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Ukraine, Torn between Russia and the E.U.; "Brown Moses" Documents Syria Brutality; Imagine a World

Aired December 16, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

It is ice cold in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, but the raging fire of protest burns on, tens of thousands of Ukranians remain on the streets, demonstrating their anger at President Viktor Yanukovych and his decision to abandon a trade agreement with the European Union.

It's been nearly a month now since he ditched that deal, opting instead for closer ties with Russia. Protesters want to see Yanukovych's Cabinet dismissed and early elections for both Parliament and president.

But there's confusion from the E.U. because in the aftermath of these massive protests, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that Yanukovych had decided to sign the deal. But then that was off again.

And leading U.S. Senator John McCain went to Kiev to affirm U.S. and Western support for the demonstrators this weekend.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: We are here to support you (INAUDIBLE), the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. With all Ukranians, America stands with you.


AMANPOUR: As the E.U. seeks to enlarge its association with Eastern Europe, Ukraine, with its 46 million people remains a big prize, which puts it right in the middle of that tug-of-war with Russia.

So is Yanukovych trying to play all sides? And how badly could that strategy backfire?

Carl Bildt is Sweden's foreign minister, and he joined me earlier during intense discussions on this topic at the European Council in Brussels.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: There are ongoing meetings in Brussels between E.U. officials and the Ukranian officials. There seem to be mixed messages, Mr. Foreign Minister. On the one hand, the enlargement minister for Europe is saying that he doubts a deal can be reached with Yanukovych

On the other hand, the foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, says that she thinks there can be a deal.

What is going on? Can you or can you not reach a deal?

BILDT: Well, we have a deal with President Yanukovych. We negotiated for several years and we initialed that particular agreement with very, very -- it's 1,000 pages. We did that last summer. And it's ready for signature. But where we -- what we get is profoundly mixed messages from Kiev. One day, President Yanukovych saying one thing; another day, he's saying another thing.

And we are ready to sign the agreement any day, as soon as there is a decision waiting here.

AMANPOUR: Well, what is the feeling now in E.U. headquarters? Because the enlargement minister is saying he doesn't think that it's actually going to get signed on.

Is it or not?

BILDT: Well, from our point of view, policy is clear. If they want to sign, we will sign. We could do it tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, three days from now. But there seems to be a profound policy muddle in Kiev with us getting different messages from the president himself and from his government and there is all sorts of other things.

They are evidently under very severe pressure primarily from Russia that have done trade measures against them and threatened further trade measures against their economy, which is also in a very difficult state if they proceed with the signature. And that, I think, is that underlying reason for what we are now seeing.

AMANPOUR: And also, of course, President Yanukovych has said and continues to say, apparently, that the deal and the financial health of the E.U. is not sufficient. Catherine Ashton is saying that maybe the E.U. could make it better.

Is that possible?

BILDT: The deal that we have is not a deal on financial health. It's a free trade agreement, that is an agreement of the modernization, help with the modernization of the Ukranian economy. They need financial help desperately. I mean, they are on the verge of a black hole.

But they have to go to the IMF. It is the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, that has that money. And they need to reenter and reenter as quickly as possible negotiation with the IMF in order to get the financial help that is urgently necessary. We have offered to help with that. But the role of the European Union, we can offer them free trade; we can offer help with the modernization.

We can give them access to the world's biggest integrated market. But when it comes to covering the black holes in their economy, that's for the IMF.

AMANPOUR: So tell me where the negotiations are, or the discussions that are happening as we speak.

BILDT: I think discussions are primarily in the ETF (ph), where they have to make up their mind, do they want to sign this agreement or not.

Then President Yanukovych is going to Moscow on Tuesday to negotiate a series of other agreements. That's fine with us because cooperation between Ukraine and Russia is an important part of it. But we have reason to suspect that he's under very severe pressure from them to completely break off the preparations for this particular deal with the European Union.

And that, I think, is one of the causes of the profound policy muddle that we see in Kiev at the moment.

AMANPOUR: And spell out what would happen if he breaks it off.

What are the -- what is the result of that in Kiev, for the Europeans, for Russia, what is the result of breaking off this deal?

BILDT: Well, I think there are, of course, as you can see, when you see the massive manifestations in the Maidan, there is a domestic policy aspect of the Ukraine, where a number of people -- I don't know how many -- they wish Ukraine to move in a more European reform-oriented direction.

But apart from that, the Ukranian economy needs modernization. It's a economy with a lot of potential but at the moment, more problems than potential.

So they need both the acute financial assistance from the IMF and undertake the measures that other nations have to undertake when there are difficulties, but they also need this access to the European markets so as to be able to attract investments and the other things that we've modernized to them.

I mean, take the comparison with -- go back 25 years in time and Poland and the Ukraine were roughly on the same level of development.

Today Poland, people live nine years longer. GDP per capita, I think it's at level four times what is in Ukraine. That's what modernization brings and that is the consequences of the absence of modernization.

AMANPOUR: So in this age of Twitter diplomacy, you, in this regard, have been incredibly active on your Twitter account. Some might even say you're goading the Russians, goading President Putin.

Are you?

BILDT: Well, I think they are fairly active on Twitter as well, to get that message out. And their message includes quite a lot of disinformation on what is the content of this particular agreement. And then I think it's important that we should use also the modern communications methods in order to get the message out on what this agreement really means.

AMANPOUR: So what disinformation is Putin giving to Yanukovych and the Ukranians?

BILDT: Well, they are saying that it is an agreement to the detriment of the Ukranian economy. And they are saying that this is going to lead to sort of goods flooding from Ukraine into Russia, which is not the case. That has nothing to do with this particular agreement. And they say that they will be forced to take measures against the Ukranian economy if this comes into effect.

I mean, this is roughly the same as if the United States has said to Mexico that if you have a free trade agreement with the European Union, we're going to sort of go back from NAFTA and have customs duties against Mexican exports to the United States.

Mexico has a free trade agreement with both the European Union and the United States. And Ukraine has no less right than them to have free trade with both Russia and the European Union.

AMANPOUR: So I asked one of the main Ukranian opposition leaders when this first started, could they do anything -- could Europe do anything to allay the fears -- if that's the right word -- of the Russians over this?

Is there a way of Europe trying to allay Putin's fears that you could have a Mexico situation with the U.S. and Europe?

BILDT: Well, what we are saying to them -- and I think every economy that has been looking at it is also saying this agreement is in the interest of Russia as well. If we have Ukraine that develops better, that is good for Russia. It's a better market for Russia; it's a better partner for Russia. Modernization of Ukraine is something that will pave the way also for modernization of Russia.

We have an interest in free trade with everyone. We have an interest in the modernization of everyone. And we should not try to block the nations that try to do it.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary for Eastern Europe affairs, handing out food in the wake of that terribly brutal crackdown a few days ago. This is rather unprecedented.

BILDT: Well, I think a lot of the things that we see in Kiev today are unprecedented. I don't think we've seen as massive demonstrations in favor of the European Union in any European capital for quite some time. So it is unprecedented. It is something that truly of massive significance that we see, which is, of course, enormous expectations on the European Union.

Might be inflated expectations of the European Union, but it does express evidently very strong urge on part of significant sectors of Ukraine society for modernization and for different model of development of their country.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

BILDT: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So as this struggle continues to play out and Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, is headed to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow tomorrow, there are more major rallies planned at home.

Now while hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets, as we've seen in Ukraine, sometimes, one solitary soul can make a huge difference, even in a conflict as baffling and as brutal as Syria's civil war.

After a break, we'll meet a private citizen 3,000 miles away from the fighting who not only knows where the bullets are flying, but where they came from and who's using what. A modern-day Moses, trying to find a way out of the wilderness of war, when we return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And we turn now to Syria.

Now since the chemical weapons deal was struck, world attention has drifted away from the fighting there. But it is brutal. The humanitarian disaster also has gotten worse; nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled and are in refugee camps across the borders. Even more are fleeing internally.

And they face an unusually harsh winter, snow already blankets the ground and many, like this young girl, brave the deep freeze in plastic sandals. There are chronic shortages of food, shelter and medical attention.

As the United Nations launches yet another desperate appeal for help, there are new reports today of government attacks using so-called barrel bombs, containers packed with explosives and shrapnel, dropped from helicopters, this time on residential neighborhoods in Aleppo.

It is increasingly difficult for journalists to cover the actual battles. But my next guest, Eliot Higgins, has been doing a remarkably precise job of nailing down the weapons and who's using them in this war. And he's doing it from a laptop in his living room right here in Leicester, England. He's already extensively documented the barrel bombings.

For instance, in this attack, which he cited earlier this fall, Higgins is a blogger known as Brown Moses, and his most renowned coup was analyzing and confirming this summer's chemical weapons attack.

He came into the studio a short time ago to talk about the latest state of violent play in Syria.


AMANPOUR: Eliot Higgins, welcome.

The latest bomb -- or at least the one we're aware of right now -- are these barrel bombs which have just been dropped out of helicopters and they say have killed perhaps 100 people.

What do you know about these things?

ELIOT HIGGINS, BLOGGER AND SYRIAN WEAPONS ANALYST: They've been used since 2012. They're basically pushed out of the back of helicopters. The first ones we saw pretty much just, you know, barrels and metal tubes that were filled with explosives and had a basic fuse, which is a bit like a wick. It's pushed out of the back of helicopters.

What we're actually seeing now is a larger type. It's much larger. They've actually developed the ROI (ph) fusings, impact fuses, so when it hits the ground, it'll explode. Because you had the issue before with these wick fuses that they'd explode in the air or they wouldn't explode when they hit the ground.

So you can actually see them developing the technology of these guidewire (ph) weapons in the conflict. And these barrel bombs we're seeing now are about 4-5 times larger than the ones we've seen before. And they're massively powerful.

AMANPOUR: I guess it's amazing that you've actually seen all the information, you have the tools.

You have the skills and it's collating and making sense of them, because one of the things we as journalists sometimes get bombarded by and we really don't know what's going on is all these videos coming at us, all these YouTubes, all these smartphone it is, and we don't even know who's doing it and what agenda they have.

HIGGINS: There's multiple ways to verify videos. One technique is quite straightforward. Basically you watch the video, see what the landmarks are and then look for the landmarks on a satellite map. I mean, it's a bit time-consuming ,but you can prove videos are filmed in exact positions.

AMANPOUR: Well, this leads me right into obviously the one that was so controversial and that was the attack in August of this past year, August 2013, of chemical weapons, many on the ground said that they'd been attacked by chemical weapons, but nobody was able to prove it for a while or believe it.

We're going to show one of the videos that was part of the basis of your verification.


HIGGINS (voice-over): What we have here -- this was a very interesting video, because for a very long time, I was digging through lots of videos, trying to link to the opposition or the Syrian government. And they always seemed like it was the Syrian government, just based on a variety of evidence.

But one thing there was a lot of imagery of was the remains of the weapons that were used in the attack. And there are very distinct design. They looked almost -- I won't say DIY, but they certainly weren't a conventional weapon. It looked like that there was a sort of element of -- you know, they were locally made, you could say.

There were all sorts of videos that were posted by the opposition showing distant launches. And you couldn't quite make out the details.

And then this video was posted online by the Syrian government's National Defense Force. And this clearly shows them using all the launches that were being -- I mean, (INAUDIBLE) actually two sites of munitions and two kinds of launches. But this is basically the kind of munition used.

We --


AMANPOUR: The launch anything or chemical weapons?

HIGGINS: Well, I believe there's actually slightly smaller launches that's used for the chemical munition. This is actually a much -- a bigger version of the same munition.

You'll see, you know, there, you can see black numbering along.

From the studying of the videos, we can see there's red numbering on the chemical types, there's black numbering on the explosive type, which is what you have here. I don't think we'll see a black rod sticking out the rear of the warhead.

AMANPOUR: Right here.

HIGGINS: For a long time, we knew there was at least one hole in the rear of every warhead. They were always on the explosive type.

But there's two holes on the back of the chemical type. We realized more the holes was the fill holes to pour the chemicals in, quite simply. But the other one was a mystery. And we were also finding these black rods in videos, you know, myself and other people, studying these videos. And we were trying to figure out what this was.

I think we now believe the black rod is actually providing power for the fuse. It's involved in the fusing in somehow because we've seen in this video as well, if you'll look very, very carefully, they remove the cap at the very end of the rocket and there's actually a cable that comes out of the end. And that's what ignites the rocket.

So -- you know this video was hugely useful for understanding how the munition works.

AMANPOUR: But given that this is the explosive type, it's not the chemical type.

HIGGINS: No, it's not --

AMANPOUR: So how did you know about the chemicals?

HIGGINS: The one thing that's very interesting is you see this munition. The end of that warhead is filled with explosives. If that explodes, there's going to be nothing left, massive amount of explosives.

The munitions we found on August 21st were pretty much intact. The warhead had burst open. But there wasn't that much explosive damage. It was mangled and, you know, from impact, and that was the first clue it wasn't explosive.

AMANPOUR: Let's play another video, because you also have been able to debunk some theories, for instance, that these chemical weapons are being sold on eBay and this and that.


This is a video -- this one actually comes up quite frequently. You see that (INAUDIBLE). What's -- so, you know, you always (INAUDIBLE) oh, we found chemical weapons. This is proof of chemical weapons. It says sarin.

These are actually chemical weapons testing kits. And you know, I've had videos sent to me showing bits of cottony material, which was a chemical weapons.

I've been told all sorts of stories about chemical weapons that never even pan out because there's so much -- there's so much rumor mongering and the people -- the opposition members aren't chemical weapons experts. They don't know what to expect.

So they see something with sarin in it or they see something weird or they see some sort of gas they don't recognize, it's chemical weapons, chemical weapons, chemical weapons, when it's -- this is a testing kit.

I actually found out --


AMANPOUR: And it was the testing kit that they were putting on eBay, not the weapon itself, obviously.

HIGGINS: This is the thing. I was looking for a good reference (INAUDIBLE), oh, I'll just put it on eBay. I saw that it was selling a complete testing kit with all these high-resolution photographs because they wanted to sell it. But was a better example possible that it was just a testing kit because I'm sure eBay doesn't let people sell sarin.

AMANPOUR: Why did you start doing this? What interested you about this?

HIGGINS: Well, I was first interested in this because I was talking a lot -- I was, like many people, discussing stuff online about conflicts and current events and I was looking at Libya quite closely. And there's a lot of stuff coming out from Libya from social media, tweets and videos, that were just being completely ignored. So I thought, why not put them in one place?

(INAUDIBLE) my daughter was born and I was too busy to do anything else. And by the time I got 'round to thinking about it again, it was (INAUDIBLE). And it was Syria, yes.

And what's interesting about Syria is there's been a vast amount of just videos alone. There's a vast amount out there. Some people say there's up to 500,000 videos posted from Syria. And that's a vast amount of information. And people aren't really looking at it in any meaningful way.

AMANPOUR: Do people often ask you, do you have a dog in this fight? Do you -- are you on one side or the other? Where are you politically on this?

HIGGINS: In the last few weeks, I've seen more decapitations than I've seen in the entire conflict. And that's -- I mean, who do you support?

The Free Syrian Army, whatever that means, is basically completely powerless and virtually worthless at this point. The country's being taken over in opposition held territory, in the north, by the Islamic states of Rakinalsham (ph), you know, Jabhat Al-Nusra, you know, also Al Qaeda affiliates.

AMANPOUR: So what are you seeing in terms of who's winning, who's losing, is it a -- you use the word meat grinder.

HIGGINS: Yes. I mean, some -- the government's doing well in some areas. The opposition is doing well in some areas. But it's not enough to win. And the problem is you are seeing an increase in the -- you know, increase in sectarian violence, they're getting increasingly powerful weapons that they're using increasingly indiscriminately. (INAUDIBLE) country's being destroyed by this war.

What hope is there for any peaceful resolution? And there's no hope for a military resolution, really.

AMANPOUR: Eliot Higgins, thank you very much indeed.

HIGGINS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And Eliot Higgins wants to expand what he's doing to create much wider analysis and to teach others how to do what he's doing and to move it even beyond Syria. It's really valuable analysis, this.

And as we all know, the outlines of modern Syria and many of the boundaries of today's Middle East are often attributed for good or ill to one enigmatic Englishman, T.E. Lawrence.

In David Lean's epic film of 1962, "Lawrence of Arabia" was made flesh and blood by a young unknown Irish actor named Peter O'Toole. It was perhaps the greatest film debut since Scarlett O'Hara, and every bit as sexy, complex and compelling, especially seen through those piercing blue eyes.

Peter O'Toole received an Oscar nomination for his performance, one of eight nominations in a long and brilliant career.

But unlike the real T.E. Lawrence, who refused a knighthood, Peter O'Toole never got the chance to refuse or accept that elusive Oscar. He died Saturday at the age of 81.

And after a break, as one man passes, another man passes and rises again. We'll explain when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a great leader is laid to rest one day, only to rise again the next. No, this is not a Bible story. It actually took place today in South Africa, after Nelson Mandela was buried in his ancestral village of Qunu on Sunday, carried to his grave in a flag-draped coffin as helicopters flew in tribute overhead.

And today a giant bronze statue to this giant of a man who conquered apartheid was unveiled in Pretoria at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, where Mandela delivered his inaugural address as South Africa's first black president; indeed, its first democratically elected president, back in 1994.

Now the statue had long been planned to celebrate these 20 years of democracy. But the date of the unveiling is significant. December 16th has always been charged with history and meaning for South Africans, because on that date back in 1838, Dutch-speaking Afrikaners defeated the Zulus at the aptly named Battle of Blood River, establishing white minority rule that lasted over 150 years.

But in 1994, with the fall of apartheid, December 16th was transformed into the day of reconciliation, celebrated as a national holiday ever since by all South Africans.

And now the day has taken on new meaning, thanks to the man who helped bury apartheid, never to let that rise again.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.