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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/21/22

Guests: Anne Applebaum, Alexander Vindman


Russia President Vladimir Putin orders troops to Eastern Ukraine after formally recognizing breakaway regions. President Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy by phone today for more than 30 minutes; the White House said Biden condemned Putin`s decision to recognize the independence of Russia-backed separatists regions of Ukraine; and Biden updated Zelenskyy on the United States plan to respond to Russia with sanctions.


ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" on this Monday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW with Ali Velshi starts now. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Alex. Nice to see you. And have an excellent rest of your evening.

WAGNER: Thank you.

VELSHI: And thanks to you at home for joining at this hour.

In the hallway, there were gunmen. This was inside a television station in Ukraine in Thursday morning in may of 2014. This was the last video taken by the journalists who work there before masked men with guns told him they can no longer freely do their jobs.

The gunman presented their letter saying that they`re TV station was under new ownership. According to these armed men, the TV stations in Ukraine now belong to pro Russian separatists. And they didn`t just take the TV stations. All over eastern Ukraine in 2014, those pro-Russian militia man took over police stations, government buildings.

And brick-by-brick, the pro Russian separatists took control of two entire cities in Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk. And they declared themselves independent from the rest of Ukraine.

That`s where Vladimir Putin joined the fight. Those two city seized by those pro Russian rebels were located in a part of a part of Ukraine where a lot of Russian speakers live on. So, on Putin`s orders, Russia sent both weapons and their own men into eastern Ukraine to try to fend off the Ukrainian soldiers from taking back those two cities, to keep them in the hands of those pro-Russian separatists.

Now, this has been going on for the while. There`s been attempts at ceasefire and peace over the years, but the fighting over those two cities in Ukraine has never really stopped. More than 14,000 people have died in that conflict since it began.

And ever since then, those pro Russian separatists have maintained that they are the ones rightfully in charge of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine. Those separatists have kept a laboratory, chokehold on a chunk of those provinces, marked in the map here in pink. And it is into that part of the world today, into that active -- that Vladimir Putin just threw a lit match.

Today, Vladimir Putin announced that he was recognizing those two parts of Russia controlled by the Russian separatists, Donetsk and Luhansk. Putin said he was officially wrapped recognizing those two swaths of Ukraine as independent, independent of Ukraine.

Again, it should be notice that the separatists do not actually control the entirety of those two regions. But Putin is now unilaterally said that it all belongs to them anyway. In an hour-long speech, Putin said that Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union was created by Russia. He essentially delight the notion of Russia as -- he accused Ukraine without any evidence of carrying out a genocide against Russian people. He said that Ukraine poses a threat to not just the Russians living in Ukraine but to all Russians.

And he said because of that threat, he had no other choice today but to recognize those two separatist-controlled regions as independent, to try and protect Russians. Immediately after his speech, Biden signed a series of orders and decrees that allowed him to set a so-called peacekeeping troops into eastern Ukraine -- again for the sake of protecting the Russian people, not Ukrainians.

The general consensus after Putin`s announcement today is that he`s not laying out a game plan for protecting Russia. He was laying out a game plan for war. It gives them an excuse to put boots on the ground under the auspices of peace before launching an all out attack, like when you`re a kid, you checked your parents into letting you sleep over at their house to talk about math for, but really you guys like to stay up all night and watch movies. You tell them what they want to hear to get what you want, and by the time you get it, it`s too late for anyone to do anything about it.

It`s a bait and switch. It`s been used many times throughout history. It`s a playbook that is well- because it has worked. Telling the world that you would try to protect prosecuted Germans in eastern Europe was how Hitler convince Chamberlain to give them a chunk of Czechoslovakia. He invaded Poland under the same pretense in 1939.

That narrative, of course, started to fall apart when Hitler invaded Denmark, Norway, and Belgium, and France, all those countries. But by then, it was too late. This is not just the strategy of starting World War II. It`s now happening again in real time and this is Putin`s big lie.


Fortunately, most people are seeing right through it. U.S. officials not only believe that Russia is planning a full scale invasion of Ukraine, but also what could be a human rights catastrophe. The U.S. says that it`s obtained information that Russia is planning to purged Ukraine of people who might oppose a Russian takeover of the country, including dissidents, journalists, and anti-corruption activists, religious and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ people.

The western leaders were put to condemn Putin today by recognizing the sovereignty of those two pieces of Eastern Ukraine. Leadership in the European Union accused him of breaking international law.

The United States today immediately issued sanctions on the two Russian- backed separatists regions, the European Union vowed to issue sanctions as well. And just in the last hour, the deputy national security adviser announced on MSNBC that the White House will be imposing what he calls quote, significant sanctions on Russia tomorrow.

President Biden held a flurry of foreign calls with world leaders after Putin`s announcement. He did speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as our leaders of France and Germany. Despite the fact that it`s the middle the night in the Ukraine right now, this is still very much a situation that is developing minute by minute.

The president of Ukraine addressed his people at 2:00 a.m. local time, just a few hours ago. He said he considers Russia`s actions today to be a violation of Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also called for the United Nations Security Council to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. That meeting was scheduled to begin a few moments ago. We will bring you headlines out of that meeting as we get them.

But as the world scrambling to respond to Russia`s recognizing these two breakaway pro-Russia regions in the Ukraine as independent, Putin continues to mull full speed ahead. Tonight, he`s ordered troops into those pro Russian parts of Eastern Ukraine, again under the false pretenses of maintaining peace. He`s calling them peacekeepers.

And U.S. officials believe those new troops could be on the ground in Ukraine in a matter of hours. It`s important to know, that Russia has had military precious in that part of Ukraine since 2014. But with more treats on the roll under false pretenses, will there be consequences?

Joining us now live from Eastern Ukraine is Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent. He`s located in the port city of Mariupol, near the Russian border. It`s adjacent to areas that are controlled by Russian- backed separatists, forces.

Richard, good to see you. I hope you are safe and tell us what the situation is as you understand it?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: So, it was just a few hours ago as you mentioned that President Zelenskyy gave his speech. It was the first official response we`ve heard from him. And he opened with a bit of a jab at Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin gave a long speech. He referenced Lenin. He referenced Stalin. It was only towards the end that he said that he was going to recognize these two breakaway provinces.

Zelenskyy came out and said it`s late. We don`t have time for history lessons. We`re going to talk about the future. So, immediately the tone was one of defiance.

He said that they are going to call on all the allies, make a round of basically diplomatic calls. And he said that he hoped that the nations that were friendly to Ukraine would stay with Ukraine. So, he -- that`s the latest that`s happened now.

Here in the city and other parts of the country, there is calm. There`s talk that it would be start of a major invasion but instead it seems that we`re seeing a more phased approach with Putin laying the groundwork for potentially further advancements to come.

But the situation here in this city, another major cities is just one of calm that people want to bring. They`re wondering what comes next, Ali.

VELSHI: What changes, Richard, with the concept of a phased approach versus the world waiting for a massive invasion were 190,000 or more troops are surrounding Ukraine.

In your -- in your opinion, what has -- what`s different about this about the approach to Vladimir Putin`s taking today?

ENGEL: So, had he come in with 190,000 troops and cut up the country and advanced on Kyiv, all in one go, the world would be much more united. There would`ve been the immediate imposition of the snap sanctions that have been described as crippling.

Instead, people are now wondering, what has really changed? This is really different.


Should the U.S. and others fully implement the sanctions or just slow roll them? It gives another opportunity for there to be divisions among NATO partners, and so far, the United States and others have said that they want to impose some sanctions but not the major sanctions, and that if there was a further invasion than there would be additional sanctions after that.

So, it`s a way for Putin to take one more step, test the waters, put even more troops in position, put them closer to major cities like the one I`m in right now, without fully committing and triggering the wrath of the world.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about the city are in right now is technically disputed territory. It`s territorially part of Ukraine but separatists would like it to be part of Russia. So, how does that all play into this?

ENGEL: Well, it means that the battle dynamic, should never have happened in a city like this one. It`s very complicated. You`re going to have a large segment of the population that is either in some cases there`s people who would welcome our Russian intervention.

So, it would mean that the battle here for soldiers would be very -- would be very fraught, because in some cases, they wouldn`t have entire support of the local population and I`ve spoken to commanders in some small frontline villages. And they openly told me that they didn`t think that the 70 or 80 percent of the people were with the Ukrainian army in the small villages that are right on the edge of the separatist areas.

So this part of the country is divided. I think that Vladimir Putin has been playing on that and counting on that.

VELSHI: Let me ask you, Richard, you covered this in 2014. The world was sort of paying attention to Crimea, the takeover in Crimea. But in that region that you`re in right now, something similar happen as we were describing. They were Russian-backed militias, they may have been troops they were not wearing Russian insignia.

What`s different now that in 2014?

ENGEL: Well, you remember that clip you just showed a couple minutes about the television stations been taking over by masked men, or by men in sort of black clothing.

I was in that television at the time. I was in that clip you just showed. You just saw the back of my head. So, I saw this happen as it played out.

So, there was a revolution here in 2014. Putin I think was shocked by, he was infuriated by, he seized Crimea and he immediately began to take eastern Ukraine. And there was a movement there, a shadowing movement that was backed by Russia. It was unclear who they were, how strong they were, but they did appear quickly, they seem to be organized, they seem to have weapons, and they quickly took over the city, and sealed it off and ran out to the Ukrainian forces and try to have similar uprisings in many other cities.

And there was not an attempt at the time to just take the pieces of Donetsk and Luhansk that have now been officially recognized, but to take the city and others. But some city stood up and rejected that attempt to break away in 2014.

Now that Putin is giving recognition to these two separatist pockets, it will revive or potentially revive that movement, where other regions, or pushed into trying to break away, taken by Putin or somehow descent into civil unrest. So, I think with this approach, you asked what`s different with this approach.

This approach as Putin had made clear in that speech that he sees the Ukrainian government as the threat, that Ukrainian government since 2014 and his view is wrong and is incorrect and is against Ukraine`s history, and is against Russia. He sees it as an obstacle that needs to be removed, and perhaps by taking this piece, it allows them to get the wedge in to topple the government, by allowing him to further invade or just by causing enough internal problems to hear that Zelensky`s government is somehow overthrown in a medium or short term.

VELSHI: Richard, it`s almost sun up where you are. Thank you for staying up with us this evening. Of course, we`ll be talking a lot in the hours and days to come.

Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent in eastern Ukraine.

Joining us now is Michael McFaul, former U.S. invited to Russia.

Ambassador, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

I think what Richard was just talking about is remarkable in terms of Vladimir Putin has basically today in his speech entirely delegitimized or attempted to de-legitimize the history of Ukraine as a country and a culture and a people.


He basically said, well they`re not really a country, they never were a country. This is ours. We`re just taking it back.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: That`s right. That`s what he said. He said it very boldly. He said it very bluntly, angrily.

This sounds like a guy that`s ready for big war. It`s not the first time he said it, by the way. For those of us who we`ve been watching and listening to Putin for years, he said it many times, even published a 6,000-word essay a couple months ago. But tonight, to the Russian people it was to get them ready for war, to correct in his view the wrongs that weren`t done when the Slavic nation, Ukraine and Russian, were divided with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

VELSHI: Tell me. You actually tweeted a little while ago that this was a very sad day. I want you to sort of elaborate on that? Because I think there were a lot of people in the world who were expecting an invasion, 190,000 troops, may be more, gathered all around Ukraine, ready to come in. This was a little bit different than most people were thinking it would unfold.

MCFAUL: Well, those -- most people are wrong if they don`t call an invasion, okay? One country accented soldier and taxing the country why uninvited, what else do you call it but an invasion? I`m sorry. Russia was invaded -- Russia invaded Ukraine today. Let me be precise, Putin made the orders to invade Ukraine today again.

This is as you guys were just talking, it happened in 2014 and it`s happening here. It doesn`t mean that there`s not a bigger invasion plan. I fully expect that there`s a bigger invasion to come.

But today was a major moment in that when he set up I`m not interested in talking in the Minsk agreement, the Normandy format, the stuff they`ve been doing for eight years. He just went in. And remember, he didn`t just invade, he declared the two regions of Ukraine as independent countries today. I mean, think about that, think about if President Biden got up one day and said, okay, Alberta is an independent country.

I just think the world has been waiting for this massive invasion, that when this little -- relatively little things happen, we haven`t been paying attention to what did happen and tragically, I don`t think this is the last step in his plan, as he outlined rather clearly in his speech tonight.

VELSHI: Does it -- does it weaken the resolve of the world when it looks incremental like this?

MCFAUL: Yes. That`s a great point. And I think the Biden administration right now is trying to figure out how to respond to this invasion. Tomorrow, I expect there will be new sanctions. Everybody is like, hey, wait a minute, there`s already semi independent. What`s the big deal?

I think that`s a really dilemma for the Biden administration. They have another big dilemma is that they need to leave something in the tank for when Russia, is probably when Putin does launch an even fuller scale invasion, they have to respond to that as well. And therefore, I don`t think they can use their full arsenal of economic sanctions to response to what happened today.

But I want to be crystal clear, this was an invasion of Ukraine again today. It is not a, quote/unquote, peacekeeping operation. He sent his tanks in and its soldiers in uninvited into Ukraine. That`s an invasion.

VELSHI: Let`s go even further than that. The stagecraft of this is remarkable. You declare the country is independent. He is then proposing to the Douma, the Russian parliament, they`re going to examine treaties tomorrow between these independent countries. And Russia requesting these peacekeepers, requesting Russian assistance.

There`s a whole smoke and mirrors thing going on that you and I know that is not true. Who`s he fooling with this?

MCFAUL: It`s a great question. It`s intended for the Russian people. He was addressing the Russian nation tonight. He wasn`t addressing me and you.

He got a little ahead of his skis by the way. It`s kind of weird, right? I watched all three interventions he had today. First, the security council meeting, I can listen to Russian and understand at. And then they said let`s just like you reported to approve this.

And then he gave his address to the nation and the two leaders of the two people`s republics. By the way, I want to focus on that. People`s republic`s. That`s what Stalin called his regimes in eastern Europe when he installed them after 1945.

And then he just sat down and sign the decrees recognizing them as independent countries. And then they signed another set of papers already, presidential decrees, talking about ratifying military assistance.


So, now, it would be just rubber stamped by the Douma tomorrow.

VELSHI: I want to ask you because you know I`ve been talking a lot in the last few weeks about this and you were still advocating because you are a diplomat. You were advocating for a diplomatic negotiated solution, up until, I don`t know, 18 hours ago, there was some discussion about Biden and Putin possibly meeting. I think the White House has now thrown cold water on that idea.

What`s the next step? Because people like you think in -- never want things to go to war. You`re always hoping that there is some way people can sit down and talk about it. But how do you talk about something without doing would Vladimir Zelensky said in Munich without it looking like appeasement?

MCFAUL: Well, it`s just not me thinking in diplomatic terms. I talk to Ukrainians every single day and they don`t want war. Either they`re scared to death.

Mr. Zelensky needs to keep calm by privately -- keep people are moving their kids out. It`s very scary time. That`s why it`s a very sad day for me because it feels like this war is going to go to a much bigger phase in the next couple of days. And that`s why there`s even a sliver of hope about a negotiation that does not lead to tens of thousands of people dying in the Ukraine.

By the way, ethnic Russians will also die. If Vladimir Putin bombs the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, he`s going to be killing a lot of ethnic Russians that he claims to be saving. But yes, people -- I just don`t know -- you know, I feel at the door is closing. It can be very difficult for Secretary Blinken after what happened today to just show up in a European capital, and say let`s keep trying.

If they did something serious, they showed some credible commitment that they were willing to talk and have a negotiation then I would do it. I wouldn`t just do it to keep hope alive. I think that sends a terrible message to the people of Ukraine.

VELSHI: Ambassador, thanks for analysis tonight and every day, we are using you quite frequently. Michael McFaul is the former United States ambassador to Russia. He has a lot of insight into this. We appreciate your time tonight.

We got much more to come tonight. In a moment, we`ll be joined by the supreme military commander of -- the former supreme military commander of NATO.

Stay with us.



VELSHI: As a response to what is happening in Eastern Ukraine today, the United Nations Security Council has, is conducting emergency meeting right now the request of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This is the ambassador from France for the Security Council. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of course, from the United States is there.

The Security Council is at the moment chaired by Russia and there`s been the scene of some very intense arguments in the last few weeks. We will, of course, keep a very close eye on what comes out of the Security Council meeting that is underway at New York at the United Nations right now. We continue to cover the breaking news that the Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared Russian troops will enter Eastern Ukraine as part of what he calls a recognition of that region`s independence.

Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there for about eight years. In response to the Russian provocation, United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted, quote, Kremlin recognition of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People`s Republics as independent requires a swift infirmary spots, and we will take appropriate steps in coordination with partners.

Well, as Russia takes more stance towards the invasion of a sovereign nation, many are wondering just exactly what a swift and firm response would look like. Just the past decade and a half, the world has witnessed two similar Russian incursions in the neighboring territory. In 2008, Russia recognized in, quotes, what it also referred to as independent republics. That time with a neighboring nation of Georgia. That decision was followed by a conflict that forced 200,000 people to flee their homes.

Six years later, Russia did the same thing, invading Crimea in the Ukraine, a conflict that`s resulted in many as 14,000 deaths, and hundred thousands of more displacements.

Now, Russia appears to be doing the same thing in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. It`s unclear whether it will be limited to that region. A large contingent of Russian forces remained stationed north of Ukraine, in Belarus, a separate country, pro-Russian former Soviet Republic.

Following the end of the Russian war games in Belarus that has expanded the military might along the Ukrainian border, Ukraine is surrounded on the north and the east and towards the south.

So, what should we expect to see in terms of Russian military action? Is it going to look similar in the past Russian incursions? Is this somehow different? How is the response to Ukraine in its Western allies going to differ from what we`ve seen in the past, because most people it`s not what we saw in the past was insufficient to deter Russia from doing this again.

How does the world expect to avoid a repeat of what happened in Crimea and Georgia?

Joining me now is a retired United States Navy Admiral James Stavridis. He`s the former NATO supreme allied commander. He`s MSNBC chief international security and diplomacy analyst.

Admiral, thank you for being here.

I know you keep getting asked these questions over and over again, but Vladimir Putin is playing three dimensional chess here. We were expecting something different and he has declared these two regions to be independent nations for all intents and purposes and he`s moving troops into Ukraine. How do you see this?

JAMES STAVRIDIS, MSNBC CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AND DIPLOAMCY ANALSYT: I see it as an invasion. In addition to being supreme allied commander NATO, I was after that the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a leading graduate school of international relations and international law. There`s a definition for an invasion.

It`s the imposition of armed troops for political purpose into a sovereign country without the consent of that nation, whether it`s a squad of 12 or squadron of tanks or an army of 190,000 isn`t relevant. This is an invasion. That`s what`s occurring. We need to deal with it as such, and that means a significant package of response from the West, Ali.

VELSHI: A significant package of response from the West and that is who means two things. I was talking to Ambassador McFaul earlier, sanctions, diplomacy and it means something to do with NATO, right? There are all these NATO countries, let`s put the map up a wet needle looks like today. There are a lot of NATO countries around Ukraine.

What are they planning to do?

STAVRIDIS: I think there are three things that the alliance needs to do right now. Number one, you alluded to, simply stand diplomatically, goes in alliance and for the United States, put the weight of this alliance, 30 nations representing 55 percent of the world`s GDP, 3 million men and women under arms, almost all volunteers, an incredible, powerful alliance. Put the diplomatic weight of that alliance behind Ukraine`s.

Number two, perhaps more importantly, the sanctions package, and it needs to be overwhelming. We need shock and awe economically. That`s going to be hard. Putin is going to try to fire proof his economy.

But there are mechanisms to take Russia out of the SWIFT system to go after individual oligarch fortunes and above all to go after oil and gas, which is the beating heart of the Russian economy.

Number three, Ali, really to the alliance. If Putin is going to fully continue this invasion, expanded, more throughout the country, I think the logical response is going to be a resistance, and you may see the Zelensky government leave Kyiv and move to the far west, to Lviv in the far west of Ukraine, or even form a government in exile, and then run and resistance.

Much like Charles de Gaulle did in France in 1940s. We need to facilitate that. Arm it, train it, the quid it, make it a very difficult move on the part of Putin.

So, there`s diplomacy. There`s economics. There`s a military response here. All of that can be, I hope, sufficient to deter Putin from further conquest in Ukraine.

VELSHI: Let`s put that map of Ukraine again. I want to ask you something. There is this theory that these are independent -- with a lot of Russian speakers who require the protection of the Russians. But there`s a lot of reporting about the fact that they`re looking to take the government out in Kyiv.

We were talking about the fact that they might move Zelensky out. They might for government in exile.

How likely do you think this escalates beyond the eastern parts of Ukraine, which have large Russian speaking populations into the rest of Ukraine?

STAVRIDIS: I think it is about a one and three change, Ali, from where we sit tonight, that Putin will go full blitzkrieg, shock and awe, take it to Kyiv, one in three. I think it`s a two in three chance that he will take a somewhat more conservative approach and really focus is for just forces on this region, when there are admittedly many Russian speakers, ethnic Russians. Vladimir Putin has done an airdrop of passports, handed out hundreds of thousands of Russian passports to Ukrainians who are sympathetic to Russia in the section.

So, he will try to build around that, but we need to not be fooled by that, not to be distracted by it. Ukraine has been invaded here. It requires the absolute full force of the response from the West.

VELSHI: You made that point strongly today. Ambassador McFaul has made the same point. Not to fall into an idea that something else has happened here, even though it doesn`t look what you think and invasion looks like from the movies or TV.

Ambassador, thanks for your time tonight as always. Retired United States Admiral James Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander.

Still ahead, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Anne Applebaum, joins us live. She lived in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union fell apart. She`s got some very insightful things to say about what is happening right now.

Stay with us.




JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS REPORTER: The banners are up. Ballot boxes sealed. Booth is ready, the long campaign almost over.

While some people got to vote in advance, most will vote tomorrow if the republic chooses a new president and a proposal right they were overwhelmingly cast their vote for a free Ukraine.

For most Ukrainians, freedom from Moscow means going at it along.

MIROSLAV MIKHAILOV, MERCHANT (through translator): We don`t need a union. We are rich in resources, raw materials we can sell to others to survive, even prosper.

MACEDA: And that is one of Mikhail Gorbachev`s biggest nightmare. An independent Ukraine, he says will doom his chances of forging a political union out of a collapse Soviet Empire.

The Ukraine is just too important to lose. It used to feed the nation, now it feeds itself. An industrial giant, the Ukraine builds the Soviet military`s largest ships, planes and nuclear missiles.

Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, once said that without the Ukraine, the revolution would be a futile enterprise.


All indications are that 75 years later, Lenin`s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev is about to learn the same lesson.


VELSHI: That was "NBC Nightly News" from November of 1991, reporting on the eve of Ukraine`s vote on a referendum that would decide whether or not a country would break from the Soviet Union and gain independence.

It`s easy to understand why that referendum vote was such a nightmare for Gorbachev. At the time, Ukraine accounted for 21 percent of the entire Soviet population. Long called the bread basket of Russia, it provided the Soviet Union with 25 percent of its food and coal. The country accounted for 21 percent of the Soviet Union`s industrial output.

Sure enough, faced with a chance of sovereignty the vast majority of eligible voters headed to the polls and overwhelmingly voted for an independent Ukraine, over 90 percent, in fact. And in all caps, on the day after the vote, "The New York Times" above the fold story, quote, Ukrainian voters crowd to the polls to create nation. Officials see big margin. Holiday mood, amid balloting on referendum.

The times interviewed an election worker in Ukraine who told the paper in poetic terms quote, this is a great day. It is the flowering of our soul. Putin himself today made it clear how important Ukraine is to Russia or to his philosophy, specifically.

In a national address today, the Russian leader said, quote, Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It`s an integral part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space. Putin continued, quote, Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood. From the very first steps they began to build their statehood on the denial of everything that unites us. They tried to distort that consciousness, the historical memory of millions of people, entire generations living in Ukraine, end quote.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum today tweeted that Putin`s speech was full of historical nonsense.

Historical nonsense now, that now has Ukraine and the rest of the world pushed to a brink of a war.

Joining us now is Anne Applebaum, the staff writer at "The Atlantic", and the author of "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism".

Ms. Applebaum, thank you for being with us tonight. You are an important voice to give us some clarity on what`s going on, because Vladimir Putin is trying to convince the world of a narrative that you know not to be true.

ANNE APPLEBAUM, THE ATLANTIC: Ukraine has had a sense of itself as a nation, an ethnic group, and identity for many centuries. Ukraine was a company. Many Ukrainians were serfs. They were slaves, in fact. Ukraine`s national poet was born as a serf and later on bought his freedom when he moved to St. Petersburg.

It`s a nation that has always had a sense of itself being opposed to nobility, the aristocracy, the empire. Its identity was always very closely connected to rebellion, sometimes in anarchical sense, but sometimes often in a positive sense.

Ukrainians made several attempts to become independent. At the time of the Russian revolution in 1917, there was briefly a Ukrainian state. And they then lost a war with the Red Army, the Bolsheviks. But even in the early days of the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks knew that Ukraine national identity had to be acknowledged and accounted for. Ukraine had to have its own republic (AUDIO GAP) as a federation.

But Ukraine was always a challenge. It was a challenge for the unity of the Bolsheviks, of the Soviet Union, and they always had a different sense of themselves. They were a westward looking. They talked about democracy, even back then.

And from the very beginning, Stalin sought to destroy them. They were -- Stalin organized an artificial famine in Ukraine that killed nearly 4 million people.

Fast forward that story today, Ukraine remains a problem for Putin, because Ukraine aspires to democracy and aspires to sovereignty. It doesn`t want to be part of a new Russian empire, and that is a challenge to Putin`s version of autocracy, the idea that only he is in charge and only he decides everything around him.

We are watching the development of a very old historical argument, Putin`s use of this is historical nonsense. It`s just designed to cloud the picture.

VELSHI: In 1938, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler, cut a deal who was thought to avoid with ended up being World War II. You wrote something in "The Atlantic" yesterday which said, there are no chamberlain`s in this story, but no Churchill`s either, and Ukraine will fight alone.


What did you mean by that?

APPLEBAUM: So the West is not blinded by what`s going on. I think the Biden administration has done brilliantly in its constant anticipation of what`s going to happen and it`s revelation of intelligence. The vice president made an excellent speech in Munich where I was a couple of days ago, bringing allies together. Other allies have shown solidarity.

I think once they agreed on what will trigger the sanctions, I think the sanctions will be real. There`s been real military help for Ukraine and yet, there`s a line drawn as well. And we know there aren`t going to be any Western troops in Ukraine. We know there are limits on what will be done for Ukraine because Russian has nuclear weapons, part of it is because people fear escalation.

At the end of the day, it`s going to be the Ukrainians and their bravery and their dedication to this very old idea, the idea of sovereignty, the idea of freedom. It will be their dedication to that that determines what happens.

HANNITY: Vladimir Putin has made the argument publicly that the West has cornered him. I`ll put that hang out command to show that NATO looks like. That the West had some sort of agreement that they would not get that close to Russia. And then that`s what this is all about, that they made a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO. One can see that picture, that Ukraine is non-NATO country and it`s a bulwark between Eastern Europe and Russia.

That`s not really true. This isn`t really about Ukraine and NATO, is it?

APPLEBAUM: No, it`s not about Ukraine. In fact, a few days ago, the German chancellor was in Moscow and he essentially said, look, as long as I`m chancellor, Ukraine will never be a NATO. So, he essentially made that promise that had no impact. That`s really not what this is about.

It`s not about Ukraine being a NATO. It`s about Ukraine being as I said a sovereign democracy, it doesn`t want to be part of the Russian empire, and whose democracy challenges the idea of autocracy. I mean, look, if Ukraine can be a successful democracy and maybe some day it will be, that is a challenge to Putin system.

If his argument is I am the only -- system like mine can run Russia. Ukraine`s close to Russia, working geographically and culture culturally if Ukraine can be a democracy and Russians will look at it and say, well, we can have that as well.

The use of NATO as a retrospective conversation about NATO, remembering things that weren`t said at the time and trying to bring this into a the conversation is really just a way of manufacturing excuse. Putin has wanted to occupy Ukraine ever since 2014. And that`s really what`s going on here. It`s not -- NATO is a secondary issue.

VELSHI: Anne, we don`t justice to the amount of research and time you spent on this, but I appreciate the time you have given us tonight. And I would recommend that our viewers follow your writings.

Anne Applebaum was a staff writer at "The Atlantic," we appreciate your time tonight.

We`ve got more news ahead. Stay with us.



VELSHI: President Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy by phone today for more than 30 minutes. The White House said Biden condemned Putin`s decision to recognize the independence of Russia-backed separatists regions of Ukraine. And Biden updated Zelenskyy on the United States plan to respond to Russia with sanctions.

In recent weeks, Zelenskyy has claimed the U.S. and other Western governments were overstating the threat that Ukraine faces. But he`s also been quietly preparing for a possible Russian attack. The question now, is he ready?

Joining me now is the retired Army Lieutenant Col. Alexander Vindman, a former director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council, and a key witness in former President Trump`s first impeachment. He testified about President Trump`s call to the president of Ukraine.

Colonel Vindman, thank you for being with us tonight.

I do want to ask you there is a U.N. Security Council meeting underway right now that was called, an emergency meeting that Vladimir Zelenskyy asked. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas- Greenfield has said, quote, Putin wants the world to travel back in time, time before the United Nations, time where empires ruled the world.

The rest of the world has moved forward. It`s not 1919. It`s 2022.

I want to -- I want to ask you what you think about what she said there?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, it`s exactly right. This idea that somehow we`ll return to the geopolitics of the rule of the jungle, where might makes right, where the powerful can do as they please.

And it`s really the age of empires. So, it`s a throwback to centuries gone by. It`s exactly the kind of world that Putin thinks he can prosper.

So, this is what he`s trying to do -- by upending international norms, by invading peaceful neighbors and he setting the blueprint for the world he wants to live in.

VELSHI: Are you a little bit puzzled at the responses coming from some right wing American media, and now members of the Republican Party that seem to be implying that maybe this isn`t all that bad, give me a clear reason why we should be against a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

VIDNMAN: Well, it`s part of the reason that Vladimir Putin believed he had an opportunity to conduct this offensive. We`re just seeing the first phase. We`re just seeing the first kind of encouragement and recognition of these regions. Donetsk and Luhansk, this is not the end. This is just the beginning.

So, I think these folks, these right wing pundits, and the GOP that supports of him really frankly have blood on their hands because they`re encouraging and enticing this kind of opportunism from Putin, and it`s not just playing rhetoric that you can say something without consequences, like too often happens in the United States.


This is -- has real consequences and people are going to die because of this.

VELSHI: What has to happen here? What does the United States need to do at this point? You`ve been advising the right president in your former job.

VINDMAN: Well, there`s a whole host of things that we can still do. The first thing is that we need to actually start ruling out some of the significant sanctions. This might not be the maximalist scenario we were thinking about. We need some headroom for further sanctions.

And frankly, there is always more things we can do in sanctions sphere. We can challenge Russia at every place if it wants to conduct business. So, we should start to roll out significant sanctions because Russia did invade its neighbor. Russia -- there`s no question about that.

Before, he`s operating covertly. Now, it`s operating overtly, and that`s a violation of international law and international norms. There has to be consequences.

There`s also more that we could be doing with regards to provision in Ukrainians to defend themselves because there will be. This is just the opening play. This is going to be an enormous amount of violence.

That the scenarios that the Biden administration has laid out are more than likely to come to pass. I give it 90 percent, not one third probability, but 90 percent probability that we`re heading in that direction.

We don`t have this kind of four structures put on Ukraine`s borders just for Putin to declare these locations independent and then draw back troops.


VINDMAN: It doesn`t end his problems with Ukraine. So, that`s another thing we can do. Posture changes in Europe is a huge, but frankly, we might get pulled into this regardless of what we do at this point.

VELSHI: Colonel, thanks for your time tonight. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, we appreciate it.

We`ll be right back.


VELSHI: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Lawrence, fraught times.