Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Snow Emergency in Boston; Interview With Martin Walsh; Patriots Victory Parade Postponed; Huge Storm Snarls Air Traffic; U.S. Weighs Sending Lethal Aid to Ukraine; On the Front Lines of a Bloody Battle in Ukraine; Interview with Representative Eliot Engel; Boston Delays Patriots' Parade Due to Snow
Aired February 2, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, record snow. Another monster storm has a third of the country in its icy grip. Chicago and Boston are buried once again. More than 4,400 flights have been canceled.
Deadly cold -- as the snow piles up, temperatures are falling. Wind chill readings will drop below zero overnight.
How dangerous is this storm?
And Russian invasion -- the U.S. considers sending lethal aid to help Ukraine fend off advances by pro-Russian rebels armed with Russian weapons.
Is it now getting personal between President Obama and Russia's President Putin?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking now, tens of millions of people are still being hammered by the second winter storm to strike within days. It's dumping up to 14 inches of snow in Massachusetts just a week after that state was smothered by accumulations of more than two feet. It's the same storm that just left a foot-and-a-half in Chicago and has buried parts of Ohio. So far, more than 4,400 flights have been canceled today. And as temperatures plunge, bringing wind chill readings of below zero, ice will become a huge problem in much of the Northeast. I'll talk to Boston's mayor, Marty Walsh.
And our correspondents and analysts are all standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with Brian Todd.
He's joining us from Andover, Massachusetts with the very latest -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, conditions here have just gone from very bad this morning to much worse this afternoon, because this snowfall has been pretty relentless. Officials here are telling us they are really worried about the period that we are going into right now, this rush hour period tonight, when there is more of a volume of cars on the road, when temperatures are dropping. The pavement temperatures are also dropping.
I'm going to switch out from my camera to our dash camera, as we get on to Interstate 93. This is one of the biggest Interstates in all of Massachusetts.
And check it out, as we come off the exit onto the interstate and just check out these conditions. It is a complete whiteout here. And it's been this way for most of the day. You cannot see the lane markers. There is no place to put the snow for the snow plows. There is no place to pull over. The officials here are really worried about cars getting stranded and pulling over, just clogging exits and all of that. The conditions here are just getting much, much more dangerous.
This is part of a massive system that swept from the Midwest all the way into this region.
TODD (voice-over): A monster storm slamming the Northeast tonight. Winter storm warnings in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and across New England -- up to a foot or more of snow forecast in Boston, where they declared a snow emergency once again. Schools were closed and officials urged residents to use public transportation if they had to go out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to make sure that the entire city is up and running tomorrow. So we are out there with plows today. We're asking people, if you can, stay off the roads.
South of Boston, a woman died after being struck by a snow plow. The Norfolk County District Attorney's office tells CNN the victim, was hit in this parking lot Monday morning by a snow plow operator. An investigation is underway.
There was a travel ban during last week's storm, but not this time. And visibility is an issue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe a mile or so of visibility. But, yes, definitely coming down. Definitely keep the windshield wipers going.
TODD (on camera): What's scaring you now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't -- well, Iraq really see the road right now. Everything is all like blurry.
TODD (voice-over): Some drivers who ventured out had problems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody went out unexpectedly, so to avoid a collision, I went in the snow bank.
TODD: The massive winter storm blanketed the Midwest before hitting the Northeast. Wet heavy snow fell in Nebraska. Two people were killed in weather-related car accidents there on Sunday.
In Chicago, more than 50,000 customers lost power during the storm. Utility crews were trying to restore power Monday to about 5,000 customers still without power. The city got 18 inches of snow on Sunday. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that's more than their share.
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: We are getting, in this 24 hour cycle, what we got for all the month of January.
TODD: Emergency crews responded to this multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 294, about 20 miles from Chicago, Monday morning.
The storm is also impacting air travel. The travel headaches started over the weekend and continued after thousands of flights were canceled on Monday, most out of Chicago O'Hare, Newark Liberty and Boston Logan International Airport.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: And as we move off the interstate, we're going to pull over into a gas station here in Andover, Massachusetts to show you just kind of what it's like to get out of a vehicle and try to navigate your way around this way.
One of the things, Wolf, that is really worrying state officials now, and we're told by our own CNN weather people this, as well, that as we get into the evening hours here -- we're pulling off here, getting out of the vehicle. I'll talk to the dash camera as we do that.
As we get into the evening hours here, temperatures are really dropping. I'm looking into the dash camera here as I talk to that camera. We have a third camera being brought out now. I'm going to walk over here and our photojournalist, Khalil Abdullah (ph), will pick me up.
The temperatures here dropping very, very fast, as some of these car pull in and try to get off this road. These road conditions are starting to freeze. And they're going to freeze overnight. They're going to get below zero temperatures here overnight. These roads are starting to freeze. They're calling it flash freezing, Wolf. And that's going to make the conditions even more treacherous here in Massachusetts.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, we'll check back with you. Be careful over there in the meantime.
Those roads clearly very, very icy.
Boston is expecting up to a foot of snow before the storm is over. Not only is the snowfall breaking records, anyone venturing outdoors will face below zero wind chills once the storm ends.
Let's go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray.
She's joining us from the streets of Boston -- so, Jennifer, what's it like there? JENNIFER GRAY, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf, it is very cold. Temperatures dropped about 20 degrees in two hours. Right now, it's hovering right around nine or 10 degrees. When you factor in the wind chill, well below zero. We feel like six below right now. So very cold.
And it's still snowing. We actually have one more band to push through before this starts to improve. And it is going to bring quite a bit more snowfall.
So far, Boston has received 9.9 inches. The record for this day, February 2nd, is 11.1. So we will likely break the daily snowfall record.
We already have broken a record. It is the snowiest seven days ever here in Boston. And since January 1st, we have received more snowfall than they average per year. And so unbelievable.
The snowfall we had last week combined with the snowfall today -- look behind me and you can see these snow mounds everywhere. The plows are having trouble keeping up. And then you see the mounds of snow all over the city.
They have canceled school again tomorrow. The commute is going to be dangerous going home because of the flash freeze that Brian was talking about. The roads here are just very slushy. We had that wintry mix for a couple of hours. And so when that freezes overnight, it is going to make driving and travel, even walking on the street, very, very dangerous. Of course, we have that Super Bowl parade tomorrow. It is going to go on at 11:00 tomorrow no matter what. So they're trying hard to plow the streets and the sidewalks so people have a place to stand.
But, Wolf, they are saying dress warm, because temperatures are going to be in the single digits, with the wind chill feeling below zero even tomorrow.
BLITZER: It sounds awful, indeed.
Jennifer, thanks very much.
Boston certainly has an unusual problem, as Jennifer just mentioned. The city's latest snow emergency comes just as people have a huge reason to go out and celebrate.
Joining us on the phone right now is the Boston mayor, Marty Walsh.
We're talking about the New England Patriots, their Super Bowl win.
Correct me if I'm wrong, Mayor, you closed schools, but you're going to go ahead with this parade celebrating the Pats' win, is that right?
MAYOR MARTIN WALSH (D), BOSTON: Well, we're looking at the parade now, just because of the snow. You know, we're getting about six more inches than we thought we'd have. At the end of the day, we are probably looking at 18 inches of snow here in the city of Boston today. And it's, you know, it's obviously about 10 inches fewer than the blizzard. But, you know, we're getting pounded here in Boston again today.
BLITZER: Well, isn't it dangerous to tell people to come out for a parade, to drive in from all over New England, when the conditions are so awful?
WALSH: Yes. We're having a conversation about that, as a matter of fact. I came out of a meeting just to make a call in to you, Wolf. And we're going to make a determination on that in the next half hour.
BLITZER: So basically, what I hear there's a lot of people saying you know what, err on the side of caution. You can always celebrate the Pats' win a day or two later, but you don't want people on those roads driving into Boston. It could be very dangerous.
WALSH: And that's why we canceled school tomorrow. It's really about safety. And, you know, our plow drivers are out there on the streets. And this is -- this snow has been going all day long here in the city. You know, we've been -- we've made many several pass-throughs through most of the roads in Boston. And every time we -- we get ahead of the storm, it accumulates again. And they're still talking another six inches of snow possibly before the night's over.
So, you know, it's something that we have to take safety first.
BLITZER: Yes, of course. And it's not just Boston. You've got a lot of Pat's fans all over New England. And you don't want to tell them come in and risk driving -- and those roads, we're showing pictures of what it's like all -- in Andover, Massachusetts right now. I don't know if you heard Brian Todd's report, but the driving seems pretty icy and treacherous.
WALSH: Yes, the driving is bad. It got really cold here in the last couple hours and the temperature is going to dip even more. And tomorrow, the temperature is going to be 14 degrees in the city. So we're taking all this into account.
BLITZER: Is -- did the team come home?
I don't even know, did the Patriots come home from Arizona, because Boston Logan has had a lot of cancellations?
WALSH: No, they're still due to come in at some point today. They haven't landed yet. I watched them take off from Arizona, but I have not heard if they're in yet.
BLITZER: But you think they'll be able -- I assume they're going to land in Logan, right?
WALSH: Yes. Logan is trying to -- Logan is staying ahead of the snow. A lot of flights have been canceled coming into it.
But again, it comes down to the safety of the runways, the passengers, the planes, all the different pieces that come into play here. BLITZER: Yes. And, obviously, you don't have to just worry about your beautiful city of Boston, you've got a lot of areas around Boston you have to worry about. You've got a major decision, go ahead with the parade or not go ahead with the parade. And you want to make sure everybody is safe.
Are the roads -- how are the roads in Boston right now?
WALSH: They're in tough shape, just for the sheer fact that it's difficult to plow and put salt down when you have so much snow still snowing. And it's going to snow -- one forecast has it until 8:00 tonight, another has until 10:00. So you've got to assume a split in the middle there. So until 9:00. So you really can't be putting salt down until you can get the -- get down to the pavement.
In some areas, we have pavement. In other areas, we have snow cover over it. So it's really -- it's -- these two storms we've had back to back are a mess because they have been all day in the middle of the week. Our kids have lost a lot of school. People have lost a lot of work here. And it's been a -- you know, we've had a -- we've had a mild winter up until the last two weeks.
BLITZER: Well, Mayor, good luck to everyone in Boston. I know you'll want to celebrate the Pats' win, but you probably will do it a day or two later, just to be on the safe side.
I'll leave you with this thought. Boston usually gets 43 inches of snow each season. Since January 24th, just a few days ago, you guys in Boston have received more than 41 inches of snow. That broke a record for the snowiest seven day period ever.
You know that, right?
WALSH: Yes. And that's a record we don't need to break.
BLITZER: Yes. That's true.
All right, good luck. Congratulations on the Pats' win, by the way.
WALSH: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to get the latest forecast on this dangerous storm from our meteorologist, Tom Sater.
He's joining us right now -- Tom give us the update.
TOM SATER, ATS METEOROLOGIST: You know, Wolf, he just mentioned records we don't like to break. It always amazes me, when you think about records in this part of the country, that go back well into the 1800s, and we're still breaking records.
This is more than a nuisance storm. This is a look at a side street in Chicago. It is more than the thousands of schools that are being closed. Think of the tens of thousands of city workers across all of these cities that have been plowing 24/7.
Here's some of the devastating totals that are not going to go away because the cold air is moving in.
Chicago needed 14 inches to get into the top 10 greatest snowfalls. And the records go back to the -- 1886. They got 19.3. Five -- this is the fifth greatest snowfall on record.
We haven't talked much about Detroit, 16.7, Wolf. It places this as the third highest snowfall total in the history, the greatest snowfall since 1974. And their records go back to 1886.
Boston right now, the last report, and this is a few hours ago, 9.9. We believe there's about a foot on the ground and you still have one to three more coming.
Cleveland, 7.2. Toledo had over 10 inches. Kalamazoo near 20. Des Moines over 11.
This is -- it really has been affecting twice as many Americans than last week's storm that dropped one to three feet, mainly in a confined area of the Northeast. But now this is the flash freeze that Brian Todd was talking about.
The cold air is plummeting southward so fast, that all of the plowing, if you can see pavement, the salt, the chemicals are going to do very little come morning. And to make things worse, to tell you the truth, we have a secondary blast of Arctic air that will be here for the end of the week that is colder than the air that's moving in now.
So this is going to be here for a while.
The good news is we're finally seeing the tail end. It is moving through Hartford now. It has left New York City. Still parts of Long Island. There's a blue batch here. I'm going to show you, you get in a little bit closer. This is a heavy band, Wolf, that will still drop a good one to three as it moves out of Worcester, which picked up an all-time record last week, over three feet. And that moves toward the Boston area.
So, again, we think there's a foot on the ground in Boston. It could get another one to three. But finally the system moves out.
Wind chills are dropping pretty quickly, too. And to add, you know, insult to injury, we're going to see really, now, from Portland, six to eight, and still getting from Bangor northward into the Canadian Maritimes about a foot.
But it's not over.
SATER: Here are the temperatures. Right now morning lows expected -- Buffalo, zero, New York 11. Wednesday, there's a little bit of a rebound. So even though we're not going to get up above freezing from Philadelphia to Boston to Portland, that secondary blast will come in late Thursday and into Friday.
Now there have been many cities that were quite lucky. And that's good. Washington, DC Baltimore, Philadelphia, back to Cincinnati and southward, St. Louis. But the cold airs are moving in. And we have wind chill advisories and even warnings now, Wolf, for this part of the country. Over 100 million Americans affected by this latest winter storm.
BLITZER: A hundred million. Wow! It's a very huge number, obviously.
Tom Sater, thanks very much.
And once again, we just heard the mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, say within a half an hour they will make an official announcement whether or not that New England Patriots victory parade tomorrow, scheduled for Boston tomorrow will go forward or will be postponed for a few days, maybe the day after, the day after that, because of the treacherous conditions right now. Certainly sounds like they're going to have to postpone that parade.
We're going to have much more to come on this dangerous storm that's stranding travelers, forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights.
And later, President Obama's surprisingly personal response to the new aggression by Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: Just got word, official word from the mayor of Boston, that they decided to move that celebratory parade for the New England Patriots, scheduled for tomorrow. Not going to happen tomorrow. They decided to move it until Wednesday. They want to err on the side of caution, given the huge, huge problems affecting Boston. All of New England, right now.
This huge new snowstorm affecting not only New England but one third of the country, millions of people from the Midwest to the northeast, they're coping with very heavy snow. For Massachusetts it's the second major storm in a week and will be followed by bone-chilling cold with below-zero wind chills.
With us on the phone right now is Peter Judge of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
I suspect you agree with Mayor Walsh of Boston, Peter, it's a good idea to err on the side of caution, postpone that parade for the New England Patriots, the winner of the Super Bowl, by 24 hours.
PETER JUDGE, MASSACHUSETTS EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Absolutely. Simply because first of all, you know, how much snow is going to continue to come down and how much is going to be able to be moved, But the fact of the matter is the wind chill factors tomorrow morning when the parade is scheduled is supposed to be, like, 13, 14 below zero. So I think it's a very -- very wise move.
BLITZER: You think it's going to be any better Wednesday?
JUDGE: Can't be any worse. Yes. We expect it to be better. I mean, certainly the cleanup of the streets and the sidewalks in Boston, where the parade route is, is probably going to be much better, and the temperatures are supposed to be a little bit more sane.
BLITZER: But it's not just Boston. You've got a lot of New England fans who want to drive into Boston to celebrate the New England Patriots, and the driving conditions may be relatively OK in Boston, but what about in the areas around Boston?
JUDGE: Well, you're right. I mean, that's a challenge. There's areas in central Massachusetts that are going to get probably a total of 20 inches of snow before this thing stops. Major highways, I think by Wednesday will be pretty good, so people coming from distances I don't think will be a problem. The problem's going to be when they get off those highways and have to deal with surface roads and local roads. But you know, we're up to the task. I mean, it's winter in New England. We'll get it done.
BLITZER: Because this is an unusual winter in New England. Even by New England standards, this is pretty awful, right?
JUDGE: You're right. I mean, I think I just saw national weather announce that the city of Boston set a record snow for a week or then a ten-day period. So, you know, we got a lot of snow out there and we've got some extremely cold temperatures. But, you know, like I said, you know, we've dealt with similar things in the past, maybe not as bad as this, but people will figure it out.
BLITZER: What's the biggest problem you're facing? You're in charge of emergency management.
JUDGE: Well, I think right now, short term is really getting people home safely this evening. The plows are out there, but the temperatures have dropped about 20 degrees in a few hour period, and we've got this flash freeze going on in the southern part of the state, as well. So the roads, you're not only dealing with snow but also ice. So the commute is very problematic. We're almost encouraging a lot of people if you don't have to go right home, if you can hang in there for a few hours, hopefully things will improve.
BLITZER: Good -- good advice for a lot of folks in your state of Massachusetts. Peter Judge, thanks very much.
JUDGE: You're very welcome. Be safe.
BLITZER: As the huge storms spread from the Midwest to the northeast, so did the air travel nightmares all across the country. Thousands of flights have been canceled.
Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is joining us right now from LaGuardia Airport in New York. What are you hearing, what are you seeing?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: More than 4,400 flights nationwide canceled so far, and that number just seems to keep growing. We've been checking out this board behind me, and you just keep seeing that red canceled every time you look at the arrivals and departures.
Every hour, Wolf, we've been updating our viewers with the numbers from the five cities across the country with the most cancellations, Chicago still topping the list at 529, followed by LaGuardia at 432, followed by Newark at 310, Boston at 295, where they're having all those problems there, JFK with 145 cancellations there.
We've been listening to -- and watching some of the Twitter traffic where we heard about one plane that apparently had some problems trying to land, but then we checked in with Port Authority. They say all the runways are open and operational, safe for flights to take off and to land.
The best advice for travelers, obviously, with all those travel apps out there and weather web -- websites out there, as well, is to check with your carrier before you head out. But Wolf, we were talking to a couple that's trying to get back to Charlotte, North Carolina. They did all the right things. They checked with all the apps. They did everything they were supposed to. They were in a cab on their way over here, only to find out that their U.S. flight -- USAir flight had been canceled. So even when you do all the right things, you know, sometimes the weather just does not cooperate.
BLITZER: It's not cooperating right now. Jason Carroll, thank you.
CNN.com wants your help in telling the story of the storm. If you've taken your own images or videos of the latest storm, snow storm, post them to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hash tag #CNNsnow.
Coming up, President Obama's strong personal response to the latest aggression by Russia's Vladimir Putin.
And we have amazing new pictures of the destruction left by the fighting between Russian-backed forces and Ukrainian troops in a country the U.S. says it supports.
BLITZER: Look at that. Shocking, what's going on in Ukraine. President Obama, we're being told, may be ready to up the ante against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Obama administration now considering sending weapons, what's called lethal aid, to help government forces in Ukraine fend back rebel attacks in eastern Ukraine.
That's prompted by Russian advances and a flow of weapons, Russian weapons, into Ukraine.
Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what's going on? What are you learning?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you look at Russian aggression in the Ukraine, the violence, the heavy weaponry made in Russia, flowing across the border with personnel, and only increasing in the last few months, despite western sanctions and the threat of more. So now comes this consideration at the highest levels to look at the possibility of arming Ukrainian forces. Yes, we are talking lethal aid.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): Shelling. Fighting. Civilian deaths escalating as Russia expands its influence inside Ukraine. Now from some top U.S. officials, we hear shifting tone, internal discussions, support in military leadership for the U.S. and its allies to do more: arm Ukrainian forces with defensive but lethal aid.
JENNIFER PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We haven't taken options off the table.
KOSINSKI: The president said this in India last week.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will look at all additional options that are available to us, short of military confrontation.
KOSINSKI: The tricky question, though, would arming Ukraine end up a deterrent or stoke the fire into a proxy war with Russia as the White House has worried?
A group of foreign policy experts, including former administration officials, just put out a report calling the situation critical, urging the U.S. and NATO to directly arm Ukrainian forces, including anti-armor missiles.
STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: The proposal is not to give Ukraine enough to beat the Russian army. We can't do that. But we want the Ukrainians to be able to raise the cost of aggression to the Russian military so the Russians consider the cost too high and that takes away the option from Russia of further aggression, further escalation.
KOSINSKI: In the words of Ukrainian President Poroshenko, before the U.S. Congress wanting lethal aid for months...
PETRO POROSHENKO, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE: Please understand me correctly. Blankets, night vision goggles are also important. But one cannot win the war with blankets.
KOSINSKI: The focus is still on trying to find a diplomatic solution, applying economic pressure. The analysts who put together this report said that they looked at the risks, of course, of arming Ukraine, but they concluded that the risks of not acting in this way were even worse in terms of how Russia might continue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House. Obviously, the situation there escalating. Thanks very much.
Now to a CNN exclusive. Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, has been on the front lines in Ukraine. He's getting a first-hand look at the violence. It's ugly out there right now, we must warn you, as the report contains graphic images. Nick is joining us now live from Ukraine with the very latest.
Nick, this is awful. It seems to be getting worse by the day.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's remarkable, Wolf, is that months ago you would never conceive the idea of heavy artillery being used, perhaps indiscriminately, in civilian areas by both sides, I have to say.
But we today got rare access, in fact, the first western media to see the heart, really, of much of the worst fighting in the past few months. And that is at what used to be the quite prestigious international airport in Donetsk, now the heart of the battlefield, destroyed beyond recognition.
WALSH (voice-over): Nowhere has the fighting been fiercer in the worst war to hit Europe since the Balkans than here in its once-proud Sergey Prokofiev International Airport.
Ukraine's army is still shelling here. Despite being pushed out of this former stronghold two weeks ago by these Russian-backed separatists, themselves heavily armed, this is their form of airport shuttle.
(on camera): We're moving now in an armored car towards the new terminal of the airport. Territory which the separatists have taken, but it's still regularly under fire from the Ukrainian military.
(voice-over): We pull into the airport long-term underground parking.
(on camera): Occasionally, shells are still landing here.
(voice-over): The fighting that, here, killed hundreds as Ukrainians used service tunnels to hold part of the complex. The men claim these bodies were left in the Ukrainian retreat.
The last call for passengers on this walkway passed months ago. These pictures from three years ago showing how it used to sparkle.
(on camera): Hard to imagine how just six months ago we were here flying out of Donetsk. This, that was then a state-of-the-art international terminal. Just look at the destruction and how this symbolizes how far eastern Ukraine has fallen.
Mortars often fall here, so we moved fast. They used to call this the new terminal, opened two years ago for football fans coming to see the European championship. But that newfound European optimism has evaporated. The war here is entering a new phase, with the heaviest of weapons and the random shelling of civilians, in which victory has become more important than its spoils.
These men blame Barack Obama for this devastation. Russia blames NATO for fomenting this war. NATO says nonsense and that many of these fighters are actually Russian regular army. Blame, hatred and charred remains everywhere. But for Ukraine's bright hopes of modern prosperity, the gate is closed.
WALSH: No matter how hard it tries, Ukraine's army simply can't hold ground. The separatists look increasingly confident day by day. Called up today, 100,000 reinforcements, they say, and really, sanctions have not dampened the appetite in Moscow for this war, it seems.
The question now is what can Washington do to actually influence a situation it clearly wanted very little truck with in the start.
BLITZER: This situation is clearly, clearly escalating. Excellent report. Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us as he always is. Thank you.
Let's get more now. Joining us, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York.
Congressman, thanks for coming in. You want the Obama administration to start arming the Ukrainian military?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: Absolutely. I think it should have been done a while ago. You know, the very last bill that Congress passed last year when we went out of session was authorizing the president to supply lethal weapons to the -- to the Ukrainians.
BLITZER: Why didn't they do it? You'd been pressing them. What did they say to you? Why have they waited so long?
ENGEL: Well, nobody wants to get involved if it can be avoided into something that might be able to suck us in. But I think it's pretty clear to anybody now that Putin is going for the kill. These are not separatists. These are Russian troops aided and abetted by Russian...
BLITZER: How do you know that?
ENGEL: Well, we do know that. It's not even -- only Putin says no, but everybody else believes otherwise.
BLITZER: So you think that regular Russian army personnel have now moved into Ukraine and are leading this fight? These aren't simply Ukrainian rebels who support unification with Russia?
ENGEL: No. No. And of course, all the material they're getting is from Russia. This is as if Russia is invading Ukraine. And I think that the west cannot sit idly by and just put its head in the sand. I think the time has come to really move. If this is not stopped now, we're going to see the end of a democratic Ukraine, and I don't think that's...
BLITZER: Quickly, how many Russian troops do you estimate are in Ukraine right now?
ENGEL: I don't know how many, but for sure, they're there and they're training the rebels, as well. There are more Russian troops there than there are rebels.
BLITZER: Are they the hundreds or the thousands?
ENGEL: I couldn't venture to tell you how many. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's in the thousands.
BLITZER: Stand by, Congressman. We have a lot more to discuss. We've to take a quick break.
Much more with Eliot Engel on this devastation that's going on in Ukraine right now. The secretary of state, John Kerry, is getting ready to head over there this week. The president got very personal in his interview with Fareed Zakaria about Putin. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York. Just want to wrap up this issue of the U.S. providing weapons to the Ukrainian military. Have you been briefed, has the Obama administration made a decision to go forward and supply these weapons as you want?
ENGEL: We haven't been briefed, but we will be briefed in the next few days. So I couldn't tell you if they'd made a decision, but my admonition to them is that they should make the decision to help the Ukrainians.
BLITZER: The Ukrainians pay for it, the U.S. taxpayer pays for it? Who pays for the weapons that presumably would go to Ukraine?
ENGEL: Well, you know, it's not only weapons. It's loan guarantees, which we have Putin forward. And we would -- we would pay for the weapons.
BLITZER: The U.S.?
ENGEL: The U.S.
BLITZER: Any idea how much money we're talking about?
ENGEL: I don't know specifically how much money but I will tell you that it's a small price to pay because the -- the alternative is to have more Crimeans, is to have Russia essentially control more of Ukraine.
I think what's happening now, Wolf, you know, we were talking before about what sounds like the Cold War all over again. I think if we don't stand up to Putin now, he's not going to stop at Ukraine. There are other countries there that were very nervous. The former eastern bloc countries, Moldova, the Baltic States. We need to show our allies, our NATO allies in Europe that we are not going to --
BLITZER: But why doesn't NATO do this? I mean, NATO got involved in Afghanistan. NATO gets involved outside of the NATO countries itself. It seems those NATO countries in Europe, they have a lot at stake right now as well.
BLITZER: You mentioned Poland or Latvia, Lithuania, these are all NATO allies. Why aren't they getting more involved?
ENGEL: Well, NATO should do it.
BLITZER: What should NATO do?
ENGEL: The EU should do it but the United States really has to lead. I --
BLITZER: So the United States leads but what do you want Britain, France, Germany -- these are powerful countries, Italy, Spain. What do you want these NATO allies to do?
ENGEL: I want them to provide Ukraine the ability to defend itself.
BLITZER: With weapons.
ENGEL: With weapons.
BLITZER: What about military personnel?
ENGEL: Well, no one is talking right now about military personnel. We're hoping that if Russia sees that the West has a resolve to not let them continue their aggression, Russia will back down. We've got to make it painful for Russia.
BLITZER: But the Russians don't seem to be -- I mean, it's making an impact on the Russian economy but Putin is not backing down. His popularity still goes up.
ENGEL: Well, he's propping up Russia, but the Russian economy is very, very poor. And that's why we need to give them lethal weapons because we need to make it -- make Putin understand that --
BLITZER: So you want to tighten the sanctions?
ENGEL: I think we should tighten the sanctions.
Look, I think Putin has killed Russian democracy and if he's going to be around for another 20 or 25 years, the way the West deals with him now sets the course for the next 25 years. If we think, if we let him think his aggression will just continue and that we will be too scared to fight it, he will do more and he's not going to stop. I think he's got to know there's a price to pay. BLITZER: It sounds to me like we are back at the -- I mean, I lived
through the Cold War, so did you. This sounds like the bad old days of the Cold War.
ENGEL: Well, Mr. Putin was an old KGB person. I think he said the greatest tragedy of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. I can think of a lot more tragedies. I think that -- unfortunately Putin has to understand that the West is united in resolve. We haven't been showing that up until now. I think it's time for a change.
BLITZER: He's got Crimea in Ukraine. He wants to take this whole land mass. They have a land mass from Russia through Ukraine to Crimea. Is that his objective?
ENGEL: Well, that's his objective. And by the way, I don't think we should acquiesce to Crimea. It's a fait accompli for now. But Crimea is part of Ukraine. It's not part of Russia. He needs to understand, you know, way back when before World War II, when World War II started, there was another dictator who said if you just give me Czechoslovakia, if you gave me the Sudentenland, there are people who thought just give it to him and then he'll be happy.
And we saw that that didn't work then. This won't work now. If we think we can appease Putin by letting him be aggressive in Ukraine, we are kidding ourselves. It's not going to stop at Crimea, it's not going to stop at Odessa. It will just continue.
BLITZER: You are not saying he's Hitler.
ENGEL: No, no, I don't think you can compare anybody to Hitler. But I think that Putin's aggression is very similar to the type of aggression we saw just before World War II.
BLITZER: Eliot Engel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thanks for joining us.
ENGEL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up at the top of the hour, hostages' lives on the line. We have new reporting on the fight to save prisoners held by ISIS including an American woman.
But up next, we have a live update on this monster storm battering the northeast, setting records for snowfall.
BLITZER: We got some breaking news. Boston officials now have decided to postpone tomorrow's victory celebration for the New England Patriots. The celebration now set for Wednesday. Let's see if they can do it Wednesday. Record snow in Boston will be followed by below zero wind chills.
Let's check in once again with Brian Todd. He's in Hanover, Massachusetts. He's got more. Brian, it looks like that snow is coming down.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's coming down, Wolf. It's getting worse. And to boot, since the last time we talked to you, the wind has kicked up. So in addition to this volume of snow, which is really falling at a relentless rate, you've got the wind now, you've got whiteout conditions.
And here's another illustrator of the problem. Where to put all the snow. I'm climbing up a snow mound that's about 10 feet or so high. There are places like this all over the greater Boston area. And this is a huge problem. They are running out of places to put the snow. There are also motorists just have to place to go if they think they need to pull over on the side of the road, if they think they're going to get stranded, if they need some kind of help.
There is no place to park your car. There are very few places to walk if you have to leave your car. But officials are saying they do not want people to leave their cars on the side of the road anywhere. It is just too dangerous.
Three thousand plus snowplows, spreaders and other vehicles are out trying to clear these roads, Wolf. But it's just coming down too fast a rate. They cannot keep up with it.
On the road themselves, you can't see the lane markers. It's very bad tonight. It doesn't seem to be letting up. We were told it might taper off by now. It certainly hasn't done that. And it's just getting more dangerous.
And now, Wolf, the roads are going to start to freeze. We can feel it right now. One of our CNN weather colleagues told me that if you're out here for more than 30 minutes, you're going to get frostbite. And we can start to feel it right now.
BLITZER: And so the driving conditions were awful all day. But you're saying now, Brian, it's getting worse?
TODD: It really is, Wolf. And the problem is that now the temperatures on the pavement are going to be below freezing. And the wind chill is going to be in the negative teens tonight. So all of that combined means very, very treacherous driving conditions.
These roads are freezing now in addition to not being all cleared off because, again, the plows as hard as they're working, and they've been out all day, they just can't keep up with this rate of snow at this point.
BLITZER: We'll get back to you shortly, Brian. Be careful over there.
Brian Todd in Massachusetts.
Coming up, the president of the United States says the U.S. is doing all it can to free an American woman being held hostage by ISIS as the fate of an allied pilot captured by the terror group is still unclear. I will speak live with the president's deputy National Security
adviser, Ben Rhodes. He's standing by over at the White House.
And I'll also ask him about ISIS, what the U.S. plans to do about Russian aggression in Ukraine and more.