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Transcript: The 11th Hour, 2/28/22

Guests: Alexander Vindman, William Taylor, Jeremy Bash, Amna Nawaz, Gillian Tett, David Miliband, Jeh Johnson, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Clint Watts


Russia Faces Fierce Resistance from Ukrainian Forces. Satellite images show Russian forces near Kyiv. Russia strikes Ukraine`s second largest city. Russia, Ukraine hold first talks since invasion. 520,000 plus have fled Ukraine since war began.


SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, UKRAINE`S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translation): We were told that they would welcome us and they are falling under our armored vehicles throwing themselves under the wheels and not allowing us to pass. They call us fascists, mama, this is so hard. In several moments he was killed.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: And that is tonight`s "LAST WORD" on Vladimir Putin`s war. Our breaking news coverage continues with Stephanie Ruhle, next.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m Stephanie Ruhle. Welcome to MSNBC`s Special Coverage of the war in Ukraine. As we close out day five from the West, we`ll look at where we are and where we`re going. First, the situation on the ground. It`s Tuesday morning in Kyiv and it is not going as Vladimir Putin had planned.

Russia didn`t roll across Ukraine. His army isn`t looking like the ultimate fighting force, and they are facing serious resistance from Ukraine. But as proud as they may be Ukrainians know there are dark, dark days ahead. Satellite images showing massive convoys of Russian equipment and troops outside the capitol that reportedly stretches for miles.

Today, Russian forces carried out intense shelling in Ukraine`s second largest city. And here`s the Pentagon`s assessment of that very situation.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The Russians have not only experienced a stiff and determined resistance by the Ukrainians, but logistics and sustainment problems of their own. Mr. Putin still has at his disposal significant combat power. He hasn`t moved all of it into Ukraine. But he`s moved the majority of it, he still has a lot that he hasn`t moved into Ukraine.


RUHLE: Ukraine and Russia did come to the negotiating table today for the first time since the war began. But so far, they`ve only agreed to meet again. While much of the world`s concern Putin has made it clear that his nuclear forces are at the ready, and the West is escalating its own financial war on Russia, and in crushing new sanctions that can and will cripple an already weak Russian economy.

Tonight, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted this, "The U.S. allies are coordinating to not only freeze the assets of Putin and his oligarch allies, but to seize those assets as well."

Meanwhile, the mass exodus of Ukrainians trying to escape shows no signs of slowing down. The UN estimates more than 520,000 people have left the country so far, most of them women and children. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave. They have to stay and fight.

My colleague, Matt Bradley, is in Ukraine and NBC`s Raf Sanchez in Moscow.

Matt, as I understand, you just heard air raid sirens where you are, it was just a week and a half ago, you and I were talking and you were telling the Ukrainians, they don`t think anything is going to happen.

MATT BRADLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, Stephanie, that situation obviously has changed. And, you know, this is now five days exactly and one hour into this assault. This really did catch a lot of Ukrainians off guard.

Now, I`m in a different place than where I was last week, when we had that conversation that was in the eastern part of the country, the Northeast in the city of Kharkiv, which is the second largest city in the country. It`s the Russian largest Russian speaking city. It`s the kind of city where Vladimir Putin might have expected that his military might have walked in there, waltz straight in. And the Russian speaking people there would have welcomed them as liberators, liberators from their supposedly oppressors in Kyiv.

Now this, of course, is all in, you know, Putin sort of deranged, irredentist mentality, his kind of, his belief that Russians are -- Russian speakers in the eastern part of the country belong with Russia, and are oppressed even the victims of genocide by the government in Kyiv. But, you know, that never came to pass because the fact of the matter is that this country, even the Russian speaking parts, but I`m no longer in the Russian speaking part of the country. Even they really see themselves very much as Ukrainians. And the problem is, for Vladimir Putin is that if he wanted to unite Ukrainians, he did exactly that by attacking them. He brought them all together. And you saw that on an international level too by attacking Ukraine, he also breathed new life into the NATO alliance that he`s so despised, he made it -- he brought it back from the brink of irrelevance and made it more immediate and more necessary.

So a lot of this just as you`re talking about the battlefield, mistakes and lack of gains that he really should have made. And, you know, Stephanie, from the beginning, this was Vladimir Putin`s war to lose everything so far, it seems to be going against what he wanted, what he intended. And instead he`s really making a mess of it on the global stage.


Now. what happens next? I mean the problem is, I was just in Kharkiv, that`s now the scene of really blistering street to street fighting and we`re also hearing that there`s a lot of talk of -- you know, war crimes. One of the main things that we`re hearing about is these so called cluster munitions. We`ve been seeing lots of videos of these bombs that get dropped and then explode above ground and then scatter bombs for bomblets all over these residential areas. And this is something that the United States hasn`t used in decades. They`re forbidden by 110 countries throughout the world. Russia isn`t one of them, neither is the U.S. But the fact is, is that this is something that really just goes to show that Vladimir Putin`s war is being carried by the civilian population here in Ukraine.

I`m hearing Uman, as you mentioned, you know, this is the third air siren that we`ve heard in the 12 hours since we arrived, and we haven`t heard any bombs. So you might be wondering why the population here is so incredibly concerned, so jittery, this is a small city, it`s not a main target. Reason why is because at the very outset of this war, five days ago, here in Uman, the small town, a 14 year old girl was among the first who was leveled by one of these incoming bombs while she was riding her bicycle. So this is why this has this tiny town so jittery. And this is just the story of this whole country. It`s civilians who are carrying this war. And it`s the civilians who Vladimir Putin had hoped to bring on side, had hoped that they would greet his army as liberators. And now he`s antagonized them terribly. Stephanie.

RUHLE: So while the West is uniting around Ukraine, Raf, take us to Moscow, what`s going on there?

RAF SANCHEZ, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Stephanie, we are starting to see these sanctions take a toll on daily life here in Russia. I`ll give you a couple examples. Moscow has this beautiful world famous subway system, and people here use their phones a lot of the time to pay at the turnstiles. But starting today, people have been finding Apple Pay, Google Pay is not working down there. If their banks are on the list of banks that have been sanctioned by the West.

I was in my hotel room a couple of days ago, and I got a call from the front desk. And they asked me to come down and settle the bill early, because they`re not sure how much longer credit cards are going to be working in this country. We`re not yet seeing runs on banks or anything like that. But I`ll tell you, Stephanie, people here ordinary middle class Russians who have nothing to do with Vladimir Putin`s war are absolutely terrified. As they watch the value of the ruble collapse in front of their eyes, one ruble is now worth less than a cent. For the first time, people are really frightened about what this means for their savings whether their savings are going to be wiped out by this.

Now, Vladimir Putin had a plan for this since 2014, he has been building a financial war chest of foreign currency reserves that was designed for exactly this situation to prop up the ruble in the face of Western sanctions. But what the Kremlin did not anticipate was how aggressively the Western powers would move against Russia`s central bank and effectively make it impossible for them to access big chunks of that financial war chest. So Vladimir Putin called in his economic advisors today, but it`s not clear how much they`re going to be able to do to shield the Russian economy. Stephanie?

RUHLE: Now, and people are suffering. Matt, Raf, stay safe where you are. If you have anything come back to the cameras, we will certainly want those updates.

But for now, let`s bring in our experts. Amna Nawaz, MSNBC Contributor and Chief Correspondent for PBS NewsHour, Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, Alexander Vindman, the former Director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council with an expertise in Ukraine, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon and William Taylor, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and the United States Institute of Peace, Vice President for Russia and Europe.

Colonel Vindman, I have to start with you. You were born in Ukraine, you know, this country and you know, Putin. Ukraine has been much, much stronger than Putin anticipated. He`s facing global blowback. His own people are protesting and his stars and athletes are rejecting him. He is getting humiliated. What is his next move?

ALEXANDER VINDMAN, U.S. ARMY LT. COLONEL (Ret.): Double Down, he`s going to respond more aggressively. The fact is that he`s experienced a couple of decades in power, where all they need to do is ratchet up the pressure, increase the violence, increase the repression at home and achieve the desired effects. And oftentimes throughout that period, throughout his reign throughout his tenure, the West sat silently. Now, he has to kind of start to price in, start to build in the fact that this is a different landscape. There`s a much more muscular response but he`s instincts is kind of ingrained pattern of, is going to be to double down and to achieve his military objectives in Ukraine.


Because if you could do that, and if you could start to prop up a puppet government, if you could attempt to pacify the population, he thinks there`s a way out of this.

Unfortunately, I think the Ukrainian people, as you pointed out, have a deep will to resist, they`re not going to give up. This is going to go on for -- if this gets as violent as I think it will, it`s going to go on for weeks and longer. And it`s going to continue to build pressure on Vladimir Putin just as population starts to feel the pressure from the economic sanctions, and the protests that have been relatively modest, but are going to explode when the Russian -- when Russian families start to hear about the casualties of Russia suffered.

RUHLE: Then, given all of that, Ambassador Taylor, let`s be honest, what is the point of these talks between Ukrainian delegates and Russian delegates? Unless Putin is at the table, nothing is going to happen. And even if he is, he`s not going to do anything reasonable?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Stephanie, you`re right. He`s not going to do anything reasonable. He`s sending a former minister of culture to these talks, whereas the Ukrainians, President Zelensky sent his defense minister and one of his chief lieutenants and his party to these talks. So the Ukrainians did the right thing of saying, look, there needs to be a discussion. There needs to be a conversation. There needs to be negotiation and there needs to be a ceasefire. You can`t get anything done while there is fighting going on.

Matt Bradley did a great job of describing exactly what`s going on with Ukrainians and Alex Vindman just said the same thing, the Ukrainians aren`t going to fight. Ukrainians are unified. President Zelensky has led his nation and has led the world in opposing Putin and President Zelensky has really stood up and he has set people to negotiate as a reasonable person should, and the Russians don`t seem to be taking it seriously.

RUHLE: Jeremy, what do you think?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I`m concerned about Putin doubling down. Look, I think there`s encouraging news about the performance of the Ukrainian military on the battlefield. I`m encouraged by the impact of the sanctions we referenced, the ruble collapsing, we will reference the fact that stock market -- Russian stock market has halted trading for five days, and that people are lined up to get cash out of Russian banks. So I`m encouraged by the work that`s been done today. But what does Putin do now to double down as Alex Vindman said, he lays siege to Kyiv. He strikes at civilian targets. He, I think, engages in the worst war crimes imaginable. He carpet bombs apartment buildings, he uses chemical weapons, thermobaric weapons, and even rattles the nuclear saber.

I think we are entering, Stephanie, perhaps the most dangerous phase. You know, on some level, if Putin had just walked in, decapitated the government and taking over, we would have kind of settled into a very long, cold war style conflict. But now I think we are on the brink of a significant military escalation. And the United States in the West is going to have to wait a number of options to try to figure out how to stop the slaughter in Ukraine. We have no good answers.

RUHLE: Amna, what is your reporting telling you? Because while these sanctions may be damaging, and huge, if we`re on the brink of a massive military escalation, economic sanctions won`t matter.

AMNA NAWAZ, PBS NEWHOUR CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: No, but that is exactly the strategy for the U.S. and for its allies right now. The NATO troops are not going in. The U.S. is not sending troops in. I mean, the President -- President Biden has made that clear over and over again, they have chosen instead to wage economic war.

And what senior Administration official tells us is look this -- these sanctions, his latest raft of sanctions will affect absolutely everything. Previously, it was very limited. You were only going after the elite, the oligarchs, so that influential circle around Putin, this will impact absolutely everybody and they are counting, they are counting on the people of Russia to be impacted by that, and then to rise up and protest that because, as a senior European official told me, like the point with some of these sanctions is to say that this is not someone else`s war. This is Russia`s war. This is a war being waged in your name. And they think that that will also help to build some of those protests that they`d seen before.

But you`re absolutely right. I mean, I`ve been talking to folks on the ground, sources on the ground in different parts of Ukraine as well. And to be honest, some of them have said they`re a little surprised at the resilience of the Ukrainian people. So far, just how patriotic everyone has been. The fact that even if someone does not know how to shoot a weapon, they are going out and figuring out a way to volunteer, to help out, to lend support in their town. But they don`t know what`s coming next either. And the reports of this approaching Russian column, concern around Putin not being a rational actor about being further cornered by the sanctions has everyone on it and we don`t know what will happen next.


RUHLE: Colonel Vindman, could some of these very influential oligarchs who do matter a lot to Putin, could they turn on him? They don`t live in Russia. They don`t care about Ukraine. They live in London and New York and the south of France. And they certainly don`t want their assets frozen, or their yachts taken away. Could they turn on Putin here?

VINDMAN: I don`t think that`s going to be meaningful, and it`s probably not likely. They know where their bread is buttered. If anybody`s going to turn on him, it`s going to be a palace coup. It`s going to be the security services of the military that think that he`s gone too far, or that he`s bringing the country to the brink of destruction. Those are the things that Russian rulers have traditionally feared, the palace coups, or the street uprisings, the voyeurs or in this case are well under heel. But what`s interesting about the Ukrainian people is that it`s because of them, that these discussions are even played. We -- most military analysts thought that Russia would achieve its military objective within dates. That`s not the case.

Now, this is a different landscape. Certainly, this economic war is meaningful, but we`re on the brink of a -- we`re certainly in the middle of a Cold War, we might very well be on the brink of a hot war, if this isn`t played very carefully. And I think part of the way we need to start thinking about this is, what do we do since we`re not going to put boots on the ground in Ukraine? What do we do to support the Ukrainian people? What do we do to support the Ukrainian government, we give them everything they want? And if that means, you know, we open the door more widely to NATO, that means we open the door more widely to the E.U., they`re already paying for it. They`re paying for it with blood. And, you know what, it`s a rigid process to get into the E.U. It`s a rigid process to get into NATO. But it`s a collective defense organization for NATO. And if frankly, we probably could use that kind of strength in NATO, and the E.U. could use that kind of blood, that kind of spur in its organization. We need to do everything we can to support those parts of that population. So they survive. And that`s going to give time for all these other -- these other pressures to bring to come to bear.

RUHLE: Ambassador Taylor, many, many Western countries are coming to the aid of Ukraine, but not all. Israel, for example, as the New York Times points out, they`re in a delicate balance in the middle. Why is that? Why wouldn`t Israel come out and more forcefully behind Ukraine?

TAYLOR: Of course they should? Of course they should.

RUHLE: Why haven`t they?

TAYLOR: That`s up to the Israelis to tell you, I don`t know, Stephanie. But what -- your first part of your sentence is exactly right. I mean, look at what the German, look, turnaround of the German is incredible. The Swiss, the Swiss are no longer neutral. The Swedes, the Finns, this is amazing swell of support of international support for Ukraine and against Russia. So that`s the good news out of this last weekend.

RUHLE: Abandoning their brand, the Swiss no longer neutral. Thank you all so much. We`re going to leave it there for now. But I`m sure you`ll be back very, very soon.

Amna Nawaz, Alexander Vindman, Jeremy Bash, and Ambassador William Taylor, thank you. And good evening to you all.

Coming up next, an in depth look at those crippling sanctions and how it`s impacting Russia. Why it`s bad news for the Russian economy hitting Putin where it hurts and the effects we could feel here at home.

And later, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on the dangers of lies tearing through society as we face this crisis abroad. Our special coverage, Beyond Ukraine`s Border is just getting underway on this Monday night.



RUHLE: Tonight, here`s where things stand with sanctions against Russia and the effects they are already having on its economy. The United States along with its allies around the world, the U.K., the E.U., Canada, Japan, even Switzerland, I said it before, neutral Switzerland are putting maximum economic pressures on Russia.

In the financial sector, there are sanctions cutting off some of the biggest Russian banks from the U.S, financial system and from SWIFT. The International messaging system that connects 1000s of financial institutions around the world, their actions, also specifically targeting companies and industries. The sanctions also go after powerful individuals, including Vladimir Putin himself, and a number of influential oligarchs.

And today the U.S. government going even further, this is a big one, freezing hundreds of millions of dollars, that you know who it belongs to, the Russian Central Bank. Without that money, it`s going to be a whole lot harder to prop up the Russian economy. And the pain is already in.

The ruble fell about 30% against the dollar to a record low today. And average Russians are now lining up at banks trying to withdraw whatever money they can. And all of this is a very important reminder, while Vladimir Putin promotes his nation as a superpower. Russia has super nuclear power, but not economic power. Even before the sanctions, it was just the 11th largest economy in the world. That`s like the size of the state of New York. And now that economy is in freefall.

With us tonight to follow the money, Gillian Tett, she`s the chair of the editorial board and editor at large for the Financial Times. And David Miliband, the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, and the former Foreign Secretary for the U.K.

Gillian, there have already been a lot of tough sanctions put on Russia over the weekend, but this latest one, going after their central bank, I mean, that`s like taking away your safety net.

GILLIAN TETT, FINANCIAL TIMES EDITORIAL-AT-LARGE: Absolutely, I mean, this is really the equivalent of financial shock and or to use the financial terminology. And a significant because it really means is that Russia can`t get access to dollars and euros as easily going forward. And this is having immediate impact on ordinary citizens, in the sense that people go on the metro in Moscow today, found they sort of suddenly couldn`t use their Apple Pay systems or their automated systems. People trying to use credit cards, as you`ve heard earlier in the show, I suddenly being told they can`t use them in Moscow.

And of course, you`re seeing photographs right now of people queuing up outside banks, trying to get their money out. And there`s rising fear of bank runs. We`ve already had one of the European branches, or one of the biggest banks, Sphere Bank, being essentially told by the European Central Bank, that they are essentially, you know, in the state of collapse.

Now, it`s important to keep this in perspective, because Russia central bank has prepared in many ways to make itself more resilient by reducing its holdings of exposure to dollars in recent years. Bringing back its foreign exchange reserves from outside the country back into Russia and also buying lots of gold. So, thirdly, we have been preparing for this kind of isolation.


But that said, it`s not going to protect it from all the fallout. And on top of that, do you have these three other things you mentioned, banks are being cut out of the SWIFT messaging system, Russian banks, although we`re not quite sure how that`s going to play out. We`ve got a lot of international companies cutting ties with Russian or basically threatening to stop their joint ventures. And, of course, we`ve got the sanctions on individuals as well, the fourth leg of the shock and awe campaign. So it adds up to a pretty shocking collection of measures. The big question, though, is not just how badly will it hit Russia? But what will be the ripple effects on the rest of the financial system? And that`s something that a lot of investors are starting to worry about.

RUHLE: There`s another big question, David, you`re seeing average, Russians suffer the consequences. But what about the really rich and powerful ones? You know, what they`re good at, besides making money finding loopholes? How serious are these sanctions in terms of really impacting everybody they`re intended to?

DAVID MILIBAND, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE PRESIDENT AND CEO: Well, I think all the evidence is to back up what Gillian`s been saying tonight that this is a shotgun door campaign. I think there`s well founded view that London has not taken seriously enough, in the last decade, the need to crack down on the flows of finance through London that involves institutions, and it involves individuals.

I think that the European Union`s actions, the Swiss actions are forcing the hand of the London authorities. And so there`s been some significant commitments on the part of the U.K. authorities that now needs to be translated into actions. And so I think we`re at an absolutely pivotal moment when Russians themselves are feeling the consequences. And, of course, for the very rich Russians, some of the symbolic steps that have been taken, for example, access to European airspace for private planes, as well as for commercial flights are quite meaningful.

RUHLE: Is there a scenario where those rich influential Russians ever turn on Putin, they don`t have these delusions of grandeur when it comes to world domination like he does, but they sure like to fly their planes all over Europe. Gillian?

TETT: Often say that, certainly there is a possibility that might happen. But as someone who used to live in the Soviet Union myself and has watched the Soviet -- post-Soviet system for many years, what one of the things is very important right now is what happens to the upper mid-level of Slovakia, of former KGB of intelligence people, because the really rich Russians, for the most part, can shelter themselves, they have found ways to get escape routes in recent years, even from sanctions or they can soften the blow.

The people who are potentially very interesting right now around Putin, are the ones who are 2, 3, 4 notches down from the very top, who maybe have stashed a bit of money overseas in Switzerland, they`ve might have an apartment in Spain, they might have had a bank account in Cyprus, you know, now if those people start to see all the avenues of escape, shut off, or really see serious threats to their lifestyles, it`s going to be very interesting to see whether you start to see a mood of rebellion growing, because the brutal reality of Russia`s history is that you`ve almost never had effective change of government or essentially change the leadership because of what`s happened in the streets. It`s been the people around the leader, the palace coup that have been most effective. And that doesn`t necessarily come from the very top, the oligarchs, it comes from that sort of middle to upper level. And so that I think, is one of the groups of people that many of these new sanctions are intended to try and target to potentially create that ricochet effect.

RUHLE: That`s fascinating. David, what do you think about that?

MILIBAND: I think that Gillian`s explanation of the sociology of Russia is really important. I also need to focus though, on the politics and a couple of things are important there. First of all, this is the anniversary of the assassination of one of President Putin`s greatest opponents, Mr. Nemtsov, Boris Nemtsov. He was assassinated. And so there is a climate of very clear fear. Now, this is not a new phenomenon in Russia. It`s got a long history, but I think that political angle is very important, indeed.

Secondly, I think it`s vital that we think about the different institutions of the Russian state, because that has been a drive to centralize, obviously, and that`s been symbolized in the last few days by the pictures of President Putin holding his military officials and national security officials in front of them to explain why they agree with him. We`ve seen the centralization of power but even in that system, you`ve got people, as Gillian says at different levels who are beginning to feel the bite of what`s going on. And I think that the fact that Russia should today be turned into a pariah state is a very significant change in the balance that`s existed over certainly over the Cold War, of the post-Cold War period.


We are a long way from seeing that playing through. This is where a very long way I fear from the end of the humanitarian catastrophe across the border as a result of the conflict that we`ll probably talk about later.

RUHLE: Before we go, I want to ask you about that. How bad do you think this humanitarian crisis is going to be, David, your own organization helped 31 million people in 2020 alone, when you look at how things are unfolding in Ukraine, how bad do you think it`s going to get?

MILIBAND: Well, there are three fronts to the humanitarian crisis. There`s the people caught amidst the showing, and there are well founded reports of effective war crimes that are being committed in the shelling of civilian areas. Secondly, you`ve got people on the run inside Ukraine, fleeing for their lives, and then people who crossed the borders as refugees. That`s the third part of the humanitarian crisis, 500,000 people at least have cross borders into neighboring states, it`s very important to say those are women and children, because the men aged 18 to 60 are being required to stay and fight and actually volunteering as well to stay and fight. So you have half a million women and children, a few men who desperately fearful what`s happened to their relatives, and now need the most basic elements of humanitarian support from the European Union. Thankfully, there`s unity, not division, in a determination to meet that need. But there`s a massive practical job that needs to be done urgently.

RUHLE: Certainly is, David, Gillian, thank you both for joining us this evening. I really appreciate it.

Coming up next, Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on what Joe Biden needs to tell America and the world tomorrow night in his State of the Union address.



RUHLE: As Ukrainians are not rolling over, they are continuing to fight back against Russians in several major cities. And Vladimir Putin is said to be growing increasingly frustrated. U.S. intelligence agencies and Alexander Vindman just told us moments ago that Putin may soon be doubling down on violence as he sees it as his only option.

Let`s welcome former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who during the Obama administration oversaw cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and federal disaster response just to name a few.

Secretary, I am so glad you`re here. We need your expertise now more than ever. You`ve seen everything, you`ve done everything. So what is your assessment of what`s happening in Europe right now?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER DHS SECRETARY: First of all, Stephanie, I`m pleased to be here on the debut of your new show. Congratulations.

RUHLE: Thanks.

JOHNSON: Several things. One, western world is united behind a single purpose. Unlike anything I`ve seen since 9/11. Rarely are the battle lines between what is clearly good, and what is clearly evil, are drawn in this way. And the western world is responding. I think the sanctions will prove to be extremely effective, and putting all sorts of economic pressure on Vladimir Putin, the oligarchs his cabinet, it`ll take a while to have an effect.

Now, the dark side of that point is I believe things are going to get a lot worse, before they get better. I believe that civilian casualties in Ukraine are going to mount. The Ukrainians are putting up an extraordinarily brave front. They are proving that sometimes the will to fight with nothing more than a rifle or a Molotov cocktail to defend your freedom, to defend your homeland can overcome a Russian following orders with a tank.

But the Biden administration, I believe they`ve responded effectively, they`ve led this coalition. But they`re going to come under intense pressure soon as civilian casualties mount to -- from domestic political pressure, from international pressure to intervene militarily, despite the President`s pledge not to put boots on the ground there. The American impulse so often has been to put boots on the ground in some distant land to defend freedom. But lessons learned are that it is often much easier to get into a situation like this than it is to extricate yourself from one. So a lot of careful discipline and thinking is going to have to go into the next few days and weeks and months, I suspect.

RUHLE: Then do you think we should be taking military action now?

JOHNSON: I do not. I believe that we should arm the Ukrainians. I believe we should press all sorts of very aggressive sanctions. I believe we should act in unison with NATO. But in the current circumstances, I would not support putting boots on the ground, American boots on the ground in Ukraine. Now, that`s going to be stressed tested if civilian casualties mount, if Putin start slaughtering innocent men, women and children in large numbers.

RUHLE: Is that going to happen, though? I mean, look at our intelligence, it seems like we are calling out Putin`s next move. Hours before he takes action. It has been hugely frustrating for him?

JOHNSON: And he did it anyway. Correct. But you`re right, our intelligence community, I think has been extraordinary, in declassifying the intelligence with a certain speed and agility that you don`t normally see sorting through declassifying things at the risk of sources and methods and being forward leaning and interpreting that intelligence to really put Vladimir Putin stuff out on the street or all the world to see.

Now, the troubling thing is that he`s done it anyway. I agree with the analysis of a lot of people that this is a man who is isolated, he`s been President for too long, and he`s becoming unhinged. And at the end of this book, I think that this chapter is going to cost Vladimir Putin his presidency ultimately but it`s going to get ugly before it`s going to get better.


RUHLE: And we`re living in dangerous times, tomorrow night, the President will be giving his first State of the Union address, the world will be watching, given everything you and I just covered. What does he need to say?

JOHNSON: Well, first, I have a special state of the union`s premier special. Six years ago, I happened to be the designated survivor at the State of the Union, so I had to miss it when I was Secretary of Homeland Security. I believe what we`re going to hear from President Biden tomorrow night, if I know him, is first and foremost, he`s going to talk about a situation in Ukraine. He`s going to say that we must defend freedom. This is who we are as Americans, but he`s going to talk more also about the recovery from COVID. I`m sure he`s going to talk about the economy. He`s going to talk about -- he`s very proud of his Supreme Court nominee and urge swift confirmation of her.

Ukraine, we`ll be the first to be the thing that is first and foremost, he`s going to remind us of our values as Americans, and that this is we`re being put to the test right now.

RUHLE: Our special thanks to former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Coming up next, he calls Putin an unelected, unaccountable and increasingly deranged dictator, the Russian opposition leader who escaped a fatal poisoning not once, but twice joins us from Russia when our special coverage continues.


RUHLE: Protesters have been filling the streets of Russia angry over the invasion into Ukraine. Reuters reports that at least 2000 people were arrested on Sunday alone. And our next guest says this is not what many Russians want.

With us tonight from Moscow, Russia opposition politician Vladimir Kara- Murza, he has survived two suspected poisoning attempts and continues to speak out against Putin and the current Russian government.


You have been against Vladimir Putin for years and years, and now we`re seeing people take to the streets, furious with his current actions, going broke, could the rage against Putin right now grow so strong, that he actually gets taken out of office?

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, FREE RUSSIA FOUNDATION VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hell Stephanie, and good -- I`m been telling myself not to say good morning and good evening for the past five or six days, because there`s nothing good about what`s happening. But you`re absolutely right. And, you know, your previous guests, but it really diplomatically said that Putin has been president for too long, he`s been in power for more than 22 years. We have a whole generation of people in this country who have no other political memories. You know, we have people in Russia who were born, went to kindergarten, went to school, went to college, and are starting their adult professional lives. And all this time, one man stayed in power.

From the very beginning of his rule, Vladimir Putin began, first of all, to crush any political dissent, here in Russia, dismantle any democratic institutions that we had previously, go after independent media, the institution of parliamentary elections, and so on. And then, as always happens, as always happens in the modern history of Russia, domestic repression, and external aggression, always go hand in hand. And then, of course, Mr. Putin turns his attention outward. And now what we are seeing now, this military aggression is military crying, that the Putin regime, not Russia, not the Russian people, but the Putin regime is amazing against Ukraine is yet another in a long series of military adventures that Mr. Putin has undertaken.

But, you know, what it may well turn out to be his last. Because I can say not so much as a politician, but also as a historian by education that Russian and Soviet rulers do not have a really good track record of so called small victorious wars, that are launched for domestic political purposes today, but they`ve earned domestic public attention away from the problems here at home. You know, we can think back to the Crimean War in the 19th century, and what that did to those aristocracy, the Russo Japanese war in early 20th century, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and so on. And so, you know, this is yet another military adventure. But it may well turn out to be his last.

And as you said, a few moments ago, thousands of people went to the streets all over Russia, actually, the updated figures that we just heard from human rights groups, that more than 3000 people were arrested in last few days, you know, in dozens of cities across the country for going to the streets and protesting against Putin`s aggression on Ukraine. And it is important for us here in Russia that the world hears loud and clear that this is not Russia`s war. This is not a war by the Russian people on the people of Ukraine. This is a military crime, by this aggressive, unelected, unaccountable, and yes, increasingly deranged dictator in the Kremlin, by the name of Vladimir Putin, he does not speak for us.

RUHLE: Then it`s Putin`s war, but is there ever a scenario where you see Putin negotiate or retreat or his only move to double down?

KARA-MURZA: You know, a couple of days ago, we marked the seventh anniversary of the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister who was the most powerful, the most prominent voice in opposition to the corruption, the authoritarianism, but also the foreign aggression stuff at Putin regime is engaging. And, you know, a lot of people here have been sort of rereading that interviews and quotes from Boris Nemtsov. Of course, as you know, he was gunned down literally in front of the Kremlin in February of 2015. And people have been rereading quotes and interviews about the war on Ukraine, which, of course, as we all know, of course, Mr. Putin started back in 2014. This is just an escalation, what we`ve seen, a massive one, but an escalation. And one of the sort of most striking phrases that I reread myself from Boris Nemtsov just a couple of days ago was that, you know, this man, Putin is a madman, you cannot analyze him using sort of normal human logic, using normal human rationale. I mean, you`ve heard him essentially threatened the use of nuclear weapons in the last few days.

It is dangerous. I mean, there`s a reason most democratic countries have term limits for their leaders, because it`s just not OK to stay in power for that long. You lose all sense of reality.


KARA-MURZA: You start living in your own propaganda bubble. And so this is clearly what we`re seeing here.

RUHLE: But to that point, take us inside his head. I want to show an image of Putin earlier today sitting at the most ridiculous table. Yes, we hear all about his COVID concerns. But that`s not social distancing. OK, that`s not six feet. He is sitting miles away from the rest of the people at the table. What does that tell you about his level of concern or paranoia? Not necessarily a COVID but one might say he`s worried those guys are going to turn on him?

KARA-MURZA: Absolutely, forget about COVID. This man is paranoid. You know, this man does go into a restaurant without fighting bodyguards around serious, I mean people are laughing about it here. It`s -- well again, that this is what happens when you stay in power and not just in power, but also don`t forget, the first thing that Vladimir Putin did, when he came to power all those decades ago, was to dismantle the imperfect, but nevertheless, real democratic institutions that we had here in Russia, back in the 90s, he shut down at the better media channels, he injected the opposition from Parliament, he turned the elections in a meaningless ritual, and so on.


And so there are no checks and balances left. There`s no feedback with society. And so when you have this sort of closed system, led by, frankly, you know, an increasingly aging dictator at the top, where most of the people around him actually hate each other, as we say, like spiders on a jar, then actually, paranoia is almost unavoidable.

And yes, I mean, these images, initially, I guess they could sort of try to write it off on COVID precautions. But I think I mean, everybody`s really seeing through this now. This has nothing to do with COVID. This is paranoia. He is afraid. And, you know, I think he may have reasonable grounds to think that not everybody in his own entourage is, you know, has a suicide wish and is ready for nuclear war as he hinted that just a couple of days ago.

This is crazy. And, you know, just as I mentioned earlier that domestic repression and external aggression usually go hand in hand in modern Russia. Now, this is not only about restoring international stability and restoring peace in the middle of Europe, but it is also about saving our own country, saving Russia from this paranoid, deranged and dangerous strongman.

RUHLE: Those are not COVID precautions. Vladimir, thank you for joining us this evening, this morning to you, I appreciate it.

Coming up, there`s conventional warfare then there is cyber warfare and that battleground could quickly erupt here at home and around the world. What you can do right now when our special coverage continues.



RUHLE: As the world ratchets of sanctions on Russia, banks in this country are bracing for Russian retaliation. But what about the rest of us?

Clint Watts is a former FBI special agent and a distinguished research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Clint, I brought you here because we need your help. We keep hearing about these potential cyber-attacks, people like you and me, we don`t have cybersecurity firms helping us. For those of us at home, what do we do to prepare?

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: So big things, Stephanie. Don`t use a simple password that`s very common and don`t use it on multiple devices.

RUHLE: No 1, 2, 3, 4.

WATTS: No, no 1, 2, 3, 4. No addresses, no, no. Second part two, factor authentication, which is essentially putting in your phone number using authenticator app. So when you log in, sends a text message, that way, you can confirm that it`s you and input it in there. Next backup your data. People think they backup the data, they say they`re going to do it, they never do it. And that comes to updating software as well, all of those apps you have on your phone that have all those updates, if you put them off, you`re putting yourself at risk. Each one of those updates is patching the vulnerability that`s already been used back into somebody`s computer.

And the big thing is trust but verify. We always say, OK, I got this email for someone that doesn`t seem quite right. It`s got a link in it. Should I click on it? The simple answer is no. Instead, send a text message, call someone, asked them did they really send that?

And the last part is when you get those weird emails and it looks like a UPS or IRS notification, go up to the top and click it who the sender is. And what you`ll see oftentimes is it`s from a phishing email address. It`ll be some crazy address, oftentimes from overseas. So those are all techniques we can all use. And old people listen to young people and young people help the old people.

RUHLE: I like that, if you need help, ask for it. And if you can give help, please give it. Well, you certainly gave us help tonight, Clint watts. Thank you so much.

But before I leave you, let`s take a moment to honor Ukrainian President Zelensky. If you don`t know much about him, listen up. The 44 year old comedian turned politician is being praised around the world right now for his leadership and courage and for refusing to leave his country. Zelensky was born to a Jewish family in central Ukraine. He went from playing an unlikely President on a popular TV show and actor to getting elected Ukraine`s real president with 73% of the vote. And over the weekend, another part of his unconventional background went viral, the part where he won Ukraine`s version of Dancing with the Stars in 2006. Take a look.

Zelensky, the guy who won the election by saying you don`t need experience to be president, you just need to be a decent human being.

So with that, we say good night on a good note. And my sincere thanks to you for giving me this opportunity. I`m nervous and grateful for your patience, and for your decency.

That is our broadcast for this Monday evening, from all of us at NBC News, thank you for the privilege of your time. I`m Stephanie Ruhle. Our special coverage of the crisis in Ukraine continues right after this.