IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The ReidOut, 2/28/22

Guests: Inna Suvson, Nayyera Haq, William Taylor


Russia-Ukraine peace talks fail to produce cease-fire. Russia making slow progress in Ukraine invasion. Putin puts Russian nuclear forces on high alert. Continued Russian shelling reported in Ukraine.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ll stand until the end.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): We followed volunteers who brought the fire bombs in wheelbarrows to nearby checkpoints, men by Ukrainian veterans, and anyone else with the gun and who`s trusted in the neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am living here, this is my home. All people in this district will save it.

ENGEL: Many Ukrainians are staying, determined to die fighting rather than loss their nation.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Our thanks to Richard Engel. That does it for us. I`m going to toss it over to Ali Velshi who is in for Joy. Hi, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: All right. Good to see you. Have yourself an excellent evening. And good evening to all of you. I am Ali Velshi in for Joy Reid. And we begin THE REIDOUT tonight with the fight for Ukraine, which is going to continue into its sixth day tonight after a first round of so-called peace talks concluded this morning.

Now, those talks were held at Ukraine`s border with Belarus and they yielded no breakthroughs. While President Zelenskyy sent high level officials to negotiate in good faith, the Russian delegation was led by Vladimir Putin`s, quote, adviser on culture, a choice junior enough that may indicate his little interest in ending the siege.

In a speech late today, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine criticized the talks saying they were conducted against the background of bombardment. He accused Russia of war crimes, calling for the destruction of their economy and for their removal from the United Nations Security Council, which has a rotating chair. Russia is the chair of it at the moment, ironically.

Meanwhile, Russia`s currency more unstable than ever thanks to crimpling new sanctions. The European Union is preparing a massive delivery of weapons to Ukraine. They closed Europe`s airspace to all Russian aircraft, as have other countries.

But Putin is not only isolated on the world stage, he`s humiliated on the actual battlefield. Think about this. 75 percent of the forces that he staged around Ukraine, on the borders of Ukraine, are now inside the country and the shelling continues. But despite Russia`s vast military superiority to Ukraine, Russia has somehow been unable to take and hold any major cities after five days of fighting. They still haven`t gained control of Ukraine`s airspace. Their advance has been plagued by logistical failures, broken supply lines, delays but it may be attributed to something else, far stiffer resistance than anyone expected.

In addition to the bravery of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, we`ve seen powerful images posted to social media showcasing the courage of ordinary Ukrainian people, including video of people physically blocking tanks with their bodies.

There are signs that of some of Russia soldiers didn`t even know they were actually headed to war. According to an expert with the German Marshall Fund, quote, soldiers captured during the invasion have told interviewers that they believed they were taking part in exercises, end quote, which, as you recall, is what the Kremlin was telling everyone. She said, quote, many of them, if not most of them, say they`ve not been informed by their leadership why and where they are going, end quote.

To that point, take a look at this recent video showing a Ukrainian resident mocking a Russian soldier whose tank reportedly ran out of gas.










VELSHI: I asked the whole column of people like you, no one knows where they`re going. The Russian soldier didn`t appear to have any idea where he was going, another indication that Putin`s forces may not have not been as prepared for this conflict as Putin wanted them to think.

Meanwhile by raising the specter of nuclear war, two times in a week, by the way, but he escalated it yesterday, Putin is further alienating himself from the world at large. This morning, Ukraine`s ambassador to the United Nations responded to that threat with some blunt words for the Russian autocrat. Listen to him.


SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, UKRAINE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: If he wants to kill himself, he doesn`t need to use nuclear arsenal. He has to do what the guy in Berlin did in the bunker in May 1945.


VELSHI: The guy in the bunker in Berlin, he`s talking about Hitler.

Now, reporting -- new reporting now indicates that Putin may escalate his attacks further in an attempt to break Ukraine`s momentum.


We`re already seeing increase Russian shelling in some residential neighborhoods in Kharkiv, which is the country`s second largest city, it`s in Eastern Ukraine. A senior defense official today said that frustration on the battle field could lead to a more aggressive approach by the Russians.

Satellite imagery is now showing a 17-mile long convoy of Russian vehicles, tanks and artillery 15 miles from Ukraine`s capital of Kyiv as of this morning.

Joining me now is NBC News Correspondent Erin McLaughlin, she`s in Lviv, in Western Ukraine, she was in Kyiv, and NBC News Senior International Keir Simmons reporting from Moscow. Good evening to both of you, good morning to you.

Erin, let`s start with you in Lviv. Many people in Ukraine have moved west, some of them have stopped where you are in cities in western Ukraine. Others just kept on going to the Polish border. The polls saying in excess of about half a million people, I believe, have now crossed over.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That`s right. And Ukrainians that I`ve been speaking to here in Lviv are absolutely traumatized. I was speaking to one woman at a shelter here. She was from Belarus originally, was living in Odessa and fled the city with her husband and she was incredibly concerned, not only for her own safety but also for the safety of her mother living in Belarus, describing the agony that her mother was facing as she had to watch Russian forces fire missiles from Belarus in the direction of her daughter. It`s those kind of traumatic scenes that I`m hearing from so many Ukrainians.

Now, today, in speaking to people here, they were extraordinary concerned with the situation in Kharkiv. It`s that city in the northeastern eastern section of the country, the second largest city which was subject to what Ukrainians alleged were seemingly indiscriminate artillery fire, grad rockets raining down on the center of the city, striking homes. According to the Kharkiv mayor, 80 homes were flattened by Russian forces, nine civilians killed including three children.

And it`s the civilian toll that is so concerning here with the international criminal court opening up a case, an investigation into possible war crimes by the Russians during this invasion. It was something President Zelenskyy noted during his address that he posted on his telegram account earlier this evening, calling on the international community to strip Russia of the U.N. Security Council seat, also calling into question the negotiations that are now going on between the Russian delegation and the Ukrainian delegation in Belarus, saying how can there be negotiations when one side is shelling the other. Ali?

VELSHI: Erin, stand by. Keir Simmons has for us in Moscow. Keir, one of the things we`ve been commenting within the last few days is the degree U.S. intelligence about what was going to happen turned out to be very accurate and it was the basis on which the U.S. and the European Union and NATO were acting. Even Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not believe some of that intelligence.

But one of the pieces that was reported is that the Russians were going to go for Kyiv, the capital city, and would be able to take it in a matter of days, that if whatever Russia wanted out of Ukraine because of its military superiority, it was going to be able to achieve. That has not happened right now. How is that reverberating in Russia?

KEIR SIMMONS, MSNBC SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s not reverberating well. People are noticing because despite what is said on Russian television, Russian state television, which certain aspects of the population was particularly, for example, older generations, so they have a -- they`re getting different perspective. Many people of course, are able to talk to people in Ukraine.

But, you know, Ali, I had an opportunity to listen to a briefing today from western officials and it really highlighted that, in the view of western officials, Russian intelligence was bad.

Now, the Pentagon authority said that Russia is facing more resistance than it thought. Here is what western officials said today. They said that Vladimir Putin`s pronouncements in an essay he wrote last year, and in multiple speeches, that Ukraine and Russia were brothers and that Ukrainians would welcome Russians with open arms, that he really believe that so much so that he baked it into the Russian strategy.

So, remember, President Putin is absolutely in charge. He`s the commander. He made the plans. He baked that in. The fact that hasn`t happened has surprised everyone in the Kremlin including President Putin himself.

Here is another aspect that we learned in the past few days, Ali, which is really fascinating and goes to the same point, this pronouncement by President Putin that the nuclear forces will be put on higher alert.


He said that he did that because of aggressive comments by NATO. Now, it appears that a speech made by the U.K. defense minister was shown on Russian television and that`s what, if you`d like, wound President Putin up.

So, President Putin appears to have been watching Russian television, seen something he didn`t like and made an announcement of Russian foreign policy. I`ll let you fill in the blanks for what other former president that sounds like.

VELSHI: Yes, no kidding. Thanks to both of you. We appreciate your reporting. It`s the middle of the night for you at 2:00 A.M., I believe, in Lviv, 3:00 A.M. in Moscow. Please stay safe, both of you, Erin McLaughlin and Keir Simmons.

I`m joined now by Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and a former Deputy Minister of Education and Science. Ms. Sovsun, thank you for being with us today.

Your story is like so many ordinary Ukrainians. You have another job. You are a parliamentarian but you are now weapons trained. You are now in your home with a weapon in case you have to defend your city against invading Russians. I suspect this is not a position you have ever expected to find yourself in.

INNA SOVSUN, MEMBER OF UKRIANIAN PARLIAMENT: That is so much true. Just for the background, I am a university professor. That is what I was doing in life and that is what I was trained to do. And right now, I do have a gun. I haven`t used it as of yet. But it is here and I go to sleep next to the gun, just like so many other Ukrainians right now. And I also have -- my boyfriend is with the army, my dad joined the territorial defense, I had to make sure to relocate my son to the west of Ukraine to make sure that he is safe and I can stay here in Ukraine and continue my work as a member of parliamentarian and not worry about his safety every minute.

So, I think that is just the story, it was just so typical of so many Ukrainians right now. And because of this atrocious war that Putin launched in Ukraine, is that we are in this position right now. So, we just want that to stop. We just want to go home. I`m actually not at my home right now. I`m in the wardrobe at my friend`s place because that is the only place where I can turn on the light and feel safe without getting lights into the windows.

VELSHI: Correct, yes, it`s the middle of the night, you`ve got a light on in your window. Tell me about your father. You said your father is part of the territorial defense. What is that and what is your father`s role and what got him into this?

SUVSON: So, the territorial defense, those units of volunteers who are signing up for protecting a specific territory. And I will tell the truth, the only time I actually cried during the five days was the first day when I saw the huge lines in the military recruitment office of people signing up for the territorial defense.

As of yesterday, over 100,000 people signed up for territorial defense. They are being provided with weapons. We need more protective gear and training for them and so did my dad, actually. It was quite unexpectedly for myself, because the first day of war, he took my mom to the west of Ukraine to make sure that she would be safe, but the next day, my mom called me and said like, you know, dad is coming back home and I called him, and I said, dad, why are you coming?

And he was like seriously, this is the quote, he said, you know, I have to go back to protect the capital of Ukraine, the city of Kyiv. And I said dad, you`re 61 years old. Only he`s an Afghan war veteran, so he has experience defense, but he has techniques that the government works very fast. And he told me, well, if I don`t work very fast I will fall, but I will defend the capital.

So, he is now doing some extremely dangerous work because that is being covered by the military, but he`s patrolling the territory, just like so many other people, because what Russians did and that is something, some of the biggest dangers inside Kyiv right now, because they haven`t entered the city but they did infiltrate many groups of people who are working around the city.

They start shooting randomly at people or they have set targets for missile attacks so those territorial defense unit, they are trying to patrol and find officials, guys, and try to make sure that they`re not a threat anymore, that they`re doing a great job, actually.

And as you were reporting, this level of resistance, it`s just amazing. I expected Ukrainians to resist but now I`m just in love with every single one of them regardless of their political affiliation. I believe we would have so many differences once we start this, speaking after the victory but right now it`s just, everyone is so much involved.


And what is important to understand was Putin was drawing this narrative that he`s coming to free Russian-speakers in Ukraine but Russian speakers are fighting as hard against him and against his invasion, as Ukrainian- speakers (INAUDIBLE). That is how he is right now.

VELSHI: Wow. That story about your dad, who has difficulty walking, who says he will crawl, who returned to Kyiv after taking your mother to the west, we`re hearing stories like this every day. Thank you for sharing this with us. Ukrainian Parliament Member Inna Suvson has returned and staying in Kyiv to help defend the country.

Up next on THE REIDOUT, the global condemnation of Russia is almost universal and a new round of sanctions have left the Russian economy in tatters. It appears that Putin made several huge miscalculations and all he has left are provocative nuclear threats. The question, though, is, is he bluffing or is he coming unhinged?

Plus, a key test tomorrow for the Republican Party as President Biden delivers the state of the union address. Can Republicans put aside the trolling and ranker and show some American unity against the foreign adversary?

And he`s Ukraine`s David to Russia`s goliath. This one-time comedian nobody is laughing at anymore, the remarkable journey of Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

THE REIDOUT continues after this.



VELSHI: The world is showing a mostly united front against Russia`s aggression in Ukraine, with the entire United Nations holding an emergency session today.

Now, just so you understand, this is only the 10th time that that`s happened since 1950.


BARBARA WOODWARD, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We gather in the General Assembly to stand against Russia`s illegal attack on Ukraine.

OLOF SKOOG, EUROPEAN UNION AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We condemn in the strongest possible terms the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

MARTIN KIMANI, KENYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We are greatly concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is currently being deliberately inflicted upon Ukraine does not allow us to remain silent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is illegal. It is illegitimate, and it is unacceptable.


VELSHI: Now, that seemed pretty universal, except for this. There was one notable exception, China, which said it didn`t support a Cold War mentality, but that Russia had -- quote -- "legitimate security concerns."

Now, putting that aside, it`s not just diplomatic rhetoric coming from world leaders. They are, in fact, taking real action. In what might be its biggest financial hit yet, the United States is sanctioning Russia`s Central Bank, like the Fed, effectively removing Russia`s ability to trade in U.S. dollars as a government.

Switzerland is foregoing its traditional neutrality, adopting the E.U. sanctions against Russia, including the freezing of Russian assets in Swiss banks. And Germany is sending weapons to Ukraine, in a hugely historic move, reversing its policy of never sending weapons to conflict zones.

As the Associated Press points out: "Within days, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved what remained out of the grasp of the European Union for many decades, to jointly buy and send weapons to a war zone and restored something that was broken for years, transatlantic unity."

I`m joined now by Nayyera Haq, host of "The World Tonight" on BNC News, former White House senior director under President Obama and former senior adviser at the State Department.

Nayyera, great to see you. Thank you for being with us.

I have to ask you about what it is that has made Vladimir Putin -- sort of backed him into this corner, in which he is talking about nuclear warfare. Is it the unity with which he`s been faced by NATO or by Western allies or by the G7? Is it the sanctions? Something has put him over the top.


And it`s based on the fact that for, as far back as 2014, Putin was getting away with everything. He rolled into Crimea, annexed it, and he got kicked out of the G8 club. It turned into the G7. Minimal sanctions at that time.

He is supported with barrel bombs, some of the most horrific weapons, the war in Syria, creating a refugee crisis that overwhelmed Europe at the time. All of that can be placed at the feet of Russia. So, fast-forward. He has the Trump administration, where NATO has been undermined, the transatlantic alliance seems to be broken. He thought his work was done for him.

Biden comes in, talks about this existential crisis between democracy, autocracy, but Putin doesn`t necessarily think that Biden or the world is going to stand up to him, because they hadn`t before. And what we`re seeing now is 130 countries working in unity to cripple the Russian economy and hold Putin and his cronies directly responsible.

VELSHI: What`s different this time, Nayyera? Because, as you mentioned, Russia did this in 2014 in Crimea, right after the Ukrainians had protested and thrown out their own government because they didn`t like them.

They did it in Georgia in 2008. Other countries have invaded other countries. The U.N. always says, this isn`t allowed, we don`t do it.

Why, all of a sudden, is there this global unity and pressure to stop Russia?

HAQ: Well, we can point to the first Gulf War, in which there was a coalition of the willing who did push Saddam Hussein back towards his borders after the invasion of Ukraine. So there is precedent for this.


But the focus on Russia, in particular, probably coming off of the fact that the United States has been a target for Russian disinformation, for election interference, just as recently as this past summer, for a cyberattack on our Colonial Pipeline.

So Russia -- the threat of Russia has only increased and become more severe for the American public. Biden also has framed his entire foreign policy agenda around this axis of democracy vs. autocracy. And, of course, we do see that rhetoric of white supremacy that has also aligned many people with Putin. And folks do think that this is an opportunity to stand up for this idea of democracy on the world stage.

And credit where it`s due, Ali. President Biden has known Putin for more than 20 years and engaged with him on the world stage. So, as president, he`s also learning from the lessons and potentially the mistakes made when he was vice president or in the Senate.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about a Quinnipiac poll that came out today that said 63 percent of Americans are concerned that Russia may use nuclear weapons if NATO tries to interfere with the invasion; 70 percent of Americans -- you can`t get 70 percent of people to agree on anything in this country -- 70 percent say American troops should get involved if Russia invades a NATO country.

Now, obviously, Ukraine is not a NATO country. But Lithuania and Poland, in particular, and other NATO countries have legitimate and real fears that Russia will roll over and come into their countries.

Tell me how to think about this.

HAQ: Well, President Biden said this himself last week that he does not think that Putin is going to stop at Ukraine.

So, what can be done right now to make him suffer for just this incursion and this attack on Ukraine to then prevent him from his visions of expanding far?

But, that said, Putin, according to multiple reports, is not the same person he was multiple years ago, claims of him becoming irrational, him overreacting. He in COVID has been in a really small circle, placed several dozen feet away on a table from his own adviser. So he is not seeing the reality of the rest of us are.

Having a crippled economy and massive protests in his country may prompt him to only act out even further. But, at the moment, the plan is to use all of these non-military tools to try to keep this nuclear-armed Russia, a threat we saw in the `80s, a threat that Ronald Reagan railed against, that the current Republican Party is not holding firm against, so everyone trying to keep that eventuality at bay.

VELSHI: Nayyera, it is great to see you again. Thank you for joining us tonight, Nayyera Haq.

Still ahead: How long will ordinary Russians put up with the steep price that they`re paying for Putin`s aggression? And what`s Putin`s endgame in all of this?

We will be right back.



VELSHI: Tonight, the Western world`s financial grip on Russia continues to tighten. The United States and the E.U. imposed new measures, effectively cutting Russia off from its sizable war chest that it set aside for this very situation.

The move blocks all people in the United States and the E.U., all people and businesses, from trading with Russia`s Central Bank. The restrictions are a dramatic escalation, choking off Russia from the rest of the world and shaking the very foundations of its economy.

In a tacit acknowledgment of just how bad things have gotten, in a bizarre setting -- take a look at this picture. Take a look at where he is and where everybody else is. Putin summoned his economic advisers to the Kremlin and signed a decree on foreign currency, in a bid to stabilize the ruble. It isn`t working, though.

Russians are lining up to withdraw cash from banks, something that Putin is sure to be worried about, because this is eerily reminiscent of similar scenes during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The financial sanctions have hit a nerve with Putin, who for a second day in a row now raised the specter of nuclear war and denounced the U.S. and its allies as an empire of lies.

And in another telling sign, Russian telecom regulators partially restricted the country`s access to Facebook. This comes as Russian anti-war activists continue to take to the streets to protest Russia`s invasion of Ukraine. That comes at a very high cost, by the way, in Russia. If you get arrested for protesting the government in Russia, it`s career-ending.

Joining me now is the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor. He`s the vice president for Russia and Europe at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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

What does success look like for Vladimir Putin here? It`s become very confusing, because, first, he said this was about NATO backing him into a corner. Then he said it was about protecting Russians inside of Ukraine. Then he said it`s about the denazification of Ukraine, that Ukraine is really not a country.

It`s very hard to go into a war without a very clear focus.


He has no justification for this war, though he tried to manufacture one. He tried to lure the Ukrainians into making a mistake and provoked -- and being provoked, and they didn`t. They were disciplined.

So you have got the right question, Ali. What is he after? My sense is -- who knows what`s really in his head, but my sense is what he has said is Ukraine. He wants Ukraine. He wants to be the great Russian leader who brings back Ukraine into the Russian world, into the Russian empire, into the former Soviet Union space.

And nothing will do until he has full control over Ukraine, one way or the other. He tried, Ali, as we know, for a long time. He thought that maybe the Minsk group, the Minsk process through Donetsk would give him this control. It didn`t. It failed.

The Ukrainians pushed back hard. The Germans and the French were not willing to push on the Ukrainians, much to the Russians` frustration. So now he`s trying something more dramatic. He hoped that he could -- he could bluff and blunder -- bluster and intimidate President Zelenskyy into kind of caving and coming back into the fold.

No, President Zelenskyy made it very clear that he`s not coming back in. He`s standing firm. He`s not going to leave Ukraine. He`s not going to leave Kyiv. President Zelenskyy is just standing up to President Putin, who is really focused on Ukraine.


VELSHI: One of the arguments that Vladimir Putin made and maybe believed is that Ukraine was a troubled place.

It has gone through revolutions. It is uncertain. It -- corruption runs deep in that country. There`s no question that all of those things are true. And Vladimir Putin seemed to think that was going to work, that was going to somehow help him take over Ukraine, a weak country that nobody would actually come to the defense of.

Something has happened though. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who, two weeks ago, everybody thought was in over his head dealing with the world`s master manipulator, has somehow rallied regular Ukrainians. We talk to them every hour on our shows here, people who`ve got a gun, and they`re ready to fight for the country.

That was not an expected outcome.

TAYLOR: That was not an expected outcome by most of the world.

I will tell you, so I met Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he was first elected. I was there for about seven months while he was new in office. We had several good conversations. I saw him again three weeks ago in his office. He was determined, and he was resolute. He was calm, some people said too calm. But he was very firm against President Putin`s demands and his saber- rattling and his attempt to intimidate.

So, President Zelenskyy has stood up. And you`re right. You`re right, Ali. He has led his country. He has gotten his whole country behind him. I also talked to some good friends of mine that are still there, that one fellow took his wife and children out to the western part of the country, where his father lived, and then he turned back around and went back to Kyiv, picked up his weapon, and is now very proud to be working for President Zelenskyy.

He`s very proud of President Zelenskyy. So this is something that has emerged over the past month or two that is -- that is impressive to see.

VELSHI: It is. It is remarkable to imagine people taking up arms.

The math on this simply does not work for Ukrainians. Everything in the military, the Russians have more of, and they`re better trained. Russians have found themselves mired in wars, in occupations of countries, including Afghanistan, that didn`t work for them. And when body bags started coming back, the Russian population turned against them.

Putin is different. He has a harder grip on Russia. Protesting is very costly in Russia, and yet we are seeing it happen. We`re seeing journalists writing letters to say, this is inappropriate. We see people getting arrested.

There is real -- it`s not big by -- in terms of percentages of Russians, but something`s happening in Russia.

TAYLOR: Oh, you`re exactly right. Something is happening, not just journalists.

About three, four weeks ago, a very senior retired general, a hardcore general in the Russians` services, wrote a letter, same kind of thing, saying, Mr. Putin, Mr. President, don`t do this. Don`t invade.

This was before the invasion. And this general said, if you do, you could create a backlash among Russians. And he even used the word uprising. So this is something that senior people, experienced people are very worried about. And exactly what you say, Ali, is the economic challenge that all these sanctions are putting on and all these people going to pull their money out.

But it`s going to get even worse when the Russian soldiers come back to be buried in towns and villages across the -- across the country. And families are going to ask, why are our sons and daughters and brothers, why are they being killed? Why are they being killed?


TAYLOR: This is going to be -- this is going to be flammable. This is going to be inflammable.

VELSHI: We`re already hearing stories about families that didn`t know what their kids in the army were going to do. Even those kids in the army didn`t know what they were going to do. And now some of them are being killed.

Ambassador, good to see you. Thank you for being with us tonight, Ambassador William Taylor.

Up next: President Biden prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tomorrow night. Can we expect any Republicans to show any support for the president in this time of international crisis, as one usually does? Times aren`t normal.

Stay with us.



VELSHI: Tomorrow night, President Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address.

It comes amid crises, both domestic and global, including the war in Ukraine, economic uncertainty here at home and, of course, coronavirus. The president faces low approval ratings in a series of new polls, but tomorrow`s speech offers him a big opportunity, because, with the entire world on edge, it is a time when President Biden`s decades of experience actually come down to bear.

Politico reports -- quote -- "Biden is uniquely suited for the new role that has been thrust upon him. It was Biden and his team`s patience and close consultation with European allies that has led to the extraordinary unity now on display" -- end quote.

The question is, will he see any of that same unity when it comes to Republicans? The signs aren`t promising. This weekend, Marjorie Taylor Greene appeared as the guest speaker at a conference organized by white nationalists, who literally encouraged a pro-Putin chant, while, over at the clown car that is CPAC, the twice-impeached former president defended his praise of the Russian dictator.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The problem is not that Putin is smart, which, of course, he`s smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb.


VELSHI: This from the man who got impeached for the first time for withholding congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine and shaking down its president.

With me now is David Jolly, former Republican congressman from Florida who`s known longer affiliated with the party. He is an MSNBC political analyst


And he`s entirely the wrong guy to have this conversation with, David, because you were never one of those people, right? CPAC used to be a regular conservative conference, which we would often cover. It would have conservative speakers and conservative thinkers.


VELSHI: It would often push toward further right than the mainstream of conservative thought, but it was normal.

Now it`s a clown car. It`s ridiculous. It has the pizza guy. It has the pillow guy. It has Kyle Rittenhouse. It`s got Donald Trump saying crazy stuff. It`s got people cheering for Putin.


VELSHI: What is going on?

JOLLY: Well, I think it reflects the state of the party. It`s a lot of crazy and a little conservative, right?

And so you did hear some conservative themes, but they were minimal. They were drowned out by the way Donald Trump has kind of smashed the GOP orthodoxy of the past and recast the party and the movement in his image. And so CPAC is kind of a trailing indicator to all things Donald Trump.

And even the speakers you see have to fit within that Trump lane, or they`re not invited. CPAC is not a conservative con fest anymore. In fact, I think Matt Schlapp, the CPAC director, has said they don`t even call themselves conservatives anymore. And I think the world would agree.

VELSHI: The reason I say -- I always enjoy speaking to you. The reason I say you`re the wrong guy to talk about this is because you were never in that weird space.

I remember a time when Republicans were about national security and global security and the threat that the Soviet Union posed and the threat that post-Soviet Russia posed.


VELSHI: How does that get lost?


VELSHI: I entirely understand that there are people who just don`t want to see any success from Joe Biden whatsoever.

But how does the idea that an expansionist does Russia is talking about nuclear weaponry get lost on some Republicans?

JOLLY: Look, we`re now 10 years into this refashioning of the GOP.

And we can talk about ideology. We can talk about cult of personality. I think the greatest casualty of the last 10 years for the GOP is that it`s no longer a serious party. And what I mean by that is, look, a serious party and a serious Congress, honestly, regardless of Republican or Democratic, in the initial days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, would have said in concert, together, that Congress stands ready to provide Joe Biden and the Western alliance every resource that is needed to stop the aggression we`re seeing from Russia.

That`s it. We`re here to do our job to provide resources to protect the security of the world.

That`s not today`s Republican Party. It is no longer a serious party. And I say that with a lot of lament, not simply conjecture.


There are -- there`s some hope. Marco Rubio tweeted today -- and he`s pretty predictable on this stuff. But he said: "Growing signs Putin has ordered a medieval siege of Kyiv, cut a city of millions off from food, fuel, power, communication, and supplies, and then bomb and starve the government into submission. We need to start thinking about what we can and are willing to do to prevent such a barbaric crime."


VELSHI: Now, again, this is in keeping with, generally speaking, Marco Rubio`s hawkish thinking about military affairs.

Does he have enough sway? Do people -- are there enough Republicans?


VELSHI: Are we going to see tomorrow night, are we going to see Republicans applaud President Biden for putting together this coalition to go after Russia?

JOLLY: No, because I will also point out Marco Rubio just said he`s not even going to attend tomorrow night over protests over the COVID testing requirements, which also suggests that a petty grievance between one of the leaders of Senate Intel and the president of the United States is going to interfere with such a coalition.

I think the unity you will see from Republicans tomorrow is around support for Ukraine, but not support for Joe Biden. And that`s going to be the nuance. When Joe Biden says to the world tomorrow night, the people of America stand with Ukraine, you will see almost unanimous applause.

But when he asks for a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to stand with Joe Biden as the leader among this coalition of the West, or one of the leaders, that`s where you will see the public dissent that is undermining the authority of the United States on the world stage.

VELSHI: And yet the stuff that Joe Biden has done in the last couple of months having to do with Ukraine is reminiscent of George H.W. Bush. It`s reminiscent of other American presidents who have said, in the face of a global threat, America will take a leadership role.


VELSHI: He does not seem, either in polling or in the Republican Party, for the moment to be getting any credit for that.


And I think you will see quietly, right -- nobody, even in the Republican Party that`s responsible, wants to give Joe Biden credit, because they`re all political narcissists. But I think you will see Congress, a number of leading Republicans, respond affirmatively to Biden`s request for, I believe, $7 billion in new assistance to Ukraine, both military and non- military.

I think the interesting question, though -- and this is where -- if we truly had a serious conversation about this -- is it time for the United States and the West to establish and expand a more permanent presence in places like Poland? And, understand, we have standing installations in Germany, Japan, other places around the world.


JOLLY: I`m not suggesting armed conflict with the Russians.


JOLLY: But what we were unwilling to do in Ukraine, in large part because they`re not a NATO member, are we willing to do to protect NATO, the eastern flank of NATO?

I think we need to do that.

VELSHI: Well, the Poles and the Lithuanians in particular would be very interested in that. They are truly concerned that an expansionist Russia will roll into a NATO country. And even if they`re NATO members, they`re worried it`ll happen.

David, good to see you. You know the truth. I always enjoy talking to you. So I`m very pleased that you would join me tonight with your analysis and your experience, David Jolly.

All right, from comedian, to president, to a global champion for democracy, how Volodymyr Zelenskyy is inspiring millions around the world with his courage and his commitment.

We will be right back.


VELSHI: At first, even supporters of the Ukrainian president worried that he was in way over his head as Putin`s troops descended upon Kyiv.

Well, those days are over. Volodymyr Zelenskyy`s decision to remain in his country, in its besieged capital, has catapulted him into a global hero and a cultural icon.

What has emerged is the story of good vs. evil, the future vs. then, on one side, Zelenskyy, an actor who campaigned for president primarily on social media, and who`s now posting strong, defiant videos to social media to rally his country and the world against the president of Russia.


On the other end, Putin, the isolated villain of the story, isolated -- take a look at this picture again -- his forces bogged down, holding bitterly on to a past that only he and his cronies want.

"The L.A. Times" writes: "Zelenskyy speaks to a modern Europe seeking to move beyond the nationalist tendencies that ignited two World Wars."

His message is clear, which is why one Ukrainian journalist wrote in "The Washington Post": "I did not vote for Ukraine`s president. But his courage has changed my mind and inspired millions. Captain Ukraine, the first true president of Ukraine, a hero, a leader, I would have never thought I would see people use these terms to refer to Volodymyr Zelenskyy."

Joining me now is MSNBC`s counterterrorism and intelligence analyst, Malcolm Nance. He`s the author of the upcoming book "They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists, and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency."

Malcolm, you have spent a good amount of time in recent days in Ukraine. And you gave me some sense that this was happening. You were telling me about people who were preparing to fight. And it seemed ridiculous, frankly, the idea that there would be individual people with no weapons training, with no military training like yourself who are going to go into war against the massive Russian army.

And, suddenly, that`s what they did.

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC COUNTERTERRORISM AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: And it was fascinating, because, for weeks out of the month that I spent there on the ground, analyzing the ground order of battle, and the Ukrainian army, the civilians and the civilian government just took an attitude that it`s not going to happen.

However, I also got a tone out of them that made them believe, well, if it does happen, we`re going to fight.

So, what you have seen here is the full circle of them not in denial, but certainly hoping that the better angels of Vladimir Putin, which we see he has none, would actually come and take hold. They now are in fight mode.

And I like to use this quote. It is not the size of the dog in the fight. It`s the size of the fight in the dog. And they are proving they have a lot of fight.

VELSHI: What is that -- what`s the relationship between the size of the fight in the dog of Ukrainians, ordinary Ukrainians, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy? What`s the connection there?

NANCE: Well, certainly it`s a very unusual character to become president.

I mean, he was a comedian that was playing a character who accidentally become president, right? It`d be like Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" coming and becoming president of the United States, which is not necessarily a bad thing, Jon.

So, for that to take hold, it was this improbable character who showed his true character when the absolute worst came, when the bombardment of the first night...

VELSHI: Right.

NANCE: ... 100 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, airstrikes struck his country.

He went from a shirt and a tie to what he`s wearing right there, into a combat fatigue shirt.


NANCE: And then he went around with his body armor, with his helmet, and defiantly said to Vladimir Putin, who expected him to get on an executive jet and fly away to Poland...

VELSHI: Which he was offered.

NANCE: He said: I`m staying here, I`m going to fight.

VELSHI: He was offered that. He was offered the ability to leave.

The man is 44 years old. He is -- he has grown into his job in a remarkable way in the last week. This is a guy who a few weeks ago wasn`t -- didn`t seem to be taking the threat as seriously as Joe Biden was, thought that maybe the West was overreacting. And it caused people to say, maybe he`s not ready.

And then this has happened. He has transformed into a global leader of sorts in the fight for democracy.

NANCE: And I think the character that he`s showing right here is very typically Ukrainian.

And this is why I have -- when I have been doing my security assessments here in the last few days, I`m one of the few analysts to believe I think the Ukrainians could win this thing. And when I say win, I mean win in the sense that Russia will not receipt -- will not achieve most, if not any, of its strategic objectives.

I think that they, in fact, have so much experience that where the Russians are making inroads, it`s because they want Russia to make those inroads. And the places where they don`t, like the city of Kharkiv, Sumy, and Kyiv, they`re not even doing very well, even though they`re throwing their mass weight behind.

Zelenskyy is the embodiment of that defiant nature. And they are willing to take this country to the edge. This is why you see young women taking AK- 47s and saying: Well, I have never fired one before, but I`m going to now.


NANCE: These women who are filling bottles of Molotov cocktails and saying, I will throw one out my window down an armored personnel carrier.

You cannot beat this attitude.


NANCE: And, granted, we may have to get a logistics chain on them, tail on them to help them.

But how do you beat somebody that cannot be tramped down, whose attitude cannot be broken?

VELSHI: It`s amazing.

You told us this is how it was going to go down. It`s amazing.

Malcolm, thanks again for being with us, Malcolm Nance, as always.

Hey, Joy is back tomorrow night for THE REIDOUT at 7:00, which is followed by special coverage of President Biden`s State of the Union address at 8:00 p.m.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" begins right now.