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State of the Union

Interview With European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; Interview With Former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy; Interview With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Interview With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 06, 2022 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Putin's war. Russia issues threats and targets Ukrainian schools, hospitals and civilians.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The humanitarian consequences will only grow in the days ahead.

TAPPER: With no signs that sanctions are slowing the attack, can Putin be stopped?

I will speak to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Undersecretary of Defense under President Obama Michele Flournoy Next.

And pleading for help. Ukrainian President Zelensky begs U.S. lawmakers directly for help. But what more can and will the U.S. do? I will speak to the vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, ahead.

Plus: mass exodus. Europe opens its arms, as a million refugees flee Ukraine. The head of the E.U. says Ukraine should become a member.


TAPPER: But will that really happen, and how quickly? The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, joins me to discuss in moments.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is watching Russians slaughtering Ukrainian civilians in real time.

It has been 11 days since Russian President Putin officially launched his unprovoked attack against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. And the Russian leader is escalating threats, threatening Ukrainian statehood, calling Western sanctions the -- quote -- "equivalent of a declaration of war" -- unquote, as, this morning, CNN is reporting heavy shelling west and north of Kyiv, including at a checkpoint for civilians evacuating, where at least two children were killed, at least according to journalists on site.

As a suburb outside the capital city of Kyiv issues urgent calls for help, and amid intense shelling and damage asking for support to survive, down in Southern Ukraine, Russians have pummeled the city of Mariupol, where Ukrainians are in desperate situations, without water, without food without heat.

And the International Committee of the Red Cross says the effort to evacuate 200,000 Ukrainians from the region today has failed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this morning a rocket strike had destroyed the airport at Vinnytsia. Saturday, Zelensky spoke with President Biden and met with us lawmakers over Zoom. He begged for more assistance, including Russian-made planes.

The U.S. confirms it is now in talks with Poland about the possibility of sending us fighter jets to Poland, so that Poland can give their Russian-made jets to Ukraine. The U.S. has so far ruled out enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would draw the U.S. into direct military conflict with Russia.

CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is in the capital of Kyiv. She joins us now on the latest shelling.

Clarissa, what is happening on the ground there?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Jake, this morning, what we have seen is really an intensified effort from the Russians to try to push in towards Kyiv from the Northwest and also from the west.

We spent yesterday at a bridge that was downed by Ukrainians to stop Russian forces for pushing in, where hundreds and hundreds of civilians were streaming in to the relative safety of the city from an area called Irpin.

Well, today, that very spot where we were standing was hit by mortars, several of them. At least three people were killed in that attack. Two of them were children. Journalists on the scene who I have spoken to saw this with their own eyes, a very grisly scene, indeed, because, of course, Russians will have known that this area was being used to evacuate civilians from some of the heaviest fighting.

Now, the Russians have now taken control of Gostomel and also Bucha. These are areas near to Irpin. And Ukrainian authorities are saying that there are more civilians, that some of them are being held against their will, trapped in basements, and they're not being allowed to evacuate, which is very alarming, indeed, but not surprising, given the overall context of what we're seeing nationwide.

You mentioned, of course, the southern eastern port city of Mariupol, home to half-a-million people, that has been subjected to just intense bombardment for days now. Today was the day some 200,000 people were to be evacuated from Mariupol in a kind of humanitarian convoy, the International Red Cross tweeting out recently that that effort has now been disbanded. [09:05:03]

It has simply not been possible to try to get those people safely out of the city, and all of this speaking to the broader crisis that we are seeing across the country, Jake, with civilians increasingly being targeted and not being allowed to evacuate from areas where the worst fighting is taking place.

One more note from President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said that he believes Russia is preparing a strike on Odessa. That's another southern city. Again, there hadn't been a lot of fighting there yet. This will be the only major city, frankly, that hasn't been targeted in this eastern sort of half of the country.

So a significant development if and when that transpires, but a very grim picture here in Ukraine, and particularly here in the capital, where civilians fleeing the worst fighting, as I said, Jake, have ultimately found themselves in danger, and three of them at least have been killed.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward, please stay safe. Thank you again for that update.

Amid these heightened tensions, the U.S. State Department last night began more urgently pushing Americans in Russia to leave immediately.

This weekend, WNBA player Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury was detained at a Russian airport over alleged drug charges. Asked about her minutes ago, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he could not go into detail about Griner's case, but that the U.S. is always working to get Americans out of Russian prisons.


TAPPER: Joining me now from Moldova, the latest stop on his European trip, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Secretary Blinken, thanks for joining us.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: So, you say Russian strikes are hitting schools, hitting hospitals, targeting drinking water, targeting electricity grids. I understand that the U.S. doesn't want to hurt European economies, the U.S. doesn't want to risk direct military confrontation.

But it seems clear that the sanctions that have been implemented so far have not immediately stopped Putin's advance, that the line that's being drawn right now is not likely going to be enough to stop him.

So, what do you say to the innocent Ukrainian civilians who are saying, why has the West not directly intervene to save them from the slaughter?

BLINKEN: Well, first, Jake, I'm here in Europe working with NATO allies, European Union partners and others, working on, among other things, increasing even more the extraordinary pressure that's already been exerted on Russia, with unprecedented actions and sanctions that are having a crippling effect on the Russian economy, as well as additional steps that we can take to help our friends in Ukraine, including getting them even more assistance, on top of the historic aid we have gotten them to date and that has been effective.

Vladimir Putin has, unfortunately, the capacity, with the sheer manpower that he has in Ukraine and the overmatch that he has, the ability to keep grinding things down, against incredibly resilient and courageous Ukrainians.

And I think we have to be prepared for this to last for some time. But just winning a battle is not winning the war. Taking a city does not mean he's taking the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian people. On the contrary, he is destined to lose. The Ukrainian people have demonstrated that they will not allow themselves to be subjugated to Vladimir Putin or to Russia's rule.

But it could take -- it could take some time. And, meanwhile, the suffering is real. It's terrible. I have met with people who are refugees from Ukraine who have been forced to flee, women and children who are in neighboring countries, the men remaining in Ukraine to fight.

TAPPER: Right.

BLINKEN: We're doing everything that we can to bring this to an end as quickly as we can, but this still may go on for a while.

TAPPER: So, you point out, accurately, that the sanctions are unprecedented. They are. They're stronger than they have ever been.

But the U.S. still has not moved as quickly as the E.U. has on sanctions against the Russian political elite, I mean, the Duma, the National Security Council, the Cabinet, their families, the top 100 oligarchs. The U.S. has not banned imports of Russian oil. The U.S. has not ruled out trade sanctions. We're still working with the Russians on the Iran deal.

Why not do everything we can now, while Speaker Pelosi said she's willing to cut off all imports of Russian oil?

BLINKEN: We're adding to the sanctions virtually every day. We're doing it in coordination with Europeans. When there's a difference between us, if there's a loophole on one side or the other, we're closing it. That's part of the work that I was doing here.

And when it comes to oil, Russian oil, I was on the phone yesterday with the president and other members of the Cabinet on exactly this subject. And we are now talking to our European partners and allies to look in a coordinated way at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil, while making sure that there is a still an appropriate supply of oil on world markets.


That's a very active discussion as we speak.

TAPPER: The U.S. has ruled out a no-fly zone, for fears of getting into direct military conflict with Russia.

Zelensky said -- quote -- "Then give me the planes."

Now, you said you're inactive discussions about providing U.S. planes to Poland, so that they can give planes that the Ukrainians are familiar with to Ukraine.

Are you going to do that? And can you explain why the U.S. cannot give Ukraine the planes directly?

BLINKEN: So, we are working with Poland as we speak to see if we can backfill anything that they provide to the Ukrainians. We, remember, support them, providing, MiGs, Sus, planes that Ukrainians can fly, to the Ukrainians.

But we also want to see if we can be helpful, as I said, in making sure that, whatever they provide to Ukrainians, something goes to them to make up for any gap in the security for Poland that might result. We're actively talking about that right now.

TAPPER: The International Criminal Court is opening an investigation into Russian war crimes. The U.S. Embassy said it's a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant. They tweeted that out, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

But then the State Department told other embassies around the world to not retweet it, which is a confusing step. Has the U.S. seen evidence that Russia is committing war crimes or not?

BLINKEN: Jake, we have seen very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians, which would constitute a war crime. We have seen very credible reports about the use of certain weapons.

And what we're doing right now is documenting all of this, putting it all together, looking at it, and making sure that, as people and the appropriate organizations and institutions investigate whether war crimes have been or are being committed, that we can support whatever they're doing.

So, right now, we're looking at these reports. They're very credible, and we're documenting everything.

TAPPER: Western intelligence suggests that China asked Russia to not invade Ukraine until after the Olympics.

You talked to the Chinese foreign minister yesterday. You noted that -- quote -- "The world is watching to see which nations stand up for the basic principles of freedom, self-determination and sovereignty" -- unquote.

China is not doing that, are they?

BLINKEN: Jake, you're right. I spent about an hour on the phone with my counterpart, the Chinese foreign minister, the other day.

And one of the things that I said to him, as I said actually before Russia committed this aggression against Ukraine, is that China speaks often about the sanctity of this principle of sovereignty. And here you have a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the council that came into existence with the responsibility of keeping peace and security around the world, respecting the sovereignty of states, you have one of its permanent members violating that very principle.

And so we would expect China, based on everything it's said in the past, to stand up and make its voice heard. Its voice is very important in this. And 141 countries in the U.N. system came forward to condemn Russia's aggression against Ukraine and to stand up for Ukraine.

So we are looking to China to make its voice heard. That voice counts. And I hope that they will do that.

TAPPER: More than 1.5 million refugees have already fled Ukraine. Millions more are expected to do so. The U.N. says it could be the largest refugee crisis in Europe this century.

Now, I know you visited with some of these refugees in Poland yesterday. Is the U.S. willing to accept Ukrainian refugees, and, if so, how many?

BLINKEN: Of course. We will look at that.

In fact, you're right. I was on the border. There was a terrific CODEL from the House led by I think someone you're going to have on shortly, Mike McCaul, and Greg Meeks, the -- Mike, the ranking member, and Greg, the chairman, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, bipartisan delegation.

We all looked at this. We met with many of the women and children who've been forced to flee Ukraine. We're committed, the United States is committed to doing anything we can, first of all, to support the countries that are bearing the immediate burden of taking in Ukrainians.

And then, as appropriate, if people seek refugee status in the United States, of course, we will look at that and I'm sure act on that.

TAPPER: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Thank you, Jake. Good to be with you.


TAPPER: President Zelensky pleaded with U.S. senators yesterday to help Ukraine.

Senator Marco Rubio, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, is here live to talk about that call and what he thinks the U.S. should do going forward. That's next.

And she wants Ukraine to join the European Union, but can they do it quickly enough to make any sort of difference? The European Commission president is coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky begged U.S. lawmakers for help yesterday for his country's fight against the Russian invaders.

Speaking on a Zoom call from an undisclosed location in Ukraine, Zelensky asked for more military support to help counter Russian aggression.

Joining us now to talk about that call and the U.S. strategy in Ukraine is the vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

So, you and this bipartisan group of lawmakers had the Zoom call with President Zelensky yesterday. What was the meeting like? What message did he have for you?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Well, I think he reiterated the same points he's been making repeatedly to the public.

Obviously, they want to get more aircraft, which I think the United States is supportive of and countries are willing to do. There's complications that come with. It's not just as easy as handing it over. You got to fly those in. You got to station them somewhere on the ground.

And, as you saw this morning, the Russians have launched a pretty -- anywhere in between eight to 12 rockets at an airport in the sort of west of Ukraine. And it's just a part of a strategy to deny them places to move that airframe.


So, one thing is having the planes, and then another thing is being able to use them. Those things require munitions. And you also have the issue to fly them and not get shot down.

Now, that said, the Russian air force had a pretty bad day yesterday too. So neither side really has any sort of air superiority right now. But, look, I'm for it. I just want everyone to understand that it's not a magic solution. There are complications that come with it.

TAPPER: You tweeted a photo of Zelensky during the virtual meeting,.

Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips said that the Ukrainian ambassador had explicitly asked lawmakers not to share anything on social media until after the meeting ended just for Zelensky's security.

Is that true? Was it a mistake for you to tweet that picture?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, she asked that like 30 minutes into the call, after I had already done it.

The second is, I think she's under the impression that no one knew that call was happening. That call had been widely reported. Actually, the specific time had been reported. There were over 300 people on it. All the call details had been e-mailed. So, there was nothing secure about that call.

And the picture is just a nondescript picture. It looks just like any of the other ones that you have seen out there publicly. So, I -- there's no risk posed.

But you're always going to have a couple of people that want their name in an article somewhere and mentioned in the press. So...

TAPPER: Russia captured the key city of Kherson this week and continues to close in on other major cities in Ukraine.

A senior Western intelligence official tells CNN that Moscow could soon move to -- quote -- "bombard cities into submission."

How bad are you anticipating in the next few days will be? Is there anything that Congress can do right now, anything that the president could do right now to save lives?

RUBIO: Well, obviously, look, if there's an opportunity to move civilians and move innocents out of those places, we should be supportive of that.

They had -- Mariupol this morning is an example of how the Russians never keep their word. They're never going to allow any of this. And, in fact, that to the extent they do allow humanitarian corridors, I worry that they're doing it to set up false flags, where they can then attack that and argue that the Ukrainians did it or their -- whatever it is they want to make up.

But let me just say, what do you expect to see? I, unfortunately, ask people to look at the images of what they did in Chechnya in '99, or what they did in Syria more recently. They will destroy and level entire cities, because they terrorize the population into either submission or into fleeing.

This is a tactic they have used and I fear that they will use here increasingly, because they're having massive logistical challenges, especially in the northern and north-central part of the country.

TAPPER: You tweeted that you -- quote -- "can't emphasize enough how much Putin and his risk calculus have changed" -- unquote.

Could you go into some more detail about what you mean by that? RUBIO: Yes.

TAPPER: And do you think the Western response has been effective in getting him to at least reconsider what he's doing?

RUBIO: Well, first, let me say, actually, the Western response leading up to this invasion is exactly what I'm pointing to is people not fully understanding.

And most of the countries, including the Ukrainian government, but most of the countries in Europe didn't believe he would invade. It just made no sense to them. They thought the risk calculus for him was not good.

What they don't recognize is, this guy is now almost 70 years old. He realizes is in the backstretch. He probably feels that his legacy is not yet complete unless he can restore greater Russia, which has to include Ukraine at least under his thumb, if not occupied by -- yesterday, he began to make assertions to them losing their statehood.

And so, as a result, you see a person that's now engaged himself in a conflict that he can't win. He is now engaged in a conflict where he's either going to have a costly military victory, followed by a costly occupation that he can't afford, or he's going to get caught in a long-term military quagmire, at the same time as he's facing a second front, which is an economy in freefall in his own country.

So, the combination of these two things, I think, puts us in a very dangerous place. And that is, he's going to have to do something, some escalation, some amplification of this crisis, in order to restore strategic balance, in his view, with the West.

And I'm worried about what those things could be.

TAPPER: On Thursday, your Republican colleague Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina openly called for someone in Russia to assassinate Vladimir Putin.

He wrote -- quote -- "Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military? The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country and the world a great service" -- unquote.

Do you agree with Senator Graham?

RUBIO: Look, people are watching these images, all right? They're seeing what's happening there and people being murdered and suffering. It makes you angry, and you want something to happen.

And you reach the conclusion, boy, wouldn't it be great if someone internally just took this guy and eliminated him? So, that's not the official policy, obviously, of the United States. No one's talking about the U.S. doing it.

I would say that, at some point, I do think Putin is going to be removed from power. I really think the chances of that happening are high and -- of him losing his power, hopefully to stand trial for war crimes for what he's done.


I know Lindsey will have to answer for what he meant by that, other than to say I think he's expressing sort of the frustration that a lot of people have that these horrible things are happening, and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do that immediately brings an end to it. And it's very frustrating for people.

TAPPER: You have introduced legislation to ban the import of all Russian oil to the U.S.

There is growing bipartisan support for that idea on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Blinken just told me that the Biden administration is seriously discussing it.

Americans are already dealing with high gas prices. Should they prepare for that to get even worse in order to stand up to Putin?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, let me just say that the fact that people believe that buying -- stop -- not buying Russian oil, not having Russian oil would raise our gas prices is actually very concerning, because that proves that Putin has the leverage and the power over America to raise our gas prices anytime he wants.

So we shouldn't allow that to continue. We should not allow Vladimir Putin to have the power at any moment to raise gas prices on Americans by cutting us off at some point now or in the future. So, we should cut him off now and replace it with American oil and have a buffer in between the time that that production starts up and the time that we make the cutoff.

And we can use our strategic reserves for that. That's what I hope we will do. I hope that's where the administration's headed, but it makes no sense whatsoever to continue to buy oil from Russia that they use to fund this war and this murderous campaign that they're undertaking.

TAPPER: Former Trump national Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill recently decried Russia's full-spectrum information war to -- quote -- "soften up the enemy."

She said that FOX anchors and Donald Trump were doing Russia's job for Russia. According to Hill, she said -- quote -- "The fact that Putin managed to persuade Trump that Ukraine belongs to Russia, that's a major success for Putin's information war. He has got swathes of the Republican Party, and not just them, some on the left, as well as on the right, masses of the U.S. public, saying, good on you, Vladimir Putin, or blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S. for this outcome. This is exactly what a Russian information war and psychological operation is geared towards" -- unquote.

Now, you have made a point, Senator, these last few weeks of trying to explain to Floridians, trying to explain to the American people why we should care about Ukraine and how evil Putin is.

Do you think you also need to decry the folks that Fiona Hill says are doing Putin's job for him?

RUBIO: Well, look, there are not a lot of people left out there talking that way. And that's the first part of it.

I think a lot of it, frankly, is, a lot of people didn't fully understand what this was all about. So, there always going to be voices and interviews. I see from time to time where -- for example, there was a time where people were arguing why are we getting involved in Ukraine? All we have to do is agree that they never become part of NATO and we can avoid all this.

So that was never true. And I made it a point to say that's just not true. So, again, look, this is a country where people have the freedom to have any views they want. We're not Russia. We're not China. And we don't want to be. People have the right to have those views.

But I think we have a responsibility, those of us who believe differently and know the truth, to go out there and argue the counterpoint. And that's what we have done, and I think quite effectively.

If you look at the numbers today on how Americans feel about Ukraine today, there's simply not a lot of space for those who argue that Putin is some sort of heroic figure. And I don't see a lot of voices, other than in the far fringes, making arguments to the contrary.

TAPPER: The vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, thank you so much, sir.

Appreciate your time today.

RUBIO: Thanks.

TAPPER: Is there real momentum for Ukraine to join the European Union? Would that help them in their fight against Russia?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

The head of the European Union says Ukraine is -- quote -- "one of us" and says member countries want Ukraine to join.

But, as Russian forces bear down on Ukraine and raise alarms across Europe with an attack on the area's largest nuclear power plant, the question is, how quickly could that happen?

Joining me now, just out of a meeting with Germany's chancellor in Berlin, is the head of the European -- the E.U., European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Thank you so much for joining us, Madam President. You have said that Ukraine is -- quote -- "one of us and we want them

in the European Union."

President Zelensky is asking for immediate admission to the E.U. His foreign minister tweeted -- quote -- "Historic times require big and historic decisions" -- unquote.

Are you going to take such a historic step? And, if so, how long will it take Ukraine to be admitted? Are we talking weeks, months, years?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, indeed, nobody doubts that these brave Ukrainian people and the outstanding leadership of President Zelensky, all fighting for our common values, that they belong to our European family.

And with the application, President Zelensky set a process in motion. This process will take some time. But we should not forget that, before this was started, we had already worked intensively together, for example, integrating the two markets, trying to support as much as possible Ukraine, not only financially, but also, for example, in energy security.

So a lot has been done. There has to be done still quite some work for any point of being more closer, but that this process is now in motion, this is without any doubt.

TAPPER: What's the earliest it could happen?

VON DER LEYEN: This is hard to say because it depends, of course, what -- the development on the ground.

And, of course, reforms have to be done, processes have to be set up. So there is a very clear path that is described in our processes that belong to this big question, but at the moment being for us the most important is to support Ukraine as much as possible in this existential fight against Russia.

This is not only a fight of between Ukraine against Russia, Russia that chose the war against Ukraine, but it's a bigger topic. It's also the democracies fighting the autocracies. And, therefore, it is for us existential really to support in every way possible Ukraine and its brave leadership.

TAPPER: So far, the West is not sanctioning Russia's energy sector directly, in no small part because countries such as Germany depend so heavily on Russian energy.

An E.U.-wide ban on Russian energy could cripple Putin's economy; 72 percent of Russia's natural gas exports and nearly half of Russia's oil exports go to Europe. Is a total ban on the table?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, what we have done, in an extraordinary unity, speed and determination, is that we have imposed severe financial and economic sanctions on the Russian leadership and the Russian economy and the financial sector, which have enormous impact, negative impact.


Already, as you can see, inflation is spiking. The interest raise rates have been raised up to 20 percent. The stock market is closed. The ruble is in freefall.

And the goal is to isolate -- isolate Russia and to make it impossible for Putin to finance his wars. What the energy sector is concerned, here, it's very clear that, for us, there is a strong strategy now to say we have to get rid of the dependency of fossil fuels from Russia.

Therefore, we are just discussing in the European Union a strategic approach, a plan, how to accelerate the investment in the renewables, how to diversify our energy supply, for example, with you, our friends in the United States, where LNG gas is concerned and other friends around the world, how to invest heavily in biogas, for example, in hydrogen that is homegrown.

And this is not only a strategic investment in our energy security, but it's also good for the climate.

TAPPER: On Friday, Russian forces attacked the Zaporizhzhia, a nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

Thankfully, there is no sign yet of elevated radiation, but Russian troops now control that plant. They control the site of Chernobyl. They're advancing on another nuclear power plant.

What concerns you the most about these developments?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, first of all, there is a safety concern, without any doubt.

And, therefore, it was important to immediately trigger all back channels that are existing to really stop the bombardment in the area of the power plants. This has so far been successful, as we are also working hard, for example, in supporting Ukraine to develop humanitarian corridors from cities that are under siege.

It's a desperate situation at the moment being, for example, in Mariupol, but also increasingly in Kyiv. And where we're working hard also with the support, for example, of the International Red Cross, is to establish humanitarian corridors, so that help can get into the cities, people can get out of the cities.

Therefore, there are a lot of -- there is a lot of work being done on the ground in the different scenarios.

TAPPER: We have heard reports, though, of Russians targeting areas that would be humanitarian corridors. We heard a report just this morning about a border crossing where -- that was hit, killing three children.

In addition, the U.S. says Russia is deliberately, deliberately targeting civilian areas. NATO says Russia is using cluster bomb munitions, which were banned. Do you think Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine?

VON DER LEYEN: I think there needs to be a strong and clear investigation on this question. We need to make the case real clear and without any doubt. But whatever you are just describing has to be -- has -- has to be looked into it, and there needs to be an investigation on that.

What humanitarian corridors are concerned, it is important that they are not only the political agreements, but it has to trickle down to the military command on the ground in the area, because this has to be a very detailed agreement to really make sure that these humanitarian corridors are safe.

And, here, we are working intensively, as I said, with our partners on the ground to establish that. It might take still a day or two, a cease-fire that does not work out, but everybody is focused on getting that done now.

TAPPER: All right, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, thank you so much for your time today.

We really appreciate it.

VON DER LEYEN: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: The way Russian forces are positioned in Ukraine can tell us a lot about their potential next steps. How long will Ukrainians be able to fight back?

That's next.



TAPPER: We are seeing an escalation in Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Let's take a look at what this might mean over the next days and weeks in the more. President Obama -- in the war.

President Obama's undersecretary of defense for policy, Michele Flournoy, is here with me to break it down.

Thank you so much for being here.

So, let's start. This is a map of Ukraine. And, as you can see, the Russians have been coming up through the south. They have been coming up through the east, the north, including through Belarus.

Where do you think they're going to go next? Are they going to keep pushing out? Will we see them all the way in Lviv in the west?

MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I think the primary objective is Kyiv and trying to topple the Zelensky government and install a regime that's more friendly to Moscow.

And so you have seen this convoy coming down trying to reach Kyiv. You have seen them also trying to secure the south to make sure that they have got full control of any access coming in from the sea.

And so I think -- but the primary objective is Kyiv. But they will certainly be trying to take other cities on the way and to really pressure the population to try to break Ukraine's will.

TAPPER: And what can the U.S. do?

FLOURNOY: Well, what the U.S. should be doing is more of what we are doing, which is, we need to be supplying Ukrainians with as much as we possibly can, munitions like anti-tank Javelin missiles, anti-air Stinger missiles.


And I think we should also be trying to get them some more of the planes that they know how to fly, MiGs from Eastern Europe, that could enable them to be much more effective in protecting the skies but, also going after this tank column.


FLOURNOY: There's nothing more vulnerable than a tank column that's sitting there massed together, if you have the right aircraft.

TAPPER: Let's talk about that convoy, because you're talking about this convoy, so let's talk about it.


TAPPER: Here it is. This is a 40-mile-long Russian military convoy.


TAPPER: Here is the map of Kyiv right here.


TAPPER: And I guess the question is, here is this convoy. It's huge.


TAPPER: What do you think they're going to do? Are they going to surround Kyiv?

FLOURNOY: Well, I think they're going to try to surround Kyiv and really create a siege of Kyiv and to try to change the government or to capture and kill Zelensky.

But this is very vulnerable, when it's static here. You have seen the -- I think the Russians have been surprised by their own logistics and morale problems. And you have seen the Ukrainians be far more effective than we expected with just small unit kind of attacks using shoulder-fired missiles, small munitions.

But, again, if they had some aircraft to fly and add to this mix, they could really do substantial damage to that convoy and...


TAPPER: And there's talk right now of the U.S. giving Poland some fighter jets, so that Poland can give those MiGs that the Ukrainians know how to use for its fight and to go after that.

FLOURNOY: Exactly.

TAPPER: So, the Russians obviously attacked this nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia -- Zaporizhzhia -- sorry -- the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia.

Obviously, this is not the only nuclear power plant. Here's the Zaporizhzhia one. We also know that the Russians took control of the Chernobyl area.


TAPPER: But there are other nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

What is your primary concern here?

FLOURNOY: I mean, my primary concern is the way they went about this, which was incredibly irresponsible, shelling a nuclear power plant.

It was just by sheer luck that they didn't actually breach the containment structure and create a radioactive release. So they're being extremely irresponsible about this.

But what they're trying to do here and in other cases is take control of critical infrastructure, the energy, the gas for heating, water, food, to, again, put the Ukrainian population under siege and try to break their will.

TAPPER: All right, let's look at this larger geopolitical issue here.

So, here is Ukraine. And, like, here, this is this wall of NATO-allied countries. Ukraine is not a member of NATO.


TAPPER: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, all NATO-allied countries, meaning, if Russia were to attack them, the -- they -- the NATO Article 5 would be invoked, in which an attack on one is an attack on all.

But I would like to point out, in addition to Ukraine, there are other non-allied non-NATO countries...


TAPPER: ... that are allies of the United States that are terrified. FLOURNOY: Right.

TAPPER: Moldova right here, Georgia right here that's already been attacked and invaded, Finland, Sweden.

So, I guess the question is, what do you think Putin will do next? Where do you think he will attack next, assuming that he does ultimately conquer Ukraine?

FLOURNOY: Well, I think that's a big assumption.


FLOURNOY: If you look at the -- I don't think the Russian forces are enough to come all the way in and hold and sustain success in Western Ukraine.

The problem is, you have a Russian force that cannot fully pacify and subjugate Ukraine. And you have a Ukrainian force that can't fully repel the Russian forces. So ,at some point, the -- we have to make this a painful enough experience for Putin, economically, politically, every other way, and militarily, that he comes to the negotiating table in some manner.

I do think we have to worry about him moving against Moldova. I don't think he'd -- he'd have to be really stupid to move against Finland and Sweden, who are E.U. members and who are very, very close partners of the United States and the E.U.

But this blue wall is really important, because Putin has succeeded in redrawing the map of Europe. He has succeeded in bringing about his worst nightmare, which is a reinvigorated NATO that's rediscovered its purpose, that is absolutely united, and that is going to put additional forces all along this border, which is exactly what he didn't want.


FLOURNOY: And he's also made himself an international pariah in the process and destroyed his economy.

TAPPER: Michele Flournoy, thank you so much for your insights. Really appreciate it.

FLOURNOY: Thank you.

TAPPER: From poisonings to war crimes to flattening cities, the U.S. was willing to overlook Vladimir Putin's aggression for decades.

We will take a look at that next.



TAPPER: The tragedy and Russian military barbarism unfolding before our eyes in Ukraine is horrifying. And the road to it was partly paved with two decades of misplaced optimism, appeasement and Western leaders too eager to look the other way when it came to Vladimir Putin.

While born from, no doubt, a well-intentioned desire to welcome Russia into the global community, that desire seem to often block out the obvious warning signs.

One of Putin's first actions as president in early 2000 was to level the Chechen capital city of Grozny, so much so that the U.N. was reportedly still calling it the most destroyed city on Earth years later. Thousands of civilians were killed.

And how did the U.S. respond? With stern warnings and a friendly presidential summit.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that the United States can do business with this man.

What I have seen of him so far indicates to me that he's capable of being a very strong and effective and straightforward leader.


TAPPER: President Clinton was the first American leader to see a potential partner in Putin, but he was far from the last.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.

I was able to get a sense of his soul.


TAPPER: Amid warnings from the likes of Senator John McCain and Garry Kasparov that Putin could simply not be trusted, President Bush nonetheless pushed on for a new beginning with Russia, despite Grozny, despite the 2004 poisoning of pro-Western Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who survived the poisoning and suspected the Kremlin was to blame, despite the 2006 death by radiation poisoning of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

"You may succeed in silencing one man," Litvinenko said from his deathbed, "but the howl of protests from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life."


But, tragically, that howl evaporated.

The U.K. responded to a brazen assassination on its soil by expelling four Russian diplomats. That's it.

In 2008, Putin, emboldened, invaded neighboring Georgia, using the pretense of protecting the rights of Russian-speaking separatists, which is now his playbook.


BUSH: Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.


TAPPER: Unacceptable.

So, how did President Bush punish Putin for this bloody invasion of a sovereign nation? Nothing, not even economic sanctions, something former Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told me six years later was a mistake.

In 2008, Ukrainian-born tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky alleged massive corruption by the Russian government. He was thrown in jail while Bush was president. And he died in prison not long after Obama's famous -- or infamous -- Russian reset began, so willing to work with Putin, often despite NATO's fears.

Remember the 2012 Obama hot mic moment with Putin's short-term successor, Dmitry Medvedev, about Putin's objections to U.S. missile defense systems protecting NATO allies?


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, FORMER RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Yes, I understand. I transmit this information to Vladimir. And I stand with you.


TAPPER: Obama's flexibility was indeed transmitted to Vladimir.

And, two years later, Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea and started a civil war in Eastern Ukraine, providing arms to separatists, who, in July 2014, used a Russian missile system to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 innocent people.

The world responded to the annexation of Crimea and that downed passenger plane in 2014 with some relatively weak sanctions and by kicking Russia out of the G8.

Here's Obama's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just a few days ago.


TAPPER: Do you wish that Obama had done harsher, stricter sanctions in 2014?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, yes, I do. I wish we as an administration had been more aggressive in 2014.


TAPPER: Syria came next, with Putin siding with genocidal maniac Bashar al-Assad, Russian jets using cluster bombs to attack hospitals, to kill civilians, in many ways, seemingly a dry run for what we're seeing now in Ukraine, and, again, no serious action from the West in response.

Putin's opponents have a way of falling out of windows. In 2015, Putin opponent Boris Nemtsov was assassinated brazenly right near the Kremlin. Bolder still, never deterred, Putin ordered the 2016 interference campaign in the U.S. election. This was followed by some more sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats, but still nothing really with teeth, nothing truly punishing.

It was an interference campaign that came amidst a candidate who not only admired Putin, but openly called for his election help.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


TAPPER: A president who his own aides feared would withdraw the U.S. from NATO, who saw moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.



TRUMP: You think our country is so innocent?


TAPPER: A man who sided with Putin over his own U.S. intelligence community about the 2016 election interference campaign.


TRUMP: My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia.

I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.


TAPPER: This was followed by the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, and the 2020 poisoning, then imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

And this was the American president:


TRUMP: I do get along with President Putin.


TAPPER: I mean, honestly, if you were Putin, would you think there were any real limits to what you could get away with?

I mean, it's easy to see why he thought this time would be no different.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Throughout our history, we have learned this lesson. When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos.


TAPPER: President Biden is right. Dictators who do not pay a price for aggression continue causing more chaos.

But may I ask, have we actually learned that lesson?

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.

The news continues next.