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Transcript: The ReidOut, 3/9/22

Guests: Oleksandra Ustinova, Zhan Belenuik, Igor Novikov, Sheila Jackson Lee, Tim O`Brien, Uriel Epshtein


Russian forces bombard city of Mariupol. Ukrainian doctor calls Putin`s claim that Russian forces are not targeting civilians an obvious lie. Vice President Harris in Poland for talks with NATO officials. Russian forces escalate attacks on urban areas.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: THE REIDOUT with Joy Reid starts right now. JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, everyone. We begin THE REIDOUT tonight with the horrific realities of Putin`s war of choice in Ukraine. For days, we`ve talk about the Russian dictator increasing isolation, his strategic miscalculations and his stomach-churning appetite for indiscriminate murder. Well, tonight, we want to show you what Putin`s war actually looks like. And I do want to warn you that it is graphic and heartbreaking. Earlier today Putin`s forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, wounding 17 people. This is what it sounded like. The Russian airstrike was so powerful that the ground shook for miles. It blew out the windows and left the newborn intensive care unit in ruins. Look at these images. These are the victims of Putin`s war. It`s the wailing mother clutching her bewildered child. It a heavily pregnant woman bleeding being carried out on a gurney and rushed to safety. It`s the innocent children sobbing and terrified that the Russians would return. This is how Putin chose to end the second week of his invasion and it drew immediate condemnation. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it depraved and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it was a barbaric use of force. In a video late today President Zelenskyy called it an evil war crime. New satellite imagery from - appears to shows the extensive damage that the Russian invasion forces have inflicted so far on civilian infrastructure in Mariupol. The images show how they laid waste to residential homes, apartment buildings and grocery stores. And if that`s not ghastly enough, The Associated Press took these images of mass grave sites dug on the outskirts of Mariupol because they cannot conduct proper burials due to the bombings. The Russians, of course, denied bombing the maternity hospital, claiming they do not fire on civilian targets. Instead, they continue to use propagandistic euphemisms about dismaring Ukraine and dislodging Nazi leaders, not of that being true. My colleague, Richard Engel, spent the day in a Kyiv hospital, talking to victims or Russian attacks. He asked the doctor about Russia`s denials. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Vladimir Putin says that the Russian army is not bombing civilians. No civilians are being hurt. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s an obvious lie. (END VIDEO CLIP) REID: Meanwhile, today, Russia`s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Turkey, had planned talks with his Ukrainian counterpart. It should come as no surprise that the Russian delegation to the peace talks has refused to concede anything. And Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Warsaw- for the first leg of her trip to meet with regional allies. Part of that will include cleaning up a diplomatic spat over supplying fighter jets to Ukraine. Today the Pentagon said the U.S. does not support the Polish plan to transfer the jets. Joining me now from Lviv, Ukraine is NBC News Correspondent Cal Perry. The view from Lviv tonight, Cal, give us what that is particularly given now it is pretty clear the U.S. did not and does not support this plan to provide fighter jets by way of this circular route through via Poland. CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it`s the jets that Ukraine desperately needs that nobody wants to touch, right? Nobody wants to be the ones handing over the jets. And so for now, it seems to be on hold. The view from here is watching that video coming out of those port cities. You know, a city of Mariupol, where you have those mass graves, where you have the deputy mayor saying at least 1,200 civilians have been killed, he thinks that`s a low estimate, that it could be three times the number of people. And it`s not just that city. There are half a dozen cities or so that has been under sieges now for six -- for seven days, places without power, without water, without heat. And it`s all the more depressing when you factor in that we expected this. We expected hospitals to eventually be hit, if not, targeted. It was one of the first things I heard when we got here to Lviv. We went and did a story about hospital preparing for wounded Ukrainian soldiers and the staff there, you know, asking us not to give up the location or the name of the hospital because they were convinced sooner or later this would happen. The other thing that is happening here in the western part of the country is people are turning their attention towards these nuclear sites. Our viewers will remember last week, there was a fire fight at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. It`s the largest nuclear power plant in all of Europe. It provides power to a quarter of Ukraine and it has been taken off the grid. It has been removed from the IAEA monitoring system, as has Chernobyl. Add to that, there -- from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia and we`re hearing from the White House from Jen Psaki, there is a growing concern that Russia is going to carry out a false flag attack using chemical weapons. [19:05:00] You couple those two things together, you marry them with the video that is coming from these port cities and you`re going to have an increase of this wave of human traffic headed in my direction and headed to Poland. The knock on effect is going to be more people are going to hit the roads in a country that cannot take this level of refugees, cannot take this level of internally displaced people. As we heard from the mayor of Lviv yesterday that this city is starting to burst at the seams, that it just cannot take the humanitarian crisis that is underway. And, again, with the news that we`re getting tonight about these nuclear sites with the news about Chernobyl, Chernobyl is one of those words I can say, and everybody around the world knows what I`m talking about, you are going to see the situation continue to deteriorate, Joy. REID: Terrifying, awful. Thank you so much for covering this for us, Cal Perry, stay safe. Thank you, my friend. I appreciate you. Joining us now are two Members of the Ukrainian Parliament, Oleksandra Ustinova and Zhan Belenuik, who is also an Olympic gold medalist. Thank you both for being here. Where to begin? I`ll start with you M.P. Ustinova. What we`re seeing out of Mariupol, the idea that hospitals where children and pregnant women were being treated are being bombed, apartment buildings being leveled, what do you make of the Russians or the Kremlin, I should say, continuing to deny that they`re hitting civilian buildings and hospitals, et cetera? OLEKSANDRA USTINOVA, UKRIANIAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: You know, I would start rephrasing your question as it`s not whether we expected this from Putin. The question is how long do the western are going to watch this genocide and this execution of Ukrainians until they close the sky. Because if you denied no-fly-zone or at least the air defense, this will continue, until he get all of the Ukrainians death because he has been talking about the total de-Nazification of the Ukrainian nation, which means probably Nazis in Ukraine and they`re all dead. There would be no total de- Nazification. These are war crimes that he`s committing in the center of Europe. And if you don`t get the protection right now of our sky, if there is no at least the humanitarian air lift corridor that can protect these people, this (INAUDIBLE), these children are being shot, shelled, it`s going to continue and you should understand that he`s now using the civilians population as a human shield for his army because he knows if he doesn`t let these people out of the cities, and Ukraine tried to evacuate people from other cities, this will be a human shield for his army that will continue. This must (INAUDIBLE) 24/7 on the T.V. REID: Zhan, M.P. Blenuik, I mean, two years ago you were competing in (INAUDIBLE) wrestling and winning medals. I believe you won a gold medal. There you are. There is a picture of you, and what a change to your life now. Talk to us about what you`re experiencing and what you would want to say to the U.S. administration. Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling in the region to talk to regional leaders. What would you want to say to U.S. officials right now that they have essentially said they`re not in favor of transferring these fighter jets? ZHAN BELENUIK, UKRAINIAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Yes, that Oleksandra is right 100 percent, because we need to help, we need to close the sky above Ukraine because aggressors every day bomb our cities. You see these pictures and you must understand that they kill us every day. They destroy our infrastructure. They kill our children. They kill our citizen. That`s why we need to protect us. We do everything to protect but we need to help from NATO, from U.S., from Europe because it`s time. I win a gold medal this last summer but now I think only for keep my country and protect our civilization, our nation because Russian are going to kill us. Putin is crazy. I don`t know how I can describe the situation. REID: And to stay with you just for a moment, I think a lot of people don`t realize that there is a lot of diversity inside of Ukraine. [19:10:04] I mean, maybe not as much as we have in the United States, but the fact that you are there, what do you make of the stories of the differences between the way people are being treated at the borders trying to escape? Have you heard any feedback people are being treated differently when they try to flee based on the color of their skin? BELENUIK: I don`t know the situation but I`m a famous Ukrainian. I`m member of Ukrainian Parliament. And, you know, Russian propaganda do everything about -- guilty our country in racism, it`s not true. Because I`m a Ukrainian doing everything for my life and I know Ukrainian is (INAUDIBLE) country and we don`t support racist here. That`s 100 percent. That`s why now it`s a terrible time, now it`s a lot of problem. And I know this situation with African citizens. I know the case but it`s -- we need to -- sorry, mind is not so good. REID: That`s okay. BELENUIK: But I do my best for this situation, yes. But Russian propaganda works very good and show it`s not true about Ukraine a lot, you know? REID: Yes. BELENUIK: That`s why we need help from U.S. We need to stop this guy about Ukraine because it`s a really big problem to us. Every time the city bomb from the sky and our children, our citizens kills every day, every hour, you know? REID: Indeed. Well, your English is better than my Ukrainian. So, I will say that you`re doing far better than I am with this. And, M.P. Ustinova, I will ask you about this refugee crisis. We have now - - at least the latest numbers, they`re probably low, are 2 million Ukrainians on the move, either internally displaced or externally displaced. Just as somebody who is a member of the government there, how helpful have neighboring countries been in terms of where people are going to be able to stay because what we know about refugee crisis in the past is that people can`t turn around and go home any time soon. We don`t know how long this is going to last. What provisions are there for Ukrainians being forced to leave Ukraine into neighboring countries? Are you confident that they`re going to be okay, that they`re going to have enough resources, that they`re going to be well taken care of? Give us sort of the latest in terms of the refugee crisis. USTINOVA: I understand the majority of these people in the country, and we`re talking mainly about children and women, because men between 18 and 60 are not allowed because of the martial law of the country. So, these people are losing their houses and homes just because we have our cities shelled and bombed. And, unfortunately, we understand that this looks like it`s going to be a long process. It`s not going to be for a week as we hoped or even months. And a lot of these people are dreaming about coming back home because to be a refugee for the rest of your life or even for years, having a small kid and looking and no place to stay, it`s unbelievable right now here in 21st century in the center of Europe. So, we had, like, let`s say this, our neighboring countries have been very helpful, especially Poland, Slovakia, Romania, they have accepting these people. They have support. They have food. But you have to understand, this is a short-term solution that this country can provide. We cannot just reallocate. There`s going to be more millions of people just to (INAUDIBLE) and solve this issue. We should understand that we just -- if we have protection of our sky and provide Ukraine with more weapons, we can get these people back to their houses. We just need to get to kick Putin, sorry, out of Ukraine to get his (INAUDIBLE) out. [19:15:01] And if we do that these people would be home, would be safe there. And that`s why I say if we do not want humanitarian crisis, we need to protect them. REID: Indeed. Your pleas are very well heard. Ukrainian Members of Parliament Oleksandra Ustinova and Zhan Belenuik, thank you both so much. Please stay safe. Still ahead on THE REIDOUT, the Ukrainian president emerges as the Churchill of the digital age rallying his people against the Russian onslaught. One of his former advisers joins us next. Plus, there are still more questions than answers about the long-term effects of this invasion on international relations. Is this the start of a new economic cold war? And later, some of Ukraine`s biggest ballet stars are taking up arms to defend their country. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love to perform on stage, to travel, to come back to ballet, she says, but the most important thing now is for the war to end with our victory. (END VIDEO CLIP) REID: THE REIDOUT continues after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:20:08] REID: Ukraine`s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emerged as a sort of Winston Churchill for the social media age, countering Vladimir Putin`s lies in a series of defiant social media videos, refusing to leave his country, boosting Ukrainians` morale and rallying international support, saying he and his people are not afraid. His rise from comedian to wartime president has been remarkable. And by standing up to Putin and his lies about supposedly denazifying Ukraine, while becoming the public face of the Ukrainian resistance, as Gal Beckerman points out in "The Atlantic," Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, has captivated the world, while offering a reminder of the region`s scarred history of anti-Semitism. It`s also a reminder of how far Ukraine has come. And I should warn you that some of the following images are graphic. It`s been barely over a century since more than 1,000 widespread pogroms killed more than 100,000 Jews in present-day Ukraine. And while on the eve of World War II, Ukraine was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in all of Europe. After the actual Nazi army invaded in 1941, with their campaign of extermination, more than an estimated 1.5 million Jews were murdered, including the massacre at Babi Yar, where more than 100,000 Jews were executed. The memorial to that atrocity was the site of a Russian attack just last week. And, as Ukraine`s first Jewish president, whose grandfather fought the Nazis with the Red Army, losing three of his siblings, Zelenskyy has used video and social media to personally and forcefully rebut Putin`s surrealist history, channeling anger on Twitter, asking the world: "What is the point of saying never again for 80 years in the wake of the strike near Babi Yar?" and saying it`s Putin`s war that is pure Nazi behavior in a call with American Jewish leaders this week. He pressed that point again in an interview with Sky News, accusing other countries of being indecisive on his calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. I`m joined now by Igor Novikov. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: You can`t decide. If you are united against the Nazis and this terror, you have to close. Not me. Don`t wait me asking you several times, a lot -- a million times, close the sky. Believe me, if it`s prolonged this way, yes, you will see they will close the sky, but we will lose millions of people. (END VIDEO CLIP) REID: I am joined now by Igor Novikov, former adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Thank you so much for being here. I am going to hereby endorse your Batman T-shirt. I think that is absolutely great. And I have to ask you about this guy. People have tweeted that Volodymyr Zelenskyy becoming president is sort of rather like if Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart became president of a country, right? And I have no doubt that either of them would step right up to the damn plate if that happened and they were faced with some sort of an invasion, because they are patriotic, good people. Is it -- is that the way that you understand him? Because I think the idea that he was a comedian throws some people off when they see just how, to use a not so TV term, badass that he is. IGOR NOVIKOV, FORMER ADVISER TO UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Well, hi, first of all. Thanks for having me. I`m surprised you didn`t mention Jimmy Fallon. REID: And Jimmy Fallon. (LAUGHTER) NOVIKOV: But, look, President -- and Jimmy Fallon. So, look, President Zelenskyy, first and foremost, is a human being. He`s not a politician. I keep repeating that, but it`s true. I mean, the world now is kind of interested in having that new sincerity, having real people do real things, so real emotions, real mistakes. I mean, that`s what the world needs. I mean, they`re tired of the portraits and bronze statues, and just people being hypocrites and fake. So President Zelenskyy is very real. So that`s like the first kind of factor that`s helping his image at the moment and helping Ukraine. Secondly, President Zelenskyy is a collective portrait of the Ukrainian people. Anyone who`s familiar with Ukraine knows everyone is like that. So, put anyone in his place, and you would get the same thing. I mean, like people are returning to Ukraine to fight, instead of fleeing. Men are returning. Look, I will give you one private example. We kind of -- we`re a small village of a country, so everyone knows everyone. And whenever something happens to you, you get those phone calls asking for help. Most of the phone calls I got was -- were from men actually asking me to help them join the army, because they wouldn`t take them. I mean, the battalions were full. I mean, that kind of gives you an idea of what Zelenskyy is like, what Ukraine is like. [19:25:00] Now, two very important points. First of all, this is the first social media war, I mean, we remember the second war in Iraq. And the first TV war on 9/11 happens live on TV. Now this is the first, like, social media, like, Facebook and Twitter war. So everything is happening live. Everyone is participating in the storytelling. And obviously, the world needed its John McClane from "Die Hard." And President Zelenskyy is exactly that. What makes me really worried, though, is the fact that the very fact that it`s a storytelling war and a propaganda war, and we`re actually -- the whole world is fighting a country that`s creating -- that`s already created an alternate reality, so there are no more fakes in Russia. I mean, they live in a completely parallel universe. We are playing on their playing field. We`re kind of playing by their rules. So, instead of listening to what President Zelenskyy has to say, we are discussing who President Zelenskyy is and the emotion that`s surrounding him. And that`s incredibly dangerous, because, look, first of all, this is not a reality TV show. It`s a real world. These are real deaths. I mean, yesterday in Mariupol, we had a 6-year-old girl die of dehydration whilst the city was blockaded by the Russians. Today, they bombed a maternity ward full of pregnant women and toddlers and children. Like, look, I will give you one example. I`m a father of two girls. These are the shoes of my 2.5-year-old. I mean, they would make for a perfect picture of a terrible crime and terrible tragedy, and there will be all over the newspapers. I don`t want that to happen. I don`t want the storytelling. I won`t action. We need to close the skies. We need to get multinational business out of Russia, because, like, look, I will give you one example. I mean, like, we are now trying to talk to international law firms who haven`t even issued statements. Like, White & Case is still doing business in Russia? It`s like doing business with al Qaeda after 9/11. It`s just unbelievable. So, President Zelenskyy, the only thing he got out of this, for Ukraine out of this wrong attention, i.e., paying attention to who he is, rather than to what he says, he`s got that position now to tell the world -- like, to name and shame. And, hopefully, people will begin listening to him, because what Putin has in mind concerns everyone. REID: Well, and I think you make a really good point. I think, honestly, his use of social media, the fact that he`s very adept at it, and in getting his message out, and making people pay attention to him, I think, is part of the reason that Russia has been so isolated. And I don`t know what you make of this idea, that it`s part of the reason that their propaganda war hasn`t worked. First of all, social media makes it clear. We can see what they`re doing, but also people sort of globally taking sides. Do you think that that has made it -- I don`t know. I am surprised, to be honest with you, that even the U.S. administration has not agreed to go ahead and accede to his demands for those warplanes. Are you surprised that his ability to move the world in favor of Ukraine has fallen short of being able to get that done? And what would you say to U.S. leaders who are still resisting giving over those warplanes? NOVIKOV: Well, I do apologize. I might sound harsh, but I think the situation regarding the warplanes and closing our skies has turned into a Muppet show. There`s no other term to describe it. Like, look, unfortunately, at the moment, most people think that Putin is losing the information war, but he`s actually winning it. And let me explain to you why. His propaganda and his kind of stream of information storytelling is not aimed at the Western audience. He couldn`t care less about what Europeans think. He couldn`t care less about what Americans think. He doesn`t even consider us to be people, Ukrainians, right? So we`re back to 1941 in that sense, both physically and mentally and historically. Look, what Putin wants, he wants to build a portrait of an enemy, of a collective West as an enemy. And you`re actually helping him. Now he`s trying to kind of to brainwash the people of Russia to accept what comes next. Let me tell you what comes next. I mean, it`s blatantly obvious. He`s not interested in taking Ukraine. He`s not interested in policing the Ukrainian nation. What`s happening now, he`s bombing -- he`s bombing civilian infrastructure, he`s bombing everything to make Ukrainians leave. Now, then Ukraine becomes territory for him to test the Article 5. That`s what he`s up to. And when you have to pick between disgrace and war, historically, if you pick disgrace, you end up with both in the end. REID: Yes. [19:30:00] NOVIKOV: So I think the West really needs to push back against him. Otherwise, the West will lose this fight eventually. REID: Thank you so much for being here. I hope that you will come back. I think that what you have said has been incredibly instructive. I hope that people listen and share what you have said, because I think you`re, well, clearly, obviously right. Thank you so much. Really appreciate your time this evening. NOVIKOV: Thank you. Thank you. REID: Igor Novikov, thank you. And up next: Putin says the West`s crippling economic sanctions are almost an act of war, so how will Russia respond? And how bad could it actually get? We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:35:19] REID: Russia is accusing the U.S. of waging economic war in response to President Biden banning Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the U.S. The Kremlin says the country will do what is necessary to defend its interests, whatever that means. Meanwhile, amid these historic sanctions, concern is growing for Americans detained in Russia, like Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, one of the WNBA`s most dominant players, who has been detained in Russia for weeks and has not been allowed to leave the country. The Russian Federal Customs Service said it discovered cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at the airport near Moscow, an offense that could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Here`s an apparent photo of Griner that was used on Russian TV and is now on their YouTube channel. It includes a track line that, according to one of our Russian translators, says, "The hope of American female basketball is posing in a police station with a sign with her surname on it." Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas has called on the Russian government to release Griner. And she joins me now. And I understand, Congresswoman, that Ms. Griner is originally, I believe, from your district. And so you are speaking out on her behalf. I`m wondering if you have heard anything about the situation that she is in now. Have you gotten any sort of feedback from the State Department or anywhere else? REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, first of all, Joy, thank you for having me. And thank you for being concerned. We love Brittney Griner. Family members are there. Coaches are there, and just all of her high school friends, of course. And look at her now. Putin is a baby killer, so it is very difficult to see how he would have compassion for this young woman. We know that, in a few days, we may hear a more detailed account from the State Department because of some procedural matters that have now been cleared up. We do know that she is detained. But I also know that these allegations are ones that are alleged, and they are promoted by Russian officials, Russian officials who know and knew Brittney Griner as a longtime a player for their teams, and one who has given great joy to the Russian people. That customs agent well knew that he could have provided her a temporary suspension out of the country and not able to come back for a period of time, could have confiscated what she had, allegedly, and sent her on her way. You wonder why she was selected, she`s very well-known, and why at that point in time she had to be selected or had to be examined further. And these particular items that they say, that I don`t want to believe, because I don`t believe the representations that they have made. And these facts have not been brought to bear to us. But I do know that, as an American citizen, that she had no reason to be held for this extensive period of time. We do know that there`s another case that happened, and that person was let out in a month. We see her approaching a month, and no evidence of that at this time. So we are concerned. She has a number of individuals working for her, including Russian counsel. I believe it is important for the United States to work for her. And in meeting with the president, I presented him with a letter to help us. And I`m very glad that the State Department and the president is well aware of Brittney Griner. REID: And I will note that her wife, Cherelle, posted an Instagram photo that we can put up just to show, thanking everyone for -- who`s reached out. And I don`t know if you have been with the -- in touch with the vice president`s office, but she is in the region. You have been very vocal. I`m somewhat surprised that we haven`t heard much from any of the Arizona -- either of the United States -- either of the United States senators from Arizona have not said much. She does play in Arizona. But I wonder if there`s any thought that maybe the vice president while she`s there may address this in some way, while she`s in the region? JACKSON LEE: I don`t want to speculate, Joy, but it is certainly appropriate. She`s obviously there in Poland to deal with the confusion about the MiG fighters and the necessity of air cover for Ukraine and the requests that President Zelenskyy has made. REID: Yes. Yes. JACKSON LEE: But I have seen the kind of -- you call them sidebar conversations. And a sidebar conversation would certainly be appropriate. And I wouldn`t put it past her agenda that that might be raised. REID: Yes. JACKSON LEE: But I think it`s important to say that what is happening is that there`s Russian counsel giving guidance. REID: Yes. JACKSON LEE: And I respect that guidance. But I believe that the federal government, the United States of America, the president, because there are others being held in Russia. And they have been held in such vicious conditions, their health is deteriorating, such as young Mr. Reed others. [19:40:09] And the point is, is that we can`t let the brutality of Putin -- I started by saying he`s a baby killer. This is his war. There was no vote for this. He has 6,000 Russians in jail right now. And he continues to create a World War III atmosphere in Ukraine. So, I think we have to step in and exert our sovereignty over our citizens and demand that they be released... REID: Indeed. JACKSON LEE: ... and get them out of there, if I might say it in that way. REID: Indeed. And I might note that 13,500 protesters thus far have been arrested for being brave enough to dare to protest against Putin`s war of choice and, as you said, war that has conduct -- included killing civilians in hospitals. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you so much. We really appreciate you. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:45:03] REID: We have talked a lot over the past few weeks about how Putin is surrounded by oligarchs who profit off of corruption. But some oligarchs are higher up on the kleptocratic food chain than others, and none are as important as Igor Sechin, one of Putin`s closest advisers, described in Russian media as Darth Vader and one of the scariest men on earth. Sechin, like Putin, is a former intelligence officer, who Putin appointed to run the major Russian oil company Rosneft after his stint as deputy prime minister. And if he sounds familiar to Americans, it might be because the infamous Steele dossier alleges he promised the Trump campaign`s Carter Page lucrative deals for the U.S. if Trump was elected and ended Ukraine- related sanctions on Russia. That information was not confirmed by the Mueller report. But it continues to be a part of the background noise of Trump`s Russia-friendly campaign. Sechin, like other oligarchs, was -- has been hit by sanctions, with the French government impounding a super yacht they say is linked to him. While it might be entertaining to watch the seizure of oligarchs` gaudy assets, journalist Tim O`Brien argues that it is nowhere near enough to have an actual impact on Russia. He notes that: "The truly damaging sanctions against Putin, Sechin and Russia would be ones that go directly after their piggy bank, Rosneft itself. Energy companies are more central to a country`s economic well-being than a collection of yachts and private jets." And, yesterday, the U.S. and U.K. took a step in that direction, banning the import of Russian oil. I`m joined now by Tim O`Brien, senior columnist at Bloomberg Opinion, and Uriel Epshtein, executive director at the Renew Democracy Initiative. And, Tim, I guess your argument, sort of to boil it down, in your article is, don`t take their toys, take the sort of -- take their piggy bank. Please explain. TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION: Well, I think you can do both. We have the resources to do both. But I shouldn`t -- I don`t think we should be mistaken that the window dressing that`s associated with going after oligarchs` mansions and their yachts and their jets are really the kind of things are going to put a stranglehold on Putin or his ability to finance a war or finance an economy that keeps him in a place where he doesn`t have uprisings in the streets in Russia. The oligarchs loom large in the Western imagination, because, during the Yeltsin years, they played a serious role both in the politics and the economic structures of Russia. And they were, for the large -- a large number of them were predators. They grifted and stole state assets. Putin came to power in the economic rubble of 19 -- that followed the 1998 economic collapse there. And he essentially defenestrated the oligarchs. He put a prominent oligarch in jail, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He exiled others. And the only oligarchs who stayed in place in Russia were those who kowtowed to Putin. And he`s kept them on a very short leash. As you noted in the top of your program, Igor Sechin is an exception to the rule there, but only because he`s a lifelong partner, essentially, both in the intelligence agencies and in politics, of Putin. He had no experience running an energy company. Putin -- Putin stuck him in Rosneft, so Rosneft could be controlled by the siloviki, the sort of elite former Russian spies who are close to Putin. And I think the U.S. is fighting this on two fronts. They`re going after the oligarchs, but they really -- the real game here is shutting down Russia`s access to the financial system, freezing the assets of its Central Bank, and stomping down on its energy exports. That`s where you`re really going to strangle them economically. REID: Yes. And let me ask you this, Uriel Epshtein. There is a sense that part of the sort of the gaudiness of the sort the living like czars lifestyle of these oligarchs, et cetera, and Putin himself has almost fooled them. There`s a piece by a Russian foreign minister under Boris Yeltsin. His name is Andrei Kozyrev. And he wrote this. And he said this is one of the reasons that Putin overestimated his own military, that: "The Kremlin spent the last 20 years trying to modernize its military, but much of that budget was stolen and spent on mega yachts in Cyprus. But, as a military adviser, you cannot report that to the president. So they reported lies to him instead. It`s a Potemkin military." Is there a sense that the yachts, maybe they aren`t the key to bringing Russia down, but they are the key to bringing Russia`s military down, because that`s what they were spending the money on, rather than on building up their actual military? URIEL EPSHTEIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, RENEW DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE: Thank you, Joy. So that`s a really interesting thought that I actually hadn`t specifically thought about in exactly those terms. But I will actually disagree a little bit with Tim, in that I do believe that sanctions on oligarchs can actually have significant impact, not because -- and while conceding that state level sanctions are the ones that are absolutely critical in order to strangle Russia`s economic side. But, essentially, what Putin did when he came to power and he essentially threw away some of the oligarchs was, he made a deal with the others, that, if they backed him, their finances would be safe. [19:50:02] What we need to do is, we need to make sure that Putin reneges on that deal. And so taking away their money is not just about symbolism, right? I mean, I have seen countries sanctioning Putin and Lavrov, Lavrov being the foreign minister. And those sanctions, of course, are useless, right? Putin doesn`t have any money in his own name, really. Instead, he holds money in the wallets of other people, in the wallets of these oligarchs, in the wallets of their political leaders. And so it`s not about any single oligarch. It`s about the entire class. And right now is the moment for us to hit all of them. The time for half- measures is gone. I mean, we`re talking about hitting every single oligarch, everybody in the Duma, the Security Council, the Federation Council who supported Russia`s invasion of Ukraine. And don`t just go after them by name. Go after the shell companies that hide their assets. I mean, taking a super yacht here or there is nice, but it`s far from enough. And I would go even one step further. You don`t just stop the Russian enablers themselves. You cut off Putin`s ability to buy politicians in the free world. Literally, Germany`s former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is in Putin`s pocket. He supports the dictator. And we allow him to for the moment. That -- it`s people like that who should also be sanctioned. So, and, ultimately, these are folks who cannot be allowed to benefit from the free world while attacking its very foundations. And it`s our job to convince these oligarchs and other Russian political leaders that they would be better off without Putin than they would be with him. REID: And that gets to the point, Tim, that I wanted to come back to, is, is the idea here that if you make them unable to enjoy a Western lifestyle that they have become accustomed to, unable to spend money, and then make the Russian people unable to even go to McDonald`s and go to Netflix, and you take away the Western lifestyle, and turn the clock back in Russia 40 years, to what end? Is there an -- a banket of oligarchs that have the power to dethrone Putin if they decided to? O`BRIEN: No, because Putin -- the idea also that Putin has money in oligarchs` accounts offshore, I think that that`s never been substantiated. There`s been a lot of speculation about how much money Putin has overseas. He`s undoubtedly stolen billions. But that`s also never been clearly substantiated. Vladimir Putin, any time he wants, can simply steal money from state-controlled companies and any country inside Russia. So, trying to sanction oligarchs` accounts, in the idea that you`re going to hit Putin in his wallet, ultimately doesn`t matter, because he can replace those yachts and replace those bank accounts by stealing from state assets. I do think most Russians actually don`t live a Western lifestyle. Russia suffers through grinding poverty. There`s a very small class of people in Moscow who live a Western lifestyle. And in Saint Petersburg, and in a lot of Russia, it`s still desperately poor. You`re talking about people not being able to get food and heat for their homes because of the sanctions. REID: Yes. O`BRIEN: So it will hurt, but it`s going to hurt in a very kind of primal way. Not being able to go to McDonald`s or Gucci I don`t think is where it`s going to hurt them. REID: Yes, it is a fascinating conversation. I wish we had more time. We`re going to have to have you guys both back and do a part two of this conversation, because I want to keep going. But the clock says I cannot. Tim O`Brien and Uriel Epshtein, thank you both very much. Up next on THE REIDOUT: As Ukraine`s a rich cultural heritage is put on hold, one group of ballet dancers take up arms to join the fight on the front lines. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:57:33] REID: Just a few weeks ago, Ukraine`s ballet dancers were performing pirouettes and plies on stages across their country. Now, like thousands of their fellow Ukrainians, some are joining the front lines against Putin`s invasion, swapping their ballet shoes for Kalashnikovs. NBC`s Erin McLaughlin brings us their story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They`re the butterflies of Kyiv, performing for the final time in France, back home, their country torn apart by war. Now some of Ukraine`s premier ballet dancers have swapped their tutus and slippers for guns and fatigues, putting their life`s work on hold to defend their country. "Of course I`m scared," says artist Oleksii Potiomkin. "I`m not a military person. But I couldn`t just sit on the sidelines and observe." Just days ago, Oleksii was a principal dancer in his prime, now a military paramedic, his life as an artist a distant memory. "I don`t even think about ballet anymore," he says. "I had two premieres coming before the war. Now it seems like another life which never existed." Dancer Lesya Vorotnyk says art has prepared her for war. "Ballet teaches you to have a strong spirit," she says. In 2019, Lesya says her husband died fighting on the front lines in Eastern Ukraine. She says she`s armed herself to protect her son and country. "I love to perform on stage, to travel, to come back to ballet," she says. "But the most important thing now is for the war to end with our victory." Across Ukraine, opera houses and theaters are closed to focus on winning Putin`s war. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now it`s not time for performance on a stage. Now we have performance on our street. We have blood. We have a bombing. MCLAUGHLIN: Last time Oleksander Omachenko (ph) danced, it was the night before the war began. Now he`s building anti-tank hedgehogs, each day that goes by falling further out of shape, a small sacrifice, he says, for his country. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I really love my country. We have a beautiful country. We have a beautiful people. And I`m very sad, very angry. MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Do you think you`re going to dance again? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, 100 percent I go back again. MCLAUGHLIN: When? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know, when it`s all finished. I hope it will be soon. MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The artistic soul of you trainers standing by until they have secured their freedom. (END VIDEOTAPE) REID: Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much. Wow. That is tonight`s REIDOUT. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.