Return to Transcripts main page
State of the Union
Interview With Former CIA Director David Petraeus; Interview With David Remnick and Masha Gessen; Interview With Polish Ambassador to the United States Marek Magierowski; Interview With U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired March 20, 2022 - 09:00 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): State of emergency. Russian forces assail Ukrainian cities, and President Biden will head to Europe for an emergency NATO summit.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: President Putin, stop the killing. Leave Ukraine once and for all.
TAPPER: How many more innocent Ukrainians will die? I will speak to U.N. ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Polish Ambassador to the U.S. Marek Magierowski next.
And brutality and loss, Russian forces suffer casualties by the thousands, as their push to overtake Ukraine meets fierce resistance. A look at Russia's strategy and who is winning the war, when former CIA Director and retired General David Petraeus joins me to discuss ahead.
Plus: behind enemy lines. Inside Russia, the Kremlin moves to strangle all dissent. But, as the war atrocities grow, is any of the truth getting through? I will speak to two journalists with deep insight into Russia, David Remnick and Masha Gessen, in moments.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is wondering if this NATO summit is more about images than solutions.
President Biden will travel to Europe this week to meet with allies for a series of critical gatherings, an emergency NATO summit, a special session of the European Council, and a meeting of the G7.
But beyond a show of resolve, it remains unclear what, if anything, these Western leaders might announce to stop Putin's slaughter of the Ukrainian people. On the ground, the Russian brutality has increased. Overnight, we learned an art school being used as a shelter in Mariupol has been bombed by Russian forces, according to the city council. There were about 400 people sheltering there. And individuals are still trapped in the rubble. On Saturday, satellite images showed the damage to a theater in that city where about 1,000 people had been taking refuge, one bombed even though the Russian word for children had been painted in huge letters in Russian on the ground outside. Hundreds remain unaccounted for there.
Mariupol City Council also warned on Saturday night that thousands of residents were being taken into Russian territory against their will, as Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called in a new video for negotiations without delay, saying -- quote -- "It's time to talk" and warning of Russian losses that will impact that country for a generation.
Despite the escalating brutality, some military experts, including an assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, say the war in Ukraine has reached something of a -- quote -- "stalemate." Also, Russia says it is turning to unprecedented weapons in the battle, claiming Saturday it had used hypersonic cruise missiles on military targets in Ukraine, which, if true, would be the first time a hypersonic weapon has been used in combat.
Let's go straight to CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson now. He's at an arcade turned into an emergency refugee center into Dnipro, Ukraine.
And, Ivan, we're seeing Russian forces increasingly targeting civilians just south of where you are.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true.
The people who have taken shelter here in this improvised arcade, laser tag center, they have recently escaped just days ago from the Russian siege of Mariupol, describing to me living day and night in the basements of their building with the constant bombardment coming from Russian airstrikes, artillery, rockets.
We're now starting to hear reports about possible naval bombardment of Mariupol, people living without electricity, running water or heat and unable to access hospitals, for example, melting snow to get drinking water or collecting it from rain gutters when it falls.
And the people that I have spoken to here have left behind parents and grandparents under the Russian siege of that city, and, as you mentioned in your lead-in, the -- some of the places that people have taken shelter in, such as this art school, such as the drama theater, reportedly hit by Russian incoming artillery and fire.
The Russian government insists to this day that the Russian armed forces do not bomb Ukrainian cities and towns. The people that I have been speaking to here have endured that bombardment and have fled in their own cars, and are visibly traumatized by the ordeal that they have suffered.
One man that I spoke with an hour ago said he himself helped dig a grave for three of his neighbors who were killed by a Russian shell in front of his eyes, and he planted a cross with two sticks in the courtyard of their building for that grave -- back to you, Jake.
TAPPER: Ivan, thank you so much.
I want to go now to a very special exclusive.
Fareed Zakaria, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," just spoke to Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Fareed, thanks for joining us.
So, what did President Zelenskyy have to say?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It was a sober interview.
He was trying his best to hold out the prospect of negotiation, while acknowledging the terrible tragedy and the loss. He talked a lot about the children who are dying and the -- and the way that weighs on him.
But, at the same time, as you mentioned, Jake, he is calling for negotiations. And I asked him very specifically, given what has happened, given what Russian forces have done, given what Vladimir Putin has done to his country, can you negotiate with him?
Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: President Biden has called Vladimir Putin a war criminal. And yet you have called for negotiations with him.
Will it be hard, will it be painful for you to have to sit down with Putin, were he to agree, and negotiate with him?
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I'm ready for negotiations with him.
I was ready over the last two years. And I think that -- I think that, without negotiations, we cannot end this work. I think that all the people who think that this dialogue is shallow and that it is not going to resolve anything, they just don't understand that this is very valuable.
If there is just 1 percent chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that. I can't tell you about the result of these negotiations. In any case, we're losing people on a daily basis, innocent people on the ground. Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us.
And we have demonstrated the dignity of our people and our army, that we are -- we are able to deal a powerful blow. We're able to strike back. But, unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve the lives.
So, I think that we have to use any format, any chance in order to have the possibility of negotiating, the possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a Third World War.
ZAKARIA: We talked -- Jake, we talked also about the painful compromises he would have to make. And, there, he balanced between very strong assertions of Ukrainian sovereignty, but leaving open the room for some kind of negotiated settlement.
You can imagine he is in a terrible, difficult position, but he handles it with extraordinary bravery and intelligence, extraordinary transformation of a man. I interviewed him only nine months ago in Kyiv. And it was a totally different conversation from what we had today.
TAPPER: All right, Fareed Zakaria, thank you so much.
And you can watch for Fareed's full interview with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy at 9:00 a.m. (sic) Eastern.
Fareed, thank you so much.
Joining us now to discuss, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for joining us.
You heard President Zelenskyy say that, without negotiations, they cannot end the war. He also warned about World War III if negotiations fail.
Do you see a negotiated settlement between Ukraine and Russia as the only practical way to avoid World War III?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It certainly is an important factor.
And we have supported the negotiations that President Zelenskyy has attempted to do with the Russians. And I do use the word attempted, because the negotiations seem to be one-sided, and the Russians have not leaned in to any possibility for a negotiated and diplomatic solution.
You know we tried quite a bit before Russia decided to move forward in this brutal attack on Ukraine, and those diplomatic efforts were not responded to well by the Russians, and they're not responding now.
But we're still hopeful that the Ukrainian effort will end this brutal war.
TAPPER: I know some in the West are concerned that President Zelenskyy, under understandable duress, with his people being slaughtered, might give away too much to make a deal with Russia to stop the slaughter. Some of the items being raised in these talks include Zelenskyy and
Ukraine ruling out entirely joining NATO and just staying neutral, a complete demilitarization of Ukraine, with security guarantees from other countries, ceding Crimea, ceding the Donbass republics as independent republics.
Is that too much? Are any of those items acceptable to the U.S.?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, this is for the Ukrainians themselves to decide what is too much for them. It is not our decision on that. And we support their efforts.
So I can't preview what they will end up coming up with in their negotiations with the -- with the Russians. But they know and I think the -- President Zelenskyy has been clear, people are dying. Russian soldiers are dying. But so many Ukrainian citizens are feeling the impact of this.
So, he has to take all of that into account as he approached the Russians at the negotiating table.
TAPPER: Would the U.S. recognize Crimea, recognize these independent breakaway republics, if Zelenskyy were to cede those areas in peace negotiations with Russia?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can't say that at the moment.
We certainly have not recognized the independent Donbass regions that the Russians just declared as independent. But I can't preview how we will respond to a negotiated settlement that the Ukrainians come up with the Russians to save the lives of their own people.
TAPPER: So, President Biden is traveling to an emergency NATO summit on Thursday.
Poland says that they're going to formally submit a proposal to NATO for a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. What might that look like? Would the U.S. support sending NATO peacekeepers into Ukraine?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, Jake, the president has been very clear that we will not put American troops on the ground in Ukraine. We don't want to escalate this into a war with the United States.
But we will support our NATO allies. We have troops, as you know, in NATO countries. And the president has made clear that, if there is an attack on any of our NATO countries, under Article 5, that we will support those countries and defend those countries.
TAPPER: I assume President Biden's opposition to sending U.S. troops into Ukraine would include sending NATO troops, a NATO peacekeeping mission, even if it were not -- even if there were not any U.S. service members in that mission into Ukraine?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, I can't preview what decisions will be made at this NATO conference and how NATO will respond to the Polish proposal. What I can say is, American troops will not be on the ground in
Ukraine at this moment. The president has been clear on that. And other NATO countries may decide that they want to put troops inside of Ukraine. That will be a decision that they have to make.
TAPPER: President Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday for almost two hours.
According to the Chinese readout of the call, Xi Jinping said -- quote -- "He who tied the bell to the tiger must take it off."
That's one of his favorite aphorisms, and it's apparently Xi Jinping blaming the U.S., blaming NATO for instigating the Russia invasion.
Do you think China is going to give financial or military assistance to Putin?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, the president was also very clear about his discussion with President Xi, in which we made our position very well- known to him that there will be consequences for China if China decides to provide substantial military or financial support to the Russians that allow them to avoid the sanctions.
The conversation, as you said, was two hours' long, but it was extraordinarily frank, it was detailed, and it was substantive. And we made our position clear to the Chinese.
They're in an uncomfortable position. They have been put in a position of defending Russia against our their principles of sovereignty and integrity of borders. So, they have to decide where they will go from this point, and not sit on the fence, and call out the Russian aggression for what it is, and not put themselves in the position of defending what is indefensible.
TAPPER: The City Council in Mariupol, Ukraine, says that several thousands people from Mariupol have been forcibly taken from their hometown to Russian territory against their will.
They say that some of these Ukrainians were taken to camps, some were then redirected to remote cities.
Can you confirm? Does the U.S. know that that's happening? And, if it is happening, how disturbing is that?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I have only heard it. I can't confirm it.
But I can say, it is disturbing. It is unconscionable for Russia to force Ukrainian citizens into Russia, and put them in what will basically be concentration and prisoner camps.
So, this is something that we need to verify. Russia should not be moving Ukrainian citizens against their will into Russia.
TAPPER: The U.S., NATO and Ukraine have all been warning about a possible Russian false flag operation that they would use to justify using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
What does the latest intelligence suggest about how likely that might be? And how might the U.S. retaliate if the Russians use chemical weapons in Ukraine?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Jake, as you know, the Russians came to the Security Council on Friday with these spurious accusations that the U.S. was supporting Ukraine's chemical weapons programs. And I'm not going to give that any more amplification here.
What we see happening is, again, this is a false flag effort by the Russians. They are advancing what they might intend to do. We have seen it happen before. They are the ones who've used chemical weapons. They used them in Syria. They have used chemical weapons against their own people. And we are concerned that they may use chemical weapons in Ukraine.
We have been clear, if they escalate to this level, we will respond aggressively to what they are doing. You have seen the consequences so far of our actions against Russia and against Putin. And they are feeling those consequences. And they will feel more if they take this unfortunate decision to use chemical weapons.
TAPPER: Lastly, three European heads of state visited Kyiv in the last week or so.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko suggested that President Biden should visit Ukraine on his trip to Europe this week. Is that on the table?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: As far as I know, it's not on the table.
The president is going to Europe. And he will be meeting with all of our partners and allies there. I have not seen any discussions of the president going into Ukraine.
But you have to remember, we have discouraged Americans from going into Ukraine. This is a country at war. I can't imagine that that would be on the table.
TAPPER: U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Thank you so much for your time this morning, Madam Ambassador.
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: A daring visit to Ukraine's capital at the center of the fighting.
What did European leaders learn? The Polish ambassador to the U.S. will be here next.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
As Russian forces use increasingly brutal tactics in Ukraine and edge closer to Western Europe, the leaders of three NATO countries made a dangerous trip to the heart of the fight in Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv.
There, the leaders of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in person this week.
Joining me now for more, Poland's ambassador to the U.S., Marek Magierowski.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.
Your prime minister says he intends to propose a peacekeeping mission, a NATO peacekeeping mission, in Ukraine at this week's summit. What would that look like? What would be part -- who would be part of that force? What exactly would they be doing in Ukraine?
MAREK MAGIEROWSKI, POLISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: It is, understandably, preliminary concept which has been put on the table, a proposal which has to be considered by our NATO allies.
And, of course, in terms of international law, it will be complicated, as you probably imagine. But I believe we have to explore every option and every avenue to stop this aggression and this unprovoked war as quickly as possible, of course, without engaging Russia in direct military confrontation, because this is not the intent.
But I think we should talk about all possibilities in order also to send a very clear signal to the Kremlin that NATO is determined to not only help the Ukrainians to defeat the Russian army, the aggressor on their soil, but also to defend our territorial integrity, our sovereignty and our freedoms.
TAPPER: So, I don't know how you would do that without engaging with the Russians. The Russians are attacking Ukraine. If a NATO peacekeeping mission goes in, it seems very likely.
I mean, they're killing American journalists, not to mention Ukrainian children.
MAGIEROWSKI: Nevertheless, nevertheless, it is a proposal which should be discussed.
TAPPER: Right, but wouldn't that automatically -- I mean, if a NATO peacekeeping mission goes in, inevitably, either they will engage with the Russians or the Russians will engage with them.
And then you have Article 5...
MAGIEROWSKI: Like I said, it's a very -- yes, like I said...
TAPPER: A vote?
MAGIEROWSKI: ... it's a very preliminary concept. It doesn't need to be a peacekeeping mission under the cover of NATO. NATO does not need to engage in this kind of operation.
Anyway, I believe that the upcoming NATO summit in Brussels next week will be a great opportunity to talk about all these possibilities and options and proposals which are now on the table how to deter Russia, also in a longer term.
Presumably, Polish troops would be part of such a mission?
MAGIEROWSKI: Well, Polish troops are -- we are willing and ready to help the Ukrainians as much as possible, and, again, within the framework of NATO cooperation, to defend themselves.
Again, we are not talking about a possible escalation and possible engagement of NATO troops in Ukraine. I fully agree with most Polish and Western politicians who say that it would be too escalatory.
But, anyway, we have to be very adamant that, if Russia escalates, and if this war is protracted, in the longer term, we have to be ready to defend NATO territory. Like President Biden said in his State of the Union address, we are ready to defend every inch of NATO territory. We are ready to defend every NATO member country.
And that's why we should be also discussing numerous possibilities of defending ourselves, not only Ukraine.
But just to be clear, you're talking about Polish troops, without question, in Ukraine?
MAGIEROWSKI: No. No, I'm not talking about Polish troops in Ukraine.
TAPPER: As part of a -- as part of a NATO peacekeeping mission?
MAGIEROWSKI: I have to repeat this for the third time. It's just a preliminary concept.
MAGIEROWSKI: We can't take any decisions unilaterally...
MAGIEROWSKI: ... even as a NATO member state.
All such decisions, no matter how radical they seem to be now, have to be taken by all NATO members.
TAPPER: OK. Well, we look forward to hearing more details about this plan.
Just a few days ago, Ukraine's military said that they shot down a Russian drone that had crossed into Ukraine from Poland. So, Russia has already violated Polish airspace, theoretically, if you believe this account, at least once in this conflict.
What can you tell us about that? And what would Poland do if Russia violates your airspace again?
MAGIEROWSKI: I don't have much more knowledge about that.
Of course, again, if Russia -- if there is an incursion into NATO territory, I believe Russia can expect a very harsh response on the part of our alliance.
TAPPER: So, your prime minister, I don't think it's overstating it to say he put his life at risk by traveling to Kyiv this week, along with two other European heads of state to meet with President Zelenskyy.
What message was he trying to send to Russia, to NATO, to the Polish people?
MAGIEROWSKI: It was a very symbolic journey, obviously.
He wanted to send a message of solidarity and sympathy with the Ukrainian people and especially with President Zelenskyy himself. And, also, he stressed very clearly that -- talking about Ukraine's future, that the European Union should grant the so-called fast-track option to Ukraine, in terms of Ukraine's joining the European Union, Ukraine's accession to European institutions, which has always been one of the most important and crucial aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
As you probably know, if we look at recent polls and surveys, the approval for European Union's membership in Ukraine has skyrocketed. And I believe that it's -- we can see this in plain view, that the Ukrainians have fully deserved to be members of the European Union.
TAPPER: At least two million Ukrainian refugees have fled across the border into Poland.
The two largest cities in your country, Warsaw and Krakow, the leaders of them have already said that they don't know that they can handle any more refugees. How much longer will Poland be able to continue accepting refugees? And do you need more international assistance?
MAGIEROWSKI: We have been managing this crisis remarkably well so far.
But, of course, it has already become a huge burden, both logistically and socially and...
TAPPER: Yes, two million refugees in the course of three weeks.
MAGIEROWSKI: A very short period of time.
By the way, a few days ago, the Polish Parliament passed a law, approved a bill, pretty innovative, by the way, which essentially facilitates further integration of all those Ukrainian migrants and refugees into the Polish society. They can apply for Polish I.D.s. They can set up their own businesses.
Between 60,000 and 80,000 Ukrainian children have already been incorporated into the Polish schooling system, health care insurance. These are the benefits that the Ukrainians are already receiving in Poland.
So, it is quite a challenge, of course. And that's why many mayors of Polish cities are now in talks with their counterparts in Europe and beyond about the possibility of relocation, because, again, in the longer term, we have done our utmost to accommodate the Ukrainian refugees, to host them in our homes.
But, of course, two million people...
TAPPER: It's a lot.
MAGIEROWSKI: ... it's a huge number.
TAPPER: Ambassador Magierowski, thank you so much for being with us today.
MAGIEROWSKI: My pleasure. Thank you.
TAPPER: Thank you. Really appreciate it.
Ukrainian forces have had stunning success defending their homeland, but Russia is using increasingly brutal tactics. Who's winning the war?
Retired General David Petraeus will join me at the Magic Wall next.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
Russia is suffering trip losses and has been unable to take Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv as of yet, but the Russians are expanding their attacks.
And retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus is here to talk about the latest on the ground.
So, General, thanks so much for joining us. Let's start with this map of Ukraine, because, right now, we know the
Russians are working on four major fronts. There's Kyiv. There's Kharkiv. There's, obviously, the Donbass region, the separatist regions, and then, of course, Crimea.
But the stale -- it does seem as though right now we're hearing that it's something of a stalemate. What is going wrong for the Russians right now?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, an awful lot, actually.
It's a stalemate. But we should note it's a bloody stalemate.
PETRAEUS: This is not a cease-fire.
And also, arguably, it's a battle of attrition. It's a stalemate on the battlefield, again, with lots of continued damage on both sides, lots of destruction, especially from the Russians. But there's a battle of attrition, in a sense, between the will in Kyiv and the country and then between that in Moscow, and especially in the Kremlin, as their economy, their financial system and all the rest of that is just collapsing.
But what you see, up here, this is the main effort. We can come in and show that in a second.
TAPPER: You want to go to...
TAPPER: You want to look at Kyiv?
PETRAEUS: Let's do that, yes.
TAPPER: So here's Kyiv.
TAPPER: And so, right now, they seem to have been -- they haven't been able to -- here's Kyiv right now.
TAPPER: And they haven't been able to get in there.
PETRAEUS: No, you have really seen no big change to these lines for about two weeks.
The Ukrainians have actually been counterattacking around in here, but very local counterattacks. Here, the Russians are actually digging in. They're actually digging holes for their tanks because they have taken such losses. And they're really not quite within artillery range of the center of
the city. They have rockets, missiles, bombs, and everything else that we have seen. And they're rubbling these little villages that are on the outside. Keep in mind, this is 320 square miles, compared with New York City, all of which is 300 miles in total.
So, again, pretty much a stalemate here, but, again, very much a bloody one.
But if we go in now -- let's go down to the south.
TAPPER: So let's look at this corridor...
TAPPER: ... because this is important.
PETRAEUS: It is.
TAPPER: You -- we have Russian troops just absolutely pummeling Mariupol. We have heard just these horrible stories about citizens being taken out into Russian camps of sorts...
TAPPER: ... and that city just being devastated.
But Russia has reportedly established a land corridor between the Donbass region...
PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes.
TAPPER: ... which is here, and Crimea...
TAPPER: ... which they seized in 2014.
PETRAEUS: Which they have wanted for a long time.
TAPPER: This is important.
PETRAEUS: It extends all the way across here. It is very important.
Mariupol has not yet fallen. It is out of food, fuel, water, everything except for heart. They are still fighting very hard. This is the first place where the Russians are having to do no-kidding urban fighting, having to go building to building. Every single room has to be cleared in this kind of endeavor.
And they're finding out that it is very soldier-intensive, and it just eats away at the reserves and forces that you have.
TAPPER: And who are they -- are they fighting the Ukrainian military or the Ukrainian resistance, or both?
PETRAEUS: It's all of the above.
Keep in mind that -- you know, everybody wants to say, well, the Russians have, I don't know, 200,000, and the Ukrainians have 100,000. It's not so. The Ukrainians have 100,000, plus every other adult, just about, in the country, all of whom are willing to take up arms or help in some way, even if it's just jam radio signals or conduct vlogging.
They call Russians in Russia and say, do you know how poorly this is going for you?
So, everybody's engaged.
But the problem here is, again, that they are literally starving. This is a siege. That's what the Russians are doing here. And, again, how long they can hold out -- and that's very important, because once -- if they do surrender, these forces will be freed to go back up.
And if you want to go back to the Ukraine map overall, what that would do is free forces to go up this way. Eventually, you could actually surround a lot of Ukrainian forces that are in here. So, you...
TAPPER: So the significance of having this part right here, which is what we're talking about -- here's Mariupol. Here's Crimea.
TAPPER: Connecting Crimea, which they seized in 2014...
PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes.
TAPPER: ... with the Donbass is -- what, they can consolidate forces and go that way?
PETRAEUS: Well, that -- it's that on the battlefield now. It's also that you have a land line of communication between essentially Russia and Crimea that doesn't require the bridge here in the...
TAPPER: Right. They have got this...
PETRAEUS: That's right.
TAPPER: Let's go back to the corridor here, which is just this -- this is what they had previously.
PETRAEUS: That's right.
TAPPER: All they had was this teeny little bridge, which you can't really get everything you need if you're in the Russian military across this bridge.
PETRAEUS: That's right.
TAPPER: It's just not big enough, right?
PETRAEUS: That's right. That's right. That's right.
TAPPER: What is the significance -- can I just ask you, what's the significance of Odessa?
TAPPER: Why do they want Odessa so bad?
PETRAEUS: Odessa is the single biggest port. If they take Mariupol up here, that's the last big port.
It is directly on the Black Sea. It doesn't have to go through the Strait of Azov and so forth, which can be blocked by the Russians. It's the lifeline for all of Ukraine when it comes to what's coming in.
And so what they have tried to do is go here. They have tried to get through Mykolaiv, which are two key bridges. They are already rigged for demolition if they have to. And they have just -- again, it's a stalemate. They haven't done much. They have gone a bit north to try to get around a river that's up here.
Ultimately, they want to invest Odessa in a siege. And there's also ships standing off here offshore that can conduct an amphibious landing. So far, that's all essentially on hold.
TAPPER: So, I want to just talk briefly about this, because...
TAPPER: ... the Ukrainians say they have killed five Russian generals in Ukraine. CNN has not independently confirmed that. We also hear that a top USA general says Russian soldiers don't appear to be particularly motivated.
I only recall the U.S. -- and I might be wrong about this, so I apologize if I am. I can only recall one American general being killed in Afghanistan in the entire conflict.
And that was a green-on-blue insider attack, right?
PETRAEUS: I think that's right. I would have to...
TAPPER: It's not common to kill a general. PETRAEUS: It's very, very -- very, very uncommon. This is in the first three weeks. And these are quite senior generals.
The bottom line is that their command-and-control has broken down. Their communications have been jammed by the Ukrainians. Their secure comms didn't work. They had to go to single channel. That's jammable. And that's exactly what the Ukrainians have been doing to that.
They use cell phones. The Ukrainians blocked the prefix for Russia. So that didn't work. Then they took down 3G. They're literally stealing cell phones from Ukrainian civilians to communicate among each other. So, what happens?
The column gets stopped. An impatient general is sitting back there in his armored or whatever vehicle. He goes forward to find out what's going on because there's no initiative. Again, there's no noncommissioned officer corps. There's no sense of initiative at junior levels.
They wait to be told what to do. Gets up there. And the Ukrainians have very, very good snipers, and they have just been picking them off left and right. And at least four of these five are absolutely confirmed. And I think the fifth, we will hear today.
TAPPER: Are these like the kind of guys you have heard of?
PETRAEUS: Some of them are.
PETRAEUS: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Some of them are, especially the three- star general right there, yes.
TAPPER: All right, David Petraeus, thank you so much.
PETRAEUS: Always a pleasure.
TAPPER: Really insightful. Really appreciate it.
As Putin closes a new Iron Curtain, thousands of Russians are fleeing their country. What will life be like for those who stay?
We're going to talk to someone who just got back from Moscow and Ukraine. That's next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): This is an illegal war.
Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world. But I urge the Russian people and the Russian soldiers in Ukraine to understand the propaganda and the disinformation that you're being told.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to break through Russia's new digital Iron Curtain.
Joining us now, two journalists who have been writing about Russia for decades, David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker," and Masha Gessen, author and staff writer at "The New Yorker," who just returned from Moscow and Ukraine and has a piece in today's "New Yorker" called "The Scattering" that we're going to talk about in a second.
David, let me start with you, because I want to get your reaction to that video from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a huge following in Russia. In fact, he's one of only 22 accounts that Vladimir Putin on Twitter follows.
Do you think Schwarzenegger's message or any other message like that is going to be able to break through what people are calling the Kremlin's digital Iron Curtain?
DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I think it's age- dependent, to some degree.
I think older people in general depend almost entirely for their news on state television. And it's very hard to imagine for our viewers here how complete a propaganda wall that is.
But younger people, who are much more Web-oriented and who know how to operate a VPN, which is fairly simple, have the capacity and, if called on, the capacity to get behind that kind of digital wall.
So, yes, I think things like Schwarzenegger or Western news outlets or other kinds of truth-telling capacities are getting through. But it's certainly not to the degree to what we'd want. And it's going to take time.
TAPPER: Masha, you last -- you landed in Russia the day after the invasion began. You said it was as if people there were living in two entirely parallel realities.
What do you mean by that exactly? What was it like on the ground in Russia?
MASHA GESSEN, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, one of the most striking scenes I witnessed was two young women being dragged off by police for protesting.
And when I say protesting, right, it doesn't look like protesting does in the United States. They were not carrying placards. They were not chanting slogans. They were just suspected of protesting by the police who were specially stationed in the square to catch anybody who might look like they might be protesting. So they were being dragged off. And the whole city was continuing to
flow and go about its life around them without noticing. And it didn't even seem to take any effort for people to not notice. It was just the sort of thing that happened outside of people's view, right?
And the other thing is that there's the sense of normalcy that Russian television continues to project, which I think is something that we don't realize looking from here. It's not just that they're not calling this a war. It's not just that they're saying that they're fighting Ukrainian Nazis in Ukraine.
It's that they do it in such a routine way, in five-minute newscasts, without showing any of the carnage and without even conveying any sense of urgency, any sense that anything out of the ordinary is going on.
TAPPER: And Putin gave a speech this week, David, in which he denounced -- quote -- "scum and traitors" inside Russia. He called for a -- quote -- "self-purification" of society.
TAPPER: Putin also held this massive pro-war rally in Moscow.
Is this reminding you of the Soviet playbook of yore?
REMNICK: Not just the Soviet playbook, the Stalinist playbook. And that's an important point to make, I think.
When you use words like self-purification, that is summoning up something like 1937, the Great Purges.
And what he's hoping for and what he's experiencing in reality -- and Masha has written so brilliantly about it this week -- is that a couple hundred people, some of the best and the brightest, have fled Moscow to new lives because of their fear of being arrested and their ordinary lives being eradicated or being thrown -- their being thrown in prison, computer programmers, journalists, authors, college professors, all kinds of people.
Now, this tends to be, tends to be urban, middle-class people, Saint Petersburg, Moscow and other cities, in an enormous country. But to see that kind of flood indicates some level -- at least you get some indication of the fear and the sense that this is not a -- an episode, but, rather, really a transformative event, obviously for the worst.
TAPPER: And, Masha, I was just reading earlier today your piece "The Scattering."
And, in it, you talk about people going onto their Web sites and deleting their Web sites, hiding YouTube videos, even hiding something that they might have liked or shared, because of these new laws that enable Putin, if you just even mention certain words, to throw you in jail. GESSEN: So, a week after the invasion began, the Russian Duma held a
special session, the parliament, and passed a law that makes it punishable by up to 15 years to spread what they consider fake information, false information about the invasion.
What -- among the things that are considered false is calling it a war or an act of aggression or an invasion. And so there are already prosecutions starting. And in the past, the state has prosecuted people for liking something, for sharing a comment. So, people have real fear.
And the other thing that's happening that is incredibly frightening is, there's clearly a lot of sort of vigilante enforcement starting to happen, where people are starting to have their houses ransacked, the letter Z, which has become a symbol of the invasion, painted on people's doors.
People are literally being chased out of the country and hounded.
TAPPER: And, David, you published a fascinating interview with Stephen Kotkin, a leading scholar of Russian history, who said that Putin's brand of despotism is -- quote -- "all-powerful and brittle" at the same time and -- quote -- "creates the circumstances of its own undermining."
Can you explain what he means? And do you agree?
REMNICK: I do agree.
I think what he's trying to describe is the way the Kremlin works now. This is -- there's no collective leadership in the Kremlin, as there even used to be during the politburos of the communist era, particularly after Stalin.
What you have got increasingly, year after year, the circle around Putin became smaller and smaller and smaller, and any contrary advice, any sliver of ideological difference became rare. And now it's vanished. And you have very, very few people around Putin now giving him advice of any kind. All they do is to carry out his orders.
I mean, the epitome of this -- and it was visual, and Putin wanted you to see -- was the famous meeting of the Security Council, at which the members of the Security Council sat 50, 75 feet away from him. And one after the other got up and paid their obeisance and gave their agreement to this horrendous invasion, until the head of the SVR, the foreign intelligence bureaucracy, got up.
And he seemed to hesitate and stumble. And Putin humiliated him. This is something, again, out of the '30s. But instead of it being secret, and us hearing about it in the archives, we're watching it on television, just as Putin meant us to see it.
And that's a way to prove to the country that he's in charge, he's making all the decisions, there is no real advice.
And I think it -- so that shows a kind of vulnerability, because terrible decisions are made. I don't think Putin wanted to end up in a situation where he was -- invaded, and three four, weeks later, his generals are being killed, and he's stuck in Ukraine, and his country is being isolated.
But now he's doubling down on that very decision because of the miserable decisions that he's made as a result of his completely mystical and misbegotten notion of what Ukraine is and is not.
TAPPER: And, Masha, in your piece in "The New Yorker" this morning, you write that almost everyone you know in Russia has now left, thousands of Russians fleeing the country, 200,000, one estimate.
Just this week, we saw the defection of one of the country's most famous ballet stars. What effect do you think this mass exodus will have on Russia in the future?
GESSEN: Well, if there's a post-Putin future, then we're talking about the people who would have represented the hope of creating something new being out of the country, right?
It's -- just as he's turning Ukraine into scorched earth, there's a way in which Russia is being into -- is being turned into scorched earth. And that is really dimming the prospects of any future.
TAPPER: All right, David Remnick and Masha Gessen, thank you so much.
Appreciate your time and your excellent reporting, as always.
Thank you for spending your Sunday morning with us.
Stick around for a special live STATE OF THE UNION at noon Eastern. I'm going to talk to the prime minister of Estonia.
In the next hour, Fareed Zakaria interviews Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. That's next.
See you at noon.