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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 2/24/22

Guests: Nina Khrushcheva, David Rothkopf, Lawrence Wilkerson, P.J. Crowley, John Herbst, Evelyn Farkas, James Stavridis


Vladimir Putin begins a Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Biden announces new sanctions on Russia.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Our special coverage continues right now on THE BEAT with my colleague Ari Melber.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Appreciate your coverage. And thank you.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And the world is responding and reacting right now to Vladimir Putin`s new war in Ukraine. The scene right now in Kyiv, the capital, we have a city under curfew now amidst the ongoing attack ordered by Vladimir Putin.

Senior defense officials tell NBC the goal is to capture Kyiv and topple the formal Ukrainian government. Meanwhile, according to a Ukrainian defense official today Russia is now in control of Chernobyl, the infamous site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. the Ukrainian health minister says 57 people have already died, 169 injuries have been formally tabulated.

We`re also seeing pictures of the aftermath of those first attacks last night, radar and military equipment destroyed, the aftermath of the shelling in Kharkiv, where an apartment building was hit.

It`s a fast-moving situation. We have been tracking it hour by hour.

Today, the president announced more sanctions, as threatened and intended, on Russian banks, on elites close to Vladimir Putin, as well as their family members. We have more on that momentarily, including the economic hit to Russia.

The president also leaving the door open to directly sanctioning Putin himself.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has much larger ambitions than Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That`s what this is about.

And I think that his -- his ambitions are completely contrary to the place where the rest of the world has arrived.

QUESTION: Is that a step that you`re prepared to take? And if not...

BIDEN: It`s not a bluff; it`s on the table.

QUESTION: Sanctioning President Putin?



MELBER: On the table there, President Biden speaking out.

Ukrainians continue to scramble for safety, cameras capturing citizens bunkered in subway tunnels as one place to get a kind of a makeshift or automatic shelter underground, explosions heard around the capital. In other cities, citizens woke up to sirens blazing.

According to many, not just those in the neighboring region, not just those with traditional conflict against the Soviet Union here -- against Russia, I should say. But, according to many, Putin is trying to rewrite the larger rules of the international order, longing for a period of prior Soviet supremacy, where big countries can just take over smaller ones, based on military might alone.

The United States has tried to position itself as a democracy which supports other democracies and the West against this Putin aggression, with self-governance, with territorial integrity.

Here`s how "The Washington Post"`s editorial board puts it: "Security, territorial integrity international law are buzzwords and abstractions. What they connote, though, in practical terms is precious, time and space for people and nations to develop freely."

We have this conflict covered from many angles.

We begin tonight with Cal Perry, who is live in Lviv.

What can you tell us from your reporting today and tonight, Cal?

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Ari, just a brief explanation of why I`m coming to you live from inside a hotel room, the security situation changing here. in just the last few hours.

The city of Lviv asking people to go into what they call blackout conditions, that is, to limit the amount of light that is being shown on the street. We have drawn the curtains. We are using the lights. We are trying to respect what is a, as I said, evolving security situation.

It was long thought that this city would remain out of the conflict zone, but there is no telling how wide this conflict is going to get. And, of course, it is civilians that are being caught up in it. The U.N. now estimating that over 100,000 citizens, civilians have already left their homes in the Ukraine.

And as you sort of look at those pictures, and you talk about the map, the concern, of course, is that that is only going to grow, folks trying to make their way to the Polish border. I am closer to the border of Poland than I am to the Ukrainian capital. And so we are seeing folks flow through here, the Polish government saying they`re going to lower the requirements for Ukrainians to enter the country.

We are, of course, in the middle of a pandemic. They say they will waive the testing requirements, though, they will still require people to quarantine, though, Ari, I will tell you, the last reports that we heard at the border, the line was over two miles` long.

MELBER: Cal Perry in Ukraine, thank you. And stay safe.

That is our report there from directly in the region. We have other reporters who will join us.


But now, for context, returned to Admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, and Evelyn Farkas, a former defense official specializing in Russia and Ukraine with a stint in the Obama administration.

Welcome to both of you.

Admiral, what does it mean, in your view, that Putin is marching forward with this invasion right now?

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Clearly, he is intent on, at a minimum, changing the regime and bringing a puppet government into control of Ukraine.

And we don`t have to guess at that, Ari. He told us that in a couple of extremely provocative, shall we say, speeches over the last few days. And so what I think is happening is kind of war college 101 invasion, which means lots of strikes across the entire country, take out the air defense, take out the command-and-control, create waves of refugees, which become a burden to the Zelensky government.

All of that creates the conditions for him to drive his tanks, his infantry is in touch entire machine into Ukraine. And I think he`s going to do it. And he will change this regime. And thus the question for us is, so what do we do?

And I think the answer is, you impose crushing sanctions, crushing diplomatic sanctions. Send home every Russian ambassador. And you also, in NATO, where I was supreme allied commander, you flood the zone in Eastern Europe. You bring in troops, tanks, missile systems, warships, all the above, in order to send a signal to Vladimir Putin, at a minimum, you may be able to do this to Ukraine. Don`t even think about it with the NATO alliance.

I think that would be an important signal to be sending Vladimir Putin at this moment, Ari.

MELBER: Yes, you mentioned that sanctions.

I could show you, for viewers, the Russian ruble plunging, record low. A weaker currency, reportedly, of course, affects everything from inflation to imports to consumer confidence, the stock market hit as well.

Evelyn, what is the timeline for this kind of strategy? How long would it take for the economic hit on Russia to actually affect what Vladimir Putin is doing? Clearly, he`s -- quote, unquote -- "priced in" some of this pain.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I mean, Ari, the ruble clearly took a hit.

There will be some economic shockwaves, in the short run, perhaps, but frankly, as you said, he`s been ready for this. So I don`t think it`s the sanctions that are going to be decisive in the near term.

It`s really what the admiral said. I mean, I think it`s shoring up our military forces, showing the Russian government, not just Vladimir Putin, but he does have some folks around him who have some power, at least over his decision-making some influence, showing them that they better not put a toe on any one of the Baltic states or any of the NATO front-line countries.

I think we should exercise our forces, although, of course, it can be a little bit risky. But I think, if we don`t show resolve, Vladimir Putin will be tempted to go further. And then, as the admiral said on several shows earlier today on MSNBC, we really need to pay attention to what happens to the Ukrainian government, because there is a decapitation attempt occurring.

There will be human rights violations like nobody`s business. We need to try to protect those people, including the Ukrainian government, including President Zelensky, from the wrath of Vladimir Putin.

MELBER: Admiral, from the publicly available information, what is your assessment? What can you ascertain about the actual Russian military attack at this point?

STAVRIDIS: It`s quite successful. It`s not a complete slam-dunk. But they have degraded Ukrainian command-and-control. They have pushed the Ukrainian military back on several of the axes.

I could walk you through in excruciating detail the four-axis attack that`s under way, but suffice to say, in some places, the Ukrainians are standing and fighting. In other places they`re making strategic withdrawals. This is not a collapse of the Ukrainian armed forces at this point.

We need to continue to flood the zone in Lviv and get ammunition, supplies, more Javelins more of our capability in the hands of Ukrainians. I think they will continue to fight as long as they possibly can. And let`s face it, Ari, they`re facing the Russians coming at them. Who`s behind them? Their families, their parents, their children.


I think they will stand and fight in many of these scenarios.

MELBER: Well, and, Admiral, I appreciate your point. There`s many levels of depth with -- given your expertise.

And again, reminding viewers, we hear so much about NATO and what that alliance means. It`s where you ran it on the ground militarily. But we can put the map back up and you can walk us through and maybe the medium version of the expertise you offered.

Walk us through on the map, what`s happening now and what the timeline is for what Russia is trying to do to take over.

STAVRIDIS: The attack is being conducted on four axes to the north, and the most significant is headed toward Kyiv coming out of Belarus.

To the east, to the right, on the viewer`s right, there are two axes, one that`s headed toward Kharkiv, which is a highly Russian city, and one to the south of that near Donetsk. This map is showing that quite clearly.

And, Ari, from the very south, from Crimea, which Putin annexed in 2014, is the fourth axis moving north. It is a pincer movement. It`s designed to get behind the relatively static defenses of the Ukrainian armed forces. Thus far, they`re being fairly successful.

I wouldn`t completely rule out a stand hard and fight. I will close with two other dimensions of warfare. One is naval. You`re seeing Russia very effectively used the Black Sea, move around in the south. And the other is cyber. We have yet to see Russia really unleashed the dogs of cyber war. I think they`re holding that back.

If they get into trouble on some of these vectors of attack, look for a massive cyberattack. They don`t want to show that card because it gives us a big advantage looking at their cyber tools. That`s a snapshot of what`s going on.

MELBER: Appreciate that.

And, Admiral, if Russia is successful in ending or decapitating the government of Ukraine, then what happens to the people who live there? What is the day-to-day reality of that? This is, sadly, a region that has seen land go back and forth because of the great land wars of Western Europe before. But for viewers and for Americans, it`s not something that we have witnessed in the recent era.

What does that actually entail?

STAVRIDIS: Unfortunately, they are on a rocket ride back to 1939. Think about tanks rolling into Poland, or into Hungary, Evelyn`s homeland, 1956, 1968 into Czechoslovakia.

Sadly, we have seen this movie before too many times, most recently 2008 into Georgia and 2014 into Ukraine. It starts in the morning with, you`re in a democratic country. By the end of the day, you`re in a totalitarian regime. Your leadership that you elected is on a kill list, and you suffer the consequences.

Again, when you wake up this morning in Europe, say a prayer of thanks if you`re a member of the NATO alliance. You are safe there, Ukraine, not so much.

MELBER: Evelyn?

FARKAS: Well, actually, so the good admiral is my former boss and knows well that my parents are actually political refugees who fled Hungary in the aftermath of the failed revolution and the Soviet tanks rolling in.

So, unfortunately, another thing we`re going to see, of course, our refugee flows. And I know that our government was doing some exercising, tabletop exercises at the highest levels about what might happen, how the scenario could unfold.

I certainly hope the Europeans were too. And I hope that they are prepared to receive refugees. One other thing I wanted to -- one other point I wanted to make, jumping off of a point the admiral made, you mentioned that the Ukrainians will have their families behind them. They will be facing the Russians.

Well, in the Russian hinterland back at home, you will have a lot of unhappy mothers, a lot of unhappy Russians when the body bags come home. And Russia has a history of mothers organizing and rising up and protesting in the context of the Afghanistan war in the `80s. And that did actually also contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union.

So that`s a kind of midterm thing that would be a problem for Vladimir Putin.

MELBER: It`s a lot of context. It`s grim. And it is based on the work and experience and the service you both have to this country and to some of these international interests. So I think it`s very helpful tonight, as the world looks at this absolutely terrible situation.

Admiral, thank you.

Evelyn comes back later in our special coverage this hour.

Let me tell folks what else we have, because we have planned out several ways to try to make sense of what`s happening, President Biden taking action with those sanctions targeting the Russian economy. We touched on that briefly. But why didn`t he go further? Why not Putin? Why not SWIFT? There are answers. It`s complicated. We`re going to get into that with experts.


Meanwhile, where does Putin plan to go with what we`re witnessing here? We have that breakdown.

And, later, as American troops deploy to Germany to protect the NATO alliance that we just discussed, we will have the latest on that allied response, why so many countries, so many hundreds of millions of people in Europe are watching what happens next.

Stay with us. You`re watching MSNBC`s special coverage.


MELBER: Welcome back to MSNBC`s continuing coverage of this Russian now full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is war.

President Biden today responding this afternoon and discussing NATO`s presence in this region.


BIDEN: As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.

And now I`m authorizing additional U.S. force capabilities to deploy to Germany as part of NATO`s response. America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom. This is who we are.


MELBER: The president making very clear a continuation of the policy that has been telegraphed and announced, that the United States will be strong in many ways, but will not put boots on the ground inside Ukraine.

So, this war right now, if you want to put it in plain English, the current military war is between Russia and Ukraine. The rest of the pressure,the rest of the cold war is between many of these Western countries, including the U.S., to pressure and deal with Putin`s Russia.


That means the president imposed, as planned, additional new harsh sanctions against leading Russian banks, freezing all of their assets in America and directly sanctioning many Russian so-called elites, people close to the Kremlin or Putin himself.

Then the president today was asked about targeting Putin directly. This was his response:


QUESTION: Is that a step that you`re prepared to take? And if not...

BIDEN: It`s not a bluff; it`s on the table.

QUESTION: Sanctioning President Putin?



MELBER: We have this story covered on several angles.

And, again, we begin in the region with Keir Simmons in Moscow.

Keir, you have been covering both Putin and this region for a very long time. And then, of course, you`re familiar with everything the president said here today stateside.

Walk us through what your reporting shows and what`s important here in this economic showdown.

KEIR SIMMONS, NBC SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they aren`t the sanctions that some had hoped for, particularly inside Ukraine.

I think they are tough sanctions. Some of the banks that now have been added to the sanctions list, if you like, are banks that do support the Russian economy, support President Putin.

In terms of that question about whether President Putin himself should be directly sanction, of course, trying to find his money can be a challenge. There is an old friend of President Putin called the Cellist who is said to have been responsible what for some of President Putin is money.

But, being President Putin, he likes to keep things difficult to trace. So there is that aspect. And then there is this question of whether Russia should be removed from the SWIFT system.

It is a tricky one, Ari, because the SWIFT system, if you like, is kind of a bedrock piece of the trading system. And there are fears that if you remove countries from it, then, for example -- and this is where becomes a kind of game of three-dimensional chess -- for example, you improve the chances of the Chinese alternative to SWIFT.

I`m not surprised, honestly, that there are some challenges in those negotiations with the Europeans, as President Biden suggested. Just to give you a picture, America`s trade with Russia, about $35 billion a year, China`s traded Russia, around $150 billion a year, Europe`s trade with Russia, $250 billion a year.

So you can see that the financial pain, if you like, will be on Europe if there are restrictions in trade. And that`s not to mention you have dependence on Russian gas. Some irony, of course, though, that it is a war in Europe that these sanctions are all about.


And before we lose you, Keir, you have also been following what`s happening inside the country. We have seen some reports and footage of certain level of protests, be they anti-war or voicing some sort of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.


MELBER: What can you tell us about what you have seen and how it fits into the broader picture of what is a very large population there?

SIMMONS: Yes. Well, that`s right.

Look, around about 1,700 arrests are being reported by an NGO -- I suspect it will turn out to be more than that -- around 52 cities across this very large a country. Keep in mind, of course, that President Putin has made it his business to try to crush protests. So those numbers in that sense, I mean, every one of them, you could say, is brave.

And just to top it off, Ari, Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, making his opposition to the war clear. He was speaking in court, in court, before being sent back to prison, where he is facing a potential sentence of another 50 years.

MELBER: NBC`s Keir Simmons reporting from Moscow, thank you, sir. Thank you for your reporting. Appreciate it.

SIMMONS: You bet.

MELBER: We turn now to the U.S. Ambassador -- former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, who served in the Bush administration, Evelyn Farkas also with us.

Welcome to both of you.

Ambassador, let`s pick up on the same point. President Biden, in his remarks today, showed that he was dialing up pressure. He also was very explicit about where the sanctions regime was going to be complicated, the Putin issues we just had walked -- walked through by Keir.

The SWIFT issue is also complex, because, apparently, it takes a lot of European coordination. It`s not an on/off switch for any one country. What do you see as both that process and the import of that, if there`s going to be long-term pain for the Russian economy?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: I think the president`s performance today on sanctions was uneven. He did a good job on Tuesday putting down some serious sanctions. He added to that somewhat today.

He made a serious mistake when he said, well, let`s -- when he asked about SWIFT and other sanctions, he said let`s see how things go in a month. I mean, the Ukrainians are fighting for their lives. That`s a very bad message to send.

And, in fact, while I understand the company occasions are going after SWIFT right now, he could have taken down the general -- excuse me -- the Central Bank of Russia, which would have been a truly punishing sanction.


And given the massive aggression Putin has currently unleashed on Ukraine, I think that would have been the right step to take.


MELBER: And, Ambassador, let me -- before we go on, just to -- let`s close out this point a little more in detail.

Walk us through then from your view diplomatically about what it takes. It would seem that, on the American side, they`re concerned they don`t yet have the proverbial coordination or consensus to do SWIFT.

HERBST: Well, here`s the point.

Leadership of an alliance and of partners involves not just listening and - - carefully and consulting, but also nudging them in the right direction. And I think the Biden administration has done very well on that first part, less well on the second part. And I can give other examples, especially their mishandling last year of Nord Stream 2.

So, again, they get credit for being -- bringing the allies along, but not bring them along as far as they need to bring them, as I would say.

MELBER: Let me get Evelyn on that point. And then we will go deeper into the other stuff you wanted to raise.

But, Evelyn, anything on the SWIFT and the economic piece here?

FARKAS: Well, I would agree with my good friend the ambassador.

Really, there -- we could have -- the sanctions package today is fantastic. I wish we had just been able to roll them all out simultaneously on whatever day it was they first rolled them out, Tuesday, I think. And I think we could go farther.

But the sanctions aren`t the only thing. And I really would like to hear the president talk about providing military support to the Ukrainians, as they face potentially an insurgency.

MELBER: Let me read from Colonel Vindman, who`s I think remembered by viewers for more than one thing, but is knowledgeable at this region as well, who has a similar note to both of you, saying: "The U.S. previously had not provided advanced weapons systems to Ukraine or paired diplomatic overtures with a credible military pressure and could have imposed earlier targeted sanctions on Russian leadership."

And, as promised, Ambassador, I believe you wanted to bring up other points beyond SWIFT. So your reaction to Vindman and those other points you wanted to raise, sir?

HERBST: Look, Vindman is absolutely right.

Last spring, the Russians put that buildup on Ukraine`s border. And we talked about providing Ukraine additional weapons, but we didn`t when they withdrew. Had we done that last spring and summer, Ukraine would be much better placed to deal with this aggression. Also, the administration has been slow to send more advanced weapons.

Ukraine really needs the American Stingers, which are much more powerful than distinguish coming from the Baltic nations. It`s my understanding they have not sent many of them there. So the administration needs to maintain - - Evelyn is absolutely right. We need to maintain military supplies to Ukraine. We probably cannot do that by air anymore.

But, by land, we can do this. We should be sending more advanced weapons. We should be sending drones and Predators, Predator drones, because casualties for Putin are deadly, meaning that, as Evelyn said earlier today, Russian mothers don`t like when their children die in wars, especially wars that the Russian people disapprove of.

No one in Russia wants -- except for Putin and a few people around him, want to be committing aggression against Ukraine. So, for Putin, a major liability are Russian casualties, but also knowledge in Russia of what Putin is up to.

He has told his people -- Russian media are telling the Russian people there`s only a limited peacekeeping operation going on in Eastern Ukraine. They`re not telling the Russian people that bombs are falling in Lviv, and Kyiv -- in Kyiv, and that civilians are dying.

The United States needs to be getting into the Russian media space on social media, pointing out that Russian soldiers are attacking innocent Ukrainian civilians and Russian soldiers are dying. This is a Putin weakness.

And the big sanctions are needed, one, because this will hurt the Russians economically. That`s bad for Putin because the standard of living will drop. But, also, it will weaken the Russian military in the medium term. And we do -- we don`t want an aggressive Russia to have a strong military. Hitting their economy does that.


And, Ambassador, how does that point and that potential weakness on the home front, when reality catches up with Vladimir Putin potentially, with people`s lived experience in the country, how does that dovetail with what Americans saw with what you and Evelyn might study quite closely, but we don`t always watch here, which is the way that Putin held forth this public meeting, at times browbeating his own officials, but also using that to have a Kremlin message that, according to their argument, he was getting a kind of cosign or support, however he does it, to try to argue in the future that, hey, everybody was on board with this thing, which seems to be his brainchild?

HERBST: Look, I think that theater in the Kremlin actually works to Putin`s disadvantage. People not idiots. They see that some of those advisers were deeply uncomfortable. With that, he was clearly signaling to the entire world and his own public that this is Putin`s baby.


So here`s the key. Ukraine has said it`s going to fight. Zelensky is not Ashraf Ghani. He did not get on a plane. Whether or not they prepared sufficiently for this invasion, they have prepared sufficiently to maintain the continuity of government.

So I don`t think the Russians are going to decapitate the Ukrainian government. If the Ukrainians demonstrate the ability to resist -- and I think they will -- then Putin has a major, major problem.

And at the end of the day, this great Putin aggression may hasten the end of his style of rule.

MELBER: Very interesting. And appreciate the candor all around, two diplomats.

John Herbst, Evelyn Farkas, thanks to both of you.


MELBER: We have our shortest break.

Sorry. Go ahead, sir.

HERBST: I said it`s great being with Evelyn and with you.

But I also see Evelyn in other places. We work together...


MELBER: Well, I know. There`s a foreign policy community here.

As we often say in the news, I wish we were all meeting under better circumstances. But I`m glad you guys have that collegial history. And I thank you both again for the input here tonight.

HERBST: A community dedicated to American interests, because this is our interest as a country.


MELBER: Understood.

Thank you both.

HERBST: Thank you.

MELBER: What I`m going to tell viewers is, this is our special coverage.

We have one of our shortest breaks, which is just 60 seconds. When we return, we look at that pressure on Putin, as well as Barack Obama, the former president, weighing in, and something you don`t hear about very often up against these tough times, unity in Congress, at least a sign of it today.

We`re back in one minute.


MELBER: Russia has invaded Ukraine starting a war.

Here`s some of the reaction in Washington today.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): This will be a long and bloody campaign, a pointless, needless, disastrous campaign. And that may take months and it may take years. And all along the way, we need to have Ukraine`s back.


MELBER: That was, of course, a top Democrat, Adam Schiff.

But we also want to show you what we`re seeing, several major Republican leaders condemning in a similar fashion Putin`s horrific invasion, vowing to work with the president and hold Putin accountable.

Here with Senate Minority Republican Leader McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I have some advice. Ratchet the sanctions all the way up. Don`t hold any back.

Vladimir Putin is a bad guy. He`s an authoritarian. He yearns for empire. And we need to do everything we can to stop it.


MELBER: What you see here is something that is not as common, especially nowadays, in Washington, even on matters of foreign policy.

But while there has been some right-wing support on the fringes for a kind of a denialism or defensiveness around Putin, in the main, top Republicans are basically condemning this as a war of aggression by Putin, and more or less coming into lockstep with the Biden response, which is tough sanctions, or, as you heard from McConnell, even tougher, and no boots on the ground, which is to say the major policy planks right now are not becoming yet a matter of partisan debate.

That`s the president and the congressional leaders. They have the power.

When it comes to someone who has no power, no say, but does have a tortured history with Vladimir Putin and, of course, immediate following in Republican politics, well, this is what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is something that should have never happened. This would not have happened during my administration. And it`s a very sad thing for the world, for the country.

And it`s certainly very sad for a lot of people that are going to be needlessly killed.


MELBER: Which turn now to two experts with high-level government experience here, former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley, former chief of staff Colin Powell Colonel Larry Wilkerson.


Welcome to both of you.

Colonel Wilkerson, your thoughts on what we are hearing from a somewhat united front from leaders in Washington?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF: You know, I think it was Voltaire who said that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to -- or virtue pays to vice.

I got to say that I have heard so much hypocrisy over the last couple of months, couple of years that it`s appalling. The fact that it`s unified in the Congress makes it almost laughable.

That said, this situation, in military terms, is really, as Clausewitz in his "On War" warned, a transient event and we should be aware focusing on. I don`t mean that there aren`t some horrible things happening. But Ukraine is not a threat. It is not a fundamental threat to the United States of America. It was in the Soviet Union for 40-some-odd years.

Yes, it was there with East Germany. It was there with Poland. It was not a threat then really. It had nuclear weapons, but they were controlled in Moscow. So, fundamentally, it`s not a threat. This is a transient event, as tragic as it may be for Ukrainians.


MELBER: Well, let`s break down...


MELBER: Well, I got to jump into -- well, let me break down. I will do the moderator thing, and then you will get to talk again, so I get it.

But what you`re saying is in contrast to what a lot of people are hearing all day about a geostrategic showdown and these concerns. So I was just going to ask you to explain a little more what you mean by transient or what you mean by not of import in the U.S. security interests, if that`s what you`re getting at.

WILKERSON: What I`m getting at is that Putin will probably go and consolidate his control over to western-most oblasts, much the way he did in Georgia.

He might even try to carve out a corridor down to Odessa. Odessa, after all, is a more important point to Russia than any port in Crimea. So, if he does that, and stops, then we can get back to more important things, like nuclear weapons arms control and the climate crisis.

If he doesn`t stop, if he goes on and tries to swallow Ukraine, as one of your interlocutors just said, he`s in trouble. He`s in big trouble, because Ukrainians will fight. He will be in a guerrilla war. He will be like we were in Iraq. He will be defeated.

But Putin doesn`t have the stores to fall back on, economic or financial. He will bring down the Russian economy. And he will bring himself down.

So, while it seems strange to recommend patience and waiting, we`re in the stronger position. Let`s don`t commit to something that`s stupid.


P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, I will agree with Larry up to a point, that Russia is a declining power.

That said, Vladimir Putin came into power in 2000, when I was on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton. And he`s been a profound irritant now to multiple presidents. So, I`m not sure -- we have to broaden the lens a little bit.

Ukraine is important, to the extent that of the concept of international affairs, that sovereign nations get to determine their own future, and that can`t be imposed from beyond. And, certainly, one person who`s watching these events unfold very closely is Xi Jinping, because, if we do fumble the response to Ukraine, then what happens later on when it comes to the future of Taiwan?

So I -- yes, but, by the same token, what is important for us is the unity of the NATO alliance. So, we may well have a limited ability to shape events now in Ukraine in the short to midterm, but we certainly have a very profound interest in making sure that the alliance stays together and that Putin pays a price.

MELBER: Well, this is the idea that we hear so much that is of a concern of whether this is something where great powers get to use that power, and then nobody stops them, and it upends the entire so-called global order.

The counterresponse to that is it`s not that orderly to begin with. The president you served, P.J., making the your point today, Obama saying we have seen forces of authoritarianism -- quote -- "make headway around the world, an assault on democracy, the rule of law, equality. Russia`s invasion of Ukraine shows where these dangerous trends can lead and why they cannot be left unchallenged."

Colonel Wilkerson, we always appreciate more than one view and style. And I think you are, if I may say so respectfully, somewhat outside the mainstream of where a lot of your foreign policy colleagues have sounded like over the past couple days.


So I give you the rebuttal to that, the idea that, unchecked, this is bad for our long-term interests.

WILKERSON: Well, you`re absolutely right I`m outside this warmongering that even "The New York Times" and others are doing.

I`m not for war. I`m not for any kind of war that is useless and stupid. And that`s what it would be if we got involved in the Ukraine conflict directly.

Now, sanctions and supplying weapons and so forth, that`s OK. I believe maximum sanctions would do what I said would be done to Putin if he got involved in the entire length and breadth of Ukraine. But the hypocrisy still appalls me.

"The New York Times" the other day accused Putin of doing all manner of things, crossing international borders, violating national sovereignty and so on. That`s exactly what the United States has been doing for the past 20 years. That`s what we did in 2003 in spades in Iraq. It`s what we`re doing right now today in Syria, where we have no authority under international law to be.

It`s what we have been doing. So, this hypocrisy appalls me. At the same time, I admit we have a situation today that we need to do something about. But we need to do about it is have patience, strategic patience. If Putin bites off more than he can chew, he`s finished. If he stops where he is, we can live with that, and we can get back to the issues that really matter, like nuclear weapons.

MELBER: Colonel Wilkerson and P.J. Crowley, multiple perspectives here. And we`re the more informed for it.

I appreciate both of you.

We are going to fit in a break here. Our coverage continues, as we look at some sobering warnings and how Americans are impacted.

Stay with us.



MELBER: Our special coverage continues.

We`re joined by Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent in Mariupol in Eastern Ukraine.

Richard, what can you tell us?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have now entered the second period of darkness.

And Ukrainians are bracing for what has come next. The first day saw a lot of airstrikes, a lot of targets against the military. It seems like the Russian strategy was to try and break the back of the Ukrainian military, to pull the fangs out of it, so to speak. It has not been entirely successful.

The military has been fighting back. It is still united. It still has a command-and-control structure. But many Ukrainians who are in their homes, hiding in bunkers, trying to leave the country, or staying, so that they can be part of resistance, are worried that the next phase of this might be to go after the population centers.

Generally, the big cities, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kyiv, have been spared, and with most of the fighting on the outskirts, targeting these military locations. But if Vladimir Putin does want to overthrow the government -- and he`s made it clear that he believes the Ukrainian government is a threat to Russia, because he claims it`s run by a bunch of neo-Nazis, which, of course, it`s not -- but if he does want to overthrow the government, he would likely have to take Kyiv.

And U.S. officials say that is probably what he intends to do and where many of his forces are heading.

MELBER: Do you have a sense, or is it too early to tell, how much the public lead-up to this, which was partly, allegedly, a product of U.S. intelligence and other interests trying to reduce an element of surprise, how that may have affected Ukraine`s ability to thus far withstand what it is experiencing?

ENGEL: Well, it certainly drew a lot more attention to this.

Ukraine is -- now has the world sympathy. It had -- I think every foreign news outlet is here. Everyone in the world is watching this story. People were prepared for it. They were prepared for it mentally. They started to understand the geography.

Imagine if we just arrived right now and were trying to have to explain this and explain where the separatist areas were. So the public was prepared around the world. The government here was prepared to explain its story.

So that all has been helpful. But it didn`t stop the military assault. And we will see now if the Ukrainians, with the weapons they have, with the determination they have and with the world`s focus on them right now, are able to do that.

MELBER: Understood.

Thank you, and stay safe, NBC`s Richard Engel reporting live there late night in Ukraine. We appreciate it.

We`re going to fit in a break, and when we come back, the endgame. Where are we headed?

Stay with us.




BIDEN: He has much larger ambitions than Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That`s what this is about.


MELBER: President Biden speaking about Vladimir Putin today.

We`re joined now by Nina Khrushcheva, international affairs professor from The New School, co-author of important "In Putin`s Footsteps," and David Rothkopf, the host of "Deep State Radio" podcast and a longtime foreign policy journalist.

Nina, your response to that gloss on what Putin wants? And what is the endgame? What is the likely place that he thinks he may be headed in the coming months?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, THE NEW SCHOOL: Well, I have been disagreeing with the sort of simplistic explanation that he just wants the Soviet Union.

In fact, he hates the Soviet Union. He has been talking about that. The whole problem with Ukraine is that the Soviet Union gave Ukraine all this territory, because, otherwise, Ukraine, the traditional one, would have been so tiny.

So I think what he does want is sort of the Eurasian empire, the Pan-Slavic world that has been dreamt up by Putin, his philosophers that he so admired. Belarus, he now has it, because dictator Alexander Lukashenko is in his pocket. Then, if he takes all of Ukraine, and then Russia, here is his Pan-Slavic. Here he is, the -- going on the kind of breadth of history from Vladimir the Great, the baptized, Kievan Rus, in the 1800s, to now the 21st century.

So, all of this, the endgame is incredibly medieval.

MELBER: David, you have been writing recently that this may actually ultimately corner and reduce him. Explain.

DAVID ROTHKOPF, CEO, THE ROTHKOPF GROUP: Well, I think what Vladimir Putin wants may not be what Vladimir Putin gets.

He`s made a number of big miscalculations here. So far, I can count five. One, he thought that this was going to be reacted to much as his invasion of Georgia and Crimea was. That`s not the case. He thought that NATO would be divided. They`re not. They`re unified. He thought that the U.S. would be weakened and not a good leader. The U.S. has been an excellent leader in all of this.

I think he thinks that the Ukrainians are going to be a pushover. And that is also not apparently the case. They took back an airport today. They`re fighting tough. His desire is to take Kyiv. But if he takes Kyiv, even if he puts in a new government, I don`t think the people of Ukraine are going to go quietly.

And I think the final thing he thought was, as in the past, he could do this bad thing and then resume his lifestyle, get on his yacht, go to Davos, have the life he wanted to have. But the world has changed its view of Vladimir Putin in the last 24 hours.


They recognize he is the most dangerous man on the planet. And they recognize that he can`t be dealt with as he was dealt with before. I think that`s going to make stronger NATO, stronger pushback, more isolation, more pressure on him within Russia.

And I think that is the beginning of the end for Vladimir Putin.


KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I wish I was that optimistic.

I`m actually not, although I do agree that he made all these mistakes and miscalculations. And what really shocks me the most is that he should know that Ukrainians will fight like hell. He talks about World War II all the time. They were the ones who took the brunt of the Nazi invasion and fought like hell.

So, imagining that Ukraine is just going to be a pushover is beyond insanity. And that`s why, I mean, it`s very medieval, because whatever is happening now, this is not a politician doing it. It`s some combination of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, thinking that they are being -- creating the great power that they`re going to rule over.

I don`t think that what -- it may finish him. However, there have been amazing protests and demonstrations now. In St. Petersburg, thousands of people came out. In Moscow, they`re brutally beaten and arrested, and yet they`re out, and they`re screaming, and there are placards and Ukrainian flags.

MELBER: Right.

KHRUSHCHEVA: And so, hopefully, something might change, but it`s still too early to say how far it can go.

MELBER: Understood.

We did want to look at the endgame here to round out this hour. David and Nina, thank you.

Thank you to those at home watching us here, our MSNBC extra coverage, on a tough day.

I can tell you that, coming up at 8:00 p.m., Rachel Maddow will be in the anchor chair for two hours of live coverage. That`s coming up tonight, and, up next, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Joy Reid in the anchor chair.

So, stay with us. MSNBC`s special coverage continues after this short break.