Alcindor: Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week."
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is entering its third month and on Thursday, Russian President Putin claimed victory over the southern city of Mariupol but Ukraine officials are pushing back, saying their forces in the city are refusing to back down and this week, President Zelenskyy had this to say.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine: The Russian army in this war is writing itself into world history forever as the most barbaric and inhuman army in the world.
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Alcindor: And images of mass graves surfacing out of Mariupol echoed the atrocities that happened in Bucha.
Meanwhile, fighting in the eastern Donbas region is intensifying. President Biden also announced an additional $800 million to help Ukraine`s military.
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Joe Biden, President of the United States: We`re at a critical window now of time where they`re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war and the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine the forces they need -- the weapons they need, excuse me, the equipment they need.
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Alcindor: He also announced a new program that will allow U.S. citizens and groups to financially Ukrainians to resettle in the U.S.
Now, joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for "The Washington Post". And with me here in studio, Laura Barron-Lopez, White House correspondent for "Politico", and David Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times."
Thank you all for being here,
Dan, I want to come to you first. How significant is the news out of Mariupol this week given the overall direction of the war?
Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post: Well, I think it`s very significant, Yamiche. I mean, it`s significant for a variety of reasons, but I think primarily because it does really indicate in a sense the desperation of the Ukrainian military, which has fought heroically from the beginning of this war and the crushing reality of a Russian army which has not performed well but nonetheless continues to put the squeeze on the Ukrainians. And what they have done in Mariupol and the destruction of that city is symbolic of what this war has looked like and where it may be heading.
It`s moving into a phase that could be more favorable to the Russian army simply because of the terrain that they will be fighting on and the resources they have, and the fact that the Ukrainian military will be farther from its supply lines. So, it comes at a very difficult time and the atrocities we`ve seen that you noted in the top of this program continue to be wrenching for the world. And the question is how much help can the United States and other allies provide and how quickly can they get it there?
Alcindor: Well, Dan, I`m going to get to that last question about sort of how much aid we can provide.
But, first, David, I want to turn to you. What do we know about who`s really in control of Mariupol, and why does President Putin think he`s winning this war?
David Sanger, White House Correspondent, The New York Times: Well, for Mariupol, it`s clear the Russians have most of the city. There`s a group of holdout in a steel plant and tunnels underneath. But they`re not in a position right now to go push the Russians anywhere. So, if Mariupol hasn`t fallen now, it seems likely that it will.
The really fascinating thing is, of course, Putin has retreated from his larger objective of taking the entire country and taking it, he`d hoped, within 30 days. Of course, he`s well past that. He`s now retreated back to the original objective of the east and the south.
And I think that`s why you heard President Biden make the case that these next few weeks are critical for the nature of the war. This part of the war is going to look nothing like what you saw in and around Kyiv. This is broad, open spaces. This, as one of my colleagues put it, it`s more like fighting in Kansas than fighting in New York.
And that means that it does play, as Dan suggested, to the Russian advantage, but it also means that the president has got to get big artillery out that has a chance to really punch the Russians back in place and if he can do that -- if they can make that work, then the Russians would have been through two big setbacks and, of course, as you said, American intelligence thinks that Putin believes he`s winning this war and they`ve got to convince him otherwise.
Alcindor: And, Laura, Dan sort of teed up this question I want to ask you about -- how much the White House thinks that they can continue to give support and aid to Ukraine given that they added an additional $800 million. But, of course, David here is also explaining -- talking about the big artillery. Connect those two ideas.
Laura Barron-Lopez, White House Correspondent, POLITICO: Yeah. I mean, basically, the White House has tried to, over this period of time, really give what it is hearing, that NATO allies as well as Zelenskyy is saying that he needs. I mean, they try to very much listen to Ukraine about when do you need supplies and when do you not them? I mean, this is, of course, going to be a conversation with Congress, but the president is definitely -- White House says that time and time again they`re trying to supply, whether it`s the artillery or whether it`s other supplies at the ready as soon as they can.
Alcindor: Yeah. And, David, I want to come back to you, because you were talking about the fact that the next four weeks is going to be critical and that in some ways the White House feels like make inroads here. Talk a littlie bit about that.
Sanger: Well, it`s all a question of how quickly they can get this equipment to the Ukrainians and whether they`re trained in using it. We`ve seen Ukrainians taken out of the Ukraine to some degree, to Poland, to Britain, to be trained on how to use some NATO weaponry that they haven`t seen before.
If the Russians can`t make good progress here, Yamiche, they are a partly broken force at this point. They are putting back together these combat battalion groups and in doing so, they`re putting together soldiers who haven`t fought with each other.
They`re still getting a lot of questions at home about what happened to the ship that the Ukrainians managed to bring down, the Moscow, the Moskva, and that ship, you know, the Russians made the argument today they lost only one sailor and there were a number missing. We think it was probably significantly worse that be that.
So, President Putin knows that the word is going to get around in Russia that these casualties that the Russians have taken are much worse than he`s let on.
Alcindor: That`s so interesting given the fact that we saw Russia test a nuclear-capable missile this week, Dan. There was also a veiled threat, of course, from President Putin. And the Pentagon, the United States is saying that they knew about this test. They were notified in time.
But still, what do you make of the timing of this test given all that`s going on?
Balz: I think the timing is an effort on the part of President Putin to remind people that however badly his army has performed in Ukraine, that they were still a nuclear powered nation, one of the handful around the world. And he has rattled sabers on this from the beginning.
And we know that people are worried about whether the Russians might use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield and I think this missile test was simply a way of saying do not forget about how mighty we are event at a time when you think we`re not as strong as he had intended to be.
So, I think it was mostly symbolic. I think in any other moment they would not have had or needed to do this. Maybe it had been a long-planned test but in the middle of the war, this was nothing more than saying, don`t forget about how strong we actually can be.
Alcindor: Yeah. It`s an interesting point to think about, the reminder that this is -- all of this is involving nuclear powers.
I want to turn to a somewhat different subject to you, Laura, about this new program that President Biden announced, saying that people in the United States can responsible Ukrainians now to help them resettle here in the United States.
How does that program relate to the other asylum programs that we see for other immigrants and what are you hearing from your sources?
Barron-Lopez: Yeah. So, basically, it was a really big deal when the president decided about a month ago that they would be taking in 100,000 Ukrainians and this program that was announced this week, though, was how they were going to do that, how they were going to expedite that process, which is the humanitarian parole program. It`s something that they used for Afghanistan -- for Afghanis that were also coming in.
What it does is it makes it so as you mentioned at the top of the show, that a U.S. -- American has to sponsor people that are coming in and they have to go through background checks. But a lot of refugee resettlement organizations have told me they home this happens very quickly, that it gets off the ground faster.
Part of this is the Biden administration`s effort to rebuild the refugee program, which was gutted by the prior administration. Some frustration, though, from the same organizations is they feel as what about other vulnerable populations that have been trying to get into the United States? Whether it`s Cameroonians which recently did get TPS status, but people from the Central Triangle. They feel there`s not equity there and there is frustration that Ukrainians are being treated more favorably than others fleeing very dangerous homes.
Alcindor: I`ve certainly heard that from Haiti activists that I talked to, immigration activists that are wondering, OK, why can`t Haiti and other countries get this, this treatment on these programs.
David, I want to come to you for another topic which is May 9. Russia and victory day. How`s -- what`s the significance of that date? But also what do expect -- what do U.S. intelligence sources expect in the coming weeks as we get closer to that date?
Sanger: Well, May 9th is the anniversary of when the Soviet Union prevailed over Nazi Germany.
And so there`s a lot of pressure on the Russian troops before this big celebration, which always comes with a show of military might and parades and, you know, Putin will be out speaking and so forth. There`s a really big effort underway to show that there was some form of victory in Ukraine, to have something to claim.
Now, whether that is the east, the south, seems unlikely right now that they`re going to be able to grab the port city of Odessa. We did hear a mid-level Russian defense official today say that the new objectives included trying to grab part of Moldova, another non-NATO state that`s got territory that the Russians have long coveted.
It`s not clear that Putin will actually make much progress between now and May 9. It is certainly clear inside the Pentagon that they want to make sure he doesn`t.
Alcindor: It`s certainly a date we`ll be watching and that we`ll continue to rely on you to explain to our viewers.