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Hala Gorani Tonight
Ukrainian President Declares February 16 As Day Of Attack By Russia; Russia Cites It Is Open To Further Diplomacy On Ukraine; Russian Teen Kamila Valieva To Compete Despite Positive Drug Test; Global Markets Drop Over Invasion Fears; Pentagon Giving Briefing Amid Russia-Ukraine Crisis; U.S. State Dept. Giving Briefing Amid Russia-Ukraine Crisis. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired February 14, 2022 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello and welcome, everybody. It is Monday, I'm Hala Gorani, and CNN -- tonight -- in London tonight, we begin
with a dramatic statement from Ukraine's president who for weeks has been urging his country not to panic. Well, Volodymyr Zelensky says he has been
informed that Wednesday, February 16th will be the day that Russia attacks Ukraine. And yet, his own defense minister is suggesting that Ukraine is
skeptical of that very assessment.
As the warnings grow louder, President Zelensky says the security of all of Europe is at stake. He met today with the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
who heads to Moscow tomorrow. Mr. Zelensky left no doubt about where Ukraine stands on one of Russia's red lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE (through translator): Regarding the future alliance, our aspirations and missions, you know them perfectly
well. We have some desire in our country, and in addition to this, we have a war in the east. Yes, we would like to join NATO, and it will protect our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Meantime in Moscow, a carefully choreographed meeting, Vladimir Putin wanted the world to see at an extra long table in the Kremlin. He
asked his foreign minister if there's still a chance for diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov said the possibilities are quote, "far from exhausted". So, there is
a glimmer of hope, right? Yet, a U.S. official tells CNN, Intelligence shows Russian forces surrounding Ukraine are quote, "clearly advancing
their ability to invade."
The Pentagon says an attack could come with little to no warning. So, which is it? What is going on? We begin our coverage this hour with Nic
Robertson in Moscow, Alex Marquardt is in Ukraine as well. Alex, I want to start with you. So, we're hearing Zelensky say that he's been informed an
attack will take place on Wednesday, but other members of his government are saying, you know, that, they're not so sure, and that if it does, it
won't be a large scale affair. Which is it?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hala, you're right. There's some confusion. On its surface, this is a pretty remarkable
statement from President Zelensky who is saying that he has been informed that, there will be a Russian invasion on Wednesday, the 16th. He hasn't
said where that information is coming from or necessarily that he believes it. And you're absolutely right, there has been some skepticism from other
members of his government as well as from him.
Just 48 hours ago on Saturday, President Zelensky was visiting Ukrainian troops who are carrying out military exercises, and he said that if anybody
has intelligence that shows with 100 percent certainty that the Russians are going to invade on the 16th, then please, show it to me. And then, we
heard from another senior national security official today named Oleksiy Danilov; who is the head of the National Security and Defense Counsel, I've
got a part of his statement that I want to read to you.
He says that "they are fully aware of the situation. The situation is completely under control. They do not see a large scale offensive on the
16th or the 17th. We do not see this." So, Hala, Zelensky is saying in this address to the nation that this is what they are being told. But you are
still hearing skepticism from him and from his top officials. And this just is a continuation of these difference in tones that we have heard from
Ukrainian officials who have consistently downplayed the alarmism, as they have called it, from the West, from the United States and from NATO in
order to keep their population calm.
The United States on Friday saying that they believe that Russia is going to carry out an invasion in the coming days before the end of the Olympics
in China on the 20th. So that very well could come this week. Zelensky now saying that he has been informed of that, but notably, not saying in the
statement whether he believes that is going to happen.
GORANI: Right, OK. So, as you said, there are conflicting messages within Ukraine, and also, within the group of western countries, NATO, the EU, and
others depending on which leader you speak to.
Olaf Scholz visited with the president today, so the new German chancellor is making one last ditch attempt to kind of, you know, go down the
diplomatic track. How did -- how did that go? What came of that?
MARQUARDT: Hala, is that question to me?
MARQUARDT: Sorry, we're having some audio issues. Yes, the -- you know, the diplomatic efforts are continuing, and that is obviously a good sign
because when diplomacy stalls, when it ends, when people stop talking, that means they have given up. So, this shows that the diplomatic process is
still ongoing. Olaf Scholz who was in Washington just a week ago with President Biden now joining this flurry of diplomatic activity on this side
of the Atlantic in Kyiv today. In Moscow tomorrow.
He says that they are willing to talk about security with Russia. So -- and I think, Hala, the most interesting diplomatic moment of the day is
something that you mentioned in your introduction, and that was what took place in Moscow. We had this very choreographed moment between President
Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at this comically long table for COVID reasons, we understand, in which President Putin asked his
foreign minister, should -- essentially, should talks continue?
And not only -- and Sergey Lavrov said not only should they continue, but they should be escalated. Now, is this a genuine sign that the Russians are
going to give diplomacy a bit more of a chance? Is this simply for show? And they still intend to invade, but they want to essentially downplay the
-- what we're hearing from the United States? It's certainly too early to tell. But that was a remarkable moment. Hala.
GORANI: Indeed, thanks very much for that. Alex Marquardt in Ukraine. Having just a few comms problems there with Nic Robertson in Moscow. We'll
get back to him soon. But I want to talk to you a little bit about Russia's already massive build-up of forces, northwest and south of Ukraine. Well,
It got even larger during the weekend. A senior White House official tells CNN that Russia is clearly advancing its ability to invade, and almost half
of Russia's army is now on the Ukrainian border. Half of Russia's army. CNN's Scott McLean shows us just how threatening those forces have become.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is just one element of the Russian armor now gathered on three sides of the border with Ukraine.
Tanks and infantry-fighting vehicles parked up near Ukraine's northeastern border, near the Russian town of Veliky. These videos posted on social
media confirmed from different angles and geo-located by CNN. The Russian build-up includes heavy armor, including elements of the elite first
guard's tank army, that has now moved to within 20 miles of Ukraine.
Also on the move, a substantial number of short-range ballistic missiles known as Iskander with a range of some 450 kilometers. Further south, long
columns of military vehicles rumble along a highway near Rostov-on-Don. A CNN analysis of Russian movement shows the extent of the build-up in
Crimea, to the east, and north of Ukraine.
And in Belarus, the Russians have released video of the large scale exercises being conducted with Belarusian forces, exercises that includes
top-line Russian hardware. Among the equipment being paraded, S400 air defense systems and SU25 ground attack aircraft. Those exercises are
extensive. According to NATO, the largest Russian military presence in Belarus since the fall of the Berlin wall. But CNN has also geo-located
Russian military movements a long way from those exercises in the far southeast of Belarus, and just over 10 miles from the border with Ukraine.
This convoy including multiple rocket systems headed south in the last couple of days. A long way south, the Russian Navy has begun drills
involving more than 30 ships in the Black Sea. They're exercising in the Black Sea, a mix of forces that include several large amphibious ships. The
latest satellite imagery also shows a build-up of troop accommodation and units close to the Black Sea in Crimea.
Altogether, the analysis of social media videos from Russia when added to fresh satellite imagery shows a relentless build-up of forces that seems
almost complete as rare bases are emptied and units take to the roads and rails.
JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What we've seen just in the last ten days or so is an acceleration of that build-up and the movement of
Russian forces of all varieties closer to the border with Ukraine in a position where they could launch a military action very rapidly.
MCLEAN: To Rob Lee in the Department of War Studies at the University of London, Russia's current military build-up near Ukraine is unprecedented.
This is not like previous war scares or the build-up in the Spring of 2021.
The amount of Russian aerial ground and Naval military power near Ukraine now is quantifiably far greater. That's the view of western governments,
too. The capabilities have been assembled, the Kremlin's intent is still unknown. Scott McLean, CNN, London.
GORANI: Let's bring in Masha Gessen is a staff writer for "The New Yorker" and is the author of "Surviving Autocracy". Gessen joins me now live from
New York. Thanks for being with us. Well, what do you think -- what game is Putin playing at this very moment, do you think, with really real concerns
that an invasion could happen on Wednesday?
MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think this is Putin's sweet spot. He has presidents and prime ministers falling all over
themselves to fly to Moscow to talk to him. He holds them -- you know, he sits them down at this long table, talks to them for five hours and then
says, nothing came of this. The attention of the world is on him. He is really showing that Russia has the power, and that no one can tell Russia
what to do.
GORANI: But how do you --
GESSEN: He also -- just by --
GORANI: So, sorry, keep going.
GESSEN: Yes, just by creating this incredible tension --
GORANI: Yes --
GESSEN: And this awful expectation, he's destroying Ukrainian economy and you know, putting incredible stress on Ukrainian politics. Yes, I think he
would love to be in the spot forever.
GORANI: Yes, let's look at it from a western perspective. I mean, how do you -- how do you explain that a group of nations with the military that
they have, the economic power that they have essentially crushes Russia on every single power metric. And yet, the optics that you just described are
that, Putin is the one calling the shots. Putin is the one sitting on his throne with various world leaders coming to visit him in the Kremlin,
begging him not to invade Ukraine. How did we end up here?
GESSEN: Well, there's neither the political will nor the legal framework for this group of nations to protect Ukraine. And Putin knows that and is
making sure that the world knows that.
GORANI: Why isn't there the political will then to protect Ukraine? They're staking their reputations. Biden certainly, is staking his
reputation, his foreign policy reputation on this.
GESSEN: There's no public support for any possible loss of life to protect Ukraine, in any NATO member countries. And I think this is -- you know, for
Putin, this is actually long-awaited back for the air war in Kosovo. Which is an air war fought in 1999, the first war in which that was fought in
such a way that the U.S. and British troops that fought it never risked any loss of life. And it was also a time in post-cold war history when Russia
was kind of put in its place and told that it had no say over what NATO was going to do.
GESSEN: This is pay back, and I think this is the way that Putin is framing it for himself and politically for the population.
GORANI: But is there a no leverage, the West has? I mean, you have money- laundering operations that go on. You have very rich Russians who send their kids to private schools all over western capitals. There's no real,
it doesn't seem punishment for those close to the circles of power in Russia for some of these actions. Could western countries be doing more to
make it more costly and painful for Putin to continue down this path or not?
GESSEN: I think the threats of sanctions that Biden has been voicing in conversations with Putin certainly give him some pause. He realizes that
this war would be very costly. On the other hand, again, look at it from Putin's perspective. The sanctions that were imposed on Russia after it
occupied Crimea in 2014, and invaded eastern Ukraine, we're --
GORANI: Yes --
GESSEN: Ultimately profitable for Putin. They spurred domestic production. They mobilized the population against the West. They were uniting. And so,
you know, Putin personally doesn't stand to lose anything. He doesn't care if his population gets poorer. On the whole politically, it may actually be
profitable to be the object of sanctions.
GORANI: Masha Gessen, thanks very much. It's always so enlightening to speak to you. Thanks for joining us.
GESSEN: Thank you for having me --
GORANI: We want to get some perspective now from one of the Baltic countries bordering Russia, Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics is
joining us tonight from Riga. Thank you for speaking with us again. The U.K. foreign secretary says an invasion could be imminent.
An invasion of Ukraine. Do you share this view?
EDGARS RINKEVICS, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, LATVIA: Well, I think that we must be prepared for all options, including the one that you just talked
GORANI: Yes, but do you share the view that it could be imminent?
RINKEVICS: Well, it depends what we understand by the word imminent. I think that we see some weeks --
GORANI: As in the next few days which was the concern. The next few days, possibly Wednesday, certainly before the end of the Olympic games.
RINKEVICS: Well, I think that we are seeing quite disturbing moves by the Russian military, and we also see that the Russians, their Duma is now
considering the kind of resolution about the recognition of so-called Donetsk local(ph) people, the republic as independent state. That actually
-- raid resembles 2014. If you remember how the Crimea happened. There was also the kind of recognition of the independence of Crimea and admittance
of Crimea in the Russian federation.
That was the Russian military, of course, we know that there was occupation. So, I do believe that we should be prepared to all kinds of
scenarios. I don't know if those diplomatic and political efforts that are currently being done by the western countries will delay some kind of
action, but I think that we cannot rule out any kind of either invasion or incursion or some kind of hybrid attack.
GORANI: Right --
RINKEVICS: But also I think that we should be prepared also to the kind of very unexpected twist of events like, you know, diplomacy works. Let's talk
more with the West --
GORANI: Because --
RINKEVICS: As we have actually today.
GORANI: So, you're saying minister, we should be really ready for any scenario, which we have been for several weeks, because the whole world has
been on tenterhooks waiting to see will this incursion happen? Will an invasion of Ukraine happen? We've seen many world leaders and foreign
ministers visiting with Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov at the Kremlin. And the outcome of those talks has not been too encouraging.
But Lavrov today said that the door is opened to diplomacy. And not just that, that talks should be in fact escalated in that very choreographed
moment with Vladimir Putin on Russian television. When you heard that, how did you interpret that?
RINKEVICS: Well, actually, you can do diplomacy as we have seen in the past also while you're doing some military action. I think that they should
also take into account this kind of approach. But, of course, to some extent, I do believe that the final decision is not taken, at least, that's
the feeling. I do believe that this is a time to extract some more concessions from us, from NATO, from the European Union, but also from
But at the same time, all those moves that we are seeing at the border, they're actually pointing at a different direction. So it could be a smoke
screen, it could be a kind of attempt to extract some more concessions, but of course, because of --
GORANI: What more concessions? What more concessions? Because the Russians say, you must promise us Ukraine will never join NATO and we want this in
writing. We want this ironclad. NATO countries won't do that. So, what other concessions? What can the West do now to de-escalate the situation so
that military action does not take place?
RINKEVICS: Well, here, I think that I could not agree with you in this kind of narrative or your question what could West do? I think that the
West should stand firm, that what we have done so far, and I've heard a little bit, the previous speaker on your show.
GORANI: Yes --
RINKEVICS: I do believe that actually Russia was not happy to see united stance of NATO and the U.N., they're probably noted how Mr. Stoltenberg and
Mr. Borrell was described today by Mr. Koto(ph). I think it shows some limitation that actually unity is there, even if sometimes we have some
disagreements on nuances, but on the big things, unity is there. So, I think that this is something that actually provides some limitation.
But I think that the concessions that I was referring with you earlier, well, they -- look, let's talk about some arms control issues --
GORANI: Yes --
RINKEVICS: Exercises where you are promising not to deploy some infrastructure or some weapons systems. Those are things that you can
actually sell to the public, but I do believe that at this point we are not the ones who should, let's say think what else we can do --
GORANI: Yes --
RINKEVICS: To please Russia. I think that we need to stand firm and to continue diplomatic efforts without losing the kind of principles we have
GORANI: Thank you so much, the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics joining us live from Riga --
RINKEVICS: Yes --
GORANI: Appreciate it. Still to come tonight, the scandal that's overshadowing the Winter games. Why a Russian skater will be allowed to
compete even though she tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Plus, oil prices are on the rise, and experts say this could be a sign of
things to come if Russia invades Ukraine. We'll be right back.
GORANI: The Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has been cleared to compete in Beijing even though she failed a drug test last December. That
means she can take the ice on Tuesday for women's singles, one of the most prestigious events at the Olympics, and it just so happens she's a favorite
to win. But that's where it gets complicated. CNN's Selina Wang explains.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the Russian Olympic Committee --
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A reprieve for a young Russian figure skater under immense pressure. Kamila Valieva, a favorite to
take individual gold at these Olympics, allowed that chance despite her testing positive for a banned drug.
MATTHIEU REEB, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, COURT OF ARBITRATION FOR SPORT: First, the athlete is under 16, and is a protected person under the world anti-
doping code. Preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic games would cause her irreparable harm.
WANG: The timeline here is crucial. Valieva took the test on Christmas Day, but it was only last week that the sample came back positive for the
drug Trimetazidine, and she and her teammates had already won gold here. The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Monday that the minor has not had
enough time to defend herself. So, the issue is kicked on down the road.
Valieva will still compete here while a full investigation is done. The team could still be stripped of medals in the coming months. In the
meantime, the IOC says it would not be appropriate to award her any medals.
(on camera): All eyes are on Kamila Valieva here in Beijing. But she's only 15 years old. The World Anti-Doping Agency says it will investigate
her entourage, the adults around her that may have pressured her into taking the banned substance.
(voice-over): A glimpse behind the glimmering surface into the murky world of Russian sports, which has been accused of state-sponsored doping, an
extreme pressure on very young athletes.
Team USA not holding back in a statement. "This appears to be another chapter in the systematic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by
Russia." The Russian Figure Skating Federation president labeling the decision common sense and justice. While the IOC condemned any use of
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How should clean athletes feel about the decision that is made?
MARK ADAMS, SPOKESMAN, IOC: The system, I'm afraid, is slow just as I'm afraid the wheels of justice do run slowly. We would like them to run
faster so that there will be clarity for everybody involved, for all of the athletes.
WANG: Inescapable is the fact that clean athletes will line up Tuesday against a competition favorite who tested positive once. At an Olympics
dogged by politics and China's rights record, this doping scandal tainting the sport here as well. Selina Wang, CNN, Beijing.
GORANI: And this doesn't just affect this skater. It affects everybody because there won't be a medal ceremony for women's singles should the 15-
year-old win a medal. Her case will have to be resolved first. So, you know, the young lady who wins silver, the young lady who wins bronze, they
won't be standing on a podium if she wins. The head of the World Anti- Doping Agency says "the doping of children is evil and unforgivable, and that those who give performance-enhancing drugs to minors should be in
The Global Athlete Group meantime is calling for immediate reform. CNN spoke to Rob Koehler earlier; he is the director general of Global Athlete
and a former World Anti-Doping Agency official.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROB KOEHLER, DIRECTOR GENERAL, GLOBAL ATHLETE: The IOC has to determine what they're going to be. If you look at most professional sports, there's
a minimum age requirement to be in the sport. And the Olympics is a professional sporting organization that brings in $1.4 billion a year. So,
they need to take a step back. If you're not going to allow strict liability to happen throughout all of the athletes, and if you're a minor,
it's not going to -- it's not going to be applicable to you, then they need to rethink on who should be eligible to compete at these games.
And as a 15-year-old, if you're not going to be subject to the same rules as every single other athlete, then the IOC needs to take a step back and
maybe change those rules.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: All right, there you have it, we'll continue following this story next hour. But after the break, we're waiting on two news conferences in
Washington D.C., both the Pentagon and the State Department will be briefing amid the tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Stay with us for the
very latest. We'll be going live to the capital. Stay with us.
GORANI: Well, we're expecting a briefing from the Pentagon any moment now. We'll bring that to you as it happens. Also a briefing at the State
Meantime, a senior U.S. official tells CNN the threat from Russia is growing each day. That official tells us Russia is continuing to build up
its forces around Ukraine in preparation for a possible military attack this week. The U.S. says Russia likely would begin with air and missile
attacks and then a land invasion, one where innocent civilians could be caught in the crossfire, as always.
But we're hearing very different messages from other parts of the world. We'll be joining Natasha Bertrand as soon as we resolve an audio issue that
we're having there with her shot in Washington, so stand by Natasha.
But let's talk about the markets because they usually are a reflection of the worry about things like a potential war or instability in certain parts
of the world. And these worries about a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia are indeed taking a toll on global markets, European stocks closed
down today. Asian markets as well fell. Here's where U.S. stocks are right now. Let's take a look at that. Don't hesitate to put that graphic up.
There you go. We're down a little more than one percent, 350 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
And I had an opportunity to look at oil prices. But somehow that figure just vanished before my very eyes. So CNN's Matt Egan will enlighten me on
that. He is in New York talk to us about what investors, what people who are observing this diplomatic dance in -- between Russia, Ukraine, and the
West are concerned about and why stocks are being pushed lower today.
MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, will we know that investors hate uncertainty and it doesn't really get much more uncertain than this. We're talking
about a potential full scale military conflict on European soil led by one of the world's largest energy producers in Russia.
So, it makes a lot of sense that investors are taking some chips off the table. You mentioned European markets finishing sharply lower, U.S. stocks
started the day focusing more on hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough. But that has shifted in the last half hour or so, particularly with this news
about the United States closing the Embassy in Kiev. We saw U.S. markets move sharply lower --
GORANI: Matt, I'm going to jump in because I understand the Pentagon news conference has just started with John Kirby, let's listen in.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: He'll also get a chance to meet with U.S. and Polish troops that are at Powidz to tour the facilities there and
to observe the conditions of our rotational presence.
Secretary Austin will also travel to Lithuania to meet with the Lithuanian president, the Prime Minister, the Minister for National Defense as well,
again to reaffirm that the United States stands with Lithuania and the Baltic states, working together to strengthen Lithuanian armed forces and
to continuing to stand shoulder to shoulder against threats and adversaries.
Separately, Secretary Austin does plan to meet jointly with his counterparts from Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia together and he'll have a
chance as well to visit with some U.S. service members that are there in Lithuania.
On another note, I'd like to announce that the Secretary has appointed Dr. Eric D. Evans to serve as the chair of -- OK, it's not here. I'm missing
some sentences here. I'm going to -- I will -- we will announce this later after the briefing. I don't have all the text of it here. So with that,
Bob, we'll take questions. Sorry about that.
BOB, REPORTER: Improvising, huh?
KIRBY: Ultimately, yes. Let me -- actually, let me see here. Do you have it there? That's the missing right there? All right. I apologize. Go ahead,
BOB: Thanks, John. The question about the Russian buildup in -- on the border area of Ukraine, can you can you give a little bit more detailed
description of the lay of the land there in terms -- in -- like in recent days, for example, have some of the ground units that were in larger
assembly areas moved into --
Moved out toward -- closer to the border into what might be attack positions, other movements over the last 24 hours or so?
KIRBY: Yes, so what I'd say, Bob, is even over the last 24 to 48, over the course of the weekend, Mr. Putin has added military capability along that
border with Ukraine and Belarus, he is exercising his -- some of his units on the ground there in the South, as well as naval units in the Black Sea.
So, he continues to add to his readiness, he continues to give himself more options should he pursue a military path here.
I'm not going to -- I would like to refrain from getting into specific movements of their troops. I think that's probably not a wise thing for me
to do with any great specificity. I would just say this, but he continues to advance his readiness should he choose to go down a military path here.
And should he choose to invade again, he is doing all the things you would expect him to do to make sure he's ready for that option, or options.
BOB: So there's no indication, for example, that what they've called exercises have ended in any way or are changing in any way their presence?
KIRBY: I want to be careful to characterize another nation's exercises. We've seen them conduct these exercises in recent days. Exercises are
designed to make you ready. And that gets to my previous point, he continues to do the things that you would expect one to do if one was
planning on a major military action and that is to sharpen the readiness and to add to the capabilities of his force.
Now, look, we obviously don't want that to be the outcome and neither do the duty Ukrainians and certainly neither do our NATO allies. And Foreign
Minister Lavrov said earlier today that -- or seem to indicate that he still thinks there's oxygen here for diplomacy, we would welcome a pursuit
of that path by the Russians, because we, too, believe that there still should be and can be a diplomatic path forward. Jen.
JEN, REPORTER: John. I'm trying to understand. Are you still suggesting that Putin has not taken a decision to invade Ukraine?
KIRBY: We still don't believe that some final decision has been made.
JEN: Then how is it that communications continue? And we just heard from President Zelensky that he's been told that an invasion will happen on
February 16th, which is Wednesday? How do you reconcile --
JEN: -- Putin hasn't taken a decision but an invasion's happening on the 16th?
KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to talk about specific intelligence assessments, I think you can understand that. We have said for a while now that military
action could happen any day.
And you heard from the National Security Adviser, making it clear that it certainly could happen before the end of the Olympics, maybe even this
week. We have shared with our allies and partners, and that includes Ukraine, our assessment of the information that we've been receiving, and
certainly have reflected in those conversations our deep concern about the continued capabilities that Mr. Putin has at his beck and call.
So I won't get into a specific date. I don't think that would be smart. I would just tell you that it is entirely possible that he could move with
little to no warning.
JEN: And what will the U.S. response be at that at that time? The Defense Secretary is going to the NATO ministerial, are we talking about the NATO
Response Force being activated? What would we expect to see?
KIRBY: President Biden has made clear that should there be another incursion into Ukraine, that the United States would respond swiftly with
severe economic consequences. I won't speak for the Alliance, a decision to activate the NATO Response Force is a decision that the NAC has to make,
the North Atlantic Council has to make, that's not something that that the United States would unilaterally call into being.
I will only add this, and this is why a couple of weeks ago, we talked about making our contribution to the response force more ready. And so
we've done that. And one of the messages that the Secretary will carry with him to NATO is that our contribution to the NATO Response Force, should it
be called, should it be activated, they'll be ready to go.
JEN: And just to be clear, your answer to Bob, you do not see evidence that his forces have moved into --
GORANI: All right. We're going to leave the Pentagon news conference and take you live to the State Department where the spokesperson Ned Price is
giving a brief briefing also on the crisis unfolding at Ukraine's border. Let's listen in.
NED PRICE, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE SPOKESPERSON: And now most recently, as you saw just a little bit ago, we are in the process of
relocating our diplomatic staff from Kiev to Lviv.
The staff in Lviv, including our charge, Kristina Kvien, will remain engaged with Ukrainian government, coordinating and diplomatic efforts.
We will continue our close coordination with Ukraine, as well as with our allies and partners. Russia, if it's not to do so, has failed in its goal
of dividing the United States and our allies and partners. If anything, we are more united as we confront Russia's threats and aggression.
We are intensifying our efforts to deter Russia and to impose costs, should Moscow decide to go ahead with military action. Whatever happened next --
happens next, we are resolute in our support for Ukraine's sovereignty, for Ukraine's territorial integrity, and we will continue our assistance to the
people of Ukraine.
It remains unclear to us whether Russia is interested in pursuing, diplomatically, pursuing a diplomatic path as opposed to the use of force.
We remain committed to keeping the prospect of de-escalation through diplomacy alive. We will remain committed to doing that for as long as we
can, but Russia must de-escalate and engage in genuine dialogue and diplomacy.
Next, before I take your questions, one additional element, I want to take a moment to explain the executive order that the President Biden signed on
Friday. As we are all acutely aware, the people of Afghanistan face enormous challenges and economic crisis born of decades of dependence on
international aid, severe drought, COVID-19, endemic corruption among others.
Afghan central bank reserves held at the Federal Reserve have been inaccessible for months, in part because of the uncertainty regarding who
could authorize transactions on the account, but also due to pending litigation by 9/11 victims and other victims of terrorism.
Victims of terrorism, including of the September 11 terrorist attacks, have brought claims against the Taliban and they are pursuing the Central Bank's
remaining assets in federal court. This administration will continue to support these victims and their families, recognizing the enduring pain
they have suffered at the hands of terrorists, including those who operated from Afghanistan prior to the September 11th attacks. These victims and
their families should have a full opportunity to set forth their arguments in court. And they will. We have no idea how long that litigation will
And in the meantime, the humanitarian and economic situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate by the day. That is why President Biden signed the
executive order on Friday to preserve and protect those reserves as part of an effort to make $3.5 billion available for the Afghan people.
Fundamentally, this E.O. is aimed at protecting and preserving funds for the benefit of the Afghan people. And we've taken further steps to set
aside $3.5 billion for such uses, to try to clarify that they cannot be attached or seized. The objective is to make these funds available for the
Afghan people without having to wait for the full court process.
To conclude, no decision has been made about how these funds will ultimate -- ultimately be used to benefit the Afghan people, many of whom are also
victims of terrorism. Whatever mechanism is established, it will be designed to minimize the risk the funds end up in the hands of the Taliban
or other sanctioned individuals or groups. It is ultimately up to the courts to determine whether the remainder of these funds should go to
victims of terrorism, who hold judgments against the Taliban. These funds will continue to be the subject of ongoing litigation in U.S. courts, by
victims of terrorism.
These victims and their families, as we've said, should have a full opportunity to set forth their arguments. This action marks a significant
step forward in the United States' effort to authorize the transfer of a significant portion of the funds to meet the needs of the Afghan people.
I want to reiterate, Friday's executive order was a step towards making a significant portion, $3.5 billion of these funds accessible to the Afghan
people. And this action demonstrates that America's ties to the people of Afghanistan, built during two decades of working side by side, are
steadfast and enduring. And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
MATT, REPORTER: Thanks, Ned. Can I just say, on Ukraine, your comments just now and the decision to close the embassy and move to Lviv, would seem to
suggest that you don't put a lot of faith in the comments that Foreign Minister Lavrov made this morning about, you know, there's still time to --
for diplomacy to work here. Is that a fair assessment of your understanding?
PRICE: We have taken note of his comments. What we have not taken note of is any indication of de-escalation.
We have not seen any tangible, any real sign of de-escalation. We have been consistent that we want to pursue the path of diplomacy. We want to resolve
this through dialogue, through diplomacy, through communication. We hope the Russians have a similar willingness.
But we haven't -- we've also said that in order for diplomacy and dialogue to succeed, it has to take place in the context of de-escalation and we
have not seen anything resembling de-escalation. There is not that context yet. If Foreign Minister Lavrov's comments are followed up with concrete,
tangible signs of de-escalation, we would certainly welcome that. We have not seen that yet.
MATT: Is there any -- has there been any movement on another conversation between the Secretary and the Foreign Minister? Have you gotten -- and
also, it looks like the Russians are making noise that they've pretty much finalized their response to your response. And so has -- have you been led
to believe that anything on either of those fronts the response or another meeting or phone call is coming soon?
PRICE: Well, we've seen the comments from the Kremlin from Moscow today indicating that their response, in their words, has been finalized. It's
been, I believe, over two weeks now since we dispatched our non-paper to Moscow, we've yet to see a response, that remains accurate as of today, as
of this moment, but we will, of course, carefully review the Russian written response when we do receive it.
As you know, Matt, over the weekend, President Biden hasn't had an opportunity to speak to President Putin. That call was preceded by a phone
call that Secretary Blinken had with Foreign Minister Lavrov while we were in flight during that first call, the call between Secretary Blinken and
Foreign Minister Lavrov. Foreign Minister Lavrov indicated what the Russians seem to be indicating now publicly today, namely that is that they
are finalizing, they were finalizing at the time, the written response that they intended to transmit to the United States, a response that would carry
the imprimatur of President Putin, we have yet to receive that.
But the foreign minister did indicate a willingness on the part of the Russian Federation to engage in dialogue once that response was received.
Now, there was no discussion -- no specific discussion as to when that dialogue would take place. We don't have anything scheduled at the moment.
The next step will be the receipt of the Russian response. We'll, of course, need a bit of time to evaluate it. But as we said, we are prepared
to engage in diplomacy, we hope to engage in good faith dialogue and diplomacy. But in order for it to be good faith, of course, that will
require the Russians to respond in kind. In order for this to bear fruit, it will also have to take place in the context of de-escalation. And that
is just not something we've seen today.
MATT: OK. And (INAUDIBLE) of Lavrov or anyone else hasn't given you any indication of what the content of the response might be?
PRICE: No. We've seen various public characterizations of the Russian view of our non-paper, of the non-paper that was sent over by NATO. But we'll
have to wait and see what's actually in the in the Russian response. Francesca.
FRANCESCA, REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) has just said that he's been told that Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, is potentially the day of Russian attack.
Is that your assumption, too? Is that what you have shared with your Ukrainian allies and partners?
PRICE: Well, so I'm not going to go specifically into a great deal of intelligence. What I can say, let me start by what we're not saying. We are
not saying that President Putin has made a final decision. We have not communicated otherwise, to our partners. We believe that diplomacy
continues to be viable, we believe that there still remains a window to resolve this through dialogue, and diplomacy.
What we are saying and you just heard me say this a moment ago, as I was explaining the rationale behind the moves in recent days, that we have a
sufficient level of concern based on data points that are as clear to me as they should be to all of you. And that's what we're seeing on the ground.
It is the massive buildup that we have seen continued even in recent days and in recent weeks. More than 100,000 troops along Ukraine's borders,
Russian forces in Belarus, essentially Russia positioning itself to be in a position should that decision be made to move quickly and aggressively
against Ukraine from multiple sides. That's what undergirds our concern.
We have erred on the side of transparency with our allies and our partners, of course. That includes Ukraine. We'll continue knew to share with our
Ukrainian partners information and intelligence as we are able.
But at this point our assessment has not changed. We believe that a window remains open to resolve this diplomatically. That is certainly the course
we prefer. It is a course we will continue to pursue for as long as we have a partner on the other side.
FRANCESCA: And to pull up on Matt's question on any engagement with Lavrov, is it, at this point, a de-escalation? Is it preconditioned to any further
in person engagement with Prime Minister Lavrov or not?
PRICE: We are open to dialogue. But again, in order for that dialogue to lead to anything, in order for it to be effective, it would need to take
place in the context of de-escalation.
Right now, the Russian military buildup along Ukraine's borders on -- along Ukraine's borders and in Belarus has created a very tense and challenging
situation, it is a very dangerous situation that could escalate, whether intentional or not, with little or no warning, we want to see de-
escalation, both for the sake of this dialogue and diplomacy bearing fruit and resolving this peacefully, but also, in an effort to lower the risk of
conflict, to lower the risk of this turning very bad very quickly. That is our concern right now.
We have not seen that de-escalation. We don't yet know that President Putin has made a decision. That is why we think diplomacy continues to be
valuable. But we need to see de-escalation in order for that diplomacy --
SYED, REPORTER: What would escalation mean? I mean you guys always talked de-escalation, but you never defined that.
PRICE: Well, we have talked about it. We --
SYED: We've seen escalation on the other side (INAUDIBLE) up on airplanes and so on, you know?
PRICE: I -- first of all, I would take issue with that. What we have done is to prepare, to prepare for either course that the Russian Federation may
take. Again, we are prepared, and we have engaged in dialogue and diplomacy. We've done that in concert with our allies and partners. But
we're also prepared for the course of defense and deterrence, knowing that President Putin may well decide to order an invasion and now has the
ability to do so in short order.
Everything that we have done, Syed, has been in the vein of defense and deterrence. It is not NATO that is threatening Russia. It is not Ukraine
that is threatening Russia. NATO is a defensive alliance. What we have done is reassure, including through measures that the Department of Defense the
President has spoken to you, to reinsure and to reinforce our allies on NATO's eastern flank, and to provide Ukraine with defensive supplies that
Ukraine would need to defend itself should Russia make the decision to move forward with an unprovoked attack against Ukraine.
That is not in the vein of aggression, that is quite the opposite. That is in the vein of defense and deterrence. In terms of the steps Russia would
need to take, I'm not here to define what Russia needs to do. There are a range of steps that the Russian Federation could take that would signal de-
escalation. There are there more than 100,000 forces arrayed along Ukraine's borders, there are thousands of forces in Belarus. We've heard
bellicose rhetoric emanate from elements of the Russian Federation, all of those things could change.
This buildup has taken place in the course of a couple months. In the course of hours or days, we could see tangible signs of de-escalation if
Russia makes the political decision to do so. Barbara.
BARBARA, REPORTER: Excuse me. President Zelensky, sorry, recently suggested very vaguely that perhaps the notion of NATO membership might not be
achievable. He said it is for us like a dream. And, of course, you had the comments from the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.K. in which he suggested it
might be up for some kind of negotiation, although that's been walked back. And they said, it's part of the Constitution and so on.
But there is discussion, perhaps, on how to respond to this particular crisis and whether NATO membership might be part of that. What are the
Americans saying to Ukraine about that? Is that something that you're encouraging? Is that something that you are advising on some kind of
formula, that that might be a place where there could be a diplomatic solution? Because it seems unlikely there'll be some kind of solution
without involving Ukraine's status.
PRICE: Ukraine's aspirations are not a matter for us to decide. Ukraine's aspirations are not a matter for any other country to decide. We've been
very clear about this. And this is at the core of what we've been saying in terms of that diplomacy.
There are some areas where, through the course of good faith discussions and negotiations, we think we could improve our own, address some of our
own security concerns, the security concerns of the transatlantic community, that is to say, the shared concerns in the United States, of our
European allies and partners, and also address the stated concerns of the Russian Federation. And we've delineated a number of those, a number of
those are now available online to subscribers of El Pais to see for themselves, so I need not go into them now.
At the same time, we've been consistent all along. There are some things that are non-negotiable.
BARBARA: But is it something that they have raised with you?
PRICE: I'm not going to go into discussions with the -- with our Ukrainian partners, but our message to them, both public and private, has been that
no country, no other country, should be in a position to dictate the aspirations of any other country, whether that is Ukraine or any other
country around the world. This is -- we've made the point repeatedly. Tensions that Moscow have -- has provoked needlessly, tensions that Moscow
has precipitated for no reason.
But in many ways, what we are seeing here is bigger than the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the tensions between Russia and the
international community. And that is because what Russia is threatening itself is an affront to the rules based order that has undergirded 70 plus
years of unprecedented levels of stability, of security of prosperity.
If Moscow purports to dictate international borders, if Moscow purports to dictate the foreign policy decisions, if Moscow purports to dictate the
alliances and partnerships of any other country, that would be an assault on that order. It'd have implications, certainly for Ukraine, but it'd have
implications far beyond Ukraine. And I think that is why you see not only United States, but also the United States and our partners and allies,
speak up firmly, speak up with one voice to make clear that we would not stand for it and that there would be profound, profound consequences for
Moscow, should it choose to move forward with that aggression. Missy.
MISSY, REPORTER: I just wanted to ask on the (INAUDIBLE) on the embassy, so the -- can you --
GORANI: What is the plan to take this in its entirety?
MISSY: And who will be responsible for presumably the Ukrainian government, but what are the arrangements around safeguarding the facility? And then
just to clarify on the --
GORANI: All right. We're going to leave this news conference for a moment. I want to bring Matthew Chance in. He's live in Kiev, in Ukraine for
clarification on what President Zelensky said about this February 16th invasion date, a lot of people took it at face value, but please put it in
context for us.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look, what I'm told is that Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, didn't mean for this to be
some sort of confirmation that Ukraine, he'd been told, would come under attack on February 16th. He was he was using irony, according to the
presidential office, who I've spoken to about, to put across a point that the country should remain calm.
Here's what he said. He said, look, you know, remember, he was announcing a public holiday as part of a sort of national address on Facebook to try and
urge calm in the country as we sort of confront, as the country confronts this very tense period. He said this, "We are told February the 16th will
be the day of the attack, we'll make it the day of unity, and on this day, we'll hoist national flags, and we'll pin blue and yellow ribbons to
ourselves and show the world our unity."
So, you know, he was, again, you know, you're trying to use irony to urge people not to panic. It's been a recurrent theme in what Volodymyr Zelensky
has been doing that over the course of the past several weeks and months, as tensions with Russia have risen, where on the one hand, you've seen, you
know, countries like the United States, in particular, make assessment saying that an attack is imminent, or that there could be an attack in the
next few days, which is basically what their position is at the moment.
The Ukrainian leadership has been much more circumspect, has been, you know, downplaying the possibility of an imminent Russian invasion. You
know, not least because it's causing economic problems in the country. Airlines have started to stop flying here. There's been a withdrawal of,
you know, huge amounts of foreign investment from Ukraine as a result of these warnings that are being given by the United States, as well as his
embassy staff and things like that, diplomatic missions being downsized as well.
But there's also concern behind the scenes in Ukraine, that, you know, if you keep on saying that Russia is now about to attack, it puts the Kremlin
into a corner and it may actually feel he's got no alternative but to attack which is obviously something the Ukrainians want to avoid sort of
And so, you know, that's why we've seen I think this real difference of position when it comes to the Americans who are being very, very hard line
about the nature of the intelligence that they're assessing and the Ukrainians who are really, really downplaying it.
And this February, the 16th date that Volodymyr Zelensky talked about during this sort of address to the nation on Facebook, announcing that
public holiday was a sort of, you know, like jab at the idea that there's another date been set for an invasion, we've heard it before he said
earlier on in the speech, and now we're hearing it again. It wasn't meant to be taken, I think literally.
GORANI: All right. Thanks for that clarification. You're inside the country. How are just ordinary Ukrainians, in Kiev in particular, where you
are reacting to all of this? Is there a palpable sense of anxiety that an invasion could take place imminently?
CHANCE: I mean, on the surface, you know, I don't think there is. I mean, you know, people are going about their daily business. I mean it's
Valentine's Day today, there's a big party, sort of in the hotel where we're staying here with loads of people gathering with big red heart-shaped
balloons, you know, and their significant others.
And life is going on as normal in the daytime. There are cafes and restaurants, people going to the banks and things like that, there's no
particular sense of panic here in the Ukrainian capital.
The explanation for that, that we're often given, is that look, you know, Ukraine has been facing this Russian threat and fighting a war with Russia,
with Russian-backed rebels for the past several years, for the past eight years and so they're used to this kind of pressure, you know.
But at the same time, I have to say that, you know, there is a sort of, you know, sense in that the, you know, Ukrainian Armed Forces are trying to
bolster themselves a little bit more, you know, making almost daily requests for weaponry from the United States and from other western states
as well to, you know, bolster their strength, you know, and they've also started staging exercises of their own, to make sure that they're in the
best possible position they can be in, if they are indeed to be confronted with a concerted multipronged invasion by Russia's armed forces.
And so, yes, I think it's a concern. But, you know, when you speak to people in the street, people, people are much like the presidents and
taking their lead perhaps and the leadership here in the country, as perhaps they should, you know, adopting a very calm attitude towards it.
GORANI: All right. Our Senior International Correspondent in Kiev, Matthew Chance, thanks very much.
Let's talk about these news conferences in Washington, John Kirby at the Pentagon, followed by Ned Price, who confirmed that the United States is
really relocating its diplomatic staff from Kiev to Lviv and closing its Kiev location because of concerns for the safety of some of that diplomatic
staff, as well as intensifying efforts to impose sanctions on Russia should Moscow decide to invade. And crucially talking about how diplomacy is still
an option, though it needs to happen within the context of de-escalation, which the United States has not seen according to Ned Price at the State
Let's go to Natasha Bertrand, our reporter in Washington with more. What -- these are messages we've heard before from the United States. We're really
just a few days away from some of these dates that have been floating around Wednesday, for instance, Volodymyr Zelensky said, in a way that
shouldn't be taken at face value. But this is one of the dates that we've heard time and again, what should we make of what the U.S. is telegraphing
now to Russia?
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: What they're saying is that we're prepared if you do invade, and we're prepared if you don't. Basically
they are willing to pursue diplomacy until the very last possible moment. And that is something that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signaled
that they might be open to this morning. But they are also ready to impose severe consequences if Russia does end up launching that attack.
They still don't know, really whether Putin has made that final decision to launch that attack. And they have kind of, you know, and U.S. intelligence
officials have told us that February 16th is one of those dates that the US has been looking at for potential attack. We don't exactly know why. That
just seems to be what U.S. intelligence officials have picked up in their collection on Russian officials, that this seems to be the day that Russian
-- that Russia may launch that attack.
But of course, Ukraine's still not really buying it. Volodymyr Zelensky basically saying with irony that all of these predictions, you know, none
of them really have yet to materialize, and he's trying to keep the public calm here. The U.S.'s retort to that is we are airing here on the side of
transparency. We want to not only -- the United States, but also our allies the rest of the world, to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.
And that is why they are evacuating the Embassy in Kiev. They feel like They feel like the risk is too great for the U.S. to be staying, for U.S.
diplomats to be staying there at this moment. Obviously, they do not want a repeat of what happened in Afghanistan. So they are moving those diplomats
further west, not entirely out of the country, which is somewhat of a symbolic gesture to Ukraine that they are not completely evacuating,
they're not abandoning Ukraine. But they are leaving Kiev because again, according to U.S. intelligence, that is one of the targets that Russia
could be eyeing here, Hala.
GORANI: And what specifically is the concern about leaving a skeleton staff in an Embassy in Kiev? That -- what could happen? What's the worst-case
scenario for the Americans?
BERTRAND: The worst-case scenario, and this is something that the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan laid out in the Sunday shows yesterday, is
that we could see an aerial bombardment by Russia of the city of Kiev, that any attack could begin with missiles launched on the city. And that could
be followed by a big ground invasion. And so the idea that anyone will be spared in that, regardless of their nationality, is just not something that
the U.S. is willing to risk at this point. It will just be very indiscriminate if and when Russia does invade.
So they want U.S. persons out. They have been encouraging all American citizens to leave the country. Of course, many of them are not willing to
do so. Again, a lot of projection of calm among the Ukrainian government, the U.S. here not taking any chances.
GORANI: Natasha Bertrand thanks very much live in Washington, just reiterating what we heard from the State Department. They have not seen de-
escalation despite those Sergey Lavrov comments, the Russian Foreign Minister, that there is still a chance for diplomacy. And importantly, we
are not saying the Americans say that Vladimir Putin has made a final decision.
Meantime, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is declaring Wednesday, February 16th, the date that has been floated for weeks now, is
the date that Russia could possibly invade the country though confirmed in no way as Unity Day. This is what Volodymyr Zelensky says that day should
be for Ukrainians across the country.
We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll have a lot more news. Do stay with CNN.