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State of the Union
Interview With Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX); Interview With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Interview With Former CIA Director David Petraeus; Interview With Nadya Tolokonnikova. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired March 06, 2022 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Rising fears. Russia targets Ukrainian schools, hospitals and innocent 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 Putin's war, can he be stopped?
I will speak to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the former CIA Director under President Obama General David Petraeus next.
And pleading for help. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy begs U.S. lawmakers directly for assistance. But what more can and will the U.S. do? I will speak to a congressman visiting Ukraine's border, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul, ahead.
Plus: resisting Putin. She was thrown into a Russian prison for her activism. Now what the former member of the rock group Pussy Riot believes about Vladimir Putin's goals and her message to the Ukrainians fighting him. Nadya Tolokonnikova is coming up.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
Welcome to a special live noon Eastern edition of STATE OF THE UNION.
The situation on the ground in Ukraine growing increasingly dire, as Russian President Vladimir Putin steps up his brutal attacks on civilian targets and Ukrainian cities, Saturday issuing a threat against Ukrainian statehood. Hours ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross said an
efforts to evacuate more than 200,000 people out of Mariupol, Ukraine, has failed. The situation there is increasingly desperate, as Russian attacks have left survivors with no food and no water, no electricity. We're also tracking heavy shelling today west and north of the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, where a suburb issued urgent calls for help amid intense shelling and damage asking for support to -- quote -- "survive."
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with President Biden and met with U.S. lawmakers over Zoom. He begged for more assistance, including Russian-made planes that Ukrainian pilots know how to use. The U.S. confirms it's now in talks with Poland on the possibility of the U.S. sending Poland Russian -- American-made fighter jets, so that Poland can give their Russian-made jets to Ukraine.
But the U.S. has so far ruled out enforcing any sort of no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would, without question, draw the U.S. into direct military conflict with Russia.
Joining us now from Kyiv is CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward.
And, Clarissa, Russia continues to pummel Ukraine with attacks, including in Irpin, where just yesterday you saw people -- in fact, you helped them try to evacuate.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.
We were there for the day. We saw hundreds of people streaming through from this absolutely ravaged Kyiv suburb. There was a steady stream of artillery the entire time we were there. They had to cross over a bridge that had been downed by Ukrainians to try to stop the progress of Russian forces.
Today, in that exact same position, shells fired by Russian forces hit, killing at least three people. Those three people were a family. My friend Lynsey Addario, the "New York Times" photographer, was on the ground and saw the moment of impact, two children among the dead, Jake.
These are ordinary people trying to flee heavy fighting. And the Ukrainian authorities are saying that, in some of these other suburbs, in the northwest and the west, particularly Gostomel, Bucha, and also Irpin, there are still people who are trapped. They have no access to food. They have no access to water. There is no heat or electricity. They are petrified. Their lives are in danger.
And yet it has not been possible yet to implement some kind of a humanitarian corridor. Now, you mentioned Mariupol, that port city of half-a-million in the southeast; 200,000 people were supposed to be moved out of that city today as part of a humanitarian convoy, the International Red Cross saying that they were not able to open that up because of continued shelling. Ukrainian authorities blaming that on the Russians, saying that they continue to use artillery even as that corridor was supposed to open, but all of this giving you a very strong sense that civilians are increasingly becoming the target of this ugly campaign, the U.N. saying today more than 360 civilians have been killed, including 13 children.
And that does not even include those who have almost certainly been killed in today's fighting, Jake, so some very alarming trends that we're seeing on the ground and really a desperate prognosis for so many of this country's civilians, who are trying to get out, with nowhere safe in sight, Jake.
TAPPER: Clarissa Ward, thank you so much. Please stay safe.
Amid these heightened tensions, the U.S. State Department last night began more urgently pushing Americans who are in Russia to leave that country immediately.
This weekend, WNBA player Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury was detained at a Russian airport over allegations of drug possession.
Asked about her minutes ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he could not go into detail about her 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.
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.
Zelenskyy 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: One million refugees have fled Ukraine over just the past week.
My next guest just met with some of them. He joins me on how he thinks the U.S. should be helping Ukraine's military, House Affairs Committee -- Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Republican Michael McCaul live from Warsaw, Poland, next.
Plus, a founding member of the rock group Pussy Riot on the movement against Putin in Russia.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
Refugees from Ukraine are flooding over the borders into other parts of Europe, even as humanitarian corridors across Ukraine crumble, an increase in fighting, as President Zelenskyy asks lawmakers in Congress for more help in fighting Russia.
I want to go now to a lawmaker who is on a bipartisan fact-finding trip in the region.
Joining me now from Poland near the Ukrainian border, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
You just heard me speak with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He says the U.S. is adding to the sanctions virtually every day. Is that enough? What would you be doing differently if you were in charge?
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Well, I do think the sanctions are having an impact, particularly the Mastercard-Visa issue, the Central Bank. The ruble dropped.
But I would add the secondary sanctions as well that would impact any other entity or country that would assist, like, say, China. And, also, this carve-out exception for energy, that's a lifeblood for Putin. And I believe he's using that money to spill blood in Ukraine.
We had a conversation with the secretary. He asked, what do you think about us stopping the import of Russian energy in the United States? And I strongly encouraged him to do that. I think, symbolically, the idea that we're funding Putin's war machine and, quite frankly, genocide that we're seeing on the television, that has to stop.
TAPPER: I want to turn to what you're seeing on the ground in Poland.
More than 1.5 million refugees have now fled the country in not even two weeks. About half of those refugees are in Poland. Millions more are expected. We're told about half of the refugees are children.
Tell us what you're seeing at the border and what these refugees have told you.
MCCAUL: It's -- Jake, it's a very emotional moment.
A lot of the members were actually in tears, to see these mothers and their children and their fathers and husbands have to go back to fight this war against Putin. It was absolutely -- I have to say, this whole thing, historically, I'm reminded of when Hitler invaded Poland, the country I'm in right now. This seems eerily similar.
And watching these refugees coming out of Ukraine, 100,000 -- over 100,000 yesterday, over 100,000 today, 1.5 million over the last week- and-a-half. And they say it's only going to get worse as the noose is tightened around the neck of Ukraine.
TAPPER: Poland is obviously a key NATO ally. It's right on the border of Ukraine.
How worried are you about the current conflict posing a broader threat to Europe, especially to NATO allies?
MCCAUL: Well, we met with the 82nd Airborne group in an undisclosed location. But they're doing quite a bit.
We're defending -- putting all our defense systems in, Patriot batteries. And a lot of stuff -- I don't think Putin would make that miscalculation. At least, you would hope not.
We do worry about short tactical nuclear, if he gets -- he gets too desperate. I would say Georgia, Moldova are probably more vulnerable, because they aren't in the NATO club, if you will. But our forces that we have moved from Germany now to Poland have really fortified Poland.
And I really give the people of Poland and the government so much praise for taking in these refugees and taking care of them and our NATO allies for coming together strong. This is going to be very helpful in this effort.
TAPPER: You're in Europe right now. You're talking with U.S. allies.
Your fellow Republican Mitt Romney said on this show last week that President Biden has done -- quote -- "extraordinarily well" bringing NATO allies together. Do you agree? Are NATO allies in lockstep?
MCCAUL: Yes, look, I have been critical, as you know, of this administration.
I -- but I would have to say -- I would credit also all the NATO countries, not just one man. I think -- I think, if anything, Putin has done is taken a NATO that was on life support and really unified it against him.
And that vote in the United Nations was very significant, that you only had five countries voting with Putin, which means he's trying to put the neck around the noose (sic) of Ukraine, but I think -- I think the noose is going around his neck.He sees the world as against him. This is his greatest fear.
And lastly, Jake, again, going back to lethal aid. This is what we hear on the ground from the Ukrainians: We need more lethal aid.
We met with the governor of Lviv, which is that border town from Ukraine and Poland. And we hear -- heard it from Zelenskyy yesterday: I need more lethal weapons, more weapons to protect my airspace.
That would mean the aircraft. That would mean the drones. And that would mean the surface-to-air missiles.
TAPPER: You're in Poland right now. And there's this talk of the U.S. giving fighter jets, U.S. fighter jets to Poland, and then Poland can give its Russian-made jets to Ukraine. The Ukrainian pilots know how to use those better.
Is that deal going to happen?
MCCAUL: I strongly urged the secretary of state yesterday to complete this transaction.
The Ukrainians can fly Russian MiGs. But then the -- Poland wants a backorder. And that may be possibly F-16s. And the role I have -- and the chairman and I sign off on these foreign military weapon sales.
We're not going to put our troops in there. But you know what? We can help the Ukrainian people win this war. I have never seen a more resistant force. We were told this whole thing was going to be over in three days. Now we're on the 10th day, and we're still seeing a lot of weakness on the part of the Russians.
In the final analysis. I think the will of the Ukrainian people will basically beat the will of the Russian troops. The Russian troops are not into this. And -- but the Ukrainians are. And if we can arm them to defend themselves, that's how we beat the Russians.
TAPPER: You're calling for even tougher sanctions.
Many Americans, as you know, are already struggling because of inflation in the U.S. Gas prices have soared above $4 per gallon. How would you explain to a struggling American just trying to make ends meet why they should tolerate even higher gas prices due to the crippling sanctions that you and others have supported?
MCCAUL: Because there's too much at stake here.
And we saw it on the ground. Again, the images I saw today are very reminiscent of the 1940s. It was really heartbreaking and left quite an impression on the members.
But if -- beyond freedom and democracy, which I think is enough, there's too much at stake in the region, with respect to the Black Sea energy control, the -- what Putin is trying to do with energy, too much at stake with what President Xi, how he's going to analyze this with respect to Taiwan.
At a minimum, Jake, as I urged the secretary, please tell the president of the United States to at least stop the imports of Russian energy that are fueling the slaughter, and, frankly, in violation of the Geneva Convention, as a war crime.
MCCAUL: We cannot be funding that. And it's 8 percent of our imports.
That would be an easy decision in my book. And I know -- I know Europe is about 40 percent dependent, but we can at least do that.
TAPPER: All right, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, talking to us from Poland, thank you so much, sir.
What can Russian troop movements tell us about Putin's ambitions?
Former CIA Director and Four-Star General David Petraeus will break it down for us live. That's next.
TAPPER: The International Atomic Energy Agency says it is deeply concerned about Europe's largest power plant in Ukraine, which is now operating under orders from Russian forces.
Joining us now to discuss, former CIA Director under President Obama Four-Star General David Petraeus.
General Petraeus, good to see you, as always.
So, let me start. I want to share our viewers the -- our map here of which areas the Russians control. They have obviously come in through the south in the Crimea region and Donbass, through the east, hitting Kharkiv, and then obviously from the north, including from Belarus.
Where else do you think the Russians are going to go? Do you think they will go as far as Lviv out west near the Poland border?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Lviv is going to be a long stretch.
The next big worry, I think, just beyond the main effort, which, of course, is the encirclement of Kyiv and the further destruction of Kharkiv, will be their effort to take Odessa. That's the major port on the Black Sea directly. There are amphibious forces of Russia that could actually join the ground forces that are making their way west. And then, at some point, there has to be worried about Moldova.
I'd point out that, Odessa, that will be a fight. This is going to be another city in which the inhabitants are going to fight very, very hard. This is one where they have prepared defenses, where you have these very resourceful Ukrainian resistance efforts and so forth.
And if I can just mention quickly, this resistance, this is the equivalent or better than what we saw in France, let's say, in history, in World War II. They're amazingly resourceful, creative, full of initiative, innovative, and absolutely determined.
They have jammed the Russian frequencies that they're using. They have singled out the vehicles that are carrying fuel and so forth and destroyed them. They have the Molotov cocktails and so forth.
So, the resistance, together with the conventional forces and the partisan brigades, these are really quite remarkable. And you see a very, very resolute fight that's going on, particularly, of course, around Kyiv.
TAPPER: Yes, let's talk about that, because, right now, we have this 40-mile-long stretch of a Russian convoy heading into Kyiv.
And, in fact, obviously, here is a -- here's a picture we're showing right now of this 40 long -- 40-mile-long Russian convoy. And the concern, of course, is to what they're going to do when they actually get to Kyiv, because it has stalled as of now.
What are your concerns, sir?
PETRAEUS: Well, the big concern, again, is the encirclement of Kyiv.
But keep in mind that Kyiv is actually larger in square miles than is New York City. It's over 320 square miles. New York is a little bit over 300. So, just keep that geography in mind. A number of the bridges have been blown by the Ukrainians to prevent the easy encirclement of the city.
Again, this very, very impressive mix of conventional forces, partisan brigades, and the resistance is making life very, very difficult. They have even taken the road signs down, or they have painted them over, and said "Welcome to hell" or something like that. And you see the terrible logistics support of the Russians.
The bottom line is, we are seeing how under-resourced, in terms of logistical force structure, the Russians are once they leave their railway system. Everything they have is built around that railway system. And, here again, the Ukrainians, very resourcefully, they cut all of the rail links into Ukraine, so that the Russians have to get off those railroads, and they have to then get on the ground.
And they just cannot keep their columns fueled, fixed or replenished with food, water and ammunition. In fact, the Ukrainians have been taking abandoned equipment and using it to augment their supplies and so forth.
So, I think this is going to be a very, very long fight in Kyiv. The locals there have been stockpiling food, fuel, ammunition, water, medical supplies, and so forth. There is going to be an enormously determined resistance there.
And, again, keep in mind the scale of this, over 320 square miles.
TAPPER: So, I'm -- we're running out of time. So we have just about a minute left.
I just want to -- I'm just showing this larger map of Russia and Europe. Obviously, these are NATO-allied countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. That is a blue wall of NATO.
But there are a lot of countries in this area that are allies of the United States, that are innocent countries, that are not NATO member countries, and they are terrified right now.
I'm talking, of course, about Finland. I'm talking, of course, about Sweden. I'm talking, of course, about Georgia, which has already been invaded in 2008 by the Russians. There are a couple of breakaway republics there. And I'm talking about -- you were talking about earlier to -- earlier in the segment, sir, Moldova.
What do you think Putin is likely to do next if the Ukraine -- if Ukraine actually falls and he occupies it?
PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I don't -- I don't accept that -- the assumption that it will fall.
Second, the last thing he wants is another front. He can barely keep this one supplied, refueled and so forth. And, again, he's going to have to extend the conscript tours, bring on the new ones, and so forth.
So, the one to be worried about is the one I mentioned earlier. It is Moldova. The secretary of state was there. You interviewed him there, in fact.
And we need to be shoring that up very, very substantially, even as we work very hard to get these MiGs out of Poland and into Ukrainian skies, with Ukrainian pilots at the controls and in the cockpit, and then the other countries that have those kinds of aircraft that the Ukrainians can fly.
That will be a godsend to them, and it will do what we have been asked to do, but which is completely unrealistic, which is for us to have a no-fly zone, which would ultimately end up with an enforcement action that would bring U.S. and Russian aircraft into direct combat.
TAPPER: Former CIA Director Four-Star General David Petraeus, thank you so much for your insights today. We appreciate it.
Putin is shutting down free media. He's arresting protesters. What is it like for the average Russian right now?
Russian dissident and founder of the rock group Pussy Riot Nadya Tolokonnikova is here next.
Stay with us.
[12:42:08] TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
More than 4,300 people have been detained during protests today in Russia, according to an independent monitoring group, just today, as Putin clamps down on dissent and independent news media, threatening severe penalties to anyone who speaks out.
One Putin critic who was sent to prison for her activism is now raising money for his victims in Ukraine.
TAPPER: Joining me now, Russian activist and the founder of Pussy Riot, Nadya Tolokonnikova.
Nadya, thanks so much for joining us.
You know firsthand what it's like to protest Putin in Russia. We have seen thousands of Russians taking to the streets to protest the invasion of Ukraine, but Putin has cracked down very hard on dissent.
What's it like for people in Russia right now, do you think, especially those who oppose this war?
NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA, MEMBER, PUSSY RIOT: One thing we need to understand about Russians opposing the war in Ukraine is the numbers of people who are against war are actually much higher than those you can see on the streets, because the price of participating in protest activity is increasingly high, especially became incredibly dangerous over the last week.
And people are facing jail time, up to 15 years, according to the new law, even for tweets and stories and posting on social medias. You can go to jail for up to 15 years. And, by going to streets, you're actually exposing yourself to a greater danger.
But knowing that and seeing that thousands of people are still going to the streets and getting arrested shows that Russians, a lot of Russians are actually against the war.
And it was incredible to see Alexei Navalny, who is the biggest enemy of the Kremlin, opposition leader, who's in jail right now. He asked people to go to the streets every day, 2:00 p.m. every weekday and 7:00 p.m. on the weekend.
TAPPER: The Kremlin has banned Facebook. It's shut down Russia's last remaining independent TV station. It's cracking down on other independent media.
Anyone who calls what's happening in Ukraine a war or an invasion could face 15 years in a Russian prison. Is there still an avenue for Russians to get accurate information about what's really happening in Ukraine, or are they basically cut off from reality?
TOLOKONNIKOVA: Oh, well, we learned how to use a VPN over the last -- over the last couple of years, because crackdown of Internet freedoms were -- was coming.
So, at least those of us who actively look for information, we can find it. But the problem is most of the people, they cannot afford it, just because they -- they don't have knowledge, or they just have to work a couple of jobs to feed their families, because the economic situation is not good in the country.
So, using VPN can access information, and also using Telegram channels. But Telegram is under attack as well.
TAPPER: What are you hearing from your friends and others in Russia about efforts to protest the war, to protest Putin?
TOLOKONNIKOVA: I feel they are -- people who I know, they're extremely mad, but also, at the same time, a lot of them are terrified.
For example, a week ago, police beat a friend of my daughter. My daughter is 14. Her friend is 14 as well. And she went with her dad to an anti-war protest. And police started to beat her. And her dad came to the policemen and asked her -- asked: "What are you doing? She's 14. Don't do that."
And instead of beating the kid, policemen switched to beating the dad, and then the dad ended up in a police station for a couple of days, pretty brutally beaten.
And situations like that, they're, unfortunately, happening quite often. That's why I know that a lot of Russians are trying to leave the country. But, also, there are a number of people who are convinced that they should not leave, because they don't want to give Russia as a gift to Putin. They want to stand their ground.
TAPPER: How do you think Putin is going to react to these punishing sanctions from the West and also these military setbacks in Ukraine?
Is he going to lash out even more?
TOLOKONNIKOVA: I don't know. I am not a political analyst, so I don't really know.
But I know that this is the only one thing that we can effectively do. So, that's why I think sanctions against -- sanctions against Kremlin and support of Zelenskyy in Ukraine is crucial right now.
TAPPER: Do you think Putin's mental health has deteriorated, and that's why he's acting this way? Or is this the same old Vladimir Putin you have always known; it's just that he's never really been punished for his misdeeds over the last couple decades?
TOLOKONNIKOVA: I think this is the result of him not getting the response that he deserved.
When, in 2014, Putin invaded Crimea, he annexed Crimea, and he started a war in Eastern Ukraine, we have heard a lot of loud, big proclamations from the global community, but, unfortunately, it wasn't followed through. And Putin didn't really feel like he -- him and his closest -- closest oligarchs and cronies suffered from invasion of Ukraine.
And I think, partly, what we're seeing right now in Ukraine is the result of complacency of the global community about a situation that happened in Ukraine in 2014.
TAPPER: You backed a fund-raising campaign that raised nearly $7 million in cryptocurrency donations, with all the proceeds going to Ukrainian aid organizations and to the Ukrainian military.
What made you decide to launch this effort? And why are you doing it with crypto, instead of traditional currency?
TOLOKONNIKOVA: I believe that crypto is a great tool for organizing on a global scale. Plus, it allows you to move money without being sanctioned by governments or corporations.
For example, SberBank, which is the biggest bank in Russia, where almost everyone holds their money, they froze cards of Russians who send money to Ukraine. And we don't want that to happen. And in this unstable global situation, I think crypto is a really safe tool for people to support Ukraine.
TAPPER: Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, thank you so much for your time today.
TOLOKONNIKOVA: Of course. Thank you.
TAPPER: From poisonings to war crimes to flattening cities, the United States and the West have overlooked Vladimir Putin's aggression for decades.
We will talk about 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 seemed 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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: President Clinton was the first American leader to see a potential partner in Putin, but he was far from the last.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Obama's opponent that election insisted that Russia was the U.S.' number one geopolitical foe, and Obama mocked him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FORMER HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Putin's a killer.
TRUMP: You think our country is so innocent?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A man who sided with Putin over his own U.S. intelligence community about the 2016 election interference campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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. (END VIDEO CLIP)
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:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I do get along with President Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.