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Russian Strikes In Lviv While Biden In Neighboring Poland; Interview With Mayor Rafal Trzaskowska Of Warsaw, Poland; U.N.: More Than 3.7 Million Have Fled Ukraine War; Ukrainian Refugee Documents Emotion While Leaving Of Kharkiv; Philippe Etienne, French Ambassador To The U.S. Discusses Biden Saying Putin "Cannot Remain In Power" & Russia Should Be Removed From G-20; Russia Signals Major Shift In Strategy Amid Ukraine Setbacks. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 26, 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 HOST: Happening now, breaking news.
President Biden declares Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power, escalating his rhetoric against the Kremlin leader and his war in Ukraine. The fiery speech capping Biden's visit here in Poland that included an emotional meeting with Ukrainian refugees who fled for their lives.
Also breaking. New Russian airstrikes in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv while President Biden was in neighboring Poland. CNN on the scene as an attack on a fuel storage facility shot flames and thick smoke into the air.
Our correspondents are covering the war from every angle with live reports in multiple locations in Ukraine as well as here in Poland.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Warsaw and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're live in Warsaw where President Biden has ramped up his rhetoric against the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a fiery speech seen around the world. Mr. Biden declaring bluntly as forcefully that Putin cannot remain in power after his bloody invasion of Ukraine.
CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly begins our coverage tonight. Phil, this was probably the most significant speech of Biden's presidency, at least so far.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. And that was by design. White House officials and the president working over a series of days to put this speech together, carefully calibrated, carefully worded to send a very clear message, not just to Ukraine that the president made clear that the United States will stand with, not even just to eastern Europe where the president was standing in Warsaw, Poland. But to the entire world about the urgency and stakes of the moment.
However Wolf, it was an adlib line about the need for President Putin to no longer be in power that has drawn a lot of attention over the course of the last several hours. The White House taking steps to walk that line back, making clear he was not calling for regime change.
But if you listen to the entirety of the speech, Wolf, there is no question about it, this was a sharp speech with a very clear design, one that the president did not mince words on. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday I met with the troops that are serving alongside our Polish allies to bolster NATO's frontline defenses. The reason we want to make clear is their movement on Ukraine, don't even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory.
A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase the people's love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down the will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.
We will have a different future. A brighter future rooted in democracy and principal, hope and light. Of decency and dignity, freedom and possibility.
For God's sake this man cannot remain in power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And you heard those words there. Again, White House officials saying that was not a push toward regime change which the White House and top administration officials, Wolf, have been clear for several weeks was never their intent.
But there was a very clear intent to elevate this moment, this sense of time, beyond just something that is happening in eastern Europe. This is a bigger issue and moment, the president wanted to deliver that.
And also underscore the point to the western democracies that have united having so thoroughly over the course of the last four or five weeks that this is going to take time, it will likely be painful particularly in the economic sense. But it is an absolute necessity to stay together given the stakes. That was the president's goal going into the speech.
White House officials believe he delivered on that goal, but certainly a lot of question, a lot of talk about what appeared at least at the time to be the call for the removal of President Putin.
BLITZER: Yes. and earlier in the day he called Putin a butcher, a butcher.
Phil Mattingly, reporting for us. Phil, thank you very, very much. There are other major developments in an especially provocative move,
Russia launched airstrikes against the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where President Biden was only a couple of hundred miles away while he's here in Warsaw.
CNN's Don Lemon was immediately on the scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We moved back a little bit because you could hear the flames roaring. And what they are concerned about is another one of these tanks exploding. So they are pushing people back until they can get control of this blaze.
You were mentioning how close it is to neighborhoods. It is really close to neighborhoods. On the other side, there is a little valley in here and the other side of a retention wall.
And Peter, if you can just go around, just a little bit and show them how close this is to a neighborhood real quickly and then we'll get back to the flames. So it's really, really close.
This is a neighborhood where everyone has gathered. All of the rescue people. And they have done this on a number of different streets. So if you'll back here.
So we are, you know, just within a tenth of a mile or so from where this is happening. But again, look at those flames. They are just roaring, black smoke, coming out of there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Don is joining us now live. He's in Lviv. Tell us more Don, about the scene of the strike that you saw today.
LEMON: It was quite a frightening scene. And getting there was a bit chaotic. And quite frankly, really a lot closer to the city center than any of us had expected when we left the facility that we were in to get to the scene.
It only took us a couple of minutes to get to the scene and we thought it would take us longer because it looks far away in the distance and we were told that it was within a valley and we would have to travel some distance.
But this was really too close for comfort. We were told that this was a fuel storage facility that was hit here in Lviv just northeast of the city. This fuel storage site.
And there was another bombardment that happened, another strike that happened a little while later, this one was at a military infrastructure site. Both of these, Wolf, are in residential quarters according to the mayor of Lviv. When this happened, there was moments before the first strike happened, we were here at the facility, those airstrike sirens went off. They had been going off occasionally throughout the week and they had slowed down a little bit later on in the week. We had one yesterday and then the one this morning was the real deal.
I had spoken to the mayor earlier in the week and I said, you know, those airstrikes keep going off. And people -- are you concerned that people are going to start ignoring them, that somehow they would become immune to them or become background noise.
He said there was a concern about that, but today was a real one. And now he is urging everyone to go into the shelters and to quote here saying "because we don't know what is going to happen now", Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And this is in western Ukraine, very significant. Don Lemon, excellent reporting for us. Thank you very, very much.
Let's go to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, right now. CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us in Kyiv.
Fred, the White House is walking back the president's direct message that Putin cannot remain in power. But how did his remarks land in Ukraine where you are? And you also got reaction from inside Russia.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly didn't go down well in Russia, certainly not in the Kremlin. It was quite interesting because right after President Biden finished his speech, I messaged the spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov and asked him what he thought about those remarks. Obviously President Biden there essentially seeming to say that Vladimir Putin needed to leave office.
And I got an answer within seconds and Dmitry Peskov said look, it's not up to the president of the United States to decide, it is up to the Russian people to decide who their president is going to be.
So clearly the Russians not happy at all with those words from President Biden. that certainly hasn't changed even after things were apparently somewhat walked back.
You know, there has been some reaction also from Ukrainian politicians. One politician came forward and she said she wasn't necessarily reassured by the words of President Biden that the rain of bombs on Ukrainian would stop after his speech and with some of the policies of the United States.
But, you know, speaking to senior officials here, they certainly are very grateful for the aid that the U.S. is giving, certainly for the anti-tank and the anti air weapons that have made such a big difference in pushing the Russian forces back in so many places especially here around the Kyiv area, Wolf.
And so they want that to continue but of course, the Ukrainians would like to see even more aid in the future, Wolf. You're in Kyiv, the capital. And we've learned that Russia has
apparently halted its advance around the capital city, but what is the latest that you are seeing on the ground there?
PLEITGEN: Well, you know what, there is still massive battles going on around the Kyiv area. This is very much a warzone, Wolf. There is no other way to describe it. And if you look at the north of the city, there are still some heavy battles going on. The Ukrainians launching a counter offensive.
And you can see some of the video here that we filmed today. You can see there's check points still throughout the entire city. But as the folks here obviously still extremely wary about the situation. And still there are rockets raining down on the outskirts of the city. There's artillery fire that you can hear almost at all times.
PLEITGEN: But I would say Wolf, over the past couple of days since the Ukrainians have been able to push the Russians back, the folks here in the city have just that little bit more room to breathe, if you will.
You can see some more cars that are on the street that are out there, some traffic on the streets as well. What you do see though is you see some of these units that you see here still making Molotov cocktails.
We talked to some of those Territorial Defense units and we asked them whether they believe that the Russians will try to come back and also how the situation is. Let's have a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Old businesses are returning to work. We're more and more shops open every day. And you can see even, you know even traffic is becoming much more denser when even two or three days ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a really strong city with strong citizens. And we defend it a lot because this is the capital and this is logical that they would try to attack us more once again and again.
PLEITGEN: But you OU will win.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, no doubt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So as you can see, Wolf, there is a bit of confidence here about those Territorial Defense forces. But at the same time, of course, they do understand that the gains made so far are fragile and, of course, there is still a very dangerous army at the outskirts of the city, Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen reporting for us from Kyiv. Fred, thank you very, very much.
And let's continue our analysis right now. Joining us, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Peter Zwack, he's the author of "Swimming the Volga: U.S. army officers experience in pre-Putin Russia. Phil Mattingly is also back with us as well.
What about White House today, General Zwack. The White House may be trying top do some damage control. But President Biden forcefully said that Putin and I'm quoting now, "remain in power". Those words carry an enormous amount of weight. What is your reaction?
BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET.): The president spoke his mind. And momentum to the ultimately move Vladimir Putin out of power. Let's remind ourselves, we had an invasion a month ago on a scale of nothing we've seen in whatever (INAUDIBLE) since the invasion of Poland in 1939.
And this was aggression in the macro level. Thousands of civilians have been killed. Cities rubbled -- that is the background of all of this. And Lviv just got hit just hours ago.
So the president stated -- he didn't say the United States was going to take the regime down but supported it, if you will, morally and in principal.
And here's what's fascinating and I'm really glad that you mentioned that just earlier Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, sort of Putin's (INAUDIBLE), if you will, stated that it should not be decided by Biden, and by inference the U.S. and the west. It should only be Putin's removal a choice of the Russian people.
There are two strategic fights. One the fight in and for Ukraine. And then to project and push through into the Russian federation which is a (INAUDIBLE) beginning to rock like it's beginning to take purchase that gets at the core of what the regime fears most that its own people decide to remove -
BLITZER: Phil, let's talk a little bit about the White House reaction to the president's ad lib line right at the end of the speech. Why is the White House doing this. Because just a week or so ago, they tried to walk back when President Biden called Putin a war criminal. They said he was just speaking from the heart. It wasn't an official statement or anything.
But then a few days after that, the administration made a formal, legal, public designation by the secretary of State Tony Blinken. Biden has called Putin a thug, a dictator, a dictator, a butcher. Wouldn't it be appropriate if somebody who's a butcher, a murderous dictator, a pure thug or war criminal not be in power?
MATTINGLY: Wolf, I think two things can be true. You can wish or hope that President Putin is not in power while also not be calling for a regime change. And I think that was part of the clarity.
I think the White House also sees it through, at least in talking to White House over the course of the last several weeks is they taken great pains not to kind of walk into the narrative often pushed by President Putin that this is just the United States pulling the strings here. [17:14:52]
MATTINGLY: This isn't about Ukraine. This is the U.S. behind Ukraine, basically making all of this happen. They don't want to turn this into a U.S. versus Russia battle although by proxy to some degree it has become one.
And they've been very cautious to prevent anything that would lead to any type of an aspiration. Obviously with another nuclear power.
They have maintained their forcefulness with NATO. They have obviously been sending lethal and economic aid to Ukraine, but they have attempted to draw the line in terms of the U.S. Getting directly involved. And I think that is where the caution comes from here.
To your point though and -- those are the points that were just made. If you look and read through the president's speech -- obviously I was there. I listened to it. I've also read through it about four times since.
so much of that speech was directed at the Russian people. So what Dmitry Peskov told Fred about the people choosing the president, the president was speaking directly to those Russian people throughout the course of the speech making it clear that there is a difference between the Russian people and Putin, making clear any pain that's because of sanctions is because of President Putin trying to separate them a little bit as well.
And I think one of the concerns from White officials is that that message would be lost and it would become more about the president versus President Putin, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Well Fred, And just as President Biden was walking out to deliver this major speech, the mayor of Lviv in western Ukraine confirmed another strike on the city just about 60 miles from the Polish border. So is the sense that Putin is trying to send a message?
PLEITGEN: Well Wolf, I think there certainly might have been a message in that. That that airstrike was very far to the west of the country and obviously the U.S. president was in a neighboring country not very far away. But it's one of the things that we've really seen in -- really in the past week or so as the Russian forces have had much more difficulty in this war effort and have pushed back here around Kyiv and also in some other frontlines as well. It's that they have been using a lot more of what the U.S. calls the standoff weapons, which means trying to strike places from longer distances.
You had that airstrike today, you can see that fuel depot burning there. Obviously strategic location for the Russians they attacked. That was several cruise missiles but it is not something that is necessarily been that uncommon.
If we look at just yesterday, the Russian struck the air force headquarters of the Ukrainian air force in a place called Dnitzia (ph) they used six cruise missiles for that. The Ukrainians saying they shot two of those down. And right here in Kyiv yesterday, there was also an airstrike on a fuel depot here as well south of the city. What the Russian say is the largest fuel depot that the Ukrainians still have that was intact at that point in time. They used a caliber cruise missile for that.
So the Russians trying to use those weapons, trying to weaken the Ukrainian's logistics and at the same again, again we have to point it out, the Russians clearly on the back foot certainly here in Kyiv and in some other places as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thank you very, very much.
Coming up, President Biden sees the refugee crisis here in Poland firsthand today. Accompanied by the mayor of Warsaw who joins us live. That is coming up next as our breaking news coverage continues.
BLITZER: We're live here in Warsaw, Poland where President Biden met today with some, some of the more than two million Ukrainians seeking refuge from the Russian invasion in neighboring -- Russian invasion in neighboring Ukraine.
The president was accompanied by the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski who is joining us right now. Rafal, thank you very much for joining us.
You've been mayor here for more than three years.
What was President Biden's message to the Ukrainian refugees? You walked around with him at the sports stadium, the soccer stadium earlier today. What did you hear?
RAFAL TRZASKOWSKI, MAYOR OF WARSAW, POLAND: It was incredibly emotional because we've heard some heartbreaking stories and the president was reassuring people and telling them that the United States of America will help -- will help Ukraine militarily with weapons and will help the people, also help the city of Warsaw with a plan to relocate 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States of America.
BLITZER: Which is really significant. But you have to give the Polish people so much credit. More than 3.5 million, maybe almost 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country to neighboring countries, more than half of them come here to Poland.
You've received them. You've opened the doors to them. And there are about what -- 300,000 or 250,000 right here in your city of Warsaw.
BLITZER: So tell us what you need. I'm sure that you are looking for some help.
TRZASKOWSKI: Indeed you know, the population of my city went up by 50 percent in a month. Of course, you know, the instinct of solidarity was just incredible. But much was based on improvisation. Of course the government did its part at the border, but here it is the volunteers, the non government organizations, all my social workers work now with the refugees.
So we need assistance. We need the European Union, the United Nations to help us out. We need a relocation system whereby we're going to share this together because we're also doing our best.
The Ukrainians are fighting for our freedom and for the stability of the Trans-Atlantic alliance, we need to help them.
BLITZER: And the Polish government is really going way, way out, not only helping them with housing and with food but with medical assistance as well for at least three years and maybe even longer.
TRZASKOWSKI: Yes. And it is again, most of the burden is on volunteers from government organizations and us here because, you know, the work is delegated on us.
But yes, I mean it is incredible. Because Ukrainians were granted almost a citizen-like status. They have access to free education, free healthcare -- here in Poland.
BLITZER: Here in Poland.
TRZASKOWSKI: And that's great. I'm very proud of that solution. But of course, it puts an enormous strain on a city like mine and our services are very overstretched and overwhelmed. That's why we need assistance.
BLITZER: What did you think of the president's speech today?
TRZASKOWSKI: It was very strong. I've heard everything that I wanted to hear. First of all, you know, this pledge that the United States of America will defend every inch of NATO territory. It allows us to feel secure and to do our job on the ground. But also, you know, those very strong words about Russia and about Putin and that he's going to pay for that.
BLITZER: That he is a thug and a dictator and butcher --
BLITZER: -- and when the president of the United States says for God's sake this man cannot remain in power, I assume you agree.
TRZASKOWSKI: Exactly. Of course. And you know, also reminding us that democracy is so important. You know, we had our share of problems with this government, with rule of law and so on and so forth. And now we need to be the strongest democracy in Europe because we cannot afford to have a weak link on the eastern flank. We need to be strong.
BLITZER: Before I let you, I've been here now for a couple days and I sense at least in my conversations that the Polish people are pretty nervous about Putin right now, they are wondering is Ukraine his final stop or could he start going after Poland?
TRZASKOWSKI: That is why the president's words were so important to us, to reassure us that we are in it together. And really when I look at President Zelenskyy, if he doesn't panic, we shouldn't panic.
BLITZER: You're not panicking right now?
BLITZER: But you are a bit nervous?
TRZASKOWSKI: We're just nervous about the future, but the most important thing now is to help those Ukrainian people who come in.
And I've just talked to my friend, Vitaly Klitschko, the mayor the Kyiv and he said we can fight because you take care of our children and our families. So we're doing our bit.
BLITZER: Mayor Trzaskowska, thank you so much for joining us.
TRZASKOWSKI: Thank you very much for having me on the show.
BLITZER: Of course, thank you. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people in Poland.
TRZASKOWSKI: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Up next, as the refugee crisis grows and grows by the hour, we're going to talk to one Ukrainian woman who was forced to flee her home but refuses to leave her country. The breaking news continues.
We're live from Warsaw. Much more of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We're back live in Warsaw, Poland, following the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. More than 3.7 million people have now fled the brutal Russian inflation of Ukraine.
CNN senior national correspondent, Ed Lavandera, is working that part of the story for us.
Ed, you are also here in Poland along the border with Ukraine. Poland alone has taken in more than two million refugees.
Give our viewers a sense of what you are seeing.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the situation has changed dramatically here at the train station here just a few miles away from the border.
This is where refugees arrive by train and really they start leaving by train here.
This area just a couple weeks ago was jam-packed with people, some 15,000 to 16,00 people a day coming through this station. It has slowed down dramatically but people are continuing to come.
And city officials told us earlier today that there are still about 1,000 people arriving by train here at this station. And also several thousand more arriving every day at the border checkpoint, walking across, and people who have driven here.
So the need for humanitarian help continues even though we're not seeing the surge of number that is we saw in the early part of this crisis.
But it continues to move on, especially on the concern that when you see airstrikes like we saw earlier today in Lviv.
There are so many people in eastern Ukraine who have moved to the western part the country, the concern is that if warfare heightened in the western part of the country that many people who were seeking refuge there might continue to poor into countries like Romania and Poland as well.
So there's that underlying concern that still remains here.
But the flow of refugees continues here, Wolf, even though that it is more controlled. And the push here right now, Wolf, is, when they land here, to move them deeper into Poland.
So there's a system of trains and buses ready to move a lot of these people out from the city on the border -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Very impressive what the Polish people are doing in Lviv.
Ed Lavandera, on the border of Poland with Ukraine. Thank you very much.
The decision to flee certainly is one of the hardest that so many of these refugees are ever faced.
Anastasia Paraskevova documented her family's emotion leaving Kharkiv, which Russia has reduced to rubble. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANASTASIA PARASKEVOVA, FLED KHARKIV, UKRAINE: I'm hoping that I will return soon enough. My sister says that it is like going on a trip. But an awful one, I guess.
So as my parents can no longer withstand it, the constant bombing, especially after last night, which was truly a terrifying thing, we are going to leave, if we live that long, of course.
So I don't want to leave. I want to be living in Ukraine. We'll be moving to somewhere just farther away from Russian border.
I don't know why but being bombarded is easier than leaving your home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Anastasia Paraskevova is joining us live.
Anastasia, thank you so much for joining us. Heartbreaking, indeed.
Tell us why you decided to flee your home in Kharkiv and why you decided to stay in Ukraine rather than leaving the country all together as so many others have done.
PARASKEVOVA: Well, I prefer to remain in Kharkiv. And still I would have been in Kharkiv right now if it wasn't for my parents who were no longer able to withstand the terrifying bombings, explosions, constant fear for your life.
Going outside to even find water, drinkable water is a quest that could result in your death.
So this kind of pressure is obviously harder for them as they are our parents and they are older than me and my sister.
So we mostly for them decided to leave Kharkiv with a really hard feeling, filled with regret, you know, and some shame for leaving people who cannot leave or will not leave. Many of my friends are still there in Kharkiv.
But a compromise is that we are not leaving Ukraine, where he is staying here where I am currently. This is close to Kharkiv.
That we will stay here and we will support our country anyway that we can.
BLITZER: That's wonderful to hear how courageous you are, Anastasia.
Russia claims, as you well know -- this is Putin's regime. They claim that they are protect people just like you Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
So what is your message to Putin? How do you respond to the claim that they are trying to protect the Russian speakers of Ukraine?
PARASKEVOVA: Honestly, the words we Russian-speaking people that he has used and Russians as people, as a while, has used as an excuse to invade countries. Not only Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, a repeated cycle.
We are so fed up with it. It's so -- I can't even say how I feel about it honestly.
But it is heartbreaking for us to be this bait for him. But at the same time, we are the ones who hate him and what Russians are doing the most.
We are Russian-speaking. We understand them, We know that everything that they say, all the propaganda, all the narratives. And it is all complete utter lies.
I've never been prosecuted for speaking Russian. It is ridiculous. The whole city of Kharkiv speaks Russian. It's just -- we have a complete choice what language we want to speak, Ukrainian or Russia.
It has never been a problem. It is a made-up story that just is used for aggression, for an execution of aggression and war obviously.
BLITZER: And Putin, in the process, has leveled so much of Kharkiv.
Anastasia Paraskevov, thank you so much for joining us.
Good luck to you and your family. And we're hoping for the best.
PARASKEVOV: Thank you.
BLITZER: You are very, very courageous. And we're grateful to you for telling us what you feel.
Thank you so much.
PARASKEVOV: Thank you.
BLITZER: An important note to our viewers as well. For information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to CNN.com/impact and help impact your world.
Just ahead, President Biden says that Putin cannot remain in power. Do American allies agree? I'll ask the French ambassador to the United States right after a quick break.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Warsaw, Poland.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Biden closes a very fiery and passionate speech here in Warsaw, Poland, with truly stunning remarks declaring Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.
But the White House denies that he is calling for regime change in Russia.
And joining us now to discuss is the French ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
Does the French government agree with what President Biden said today -- the White House later tried to walk back his words a bit -- that Putin cannot remain in power?
PHILIPPE ETIENNE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you, Wolf.
Let me speak on a personal note because I lived in Russia, I learned the language.
And what we see this horrible war started by Russia against Ukraine is not what I know from the Russian people.
French, like the other European countries, have supported politically and materially the investigation started by the International Criminal Court.
The priority, Wolf, now is to get to a ceasefire. And also to take the humanitarian actions as we try to do for the refugees, for the displaced persons, and also the besieged populations like in Mariupol.
And we have displayed a strong unity of the internal allies and the partners in the summit. And you have covered the summit in Brussels.
And there's a strong unity to increase the pressure, to increase the price paid by Russia for its aggression and to increase its support to the Ukrainian people.
This is a priority to get to a ceasefire.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you, do you agree with President Biden today? He called Putin a butcher. He said in recent days that he is a pure thug, a murderous dictator and a war criminal.
Do you agree that Putin is all of that?
ETIENNE: Everybody is horrified by the constant bombing, shellings on Ukrainian cities.
As I told you, we have, as France, more than 30 countries, including the European Union members, we have decided to support materially and politically the action, the investigation launched by the International Criminal Court.
And we focus on action in a strong unity among us. And in close coordination with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on all possible efforts to get to the ceasefire, to get to the end of this atrocities.
BLITZER: Do you agree with President Biden that Russia should be removed from the G-20?
ETIENNE: We have been working in a strong unity among alliance and partners to isolate Russia. We have a new vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations. And in all international organizations, we raise the issue. We raise also the consequences of the aggression by Russia not only
against or for the Ukrainian people, who are the first victims, but also for the whole community.
This aggression is a violation of the charter of the United Nations and also constitutes a great threat for all the vulnerable countries.
And we have raised this issue with international organizations of also food security. Food security now is a big, big challenge because of what the war started by Russia against Ukraine.
So, yes, we try to raise this issue in all international organizations to condemn this aggression and to use all effort to do this.
BLITZER: You are an excellent diplomat, but I'll take your answer, Mr. Ambassador, as a yes.
Thank you so much for joining us. Ambassador Philippe Etienne, of France, we appreciate it very, very much.
Up next, a key Ukrainian city struggles to return to some semblance of life amid the rubble after Russian forces are pushed back.
BLITZER: We're live in Warsaw, Poland. We're following breaking news. Russian signaling a major shift in strategy after meeting fierce resistance in key Ukrainian cities, and that includes the key port in Mykolaiv.
CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us from there right now.
Ben, you are now in nearby Odessa. But what did you see?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we saw is a city that, Wolf, about a week ago was still very much in the grips of war.
And even though the Russians have been pulled back, you can still hear the rumbles of war, just over the horizon.
WEDEMAN (voice-over): Once more, the people of Mykolaiv can have their daily bread.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WEDEMAN: "I see a change,: says Maxin. "Now it's getting back to normal. I really hope it will last."
The Ukrainian army and volunteer fighters have pushed Russian forces east, sparing this port city, blocking Russia's push to seize the country's entire western Black Sea coast.
The supermarkets are fully open, even if some shelves are empty. Fresh milk still missing.
Alexander and his family seem to savor the mundane task of grocery shopping.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WEDEMAN: He begins to tell us the Russians stopped, when his wife interrupts him to say, we're still afraid.
(on camera): On the surface, life seems to be resuming most of its regular rhythms. But that's just the surface.
All over the city, there are piles of these old tires, intended to be set alight to obscure the vision of invading Russian forces. And there's also among the tires, Molotov cocktails.
(voice-over): Around the city, signs of destruction. This empty hotel struck several days ago in the early afternoon.
Natasha wasn't home nearby when it happened. In this predominantly ethnic Russian city, she scoffs at the idea Russia is waging war on her behalf.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not for our home. And not for Russian people.
WEDEMAN: The Red Cross has turned this wedding hall into a center providing medicine, diapers and other supplies. What they can't provide, however, is a sense this nightmare is coming to an end.
WEDEMAN: Of course, Russian forces have been pushed back further to the east from here. But it's important to keep in mind, of course, Odessa and all these cities along the Black Sea are vulnerable to Russian sea power.
In fact, Russian warships oftentimes lurk just off the coast here or just right over the horizon -- Wolf?
BLITZER: It's still a very, very dangerous situation unfolding.
Ben Wedeman, on the scene for us as usual, thank you very, very much.
The breaking news continues next. President Biden declaring that Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power. We'll have all the late- breaking developments on the invasion of Ukraine.
We are live here from Warsaw, Poland. Much more special coverage right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:00:05]
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. A very dramatic close to President Biden's visit here in Poland as he declares Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.