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State of the Union

Russia's War on Ukraine; CNN's Exclusive New Interview with President Zelenskyy; World War III is Imminent if Negotiations with Putin Fails; Biden and NATO Leaders to Meet; Russia Attacks Nursing Home in Eastern Ukraine on March 11 Killing 56 Elderly Residents; Russians Coercively Brought Mariupol Residents to Russia; Interview with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield; Zelenskyy's Plea for Peace Negotiations; Conversation with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas; Russians Flee Their Country; Conversation with General David Petraeus. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired March 20, 2022 - 12:00   ET



All right. Now, back to the big story. CNN's live coverage of the war in Ukraine continues. Jake Tapper picks up now with "State of the Union."

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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'll speak to U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, 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 the war atrocities grow, is any of the truth getting through? I'll speak to two journalists with deep insight into Russia, David Remnick and Masha Gessen in moments.

Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington welcome to a special live edition of "State of the Union." We begin this morning with breaking news and a special CNN exclusive. Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, spoke with our own Fareed Zakaria saying, the Russians are making indiscriminate attacks on Ukraine and explaining why he wants to negotiate with Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am ready for negotiations with him. I was ready toward the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war. I think that we have to use any format, any chance in order to have the possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war.


TAPPER: This renewed call to negotiate comes as President Biden prepares to travel to Europe this week to meet with European allies for a series of critical gatherings. But beyond a show of resolve, it remains unclear what, if anything, those leaders might announce to stop Putin's slaughter of the Ukrainian people. On the ground in Ukraine, the Russian brutality has only increased.

Overnight, we learned an art school being used as a shelter in the Ukrainian town of Mariupol had been bombed by Russian forces. According to the city council, there were about 400 people sheltering there and people remained trapped in the rubble. Another horrifying claim, local authorities say that 11 days ago, a Russian tank opened fire on a nursing home in Kreminna, killing 56 elderly residents of the nursing. And that 15 other residents of the care home had been abducted and taken to Russian controlled territory.

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 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 had supported the negotiations that President Zelenskyy has attempted to do with the Russians. And I do use the word "attempted," because the negotiations seemed 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 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. Seating Crimea, seating the Donbas 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 Russians. But they know, and I think that President Zelenskyy has been clear, people are dying. Russian soldiers are dying. But so many Ukrainians citizens are feeling the impact of this. So, he has to take all of that into account as he approaches the Russians at the negotiating table.

TAPPER: Would the U.S. recognize Crimea, recognize these independent breakaway republics if Zelenskyy were to seed those areas in peace negotiations with Russia?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can't say that at the moment. We certainly have not recognized the independent Donbas 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 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 and NATO peacekeeping mission, even if it were not -- even if there were not any U.S. servicemembers 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, "He who tied the bell of 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 of financial support to the Russians that allowed 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 their own 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 thousand people from Mariupol had 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've only heard it and 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 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 various 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've seen it happen before. They are the ones who have used chemical weapons. They used them in Syria. They've used chemical weapons against their own people. And we are concerned that they may use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

We've been clear, if they escalate to this level, we will respond aggressively to what they are doing. You've 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 would be on the table.

TAPPER: U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for your time this morning, Madam Ambassador.


TAPPER: Baltic leaders have been sounding the alarm on Vladimir Putin for years. What do they fear now about his next steps? Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas joins me next. Stay with us.



Welcome back to "State of the Union." I'm Jake Tapper. When NATO leaders meet this week in Europe to discuss combating Vladimir Putin, leaders of the countries nearest to Russia will share existential concerns. They have been warning about Putin's territorial ambitions for years. And they fear if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, they might well be next.

Joining us now is the leader who will be at the NATO summit, the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas. Prime Minister Kallas, thank you so much for joining us. You were born under soviet rule. Your mother was deported to Siberia as a child by the soviet regime. When you watched what Putin is doing in Ukraine, in Russia, in Georgia, are you afraid he is trying to roll back the clock on Eastern Europe to those dark days?

KAJA KALLAS, ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER: It's heartbreaking to see what he's doing in Ukraine. And it is true that today we are hearing news about the deportations in Mariupol. This is exactly what was done also in Estonia just in 1940s. And this is devastating. People were put to cattle cars and sent to Siberia and couldn't come back. A lot of atrocities that happened to us then.

But right now, we are in a different position because we are NATO allies. We have been members of NATO since 2004. Therefore, we are not afraid at the moment. But we are trying to do everything what we can to support and help Ukraine to fight this war. Putin must not win this war.

TAPPER: You'll be at the emergency NATO summit in Brussels this week. What are you going to tell your fellow NATO leaders at that meeting and what are you looking to hear from them? KALLAS: Well first, we should look into the smart containment. We should definitely move from the deterrence posture that we have in NATO to a secure defense posture. We have to strengthen our Eastern flank of NATO. We have been talking about this for years. But now it's time for action.

Then, we definitely have to push every NATO ally to invest in their defense at least two percent of our GDP. Estonia is doing that already for over 10 years. And now we are increasing our expenditure to 2.5 percent of our GDP. And this is absolutely necessary, because if all the armies are stronger in Europe, then NATO is stronger.

And the third point is that we should also think about more of a cooperation.


There are some capabilities that are too expensive for any individual state, but, if we do them together here in Europe to protect our territories, we are stronger. And, of course, we must move on with the isolation of Russia at all the political levels that is possible.

TAPPER: When you when you talk about moving from a deterrence posture to a containment posture, can you give more details for our viewers as to what exactly that means? You want more American and British missile defense systems to the frontline countries, such as Estonia, such as Poland or Romania? What exactly do you want?

KALLAS: Yes, we need some more capabilities to, you know, support ourselves and defend ourselves by air defense systems, what is definitely necessary here. But also, the troops that are present that act as a deterrent also to the Russian military.

When we talk about air defense, then, of course, if you look at the Ukraine war, then they are using the missiles from such a long range that they can also reach Paris from where they are shooting right now. So, it needs to come to the minds of all the European leaders to understand that this defense is our common issue, and it's not a theoretical discussion, but, you know, issue in real life.

TAPPER: The Polish prime minister has said, he will propose deploying a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. Might you support that?

KALLAS: We can only have a peacekeeping mission if we have peace. But, you know, if you look at what is happening in Ukraine, peace is not -- nothing that we see there. It's war that is going on. And I don't see that Russia has any intention of doing anything to achieve peace. So, first, we should have peace to -- then to keep it. But I -- what I agree with is that, sometimes, in order to achieve peace, we have to have the willingness to use military power.

TAPPER: How worried are you about the potential for all-out war in Europe? Is World War III a real possibility?

KALLAS: Well, if we would see to the future and look back, I mean, two years from now, then we would have a correct answer to your question. But, right now, we don't see that. Of course, I think our efforts should all be focused on ending this war right now, and that this war doesn't expand to any other country. And this is our focus. That's why all the NATO allies are also providing help, also providing military help to Ukraine.

TAPPER: Estonia has already taken in roughly 24,000 Ukrainian refugees. Thousands of Russian citizens are also trying to flee Putin's efforts to crack down on dissent inside Russia. Will those Russian refugees be welcome in Estonia?

KALLAS: Well, first of all, I want to just put some points on the migration. If you look at Putin's strategy for the last 20 years, he has been feeding the far-right forces in Europe, but also in U.S., with the same talking points, that Europe is under huge migration pressure, and this is a vulnerability.

So, now he's creating the situation where he's bombing the cities down to the ground. So, he's creating this huge migration pressure to Europe. And what we see in different countries, we also see the far- right now picking up the tone, saying that, you see, we should not help the -- the war refugees that are coming from Ukraine. There are too many issues related to this. And now the two sides get together.

So, it has been a brilliant strategy on Putin's side. But it is a hybrid war. This is also a tool in this war. And we have to keep this in mind, that we don't, you know, let ourselves get into those fights. Our enemy right now is Russia, not the Ukrainian war refugees that are in our countries and need help.

TAPPER: Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.

Ukrainian forces have had stunning success defending their homeland. But Russia is using increasingly brutal tactics. Who's winning this war? Retired General David Petraeus will join me at the magic wall, next. Stay with us.



Welcome back. Russia is suffering troop 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 Donbas region, the separatist regions, and then of course Crimea.


But the -- 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? 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.

TAPPER: Right.

PETRAEUS: This is not a ceasefire. 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 is a battle of attrition, in a sense, between the will in Kyiv and the country and then between that and Moscow, and especially 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. This is the main effort. We can come in and show that --

TAPPER: You want to go to -- you want to --


TAPPER: You want to look at Kyiv?

PETRAEUS: Let's do that.

TAPPER: So, here's Kyiv.


TAPPER: And so, right now they seem to have been -- they -- they haven't been able -- here's Kyiv right now and they haven't been able to get in there.

PETRAEUS: No. You've 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've 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've 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.

TAPPER: But if we go in now, let's go down to the South. So, let's look at this corridor --


TAPPER: -- because this is important.

PETRAEUS: It is. TAPPER: We have Russian troops, just absolutely pummelling Mariupol. We've 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 Donbas Region --


TAPPER: -- which is here.


TAPPER: And Crimea, which they seized in 2014. So, this is --

PETRAEUS: Which they've wanted for a long time.

TAPPER: -- this is important.

PETRAEUS: It extends all the way across here, it's 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 the -- 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, that'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 flagging. They call Russians in Russia and say, do you know how poorly this is going for you? So, everybody is 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 free 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.


TAPPER: Here's Crimea. Connecting Crimea, which they seized in 2014 --


TAPPER: -- with the Donbas 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've got this little --

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 but you can't really get everything you need if you're in the Russian military --

PETRAEUS: That's right.

TAPPER: -- across this bridge. It's just not big enough.

PETRAEUS: That's right.

TAPPER: Right?

PETRAEUS: That's right. That's right. Now let's --

TAPPER: What's the significance -- can I just ask you. What's the significance of Odessa?


TAPPER: Why do they want Odessa?

PETRAEUS: Odessa is the single biggest port. If they take Mariupol up here, that's the last big port. It 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've tried to do is, go here. They've tried to get through Mykolaiv, which are two key bridges, they're already rigged for demolition if they have to.

And they've just, again, it's a stalemate. They haven't done much. They've 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 essentially on hold.

TAPPER: I want to just talk briefly about this.

PETRAEUS: Yes. TAPPER: Because the Ukrainians say, they have killed five Russian generals in Ukraine. CNN has not, independently, confirmed that. We also hear that a top U.S. general says, Russian soldiers don't appear to be particularly motivated.


I only recall the U.S. and I -- 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'd have to think --

TAPPER: It's not common --

PETRAEUS: It's very, very --

TAPPER: -- to kill a general?

PETRAEUS: -- very, very uncommon. This is in the first three weeks. And these are quite senior generals. The bottom line is that their commanding control has broken down. Their communications have been jammed by the Ukrainians. Their secure coms didn't work. They had to go to a single channel that's jammable, and that's exactly what the Ukrainians have been doing to that. They use cellphones. The Ukrainians blocked the prefix for Russia. So, that didn't work. Then they took down 3G. They're literally stealing cellphones 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 of 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've just been picking them off left and right. At least four of these five are absolutely confirmed. And I think the fifth, we'll hear today.

TAPPER: Are these like the kind of guys you have heard of?

PETRAEUS: Some of them are, yes. Yes, yes, yes. Some of them are. Especially the three-star general right there.

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.



ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: This is an illegal war. Your lives, your limbs, your futures have been sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world. I urge the Russian people and the Russian soldiers in Ukraine to understand the propaganda and the disinformation that you're being told.


TAPPER: 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, in 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 role 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 call 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 want. 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 different parallel realities. What do you mean by that exactly? What was it like on the ground in Russia?

MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, 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 especially 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 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 this 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 Ukrainians 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, "Scum and traitors" inside Russia. He called for a, "Self- purification in 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 Stalin's 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 thousand people of 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 in -- they're being thrown in prison. Computer programmers, journalists, authors, college professors. All kinds of people. Now, this tends to be urban, middle-class people, St. 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 a really 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 on to their websites and deleting their websites. Hiding YouTube videos. Even hiding something that they might have liked or shared because of these new laws that enable Putin, even if you just mention certain words, to throw you in jail.

GESSEN: So, a week after the invasion began, the Russian Duma held a special session at 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. Among of the things that are considered false is calling it a war or an active 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, "All-powerful and brittle at the same time." And, "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 that Kremlin works now. This is -- there's no collective leadership in the Kremlin as there even used to be during the (INAUDIBLE) bureaus of the communist era, particularly after Stalin. What you've 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 some 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 it 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 (INAUDIBLE) and each 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 of the decisions. There is no real advise. And I think, you know -- so that shows a kind of vulnerability because terrible decisions are made. I don't think Putin waned to end up in a situation where he was invaded and three or 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 wrote 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 is a way in which Russia 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.

Coming up, an image that has come to define the cost of this war. We'll be right back.


The government of Norway announced that four U.S. marines were killed there during a NATO training mission on Friday when a helicopter they were traveling in crashed. We will bring you the names and stories of those brave Americans as we get them.

In Ukraine this week, another American, Jimmy Hill from Minnesota, was killed by Russian fire while standing in a bread line. Hill was there caring for his partner, a Ukrainian receiving medical treatment for his MS. And U.S. journalist Brent Renaud, a documentarian and photojournalist Pierre Zakrzewski, as well as Ukrainian producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova, both of whom worked for Fox were killed covering this war. May their memories be a blessing. Our hearts go out to all their families. And more broadly, to all the innocent people being killed in this horrible war including thousands of Ukrainians, of course.


I want to leave you this message from Lviv. It's 109 empty strollers sitting in a quiet square. Each one symbolizing the unimaginable tragic loss of 109 children in this war. There aren't really words that can fully capture such a horrible loss. There is, of course, this image, these empty strollers without any playful, rambunctious innocent children in them. And that image is devastating.

Before we go, pull out your phones. Don't miss the "State of the Union" podcasts which you can listen to on Spotify, Apple podcast, or your favorite podcast app. Just open your camera and scan the QR code on the bottom of your screen. Be sure to follow us for all the most recent interviews with the most important voices on today's biggest stories. Until then, thank you for spending your Sunday morning with us. The news continues next.