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Biden Wraps Unprecedented, Dangerous Trip To Ukraine War Zone; Biden's Message To Moscow Says Putin's War Of Conquest Is Failing; Former President Jimmy Carter Receiving Hospice Care At Home; Strong Aftershock Hits Turkey Two Weeks After Devastating Quake; North Korea Launches 3 Missile Tests Over 3 Days, Threatens More. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 20, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the war zone, President Biden wraps up an unprecedented and dangerous visit to Ukraine, air raid sirens blaring as he and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walked the streets of the capital. The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States is standing by live to discuss the importance of this trip nearly a full year after Russia's brutal invasion.

We'll also get new insight into the secret planning for President Biden's very dangerous travel to Kyiv and the direct messaging he's sending to Vladimir Putin, as the Russian leader is expected to unleash a major new military offensive in the weeks ahead. Key White House official John Kirby joins us this hour.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

President Biden is in Poland this hour after personally delivering a strong message of support to the people of war-torn Ukraine. His high- stakes, high-risk trip coming at a very pivotal moment in the fight against Russia's unprovoked invasion.

CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is traveling with the president.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For President Biden, a dramatic moment months in the making --

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: One year later, Kyiv stands, and Ukraine stands, democracy stands.

MATTINGLY: -- to mark the resilience of a nation and U.S. support after more than 361 treacherous and deadly days of war, the first U.S. president to travel to a war zone where U.S. troops were not deployed and did not control the airspace. The acute risks punctuated as the two leaders walked on the streets of Kyiv. BIDEN: I thought it was critical that there would not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in their war against the brutal attack by Russia.

MATTINGLY: Coming after 24 hours of closely held secrecy that followed intensive security precautions, Biden had quietly pressed advisers for a trip to war-torn Ukraine for months, sources said, only to be rebuffed due to security concerns.

BIDEN: They will not let me, understandably, I guess it, cross the border and take a look at what's going on in Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: That changed late last year as he looked to the one-year mark of Russia's invasion, testing a small group of White House, Pentagon and Secret Service officials to put together a trip with no historic precedent.

AMANDA SLOAT, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE, NSC: The president ultimately decided it was a calculated risk and one that he was prepared to take.

MATTINGLY: Departing in the cover of darkness at 4:15 A.M. on Sunday morning, accompanied by just a handful of advisors. Two reporters on the trip were required to turn over their electronic devices. He flew to Poland where he boarded a train for the roughly 10-hour trip to Kyiv. U.S. air assets deployed at the Poland/Ukraine border to keep watch, official said.

SLOAT: We did send a notification to the Russians several hours before the president left, primarily for de-confliction purposes.

MATTINGLY: And while the Russian response was not characterized, Biden's message to Russian President Vladimir Putin unequivocal.

BIDEN: Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the west was divided.

He's just been plain wrong.

MATTINGLY: Biden arrived in Kyiv at 8:00 A.M. local time. The massive convoy setting off a stream of social media chatter in a city that had been completely locked down without explanation. 30 minutes later, he stepped out of a white SUV to greet President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian first lady. Biden pledged another $500 million in assistance as Zelenskyy again raised the issue of more advanced weapons system the U.S. has not agreed to send.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We've also talked about long-range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine even though it wasn't supplied before.

MATTINGLY: For two leaders, critical decisions to come, but one unmistakable message to the world.

BIDEN: To remind us that freedom is priceless. It's worth fighting for as long as it takes, and that's how long we're going to be with you, Mr. President, for as long as it takes. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, U.S. officials will not have to wait long to get a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He's expected to give a highly anticipated address to his nation tomorrow. Just a few hours later, the president is going to give his planned address here in Warsaw, an address that was supposed to be the cornerstone of this trip until he arrived in Kyiv by surprise.



BLITZER: Lots going on right now. All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you very, very much.

Let's go live to Kyiv right now. CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is standing by. Clarissa, how is President Biden's visit being received where you are right now in Ukraine?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's fair to say, Wolf, that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. There was a lot of buzz this morning as social media images started leaking of this massive motorcade passing through town, a lot of people wondering whether it could be the U.S. president. And then after President Biden had left the square just behind me, we saw a steady stream of Ukrainians coming through, taking pictures of the wreath with the U.S. flag on it.

And when I spoke to some of those people, they were saying things like, wow, it's amazing, it's exciting, one woman said, the big boss came to town. We talked to another group of students though, who underscored that while this was a very important symbolic gesture of support, and while they hoped it sent a strong signal to the world, they also hope that it will be followed up by more in the way of that heavy weaponry we have heard Ukrainian officials asking for again and again, that we also heard President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again today reiterating had come up in their discussion, long-range artillery, fighter jets, things of this nature.

We did hear from the chief of staff of President Zelenskyy's, Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak, who said that, quote, issues have been resolved and those that were stuck have been sped up. A little bit cryptic, not clear exactly what he's referring to but certainly some confidence from the Ukrainian people today that better days may be ahead with this renewed signal of support, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, stand by. We're going to get back to you in just a few minutes. We have lots to discuss. But right now, I want to bring in the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us on this historic day.

As you know, the president of the United States stood in Ukraine's capital today and vowed to stand by with your country, stand with your country, and then he said these word words, as long as it takes. Can you describe the gravity of that moment? OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: It's almost impossible to describe it with words, but today, once again, when President Biden was in Kyiv, was with our president, we understood what we knew before, that even though our countries are divided by thousands of kilometers and ocean, we are united by bravery and by love to freedom and our willingness to fight for it.

So, it has been very important for the people of Ukraine to see American president on the Presidents' Day in Kyiv and saying that our strategic friend number one, United States is with us in this fight.

BLITZER: It certainly is. What kind of morale boost, Ambassador, does a visit from the president of the United States give you, your fellow officials, the Ukrainian troops and the Ukrainian people? How important is this?

MARKAROVA: Very important. After historic visit of President Zelenskyy from Bakhmut to Washington, this has been yet another historic visit. First time American president visit a country in war, but also that after the December visit of President Zelenskyy, there were so many important decisions taken. And we understand and we know and we hope that this visit and this discussion among friends will also unlock a lot of additional support, which is so needed in order to finish this war faster and in order to bring just peace to Ukraine faster.

BLITZER: As you know, Ukraine has been pleading, has been asking repeatedly for heavier U.S. weaponry, more sophisticated U.S. weaponry, including fighter jets, so far, the U.S. has not yet supplied that equipment to Ukraine. Does this trip increase hope that that type of military assistance might be granted?

MARKAROVA: Well, look at how many capabilities we have been able to receive and what is even more importantly, successfully deploy in Ukraine. We are discussing everything with our partners here. And I know after President Biden and his team was able to see on the ground not only the horrific destruction and atrocities but also how decisive Ukrainians are in defending our homes, in defending democracy, I'm positive that both of our countries are wanting peace more than anyone else. And the more weapons, the more prayers, the more financial assistance that we can get, the faster that peace can be achieved.

BLITZER: As we all approach the one-year anniversary this week of this brutal war, what are you bracing for, Ambassador?


What do you think the next phase of this war will look like?

MARKAROVA: We do not have any illusions. We know what Russians are capable of. We have seen all kind of war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine. So, as we approach one year mark of the full-fledged aggression and nine-year of the start of this war, we are prepared for everything.

We are ready to meet whatever Russians are going to bring on this anniversary and on. We are ready to defend our country. And as I said a year ago, Ukrainians will not give up and will not surrender. And that's what we will do. We will not surrender and we will not rest until we win.

BLITZER: Has the United States briefed you, Ambassador, on the concerns, deep concerns right now, about China potentially providing Russia with so-called lethal support weaponry?

MARKAROVA: We know that Russia is looking for weapons everywhere. We have seen Iranian drones. We have seen them talking to North Korea and to others. I really hope that the countries who do believe in sovereignty and territorial integrity will not join forces with this evil, declining, authoritarian country that is violating the U.N. Charter.

So, I mean, we are concerned about anyone potentially helping Russia and I truly hope that it's clear to the majority of countries now, if not all, that Russia cannot win this. Russia should be held accountable and punished for their actions if we all want to live in the country with international rule of law.

BLITZER: Ambassador Oksana Markarova, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all of the people of Ukraine as well.

We're going to break down what we just heard from the ambassador with our correspondents and commentators. They're covering all the angles of President Biden's historic trip to Ukraine. That's coming up, you see them there, right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says President Biden's unprecedented wartime visit to Kyiv is bringing Ukraine closer to victory against Russia.

Let's bring in our correspondents in Ukraine and in Poland. Clarissa Ward and Kaitlan Collins are both standing by, and our political commentators here in the United States are joining us as well, David Axelrod and Adam Kinzinger.

Clarissa, you just heard the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States describe the morale boost President Biden's visit has given Ukrainians. What impact do you expect this visit will have as the one- year anniversary of this war approaches?

WARD: I think, Wolf, there's no mistake about it. This was a much- needed shot in the arm. The symbolism of this visit was incredibly powerful. We know that President Zelenskyy has asked repeatedly in the past for President Biden to visit. He said during the press conference that the two of them gave that this conversation had brought Ukraine one step closer to victory. And, really, it's being seen as a sort of guarantee that the U.S. is in this for the long haul, that they believe Ukraine can do it, and that they're going to help them go about doing it.

In terms of the real-time, substantive on the ground impact of the trip, I think it's difficult to judge yet. Obviously, the greatest short-term need at the moment is ammunition. That has been a huge problem for the Ukrainians, particularly in the east, fierce fighting in Bakhmut. They are burning through ammunition quicker than NATO and the U.S. had been able to resupply it. That appears to have been addressed today.

But the broader, long-term question here is about those heavier weapons, that long-range artillery, potentially those fighter jets. Some clues that there may be some progress on that front from the Ukrainian side, but nothing specific being described yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, you're in neighboring Poland right now, where President Biden is it tonight as well. What more can you tell us about the strategy, strategy behind the scenes as the White House planned this truly unprecedented trip by a president to a war zone?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, you covered the White House for such a long time. You know all the planning and level of detail that goes into a presidential trip, especially a secret one to an active war zone where there are no U.S. forces. That's typically not what you would see. When the president went to the Middle East in the past, there were a lot of U.S. military on the ground. It changed the calculus here.

But what President Biden and his team essentially decided here is that the risk that they were taking by sending him into that active war zone was worth the message that they were sending, that unwavering support for Ukraine, that message that Clarissa was just talking about that comes in real dollars but also in just the idea that he was on the ground there.

And it's literally the story of trains, planes and automobiles, Wolf. I mean, he left Washington before dawn. He got on a plane where the shades were drawn. It was kind of not where typically you would see cameras where he goes and gets on Air Force One, it was off to the side. He then flew to Poland. That is where he boarded that train for that ten-hour ride that he took into Kyiv. And that is how he got there.

They did not fly into Kyiv. They cannot fly, of course. And so like other world leaders, he took this ten-hour train ride as he was there on the ground. Then got back on the train, took the ten-hour ride back, and then flew here to Poland safely, of course, making it across the border.

But it was a remarkable trip that was shrouded in secrecy. They took the cell phones of the two reporters that they brought with them. Only really a handful of staff, including a photographer and a small medical team and a few aides went with President Biden here. And it just speaks to the level of how much they tried to keep this clandestine as he was making this visit.

BLITZER: Good point. Adam, when we spoke last month, I don't know if you'll remember, but I asked you what message it would send if President Biden were to visit Ukraine. You told me then it would send chills -- your word, chills -- to Russian leadership. Do you think this trip accomplished that?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, absolutely. Look, when I found out, I woke up and found out he was there, it blew me away.


I mean, honestly, this is probably the most dangerous trip a president has taken that I can even think of. You think about the Middle East, and as was mentioned, he has troops and there's military. This was a very, very dangerous trip, including the train ride.

I think this shows Vladimir Putin, the Russians, and, frankly, the west that needs to stay united that Joe Biden and the United States is in this for the long haul. He's willing to do this. I think that had to be one of the more demoralizing days that Vladimir Putin had today because he's probably every day waking up, hoping, wishing that he can be some kind of a divide between the United States and the west. And I think today went a long way to disprove that.

BLITZER: Yes. When American presidents went to Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, they went to areas where the U.S. military controlled the ground and the airspace as well. This is very different. The Ukrainians were in control clearly of Kyiv.

David Axelrod, this visit sends a strong message also here in the United States. Will this change the minds of any of the president's critics who are questioning his continued support for Ukraine?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think there may be some element of that, Wolf. I also think that the unusual candor on the part of the secretary of state in the last 48 hours, charging the Chinese with thinking about giving more assistance to Russia, was not just aimed at the Chinese but also further isolates kind of the Tucker Carlson wing of the Republican Party here and strengthens the resolve of politicians and Americans who might be flagging. This is bigger than just Russia. There's more involved here.

So, I think the combination of things that have been done in the last 48 hours have been very strong in terms of shoring up American support for the allied effort in Ukraine.

BLITZER: And, Clarissa, you're there on the scene for us. So, what are Ukrainians expecting? What are they bracing for on this one-year anniversary of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine?

WARD: You know, Wolf, I think it's very important that we be clear about this. Despite the boon that Ukraine has had from these incredible counteroffensives and their successes against the Russian military, it has been a very grim winter for the people of Ukraine. The fighting is fierce in the east. In the south, in Kherson, that was recently liberated, this is now being shelled relentlessly every single day. There is an ongoing ruthless campaign by the Russians to try to target every piece of critical civilian infrastructure that they can, so that the power doesn't work well, so that there are rolling blackouts, so there is a lack of heat, so that there is not enough pressure to pump running water into people's homes.

So, it has been a very bleak time indeed and there are really concerns that Ukraine has low stamina at this stage, that people are exhausted, that they have also lost a huge number of troops. Russia obviously at an even greater rate, but Ukraine too is suffering from many soldiers who are being killed in action.

So, it is a very difficult time, and they are looking at the horizon ahead, and they are hoping that they are going to continue to get the support they need to carry them through what could be a very ugly spring.

BLITZER: Indeed it could be. All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, key White House National Security Official John Kirby joins me here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: More now on our top story, President Biden's historic visit to Kyiv, as Ukraine approaches the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion.

For more on how Vladimir Putin might respond, let's bring in CNN Contributor on Russian Affairs Jill Dougherty. Jill, Putin is set to give a major speech to his nation tomorrow. What will you be listening for?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Well, it's a very important speech, number one. Essentially, it's his state of the union. They've been furiously writing it for a long time. It's in the press. It's a very big deal for Putin. What I will be looking for is any sign that he feels, that the Kremlin feels, that he was upstaged by Joe Biden. I think they definitely do. But what did they do about it?

So, I would look for something perhaps dramatic. We know that there probably will be some army of soldiers who have fought in Ukraine. And who knows, but I think we have to look for something a little bit unexpected.

But then the themes are definitely going to be very, very, you know, strongly, the country has to pull together, unity, victory. I think we can look for a big chunk of criticism about what is called in Russia the satanic west and the United States. But, essentially, I think it's very important for Putin. He feels it's very important to look strong.

There's a lot of criticism right now not only about Biden's trip but about how poorly the Russian military has been doing. And there's implied criticism. It never really quite comes to the top, but criticism of Putin himself. So, he has to look very, very strong.

BLITZER: How desperate will Putin be, Jill, for any symbolic military victory just ahead of the anniversary of his invasion?


DOUGHERTY: I think he definitely is very -- really desperate for something like that. But what can they do? We don't know. There could be something being planned right now. But so far, at least in the fighting, they have not been able to carry that out. We don't know.

I mean this could be -- in his speech, he will talk about something that will happen in Ukraine. You know, Mr. Putin often does like surprises and he likes a show of force. So, we'll have to see what he dreams up for this one, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thank you very, very much.

And joining us now, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, Retired Admiral John Kirby. John, thanks very much for joining us.

As you know, President Biden was clearly presented with a range of options for this historic and very important trip. Why was he so adamant about visiting the capital, we're talking about Kyiv, in Ukraine, despite the obvious danger that still exists?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION: Well, he asked his team for a complete operational plan here that could -- to take a look at the risks for the commander in chief to go to a wartime country like this, in the capital of a wartime country, and they did that. They presented him a plan where some of that risk could be mitigated, not all of it, of course. The president felt comfortable with that plan and with the preparations that his team had made and went ahead and executed it. And he thought it was really important for him to go in an unprecedented way, a historic way, right on the eve of this anniversary of this brutal war in Ukraine.

BLITZER: The U.S. did notify Russia of the president's trip a few hours before he left. Did the U.S. receive any formal or informal assurances about the president's safety? Because as you know, we heard air raid sirens overhead while he was actually walking on the ground in Kyiv.

KIRBY: It's a war zone. There's no doubt about that. And Mr. Putin continues to launch strikes inside Ukraine. I won't get into the details of the diplomatic conversations, but we did notify the Russians in advance so that they knew.

What's really important is that the president had a terrific meeting with President Zelenskyy, a great one-on-one time. These are two men that obviously know each other well right now, to talk about all the things that have been done to get us to this point, but more critically what's going to be required from -- not just from the United States but the rest of the world in standing up to Mr. Putin and to support Ukraine going forward.

BLITZER: But without getting into sensitive diplomatic details, did the president, did you guys get some formal assurances from the Russians that the president would be safe?

KIRBY: I'll just tell you that nothing we did in the lead-up to him actually heading into Kyiv gave us reason to change the plan or the risk mitigation that was put into place.

BLITZER: The president announced yet a lot more military aid to Ukraine today, but President Zelenskyy says they also discussed other weapons that may be supplied in the future. We know the Ukrainians really want U.S. fighter jets. Why not start at least training Ukrainian pilots, knowing the debate on that and the timeline of actually providing jets could take much longer?

KIRBY: Well, there's no plan to train fighter pilots right now on U.S. fighters. The president has spoken to this. We're going to stay in touch with the Ukrainians and with allies and partners about their needs. You can't hardly blame President Zelenskyy for taking every opportunity that he can to ask for more systems and to ask for that to be provided to Ukraine as soon as possible given the stakes in front of him in the weeks and months ahead. And the president was grateful for this opportunity, yet another one, to talk to President Zelenskyy about what those needs and capabilities are going to be going forward.

I won't get ahead of future announcements. You'll see us announce some more here very, very shortly, and that will continue well into the coming weeks and months.

BLITZER: Including fighter jets?

KIRBY: I won't get ahead of where we are now, Wolf. The president has spoken to this. We're going to continue to talk to the Ukrainians in lockstep, making sure that we're meeting their needs as best as we can.

BLITZER: A top European official warned today that Russia is now amassing almost twice the number of soldiers as it used in the initial invasion exactly almost a year ago. Why is Russia -- what is Russia capable of doing in this expected major new military offensive?

KIRBY: I think it's important to approach that question from understanding how much weaker Russia really is militarily. I mean, Mr. Putin's got almost 80 percent of his army, some say even more than that, dedicated to the fight in Ukraine. Think about that, a nation has big as Russia. 80 percent of their army now committed to this war in Ukraine. He continues to suffer casualties every day at a staggering rate. He's lost lots of tanks, lots of aircraft, and he's expended a large part of his inventory of cruise missiles.


So, I think we need a little bit more -- we need to be mindful of the fact that Mr. Putin has invested already a lot and lost a lot inside Ukraine. It remains to be seen, Wolf, how many more additional troops he'll be able to throw into this fight. I mean, clearly they have a larger supply of manpower in Russia than President Zelenskyy has at his disposal, but they're not getting very well-trained, they're not well- equipped, they're not well-led, they still haven't overcome all their logistics and sustainment issues.

We do think that Mr. Putin would like to take advantage of the winter to prepare for fighting in the spring, probably along multiple fronts. That's why it was so important to speak to President Zelenskyy today, to get inside where he's thinking of where things are going to go and make sure that we're ready, that the Ukrainians are ready and we're helping them be ready for the fighting in the weeks and months ahead.

BLITZER: President Zelenskyy says China risks what he calls World War III if it supports Russia against Ukraine. What have you seen that leads the U.S. to believe China is actually inching closer and closer to providing lethal support to Putin?

KIRBY: We have not seen them provide lethal support to Mr. Putin or to Russia. Now, they haven't condemned the invasion, of course, and they are still buying Russian oil above the price cap price. And we do believe that some Chinese companies have provided non-lethal support to Russia and to Mr. Putin and the military.

We have seen some worrying indications, and that's really as far as I can go tonight, just some worrying indications that China might be considering stepping up that support to Russia, to include possible lethal support and assistance. Obviously, we're going to watch this very, very closely. And as we've communicated to the Chinese publicly and privately, there will be consequences if they decide to move in that direction.

BLITZER: Do you want to elaborate on consequences?

KIRBY: I think I'm just going to leave it there, Wolf. I mean, we've been very clear about the potential consequences here should China choose to move in that direction. We would like to see China do what the rest of the world has done, and that is condemn what Mr. Putin is doing and not make it easier for him to kill innocent Ukrainian people.

BLITZER: John Kirby, thanks so much for joining us.

KIRBY: My pleasure. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll have a report from the Georgia hometown of Jimmy Carter, where the former president of the United States has entered hospice care.



BLITZER: Tonight, America's oldest living former president, Jimmy Carter, is now receiving hospice care at his home in Plains, Georgia. CNN's Eva McKend is in Plains for us tonight. Eva, how is the community there, where you are, reacting to this news about 98-year- old President Carter?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, as you can imagine, it is a mix of sadness and pride in this community tonight. You know, we have spent the last two days in Plains speaking to people and nearly everyone has some sort of story about a connection to the former president or a member of his family.

There's a great little soul food restaurant here in town called Bonita's, and he were speaking to Miss Bonita today and she was recalling when she brought her own kids to hear the former president at Sunday school. That is because up until fairly recently, he was still doing Sunday school lessons right here in town.

We also, on the edge of town, as we were driving in, there's this large peanut statue, and this was actually used during President Carter's 1976 campaign. And we saw a man sort of feverishly repainting this statue. Carter, of course, a former peanut farmer, all day today, we saw peanut trucks going up and down main street, and he told us that, essentially, he felt like he had to do this now. He was putting this off. He's a mail carrier in addition to a painter, and he really felt as though now with so many eyes on this town, that he wanted it to look good as Plains is now being looked at on the world and national stage. Take a listen to what he shared with us.


MICHAEL DOMINICK, PLAINS, GEORGIA RESIDENT: He traveled everywhere, but he, Mr. Jimmy, he started a lot of projects and stuff that a lot of people don't know nothing about, you know, just like behind the scenes. He don't want any recognition for any of that, and I do the same thing in my life. I just do stuff because it needs done, just like paint the peanut. But you don't have to -- he didn't want to make a big news statement about everything that he did, you know. He was just a simple man.


MCKEND: So, that man that you heard there, he described this community as a community of believers. It is the faith now, their faith that they are leaning on, Wolf, at this difficult time.

BLITZER: Yes, they are. Eva McKend in Plains, thank you very, very much.

I feel so fortunate that I got to spend some quality time with former President Carter back in 2019 when I interviewed him in Plains. We covered many, many topics, including some of the issues he was most passionate about during his presidency, issues that are front and center today. Here's some of that conversation.


BLITZER: When you look at your commitment to human rights, to democracy, to health around the world, to freedom around the world, when you see what's going on around the world, what are you think?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I just have a wish that our whole country could be that way, you know, be a champion of peace and human rights and environmental quality and alleviating the suffering of other people. These are the kind of things that I dream about and talk about sometimes.

BLITZER: Because you were so committed as president to those issues. You were way ahead of the curve with solar panels, if you remember, at the White House that President Reagan immediately removed.


You know, you were thinking about -- what you were saying then, a lot of people are saying right now.

CARTER: Well, we have a solar field now on our farm right inside the city limits of Plains that provide enough power, you know, on a normally sunny day. So we still maintain that commitment. And I would hope that our country can overcome the handicaps it faces now and have the same result in the future.


BLITZER: We are, of course, thinking of President Carter and his family tonight as he continues hospice care.

Coming up, Turkey takes another devastating hit, rocked once again by a powerful aftershock. We'll go live to the scene. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, southern Turkey is reeling from a powerful aftershock that's killed at least three people and injured hundreds. The devastating hit striking two weeks after the region's catastrophic earthquake.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live for us on the scene.

Jomana, first of all, what are you learning about the search and rescue efforts that are currently underway?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, the Turkish authorities are confirming that at least three people have been killed, nearly 300 are in hospital with 18 of them in serious condition, according to the minister of health. And you have several of these search and rescue operations taking place in Hatay province where we are right now in and around the city of Antakya. This is one of the hardest hit by that devastating earthquake two weeks ago.

Now, this search and rescue operation we've had members of the different emergency services in the country, the different agencies that have been working for hours now. They're entering the seventh hour of this search and rescue operation. There are three people who are still trapped inside. We don't know if they're alive, but they are continuing to search for them. One person has already been removed from the building, rescued alive.

Earlier, we understand that they were inside that house, the owner was rescued as these movers were trying to remove the belongings from the house. And this is something we have seen over the past couple of days. People have started going back into their homes to remove their belongings because right now you've got hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who have been made homeless, they have been living outside in makeshift shelters, in tents and trucks right after that powerful 6.3 aftershock today.

We spoke to some people who were out on the side of the street. And take a listen to what they had to say to us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were terrified of the quake. We were sitting, then electricity went off, then communications went off. Then immediately we ran outside the instant it happened. We were afraid sitting in our cars, sitting also in a tent.

It was told that there is nothing left, come back to your houses. We went back to our house and this shock happened again, and we went out. May God help us.


BLITZER: Jomana Karadsheh reporting for us -- Jomana, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, North Korea testing nuclear-capable missiles in a major provocation.



BLITZER: Tonight, North Korea's ramping up its testing of nuclear- capable ballistic missiles. And it's warning that more could be coming.

CNN's Brian Todd is following every angle for us.

Brian, tensions are clearly escalating between the Kim regime and the West right now after this latest show of force.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, from a warning from the U.N. to a warning from U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. and its allies are all saying these latest actions by North Korea are provocative, destabilizing.

As always, the Kim regime seems not only to not care but seemingly wants to stoke this fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Ominous missile launches and a new series of threats from the brutal regime in Pyongyang.

Over the past three days, three different missile tests from North Korea, including the launching of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday, which traveled more than 3,500 miles above the earth, according to state media, prompting Kim Yo-jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong-un, to issue a statement saying North Korea now has, quote, satisfactory technology and capabilities for the re-entry of long-range missiles back into earth's atmosphere. That was a capability that experts say the world was watching for, and there had been doubts about whether Kim's regime was able to perfect it.

Regarding this new claim, could they really have perfected re-entry?

JOE CIRINCIONE, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISER ON NATIONAL SECURITY: There's some debate about that, but most experts assess that this is technology well within North Korea's capabilities. Any prudent defense planner has to assume that North Korea has a re-entry vehicle that can deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States.

TODD: With these latest missile firings, Kim Jong-un has begun this year as aggressively as he ended last year, a period when North Korea launched more than 90 missiles.

PATRICK CRONIN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: Kim Jong-un is trying to build up a nuclear force on a par with not Pakistan but with United Kingdom or France. He's trying to change the future, and he's trying to telegraph to us right now.

TODD: The U.S. responded to North Korea's latest launches by holding separate military drills with south core and Japan leading to more combative messaging from Kim's sister.

Quote: Fanatics who raise tensions in the region will pay the price. Analysts say Kim Yo-jong, believe to be about 35 years old, has built a formidable portfolio, is now considered the second-most powerful person in North Korea. And they say she is the person her older brother relies on to try to intimidate their enemies.

CRONIN: She's now in charge of the propaganda and agitation department for North Korea. So, when you see really feisty statements out of North Korea, they're defending her brother, defending the brand.

TODD: But Kim Jong-un is also developing another female protege, his young daughter believed to be named Kim Ju-ae, thought to be about 9 years old.

He's taken her to a soccer game in recent days. She's been at his side at a massive military parade, at a missile launch, at a prestigious banquet. And her image is being unveiled on postage stamps.

Experts say Kim Jong-un is likely grooming her as his successor.

JEAN LEE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Showing that the Kim family is solid, that there's a line of continuity and that the Kim family is strong, these are all the kinds of images that he wants to project to the people.


TODD (on camera): Would North Korea, which has known nothing but a Kim family male as its leader, accept a female at the top? At least one analyst says North Koreans won't really have much of a choice.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'll see you again later tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern for a special prime time edition in "THE SITUATION ROOM" on President Biden's unprecedented trip to Ukraine.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.