Russia that was created next to our border.
AMANPOUR: What, to get rid of Russia?
PESKOV: Enter Russia. Because Ukraine -- actually, Ukraine started to be -- it was formed by the western countries, anti-Russia.
PESKOV: This is the problem.
AMANPOUR: Okay. Look, Ukraine is a country, sovereign. It's recognized by the United Nations. It's been around for a very long time. But I just want to know -- I want to ask you again is, President Putin -- because, again, the Finnish president said to me that when he asked Putin directly about this, -- because President Putin has laid that card on the table, President Putin said that if anybody tries to stop him, very bad things will happen. And I want to know whether you are convinced or confident that your boss will not use that option.
PESKOV: Well, we have a concept of domestic security. And it's public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept. There are no other reasons that were mentioned in that text.
AMANPOUR: So, you're basically saying only an existential threat to your country. I still don't know whether I've got a full answer from you. And I'm just going to assume that President Putin wants to scare the world and keep the world on tenterhooks.
BLITZER: Joining us now, our Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour, she's also here in Brussels getting ready to cover this huge summit here tomorrow.
Christiane, how sobering was it to hear this right-hand man for Putin basically talk about the possibility of using nuclear weapons as a result of this war?
AMANPOUR: Well, it's really difficult to internalize that because that is really the outer limit that has never, ever been breached. I mean, the whole idea of nuclear weapons was the deterrent nature, the mutually assured destruction. But in the years since these weapons became much smaller, like tactical nukes, which are less powerful, for instance, than the Hiroshima bomb, suddenly it seems people are able to talk about it with a level that is somehow less shocking than it might have been in yesteryear.
But it's still very shocking. President Putin started this by putting the option on the table when he said several times that if anybody deterred or tempted to interfere with his operation in Ukraine, the worst consequences you can imagine in history could happen. Remember, he said that. Then he said he that he had put his deterrent forces on combat alert.
And then when I asked Dmitry Peskov whether he could rule out that his boss would order such a strike, he essentially didn't rule it out. Although he said that only if it was an existential threat to Russia would that be used or contemplated.
But, clearly, NATO, the United States, others, have to factor this in as well, and they are doing so. And it clearly plays a huge part in why they do not want to go in a more aggressive, more present military formation, whether troops on the ground, in the air, aircraft, they don't want to do that in Ukraine because of this fear.
BLITZER: As you know, Christiane, the U.S. State Department officially publicly declared Russian troops in Ukraine are engaged in war crimes against Ukrainian civilians, and they're extensive and they went through all sorts of examples of that. How do you think Putin is going to react to this? We earlier heard the president, the secretary of state and other U.S. officials suggest that, but now it's official.
AMANPOUR: It is official and it is yet another layer by the only superpower of this condemnation and of this attempt to build eventually a legal case. Some say that it could shove Putin's back further against a wall and that he has no way to come down and nowhere to go but eventually to The Hague.
But, of course, these are allegations we have to say right now, despite what we're seeing, despite the video, despite the reports of what we hear from the victims and the civilians inside Ukraine. These are still under law allegations. They still have to be prosecuted and adjudicated and formal charges still have to be leveled and these things take time.
But, as you know, more than a week ago, the International Criminal Court, the chief prosecutor there, started investigations in this regard because he had been asked to do so by 39 members of the United Nations. So, that process is already starting.
I cast my mind all the way back some 25 years or so, this is what happened in the Balkans when Slobodan Milosevic, who was the Balkan strongman who, as you remember, tried to lay waste to Bosnia, genocide, ethnic cleansing and tried to do the same in Kosovo, he was indicted on charges of crimes against humanity and others.
And, eventually, it did lead to his downfall. His people eventually went into the streets, there were protests. There was final a democratic election. He lost and thereafter he was arrested and taken to The Hague. And you saw that happen to the leaders of the Bosnian/Serb military as well arms as well.
So, these investigations do happen. It remains to be seen clearly in this case what will be the end. And, clearly, it remains to be seen how one can do that because the ICC does not have any arrest or deterrence power. And we wait to see how this war plays out.
BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour helping us better appreciate what's going on, the history that's unfolding, about to unfold tomorrow here in Brussels as well. Christiane, thanks very much.
AMANPOUR: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, CNN talks with an emergency medic who regularly drives his ambulance from relative safety in Poland over the border into war-ravaged Ukraine.
BLITZER: We're back with our live coverage from Brussels, where President Biden is now on the ground preparing for some very high- stakes talks with U.S. allies about Russia's war against Ukraine. He's also planning to visit Poland, where millions of Ukrainian refugees have sought safe haven including many who are sick or wounded.
CNN's Ed Lavandera shows us how some ailing refugees are getting out of Ukraine alive.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The air raid sirens no longer startle Didrik Gunnestad.
DIDRIK GUNNESTAD, VOLUNTEER AMBULANCE DRIVER: The sirens are telling us it's no danger anymore.
LAVANDERA: With that, he eases the nerves of a mother and her two children he's just picked up at the train station. Tonight, he will drive them to Poland.
Didrik Gunnestad struggles to explain how a 27-year-old from Norway has found himself driving an ambulance through the streets of Lviv.
GUNNESTAD: That's the most difficult question, actually.
LAVANDERA: He's part of a volunteer team evacuating critically ill hospital patients and refugees from Ukraine.
GUNNESTAD: I just wanted to help do something, not sit and home and just look at everything on the T.V.
LAVANDERA: Most days, Didrik drives into Lviv from Poland with an ambulance full of medical supplies and distributes the loads to hospitals facing grave shortages.
Zoryana Ivanyuk is the medical director of the St. Nicholas Hospital in Lviv. She says since the start of the war, her hospital has been overwhelmed treating every day seriously ill patients.
ZORYANA IVANYUK, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, ST. NICHOLAS HOSPITAL, LVIV: He brings us some medicine, some equipment which we need so much. That's why we are thankful for him and his team. It's really a dream team.
LAVANDERA: Hospitals are struggling to handle all the patients needing critical lifesaving care. That's where Didriks team comes in.
GUNNESTAD: We have just delivered a lot of equipment to that hospital and to another hospital. We went to the train station and picked up a few refugees as well.
LAVANDERA: He's lost count of how many patients and refugees he's driven out of Ukraine.
GUNNESTAD: I have helped a lot of kids, women and children who needs to go out of the country, and in the places we are getting the people, they don't have anyone else. For right now, they only have us.
LAVANDERA: Didrik and his team of paramedics and nurses have spent almost three weeks crisscrossing the city, answering any call for help that comes in.
How stressful is it to drive around Ukraine right now?
GUNNESTAD: Oh, my God, it's horrific and it's not possible to explain.
LAVANDERA: This area of Western Ukraine has seen just a few Russian airstrikes since the war started nearly a month ago, but Russian forces have targeted hospitals and civilians in Eastern Ukraine. Didrik knows he's driving into potential targets. It's a risk he's willing to take.
Is doing this worth dying for for you?
GUNNESTAD: Yes, it is.
GUNNESTAD: Because it's so meaningful what I'm doing. When I see these crying children who are really sick and needs to get out, I feel a responsibility.
LAVANDERA: For Didrik Gunnestad, it feels like the road to saving Ukrainians goes on forever.
Ed Lavandera, CNN, Przemysl, Poland.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, thank you very, very much.
An important note for our viewers, for information how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to cnn com/impact and help impact your world.
Coming up, the U.S. gets access to American basketball star Brittney Griner for the first time since her arrest and imprisonment in Russia. We're going to tell you how she's doing. We have new information. That's coming up next, as our live coverage from Brussels continues.
BLITZER: Here in Brussels, President Biden is just hours away from his first round of talks with NATO allies about Russia's war in Ukraine. We're also following a long-awaited update on American WNBA player Brittney Griner detained in Russia since mid-February.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. He has new information.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, State Department officials will only say that Brittney Griner is in, quote, good condition, but they're offering virtually no other details. Tonight, analysts are worried about her longer-term prospects in Russian custody.
TODD (voice-over): For the first time since her arrest and imprisonment in Russia in mid-February, American basketball star Brittney Griner has been able to meet with a U.S. official. The State Department's top spokesman today telling reporters an official from the U.S. embassy in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner.
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: She's doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances. We'll continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network to see to it that she is treated fairly and that her rights are respected.
TODD: U.S. officials are not saying where Griner is being held or providing specific details on the conditions she faces in Russian custody.
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA HEAD OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: The actual physical conditions of life in a Russian prison. I mean, it's -- it's pretty horrific. It's even more horrific if you are an American these days, as you can imagine.
TODD: The only inkling we've had about Griner's conditions in jail came last week when Russia's state-run news agency TASS cited a Russian prisoner advocate saying Griner was sharing a cell with two other women, and then at 6'9", her bed was too short for her.
Jason Rezaian, "The Washington Post" writer who was held in Iran for nearly a year and a half is worried that the timing of the incarcerations of Griner, along with fellow Americans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed couldn't be worse.
JASON REZAIAN, WASHINGTON POST OPINION WRITER: The risks are exponentially higher during wartime, exponentially higher that something might happen to them while in the hands of their captors.
TODD: Russian authorities have accused Greiner smuggling significant amounts of narcotics substances after finding cannabis oil.
One factor working against Griner, one analyst believes, her status as a famous athlete, given that a Russian figure skater just went through a high profile doping scandal at the Winter Olympics and Russian athletes have been banned from several competitions because of the Ukraine invasion. [18:50:00]
HALL: The international uproar and outcry over the Russian government's handling of those situations with regard to their own Olympians makes it even worse that Griner was a former Olympian herself in my view.
TODD (on camera): U.S. officials say they've also asked for consular access to Americans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed for months, but it hasn't happened. They were both arrested and convicted separately, long before the war for crimes they have emphatically denied -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us -- Brian, thank you very much.
Tonight, NATO -- NATO is preparing to double the number of battle troops it has deployed to its eastern flank as the alliance keeps a very watchful eye on Russian invasion forces in Ukraine.
Let's discuss with CNN military analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.
Colonel, thank you so much for joining us.
Show us where these additional battle groups will be deployed and tell us why they're so key potentially to deterring further Russian aggression.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, absolutely, Wolf. Where they'll be deployed is right here in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. So, you see, these are the countries that are either bordering or really close to Ukraine and Moldova. And the idea behind this is to show the Russians that we are going to be protecting not only the eastern flank of NATO, but the southeastern flank as well.
So, all of this area in the Balkans and all this area that borders western and southern Ukraine. That's going to be important part for these battle groups and that's going to hopefully send a message to the Russians that they can't overstep this area.
BLITZER: The Ukrainians have launched counteroffensives aimed at reclaiming territory lost to the Russians. Show us where Ukrainian forces could actually push the Russian army back.
LEIGHTON: Wolf, two areas, mainly here. We have this town of Makariv right here, which is about 30 kilometers west of Kyiv, then when you have this area in the northeast of Kyiv, a lot of what where he see here as red indicating Russian presence in this area. A lot of that is no longer red or close to no longer being red.
What has happened is the Ukrainians have pushed forces back in this direction in the west and in this direction to the northeast, and what that means is that these forces are moving forward. They basically pushed the Russian forces back about 30 kilometers or so from their original positions, so it's a major change.
BLITZER: Certainly is.
Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, we're following another day of sharp questioning for U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Turning to Capitol Hill and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court confirmation hearing, CNN's Jessica Schneider has the latest on another contentious day of questioning.
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: Good morning, Senator.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the questioning of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson winds down, Republicans seem to be ramping up their criticisms of Jackson's judicial record. Her sentencing decisions in child pornography cases continue to be a flash point.
Senator Lindsey Graham accusing her of giving offenders supervision, instead of jail time.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You think it is a bigger deterrent to take somebody who's on a computer looking at sexual images of children in the most disgusting way is to supervise their computer habits, versus putting them in jail?
JACKSON: No, Senator. I didn't say versus.
GRAHAM: That's exactly what you said.
JACKSON: Congress has directed courts to consider various means of achieving deterrence. One of them, as you've said, is incarceration. Another, as I tried to mention, was substantial periods of supervision once the person --
GRAHAM: So, if I could --
JACKSON: Jackson tried to cut off the questioning when pressed again by Ted Cruz.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): You sentenced them to 28 months. Why?
JACKSON: Senator, I've said what I was going to say about these cases. No one case can stand in for a judge's entire record.
CRUZ: But I'm discussing every one of the cases so if you're not going to explain it --
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Senator, would you please let her respond?
CRUZ: No, not if she's not going to answer my question.
SCHNEIDER: An in-depth CNN review shows Judge Jackson mostly followed common judicial sentencing practices in a handful of child porn cases she's handled. And a group of retired federal judges including two Republican appointees sent a letter to the committee saying Jackson's record on sentencing is entirely consistent with decisions from judges around the country.
But Republicans have not found that reasoning satisfactory, continuing to press their belief that Jackson is, quote, soft on crime.
SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): There is at least a level of empathy that enters into your treatment of a defendant that some could view as maybe beyond what some of us would be comfortable with, with respect to administering justice.
SCHNEIDER: Jackson shot back that she sentences in a way that is tough, but also compassionate and later, she turned emotional.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): You faced insults here that were shocking to me, well, actually, not shocking.
Don't worry, my sister. Don't worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you're here.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And this could ultimately come down to one of the closest confirmation votes in history. Though, of course, Democrats do have just enough votes on their own to make it happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting for us -- thank you very much, Jessica.
I'll be back tomorrow here in Brussels for another special SITUATION ROOM. We'll be live from Brussels beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.