Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Biden Makes Historic Visit To Kyiv In Middle Of Russian Invasion; Zelenskyy Warns Of World War Risk If China Backs Russia On Ukraine; Ukrainian-Born GOP Lawmaker Reacts To Biden's Trip To Kyiv. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 20, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Alec Baldwin got a break, today. Prosecutors downgrading the manslaughter charges, against him, in the 2021 shooting death, of cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, on the set of the movie, "Rust." The decision, which also applies, to the film's armorer, reduces the prison time that they could receive, if convicted, by five years.

The news continues. THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER starts now.




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER: Tonight, an extraordinary moment, in a war, at a crossroads.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.


BLITZER: The President of the United States, on an unprecedented and dangerous trip, into Ukraine, as Russia's invasion nears one year, of barbarism, and bloodshed.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): This conversation brings us closer to victory.


BLITZER: President Biden's visit to Kyiv, a defiant rebuke, of Vladimir Putin, as the world asks, "When will this war end? How far will the U.S. and allies go to defend a democracy on the brink? And what will Putin do next, in his unprovoked attack, on a sovereign state?"


BIDEN: Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin's war of conquest is failing.


BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers, here, in the United States, and around the world.

I am Wolf Blitzer. And this is a Special Edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Biden is back in Poland, tonight, after a day that will go down, in history, preparing for another momentous day, tomorrow, when he, and Vladimir Putin, will be delivering dueling addresses, nearly 800 miles apart.

President Biden traveled, under a cloak of secrecy, to the capital of Ukraine, early this morning, the city that Russia thought it would be able to capture, right at the start of its invasion. But Kyiv still stands, almost one year into this war.

And what a dramatic show of solidarity, to see President Biden, standing, alongside President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in broad daylight, right in the heart of a democracy, under attack, with a very audible reminder, of the extreme danger that exists around them.




BLITZER: The surprise trip, coming on the eve, of a speech, by Putin, to his nation, attempting to justify a second year of bloodshed.


BIDEN: Putin's war of conquest is failing.

He thought he could outlast us. I don't think he's thinking that right now.


BLITZER: So, how will the Russian leader respond to President Biden, only hours from now?

We have team coverage coming up.

We'll go live to Fred Pleitgen. He's in Moscow, this hour.

Kaitlan Collins is live, in Warsaw, where the President just arrived. Clarissa Ward is live, in Kyiv.

Sam Kiley is joining us, from Kharkiv.

But first, let's go to Jim Sciutto, for more, on how this very, very secret trip came together.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a complicated journey, from the U.S. capital, to the Ukrainian capital, began, on Sunday morning, at 4:15 AM, here in Washington, with stops at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany, for refueling; another stop then, at a Polish airbase; the rest of the journey, to Kyiv, on a train, from Poland, to the Ukrainian capital.

We should note the U.S. gave a heads-up to Russian, in advance. This, not for Russia's convenience, in effect a warning, "Do not fire on the Ukrainian capital while the U.S. President is there."

We should also note, the U.S. air assets were deployed, right up to the Polish border, careful not to cross, into Ukrainian airspace. They did not want to come into conflict with Russian Military resources, there. But close enough, both for overwatch, for the President's safety, and also in the event that there was an attack, and the President was injured, in some way, they would have the ability to evacuate him, and quickly.

I should note that of the President's small team, there was also a medical team, traveling with President Biden.

That final leg, on a train, from Poland to Kyiv, an unusual train trip, for a President, known as, Amtrak Joe, for all his trips, back- and-forth, from here to Delaware. But this is the path, into Kyiv that world leaders, U.S. officials, and others, have used, the safest, not the fastest route, to Kyiv, from Poland, but the safest route.

BLITZER: 10-hour, 10-hour trailing.


BLITZER: Not short at all.


BLITZER: Stand by, Jim. I'm going to get back to you.

I want to go to CNN Anchor, Kaitlan Collins. She's joining us, from the Polish capital of Warsaw, right now, where President Biden just arrived.

Kaitlan, you're also, I understand, getting some new information, on the President's visit. Update our viewers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this had been a trip that they had really been planning, for months. Of course, initially, the public schedule that the White House put out had President Biden coming to Warsaw first. As we all know now, that did not happen.


There was that detour, to Kyiv, as he left the White House, as Jim was noting there, in the early hours of Sunday morning, traveling with the shades down, on Air Force One, also traveling with the shades down, on the train that he was taking, to Kyiv, once he had gotten to Poland, and was going into Ukraine.

And it was something that they had been planning for months. But instead of typically going into large groups of staff, and throughout the agencies, inside the Administration, only a few people were told about this, Wolf, because obviously, it was so sensitive, and so closely-held that it was not something that could be shared, widely, for planning.

And it was last Friday that the President gathered, in the Oval Office, with his top aides, and made the final decision, to go to Kyiv. He was presented, essentially, with security options, what the risks were, what this would look like. And he made the final decision, to go.

And Jake Sullivan, his National Security Advisor, was essentially describing that as he believed, yes, there was a risk, but he believed that risk was worth taking, because of the message that he was going to be sending, by going into Ukraine, just days before that one-year anniversary.

And I think the idea that they did give the Kremlin, a heads-up, just a few hours, a heads-up that he would be coming into Ukraine, is notable. That is not some kind of diplomatic nod, from the United States, to Russia. That instead was for de-confliction purposes, which essentially means to avoid the possibility, of an unintentional or intentional Russian strike. That was for the President's safety, why they told them that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, President Biden, and Russian President Putin, as you well know, are set to give these dueling speeches, tomorrow, just ahead of the one-year anniversary, of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

So, what message do you expect President Biden to deliver, given that we actually heard him call out Putin, directly, earlier today?

COLLINS: He did. He challenged him directly saying basically, he got it wrong, what he thought was going to happen, has not happened. That does not mean they're in this ideal scenario. Obviously, there is still a war, a brutal war that is waging, in Ukraine. But talking about just how far Putin's expectations have fallen, from what he thought was going to happen, just a year ago.

And Wolf, you and I were here, in Warsaw, 11 months ago, listening to President Biden, speak, in the same place that he's actually going to be speaking, tomorrow. And that was when he made that comment, about Putin, saying he cannot remain in power. Of course, it's still a feeling that the President shares, today.

But what you're going to see, on display, tomorrow, is President Putin will speak first. Then, you will hear, from President Biden, hours later. It will be two vastly different worldviews, autocracy versus democracy, this, theme that you've seen President Biden return to, time and time again. That is going to be more of what he's saying, tomorrow.

But underneath all of that, there will still be questions, about what other support the U.S. is prepared to provide to Ukraine. You've seen what they've called for, what was not delivered there, today. Those are going to be the big questions, coming out of those two dueling speeches, tomorrow night. It will be a remarkable split-screen though.

BLITZER: Certainly will.

And Kaitlan, I'm so glad you're there, in Warsaw, covering all of this for us.

Right now, I want to bring back Jim Sciutto. He's got more.

So Jim, how does this latest round, of what $500 million, in U.S. military assistance, to Ukraine, fit in with the bigger picture, the billions that have already been provided?

SCIUTTO: Well, let's look at the headline figure. So far, since the start of the war, close to $30 billion. It's a big headline figure. But when you place it, in the context, of the overall U.S. defense budget, in 2023, $816 billion.

That means the aid to Ukraine, and we're speaking specifically here, of military assistance, amounts to less than 4 percent of the overall U.S. defense budget. And U.S. officials have made the point for that 4 percent the U.S. has contributed, to really the decimation of Russia's ground military capability.

Let's get into what is the bulk of that aid. A lot of its ammunition, I mean, 102 million artillery rounds, I was told that Ukraine is firing in a day, what it takes the U.S. about two weeks to make. I mean, that is the pace of the war, at this point, a whole host of anti-tank systems, they had an enormous effect, particularly in the early stages of the war, neutralizing Russia's advantage, and heavy armor.

More recently, the focus has shifted to vehicles. And I want to draw attention, to a couple categories of those. We know the effect, the HIMARS, the Howitzers, highly-accurate artillery and rocket systems have had striking Russian forces, even far behind lines. More recently, the focus on Abrams tanks. We're also seeing Leopard tanks, coming from Europe, and other partners, Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

Why these now? These give Ukrainian forces, the ability, not just to defend territory, but also, they hope, to take territory back. There's an enormous amount of hope, among Ukrainian Military leaders, right now, that with these weapons, Stryker vehicles, from the U.S., as well, they'll be able to push back, against the Russians, and take back some of the territory, taken in, since the first, well, first year now, of this invasion.

BLITZER: Yes, an impressive amount of arsenal, an impressive amount, indeed, so far.


BLITZER: And presumably going to get even much, much bigger.

Jim, standby for us.

I want to go down, to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is standing by for us.


Clarissa, despite this new infusion, of U.S. and allied Military assistance, the Ukrainians are still pleading, and pleading, and pleading, for more.

What can you tell us about that?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they see what's coming on the horizon, with this Russian offensive, and they want to be prepared for it. They don't want this to turn into a protracted stalemate. And they know that in order to try to precipitate, some kind of victory, they say they need long-range artillery, fighter jets, things of this nature.

Now, we did hear President Zelenskyy's Chief of Staff, Andrii Yermak, today, allude to the fact that potentially some kind of agreement, or some kind of movement, was happening, with the White House, and Vancovan (ph) that he said, "Issues are being resolved, and those that were stuck have been sped up."

We don't know specifically, what he was talking about there. But as mentioned, these more heavier weaponry are exactly what they have been looking for, what they have been asking for.

In the short-term, though, the most desperately-needed thing, here, in Ukraine, militarily, is ammunition. According to CNN's own reporting, Ukrainians have been burning through ammunition, particularly in the east of the country, in Bakhmut, at such a rate that the U.S. and NATO have not been able to produce it fast enough, to replenish it.

So, we did see today a guarantee of a lot of ammunition, coming, this way. That will be greatly received. But now, the next question becomes, how can they push, to extract that heavier weaponry that's more difficult, for the U.S. to agree to.

We have seen the U.K. agree in principle, to start training Ukrainian pilots, on U.K. fighter jets, although they then did sort of roll that back, and qualify it by saying that it could take years.

And that's the real concern, Wolf, for Ukrainian officials, is that they don't have years.

BLITZER: Yes, they don't.

All right, Clarissa, standby. We'll get back to you.

I want to get back to Jim Sciutto, right now, take a closer look, at the next phase, of this war. We're anticipating Russia's spring offensive to begin as the weather gets better.

So, what can we expect from Putin's next move?

SCIUTTO: Well, the focus of the fighting, in recent weeks, has been here, along the eastern front. And really, they become the killing fields of Eastern Ukraine.

The casualties, on both sides, staggering, sometimes many hundreds a day, both Russian forces, and Ukrainian forces, why, a hailstorm of artillery fire, back-and-forth, rocket fire back-and-forth, along this frontier, with minimal gains, sometimes, measured in yards per day.

Now, the focus, in recent weeks, has been discussion, of a Russian offensive, a spring offensive. You've heard a lot of advertisements, of this, particularly from the Russian side.

But the U.S. Military view of this, I've spoken to U.S. Military officials, about the U.S. assessment, of Russian capabilities, is that that offensive is more aspirational than realistic, because though Russia has amassed a large number of forces, here, they don't have the quality of forces, the training, and they don't have the equipment, to gain serious ground, perhaps, for another several months.

At the same time, Ukraine believes they have an opportunity, now, to push, in this direction, and perhaps even crucially, cross this border, with those weapons, we've been discussing, the Stryker vehicles, the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and tanks, such as the Abrams, and the Leopard - Leopards, from Germans, and other NATO allies, to not just defend this frontier, but take back territory, already taken from Russia.

It's going to be a brutal, deadly fighting season. The Ukrainians think they have the advantage.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, reporting for us.

Jim, thank you very much.

Just ahead, so what happens if China joins in, on this Ukraine invasion? President Zelenskyy offering a very, very grave warning, to the world, tonight.

How worried is the United States, about talk of World War III? We'll ask President Biden's Deputy National Security Adviser, standing by live.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Mounting concern, tonight that China may increase its support, of Russia, by arming it with lethal weapons. As U.S. officials warned China that doing so would cross a red line, Ukrainian President, Zelenskyy, raised another alarm that China's involvement would risk what the President of Ukraine calls "World War III."

The geopolitical fault lines deepened further, as China's top diplomat, traveled to Russia, today, while President Biden touched down, in Ukraine.

Let's get some insight, right now, from a White House insider, who was directly involved, in planning President Biden's unprecedented, very dangerous trip to Kyiv.

Jon Finer is joining us. He serves as Principal Deputy National Security Adviser, to the President.

Jon, thanks so much, for joining us, on this historic very busy day.

We'll get to China in a moment.

But let me start with the President's historic trip, to Kyiv, today. The planning took, I understand, months. But the President only made the final decision, to go, on Friday. How did he make the decision, to visit what's clearly an active war zone?


The President had been briefed, on the plan, as it came together over a period of months. And again, in recent weeks, he went through all the details, down to the kind of minute, of each movement, each meeting that would take place, and how the security team, and others involved, in conducting the trip were going to think about, and manage risk.

On Friday, he gathered with his senior White House staff, and with his National Security cabinet, Secretary of State, his Secretary of Defense, Intelligence officials, and talked to the group, about the prospect, of going ahead, with the trip, and ultimately decided to do so. Believed the risk was manageable, and believed the message that it would send of solidarity, and support, for the people of Ukraine, was well worth going ahead.

And when you conduct a trip, like this, you can plan perfectly. But in an active war zone, there are always things that can go wrong or unknown factors that hadn't been taken into account. We were very gratified that everything went as well as it did today.

BLITZER: Was there anyone Jon who is actually advising him, not to go? I asked the question, because, as a former White House Correspondent, myself, I know the U.S. Secret Service, is always nervous, about wherever the President of the United States goes.

[21:20:00] FINER: So, one thing I think that I take seriously and, is a real privilege, about being involved, in these discussions, is you don't then walk out, in front of the TV cameras, and talk about who came down, on which side of the argument. Ultimately, everyone was comfortable with the President proceeding, and he is the ultimate decision-maker, made the decision (inaudible).

BLITZER: (inaudible) decision, why did you guys make a decision, to inform the Russians, of the President's trip, in advance of it becoming public knowledge?

FINER: It was something that we discussed, for a while, and advanced the trip.

And ultimately, the decision was made that with security, and safety, being the utmost priority, we were better off letting the Russians know, so that they could de-conflict anything, that they were contemplating, because we didn't want them to misperceive, any unusual activity, treat it in the wrong way.

And so, that was the decision that was made. We conveyed that information just before the President departed. And again, everything went more or less as planned.

BLITZER: In regards to China, right now, this is a huge issue. You heard President Zelenskyy's warning today that China's support for Russia, with lethal weapons, could lead to a Third World War.

Does the White House, Jon, share those fears?

FINER: Well, look, leaving aside that ultimate worst-case scenario, we have been quite clear that we ourselves have mounting concerns, about Chinese support, for Russia's war efforts. Secretary Blinken spoke to this, earlier in the week.

And look, China is, to some extent, trying to have it both ways. They are making a public presentation, about the desire, to play a role, in diplomacy, to try to end the war. Meanwhile, we have concerns that they may be actually increasing their support to Russia.

I think our strong view is if China is actually interested, in ending the war, they should talk to the Ukrainians, consult with the Ukrainians, about what their requirements would be, for the war to end, and not funneling increasing amounts of support, potentially, to Russia, which could stop this war, at any moment, if it desired to do that.

BLITZER: What action, Jon, is the Biden administration willing to take if, if China offers lethal support to Russia?

FINER: Look, we don't want to get ahead of any decisions. We've been quite clear about our concerns. We have options available to us.

But we're not about to sort of lay them out, in advance of conversations that we have, with the Chinese, that we have with the Ukrainians, and that we have with our partners, and allies, who very much share the concerns that we've spoken about, publicly, during the course of recent weeks.

BLITZER: We've seen how this war has shifted the U.S. position, on military aid, to Ukraine, ramping up, to include the Patriot air defense missile system, and now a commitment to send battle tanks.

Is sending F-16 fighter jets, or longer-range missiles, also a possibility?

FINER: The President has spoken to this. And I'm not going to elaborate on his comments.

But what I will say is we have made decisions, about security assistance, at every phase of this conflict that have been tailored to what we believe the Ukrainians needed, to be successful, on the battlefield, in that moment.

Early in the war, that was Stinger anti-aircraft systems. That was anti-tank rounds, the Javelin systems. And that enabled the Ukrainians to fend off an assault, on their capital, where the Russians were trying to take over the entire country.

That shifted into more of an artillery war, in the east, and we have been providing enormous amounts of artillery, so the Ukrainians could compete, with the Russians, who have enormous amounts themselves, during that phase of the conflict.

More recently, it's been armored vehicles, tanks, as you mentioned, but also armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, for the next phase of the war, where the Ukrainians would like to go, on the offensive themselves, later this spring.

We are we are working with them, to get the equipment to do that. We are training them on the best way to go about that. And every phase of this is tailored to what we think their operational needs are. And that's going to continue.

BLITZER: While I have you, I want to get your thoughts on this.

The U.S., today, joined more than 30 countries, to call on the International Olympic Committee, to reverse its decision, last month, to enable Russian and Belarusian athletes, to join the upcoming Olympic Games.

Why was it important for the United States to take this stance?

FINER: Look, I will let the decision of the U.S. Olympic Committee speak for itself. It's not a policy decision that comes before the White House. So, wouldn't be appropriate for me to offer a view on it, but, certainly nothing to contradict anything that they've decided.

BLITZER: But do you support that decision?

FINER: I'd have to look at it more carefully, honestly, before just going out and commenting on it.

BLITZER: Jonathan - Jon Finer, thank you very, very much. I know it's an incredibly busy day, today. Thanks for joining us. We'll continue this conversation, for sure, down the road.

Up next, what will Vladimir Putin say, tomorrow, after being upstaged, by President Biden, today? We're live in Moscow, with the Russian leader's plans, to address his people, taking on even more importance, right now.


And the first and only Ukrainian-born member of the U.S. Congress, with her view, on whether the U.S. is doing enough, to help her home country.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back to a Special Edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, we're awaiting reaction, from Russia, after President Biden's historic visit, to Ukraine.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is joining us, from Moscow, right now. He's got details.

Fred, we're expecting to hear directly, from Putin, tomorrow. What do you anticipate?


Well, one of the interesting things, about today, is that from the Kremlin, we actually heard absolutely nothing, about President Biden's visit, to Kyiv. We thought that possibly the Kremlin would react. But there was absolutely nothing.

And I think one of the reasons for that is that obviously the Russians are gearing up, towards that Vladimir Putin speech that is going to happen, only in about seven hours, from now.

And I can tell you, from being on the ground, here, there's a lot of people, in Russian politics, who do believe that that is going to be a very important speech, and that is one that is probably going to set the stage, on how the Russians continue, what they call, their Special Military Operation.


Now, as far as President Biden's visit though, of course, it was everywhere, on Russian media, throughout the entire course of the day. And, of course, there were other officials, who did comment on it.

One of the things that they played on was the fact that obviously, the White House, as has been mentioned, on the show, informed the Russians, before President Biden went. There were some Russian officials, who criticized that, or some Military bloggers who criticized that, but also some Russian officials, who said that it showed that President Biden needed security guarantees.

One of them is Dmitry Medvedev, the former President of this country. I want to read you a quote from him.

He said, quote, "Biden, having received security guarantees in advance, finally went to Kyiv... And here it is important to note that the West already delivers weapons and money to Kyiv quite regularly. In huge quantities, allowing the military-industrial complex of NATO countries to earn money and steal weapons to sell to terrorists around the world."

So, you can see some pretty harsh words, there, from the former Russian President. But this is really a narrative that the Kremlin has been putting out there, essentially saying, "Look, they're not only fighting against Ukraine. But they believe that they're also fighting against NATO, and specifically the United States," Wolf.

BLITZER: Are there any signs at all, Fred, any signs at all, that Putin may be backing down, or looking, for some sort of exit ramp?

PLEITGEN: Well, there is - right now, there certainly isn't at all. And that's certainly one of the reasons or one of the things that we also expect to hear, in that speech, from Vladimir Putin.

Being on the ground, here, speaking to people, who are in Russian politics, in Russian media, Russian commentators, none of them believe that right now, Vladimir Putin is anywhere near backing down. In fact, it seems as though he is doubling down.

One of the things that the Russians still seem to believe, is they think that they can outlast the Ukrainians, but that they can also outlast the support that the Ukrainians are getting, from the U.S., and especially the U.S.' European allies.

So, look for the speech tomorrow, to be quite a harsh one, one in which Vladimir Putin tries to rally this nation behind, what he calls the Special Military Operation, where he's going to double down on that.

And the Russians certainly also do believe that that offensive that seems to be shaping up, in the east of Ukraine, by those Russian forces, that that is something that will happen, but not necessarily something that will happen, in a fast way.

They think it could be a slow-moving thing. And that just with the fact that there are so many Russians that they can mobilize that they could, in effect, overwhelm the Ukrainian forces that are on the ground, there, in the long-term, because again, they believe that they are simply in it, for longer than the Ukrainians could hold out.

But definitely, look for a very, very harsh speech, from Vladimir Putin, tomorrow, and certainly Vladimir Putin showing absolutely no signs of backing down, or of wanting to compromise, in any way, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, thank you very much. Fred Pleitgen, live in Moscow. Appreciate it. Let's continue the discussion, right now, with Republican congresswoman, Victoria Spartz. She's the first and only Ukrainian- born member, of the U.S. Congress.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you've been back to Ukraine many times, since this brutal war began, a year ago. What message does it send, for the President of the United States, President Biden, to make this risky trip, to Kyiv?

REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): Well, I think it was very important, even though, I disagree with a lot of things, with President Biden. But I think it's very important.

It's very tough war. American people spend a lot of money. A lot of Ukrainians are dying. It's a very brutal war. I think, for the President of the United States to go there, and to show our support, it was very important.

I think, it's been politicized, this war, a lot. And I hope President Biden does other things that, is going to be uniting our Congress, and our country.

Because, we have a lot of politics, and Ukraine get dragged in into politics. It's not very healthy, because I truly believe, American people support these efforts, what Ukrainian people are doing, on a bipartisan basis, and too much politics hurts our efforts.

BLITZER: As you know, a small number of your Republican colleagues, actually criticized President Biden's trip, to Kyiv, today, arguing he should be more focused on problems, here, at home, like the border, or the Ohio toxic derailment issue.

What do you say to those Republican colleagues of yours?

SPARTZ: Well, I think, these issues are not mutually exclusive. I think we have some very serious issues that we need to deal, in our foreign policy agenda.

We also have some internal issue, including border security. And I hope President Biden will try to find common ground, with Republicans, to deal with it, because it's a serious situation. We actually have our Judiciary Committee, going to the border, in few days, and try to get attention.


So, I think, if President Biden wants to start governing, instead of doing politics, he needs to deal with both of this issue. Otherwise, it will be very divisive. And I don't think we should be divided. It's really very harmful, for our country, what we have, right now. We have a lot of drama, a lot of circus, a lot of politics. But, I think, governing - country is really in need of governing.

BLITZER: President Biden today announced an additional $500 million, in new U.S. Military assistance, to Ukraine. We're talking about ammunition, and other weapons. Do you believe the U.S. needs to start providing fighter jets to Ukraine?

SPARTZ: Well, I think, we also, we need to provide whatever it takes, for Ukrainian people, and Ukrainian military, which is amazing, brave and tough, a lot of young people, are fighting brutal battle, whatever it takes for them to win.

We shouldn't say like, "We are not going to do this, or we're not going to provide this." We shouldn't even like tweet about what we're providing.

We need to help the Ukrainian people to win this war. And we need to make sure that we do it promptly, and proactively. We're doing much better now than we did a year ago. But I think if we are more proactive, it saves a lot of lives, and it saves a lot of money, for American people too.

BLITZER: At the same time, Congresswoman, and I've taken a look at some of your public statements, in recent weeks, and months. You've been calling for more accountability. You're also pushing, for the U.S., to deliver assistance, much faster, to Ukraine.

So, how do you balance that accountability, as well as delivering Military assistance quickly?

SPARTZ: Well, I think, proper accountability actually will streamline logistics, and make sure that actually, the aid does get to the right people, to the frontlines. Because, Ukraine is a very complicated country, with a lot of infiltration, potential sabotage, a lot of corruption. And a lot of people, that can take advantage of this situation.

But it's also have a lot of very brave people, fighting for freedoms. So, the more efficient logistic is, the better system we have set up, the more oversight, we have, in reporting back to Congress, and to the American people, the more successful, we're going to be in this effort.

And I think efficiency is going to bring us better results. So, I think better oversight, it will make us much more efficient, and more strategic, and have better policies. So, I think, Congress needs to request it and, on a bipartisan basis.

And I truly, I'll be honest with you, Republicans and Democrats did a lot of work, to put pressure, on this Administration, to become better and more efficient, on what aid we're supplying to Ukraine, because ultimately, it's reflection of the American people.

BLITZER: But you've expressed some concern, in the past, about corruption, in Ukraine. Is that right?

SPARTZ: Well, I did. And, I think, it's like - listen, it was - I was very surprised to see that. Actually, this is my constitutional duty, to make sure that regardless, who was in charge, a Republican, or Democrat, we have oversight, of the money that we're spending. And I was very surprised to see that I got criticized from both sides of the aisle, because that was the job we have to do. And I think putting pressure, on actually, the Administration, it made us much better. I think we need to do more.

We're seeing what's happened in Ukraine has a lot of problems, with corruption. I've noticed that a lot of people that been involved in corruption didn't have any consequences of them doing what they're doing. And it's actually demoralizing, for the Ukrainian people, the brave people that are dying for freedoms.

And I think we should put pressure, to make sure that they have democratic institution, functioning, and make sure that, they're not going to steal their money, and then ask us for more money. That will be very important, for us, to have it. So, we have a long-term support of this effort.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Victoria Spartz, thank you so much, for joining us. We'll continue this conversation, as well. Appreciate you.

SPARTZ: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: So, what does it mean for those who still call Ukraine, "Home," to see the Leader of the Free World, standing, with their President, in Kyiv? CNN talks to Ukrainians, including one woman, going through an especially painful moment, in this war, as our Special Report continues.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.




BIDEN: 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.

ZELENSKYY: We'll do it.


BLITZER: For many everyday Ukrainians, President Biden's unprecedented visit, to Kyiv, is a welcome show of support, after nearly a year of suffering, under Russia's brutal invasion.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Sam Kiley, is joining us, right now, from Kharkiv, in Ukraine, in the warzone, there, with details.

Sam, what are Ukrainians telling you, about the President's trip? What's their reaction?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I've just come from an area of villages, near the town of Kupiansk, which is a very, very close indeed to the frontline. Indeed, the villages there are getting pounded, on a pretty regular and increasingly intense level.

And the reaction there was, first of all, and we were speaking to people, as Joe Biden's arrival, in Kyiv, was being made official, and public knowledge, just before he was meeting, or as his meetings got underway, with President Zelenskyy, people were, if they were cognizant, were really focused on getting aid. They were being distributed, a limited amount of international aid, lot of it denoted by the Buffet - or Buffett Foundation.

But this, though, was very kind of moving, in a sense, because for many people, living near the frontline, the war is so raw, it's very difficult, for them to focus at all, on the grand politics.

This was the reaction of one elderly woman, there.


KILEY: Did you know that President Biden is in Kyiv, today? The American President, just arrived, in Kyiv, today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I did hear yesterday that he was coming that it would be Lukashenko, Putin and Biden, right. Or who? I saw this on TV, yesterday that they'll be meeting.


KILEY: No, they're not meeting. But they - he's come to show solidarity, with Ukraine. He's meeting with Zelenskyy, today. What do you think of that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They'll be burying my son- in-law, tomorrow. They'll bring him in a coffin. Cursed be the war.


KILEY: The generalized curse on the geopolitics that has led to private and personal misery, for yet another Ukrainian family there, Wolf.

But we also spoke to one man, and he repeated the sort of wider statement, a wider reaction, to American and international help. "Give us more weapons." This is what he said.


KILEY: What do you think of Biden's visit to Kyiv, today? The American President is in Kyiv, meeting Zelenskyy, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It is for the best.

KILEY: Do you have a message for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What would I tell the American President? Give us more weapon so we could kill all these orcs.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KILEY: Now, of course, this area, Wolf, is being pounded, as I say. It's also an area that was liberated, in September, from the Russian invaders.

And they're very, very anxious, both at the government level, and at the local level that this pounding they're getting from, artillery, is the precursor, to a more wide and more aggressive Russian offensive, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just stay safe over there. Sam Kiley, thank you very much, for that report.

Coming up, the secret and historic mission, to put the President of the United States, into an active war zone, a truly extraordinary risk, for an American President, no major American Military presence, to watch his back, at least not now. How this day compares to the legacies of past American Commanders-in-Chief, when our Special Report continues.




BLITZER: President Biden's historic visit to Ukraine marked the first time, an American Commander-in-Chief traveled into a war zone, without a major U.S. Military presence, there, to protect him.

Our Brian Todd has been digging into previous presidential visits, to war zones.

So, Brian, how does a top secret trip, like this, take shape?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it involves meticulous planning done, almost entirely in secret, with complicated logistical arrangements, and a little bit of faith that luck will carry them through.


TODD (voice-over): It was at the height of World War II, and the conflict still wasn't going America's way.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt engaged in a high-stakes game of misdirection, tricking journalists, into thinking he was taking a train, to his home, in Upstate New York. But he secretly switched trains, in Baltimore, headed to Miami, then took a series of arduous plane hops, and ended up in Casablanca, Morocco.

It was January 1943, the first time a sitting American President rode on an airplane, a trip shrouded in secrecy, so that FDR could strategize with Winston Churchill, a journey fraught with danger.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: In World War II, you not only had the possibility of the Commander-in-Chief being shot down, but the technology was such that air travel was not as safe, in the 1940s, as it is today.

TODD (voice-over): Some U.S. troops, in Morocco, didn't know their President was coming, until he rode past them, in a jeep. Historians say war-zone trips, for American presidents, have always been complicated, even dating back to the Civil War.

LINDSAY CHERVINSKY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: At least 12 presidents have gone to war zones, in the past, starting, of course, with Abraham Lincoln, in the Civil War. There are those famous pictures of him, in his top hat, visiting Union soldiers, to boost their morale. But it is a big risk.

TODD (voice-over): Lyndon B. Johnson went twice, as President, Richard Nixon, once, to Vietnam, while the war there was raging.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, RICE UNIVERSITY: I know when Nixon went in 1969, to Saigon, all of his advisers were saying, "Don't do it. It's too dangerous."

TODD (voice-over): George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, went to Iraq, and Afghanistan, to visit U.S. troops.

NAFTALI: Islamists would have been very happy to assassinate George W. Bush or Barack Obama. And so, when those presidents went to Kabul, and Baghdad, respectively, they were taking huge risks.

TODD (voice-over): When George H.W. Bush, as a former President, visited Kuwait, in 1993, Saddam Hussein's Intelligence Service tried to have Iraqi operatives assassinate him, a plot that was narrowly foiled.

Presidents have taken these risks to boost troops' morale, to strategize with other commanders, and sometimes to decide whether a war should even continue.


TODD (voice-over): That was Dwight D. Eisenhower's objective, as President-elect, when he took a secret trip to South Korea, in December 1952.

NAFTALI: Eisenhower not only went to meet the troops, not only went to meet the South Korean leader, but actually took a plane, over Chinese and North Korean positions, to get a view, himself, of the nature of their defenses. That was an extremely hazardous trip.


TODD: Historian, Tim Naftali, says, despite the sometimes incredible risks, the rewards are very high, that as Commander-in-Chief, it's crucial, for a President, to show their commitment to the fight, and to show that not only to American forces, but also to their adversaries as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sends a powerful message, indeed. TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: President Abraham Lincoln, we're told is the only (ph) American President, to actually have come under fire, at one point. Is that right?

TODD: That's right. Extraordinary moment, there. July of 1864, Confederate troops were assaulting Fort Stevens, right here, within the Washington, D.C. boundaries.

Lincoln goes out to see the battle. He looks over the top of the fortifications, and he almost gets hit with gunfire. The Legend has it that a soldier told him, "Get down, you damn fool." But he came close that day, to getting hit.

BLITZER: Interesting historic note.

Thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting for us.

We'll be right back, with some important notes, about a monumental day, tomorrow.

This is CNN's special coverage.



BLITZER: A very big day, tomorrow. Again, President Biden delivers a major speech, from Poland. And Russian President, Vladimir Putin, gives his own speech, just ahead, of the one-year mark, of this war.

I'll be back tomorrow, of course, in THE SITUATION ROOM, 6 PM Eastern.

And I'll be back for another Special Edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, tomorrow night, 9 PM Eastern.

Among other guests, we'll speak live with the former British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who's visited Ukraine, several times, since the war began.

And our own Christiane Amanpour will interview the Polish President, President Duda, on what he's pushing President Biden to do.

Lots going on, we have a full, full Special Report, coming up, once again, tomorrow night, 9 PM Eastern.

To all of our viewers, thanks very much, for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota starts right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Good evening, everyone. I am Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to a Special Holiday Edition of CNN TONIGHT, on this Presidents' Day.