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State of the Union
Interview With Latvian President Egils Levits; Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan; Interview With Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Aired 12-1p ET
Aired March 13, 2022 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): New targets. Putin's forces strike Western Ukraine, where refugees are fleeing, as Russian atrocities grow.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): A proof of genocide of Ukrainians is taking place.
BASH: What is the U.S. prepared to do to stop the killing? I will speak to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan next.
And punishing Putin. More than two million desperate Ukrainians flee Putin's war. Is the U.S. doing enough to help Ukraine? And can Americans bear the cost of doing more?
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar joins me exclusively from the Polish- Ukrainian border, just 19 miles from the latest bombing.
Plus: escalating threat. As Russian forces bomb Western Ukraine, the rest of Europe fears what's next. Can Vladimir Putin be contained?
EGILS LEVITS, PRESIDENT OF LATVIA (through translator): We will deter Moscow from further aggression.
BASH: The president of Latvia, which borders Russia, Egils Levits, ahead.
BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. And welcome to a special live edition of STATE OF THE UNION.
We are following breaking news. A U.S. journalist, Brent Renaud, was killed by Russian forces in
Ukraine, and another journalist was injured, as Russian President Vladimir Putin escalates his attacks, today targeting Western Ukraine, firing more than 30 missiles at a military base near Lviv. At least 35 people are dead, and 134 are injured, according to the head of the Lviv regional military administration.
Take a look at this location. The base is only about 11 miles from Poland, a NATO nation. The attack comes as Russian forces continue to bombard Ukrainian cities and are now 15 miles outside the capital, Kyiv. Down south, in Mariupol, city officials say nearly 2,200 residents have been killed.
France's president is warning, after a phone call with Vladimir Putin, that the Russian leader seems determined to continue the war.
I want to go straight to Ukraine and chief -- CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is live in Kyiv.
Clarissa, what is the latest on the ground there?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, according to the Pentagon, this strike on the Yavoriv international training center in Western Ukraine is the third strike on Western Ukraine or in Western Ukraine in the last two days.
It's important to keep in mind that, initially, the anticipation had been that Russia would not try to target Western Ukraine because of its proximity to Poland and other European countries. But that's clearly not the case.
CNN spoke to an eyewitness, who said that, shortly after 5:00 this morning, there was a massive clap, and then a series of missile strikes on this base, three that he could know for certain, 35 people killed, as you mentioned, more than 130 injured.
It's not known whether some of them may be foreign nationals, as well as Ukrainians, because, from our understanding, this base was essentially being used as a receiving center, Dana, for the so-called foreign legion or international fighters from all around the world who have been pouring into Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion alongside Ukrainian forces.
Meanwhile, you mentioned the death of that U.S. journalist. That took place in Irpin, which is a northwestern suburb of Kyiv. It's a place where my colleagues and I and many of us have spent a lot of time over the last week. There was another U.S. journalist who was also with him who was also shot, but is now injured and being treated in the hospital.
And the mayor of Irpin has come out and basically said that no journalists will be allowed into this suburb anymore, because the situation is so dangerous, because the situation is so unpredictable, and because we are increasingly seeing that civilian vehicles, civilian buildings are being targeted by Russian forces. One more important thing to mention, Dana, an aid convoy has been
trying to make it into the port city of Mariupol. That city has been heavily bombarded and under siege for well over a week now. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy really imploring Russians to allow that convoy to deliver that desperately needed humanitarian aid to that besieged city.
So far, no sense of clarity as to whether it's been able to reach its destination, but the humanitarian situation there dramatically deteriorating day by day, Dana.
BASH: Well, let's hope that Vladimir Putin at least listens to that plea about humanitarian aid.
And, Clarissa, needless to say, we are all hoping that you and our whole crew there stays safe. We did see you in Irpin doing remarkable, remarkable work.
Clarissa, thank you.
BASH: And here with me now is President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Jake, I want to start with that strike on the military training base that Clarissa was just talking about near Lviv, the western side of Ukraine, just 11 miles from the border with Poland.
What does that tell you about Putin's strategy? And how worried are you about this strike coming so close to a NATO territory?
JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, first, thanks for having me, Dana.
We have been warning since well before this invasion got under way in February that the plans for this invasion involved Russia attacking all over Ukraine, Southern Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, and, yes, Western Ukraine. So, this does not come as a surprise to the American intelligence and national security community.
What it shows is that Vladimir Putin is frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought that they would make against major cities, including Kyiv, that he is expanding the number of targets, that he is lashing out, and that he is trying to cause damage in every part of the country.
What President Biden has made clear from the beginning is that we will not have U.S. military forces operating in Ukraine, and there are none operating there now. But we will defend every inch of NATO territory, even as we seek to provide military assistance to the Ukrainian fighters who are bravely defending their homes and bravely defending their cities.
BASH: And let's talk about any effort for diplomacy here.
Vladimir Putin talked with the German and French presidents for more than an hour yesterday. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is reportedly telling Zelenskyy to make a deal. What are you hearing and seeing? Is there any diplomatic solution in sight?
SULLIVAN: Well, we have been in close contact with the Ukrainians. President Biden spoke with President Zelenskyy just a couple of days ago. He speaks to him on a regular basis to get updates on what is an ongoing communication between Ukrainian negotiators and Russian negotiators.
That is the negotiation that matters, because, ultimately, it is Ukraine that will have to make its own sovereign decisions about the shape of any diplomacy going forward.
From the United States' perspective, we're here to stay in touch with all the key players, as you mentioned, the French, the Germans, the Israelis, others, but ultimately to support the Ukrainians. And, as things stand right now, Vladimir Putin does not look like he is prepared to stop the onslaught.
And so we will continue to escalate the pressure against him and continue to support the Ukrainians as they fight to defend their territory.
BASH: I want to ask quickly about something you just heard Clarissa Ward report, which is that we're starting to get worried about an American journalist killed in Ukraine.
Do you have any information about that? And what is your reaction?
SULLIVAN: I have just had the opportunity to hear about it as I was coming on air.
So, I will have to consult with my colleagues and with our allies and partners and with the Ukrainians on the ground to learn more about what happened. But if, in fact, an American journalist was killed, it is a shocking and horrifying event. It is one more example of the brutality of Vladimir Putin and his forces, as they have targeted schools and mosques and hospitals and journalists.
And it is why we are working so hard to impose severe consequences on him and to try to help the Ukrainians with every form of military assistance we can muster to be able to push back against the onslaught of these Russian forces.
BASH: Well, let's talk more about the potential for that help, particularly militarily.
This week, the U.S. rejected a deal that would help get Polish fighter jets to Ukraine, but do so through a U.S. military base. The Pentagon, as you well know, was concerned that that would be perceived as an escalation by the U.S., be perceived that way in Russia.
But Zelenskyy is still pleading for help. Members of your own party are urging them to get -- urging the U.S. to help them get planes. So are you talking about another way to get Ukraine these planes, or are you ruling it out completely?
SULLIVAN: Well, the president listened to the assessment of his intelligence community. He listened to the advice of his military commanders. He consulted his NATO allies.
And he ultimately determined that the risk/benefit analysis of flying planes from NATO bases into contested airspace over Ukraine did not make sense, was not something that he would authorize.
What he did talk to President Zelenskyy about on Friday was other capabilities that could achieve a similar purpose. And so we are working on that now, other anti-air systems that could help take some -- help the Ukrainians make progress in terms of dealing with the threat that is coming from the air from the Russian side.
We are working on that intensively, in close coordination with our allies.
BASH: Anti-air systems, does that include plane -- I mean, I understand that -- what you just said about the president deciding that this particular deal to give Polish planes to Ukraine through the U.S. would -- wasn't going to work, but are there other planes that you're working on getting Zelenskyy, because that is specifically what he's asking for?
SULLIVAN: Our focus right now is on anti-air systems, as well as other forms of assistance. And I'm not sure if you're referring to some other set of planes that I'm -- I don't know about or some other means that I don't know about.
Right now, we are not looking at the provision of the fighter jets in question to Ukraine. We are looking at other methods of getting the Ukrainian defenders advanced capabilities to be able to blunt the Russian advance and protect Ukrainian towns and cities.
Jake, are you confident that supply convoys are safe?
SULLIVAN: What I'm confident of is that the United States, our NATO allies and partners and the Ukrainians have set up a system where we believe we will continue to be able to flow substantial amounts of military assistance and weapons to the front lines to help the Ukrainians ensure that Ukraine is a strategic failure for Vladimir Putin.
Of course, these convoys are going through a war zone. And so to describe them as safe wouldn't quite be accurate. But we believe that we have methods and systems in place to be able to continue to support the Ukrainians as they fight very bravely, very effectively against the attacking Russian forces.
BASH: The U.S. said this week that Russia has the capacity for a chemical weapon attack in Ukraine.
The Polish president said today that would be a game-changer. NATO would have to think seriously about what to do. Would the U.S. intervene more directly, militarily, if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, Dana, it is a very legitimate concern, fear that Russia would use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
They're right now accusing the United States and the Ukrainians of potentially using chemical or biological weapons, which is a tell. It's a tell that they themselves may be preparing to do so, and then trying to pin the blame on someone else. That's a classic page out of the Russian playbook.
As the president said on Friday, if Russia were to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, they would pay a severe price. And I'm going to leave it at that today, as we work closely with our NATO allies and partners. And, together, we communicate through channels to the Russians to reinforce that message that Russia, in fact, would pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
BASH: Jake, I understand that the U.S. is treading lightly, in part, in large part, because Russia is a nuclear power.
Vladimir Putin has his nuclear weapons on heightened alert. We know that Russia has smaller so-called tactical nuclear weapons. What is America's level of concern that Putin could use some kind of nuclear weapon?
SULLIVAN: Well, we are watching this extremely closely.
And, obviously, the escalation risk with a nuclear power is severe, and it is a different kind of conflict than other conflicts the American people have seen over the years. And the American president, Joe Biden, has to take that responsibility extremely seriously, even as we redouble our efforts to support the Ukrainians.
As things stand today, the United States has not adjusted our nuclear posture. But it is something that we monitor day by day, hour by hour, because it is of paramount priority to the president.
BASH: So, that sounds like you're concerned?
SULLIVAN: Well, any time you have a nuclear power fighting in a conflict zone in Europe, near NATO territory, of course we have to focus on and be concerned about the possibility of escalation, the risk of escalation.
SULLIVAN: But, as I said before, we have not seen anything that would require us to change our nuclear posture at this time. It's something we will continue to watch carefully. BASH: I want to ask about China.
China coordinated the timing of an invasion with Russia. They waited until after the Olympics. They're continuing to do business with Russia. Do you consider Xi Jinping a co-conspirator with Vladimir Putin in this war against Ukraine?
SULLIVAN: Well, we believe that China, in fact, was aware before the invasion took place that Vladimir Putin was planning something. They may not have understood the full extent of it, because it's very possible that Putin lied to them, the same way that he lied to Europeans and others.
We also are watching closely to see the extent to which China actually does provide any form of support, material support or economic support, to Russia. It is a concern of ours. And we have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions.
BASH: Would you...
SULLIVAN: And we...
BASH: Would you sanction China if they did help out Russia?
SULLIVAN: I'm not going to sit here publicly and brandish threats.
But what I will tell you is that we are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them. We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.
BASH: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, thank you so much for joining me.
SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
BASH: Millions of refugees have left Ukraine. What happens to them now? Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar joins me live from Poland ahead.
And as Russia doubles down in Ukraine, could the violence spread into Europe more broadly? The president of Latvia is coming up.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
Residents in Southern Ukraine are turning out in large protests today.
You can see a Russian soldier shooting over the crowd there, as Russia ramps up its attacks. Millions of other Ukrainians have already escaped the country over its western border to Poland, and more are trying to go. But that area outside Lviv was the target of Russian strikes this weekend, just 11 miles from the border with Poland.
And that's raising fears in Europe this morning.
BASH: Joining me now from Poland, where she and other senators are with a bipartisan group who just visited a refugee center, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Thank you so much for joining me, Senator.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Thank you, Dana.
BASH: I want to start on that missile strike 19 miles from where you are right now.
What can you tell us about what happened? And how worried are you about how close this came to the border of a NATO ally?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, obviously, we are in Poland right now, a country with a big heart, taking on 1.5 million -- 1.5 million refugees.
In Warsaw alone, the population has increased by 11 percent. They're taking them into their homes, Dana. They are taking them at the border. And so, obviously, having that so close to their own country is scary. This is a country that has been invaded by Prussians and Russians and the Habsburgs and the Nazis. In this little town, there's actually a synagogue with a menorah with a crack in it, remembering the Jews that were lost to Hitler.
So, this is very provocative to be this close to Poland. But Poland is a NATO ally. And we have sworn to protect Poland. And, in fact, last night, the three -- the four of us, Senator Portman, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Wicker and myself, were briefed with the 82nd Airborne leaders about everything that's being done to get help to Ukraine, both humanitarian and ammunition, and many, many air defense mechanisms that are going on right now.
And you have heard about the Stingers and the Javelins, with more to come, but also the humanitarian aid, which is becoming more and more of a crisis, as refugees are basically flowing through the border.
BASH: Right. Yes.
And you talked about, obviously, the refugees you're seeing there in Poland. There are some new numbers from the U.N. this morning showing, more broadly, 2.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine.
Can you talk a little bit more about what you're seeing in Poland right now, and specifically what more the U.S. can do to help with that humanitarian crisis that you're referring to and seeing?
KLOBUCHAR: Today, we're being briefed by USAID, talking about the help that of course, the Congress just devoted, billions of dollars, from our own country to go and help the Ukrainians.
More and more nonprofits are coming in with medical supplies. And a lot of the real challenge here, of course, is getting it in. Right now, that's happening. And there's trucks after truck after truck. But, of course, the Russians realize this is happening. And they seem to show no limits, whether it is hitting a maternity hospital or hitting religious institutions, whether it is going after civilian apartment buildings.
And so that's always a concern. And that's one of the reasons that people aren't always revealing how all of these -- this humanitarian aid, as well as military assistance, is getting through the borders, because of the simple fact that the Russians are looking to attack anything and everything, because, so far, as you know, this country next door of Ukraine, their brave citizens have been able to stand up, against all odds, to the Russians.
The other things I will say about the Poles is, they're so proud of standing up and helping the Ukrainians. You can just feel it standing in this square, people out strolling on a beautiful Sunday, but they are proud. They're proud to be with America, as I was standing here as you're interviewing me, all kinds of thumbs up, because they care a lot about our country.
And we are allies, as we are with most of the countries in the world right now.
BASH: Let's talk about military aid for Ukraine.
You said that the U.S. talks this past week to give Polish or other NATO fighter jets to Ukraine were -- quote -- "the right thing."
But National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan just told me that President Biden decided flying planes from NATO bases into contested airspace -- quote -- "doesn't make sense."
Is that a mistake?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, there's a lot of us that would like to see the planes over there. And I know that Secretary of State Tony Blinken talked about it just last weekend.
I think one of the things that Jake is getting at is, at some point, there's been so much focus on these planes, especially these particular planes, that they themselves could become a target. The Russians are well aware of this.
And one of the things we have to remember is, this is all about air defense. And you can do it with planes. You can do it with drones, which have been incredibly effective in Ukraine, much bigger than anyone ever thought, as well as, as I mentioned, the Stingers and the Javelins. So, a lot of this is upping the air defense.
And what I heard Jake say this morning is that they are looking to help in many different ways with air defense. And that's certainly the things that we have been hearing from our military on the ground here in Poland as well as our allies.
And we have to remember, Dana, it's not just America. There's also allies that we're working on, as you can see how we coordinated on the sanctions, as we're coordinating on the issue of the planes. But we also are coordinating in many other ways, some of which don't get on your airwaves, for good reason. It's in the middle of a war.
BASH: So you don't -- even know you supported helping Poland get those planes to Ukraine, you're OK with the decision the administration made not to allow that to happen?
KLOBUCHAR: I have made clear to them -- I spoke to the president himself about 10 days ago about this -- I'd like to see the planes over there.
But, remember, things shift. As things become a target, because there's so much public discussion about them, that can become an issue itself. And that's no one's fault. It just happened.
And so part of this is figuring out how you best get things -- and it's not always in public sight, because then they become themselves target -- how you best get air defense over to Poland in a way that's most effective, so that they can move things around the country, which they're doing incredibly well.
And some of the easiest things to move around are drones, which have taken down aircraft, and other anti-aircraft weapons that have been very effective. And we must continue.
KLOBUCHAR: And I still don't rule out having planes at some point.
But, again, you take one day at a time and make the best defense system decisions. And that can't always be discussed on the air, or you would be giving Vladimir Putin the road map to what NATO wants to do here to help protect Ukraine.
BASH: Totally understandable.
Senator Amy Klobuchar joining me from Poland, thank you so much, and stay safe.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thank you, Dana.
BASH: Does Vladimir Putin believe that even more of Europe belongs under Russian domain?
The president of Latvia is here live on his country's fears. That's right after the break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:34:03]
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
Western leaders are warning that the overwhelming pressure on Vladimir Putin seems not to have changed his mind on his war in Ukraine. That leaves other countries close to Russia worrying, what's next?
The president of Latvia, Egils Levits, joins me now from Riga.
Mr. President, thank you so much for joining me.
Just so our viewers understand that your country, Latvia, shares a 130-mile border with Russia. It is a former Soviet state. Do you fear that your country, Latvia, could be next?
LEVITS: Latvia is member of NATO.
And NATO is the strongest military alliance in the world; 800 million people live in NATO states. And the -- NATO has the biggest military potential in the world, much more bigger as Russia.
So, we are, as Europeans and democrats, worrying and shocked about the Russian aggression against Ukraine. But we know that the aggression against Ukraine is not only aggression against a state, but, in the same time, aggression against the West, against the Western values. And Ukraine is now fighting, fighting for Western values.
And our duty is to help Ukraine to fight for the country and for the nation.
BASH: So, on that note, the United States is sending hundreds of troops to your country, to Latvia, including F-35 fighter jets, for the first time.
The U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also said NATO, which, as you mentioned, of course, you're a member of, is establishing a more permanent military base there in Latvia.
Do you think that that has to happen in order to protect against any future Russian aggression?
NATO should strengthen the NATO eastern flank, the Baltics, Poland, Romania, so that this would be a strong signal to Moscow that NATO is ready to defend the member states. I welcome also the American troops in Poland, in Baltics. And we need a permanent presence of American troops in this area. I think it is a response to the Russian ideas on aggression beyond Ukraine.
So, we should defend our way of life, our democracies. And this is a question for the confidence to the West. It is an exam for the West. It is exam for the American leadership. And I'm sure that America and the West as a whole will pass this exam.
BASH: We just saw a Russian attack on the Ukrainian base just 11 miles from the border with Poland, which is a fellow NATO member.
How worried are you that that is a signal that it could escalate, what's going on could escalate more broadly in Europe?
LEVITS: We should help Ukraine.
Ukrainian nation is ready to fight and is highly motivated. It's a nation with over 40 million people. And it is not so easy to compare such a big state, the biggest -- biggest state in -- by territory, in Europe, outside Russia.
And it is our duty to help. And we are doing that. America, Latvia, United Kingdom, many NATO states are sending military equipment, Javelins, Stingers, which Ukraine need. And this is a real help for Ukraine.
Second, direction of sanctions, we have already decided in European Union and United States several sanctions, but the potential for increasing the sanctions not yet fulfilled, there are still potential to increase the sanctions.
BASH: Mr. President, one of your predecessors, former Latvian President Vike-Freiberga, didn't mince any words when it comes to Vladimir Putin. She called him a narcissist, a psychopath, a megalomaniac with very strong paranoid tendencies.
And she believes that he's become increasingly unhinged. Do you agree with that?
LEVITS: I'm not a psychologist, like my predecessor, But autocratic states depends from the physical and psychological conditions of the leaders.
And this is one of the weaknesses of authoritarian systems. And, indeed, Russian system shows that, for example -- for example, the planning of the attack to Ukraine failed.
And this also is a weakness of the system. Autocratic systems cannot compete with democratic systems. But the democratic systems should defend themselves. And this is a time and a case now in order to help Ukraine, to defend not only Ukraine, but also the West as a whole.
BASH: President Egils Levits, thank you so much for joining me from Riga, Latvia. Appreciate it.
LEVITS: Thank you.
BASH: And Vladimir Putin's war is looking, as we just heard, like a blunder that could damage Russia's economy for a generation. But is that the view inside Russia?
I'm going to talk to my colleague, a journalist who just left Moscow and is back, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MISHA KATSURIN, UKRAINIAN RESTAURATEUR: I told you that we woke up from the bombing, and that I took my, like, little son, who is 8- month-old. And we tried to -- like, to escape and to save the family.
And he started to argue. He said: "No no, no, everything is not like this."
He just cannot believe in this reality. So, they exist in another reality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
That was Misha Katsurin, a Ukrainian restauranteur, whose own father -- that's who he was talking about -- is living in Russia and refused to believe him, his own son, what he was saying about the war that was happening in Ukraine.
I'm here now with former CNN Moscow bureau chief and CNN contributor who just returned from Russia Jill Dougherty, and Julia Ioffe, founding partner and Washington correspondent at Puck News, who also lived in Moscow on and off for a while.
I want to start, Jill, since you literally just got back.
You had to leave Russia. You were living there for a long time, I mean, on and off, but most recently for a few years. You took a selfie that I want to show as you were leaving. And you -- well, it's pretty clear you -- that you were not sure if you were leaving Moscow for the last time.
You had to leave because it was illegal to report accurate information.
JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, just to be precise, I had actually stopped being the bureau chief. I was back in the States.
BASH: Yes. Yes.
DOUGHERTY: But I went back for CNN to provide commentary...
DOUGHERTY: ... right -- good timing, right as the war began.
BASH: Yes. DOUGHERTY: But what happened was, the Russian government passed a law
that defined any fake information or disinformation about the war could be punished, by the media, could be punished with up to 15 years in prison.
And so that law was so broadly written that nobody knew how it would be defined. So, a lot of Western media decided they had to leave because it was really unclear.
BASH: And you just heard that clip from the man in Ukraine not able to convince his own father in Russia.
And it's because there aren't journalists like you who did go back, and you who have been there, on and off, and other colleagues that were kicked out...
JULIA IOFFE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK NEWS: Well, also...
BASH: ... if they wanted to report accurately.
IOFFE: Also because there are no Russian independent journalists anymore. They have all left. Hundreds of them have fled.
What was left of Russian independent media is basically dead at this point because of this law, and because the Russian state authorities shut down the last kind of vestiges of it.
But I have heard many stories like this, because there are so many -- millions of families in Russia who have relatives in Ukraine who are mixed families. And they have friends or relatives calling home to their mothers, to their friends, telling them: They're bombing us.
And I have heard stories that people just block their friend or relative. Not only do they not believe them, but they block them as enemies, because they're just so brainwashed at this point.
BASH: Our colleague, our CNN colleague, Nic Robertson, just like you, he was forced to leave Moscow.
He did a piece for CNN.com. He wrote -- quote -- "Vladimir Putin isn't just destroying Ukraine, but two nations, condemning Russians to an isolation they didn't necessarily choose."
Did you find that when you were in Russia?
DOUGHERTY: Oh, yes, there is no question.
I mean, that -- because my area is Russia, and I have a lot of Russian friends and a lot of colleagues. And I think one of the saddest things for Russia will be that they are being so cut off from the rest of the world in so many ways, now economically.
Journalism, as you just mentioned, is basically dead in Russia, except for the state media. And when you say, why don't Russians believe that this is actually happening, if you watch Russian TV, there is no reporting on what's happening in the rest of Ukraine. It's all on that eastern part, the Donbass region, where the Russian
speakers live, in these two fake republics that Russia just recognized are located. So, when they look at it, the message they get is, Russians are under attack by Ukrainians, and Ukrainians are being manipulated and used as a weapon against Russia.
That's what they're getting. So, you know -- now, younger people who can get onto the Internet, get alternative information, they have other ways to get information. But the average Russian, a little bit older, not on the Internet, is definitely a victim of just this spewing propaganda.
IOFFE: And that's why most Russians support the war, because they're supporting a different war than the one that's actually happening on the ground.
Like Jill said, the war they're being shown is a much cleaner one. There are no civilian casualties. Russian troops are being greeted as liberators. They're taking the utmost care to not kill Ukrainian civilians, because their war, according to Kremlin propaganda, is not against the Ukrainian people. It's against the Nazis, who, at the behest of the United States, have seized power.
And so they're seeing a very sanitized version of this, what they're being shown as like a liberating war. And so of course people support it.
BASH: And former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, he said Putin is trying to return Russia to the kind of totalitarian society it was before Mikhail Gorbachev opened the Soviet Union up to the West.
Do you think that's what's happening, based on what you saw there?
I mean, I think it's complicated picture, in a way. But I definitely feel, if you look at the people who are surrounding Putin right now, the people that he really -- well, I don't -- I was going to say listens to. I'm not too sure he listens to anyone.
But the people who are around him are these hard men. These are the siloviki, as they're called, the power guys. And so what they want -- and I'm convinced of this, sadly -- is that they want to cut Russia off. They feel that they can survive against the despicable West. And they are totally happy to have Russia cut off from the rest of the world.
DOUGHERTY: And so Putin, actually, I think, is a Soviet man. He really is Soviet. IOFFE: Yes.
BASH: And your -- I should just give our viewers some context, those who don't know.
You and your family were Soviet refugees.
BASH: So you have firsthand understanding of the idea or ideal that you're saying that Vladimir Putin wants to return to.
IOFFE: So I think that -- I agree with Jill, but I do think that a lot of the men around him, it's not that they want Russia to be cut off. They liked the spoils that came with being connected to the West and plugged into that economy.
They could have property abroad. They could travel abroad. They could have the benefits of Western civilization. But if they are to be cut off, then they're like, it's fine. We will tighten our belts and we will do it.
But they are men who were born in the '50s, who are -- who came of age during Brezhnev's era. And they didn't mind it so much. It was their youth. They were in the KGB. They were kind of at the top of the pile in Soviet society.
But younger people -- it's not like it was in the '70s, because, in the '70s or in the '80s, people didn't know anything different. Here, you have a society being -- like, Moscow and St. Petersburg, in my mind, are better cities than New York or L.A., just like bar none.
And now they're being -- they're just technologically advanced. They're great to live in. They're super hip. They're now being dragged back to something that's not even -- a friend of mine said, it's not even the Soviet Union. It's something between the Soviet Union and North Korea.
So it's something that's also being taken away from people. It's not that they have never -- as opposed to the Soviet Union, which -- where they didn't have anything.
BASH: Thirty seconds.
DOUGHERTY: I think the saddest thing for Russia -- obviously, the war is terrible for Ukraine.
But, for Russia, this young generation is going to have fewer chances to integrate into the West, to travel, to study, to even have information from the West. And so their entire future is on the line.
And I can tell you, some of my friends and colleagues are leaving. And a whole generation is going to be leaving Russia. And it will only make Russia weaker.
IOFFE: Something like 200,000 people left in these two weeks. BASH: Julia, Jill, thank you so much, both of you, for joining me and
giving your incredible expertise.
And we will be right back.
BASH: I want to take a moment to recognize Brent Renaud, an award- winning American journalist killed while working to document the atrocities Russia is committing in Ukraine.
It is dangerous work that journalists, including many of our CNN colleagues, are doing as we speak to show the world what is happening.
May his memory be a blessing.
The news continues next.