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Transcript: All In with Chris Hayes, 3/15/22

Guests: Anand Gopal, Michael Weiss, Masha Gessen, Bill Taylor


We are seeing a concerted tactical effort by the Russian military to target civilians in Ukraine in what looks to all the world and to those in Ukraine as war crimes. The tactics that we are seeing Russia use in the city of Mariupol is exactly what we saw Russia did in Aleppo. A major subway station in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv was struck by Russian rocket fire this morning. Prime ministers from Slovenia, from the Czech Republic, from Poland went to Kyiv to have a meeting with Ukraine President Zelenskyy.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: It is frightening. I really appreciate you both being here because we need to understand what`s happening full scale in this region. Amy MacKinnon, Malcolm Nance, thank you both very much.

That is tonight`s "REIDOUT." Thanks for being with us. ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts now.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voiceover): Tonight on ALL IN.

European leaders head into the war zone to meet with Zelenskyy as apartment buildings burned in Kyiv and the Russian attack continues. Tonight, how Russian brutality over several years in multiple countries have brought us to a global reckoning.

Then, Michael Weiss on what`s really happening to the Russian army. Masha Gessen on the resistance to propaganda on TV in Russia, and former ambassador Bill Taylor on China, Biden, and any hope for a diplomatic solution when ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. We are seeing a concerted tactical effort by the Russian military to target civilians in Ukraine in what looks to all the world and to those in Ukraine to be war crimes, from the shelling of apartment buildings in Kharkiv, to the targeting of both residential and shopping centers in the capital Kyiv.

Targeting is something my colleague Andrea Mitchell reported on today. Andrea Mitchell reporting on the fact that Russians look to be attacking explicitly apartment buildings, hospitals, civilian centers, playgrounds even. Here`s the thing. We know exactly the kind of horrors Russia is capable of enacting on a civilian population because we have seen it before.

The civilian -- the Syrian Civil War began 11 years ago today, actually, on this very day. And a few years later, in 2015, Russia entered the fray to help prop up Syria`s embattled a dictator Bashar al-Assad. Russia`s involvement in the conflict took things from bad to worse. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the same strategy we are seeing now of indiscriminate bombing.

Civilians and residential homes were routinely targeted by Russian and Syrian forces, especially in the ones thriving city of Aleppo, which was essentially as you see on your screen there, destroyed, reduced to rubble. Russia allegedly used the same kind of illegal cluster bombs they are now using to target civilians in Ukraine.

And Russian forces also deliberately target hospitals as part of their bombing campaign according to a thorough New York Times investigation, at one point destroying four of them in just 112 or a spam. This Reign of Terror forced millions of Syrians to flee the country. More than 6.6 million so far, many of whom fled to Europe. And it created the worst refugee crisis we have seen in years and caused ripple effects throughout the entire world.

At the same time, the conflict in Syria exacerbated by Russia`s involvement left an opportunity for the terror group ISIS to come to power, unleashing its own horrors in the Middle East and elsewhere. And the combination of ISIS`s rise and the European migrant crisis are the precipitating incidents for the right-wing populist backlash against immigration that essentially took over Europe and much of the West starting in the late 2010s.

Hungary`s notorious and aspiring authoritarian leader Viktor Orban, a hero among many of the American right, use the refugee crisis quite explicitly as a wedge issue to consolidate his own support. He called refugees invaders and compared migration to a poison.

Poland`s right-wing nationalist party known as Law and Justice also use a crisis to score political points by refusing to take in refugees from Syria, claiming that doing so would be a threat to national security.

Nigel Farage and other right-wing politicians in the U.K. -- look at that photo, right, look at that billboard. They use the refugee crisis as one of the main arguments in favor of what, of breaking with the European Union in Brexit. But the Council of European Studies citing immigration as a single most important factor for those who voted to leave the E.U.

The populist backlash against these desperate people fleeing the war in Syria that Russia was prosecuting, it also fueled unsuccessful bids from far-right parties such as Netherlands Party for Freedom, and the French party known as the National Rally. And then there`s here in the U.S., of course.

It was those images. It was the specter of a refugee crisis that was a major factor enabling Donald Trump`s rise to power. You might not remember this now but during the campaign, Trump`s son, Don Jr., tweeted out this disgusting racist meme comparing refugees from Syria to poison candy.

One of Trump`s key campaign promises was, of course, "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country`s representatives can figure out what is going on." Although it is worth noting, amid all the backlash, Germany`s then-Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted one million refugees, mostly from Syria.

In many ways the Russian involvement in Syria was the kind of button Fly wings flapping that lead to this populist moment, this resentment, this buildup of nationalist-populist parties and candidates and regimes, and governments, and perhaps unintentionally created a new flood of right wing politicians either explicitly or implicitly aligned with Putin and the Kremlin themselves from Farage to Orban to Trump.


So, we find ourselves here again though with a situation quite different in certain respects in interesting contrast, for many reasons, including, frankly, racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, the paranoia of post 9/11 war on terror. Many of those same countries which quite explicitly refuse to accept refugees that Russia created in Syria are, to their credit, opening their borders and opening their arms the refugees Russia is creating in Ukraine.

In fact, just today, Poland`s right-wing Prime Minister, along with the PMs from Slovenia and the Czech Republic, met with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv traveling into the war zone. I mean, there were airstrikes in Kyiv in the last 24 hours in a sign of solidarity.

Hungary and Poland, the same country whose again, defining political nature, at least under their governing parties was control of their borders, strong borders, and their opposition to Syrian refugees are together accepting millions of people displaced from Ukraine.

Get this. Warsaw, the city of Warsaw, the city`s population grew by 20 percent in two weeks. But again, this is just three weeks in. This is just the beginning. No one knows how long this conflict is going to last, or if you look at those images, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, and Kyiv, how many millions will be displaced.

It`s a country of 44 million people when the war started. There`s a lingering question has been surrounding this war pushed by bad-faith actors in the American right, you know, why should I care, who cares what happens in Ukraine, and what do I have to do with Vladimir Putin?

And to those who wonder why they should care, although I suspect most of you watching this understand why, first, I would say that any decent person should probably care when they see suffering on this scale. But even if people like Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance who said he doesn`t really care what happens in Ukraine, don`t want a moral argument. There is of course, a practical one.

It won`t stay in Ukraine. It won`t stay in the Russian border. We saw how the fallout from Russia`s involvement in Syria, dramatically altered politics across the entire world. Right now Poland is eager to accept nearly two million Ukrainians, meaning mothers and children`s at the border welcoming them into their homes.

But six months from now, and that number is five million, what will polish politics look like? What if 20 million people leave Ukraine? And you take a step back, you realize just how central the Syrian war was to bring us to this moment, and crucially, Vladimir Putin`s armies involvement in that war. Because this was what they undertook there, a project and intentional one of force depopularization -- depopulation, intentional civilian targeting, to starve or to surrender, to offer Syrians that choice. And it has enormous geopolitical ripple effects because it drives people out, and then they have nowhere to go. And then everyone else is brought into it. And it`s happening again right now.

NBC News Correspondent Cal Perry`s in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where he joins me now. Cal, it`s always great to talk to you. I hope you`re well. And what`s the latest today?

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I`ll pick up where you`ve left it off. The tactics that we are seeing in the city of Mariupol is exactly what we saw in Aleppo. So, as I look at this video from Mariupol and in places like Kharkiv, the first thing they`re doing is they`re bombing these cities to rubble, and then they`re bombing the rubble.

Beyond that, you have now this overt action by Russian forces to not just take civilian targets, but to basically occupy them. So, we heard from the deputy mayor today in the last 12 hours of Mariupol saying that Russian forces have secured and are inside the main hospital in that city.

Make no mistake about it. Those are human shields. If Russian troops are in the hospital where there are 400 patients and we are told that they are, then they`re using that building for cover. And this is in keeping with what we have seen the Russians do in previous conflicts, not just Syria, but Grozny as well. This is right out of that playbook.

They ring these cities, they bomb them, they scare the civilian population, they bomb civilians as they try to leave. And that`s what we`re seeing play out across the country. In Kyiv, we are seeing an uptick of the violence there, the shelling of these residential areas. Our colleague, Richard Engel yesterday was talking about one bit of -- one building that came under a shelling attack. It`s now three or four buildings that are kind of constantly under fire there which makes this news about these three prime ministers from Slovenia, from the Czech Republic, from Poland, making their way there all the more extraordinary because they announced it ahead of time.

It was early this morning when we saw the wires crossed and the public announcement that they would be making their way there. And they did not do so via air. We thought maybe they would go by helicopters, they took the train here in Lviv all the way to Kyiv early this morning.

There`s only a few people on that train. It`s either people headed to the front of fight, people trying to rescue their family members, or people supporting the war. So, for them to get on that train makes an incredible statement of support of solidarity for the Ukrainian president.


One quick thing also. We`ve heard from the Ukrainian president in the past two hours, and one of the things he`s now talking about and alluding to is maybe the fact that Ukraine does not need to join NATO, that Ukraine is strong on its own. And he`s doing so while discussing the actual on-the- ground negotiations. It`ll be interesting to see in his remarks tomorrow to Congress if that`s something that he talks about if there is any room there to negotiate with the Russians, Chris.

HAYES: All right, Cal Perry, thank you as always on. Anand Gopal is a contributing writer for The New Yorker where he covers war, revolution, democracy. He`s written extensively and covered extensively the civil war in Syria, and he joins me now.

Anand, as someone who did cover that war and covered Russia`s military involvement and the fallout from it, how are you watching all this unfold in the sort of ways in which history is rhyming here?

ANAND GOPAL, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, you know, the carpet right now is looking like speeding up. And we`re seeing a lot of the terrible atrocities that are happening in the Ukraine. But I will say this is just the tip of the iceberg if you look at what`s happened in Syria.

So, there`s -- the Russians intervened in Syria in 2015. At that time, the war was more or less at a stalemate. And it was the Russian intervention that tipped the scale to support the dictator Bashar al-Assad. And what the Russians did essentially is they targeted schools, clinics, hospitals, with the purpose of trying to break the morale of the population and of the rebel forces there.

Just to give you an example of the type of tactics that they use, there was -- the United Nations, at one point, compiled a list of hospitals. And they sent this list to the Syrian government and to the Russian forces with the idea saying, these are hospitals, these are protected under international law, so you know, avoid these targets.

And the Russians actually started to pick off these hospitals one by one, started to target these hospitals to the point where, if you were having a hospital in, let`s say, Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, you`re almost certain to be hit by Russian airstrikes. So, a lot of these hospitals actually had to move underground for the duration of the conflict.

HAYES: We also saw -- I mean, this was to achieve this aim of breaking the back of any sort of resistance, but it also had the effect of essentially depopulating a huge part of the country. I mean, we`re talking about 6.6 million refugees. I think half the Syrian population is internally displaced.

When you think about the numbers here that we`re watching now, first of all, what is your reaction to seeing the difference in reception in Hungary and Poland to this war refugees versus the Syrians ones? And second of all, when you think about the scale of what might be ahead of us, should this grind on like the Syrian war did?

GOPAL: Well, the reaction -- the differences of reactions is really striking. I mean, you have similarities which is Ukraine is a democratic government that`s being invaded by an imperial power, essentially. And in Syria, you had a revolution. That`s what started the conflict in 2011 was a revolution. And the majority of those who rose up against the dictator were fighting for democracy.

And then you had this imperial power intervene and essentially attack people for rising over democracy. So, that the parallels there are pretty striking on that level. But when we look at the reception internationally, it`s really striking how divergent the two are.

You know, there`s six million Syrian refugees, but that`s only because those are the ones who managed to make it out. It`s extraordinarily difficult if you`re a refugee to get out of the country. Turkish police are shooting at -- to this day, are shooting at Syrians who are trying to cross into Turkey.

If you can make it into Turkey as a Syrian refugee, then you try to get to Europe. We all may remember the heartbreaking image of that boy who -- young boy who washed up on the -- on the shores a few years ago, which gives a sense of the dangers that Syrians had to get to even get to go through to get to Europe.

So, for Syrians, the barriers are extraordinary. And now it`s striking to see Europeans welcoming Ukrainian refugees with open arms as they should. And you know, you wonder why they didn`t do the same for Syrians.

HAYES: I mean, there`s also the question of how long this welcoming last. I mean, again, the mass refugee crises tend to have effects on domestic politics no matter where they are, whether it was Damascus during the Iraq war that took in I think about a million Iraqi refugees, Istanbul during the Syrian war that took it and I think around that number, I mean, the other thing I keep thinking about is when you watch domestic right-wing coverage in the U.S., talk about the U.S. border being in crisis where there`s maybe 60,000 apprehensions in a month, I mean, a million people have crossed the border in Poland in the last two weeks.

Like, the scale of what`s happening here compared to what sends people into a panic in a domestic situation is just insane to contemplate.


GOPAL: It`s mind-boggling. I mean, as you said, 20 percent of the population of Warsaw has increased in the last few weeks. But, you know, right now people are welcoming in Warsaw and other European cities. If this war drags on for two or three or four years, you have to wonder what the -- what the welcome is going to be like.

And far right parties in Europe are going to capitalize on this because at the end of the day, when you have millions of additional people there, that`s going to put stresses on the labor market, that`s going to, you know, put stresses on people who are trying to get work at the bottom end of the labor market. And that`s the sort of thing that the far-right parties are historically exploited. And I, you know, expected them to exploit this as well.

HAYES: Final question for you. The Times wrote a piece somewhat on this and talked about the sort of looming shadow of the Syrian war. It said the legacy of Syria`s war, and Russia`s role in it looms large over Ukraine offering potential lessons to Mr. Putin. Analysts said that red lines lay down with the West can be crossed without long-term consequences, that diplomacy purportedly aimed at stopping violent can be used to distract from it, that autocrats can do terrible things and face international sanctions and still stay in power.

Do you think those are the lessons that Putin drew from what was ultimately successful strategy of intention -- of essentially war crimes to achieve military success in Syria?

GOPAL: Impunity was certainly one of the lessons that Putin drew, because that`s how the Russians waged their conflict for a number of years. They surrounded cities, they in the Syrian regime forces surrounded cities, they wouldn`t let food and medicine in, so essentially like medieval siege tactics that they were putting on cities.

They had reduced entire neighborhoods or even parts of cities to rubble. They forced deep population, they -- what they would do is they would pummel cities for weeks and on end until the populations morale was so broken. And then they would give an exit corridor for whoever was still alive to leave the area. And then it would be empty and the Syrian regime forces and Russian capitalists would come in and try to scoop up all the real estate. So, that`s the playbook from Syria.

And as well, by the way, it was in Syria that this way of protecting misinformation and propaganda was really pioneered by the Russians. You know, the Syrian regime had dropped chemical weapons on its own people. And it was Russian troll farms and Russian Internet provocateurs who tried to cast doubt on that. And I think we`re going to see a similar playbook unfold in Ukraine as well.

HAYES: Yes. And to a shockingly successful degree, in many precincts of American politics both in left and right to the great shame of everyone who bought into it. Anand Gopal, thank you very much.

GOPAL: Thank you.

HAYES: For a while, it seemed like Russia`s offensive on Kyiv was stalled. So what do we make of this awful a fresh wave of attacks? What we know about the state of the battle for the capital next. And later, Masha Gessen on the journalist risking everything to fight the Kremlin`s propaganda.




RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Russia is now expanding its attacks deeper into the heart of Kyiv. This is one of the city`s main subway stations and it was hit by a Russian strike at roughly 5:00 in the morning. People had been sheltering here. People have been using these subway stations as bomb shelters, staying mostly in the underground level deep below the streets. No one was killed or hurt in this attack because they were deep underground. But there is a lot of damage. And volunteers have been coming in from the entire neighborhood to help pick up all of the broken glass here.


HAYES: That was NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel reporting from major subway station in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv that was struck by Russian rocket fire this morning. Russia appears to be stepping up its bombardment of Kyiv shelling apartments, other civilian targets, in addition to sustained attacks on other cities across the country.

And Mariupol which we`ve been monitoring which has been under heavy siege for days on end, the Ukrainian official today says that today alone, 20,000 civilians fled the country by humanitarian corridors.

Michael Weiss has been reporting on international affairs for over 10 years for the folks in the Middle East and Russia. He`s the News Director at the global affairs magazine New Lines, and he joins me now.

And Michael, you`ve been very focused on the sort of state of the battle. And I have to say, this is not an area that I have particular expertise in. I`ve been reading and absorbing as much as I can. And it seems like there`s a bunch of different possibilities for this of where things are and where they go. What is your assessment of where we are three weeks into this invasion?

MICHAEL WEISS, NEWS DIRECTOR, NEW LINES: Look, Chris, I`m the first to admit, I confess, I`m not a military expert. I have to rely as any reporter does on those who know much more than I do. I`ve been checking in mostly with European intelligence services and European ministries of defense, simply because -- especially the countries that used to belong to the former Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact nations.

For them, remember, their national security existential struggle for 30 some odd years has been one country, Russia. The global war on terror didn`t affect them as much as it did, America`s national security establishment, so they have a preternatural focus on Russian military posture, Russian intelligence services and so on.

And to my surprise, and I guess, optimistically, their appraisal of the situation is actually the Ukrainians are doing quite well. What do they mean by that? Well, they think that the war has now reached a kind of stalemate in that -- I just checked in with an Estonian expert on the Russian military defense establishment just a day ago, and he gave me this very detailed, granular rundown.

He said that at the weekend, there were no major substantive advances by the Russian forces. This idea that Kyiv is encircled, which I know a lot of people in the Western press keep using this term rather promiscuously, is just nonsense. He says they`re very far from encircling it and I`m reading his statement now. It would take them -- they need about 300 kilometers and tightly sealed in order to ring-fence Ukraine`s capital.

And indeed, I mean, we know that`s just common sense. Why is it the three prime ministers from NATO member states today were able to travel I think by rail to Ukraine -- to Kyiv, right, if it was encircled? So, I think there`s a lot of kind of fog of war kind of mysticism if you like about what Russia`s capabilities are.


Added to which open-source intelligence resources that I`ve been querying, refreshing almost 20 -- every 20 minutes per day, for the last almost three weeks now have shown catastrophic losses by the Russians. And I`m not just talking about military kit that has been destroyed or damaged. I`m talking about things that have simply been abandoned, air defense systems worth tens of millions of dollars just left in pristine condition by the side of the road, things that have been captured.

According to a blog called Oryx, which a lot of people in my profession in the media have been relying on, there`s about 574 pieces of Russian equipment have been destroyed, about 533 have been taken by the Ukrainian military. Much of that kit has been repurposed already by the Ukrainians.

So, the question is, why is Russia doing so poorly on the battlefield? There are a number of answers, a number of hypotheses. To my mind, and this is the crucial one. It was absolutely beggars belief that in the last 22 years, all of the good reporting that has been done on the state of corruption and rot at the heart of Russian government, and indeed all sectors of Russian state and society, Alexei Navalny`s you know, viral videos about this rampant thievery by Russian officials, it beggars belief, Chris, that this pathology would not have affected the Russian Armed Services.

I`m hearing rather credible reports coming out of Moscow, that this bright, shiny, new object that defense minister so Sergei Shoigu built for Vladimir Putin at the cost of many, many tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars, there was rampant graft, ramp and thievery, people were stealing from the till.

So, in other words, they would say, we`re going to build 150 T-90 tank, 50 of them would get built. 100 of them would not, but the money for them that was appropriated by the state budget would simply go into the pockets of generals and colonels and majors and war -- everybody down the line in the Russian military industrial complex. And yet on the manifest or the inventory, it would say we created 150 tanks.

I don`t think it`s going too far to say that this has been largely Potemkin theater. And those of us who thought Russia would wipe the floor with Ukraine within the space of 48 or 72 hours, this blitzkrieg into Kyiv were badly misled because we were reading pieces of paper and lacking the political imagination to realize that everything Putin touches comes to dust. It is -- it is completely rotten with corruption.

HAYES: It`s a really, really compelling explanation. I know we`ve seen some reports about expired MREs that -- and you know, like 2002 expiration date, Russian soldiers begging for food. I mean, clearly when you see the sort of footage you`re seeing, you`re not looking at an army that`s, you know, sort of conquering as it goes. Michael Weiss, that was very illuminating. Thank you very much.

WEISS: Sure.

HAYES: Ahead, Masha Gessen on Putin`s propaganda funding of foothold in America`s far-right media and the brave journalist risking it all to reveal the truth. Masha Gessen joins me ahead.



HAYES: There has been an in comprehensible cost to this we`re already three weeks in from the civilians on the ground to the people covering it up in the frontlines. Veteran cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and local producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova, seen here with Correspondent Trey Yingst are covering the war in Ukraine for Fox News. They were both killed on Monday when their vehicles struck by incoming fire outside of Kyiv. Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall was injured in the attack. He is still in the hospital. And of course, we are sending him all of our best thoughts and wishes.

Three journalists have now lost their lives in this many days in Ukraine, including filmmaker Brent Renaud who was killed on Sunday while reporting in Irpin just outside of Kyiv. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to risk your life so the rest of the world knows what is going on in a warzone. And it also takes real guts to risk imprisonment to get the truth out in your own country.

That`s what Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian state media producer did on Monday. She interrupted a live broadcast with a sign reading, "Stop the war. Don`t believe the propaganda. They`re lying to you here."

Now, this is in a country where simply calling veteran Putin`s invasion of war, naming it by its name now risks 15 years in jail. After she appeared in Russian court today, Ovsyannikova told reporter she was interrogated for 14 hours and not allowed to contact her relatives before explaining in English why she did what she did.


MARINA OVSYANNIKOVA, RUSSIAN REPORTER: It was my own anti-war decision. I made this decision by myself because I don`t like Russia start this invasion and it was really terrible.


HAYES: These people risked and in some cases given everything to tell the world the truth about the war in Ukraine while Putin`s propaganda flourishes on Russia state-run media and on certain news outlets here in the U.S. That`s next



HAYES: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a rare issue where Americans are more or less united. A Quinnipiac poll recently found the majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all support a ban on Russian oil, even if it means higher gasoline prices in the United States.

There`s all kinds of vigorous and warranted debate about the effectiveness of American foreign policy in the run-up to this invasion, and more broadly, the steps and honestly missteps of NATO, the U.S. and others in their construction of the post-cold war order.

That said, there`s also been this persistent just parroting of Kremlin talking points and conservative outlets like Fox News. And slightly more under the radar, the messaging being pumped to the hardcore right. And Trump supporting viewers of OAN looks like something produced by the Kremlin itself.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russia is now preparing for the fourth round of talks with Ukrainian regime. Russia`s foreign ministry says the new round of peace talks with Ukraine will begin in Belarus Monday. Moscow reiterated its peace proposals saying Ukraine must demilitarize and accepting nonaligned status in global affairs.

Over the past two weeks, Russian forces established control over 89 cities in eastern and southern Ukraine and neutralized 90 percent of Ukraine`s military infrastructure. New reports appear to support Russia`s concerns about extremist groups working with Ukrainian government.



HAYES: Masha Gessen has been covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine for The New Yorker. Masha has also written several phenomenal books about Russia, including the man without a face about Vladimir Putin, which I found personally fascinating. And they join me now.

Masha, it`s great to have you. I`m glad you`re safe and sound after your reporting travels. First, your reaction as someone who worked as a journalist in Russia under Putin and then ultimately relocated your family here to the U.S. to the dissent we`ve seen in Russia publicly, particularly that one state television producer who got on TV with that banner.

MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: So, we have seen an extraordinary descend in Russia considering the circumstances in the last three weeks since the beginning of the latest invasion. There are more than 14,000 people have been detained at protests in more than 50 cities around the country. Considering that, as of the end of the first week of the invasion, they were risking up to 15 years in prison for protesting.

It is an extraordinary show of protest. And, of course, this really amazing visual where this -- the producer ran out and stood behind a news anchor spouting lies, and the predecessor was holding a sign that said, this is war and what you`re hearing here is lies was amazing, right?

There`s -- it went out to tens of millions of Russian viewers who had the television on before the news anchor had the wherewithal to cut to some other footage. But it also tells us something about the situation of journalists in Russia right now. I left Russia at the same week and a half ago at the same time as both foreign correspondents and the last remaining independent journalists in Moscow were leaving on just these plane after plane after plane of people leaving the country because of fear of political prosecution and because of fear of the new iron curtain coming down.

And most of those people can no longer do their jobs, right? They cannot report on what`s going on in Ukraine. They cannot report even on what`s going on in Russia. They can`t even live in Russia. And so, for somebody to stage an intervention in media, they had to be in enough proximity to power, right?

This woman has been working for the propaganda machine for the last 20 years. So, it`s a real double edged sword, right? What we`re watching is the only kind of protest that is possible right now in Russia and it is itself symptomatic.

HAYES: Yes. I was thinking about the title of -- I think it`s your most recent book, if I`m not mistaken, the future is history, how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. And this move from the boundaries of Putin`s Russia from being this sort of manage dissent, and the kind of haunting specter of violence that might be visited upon a journalists or dissenters or prosecutions to just the outright outline straight up 15 years, close it all down, the sort of most kind of iron fisted censorship regime that we`re now seeing implement.

GESSEN: Well, unfortunately, that`s not the most recent book. And the reason I say it`s unfortunate is because that book is now five years old, almost five years old. And what I was describing back then already was the Russian society, reconstituting itself as totalitarian.

It was a totalitarian society at that point without actual terror. But it`s the kind of society in which terror is not only possible, but possibly inevitable because it was, it had become a totalitarian society. And so, I don`t even say a couple of words here showing protests right now, I want to say a couple of words about what we`re talking about when we`re talking about people getting arrested for protest, right?

You don`t see any logans, you don`t see any posters, you don`t see any placards, you don`t see any banners, you don`t hear anybody chanting anything. Those things have been an impossibility for a very long time, right? At this point, people are (INAUDIBLE) for the he coats they wear or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time because even that is interpreted as protests.

Or what you`re showing right now is women who can mud on March 8, International Women`s Day, holding flowers, a perfectly ordinary thing to do on that day but it was intended and was interpreted as anti-war protest.

So, we`re talking about just this tiny disappearing, vanishing space available for a speech. And even in that space, people are now facing up to 15 years in prison.


HAYES: Final question for you is about this source I think of some cognitive dissonance I`ve seen which is the kind of story by Putin that this is done on behalf of Ukrainians, right? There hasn`t been this effort to demonize Ukrainians themselves because the whole point is that they are one people in Vladimir Putin this phrase. He says, I`ll never back down from that.

And of course, you have these just like familiar relations. The producer in question is, you know, I think our mother is Ukrainian, father is Russian. Alexei Navalny has a family that said. You know, millions of families in Russia like this. There hasn`t been this long process, you know, that you see sometimes and run-up to wars of those people who are -- they all want your death and they`re all terrible, right?

There`s this stuff about Nazis, but the cognitive dissidence of launching a war against these people ultimately who are one people with Russians, and I wonder how much that is under the skin of Russians, how much they`re seeing that.

GESSEN: You know, I had to frame it a little bit differently because it`s not really that Putin hasn`t demonized Ukrainians. It`s actually -- and this is how propaganda works, at least to tell the term propaganda works. It always works as a sort of tension between contradictions, right? So, the statements about Ukraine are all mutually exclusive.


GESSEN: We`re all doing this to protect Ukrainians who are really Russians, but Ukrainians are Nazis, and we`re fighting Nazis. There`s no such thing as Ukrainian, the Ukrainian nation, but we`re going to war on that country, which we`re not going to call a war. But we`re going to tell you about the military operation.

There`s no such thing as Ukrainian language, but they`re committing genocide against Russian speakers by forcing them to speak Ukrainian. And I can go on. That`s actually that sort of instability of thought is an essential part of totalitarian propaganda. And we make a mistake when we try to fashion it into some sort of logical narrative.

But it is true that most Russians, I think I can say this safely, most Russians have a connection to Ukraine. Either they have relatives in Ukraine or family roots in Ukraine or for the middle class often their beloved nanny, their house cleaner is from Ukraine. They have traveled to Ukraine. They studied with Ukrainians, their best friend from college is Ukrainian, they`ve lived in Ukraine and so on and so forth, right?

So, you actually need that kind of completely insanity-inducing propaganda in order to make it possible to go to war in a country that seems so familiar. You have to defamiliarize and refamiliarize it at the same time in sort of position. And this is -- this classic war, right? Position the enemy is both sort of subhuman and superhuman, both familiar and really strange.

HAYES: Masha Gessen, as always, it is so wonderful to get your insights on this. I really appreciate you taking the time.

GESSEN: Thank you.

HAYES: Next, three E.U. leaders head to Kyiv to meet with President Zelenskyy in a daring act of solidarity. Former ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor on the effect international attention is having on Putin`s war after this.




VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE (text): The invaders have no roots, no memory, and no soul. Russian troops attacked Kyiv, attacked Kyiv residents. I will tell you in Russian: This happened in our capital, in the city that you always called the mother of Russian. That made our nation historical and that you bombed today. Just people, residential areas, bombed and bombed again. We don`t need such children. No, thanks.


HAYES: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy continues to use social media to appeal directly to Russian troops in Russian as you can see. And he host leaders from three E.U. countries in the capital Kyiv today. That`s as Russian forces attempt to surround the city. Zelenskyy held talks with the Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, all NATO member states.

They`re part of a massive diplomatic push to end the Russian invasion that includes direct talks between Ukrainian and Russian diplomats and Turkey. And aid to President Zelenskyy said the group was discussing a ceasefire and Russian troop withdrawal. The Russian Foreign Minister restated demands that Ukraine not attempt to join NATO and demilitarize.

Bill Taylor served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. Again, as acting Ambassador 2019 to 2020 amid a long career in foreign service. Back in November 2019, Ambassador Taylor also testified in Donald Trump`s first impeachment and he joins me now.

I found the visuals today, Ambassador, quite striking to see those heads of state entering a warzone. I mean, you know, as we saw from Richard Engel earlier in the show, there`s a rocket strike on a subway station in Kyiv today. To be there -- and how important do you think that was or at least the symbolism of it?


BILL TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Chris, I think it`s very important. The most -- the sincerest form of support is being there. It`s showing up in the city. It`s being there to be in conversations, have good conversation with President Zelenskyy and his cabinet, but also with Ukrainians on the street.

It`s great for those heads of state, those prime ministers to be there to demonstrate NATO support, their nation support, NATO support, international support for Zelenskyy. And being there -- as you say, it is not without risk, and getting on a train and traveling there to Kyiv and showing that support, I think that`s very important.

HAYES: There`s going to be a summit in Brussels of NATO members next week. It was just announced today. How do you think NATO states are thinking about what the possible range of outcomes is here? And crucially, whether some kind of actual battlefield defeat for the Russians is a possibility or is that just off the table, and the question becomes how to find a diplomatic out?

TAYLOR: Well, Chris, actually, they`re related. A, it is possible that the Russians could be defeated. I mean, here we are what -- in Ukraine, it`s already day 21 of this -- of this fight of this war, of this version of this war. We remember this war started in 2014. But on February 24, the Russians invaded again. And I`m sure President Putin thought -- he was probably told that in two days, his troops would be in Kyiv.

And here it is day 21 in Kyiv, and they`re not there. So, it is certainly possible that this stalled Russian attack on Ukraine, that it stalled outside the city limits. It`s lobbing missiles and artillery into the city, not the center yet, but into the -- into the outskirts of the city those apartment buildings surround the city. They`re all in all directions and attacking those apartment buildings.

First of all, is just outrageous that they would attack civilian targets. Again, it`s a war crime. But it demonstrates that the Russian military on the ground in that part of this fight of this war not doing very well. And if that continues, then Chris, that gets into the next part of your question, if that -- if the Russians stall, if the Ukrainian military is able to stop that progress, that invasion, that occupation of Ukraine, and then it is possible that there`s a stalemate, which is where negotiations can take place.

As you`ve indicated, as you`ve reported, there are some conversations going on right now among ministers in both Ukraine and Russia, and they are having some conversations. But what really matters in these negotiations is one man, and he sits in the Kremlin. And it`s only if he decides that he`s going to actually negotiate, actually allow those negotiations to complete. In the face of a slowdown, a stall, frustration on the ground by his military, that`s where you might get in negotiation.

HAYES: You know, there`s been a lot of talk about China`s role in all this. And today, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. wrote a piece at The Washington Post sort of laying out the Chinese position on this. They denied that they`ve been even -- they`ve been solicited for help from the Russians. They denied having any foreknowledge basically saying, hey, look, we trade with both these countries, why would they want them to go to war? Also taking great pains to say why the Taiwan situation is entirely different, because Taiwan is not sovereign?

What do you think of the importance of China`s role in this and particularly in their ability to possibly again, get this to stop?

TAYLOR: Chris, it is possible that Chinese or the China president, President Xi, could have an effect on President Putin. The China-Russia relationship is a very interesting one. President Xi is clearly the dominant force of the two. He could indicate -- he could convince President Putin that things are not going well, that he, President Xi, is not interested in bailing him out and bailing out Putin, he`s not interested in in diverting the sanctions and helping to ameliorate the sanctions that are on President Putin.

So, China is walking a very complicated, probably fine line that they don`t want to -- they don`t want to reject the Russians, but they`re not supporting them. They abstained -- they abstained in the -- in the U.N. twice. And so, they`ve not been supportive of the Russians and they may not be.

HAYES: Yes, that was definitely the tenor, at least the public-facing tenor of that op-ed in The Washington Post today. Ambassador Bill Taylor, thank you so much.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Chris. Good to be here.

HAYES: That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" with Ali Velshi starts now. Good evening, Ali.