Russian forces escalate attacks on key cities. 40-mile-long Russian military convoy stalled outside Ukrainian capital. Russian forces take control of nuclear power plant. Ukraine officially requests no-fly zone.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That was one update we wanted to share with you. Thanks as always for spending time with us here on "THE BEAT." I wish you a good and safe weekend. THE REIDOUT is up next with Tiffany Cross filling in. Hi, Tiffany.
TIFFANY CROSS, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Ari, thank you so much and go off and have a great weekend. I`ll pick it up from here. And good evening to everyone at home. I`m Tiffany Cross. As you just Ari say, I`m in for Joy Reid tonight.
We begin THE REIDOUT in Ukraine where the situation on the ground is increasingly dire as Russian forces continue their invasion from the north, east and south. This comes as civilian deaths continue to mount from Russian selling multi-launch rocket systems and air strikes.
Now, Ukrainians in the southern city of Mariupol have been under assault for days as Russia continues to bomb the city knocking out power, water and heating supplies. Now, this prevents residents from fleeing. One regional official warned that the city is on the brink of humanitarian disaster.
Now, with the southern city of Kherson under Russian control, Putin has now set his sights on the city that could be use to stage a ground assault on the major port city of Odessa. That`s according to a senior U.S. defense official. According to Defense Department officials, 92 percent of Russia`s pre-stage military is now inside Ukraine. Now, that`s up to 2 percent from yesterday.
The massive Russian armored column threatening Kyiv for days remain stalled outside the capital. Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby confirmed that reports that the 40-mile long convoy has been halted. this is halted by Ukrainian forces. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We also have indications that the Ukrainians have struck the convoy elsewhere and on their own -- on vehicles.
We do believe that the actions by the Ukrainians have, in fact, stalled that convoy and certainly slowed it down, stopped it in some places but we also think that -- you know, that it`s also of a piece of Russian challenges that they`ve had just in terms of their own physical ground movement, sustainment, logistics. They`re running out of fuel. We still believe in some cases they`re running out of food for their soldiers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROSS: In a call with the U.N. secretary general, the Russian defense minister said the talks with Ukraine have not moved forward.
Now, Vice President Kamala Harris is now scheduled to travel to Poland and Romania next week.
Meanwhile Russian troops have seized, seized the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine. This is the largest in Europe. This is after a middle of the night attack set part of the plant on fire and immediately raised global fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
Today, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the attack and condemn the escalation. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned that the world narrowly, narrowly averted a major disaster. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELED, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night. We all waited to exhale as we watched the horrific situation unfold in real time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROSS: During the meeting, Ukraine`s ambassador urged the Security Council to call for a ban on all flights over Ukrainian air space but Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back, noting a no-fly zone could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe.
In a late night address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visibly angry, slammed NATO for refusing a no fly zone, saying that all the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you.
Now you have to see him to understand the anger. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINE PRESIDENT: (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROSS: Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed reports that Russia has deployed cluster bombs. In a statement, G7 foreign ministers responded saying that those responsible for the indiscriminate assaults on innocent civilians must be held accountable for war crimes.
Let`s get into it. Joining me now, NBC News Correspondent Cal Perry, he`s live in Lviv, Ukraine, and Ben Solomon, Correspondent for in Vice News in Odessa.
I want to start with you, Cal. You`re in Kyiv and I just want to paint the picture for our viewers of what we`ve seen. The scenes that have been coming out of Ukraine have been quite scary. There are scenes that have blanketed our screens with civilian casualties. Three schools were shelled. As I`m sure you well know, we saw one of them with a gaping hall inside of the building, a nuclear power plant, as we just said, under control. Paint the scene for what it`s like in Lviv right now for our viewers.
CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, where I am in the western part of the country, this is a city that`s dealing with a refugee crisis, a city that is reflective of the violence through crowds of people lost, confused, shocked by what they`re seeing in places, like Mariupol, in places like Kyiv, in places in the eastern part of the country.
And in the eastern part of the country, as you`ve laid out, we`re now seeing the Russians surround civilian areas, choke them off and start shelling them, either indiscriminately or targeting civilians, that according the U.S. State Department.
And this is a Russian tactic that we`ve seen. It`s something that people in this country feared was coming and it now seems to have arrived. We saw this in Chechnya in 2000. We saw it in Syria a couple years ago.
And when you listen to the Pentagon briefing, and we hear the discussions about those Russian columns being bogged down and the supply chains then being bogged down and hit, these columns are slowing down but they`re not stopping.
In Mariupol, where I know we have somebody who`s going to talk about this, the city we seems to be chocked off and people can`t leave. And this is a place that does not have power, does not have water, where there`s no heat. And this is what we`re seeing play out across the country. It`s leaving people here wondering frankly if Kyiv is going to be remembered like Aleppo.
And you have to remember in this part of the country where I am, you have men dropping their families off at the border and then returning to the fight, some of them with no military experience, some of them civilians who are not part of this military, and that is who is fighting this war.
You chronicle what NATO is dealing with. Not wanting to start a wider conflict. Well, the reality of that is -- and they`re thinking saving lives across Europe and avoiding wider conflict. But the reality is without a no- fly zone, you have civilians fighting against the Russian army, and neither sides seems to be willing to give in and civilians, as so often the case, are going to pay the heaviest price I think.
CROSS: So, I just want to ask, to make it clear for our viewers, Cal, how far is Lviv from this convoy, this Russian convoy that is alleged have been stalled by Ukrainians?
PERRY: I`m 350 miles from the capital of Kyiv and that convoy is still about 40 kilometers from Kyiv. So, it`s on the other side of the country from where I am. And that`s one of the thing that so unnerving for people who have fled the violence in the east as they come to a place where I am in Lviv. It supposed to be safe. It was supposed to be fallback position for diplomats, for civilians and we have air raid sirens here every day.
Now, we haven`t had an attack here. There hasn`t been any airstrikes but it just kind of is an indication that people in this country, people who didn`t think there would be a war, even a week-and-a-half-ago are now terrified that the entire country will is eventually going to be engulfed in violence, Tiffany.
CROSS: That`s quite a scary scene, Cal.
I want to bring you in, Ben, in Odessa. We`ve seen the protests all across Russia. People have been arrested, risking their lives protesting. Paint the scene what is happening in Odessa this evening.
BEN SOLOMON, VICE NEWS INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Odessa, the situation is much different than many other parts of the country but also very similar. You know, people here are watching this, Kyiv, they`re watching the city of Kharkiv, where bombing is becoming more regular, and they`re kind of waiting for that to come here.
Odessa is an important port city. It`s the city that kind of has one of the biggest ports of the country and the third largest city in the nation. And why it`s so important for Russia to take is both, economically, if they control the port, they have a huge cutoff from the Ukraine government. But also if they take the city, they really control the south of the country. Being able to move forces easily in and out of the water is a big move for them. You know, one could argue that one of the reasons they pushed to take Crimea in 2014 is similar in just kind of being able to control that south.
Now, as Kharkiv is being bombed, as Kyiv is being so like attacked so regularly, you know, a place like Odessa is really preparing. So, when you walk through the streets here, when you talk with people, it`s still calm, people are still going out. Just today, I met somebody who had just come from the dentist. The dentist was still open. But there is kind of an undercurrent of fear.
They`re setting up hedgehogs, which are anti-tank defenses, all around the city. These people are volunteers are all going to the beaches where kids used to play packing these sandbags to distribute all around the city at checkpoints and building up deployments to defense.
So, it`s tense. You can kind of feel that soon these problems will start. But for now, while we`re waiting for them to start, there is still a sense of life has to go on and the preparations have to continue.
CROSS: As you were talking, our viewers were able to see the scenes of people there preparing for an impending battle. Thank you so much, Cal Perry and Ben Solomon. Please stay safe and we`ll check back in with you this hour if there is any breaking news coming from either of you. Thank you so much.
I want to bring in now Naveed Jamali. He`s the Newsweek Editor and former FBI Double Agent and Author of How to Catch a Russian Spy.
Naveed, very happy to have you here this morning. These are very scary scenes that we see coming out of Ukraine.
You know, I`m trying to look at this from President Zelensky`s point, from his perspective and, you know, he`s visibly angry with NATO, as you just saw. And you understand that because it was just two weeks ago when he was standing on the world stage saying, hey, I got 200,000 troops at my border and the world needs to help.
What should we be doing for Ukraine right now? Because I have to tell you, for people who don`t wake up and read eight papers before the sunrise, it kind of looks like the world is just standing by watching as we watch Putin lay waste to these cities where women and children and families live.
NAVEED JAMALI, NEWSWEEK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: You`re absolutely right. It`s a terrible situation. It`s already a human tragedy unfolding and I think President Biden specifically is tasked with a really almost impossible task, and that is to help the people of Ukraine, to support President Zelensky, but also to keep the U.S. and, frankly, NATO out of a war with Russia. You know, this is a real challenge.
We`ve heard a lot about no-fly zones, President Zelensky asked the U.S. and NATO and both refused to no-fly zone. It`s important for you to understand that if we send combat troops while they`re on the ground or within the air, they`re going to come in conflict with Russian forces, and that is undoubtedly going to lead to escalation of war between the two countries. So, we just can`t do that.
But your question about what can be done, and, you know, this is something we`ve reported on quite a bit, we have quite a strong feeling that there is a gray area for covert action. That is to say U.S. military, if you had the CIA, to help Ukraine, not just with weapons but to do things that allow for plausible deniability. And this is perhaps the greatest area where the U.S. and perhaps NATO and other forces can get in.
Look, we`ve seen the Ukrainians use Turkish drones. You never know who`s flying those drones. There are things that can be done. It`s unfortunately -- or I should say, fortunately, we`re not going to necessarily hear about a lot of this stuff because it probably falls under that covert action.
CROSS: Well, you`ve been tweeting a lot about that. I`ve been following your Twitter feed. And you say that there is likely covert engagement from the U.S. going on. Something that you brought up is weapon recovery, as these things happen that, you know, you surmise that, yes, probably United States -- a recon operation, they`re covering some of those weapons. Why? Like what would the United States -- are they gathering intel from that? Are they repurposing these weapons?
JAMALI: Yes, that`s a great question. Look, the U.S. has a long history of getting Soviet and Russian weapons, including entire Russian aircraft that they flew for training against the Air Force and Navy here. So, it is very possible that the CIA or other U.S. agencies would just send people in to study it.
I mean, it`s one thing to watch it from a far and to look at it through imagery or watch what it`s doing through a radar scope, it`s another thing to actually be able to crawl over and look at the equipment, see how it functions.
So, there is an opportunity here. As Russia loses equipment, there is an opportunity for the U.S. to clearly get advanced intelligence on Russian weaponry. And there seems to be quite a bit of abandoned the Russian kit that`s sitting on the battlefield.
CROSS: And you also brought up China could be involved in this, so I guess it`s a double-edged sword. But I want to ask about NATO specifically, because, again, going back to Zelensky`s anger which is certainly understandable as we see these images play out, like blanket our screen essentially for the past few weeks.
You know, I get that Ukraine is not a member of NATO. However, there are NATO members in the line of sight for Putin. I mean, you know, the fact that they had taken over a nuclear plant puts many of us at danger. Why can`t NATO intervene here? I understand that you`re saying that, you know, it might be direct engagement, it might be a conflict. But is there truly nothing that can be done because all of this happening because of one person, and that is Vladimir Putin?
So, is there nothing that NATO can do to pause or bring to a screeching halt the assault that he has laid on this independent country?
JAMALI: So, the short answer is there are, of course, things that NATO can do. What NATO cannot do quite specifically is get directly involved in Ukraine. However, as you mentioned, there are quite a few countries that ring Ukraine that are, in fact, NATO partners and it is very important, in fact, Sweden and Finland, for example, they were threatened directly by Russia. They are not part of NATO. You know, there is a lot that we must do.
Look, what is happening in Ukraine is awful and terrible. But Vladimir Putin cannot be allowed to expand out of Ukraine. So, right now, one of the most important things we can do is continue to support Ukraine both military lethal aid but also to make sure NATO partners are strengthened, that Vladimir Putin, who is clearly acting in an unhinged irrational manner, cannot move beyond Ukraine and is contained and that the pressure remains on him to leave Ukraine. And that`s what NATO can do, that`s what NATO is doing even if it isn`t patrolling the skies over Ukraine, still performing an incredibly important mission to keep the world safe.
CROSS: And it just doesn`t seem to be working because how long -- look, there is a volunteer army. There are people, Ukrainians standing there, but it seems like they are, at best, slowing down the Russian advance, not stopping it.
So, that`s quite frightening.
I do want to bring up the fact Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to Poland next week. What is her presence on the world stage signal to our allies and our enemies?
JAMALI: Well, this is exactly right. Send the vice president there is incredibly important. It`s incredibly important for the United States and NATO to extend their resolve to Article 5 to all our NATO partners and, frankly, to countries that aren`t part of NATO. Look, it is really important that Vladimir Putin does not get any ideas of expanding beyond that.
And, look, I just want to say one thing about what is happening in Ukraine. It is absolutely clear tonight, Tiffany, that while Vladimir Putin and Russian forces may, in fact, take cities, including Kyiv, they may obtain their tactical goals. They clearly, at this point, with Zelensky`s incredible statesmanship and incredible leadership, they will not obtain their strategicals. As long as President Zelensky remains in power in Ukraine, a free and independent Ukraine exists, even if the Russians occupy several of their major cities.
CROSS: I will have to tell you, it is something seeing the spirit of the Ukrainian people --
JAMALI: Indeed it is.
CROSS: -- hold office advance. And so, we will keep posted on what is happening there. Thank you so, Naveed Jamali, for joining us this evening.
JAMALI: Of course.
CROSS: And up next for you folks at home, just how close did we come to a nuclear catastrophe last night in Ukraine and what`s the potential danger going forward?
Plus, the latest on sanctions and the impact they might be having on ending the crisis in Ukraine.
THE REIDOUT continues right after this.
CROSS: OK, the world narrowly escaped a nuclear catastrophe last night.
That`s what the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said today after Russian forces attacked and seized the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, located in Southern Ukraine. Now, a livestream from the plant security camera -- you can see it right there -- captured a bright flash from a flare-like projectile, as well as two blasts and munition fire at the complex.
The International Atomic Agency confirmed that Russian forces had struck a building, causing a fire that raged for almost five hours. That was according to a plant spokesperson. Russian troops even shot at the firefighters who arrived to put out the blaze.
Now, as this was unfolding, President Zelensky warned that, if there is an explosion, that`s the end for everyone. Do not let Europe die from a nuclear catastrophe. That`s what he pleaded.
Now, thankfully, the fire was limited to a training facility and no radiation has been detected since the attack so far. However, the risk of a radiological disaster is raising serious alarm around the world, as it should. The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine said this morning it is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant. And Ukraine`s ambassador to the U.N. today accused Russia of nuclear terrorism.
Now, of course, Ukraine is intimately familiar with the risk of a nuclear meltdown, given, of course, the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl. Now, in that case, radioactive fallout spread as far as Sweden. And that was just within two days.
But while the plant under attack last night is far safer, experts say they`re simply just not designed to withstand a military assault. With Russian troops in control, Ukrainian workers are operating the facility at gunpoint, at gunpoint. That`s according to the head of the company.
With me now is Joe Cirincione, distinguished fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and author of "Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late," and Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and author of "Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator."
So, happy to have both you gentlemen with me.
Joe, I want to kick it off with you.
I know that experts are saying we`re safe for now and that things are fine. But I want you to walk us through what potentially could have happened by Russians striking this nuclear power plant.
JOE CIRINCIONE, NUCLEAR SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we dodged a nuclear bullet last night.
And I`m with our U.N. ambassador, Thomas-Greenfield, who said that we narrowly dodged a nuclear catastrophe. I also agree with the director- general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who said he was extremely concerned that there was a severe risk of a mass casualty event at that.
Basically, what happened was, fortunately, the attack was limited. So even though we`re shooting flares, as you`re seeing here, into a nuclear facility, that there`s volleys of heavy-caliber machine gun fire, that it didn`t hit the containment facility.
Now, this is a strong, reinforced concrete containment facility around these six reactors, but there`s not a facility in the world that`s designed to withstand a tank attack, artillery attack, mortar attack.
The real danger for me wasn`t so much that the infrastructure would be damaged. It`s that, in the course of this, you might cut off the electrical supply to this facility. Now, there`s a backup supply, but that could have been damaged too in this kind of attack.
And you might then have a Fukushima-type event, where the coolant is unable to get into the reactor, the fuel rods overheat, they melt down. A meltdown of molten uranium then sinks into the ground, and you have the spread of radioactivity in the ground, in the water supply.
And if hydrogen gas builds up in the containment vessels, you could see an explosion, like we had in Fukushima, and then it could go into the air as well. All of these things are possible, which is why it`s against international law to attack a nuclear power plant. There`s a Geneva Convention prohibiting this. Russia was a signatory to this.
It was another example of Russia breaking international law, violating global norms. I agree, this was a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant. The terrorists happened to be wearing Russian army uniforms.
And before I bring in, Greg, Joe, I just want to follow up with you, because you`re painting the picture of what could have happened, which I appreciate. When you say that it could have gotten to the air, I just want to punctuate this point for our viewers.
Let`s say it did get into the air. What happens when human beings make contact with that air? What`s the human cost of that?
CIRINCIONE: If you`re very close to this, like people were in Chernobyl, you die.
CROSS: Yes. Yes.
CIRINCIONE: You die.
If you`re farther downstream, it doesn`t kill you immediately. But even a small amount of these highly radioactive particles in the fuel that will then be vaporized and put into the air would get inside you and give you cancer. You wouldn`t die immediately. But you would die over years. That`s the danger of something like this.
CROSS: Yes, so, at worst, mass human casualty immediately, at best, if there is such a thing, a slow death, which is quite frightening.
Greg, I know that experts are saying that we`re in the clear, but are we in the clear in perpetuity? Because we are not seeing any fallout from this yet,does that mean that we can all collectively breathe a sigh of relief? Or should we remain on high alert?
GREGORY JACZKO, FORMER CHAIRMAN, U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY AGENCY: Yes, I mean, this situation is not going to be over really until the war is over, because these reactors are a critical piece of the infrastructure, the electricity infrastructure in Ukraine.
So, controlling them is extremely important, obviously, for both sides. So I suspect that Russian forces will attempt to control all the reactor sites in the country. They provide almost 50 percent of the electricity in the Ukraine. So, they`re really vital for the country.
And one of the things that -- obviously, we get a lot of focus, a lot of attention on incidents like last night, where you have fires, and you have these kinds of shelling activities.
But, long term, the operation of these reactors is extremely unclear. Will it be Ukrainian operators operating like normal or operating at gunpoint or operating in very precarious situations? All of those factors become very, very important, not just in the next several days, but over weeks and months, as this potential incursion continues.
CROSS: Yes, and I want to talk to you about that, Greg, because, like we said in the open, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that there are people working in these facilities at gunpoint. They have not had a shift change in over a week.
And I think about people who work in high-stress jobs, like doctors and pilots. There`s a limit to how long they work. And working in these extended times, at gunpoint, nonetheless, what danger does that pose?
JACZKO: Yes, I mean, these crews have to be able to operate at optimal efficiency.
And when they`re operating under the conditions that they`re operating on - - and many of them potentially have loved ones who are in harm`s way because of the fighting, or they may have homes that are impacted or damaged. This is a very, very challenging situation. So that all goes to their performance.
And we know that a crucial element when it comes to maintaining safe nuclear reactors is that the operators perform at an optimal level. And many reactor operators are very highly trained. They`re very good at what they do, but they can make mistakes. And the more that they`re operating under these very, very challenging conditions, the more that they have the likelihood of making mistakes or of operating incorrectly.
Now, one of the good things in -- from a nuclear safety perspective that`s happened is that some of these reactors have gone into more of a shutdown mode, which dramatically reduces the chance that they could have a large radiation release.
But, of course, and I think, as Joe mentioned, that means that they don`t have electricity supplies then throughout the country. So I think that will be where you really have this very, very difficult choice that Ukrainian forces will have to make, is how much do they defend these facilities, knowing now that the Russians are willing to use artillery or other weapons to attack them? Or do they simply turn the plants over and then operate them at gunpoint?
I think that`s a very, very difficult choice that Ukraine and the operators the power companies are going to have to make.
JACZKO: And, clearly, I think we see that the Russians are not acting responsibly here.
CROSS: That`s a difficult choice for them and a terrifying choice for the globe, I`d argue.
Joe, I want to bring you back in, because, in Sweden, a lot of the residents are taking iodine pills -- or stocking up on iodine pills, I should say, which helps against radiation sickness, of course. I`m just curious.
If Putin -- Putin has been bragging about his nuclear superiority for years now, especially in the last few months. If there is nuclear engagement, what exactly does that mean for us domestically? What does that mean for Americans here?
CIRINCIONE: Boy, there are so many nuclear dimensions to this crisis now. You really have multiple nuclear nightmares unfolding, both the exercising of nuclear-capable weapons by Putin just last week before the invasion, his unprecedented nuclear threats that he gave, his false claims that he had to invade Ukraine because they were developing nuclear weapons, and now this, basically weaponizing nuclear power plants, seizing them for his war purposes.
And then there`s also -- this could get worse. I mean, imagine if he starts losing this war and he retreats does. He sabotage these plants on his way out?
This is -- and then you have the issue that you raise. If Putin starts to lose this war, if he feels cornered, there is actually a Russian strategy, a military strategy called escalate to de-escalate, where the Russians would use a nuclear weapon first to prevent their defeat, to signal to the West that they`re serious, this is an existential risk for them, and that they want the West to back off.
Unfortunately, nuclear war games have repeatedly shown that, once you start using nuclear weapons, there is no clear break.
CIRINCIONE: Once you use one, the adversary will use one. And that is the danger.
And that is basically what`s stopping us from intervening, as you were talking about with your first guest, the risk that these nuclear nightmares could just erupt into a full-fledged nuclear war.
CIRINCIONE: We are closer to something like this than we have been since the 1980s.
CROSS: It is -- Joe, what you just said there was absolutely terrifying.
There`s a great line in the movie "Crimson Tide" with Denzel Washington, where he says the purpose of nuclear war ultimately serves itself. So there is no winner here.
CIRINCIONE: There`s no winner.
CROSS: That strategy that you told us about, escalate to de-escalate, is terrifying.
Thank you so much, Joe Cirincione and Gregory Jaczko, for your very helpful insight.
And up next: a crackdown on social media and other information outlets in Russia, as Putin calls for the normalization, the "normalization" -- in quotes -- on international relations.
We will be right back. Stay with us.
CROSS: All right, so get this.
Today, Vladimir Putin actually called for normalized international relations, AKA no sanctions, while claiming that he has -- quote -- "no bad intentions" towards our neighbors, and that Russia`s actions were -- quote -- "exclusively in response to unfriendly actions."
Putin, however, has shown zero, zippy signs of stopping his invasion of Ukraine. And, today, he signed a law actually making it illegal to knowingly spread what he`s calling false information about the Russian military, with a maximum punishment of 10 to 15 years. And this led to multiple media outlets making the decision to suspend their operations in the country.
This is part of a larger crackdown on media the Russian people are allowed to consume, with the country shutting down what little independent media it has, as well as blocking foreign outlets like the BBC and Voice of America. Now, the Russian government also blocked Facebook and Twitter today.
Now, this comes as some Russians are rushing to flee the country, concerned that Putin could actually declare martial law or stop men of fighting age from leaving Russia. As "USA Today" points out, martial law would give the Kremlin near absolute power to escalate with impunity its already punishing crackdown.
The Kremlin, of course, denies that it`s considering enacting martial law.
With me now is Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon. She`s a historian and Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania Department of History.
Kimberly, lovely to see you again. Thanks for being with us this evening.
I want to talk a little bit about what`s happening in Russia right now, because, in over 100 cities, the people of Russia are standing up, and they are denouncing Putin`s actions in Ukraine, even knowing it will cost them - - could potentially cost them 10 to 15 years.
When protests are essentially damn near illegal in Russia, what does it say that they`re doing it anyway? And does Putin care? He doesn`t strike me as the kind of person who would really even give a consideration to how his people feel about any of this.
KIMBERLY ST. JULIAN-VARNON, HISTORIAN: I think it is a powerful example that so many Russians are risking prison, imprisonment, police brutality to speak out against this war, including elderly women.
We have seen 80- and 90-year-old women who survived the siege of Leningrad who are being mistreated by the police for saying no to this war.
So, I do think it`s powerful. I think we need larger and more protests. But I think you`re right as well. Putin clearly does not care about regular Russian people, because, if he cared, he would have stopped this war. The sanctions are already starting to really affect regular Russians. It`s harder to get groceries. Prices are exploding.
And it`s also incredibly hard for Russians who are trying to work outside of Russia to help their families. It`s impossible for them to send money back home. So I think what we`re seeing here with this crackdown on free speech, no more free media, I think this is less about Putin caring what regular Russians think, but more about Putin caring about the types of information that are allowed into Russia.
CROSS: Even some of his disinformation and his propaganda operation that he`s running is not so much directed towards his people or even directly towards the Ukrainian people, as much as it is the international community, that he wants to send a message to the international community.
So they have been putting out these false reports that Zelensky has fled. He has not. As we sees, Zelensky is still very much in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people are very much fighting back. But they`re being somewhat outgunned by social media, right? Like, people have been able to say in real time, no, this is not true what you`re hearing from propaganda out of Russia. This is actually what`s happening on ground, which, of course, led to him blocking some of these social media outlets.
I`m really curious, though, that he`s not yet blocked WhatsApp or Instagram. Why do you think that is?
ST. JULIAN-VARNON: I think Putin doesn`t necessarily know about the power of these types of social media.
I mean, just that we`re seeing this reaction now kind of belies the changes that have happened in Russia and the access to outside information in Russia that`s happened since the initial Russian incursion into Ukraine in 2014 and the Russian wars in Georgia in 2008.
So I`m interested in this case, because Telegram, it`s also a big way for Russians to get information from outside. And I`m not sure Russia knows how to make sure that this information can`t get in. But as soon as they crack down, I promise you, Russians are working on ways to get around it and to make sure information is being able to come in from outside of Russia.
CROSS: I want to talk about also the folks who are trying to flee. Like, they`re trying to get out of Russia. I understand why he might keep men of fighting age there.
What about the path to freedom for women and children who want to flee who don`t stand with him, even his own military? I mean, his military has a low morale problem. We see Russian soldiers in Ukraine begging for food, and they`re ill-equipped to, quite frankly, hold up this kind of advancement.
Why keep the people there? Is it just to save face?
ST. JULIAN-VARNON: I think one thing is to save face.
A max exodus out of Russia, I mean, of course, looks bad for Putin, but, two, it`s also the lack of Russian airspace. Almost all the E.U. has closed off its airspace to Russian airplanes. S7, the second biggest airline in Russia, will no longer be doing international flights as of tomorrow.
I also think another key problem -- and I`m going to say this here -- is, we will be seeing another refugee crisis, but this time out of Russia. And we have to think about all those Russians who don`t have access to Western funds, who will not be able to afford flights to places like Istanbul or Belgrade.
But, moreover, there are thousands of African students, Indian students, Middle Eastern students who live and work in Russia, Afro-Russian. So there`s still another refugee crisis coming. And we need to be prepared as Western countries to recognize that this is going to happen and figure out a way to help these people, because they are going to be coming, and they`re going to be trying to get out of Russia any way they can.
CROSS: Yes, I think you`re right. And we have seen some of the disparate treatment from brown refugees certainly out of Ukraine, and I imagine, sadly, that we may see that with Russia as well.
So we will certainly keep our eye on that aspect of the story.
I want to ask because you`re an expert in this area. There`s a bipartisan effort in Congress to encourage the Biden administration to end all Russian oil imports. Will Putin care about? It`s just complicated because he`s operating as someone who does not intend to suffer consequences. And we`re going to talk more about that on the next block.
But I`m just curious your thoughts. What is going to stop him at this point? If sanctions won`t do it, will oil?
ST. JULIAN-VARNON: I think oil is going to be key here.
If you cut off Russian oil and exports and imports, that means Putin not making money. And Putin is spending, I think -- I have seen numbers of $700 million a day of Western money is being spent on Russian oil. Cut off his wallet. He can`t afford bombs. He can`t afford gas for the tanks if Russia is not producing oil for the West, including in Europe.
So I think we need to start having some conversations about how to replace Russian oil and gas. But, moreover, Europe is going to have to stop being dependent on Russian oil and gas. It`s the only way to make sure Vladimir Putin doesn`t get the money for his war.
CROSS: I just -- I wonder what the domino effect is, because, if we cut off Russian oil, what does that do for our relationship with the Saudis? And what is -- what wide, dark shadow does that cast across the globe when we do something like that?
So, sadly, this is a conversation that requires more time, which we are out of.
So, thank you so much, Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, for being with us this evening.
And we`re going to continue our discussion of the Ukraine invasion next with an arms control negotiator who`s now running for U.S. Senate. You want to hear what he has to say.
Stay with us.
CROSS: I think the question everyone is asking is, what do we do about Vladimir Putin? And it`s not a new question, far from it, actually.
In the wake of his invasion of Ukraine, it is the question every world leader is confronting with new intensity, from slapping historic sanctions on the Kremlin to hammering the ruble, which leads us to our second question: What happens when you back Putin into a corner?
Because nothing good, according to senior White House officials, who are debating the potential consequences, which may include cyberattacks to our financial system, along with nuclear threats.
Now, on Capitol Hill, pressure is mounting from both parties for President Biden to up the ante and ban U.S. imports of Russian oil, even as Secretary of State Blinken pushed back today against calls to sanction Russian energy directly.
Joining me now is Lucas Kunce. He`s a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri. He`s also a former Marine, and has worked as an arms control negotiator with Russia and NATO. So, he`s uniquely to answer some questions I have got tonight.
Thank you for being with us.
And the first question I think I have to ask you is, we see Putin committing a war crime. I mean, the U.N. has come out and said to attack a nuclear plant is a war crime. Will we ever see any accountability? Will he ever be held responsible for what he`s done today? Because, right now, it seems like the world is looking -- just taking a step back and watching all of this play out, this very dangerous situation play out.
LUCAS KUNCE (D), MISSOURI SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I think what we saw is, when Putin originally invaded, he thought that, if he had this massive show of force, that the country would just fold.
When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine, one of the things I often worked on was the rules of engagement, which is, how much collateral damage are you willing to accept to accomplish the mission, how many dead civilians, how much infrastructure?
He thought he could take the place with a show of force and hardly hurt the infrastructure. And, honestly, like, a ton of brave Ukrainians proved him wrong. And so then he was faced with the decision of how he`s going to proceed, obviously. And what it looks like to me is, he`s decided to fully relax the rules of engagement.
He`s willing to accept any amount of civilian death or destruction of infrastructure in order to accomplish his mission. And it`s sad. And really, to prevent this from ever happening again, we honestly just need to completely defang the guy.
CROSS: Yes, and when you say civilian death, I have to say that at least 17 children are among the civilians who have died so far, which is, of course, very devastating.
And people keep saying, look, we haven`t even seen the worst of it yet. This could get a lot worse. And I`m just curious, from your expertise, what does worse look like?
KUNCE: I mean, this is what war looks like, right?
What worst looks like is what he did in Chechnya, right? It`s complete annihilation and destruction of the towns, the people who live there and everything else. And so, again, like, there are ways that we can prevent that or make sure it doesn`t happen again in the future. And I think we need to start engaging with those.
CROSS: I want to play a sound bite from Senator Lindsey Graham, who offers this solution to how to deal with Putin. And then we will talk about it on the other side. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Somebody in Russia has to step up to the plate. Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there more a successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?
The only way this ends, my friend, is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROSS: Obviously, Moscow certainly had a response to that, but I`m curious your thoughts, because, I mean, this does seem like all this has been caused by this one person.
But two questions here. One, he seems to be surrounded by sycophants, so there`s nobody to kind of rein him in a bit. And, two, even if, for some reason, someone in Russia was able to succeed him, we`re not guaranteed that another Putin would not necessarily succeed him, so to speak.
KUNCE: Look, if Lindsey Graham wants this to happen, he should just be a man and go do it himself, right?
Like, what the rest of us need to do is, we need to realize that this is the third time that Putin`s invaded one of his neighbors in the last 14 years, right, the third time. And that was funded by the Western European purchase of his gas.
I did the negotiations with NATO and Russia. I saw that. I saw how that corrupted them. Since 2014, they have actually gotten more reliant on his gas, not less. And so what we need to make sure to do is prevent -- stop this and then present -- prevent invasions four, five, six that you know the guy`s got planned too.
And to do that, it starts with two things. First, we need to completely eliminate his market for gas. And we have the power to do that. We have the U.S. dollar. We have sanctions. We have the ability to completely take away his ability to sell that right now.
And then the next step is that we need to invest in the next generation of energy technology right here in America and start exporting that to Europe and elsewhere, so that he never has a market to ever sell it again.
KUNCE: We completely defang him. We defund his war machine, and we don`t have to worry about him ever again.
CROSS: Well, on that point, because what you`re saying -- I mean, that would take a little bit of time.
What I think concerns me and a lot of Americans, that should concern a lot of Americans, is how he can attack the U.S., right? We saw, in 2016, he did attack our democracy by striking that chord of white supremacy and targeting black voters. We`re in another election year with midterms coming up.
Havana Syndrome, which impacts people`s brain functions, like microwave energy, that impacts people has been cited here on domestic soil. What is the biggest threat, you think, that Russia poses to domestic soil right now? And how can we prepare ourselves?
KUNCE: Well, really, like right now, the guy`s hands are full with Ukraine. Like, these brave Ukrainians are standing up. They`re giving him more than he can handle.
And that gives us a window to act while he`s distracted and while he`s busy with that. And so what we need to do is bring down the hard sanctions, so, like your previous guest said, he doesn`t have the money to keep doing this.
And stopping U.S. imports isn`t enough. Like, we don`t buy enough of his gas to make that happen. We need to use the power of the U.S. dollar to make sure it`s not sold worldwide. And then he won`t be able to do a lot of the stuff that he can do. And then, again, we need to prevent him from ever doing it again.
And we have the capability to do that. We are an innovative people. We know how to build things. We know how to create. We just need to decide to actually invest in it, because investing in that is much, much cheaper than another war.
Like, I watched us spend $6.4 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan. For less than that money, we could have a fully renewable grid here right now.
KUNCE: We just need to choose to make the investment.
CROSS: Yes. Well, we will keep our eye on it and see what unfolds, Lucas Kunce. Thank you so much.
And for our viewers up next: how relief workers are trying to bring a little sunshine into the lives of the smallest victims of this war.
We all could use a little hope right now, so you don`t want to miss this. Stick around.
CROSS: Well, as you all are well aware, the horror of war is unimaginable, and even more so for the half-million Ukrainian children who themselves have become refugees.
Last night, workers in a refugee camp in Romania made the day special for a little girl named Arina, despite all the chaos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROSS: As you see there, emergency workers at the mobile campaign arena and Arina`s mother pitched in with party hats, balloons and a cake for the surprise seventh birthday party at the camp, where she`s now living with her family. Sad sight, indeed.
And that is tonight`s REIDOUT. Joy returns on Monday.
But please do be sure to join me tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for "THE CROSS CONNECTION." Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal joins me to discuss Russia`s invasion of Ukraine.
And I`m also digging deeper into the racist treatment of black and brown people as they try to flee Ukraine.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.