Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Crisis in Ukraine; Obama: U.S. Looming At Steps To "Isolate Russia"; U.S. Suspends Bilateral Trade, Investment With Russia
Aired March 3, 2014 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BURNETT: Our coverage of the crisis in the Ukraine continues now with Anderson Cooper live in Kiev.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Anderson Cooper, reporting live from Kiev in Ukraine. A country on the brink. As the new prime minister has said. Russian forces in the Crimea, the fear that they may move further into eastern Ukraine.
I'm reporting from Independence Square, where a little bit more than a week and a half ago people were fighting and dying for change here in Ukraine. They got the change. The former president fled, but nobody could have predicted what happened next. Russian forces on the ground in Crimea.
It is a start of a new day here. It's a little bit before dawn on Tuesday morning, the start of a day that nobody no one can predict, what will happen over the next 12 hours. People here are certainly hoping and praying that it does not end in bloodshed. There has been far too much bloodshed already.
In this area here, people died a little bit more than a week and a half ago, right now it is considered holy ground, a place of martyrs, there are flowers, there are makeshift memorials all around the barricades, the sandbags are all still up, all still a sign of what happened here just a short time ago.
The protesters remain because they want to make sure that the changes that the new government here in Ukraine have promised will actually take root. Well, the promises made will actually be followed up on. The new government here, a shaky government at best, an interim president, a new prime minister, they are certainly hoping now that diplomacy will work in order to alter the situation on the ground in Crimea.
The government here is looking to the West, looking to the United States to aide in that diplomacy. At the same time, they are calling up the military reserves here in the Ukraine, if it comes to an all out war.
That is something all sides say they want to avoid at all costs. There have been a lot of developments just in the last five or six hours that we want to bring you up to date on. We have our complete coverage with our correspondents all throughout the region and all across the globe tonight.
First, I want to bring you just up to speed, what's happened today and over the last 72 hours. Take a look.
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It is a fact that Russia has surrounded or taken over practically all Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea. It is a fact that today Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace.
COOPER (voice-over): U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power today making clear in words what the people of Crimea now see on the streets. These heavily armed troops have tightened their grip on the Crimea region of Ukraine. A blunt answer to a warning from the West and President Obama. It all unraveled quickly over the last 72 hours.
YURIY A. SERGEYEV, PERMANENT REPRESENT OF UKRAINE TO U.N.: This action by the Russian federation constitute an act of aggression against the state of Ukraine.
COOPER: That in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin receiving authorities Saturday from his parliament to use military force in Ukraine. All the while, the surreal spectacle continued. A mystery gunman with no insignias on their uniforms, patrolling the streets.
DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Where are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From Russia.
MAGNAY: From Russia. From where in Russia?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not important.
COOPER: But it is important to nearly all of Europe and the United States. President Obama spoke to President Putin calling on him to withdraw his troops. But on Sunday the situation seemed to get worse. The city of Simperofol Russian forces surrounded its naval operations base, asking the supreme commander to hand over control.
"We've been ordered to defend the base," he says. "If anyone tries to force us to leave, we will defend it and we'll fight with our guns."
In all some 10 bases surround it. Ukrainian troops inside the gates but appear to be Russian troops on the outside. While the standoffs have been tense, so far there's been no loss of life. By day's end Russia had complete operational control of Crimea, according to a senior White House official.
(On camera): The central government here is shaky to say the least, the former president fled a little bit more than a week ago, there's an acting president now, and a new prime minister. A crisis in Crimea is the last thing they need.
(Voice-over): The Ukrainian government in Kiev is mobilizing troops and calling up military reservists to fight should they need them.
(On camera): You just signed up today for the fight if it comes to that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I did it today.
COOPER: Why do you want to fight? What are you ready to fight for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said because we know from history that Crimea is our country. It's our (INAUDIBLE).
COOPER: President Putin today oversaw military training drills outside St. Petersburg, Russia. Over a thousand miles away from Crimea, but the message seemingly crystal clear -- the Russian military is ready.
And just in the last few hours, new images of armored personnel carriers bearing Russian flags rolling into Crimea. No question this time who these men are fighting for.
COOPER: Throughout the European Union and in Washington, it has been a day of fierce diplomatic efforts trying to figure out some sort of way to solve the crisis, to end the crisis on the ground in Crimea.
President Obama spoke a short time ago today while he was meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously the facts on the ground in Crimea are deeply troubling, and Russia has a large army that borders Ukraine. But what is also true is that over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia. And now is the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as oppose to force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Secretary of State John Kerry will be on the ground here in Ukraine, in the Kiev, later on today. He's expected to depart shortly from Andrews Air Force Base. We'll bring you that departure as it happens.
I want to go to Jim Acosta at the White House.
Jim, what is the latest in terms of diplomatic efforts on the U.S. front?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we can tell you that President Obama met with his national security advisers earlier this evening. They're not really looking at military options, at least according to what the White House is saying. They're more focused on what can be done economically and diplomatically.
You heard about this talk over the weekend that the U.S. and other European allies won't go to the G-8 summit in Russia later on this summer. And then this evening, the Pentagon said that the U.S. is now cancelling all military engagements that it has with the Russians. So that is a new step that took place this evening.
You mentioned that Secretary of State John Kerry is heading over to Kiev to talk about financial assistance that he is bringing promises of from the United States and hopefully, according to this White House, from European allies.
But, Anderson, the president believes that the world is on his side, not on Vladimir Putin's side. The question tonight, though, Anderson, is whether Vladimir Putin is listening.
COOPER: And in terms of options that the United States has, I mean, there are not a huge number of options.
ACOSTA: There aren't a whole lot of options, Anderson. They're going to continue to isolate, as the president said, Russia economically. They're looking at trade deals. They're looking at commerce deals. But in terms of what the president believes Vladimir Putin is up to, I can tell you that from talking to officials over here at the White House, they do believe that Vladimir Putin is operating under his own set of facts.
It's just that the White House doesn't agree with that set of facts. That they believe Vladimir is acting because he believes Ukraine is creeping closer and closer to the Western Europe, and that he's trying to stop that. What the president wants to convince Vladimir Putin of is that there are options to deal with this other than sending in the military into Crimea.
He says that should be done with international observers, respecting the rights of Russians -- ethnic Russians in Ukraine. That's the right approach, according to this White House. Not going down the road of Vladimir Putin's military exercise so far -- Anderson.
COOPER: Jim Acosta reporting at the White House -- Jim, thanks very much.
I want to bring in our Matthew Chance who spent six years reporting from Moscow. Spent a lot of time here in Ukraine. And also Ben Wedeman is joining us in Crimea.
Ben, actually let me start off with you. What is the situation that you have been -- witnessing over the last 12, 24 hours on the ground in Crimea?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly what we're seeing is that the Russians are very much in control of all major areas in Crimea. We were today at a court called Kerch in the eastern part of the country where we saw a contingent of about 100 of these so-called men in green.
We spoke to their commander and he in fact did have a hat with an insignia of the Russian Black Fleet -- Black Fleet. He said his name was Alexander, he said they've been here since the 1st of March. We saw that locals were coming to offer them food, support, shelter and even showers. So we're seeing that the Russians are deploying in areas where the local population is sympathetic to them.
In this town, Sevastopol, we're seeing also that they've been fairly well received. This, of course, is a town where the Ukrainian Navy is headquartered, outside that headquarters there were about 30 men today, rather this evening, some of them waving Russian flags. The headquarters are barricaded. But it didn't appear that there was a confrontation or an attempt to break into the headquarters.
So definitely, as U.S. officials said last night, the Russians are in effect in control of this peninsula.
COOPER: And Matthew Chance joining me here in Kiev.
Matthew, the government here, the new government, a interim president, a new prime minister, it is certainly a shaky government. In terms of the military, they don't really have the capabilities to take on Russia.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not all. In fact over the past 20 or so years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's military has been slowly degraded whereas the Russian military has been bolstered, there's been a lot of investment in the Russian military, particularly by Vladimir Putin. They've been engaged in a number of conflicts particularly in Chechnya and elsewhere as well.
And so there's no question that if Ukraine were to get engaged in a military confrontation with Russia, they would come out worse off. I mean, that's pretty much the (INAUDIBLE) for everybody.
COOPER: They've been very careful at this point, the new government, not to do anything to try to provoke Russian forces on the ground, in Crimea.
CHANCE: And I think that's because they're very aware of their military situation. Although they have put the country on a red alert, putting -- they've brought in the reservist as well and they've engaged in military training. So they say they're prepared to fight.
If you speak to people here on the streets, I think you have.
CHANCE: They'll say, you know, look, you know, we are prepared to defend our country and if necessary, die for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. But I think behind that sort of nationalistic sentiments that are expressed here, people are genuinely fearful on all sides in Ukraine that this could escalate into a much wider conflict.
COOPER: Ben, on the ground in Crimea, I mean, we speak a lot about it being a Russian speaking area, but it is actually an ethically -- ethnically diverse area. There are Tatars who are Muslims. There are other groups as well. And if you hear Russian officials, they make it sound as if there have been widespread acts of violence against Russian speaking people in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. In terms of what you've seen on the ground in Crimea, have you witnessed any of that? Have you had reports of any violence against Russian speaking people prior to the Russian troops arriving?
WEDEMAN: None whatsoever, actually, in fact, I think people that -- the Tatars and the Ukrainians here are quite concerned about the Russian presence. Particularly the Tatars who, of course, if you recall in World War II they were deported en masse by this -- by Soviet forces and only allowed back in the early 1990s. They're vehemently anti-Russian and they are worried that if Russian control becomes complete in the Crimea, they could be the ones who pay the highest price.
After all, during World War II, almost 50 percent of the -- their population died because of disease and hunger. And they are worried that they could be the first victims if there is full reassertion of Russian authority here, so we're not seeing any of this sort of so- called fascist Nazi Ukrainian sentiment in the streets whatsoever -- Anderson.
COOPER: And, Matthew, in terms of the government here, when Russia says it's run by fascists or influenced by fascists, what do you make of that? I mean, there were a wide variety of groups fighting here in this square for change. Does that translate into fascist government here?
CHANCE: Well, I think that, you know, for the most part we're looking at the revolutionaries being pro-European, pro-democracy activists that rose up against the corrupt administration of President Yanukovych. But I think it's also true that within those protesters, there are sort of right-wing elements. And these are the groups that the Russians are fixated on.
Remember, you know, traditionally, as Ben Wedeman was talking about there, the people of western Ukraine have regarded the Soviet Union and regarded Russians as enemies. They fought with the Nazis, many of them did in the Second World War.
And so that's something that the Russians have emphasized, some would say overemphasized. But nevertheless, you know, there's -- like with all of these things, there's an element of truth that runs through it.
COOPER: Matthew Chance, we'll continue to be spending a lot of time with Matthew over the next coming days. Ben Wedeman as well.
You've probably been hearing in the background some chanting. It's actually prayers being said. This happens really all day long throughout the day, sometimes several times an hour. There are priests on stage. There's a stage nearby here because there are still hundreds of protesters who are camping out, who are living here in this square determined not to leave.
They said that they've had revolutions before, and then they've abandoned the square, they've left the square. Trusted what the new government had said, trusted what the new government had promised, only to find out that the new government didn't live up to the promises. The protesters here say they are going to stay here until they see real change on the ground.
We're going to take a look at diplomatic efforts in the United States and elsewhere. A lot of criticism by Senator John McCain of President Obama, his efforts here. We're going to talk to Senator McCain and others as we continue our live coverage from Kiev and all points in Ukraine.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage live from Kiev and all across Ukraine. We have correspondents in Crimea and elsewhere.
As expected, Russia's economic markets around the world are reacting negatively to what is happening here, the crisis here, Russia's currency, the ruble, fell today.
Back in New York investors reacted by selling stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 150 points -- 153 points, I should say, on the day.
Dropping as well any trust that may remain between President Obama and Putin. For more on that, we go to Jim Sciutto.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One way to describe the Obama/Putin relationship is ice cold at best. And the crisis in Ukraine is making it icier and icier.
OBAMA: Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.
SCIUTTO: President Obama effectively told Putin to butt out.
OBAMA: There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
SCIUTTO: Putin, however, responded with the defiant challenge -- watch me. Telling Obama over the weekend that, quote, "In case of any further spread of violence in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and Russian speaking population of those areas."
How far the two sides have fallen? Back in January 2009 when Obama first took office, he had high hopes for U.S./Russian relations after things have gone south between President George W. Bush and Putin. The solution? The now famous and less than successful Russian reset.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We want to reset our relationship.
SCIUTTO: Fast forward to May 2012 when Putin was re-elected as president, and the chill set back in. It's been one quarrel after another since then -- Syria, human rights abuses inside Russia. U.S. plans to place a missile defense installation in Eastern Europe. The Russian law banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Then as if things weren't troubling enough, came the arrival in Moscow of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Russia welcomed him and eventually granted him temporary asylum. Obama was stunned by the move. He cancelled a one-on-one meeting with Putin before the G- 20 meetings in Russia last September. But he still insisted things were OK between him and the Russian president.
OBAMA: I know the press likes to focus on body language and he's got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is that when we're in conversations together, oftentimes it's very productive.
SCIUTTO: Vladimir Putin did not agree. Instead he added fuel to the fire, speaking directly to the American people in a letter published in "The New York Times" last September saying, quote, "Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy, but as relying solely on brute force. Cobbling coalitions together under the slogan, you're either with us or against us."
And yet right up until Russian troops swarmed into Ukraine last week, President Obama was still insisting the Cold War had not returned.
OBAMA: I don't think that there's any secret on that. And, you know, our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chess board in which we're in competition with Russia.
SCIUTTO: This difficulty handling President Putin crosses administrations. You'll remember in 2001, early in his presidency, President Bush said he looked into Putin's eye and he saw his soul. He thought he -- this was someone he could deal with. Of course, you know, a few years later, in 2008 there was an invasion of Georgia on President Bush's watch, just six years ago. And in fact, on a background call with reporters, yesterday White House officials made a big backhanded reference to that saying, we didn't look into Putin's soul.
You know, clearly, both sides -- both parties have had trouble dealing with Vladimir Putin. And, you know, in the span of 10 years, you have two different invasions that the U.S. administrations have had to deal with -- Anderson.
SCIUTTO: And we're going to talk to Senator John McCain a little bit later on in the program for his perspective. He's obviously been very critical of this White House and their foreign policy in particular. Their policy toward Putin and what's happening on the ground here in Ukraine. And we're going to hear more from Jim coming up.
I wanted you to meet, though, Stanford University's Professor Michael McFaul. Until recently he was the United States ambassador to Russia. He joins us tonight.
Ambassador McFaul, we heard a pretty extraordinary statement from Russia's ambassador to the U.N. a short time ago, reading a letter that he says is from the former president here in Ukraine, essentially asking Vladimir Putin to intervene militarily. Did that surprise you?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: It did surprise me. I did see him waving the letter at the U.N. Security Council meeting today. And it surprised me especially because I watched live President Yanukovych's last press conference from Rostov. I was still in Russia at the time. And he was very clear back then in that press conference that he didn't want Russian troops to intervene. So he must be under pressure in Russia, and that's what produced that letter today.
COOPER: What do you think is Vladimir Putin's objective in Crimea, in the Ukraine?
MCFAUL: Well, his first objective is just to show that he's not done and he's not giving up Ukraine. He and his government have been very frustrated by what happened in Kiev just several weeks ago. They're very disappointed in President Yanukovych, describing him to me just last week when I was still ambassador as a very weak leader who did not represent their interest.
So Putin's first impulse is saying, I'm here, and you're going to have to deal with me. I personally don't think he's thought through the long-term consequences. What is his end game? Does he really want Ukraine to be independent -- I mean, Crime independent? Does he want it part of Russia? I think that yet has been determined by President Putin himself.
COOPER: There was a report in "The New York Times" saying that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor had had a conversation with President Obama in which she questioned how in touch with reality Vladimir Putin is. Obviously you're not privy to that phone conversation, but what do you make of her comments if they're accurately reported by "The New York Times."
MCFAUL: Well, what I notice in five years working in the Obama administration dealing with Russia, and Prime Minister Putin and then President Putin, is that sometimes it did appear that he had bad information in the meetings I was with him, or if it wasn't bad, it was deliberately falsified information.
I mean, you've heard, if you've been watching any of the Russian press, as I have over the last few days, you would believe that there have been Nazi organizations, terrorist organizations flooding into Crimea, and, therefore, the Russians there have to be protected.
We know from your reporting and from CNN's reporting and other reporters in Crimea, that that's absolute nonsense. So one wonders what kind of information President Putin has at his disposal and, you know, one has to be nervous about it if he doesn't have alternative sources of information.
COOPER: Can Vladimir Putin be trusted?
MCFAUL: This is a game about interests, short term versus long term. And I think the -- the Western world including the president of the United States has to make clear to Vladimir Putin if he stays on this course, there will be consequences. First and foremost, economic consequences.
And let me just spell that out a little bit because I think it's important for people to understand that Russia in 2014 is not the Soviet Union from 1956 when they invaded Hungary or Czechoslovak in 1968. And that Russia is an integrated economy right now in the international world. Russian banks do hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of transactions with American banks every single day.
Russians have their money in American banks, Western banks, British banks. Russian companies have investments here in the United States, including here in the Silicon Valley where I am right now. So there are vulnerabilities today economically for Russia, that there wouldn't have been in earlier years.
COOPER: Ambassador McFaul, I hope we can call on you in the days ahead. I appreciate it, thank you.
MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.
COOPER: When we come back, I want to show you a little bit around where we are. This is certainly one of the most extraordinary locations that we've ever broadcasted from. Just off Independence Square. This is a spot where now hundreds of people come every day to pay their respects to those who died here.
And all the battlements, the barricades, the sandbags, it's all still here. I'm going to show you that right after the break. We'll also talk to U.S. Senator John McCain and others. Stick around.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the crisis here in Ukraine. We broadcast from a lot of different places around the world. This is really one of the most extraordinary spots I've ever been to, to actually broadcast a program. I don't know if you can hear, but off in the distance there are prayers being said over the loud speaker here.
There are still hundreds of protesters living here, camped out here, determined to stay until they see the change that they have fought, and in many cases died for. Actually come into effect here on the ground. They refused to remove any of the barricades, any of the sandbags that have been put in place, in order to -- in case change does not occur, they say they're ready to take up the fight yet again.
I want to show you a little bit of what we're seeing all around us. This goes through the entire square here in Independence Square. These were sandbags which were used, piled up as barricades against riot police, there's a huge barricade under that bridge over there. You probably can't even see it because there's so much fog. It's so dark. It's very early here Tuesday morning.
But this is really holy ground for many. Hundreds of thousands of people if not thousands come every single day to pay their respects to those who died here, people they considered martyrs. They leave candles like this on the ground. They bring flowers, pile them up here, there are mementos of the fight.
Here is a gas mask, somebody's gas mask that they've left. Cigarettes, all sorts of flowers, religious objects as well. You see all throughout, scattered as well, you probably can't see it in this darkness, photographs of those who died, often placed on the spots where the people died.
As I said, many people consider this in a way, holy ground a place of martyrs and they come to pay their respects, this crisis in the Ukraine is just the latest chapter, not what anyone expected to occur here after the hard fought change that occurred here, a little bit more than a week ago.
Senator John McCain has been very critical of the U.S. policy during this crisis, I spoke to him a little bit earlier today, here's our conversation.
COOPER: Senator McCain, in terms of the options that the United States has to try to influence events on the ground here, do we have any options?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't see any military option at this time although, we can be doing some planning for further contingencies, particularly if Vladimir Putin puts pressure on other countries, such as Poland or the Baltics who are members of NATO.
But we can -- there's a lots of range of economic issues, political issues, and frankly comments and statements that can be made, which would help to maybe make Vladimir Putin pay a price for what he's done.
COOPER: The threats that the United States has made so far, possibly boycotting the G-8 meetings in Sochi this summer, even dropping Russia out of the G-8 returning to a G-7. Do you think those are real threats that Vladimir Putin would actually pay attention to?
MCCAIN: I think he loves to strut on the world stage, and I think it could have some impact on him psychologically. That kind of isolation, but we need to do a lot more. We need to accelerate Georgia's membership into NATO. We need to have a Magnetski bill expanded that would apply to Russians who are responsible for this invasion.
Remember, Anderson, in 1994, the Russians signed an agreement in return for removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine that recognized the territorial integrity and Crimea being part of Ukraine. They're in violation of an agreement that they signed.
So it's pretty obvious that Putin's priority is the return to the near -- I worry that this administration, especially the president has been operating in another world, particularly as far as Vladimir Putin is concerned. This idea that utter disbelief that Putin would take the action he's just taken in Crimea, a total and fundamental misreading of Putin and his ambition has been characterized this administration. And we're paying a very heavy price for it, but Anderson, it's larger than that. It's when the president made the decision after he said he was going to attack Syria, and went back on it, that reverberated all around the world, including Asia, as far as China is concerned.
COOPER: For people in the United States who are watching this, who don't feel connected to Ukraine, who don't feel that this necessarily has an impact on the United States. What do you say, why is this important?
MCCAIN: Well, I remember -- and I don't predict there's going to be a world war. I don't even predict the re-ignition of the cold war, but I do think that when aggression goes unchecked, then the next thing is aggression. We are the world leader, we cannot abandon that responsibility. It does not mean putting boots on the ground. But it means as Ronald Reagan did, peace and restraint. That's what I'm afraid has very been missing in this administration.
COOPER: Senator John McCain, it's good to have you on.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: I spoke to Senator McCain earlier today. We do have some breaking news just that I learned. The U.S. has just suspended upcoming bilateral trade and investment engagement with Russia over Crimea. Again, they've suspended that, whether or not there are further actions to come in the next 12 to 24 hours, we'll certainly be covering that.
I want to take a look up next, at military options. Both for Russian forces on the ground in Crimea, and Ukrainian forces. Also possible NATO forces or U.S. forcer if it ever came to that. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the crisis here in Ukraine. I'm reporting live from Kiev, just off Independence Square. We talked to Jim Sciutto a little bit earlier in the program. I want to go back to him because I want to kind of drill down on the geography of this entire region.
We mentioned earlier on in the program how dependent Western Europe is on gas coming from Russia, and a lot of those gas pipelines run through Ukraine. Jim takes a geographic look at the situation here -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, for our viewers, really here, if you have any doubt that Ukraine is important to the U.S. or to Russia, it really helps to look at the map. First, let's start with why it's important to the west. Here is Ukraine, it's not some distant land. It is in Europe.
And all these countries that are around it, on the western side in green, those are NATO allies. These are countries that by the NATO Treaty, the U.S. has an obligation to defend them if they come under threat. Ukraine is not a member, but there has been talk increasing the ties over the years.
A couple hours night time to Paris, Rome, a little further away to London. Let's get to why it's important to Russia. This is really the key here, Sevastopol, that's the key Russian naval base. The headquarters of the Black Sea fleet and this is Russia's only warm water port.
All the ones up north, they're cold in the winter. Not necessarily going to have access, but this one takes them through the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, out to the Atlantic. That is an essential national security interest of the Russians.
And one more point just to come across, we talk a lot about the ethnic divisions this is the eastern part of the country along the border with Russia, 50 to 75 percent, in this area Russians speaking Russian ethnically. You get to the western side, the part of the country that's pulled towards Europe.
Closer ties with the E.U., you get to the Polish border here, only 5 percent Russian speakers, ethnic Russians, and those divisions reflected in the elections. You really get a sense there why the U.S. is interested and particularly why Russia is very interested in the Ukraine -- Anderson.
COOPER: Jim, I appreciate it. Good to have you on the program again. We talked to John McCain just a few minutes ago, you heard him say that there is really no viable military option here. And just about everybody says there's not a military solution to this, there has to be some sort of a diplomatic solution.
I want to talk about the military's of Ukraine, of Russia and the United States. What the options are, Retired Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan joins me and former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, joins me as well.
General Ryan, I appreciate you being with us. In terms of the military options for the United States, do you agree with Senator John McCain, in that there aren't any?
BRIGADIER GENERAL KEVIN RYAN, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Yes, I think in the near term, there are none. He's correct in that. You know, we spent the last 24 years in NATO trying to convince the Russians that we're not a threat to them. And now we see that those claims are confirmed. All the NATO members have reduced their numbers and readiness, including the United States.
And so today we don't have a near term or immediate reaction we can give. The military reactions, the advice that the Joint Chiefs are giving the secretary and president on more longer term about helping -- as the senator pointed out, helping the Ukraine, helping NATO members, especially those bordering Russia with increased capability and advice. COOPER: In general, in terms of Ukraine's military capabilities, there's no doubt Russia's forces are much larger, much better equipped. They put much more money into it than Ukraine has over the years. Ukraine is certainly better equipped than Georgia was back in 2008, correct?
RYAN: Yes, correct. This would not be a repeat of Georgia by any stretch and I think that the Russians understand that. The Ukrainian military has fought alongside American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are a smaller force than Russia, but they are capable professional military that I think would give a good showing and accounting of itself, especially if they're fighting on their homeland and especially if they're in the western part of the Ukraine.
COOPER: Ambassador Jeffrey, you say at this point there's nothing really the United States can do to save Ukraine, is that true?
JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: There's nothing we can do militarily to change the reference of forces, the balance of forces, however in Georgia, in 2008, we put ships into the black sea during the crisis or right after, we flew 2000 troops back from Iraq, it's very tricky because this is a very, very dangerous crisis, you don't want to provoke the other side, you don't want to encourage the Ukrainians unduly. To say we take military action when Putin takes military action, is a recipe for him continuing to take military action.
COOPER: Do you think President Obama should -- there have been some who suggested President Obama should suggest NATO forces go to the polish/Ukrainian border to kind of draw a line or at least send a message. Is that too provocative?
JEFFREY: It's not. We did prepositioned equipment and rotational training battalions just as Putin is doing exercises along the Ukrainian border, we can do exercises as well. This is a new ball game. You're there on the ground involves the lives of people all around the Ukraine and beyond but also involves their freedom -- Anderson.
COOPER: General Ryan, where does NATO fall in all this? Obviously Ukraine is not a member of NATO, could NATO play some sort of a role here?
RYAN: Well, I think Ambassador Jeffrey's suggestions are great, and I didn't mean anything by my earlier comments to suggest that we shouldn't be doing those things, it's just that those things are not going to immediately affect the outcome in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. But certainly NATO has the capability of increasing readiness, putting certain forces on alert, moving forces around within NATO, the United States itself could move forces from the United States over to Europe.
But these things are going to be one and done type steps for the immediate future. There's not a lot to back them up. Last year, we had sequestration, this year the United States Army really has one or two brigades in the homeland that are deployable beyond the ones that go to Afghanistan. So we -- and I think everybody understands that, including the Russians, so whatever we do, it has to be something that seems credible.
COOPER: Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, appreciate your expertise. Ambassador James Jeffrey as well, thanks very much.
We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll have more of Ben Wedeman on the ground in Crimea and with our Matthew Chance here in Kiev. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. I'm joined once again by our Matthew Chance here in Kiev, off Independence Square and Ben Wedeman in Crimea. Matthew, it is important to point out. We were talking about this during the break, this is not the only issue between the United States and Russia. In figuring out, trying to affect this situation here. They have to think about their other dealings with Russia?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And that's something the United States and other western countries are going to have to think about when they weigh their response to this Russian action in Crimea. You know, Ukraine isn't the only square on the chess board, it's just one squared, there are issues like cooperation with Russia over Syria, and a peace process there.
Potentially cooperation over the issue of Iran, and it's very controversial nuclear program, getting North Korea back to the negotiating table as well. These are areas where the United States and Russia and the west already cooperate. So again, when the United States weighs it's response, it's going to have to take that into account. It doesn't want to make an already bad situation even worse.
COOPER: Ben Wedeman on the ground in Crimea. How present are Russian forces and pro-Russian forces out on the streets? Are they manning roadblocks? Are they intercepting people? Are they checking people's identity papers? Are people able to freely move about?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Life really seems to be going on pretty much as normal, the Russians are sort of stationed around Ukrainian military bases, as I said before, they were at this ferry port, but we drove for hours and hours throughout Crimea today, and we didn't see any Russians. No trucks, no men, nothing.
And so they don't really interfere with the daily life of people going around, going about their business, they're concentrated in very specific areas. You see them, for instance, at the airport, but they're just - just, you know, two or three walking around. They're not actually involved in the operations of facilities like airports.
So it's a very bizarre situation where they're here, but they don't really get in the way of anything, but I think their presence is reassuring for those who support them here, but very worrying for others who are opposed to them. Ukrainians who for instance think Crimea should be part of Ukraine, but there are many Russians here, ethnic Russians who feel that they have come as liberators and protectors. So it's a very unusual situation that sometimes is a bit hard to get your head around.
COOPER: Well, Ben, we appreciate all the reporting you and your crew and your fellow colleagues from CNN have done on the ground there, we'll continue to check in with you over the next several days.
Up next, a dramatic testimony in the murder trial of so-called "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius. His trial began in South Africa today. A neighbor took the stand and described hearing, quote, "bloodcurdling screams and gunshots" the night Pistorius killed his girlfriend. Coverage of that ahead. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage here live in Kiev. You hear prayers still being said early on this Tuesday morning. We got a picture in from the White House. President Obama meeting with his top national security advisers in the situation room. There's Vice President Biden, Defense Secretary Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice among others. Obviously we're going to be monitoring diplomatic events.
Secretary of State John Kerry will be on his way here to Kiev to try to help resolve the crisis, we'll have continuing coverage all throughout the day. And I'll be back on AC 360 tomorrow night live from here in Kiev. But I also want to get you caught up on some of the other stories we're following, Randi Kaye joins us with a 360 Bulletin -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the murder trial of South African track star, Oscar Pistorius began today with a testimony from a neighbor who described being awakened by a woman's bloodcurdling screams the night Reeve Steenkamp was killed. Pistorius said he shot his girlfriend because he thought she was an intruder. His neighbour testified she also heard shots and a man yelling for help.
The nation's capital and the surrounding region took the brunt of the winter storm that hit today. The weather made roads treacherous in several states. At least four fatal accidents were reported.
And a 360 Follow now, Catholic parishioners in New Jersey are withholding donations to protest an extravagant retirement home being built for Newark Archbishop John Myers. That's according to the "Star Ledger". The church is spending a half million dollars to build a 300,000 square foot addition on the spacious home at a time when Catholic schools are closing. Anderson?
COOPER: Randi, appreciate the update. Thanks very much. We'll have more coverage, another edition of AC 360 at 10:00 Eastern Time tonight. I hope you join us for that. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts right now.