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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/14/22

Guests: Alex Goncharenko, James Stavridis, Anna Pereguda


MSNBC`s continuing live coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" on this Monday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW with Ali Velshi starts right now.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Chris, thank you, and good evening to you.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

I`m in Budapest, Hungary, tonight, where thousands of Ukrainian refugees have come after fleeing the violence in their home country. More than 4,000 refugees arrived here by train yesterday alone, including more than 1,200 children.

Because I`m in Budapest, I want to start with a little bit of history tonight with what happened in the city almost 30 years ago. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became its own independence day. That meant that whatever Soviet Russia had kept within Ukraine`s borders, Ukraine suddenly became the new owners of all that stuff.

And so, with their new independence, Ukraine ended up inheriting something that they very much did not want. They inherited a bunch of nukes.

Today, Russia has the biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons on earth, but even in the Soviet days, Russia had a ton of nukes. And they kept a lot of them in Ukraine. When the USSR collapsed, the left behind thousands of nuclear missiles in Ukraine. What Ukraine did with that inheritance was shocking. Ukraine essentially raised its hand to catch the attention of the world and said, we do not want these nuclear weapons.

So, in 1994, the U.S. president flew here to Budapest essentially brokered deal with Russia and Ukraine, along with the United Kingdom. Ukraine would agree to destroy its newfound nuclear arsenal in exchange for assurances from both the United States and Russia than either country would ever use its own weaponry against Ukraine.

Here was President Clinton in Budapest with the Ukrainian flag over his shoulder talking about the importance of uniting around Ukraine sovereignty.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Creating security in the post-Cold War era requires that we unite, not divide. The pledges on security assurances that Prime Minister Major, President Yeltsin and I have given these three nations move us further in that direction. They underscore our independence, our commitment to the independence of sovereignty and the territorial integrity of these states.


VELSHI: President Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin of Russia signed what they call the Budapest memorandum, making those security assurances to Ukraine. But this is not an official treaty, nothing about this memos binding. It was simply a promise.

Vladimir Putin broke that promise. He violated the Budapest memorandum for the first time in 2014 when he annexed Crimea. And, of course, for the second time last month when he launched a full scale unprovoked invasion of the entire country.

But this little nonbinding historical footnote is kind of a nagging reminder not just of Vladimir Putin`s brutality but also about the commitment that the United States once made to supporting Ukraine sovereignty.

And there is, of course, a debate roiling right now about what`s our enforcement of that commitment should look like. The United States has newly-committed an additional $200 million to supply Ukraine with fresh weapons. But it`s mainly small munitions, things like anti-tank and anti- aircraft weapons. United States so far has been unwilling to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, or other heavy artillery for fear of provoking Russia and escalating the conflict.

That reluctance to new sense of urgency when Russia launched an airstrike on a military base less than 50 miles from the Polish border. This is the closest Russia has brought the violence to neighboring NATO country so far. The pentagon said today that with the strike over the weekend, Russian appears to be broadening its set of targets. If Russia were to strike inside the borders of a NATO country, all NATO members, including the one I`m in, would be required to come to the attack the country`s defense per article five of the NATO charter.

And unlike the Budapest memo, that agreement is not optional. And Russia knows that. So, weather continues that just to its status as an international pariah. Putin has reportedly reached out to perhaps the only thing resembling an ally that he has left. According to fresh reporting tonight, from "The Financial Times", Russian has asked China to provide them with a barrage of weaponry to assist with their invasion, including surface to air missiles, armored vehicles, and drones.

U.S. officials say that China has signaled its willingness to provide military assistance to Russia. NBC has not confirmed this reporting. But the U.S. national advisor Jake Sullivan met with a top Chinese official in Rome today, and he warned that there would be consequences for China if they agreed to support Russia`s war in Ukraine, with military assistance.


Meanwhile, Russia continues to close and on Ukraine`s capital. This was an apartment building in Kyiv today, a civilian target. Ukrainian officials say Russia launched an airstrike on this residential building while the people inside were asleep.

NBC`s Richard Engel talked to some of the people who were inside when the missile started raining down.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beware of Russia on its back foot. Apparently frustrated by its lack of progress on the battlefield, Russia is laying waste to Ukrainian cities and civilians from afar.

Ukraine says this is an incoming Russian missile intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses falling and exploding on the streets of Kyiv. Nearby, Russia destroyed an apartment building. The strike just after 5:00 a.m. when most people were sleeping.

There are no military targets here, this is just a civilian apartment building surrounded by other apartment buildings. And the only possible reason for attacking it is to kill civilians and terrorize the population, just a few miles from the center of Kyiv.

He says, intuition must have woken him. He was having a smoke when suddenly, in the slow time of extreme fear, he saw a flash and then the windows and doors came crashing in.

Nina, a downstairs neighbor, was shaken, but unhurt. In the aftermath, she was happy not to be alone.

You have a mother, she asked. Her name happens to be Nina, too. Nina`s three room apartment is devastated. She was in bed asleep.

All of this fell on top of you? It`s amazing you`re not here. Not even a little broken glass, nothing?

I had a big blanket on top of me, so all good, she says. Adding, she feels pretty for Putin`s mother who is turning in her grave that she gave birth to such a nasty bastard.

Outside lay a body of a man killed for being in his home. But even here, the spirit of resistance is unbroken.


VELSHI: And that resilience is moving to see, but it has been a few days of setback for Ukraine, both symbolic and strategic. This was victory square in the city of Melitopol today.

Last week, the mayor of the city was abducted. The city is now on the Russian military control. And tonight, as you can see, Russian forces took down Ukraine`s flag from the center of the city.

This is new aerial video from the city of Mariupol, which has been relentlessly bombarded for going two weeks now. More than 2,500 people have been killed here since the start of the war. The city council says that they are on their last reserves of food and water. They are close to running out.

After days of stalled decorations, a few hundred people were able to flee the city today. But hundreds of thousands of people remain inside. Ukrainian officials say that humanitarian convoy bringing fresh supplies and buses to evacuate more people was blocked from entering the city today. Russia`s continuing to bomb Russian -- there have been reports of heavy shelling late into the night.

Tonight, in Kharkiv, Ukraine`s second largest city, large pockets of the country have now been reduced to rubble. President Zelenskyy said this weekend that a few small towns in this country just, quote, don`t exist anymore.

President Zelenskyy has been invited to address the U.S. Congress on Wednesday morning. His speeches to other lawmaking bodies around the world have brought people to their feet. It brought people to tears.

President Biden, already reportedly considering a trip to Europe, which would be a strong side of support to the region. A fourth round of peace talks began this morning, but then were put on hold. The talks are set to resume tomorrow, which is a little comfort to the people of Ukraine tonight with artillery firing well into the night.

Joining us live from inside the country of Lviv, Ukraine, is NBC News correspondent Cal Perry.

Cal, what`s the latest tonight?

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So, Ali, I`m in the west of the country, as you laid out. And it was 48 hours ago when we saw our first air strikes in this part of the country. Less than 15 miles from the border of Poland. It was a well-known military base. This is a place where American troops have trained in the past Ukrainian soldiers. All U.S. troops are not of the country, but at least 34 people that there. Another hundred and 30 wounded.

As you said, the humanitarian crisis is getting much worse in the eastern part of the country. Food is running low and some of these towns, we have seen now up to ten days of nonstop bombardments. We`ve heard from the Red Cross. We`ve heard from Doctors Without Borders, they are desperate to get to these parts of the cities that have been inaccessible until now.


But they can`t get there because the shelling is so bad.

In Kyiv, we`re starting to see indiscriminate shelling of residential buildings there, as well as Russian forces are in circling that city.

A bit of news in the past hour, we had another address from President Zelenskyy posted to Telegram. He went out of his way, Ali, to once again speak directly to Russian conscripts. He spoke to them in Russian saying, if they surrender now, they`ll be treated with dignity and respect. If they don`t surrender, they will inevitably die here in Ukraine -- Ali.

VELSHI: Cal Perry, stay safe please, you and your team. Cal Perry is in Lviv, Ukraine, tonight.

My next guest, Alex Goncharenko. He`s as a member of the Ukrainian parliament. Today, he visited that big residential apartment building in Kyiv that was hit by Russian artillery.

Here`s a video that he recorded at the scene.


ALEX GONCHARENKO, UKRAINIAN MP: I`m standing here from a big residential building, which was hit this morning just three hours ago by direct heavy artillery shell. And you see the place where it happened. And two people are killed, nine are injured.

This is a big house with more than 100 departments. And this place, up to 300 people lived during the war. And we are just staying, you can see the completely residential area. There is a school, the school is also damaged by heat wave.

That`s what`s Putin`s doing. That`s genocide in the 21st century in the middle of Europe. Please, help us to protect our women and children. No fly zone, aircraft, air defense, that`s what we need to stop this mad dictator.


VELSHI: OK. Joining me from Kyiv now is that member of parliament, Alex Goncharenko.

Mr. Goncharenko, thank you for joining us. It`s good to talk to you again. Just a few days ago, Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol. You`ve called this latest strike that we`ve just watched an apartment building in Kyiv by Russian artillery and example, in your words, of genocide in the 21st century.

Now, that`s a very serious allegation. Are you -- are you -- do you believe that Russian forces are deliberately and specifically targeting civilians?

GONCHARENKO: Absolutely. It couldn`t be so many mistakes -- kindergarten, schools, hospitals, more than 200 schools are hit by Russians, even what you said about Mariupol, in maternity house. One of the women who were injured in that time, pregnant women, she died with her unborn child. That`s an awful catastrophe.

And now you see these absolutely residential buildings. And today, there were three bombings in Kyiv, and three of them were just in areas without any military target.

So, it cannot be so many mistakes, no. Absolutely, it is tactics and strategic plan of Putin because he just can`t win our army, and that`s why he started this terror against civilians.

VELSHI: Let`s talk about the civilians. We on the side and hungry, and my colleagues in Poland have spoken to many of the refugees who fled the country for their safety, and that of their children. What about those people who have state, particularly in Kyiv, a city that has been closer and closer to being surrounded by Russian troops? What are you hearing from the people who are staying and remaining there?

GONCHARENKO: Certainly, people are concerned. Certainly, people are worried. But many of them join civil guards, civilian militia, me included, took weapons and arms and ready to defend the city.

Some of them do not want to leave their apartments. Some of them don`t have a possibility to leave their apartments. Many elderly people are staying in Kyiv.

So, more than 1 million people are now in Kyiv and certainly, they are concerned. And everybody sees what has happened with Mariupol, with Kharkiv. That`s why we are so desperately asking for support to stop Russian aircraft. We need aircraft. We are asking for air defense systems, Patriots, more Stingers, things like this.

We are not asking for NATO pilots. We can do everything ourselves. But please give us instruments to defend our women and children, and to defend the whole free world.

VELSHI: One of the things we`ve heard of as people coming across to these other NATO countries, or Eastern European countries, dropping the children off, sending them off to be taken care of by friends or relatives and then going back into Ukraine because of what you said, elderly parents. There are a lot of elderly people who are not mobile still in Kyiv.


As the city get surrounded, we`ve heard that it could take ten days to two weeks or so on the city, and then ten days to two weeks for Kyiv to run out of critical supplies.

What -- tell us what you believe happens then? What happens once the Russians have surrounded you, and you don`t know their support they are asking the West for?

GONCHARENKO: First of all, even without these air supports, I just want to remind you that Putin was thinking that he was given two days. Then an American official said Democrat journalists that they were given 96 hours to Ukraine, and after this we will fail.

As you see now, it`s almost 20 days, and we have not failed. And I`m sure we will not fail. And Putin could not, and he will not in circle Kyiv.

So, I believe that our army, which is holding the ground will hold it in the future. If they will penetrate the city, people like me, civilian militia will fight them on the street. But I believe that we will not need to do this. And I`m absolutely sure that the victory will be ours.

This is our land. And our plan is to stay until the end. And when you have morale like this, you cannot lose.

VELSHI: I`ve spoken to members of parliament every single day. Some of them have never held a gun in their lives. They`ve got a firearm. They`ve learned how to use it.

You are wearing your civilian militia uniform. Tell me what it`s like being a member of parliament and being a member of the militia. What is your life like now with these two different roles?

GONCHARENKO: My weapon is with me. Now it`s always with me, my automatic rifle. But I cannot be without it.

And yes, it`s completely different life. The war, with something happened that changed the whole of our lives. And now, we have an existential choice. To be, or not to be, that is the question. No other.

So I`m sure that we need to stay shoulder to shoulder with our people. And it is important for people to see that. Also, members of the parliament like in the United States and the congressman are staying together with them shoulder to shoulder, encouraging them for their example.

I think this is important, so that`s why me and I know, yes, a number of my colleagues are doing absolutely the same, and I appreciate it very much.

VELSHI: To be or not to be is the actual existential question that Ukrainians are being presented with and having to answer.

Alex Goncharenko, you have told us how you are answering it. Thank you for being with us.

Alex Goncharenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

GONCHARENKO: Thank you very much.

VELSHI: We appreciate your time again tonight.

As you just heard, the Ukrainian government clearly wants the West to do much more, militarily, to help Ukraine. There`s a growing call in the United States for that as well. The former supreme commander of NATO joins us in just a moment.



VELSHI: The first major Ukrainian city to be taken over by Russian forces was the southern port city of Kherson. On March 3rd, the mayor of Kherson told NBC News that Russian forces have taken control of the city. The Russian army took over the city council and began imposing new restrictions on Kherson residents.

Again, that was on March 3rd. This is Kherson this weekend. Ten days after Russian forces the control of the city, hundreds of Kherson residents took to the streets to protest their Russian occupiers.

The same thing is happening, about 150 miles to the east, where Russian forces are occupying the city of Melitopol. Last week, Ukrainian officials say that that city`s mayor was kidnapped by occupying Russian forces.

But over the weekend, hundreds of protesters showed up in the streets of multiple to demand the mayor`s release. Every day, we are seeing ordinary Ukrainian citizens stand up against this invasion, as Ukrainian president on the country`s political leaders calling western leaders and Western countries to do more.

Already, the United States and European nations are supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine and undertaking and unprecedented campaign of economic boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against the Russian government. But, the U.S. and Europe have steadfastly refused certain other requests that would bring American and European troops possibly into direct conflict with Russian troops.

The retired U.S. Navy Admiral James is the former supreme allied commander of NATO. He writes today in "Time Magazine", quote: The Ukrainians will fight will all their hearts. After all, it is their children, their parents, their spouses that they`re defending. The question for the West is, what more must we be doing? And how quickly can we get assistance online? Clearly, time is of the essence.

We need to think of our options as a real stacked. We have to dial in, and the direction of the dial at the moment points us towards taking more risk with our choices, end quote.

Joining us now is the retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis. He is the former supreme allied commander of NATO.

Admiral, it is good to see you again. Thank you for being here.

One thing that you and other experts have said is that there is no calculus that permits for something that would lead to nuclear war between the United States and Russia. But, that should be clear to everybody involved. That Vladimir Putin is escalating, possibly based on the understanding that the West fears triggering nuclear war because he is dropping language of his nuclear arsenal.


At some point, what more can we do understanding that this is not going to lead to nuclear war?

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER AT NATO: Yeah, Ali, I don`t lay away at night thinking oh boy, here comes a nuclear weapon. And frankly, nor should anyone. Having said that, I got a call over the weekend from family members saying, gee, Admiral, should we be stalking iodine pills which help you in the case of radioactive release?

The answer is, no. Vladimir Putin is not going to reach for the apocalypse handle. He has a family, he has children. He deeply, truly loves this country.

He is not out down the world here. He`s angry, he`s better, but he`s not crazy. He`s not going to reach for the nuclear weapon.

What we ought to be doing is taking a sensible amount of risk in terms of potential U.S., NATO on one side, Russian on the other side confrontation. What that means is, providing significant weapons assistance to the Ukrainians. Get the more surface-to-air missiles that will reach higher, continue to examine the possibility of providing fighters. This has been worked with the Poles, who have MiG-29, that Ukrainians can fly. Continue the sanctions, an increase NATO presence on NATO borders to send the signal to Vladimir Putin.

That`s a good prescription. That is what the administration is following. We need to take a little more risk as Putin steps up his campaign, a violent war criminal behavior against Ukrainian civilians.

You just saw evidence of that. We`re going to continue to see that. We need to respond.

VELSHI: I want to have that discussion with, you because obviously, there has been endless conversation about the fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO. They`re not subject to the same defense alliance that other NATO countries are. But at the same time, we do have an agreement that was signed in Budapest in 1994 where Ukraine gives up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for an agreement with the Russians that they won invades. Or that Ukraine`s territorial integrity will be protected.

Do we have obligations under that agreement?

STAVRIDIS: I think we have a moral obligation to provide every level of assistance at this point short of putting military boots on the ground in Ukraine or putting NATO jets in the skies over Ukraine. Having said that, Ali, it is conditions dependent. And I applaud the administration, Jake Sullivan over the weekend when he spoke to the press said, we are not going to telegraph we`re going to do. We`re going to take appropriate responses.

He was talking about the potential use of Russian chemical weapons. Again, the stack of war crimes this growing and growing and growing. We have to be saying to the Russians, if you don`t want to fire behavior, everything is on the table.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about this reporting that we have not been able to confirm, the Russians have asked the Chinese foreign systems and the Chinese have single some willingness to get involved and to help the Russians. I`m a little puzzled that the Russian army and Russian military, which several times the size of the Ukrainian military, requires assistance from the Chinese for this.

We`re also, as you heard, the last member of parliament speaking to saying, the intelligence has been good, except the pride that the Russians were going to run over Ukraine really quickly.

What is this telling you about the state of the Russian military?

STAVRIDIS: Well, before we get to the Russian military, can we just say how inspirational Ukrainian resistance is. In the world of military activity, we talk about what`s the center of gravity in a fight. The center of gravity is that upon which all else revolves.

In this fight, it`s the will, the spirit of the Ukraine population personified by President Zelenskyy, that parliamentarian you saw, the mayor of Kyiv, on and on and on. Remarkable.

In terms of the Russian failures here, you know, to those of us who have been watching Russia for a while, it`s not a shock. They have relied on conscripts. They`ve relied on untrained reservists.

They have been traditionally very weak at providing logistics. They have, in every case, made bad strategic choices. Spread their forces too far. Above all, they underestimated the Ukrainian will to fight.

I think the Ukrainians will continue to score a lot of hits on the Russians.


We can do more to enhance that. Hopefully, over the coming months, Ali, that we get to say negotiation and we can get out of the situation which is in nobody`s interest.

VELSHI: Admiral, it`s always an honor to talk to you. Thank you for being with us and giving us your experience and wisdom. Retired Navy Admiral James is the former supreme allied commander of NATO. We appreciate your time as always tonight.

In just a little bit, we`re going to talk to a mother who fled Ukraine with her son. She`s going to tell us about their harrowing journey.

First, I want to get to some very important news that it`s very close to home. Earlier today, we got the terrible news that Fox News State Department correspondent Benjamin Hall was injured outside of Kyiv today, while on assignment. We don`t have any details at the moment, that Fox News CEO says that Mr. Hall is hospitalized. We are keeping him in our thoughts tonight and hoping for a speedy recovery.

Today`s news about Mr. Hall as the day after we learned the tragic news that the American journalists and filmmaker Brent Renaud was shot and killed by Russian forces on Sunday. Mr. Renaud was in Irpin with a colleague, that colleague documenting the refugee crisis anywhere shot at while driven across a checkpoint. While Mr. Renaud succumbed to his injuries, his colleague survived.

President Zelenskyy wrote a letter to Mr. Renaud`s family that he posted today, writing quote, I`m writing to extend my heartfelt condolences to you on the tragic loss of your beloved son and brother. May Brent`s life, service and sacrifice inspire generations of people all around the world to stand up and fight for the forces of light against forces of darkness.

We`ll be right back.



VELSHI: I`m in Budapest, Hungary, today, the capital, but I spent the past ten days on Hungary`s border with Ukraine.

Yesterday, I sat with the woman who had just escaped Russia`s assault on her country, and she had taken her four-year-old son with a few items that she could carry and run away from her home northwest of Kyiv. Here`s what she told me about her journey and wet and who she left behind.


VELSHI: Thank you for talking to us. You`ve just come here across the border. Where did you come from?

ANNA PEREGUDA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE (translated): I am from Kyiv oblast, the town of Hostomel. It is right in the line of fire. There were airstrikes, shootings there. Yesterday, actually the day before yesterday, we were able to escape.

VELSHI: You have this beautiful boy with him. Tell me about him and how he is.

PEREGUDA: His name is Lukian. He is 4 years old. We have been together from the very start of the war. Starting from 24th of February, we were in the basement for two weeks straight.

Practically, not leaving. He is probably he most brave in our family, lifting our spirits. He said, "I am not afraid of anything. I am a fighter." He was supporting our spirits and the positive mood in our family.

VELSHI: How long has the journey been with him, and how was it to be on this long journey with such a young boy?

PEREGUDA: We decided to escape very abruptly. We were hiding until the last possible moment. And the day before yesterday, we decided that we needed to do something -- if not today, then we will not be able to escape ever. That`s why the family decided that we needed to come out, to not be afraid, to come out and run, catch a car. All we took was all that we had in the basement, which is little, very little. We ran from the basement to the street. There we caught a car, the first one that we saw -- took it. Everything was fast and abrupt. With the child in my arms we ran.

VELSHI: Where is your husband now?

PEREGUDA: He is in Ukraine. In Ukraine, his specific location, -- where exactly he is I don`t know. But he is not in Hostomel. He was also able to escape from there. But I don`t know where exactly he is. We are trying to call.


VELSHI: Anna told me that she and her son were headed here to Budapest where she plans to stay for sometime. Her story is so much like the 255,000 Ukrainians who fled Ukraine for Hungary, and the more than 2 million who have fled their country to other countries, leaving behind a life and loved ones they can only hope that they were going to see again soon.

More ahead tonight. Stay with us.



VELSHI: I want to play you a clip of a segment that aired on Russian state control TV station NTV over the weekend. It was a segment about the completely false conspiracy theory that there are a U.S.-funded biological weapons laboratories and Ukraine.

Part of the Russian networks evidence for the existence of these weapons labs were clips from Fox News with the U.S. elected officials, like the Republican Senator Ron Johnson, and the former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, claiming that the U.S. hasn`t been telling the full truth about this issue.

Here`s another Russian TV segment from this weekend, where a different Russian TV network, just played a huge chunk of Tucker Carlson Fox News show translated into Russian.

I can play a second for you with the sound on, because the Russian translator tries to mimic Tucker`s performance while speaking. It`s quite funny.



VELSHI: Other than being very funny, it`s also deeply concerning. See the banner under there, under secretary of state: Ukraine has biolabs.

Now, what Carlson is doing in the segment is taking a statement from Victoria Nuland, the U.S. secretary of state, completely out of context. She`s confirming that the U.S. does have biological laboratories in Ukraine, like we have all over the world. Labs that work like the CDC to monitor diseases and to prevent outbreaks. They are not weapons labs.

But look at how far Carlson took that from its actual context. Here`s the clip that I just play for you, originally, in English.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Under oath and an open committee hearing, Victoria Nuland just confirmed that the Russian disinformation they`ve been telling us for days is a lie and the conspiracy theory and crazy and immoral to believe, is in fact totally and completely true.Whoa!


VELSHI: Whoa, indeed.

What Carlson is saying there is not true. There are no biological weapons labs in Ukraine, let alone bioweapon labs funded by the U.S.

But we now know, thanks to reporting out of "Mother Jones", that Tucker Carlson show fall so in line with the fake narrative the Kremlin is trying to push, that the Kremlin actually sent out a memo to Russian media outlets instructing them to literally play more of it. Quote, it is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, end quote. Whoa.

It`s deeply alarming watching Russians and Chinese control state media go all in on this fake biolabs story. It`s a level of propaganda coordination that we have never seen before between those two nations. And it`s all the more alarming now that U.S. officials are warning that all this talk about these Ukrainian bioweapons labs might be a pretext for Russia using chemical or biological weapons of their own in Ukraine. That`s a huge concern given all of the allegations of war crimes that have already been committed.

We also have this new and honestly hard to believe concern at home in the United States, because U.S. conservative media has become, at best, a useful idiot for Russian propaganda. Tucker Carlson is the most visible piece of that, but he is just the tip of the iceberg. The larger piece of all of this conspiracy theory is coming from the underbelly of the Internet, a place that most of us do our best not to spend time and. I hope you don`t, I certainly don`t.

But luckily, we have NBC senior reporter Ben Collins who is willing to spend a ton of time in the dark, we are at corners of the Internet for us.

Joining us now, Ben Collins, NBC News senior reporter. He covers what he calls the dystopia beat.

Ben, thank you for being with us tonight.

This one is deeply alarming. You have covered a lot of garbage on the Internet, but this one is alarming because you have described how these things start on the underbelly of the Internet, they work their way up to Fox News, and then they spread out, now being used by the Russians and the Chinese to justify some things that they are doing, or might do in Ukraine.

BEN COLLINS, NBC NEWS SENIOR REPORTER: Yeah, I want to be very clear about this. The specific conspiracy theory started in the English speaking American far-right. On a website called Gab eight days before the invasion. There was a user that posted the biolabs, they said, all of Ukraine that was being used in their eyes to build bioweapons.

Now these are research facilities, they are not creating by weapons. But it fit into that larger narrative and it made sense in the far right, that Anthony Fauci is building bioweapons and releasing them throughout the world to create the coronavirus. Now, all of that stuff, and made a lot of sense.

The problem is that Russians hadn`t really thought of this conspiracy theory before the invasion. You know, before the invasion, didn`t talk about it at all. Until the 24th, the day they invaded Ukraine, the American far-right seized on this biolabs conspiracy theory.

In fact, you know, today, they weren`t really taking into this denazification narrative, so they turned on Vladimir Putin on the far-right and the QAnon spaces as well.

But this biolabs conspiracy switched everything around. In the last week, they have turned back to being effectively pro Vladimir Putin and QAnon and pro-Trump spaces, and then, Russian propaganda took that American propaganda that was created in these far-right spaces, in QAnon forums and on Gab, and made it their own.

VELSHI: Let`s talk about -- remind us of the theories that COVID-19 was deliberately started in a lab and spread out. Does this start and live in those kinds of places?


COLLINS: Yeah, that account was an anti-vax account. You know, that`s the remaining legacy of the anti-vax spaces on the Internet. They are conforming to be part of the broader global far-right to push these conspiracy theories against the Bidens, against Anthony Fauci, and against what they call the medical establishment all throughout the world.

The global far-right has coalesced around that. And it works for Russia, to. In fact, the TASS, the Russian news agency, you don`t pose anything about biological weapons attacks that were created in Ukraine in the run- up, even one month before the invasion in Ukraine. But on Thursday and Friday, they posted 24 separate articles about what they call biological weapons in Ukraine.

This was -- this has become their pretext for this war, and it stemmed from the American anti-vax committees, and the American QAnon communities.

VELSHI: We`ve seen Fox News and their personalities good minds and very unusual things prior to this war. This trucker protests in Canada, something that was egged on by far-right media, and including Fox News.

At some point, when the Russians, the Russian government telling state media to quote and continue to use clips from Tucker Carlson and Fox News, those folks have some response that? Are they out there saying, hey, hold on, this is not meant to be stuff that goes into Russian propaganda?

COLLINS: Not yet, not that we`ve heard. However, I will say, there`s going to be a line at some point between the real reporters who are in Ukraine getting hurt. There was an injured reporter from Fox News in Ukraine today. And the people who are aligning with the crisis, and people who are saying, this invasion is justified, or that this invasion isn`t really happening at all, which is a, choose your own adventure that`s happening from Russian propaganda right now.

So, eventually, appreciate those reporters who are in these cities getting shelled and watching`s children die on the street will want to step up and tell their colleague over at Fox News and this cabin in Maine that maybe this is real or that he wants the lead on tells audience.

VELSHI: This would be a good night to do it, given that the State Department reporter for Fox News has been injured by shelling in Russia, in Ukraine, as you say.

Ben, thanks very much for your reporting. Ben Collins, NBC News senior reporter, appreciate your time as always.

It is getting difficult, by the way, to protest the war if you live in Russia, now that Vladimir Putin has made it illegal to even call it a war. But some poster board or creative use of the Internet can make anything possible. We`re going to tell you more about that in a minute.

Stay with us.



VELSHI: In Russia, viewers who tuned into tonight`s even newscast of the country`s largest state run broadcast news channel saw this on their screens. That sign under "no war" reads, "stop the war. Don`t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here."

The woman holding that sign reportedly chanted, "Stop the war. No to war."

Now, the state run network quickly caught the footage and the woman who is reportedly an editor at the network and said in a prerecorded message she`s ashamed to work for the Kremlin propaganda station was quickly arrested.

And she knew she would be arrested, because ten days ago, Russia passed an implemented a new law that says anyone who refers to, quote, special military operation in Ukraine as a war or an invasion could get up to 15 years in prison.

In the past several days, Putin has gotten even more extreme lengths to cut off Russia from the rest of the world. You cannot access Facebook or Instagram. There`s restricted access to Twitter.

Russia-controlled media calls reports about the war fake news. And if you`re in Russia, well, you will not see photos of innocent women and children who have just been slaughtered. You will not see this tragic image of a woman being evacuated from a maternity hospital that was bombed last week in Mariupol. We learned today that the woman and her baby did not make it. But you are shielded from that in Russia.

If you somehow did see those images in Russia, and decided that you stand against that destruction, if you dare to take to the streets and protest the invasion, you will be put in prison. It has been reported that nearly 15,000 people have been arrested in Russia since February 24th with a mere crying of protesting.

Just this weekend, this person was arrested for holding up a blank protest sign. Over 800 people were arrested just this weekend. Now, some people from across the globe are trying to get around that information chokehold to get a message up to the people of Russia to deliver them the truth.

They are getting awfully creative. An online campaign giving information to Russia led people to flood Google and trip adviser reviews of restaurants in Russia. One person reviewed a Russian restaurant in Moscow saying, quote, your government is lying to you about the conflict in Ukraine. It is not a rescue operation. There are no Nazis there.

In Norway, a computer expert launched a website that has led thousands of people to volunteer their time and send millions of spam emails to Russians urging them to oppose the war. The website allows users to get around Russia`s strict online censorship, restrictions in an effort to get the truth out there.

Efforts to censor and use misinformation to block Russians from learning what Putin is truly doing are picking up steam.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.