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Crisis in Crimea; Another Winter Blast; Blade Runner Pleads Not Guilty; How Should the West Respond to Russia?

Aired March 3, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Ukraine crisis, Russian troops roll, what are the latest plans to stop them?

U.S. stocks tumbling at this hour, investors beyond jittery, how the Ukraine crisis is hitting your 401(k).

And snow emergency, a massive winter storm blows east with more freezing temperatures.

Hello, everyone, I'm John Berman in New York.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira from Beverly Hills. I've live at the Montage Hotel after a big night at the Oscars.

Of course, we've got the winners, the losers, and the tweet that stole the show.

If you look behind me, you'll see a little blue sky popping out. Boy, Mother Nature had kind of had us all on eggshells.

They thought it was going to rain on the red carpet, but it didn't. The red carpet went off without a hitch.

The show went off without a hitch. And, in fact, all everybody is saying is that the show, Oscars 86, the 86th Academy Awards was a huge success.


BERMAN: We'll get back to the glamour in just a bit. Thanks so much, Michaela.

Meanwhile, Russia's official news agency says the Russia have given Ukraine forces until tomorrow morning to surrender or they will storm military bases on the Crimean Peninsula.

A tense standoff is under way at 10 military facilities, Ukrainian troops right now refusing to surrender to what appear to be Russian forces, both sides armed and ready. U.S. officials confirm that Russian forces have complete operational control right now of the Crimean peninsula.

While this is happening, the Russian parliament is said to be calling for the annexation of Crimea.

We will get back to this crisis in just a moment. Other news, a winter blast smacking a bill chunk of the U.S. right now, leaving behind a trail of arctic temperatures and, yes, more snow and more ice.

From the Midwest to the Northeast and parts of the South, tens of millions of people are in this storm's path. This blast could dump a foot of snow and almost an inch of ice, which could be even more dangerous in some areas.

Federal offices in Washington are shut down today. There will be no White House briefing today because of this storm.

Travel across the country is snarled. You can see that picture right there from Washington. It just looks ugly.

There have been at least two weather-related deaths right now, traffic deaths


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you understand the charges, Mr. Pistorius?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you plead?

PISTORIUS: Not guilty, my lady.


BERMAN: You heard it right there, not guilty. Oscar Pistorius pleads not guilty to the premeditated murder of his girlfriend. The double- amputee Olympic sprinter says he mistook her for a burglar.

The first witness at his trial was a next-door neighbor who described what she called the bloodcurdling screams the night that Reeva Steenkamp was killed.

Let's get back, though, to the news that has so much of the world on edge this morning.

Russia is right now tightening its grip on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The U.S. and other nations are discussing different ways to implement a diplomatic chokehold on Moscow.

But will the threat of economic sanctions and global isolation force Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine? Can you force Vladimir Putin to do anything?

Ukraine's new government warns it is on the brink of disaster this morning. It is now on a military state of high alert. Our Matthew Chance is in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, and our chief international correspondent Christian Amanpour joins me right here in New York.

First to you, Matthew, in Kiev, the facts on the ground in Crimea indicate that Ukraine has effectively lost the peninsula, so tell me -- what's the mood in the capital? What's the latest from there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a great sense of anger, I think, in the capital amongst many Ukrainians that Russia has done this, that part of their territorial integrity has been broken.

You speak to men down in the square, which you can't see behind me because of the fog, and they say they are very much prepared to fight for their country, to fight to maintain Ukraine's territorial integrity.

The speeches under way right now, people singing patriotic songs, but behind that nationalistic fervor, you get the sense that people are deeply concerned, even fearful about what a full-blown conflict with Russia, the giant neighbor to the east of Ukraine, would actually mean.

The interim officials of the administration here in Kiev, they have been saying they want this to resolve diplomatically.

At the same time, though, they have called up their reservists and started putting them on a military footing, and so there is a real sense of tension and danger in the air, John.

BERMAN: All right, Matthew Chance in Kiev, anger, fervor, concern.

Christiane Amanpour, you just spoke to the former prime minister of Ukraine, a woman who could be the central figure in Ukraine's future.

What is she saying right now, anger, fervor, concern?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously incredible concern, and she is a real power-broker there, she is a real player and she is saying -- I specifically asked her about the call-up, and she said, look, we know the balance of power. We understand that we cannot face off against the Russians.

But if there is further Russian incursion, if things get worse because of Russian military intervention, then Ukrainians who are already angry, who are already patriotic, will defend their country.

She said, look, they have already given their lives. You know, 80-plus people were killed in Maidan Square during the protest and the uprising just a couple of weeks ago.

So, this is a very, very tricky situation. Foreign minister, Secretary of State John Kerry is headed there, presumably to also try to tell the Ukrainians, not just support but don't do anything. Keep your cool. Do not provoke and give Moscow any more pretext than it's already manufacturing and trumping up to come into Ukraine.

So, I asked her what is it they want from the West now that there is this apparent draft law going through the Russian parliament giving Putin more ammunition about annexing Crimea?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) YULIA TYMOSHENKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER (via translator): Literally, several minutes ago, the Russian Duma has started listening to the draft of the law of annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. It is only a question of time when it is being voted.

We will know that votes in Duma will be found. That's why Russia is escalating the crisis now, and the world should understand, should realize, that Ukraine on its own won't be able to solve this issue with Russia on its own, absolutely not possible.


BERMAN: The former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, says, it's over in Crimea. He says Russia has taken the Crimea. Vladimir Putin is not about to give it back.

AMANPOUR: That's a very dangerous statement for a former American official to make. The United States is the leader of NATO. The United States has leverage with Russia.

The United States cannot allow this aggression to stand. It is a foreign country invading another country. The U.S., Britain, and Russia signed on to an agreement called the Budapest Agreement that protects Ukraine's territorial territory.

And this is where it is going to get tricky, because they are obligated to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity. I know they don't want to go in militarily, but to say that it's over is to give up the plot.

And that is the whole problem with Putin. People have been bending over and not resisting Putin for all the years he's been in power.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the problem with Vladimir Putin.

In "The New York Times," there was a statement that just jumped off the page to me. It was from German Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. "The Times" reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that, after speaking with Mr. Putin, she was not sure he was in touch with reality.

People briefed on the call said, "in another world."

AMANPOUR: Yeah, that jumped off at me, as well, and I was very, very disturbed by that, because whatever we might think of Putin, and he is obviously neither a democrat nor does he run a first-world economy, and there has been so much that's gone on in Russia over the last few years that simply defy international procedures and norms, that people have thought, he may be Machiavellian, but at least he's rational.

Now, if Angela Merkel, who is the main Western interlocutor -- let's face it. Germany has the main sort of business, if you like, with Russia, whether it's actual business, trade, politics. They're so close, and you remember, of course, with East Germany, Russia, the Soviet Union had annexed half of Germany. In any event, they have the most leverage, and if Angela Merkel is saying that he may not be in touch with reality, that is a very scary position to be in.

And, right now, the West has to start ratcheting up its leverage and its economic leverage, its trade leverage. Ukraine and Russia is heavily integrated into the Western economy and things will hurt it.

You heard Christine Romans report that, not only has its stock market plunged, but its ruble has plunged, too.

BERMAN: We'll see if he answers that.

You know, it could be equally scary if he's not irrational, but perfectly rations and just outmaneuvering the rest of the world right now.

We'll have to watch that, too.

AMANPOUR: That's right and the world really has to figure it out, because it is not just what happens in Ukraine and Russia. This is the most serious confrontation between East and West since the end of the Cold War, and this is will be an example for international law if it's allowed to stand.

BERMAN: China's watching. Everyone's watching.

Christiane Amanpour, great to have you here. Really appreciate it on this day.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, President Obama faces a real test of leadership just like we were talking right now.

The crisis in Ukraine, it escalates, and not everybody thinks the president is doing such a great job right now. We'll look into that.

And a snow emergency of national proportions right now, a winter storm sets off warnings across the eastern half of the United States. When will this let up, if ever?


BERMAN: And the breaking news involves the crisis in Ukraine. The latest seems to be that Russia has issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian military in Crimea to leave their posts, to get out, to turn over their bases by 5:00 a.m. tomorrow, else those bases will be stormed by Russian forces.

That appears to be an ultimatum from the Russians to Ukrainian forces still in the Crimean Peninsula.

I am joined by Christiane Amanpour on-set right here. Christiane, that would be a significant development to say the least.

Up until this point, there are these Russian troops, some 6,000, maybe more of them at this point, that have been occupying the Crimean Peninsula, but there hasn't been any real fighting. They have been taking these positions really without any fight whatsoever.

Now, there is this ultimatum, and the Ukrainian forces, some of whom may still be loyal to the main country in Kiev, they've got to make a decision here.

AMANPOUR: They do, and this is a very, very worrying development.

First and foremost, who issued that order? You know that the current Russian troops inside Crimea are wearing no insignia, no weapons or systems that show that we are the army of Russia.

They are Russian speaking, but who are they really? It kind of gives the Russians a little bit of wiggle room.

But now, if this is a formal order, and, again, we really need to know whether it is. That is the Russians upping the ante, and not taking any notice of what the international community has said, not trying to deescalate, but rather, escalate. And that is going to be a very, very difficult thing for the West now to deal with.

And if that happens, if this deadline passes as Secretary Kerry is in the air and is landing in Kiev and lands to this news that, oh, by the way, the Russians have now taken all the bases and all the military garrisons in Crimea, it's going to make diplomacy that much harder.

I will say that all these foreign ministers who've been called to an emergency session in Brussels today, some of them, many of whom I have interviewed in the past, said that they are not that hopeful of any quick resolution to this, but hopeful that in the end, common sense will prevail and that there will be an attempt to sort of give Russia a face-saving way out of this, use some of these OSCE and other European mechanisms that Russia is part of, through fact-finding missions, through the kinds of things to kind of settle whatever anxieties Russia has. But this is -- this would be a major escalation if Russia does this tomorrow morning.

BERMAN: And remind us, we have 6,000 Russian troops occupying right now the Crimean peninsula. The people on this peninsula don't necessarily mind. They're not upset that the Russians are there.

AMANPOUR: Well, I wouldn't say that. I disagree with that analysis. 59 percent of the Crimea is ethnically Russian. There are also Tartars there, that's a whole different ethnicity which has nothing in common with Russia and does not want to be annexed by Russia and was there before the ethnic Russians.

And the majority of Ukrainians, they actually do see themselves as Ukrainians and not necessarily as Russians. Now, it is absolutely true that they have now been whipped up into a frenzy of fear and nationalistic fervor by a very cynical ploy by the Russian media to whip them up. There has been no violence of any major proportions in Crimea. There have been no actions taken by the interim Ukrainian government against the people of Eastern Ukraine or, indeed, the Crimea.

This is all manufactured by Russia because President Putin sees a rebuilding of the Soviet empire. And he sees Ukraine -- the one thing that we have to understand is that, for Putin, Ukraine is existential. It is massively important. That's what he's declared. And for Europe and the U.S., well, it isn't. So who is going to call Putin's bluff on this? And really now, if they don't want to get involved militarily, which they won't, to absolutely stand up for international law. It is enshrined in law that Ukraine's territorial integrity and its sovereignty -- and signed by Russia, by the way -- it is enshrined in law that that is a fact.

BERMAN: Well, the question is, does Vladimir Putin care at all about that law?

AMANPOUR: Well, there are costs for him. There is a heavy cost for him to pay and it's happening right now in Russia. The ruble is crashing, their stock market is crashing. Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs and his economy is intricately linked now with the West in a way of course it wasn't during the Cold War, and there are economic prices that can be paid.

BERMAN: If the West can find the right levers to pull and push here.

AMANPOUR: But they exist, if they're willing to take them. And this is a problem because, right now, in the G-8 for instance, as I said earlier, Germany exerts, I believe, the biggest influence on Russia, but the Germans are not that thrilled with the U.S. and U.K. proposal that perhaps Russia should be kicked out of the G-8.

BERMAN: No, the Germans are getting all wobbly here. The foreign minister says the format of the G-8 is the only one where he can speak to Russia; we shouldn't give that up.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's speak and let's see if they listen. And then the ratcheting up of these sanctions, when I mean sanctions, punitive action has to happen.

BERMAN: But the point here of this terrific discussion we're having -- and thank you so much for being here -- is that this military heightening of the tension right now in Crimea puts the Ukrainian troops right now in a much, much worse situation.

AMANPOUR: It does. But they've always been in a bad situation. They do not have the wherewithal, and that's what Tymoshanko told me today -- they are very well aware, quote, unquote, "of the balance of power." Russia is a military super power still and the Ukraine isn't.

BERMAN: Let's go to the Crimean peninsula now, and our Diana Magnay has been covering the crisis for us from there. Diana, we've been talking about this ultimatum, Russia giving an ultimatum to the Ukrainian troops still in these bases in Crimea. What can you tell us?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, we do have a little more clarification on that. This alert came from Interfax-Ukraine that the Ukrainian military had been given this ultimatum by the head of the Black Sea fleet here in Sevastopol in Crimea. We've now spoken to someone from the Ministry of Defense in Crimea, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. They say let's not put too much weight on this. Frankly, every time that the Russian troops have encircled military bases on the Crimean peninsula, and they have now around ten military enabled bases which they have their troops around, they have given some kind of an ultimatum.

He said this is just another one of those. And frankly, these ultimatums have passed and nothing has really happened. So I think it is important not to put too much weight on this deadline. It is not necessarily an official deadline. And, in fact, from what we have seen at these military bases, they have been very calm. It has been a very low key kind of invasion.

Ben Wedeman, our own Ben Wedeman, was just at one of the border post bases. He said that the soldiers there, one commander told him he got his orders to leave his base at the Black Sea fleet on Saturday. He had come up there. The locals were giving him tea and letting him have a place to have showers. So it's all been very amicable.

As I said, a pretty low-key invasion. The situation on the ground here is very, very calm. It seems to be the international community and the world markets and everyone else who is incredibly anxious. And, here, at the epicenter of it all, things are pretty calm, John.

BERMAN: A low-key invasion. That's a phrase you don't hear very often. Christiane was bringing up that the only thing people are hearing on the ground right now in Crimea is Russian propaganda at this point.

AMANPOUR: Diana herself has reported this propaganda war that's going on. Those in the Crimea who are listening to Russian broadcasts and Russian language broadcasts there, and those who are listening to other kind of broadcasts. So that is a real problem. And it may be so far a low key invasion, and actually not even a full invasion, because this is the way Russia has managed not to fully tip the balance. It doesn't have its army there with its -- all its --

BERMAN: So they whip the patches off their uniform, but they still control it militarily.

AMANPOUR: Right, correct. But they could also step back if they want to step back. But if people in there aren't that worried, they certainly are worried in Kiev. Yulia Tymoshanko was literally white knuckling it and begging for international help to resolve this, saying that Russia is about to take Crimea from Ukraine.

BERMAN: Let me ask Diana this, and then you, Christiane. Have you ever seen any sign that Vladimir Putin backs down from anything?

AMANPOUR: Well, I would just say that he hasn't said one word publicly. And this is another thing -- he hasn't said a word publicly since this crisis started over the weekend. Not one word since the troops are moving in, since these statements are coming out, since the foreign minister's talking. Putin's silent. What is his motive? What does he want? What is he going to do? We don't know. We can just read what's going on.

BERMAN : Is there any strategic point for him to extend this situation beyond Crimea at this point?

AMANPOUR: Well, that's the big worry. Will he see what happens here, see whether he gets the sort of red carpet, so to speak, to take over Crimea, which they effectively have operational control, certainly military control. And will they go on into Eastern Ukraine? That would be yet another crossing of yet another red line.

BERMAN: If the United States could stop them, and I use that phrase loosely here -- if the United States and Western Europe and everyone around the world can effectively contain the situation so that it stays in Crimea, is that the best the West can hope for right now?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, yes, but then what? Then what? You just hand Crimea over to Russia on a silver platter? It's a terrible precedent under international law. It simply cannot be allowed to stand. There has to be serious and creative diplomacy to make sure that this does not happen.

But, again, when you go back to -- I mean, I know they're two different situations, but the closest we have is Georgia back in 2008. There was a serious miscalculation; there was a confrontation between Russia and the Georgians. The Georgians lost, the Russians won, and it took years to stabilize the situation.

BERMAN: And six years later --

AMANPOUR: It took absolutely years to stabilize the situation.

BERMAN: -- the Russians still have effective control or the influence they want to have right there.

AMANPOUR: Well, you've got a Democratic government there and things are much better than they used to be. But Ukraine is bigger, more important, 45 million people instead of 5 million people.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE). I want to welcome our viewers from around the world the world right now. We've been covering the breaking news, which is there appears to be an ultimatum from Russia right now to the Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimea, saying that if you do not vacate your post by 5 a.m. tomorrow, then Russian troops will take them by force.

Now we've been talking to Diana Magnay, our reporter in Crimea, who says, maybe don't reach too much into this. There have been ultimatums flying back and forth and it's part of a propaganda war right now that the Ukrainians are trying to get into, because frankly the Russians have dominated everything people are hearing right now on that peninsula. But one thing everyone does agree on, including the United States right now, is that Russia is in operational control of the Crimean peninsula.

And I am joined here by CNN senior international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Christiane, just remind us again. Crimea was part of Russia for a very, very long time. Crimea is important strategically. It is also important I think in the lore of Russia. Why?

AMANPOUR: Well, here's the real thing here. First of all, yes, but decades ago in 1954 it was given back and Crimea in the 18th century, 19th century, I mean, long time ago, was a focus of real antagonism and fight between the West and between Russia.

But here we are in the 21st century, in 2014. The Soviet Union is no longer. Russia has committed itself to being a democracy. All those break-away republics were independent, were given their independence. And, most importantly, no matter where you want to go, back 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, today's law states that this cannot stand. And there is simply no reason, according to what's happened in Crimea, even over this crisis, to ratchet it up this high. Crimeans haven't been killed by the Ukrainians. There is no huge military outburst, there's no big fighting in Crimea.

What is Vladimir Putin talking about? Most people believe that he is looking to reconstitute a Soviet empire and Ukraine obviously plays a very, very big role for the Russians.

BERMAN: One of the things that have been discussed is some action within this G-8. Explain to our viewers -- now remind us what the G-8 is, what Russia's role in it is, and why they would care if they were no longer allowed to be part of this club?

AMANPOUR: The Gs are the nations of democracy and first-world economies. They've been growing over the years. But the initial G-7 suddenly became the G-8 back in the late 90s or the mid-90s when President Clinton decided to offer that sort of as a sock, as a goodwill gesture to then President Yeltsin. At the time, Russia was basically on the U.S. side. The Soviet Union had collapsed. It all sort of happened rather peacefully. And all these new laws and new republics became independent.

So what's happened since is that there have been periods of cooperation between Russia and the West and periods of real tension and confrontation, and obviously we're going through one of those now. The second presidency of Vladimir Putin has marked a dramatic escalation of tension between Russia and the United States, between Russia and the West. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to the G-8, Russia is not a democracy. It may pretend to be one, it may masquerade as one, its people may want a democracy, but President Putin has consolidated power to an extent that basically gives no room for any legitimate opposition. The press are rounded up and put in jail at any drop of the hat.

Right now, Alexei Navalny, one of the senior liberal politicians, independence in Russia, right after the Sochi games, when Vladimir Putin was putting on this fantastic show for the world, Alexei Navalny gets put under house arrest.

The direction is clear and what needs to happen is some very serious and hard talk with Vladimir Putin by those with whom -- by those who have the most influence over him. So expel him from the G-8, why not? It certainly isolates him. No skin off anybody's nose except for obviously there's big trade --

BERMAN: Well, the question is it any skin off of Vladimir Putin's nose --


AMANPOUR: He will be isolated more, he won't look good in front of his people. Look what he tried to do with Sochi. He was pretty upset when world leaders come to Sochi because of the humans rights record, because of the anti-gay law, because of all of those things. Then the games went off beautifully, they were fantastically contested (ph), and then look at where we are right now.

BERMAN: But the staggering thing to think about that two weeks ago we were (INAUDIBLE) just a few miles from where we're talking about now.

AMANPOUR: The truth is, there are levers that the West can employ and they need to decide if they are willing to bear the pain in economic terms as well for the West of employing those levers.

BERMAN: All right, we'll continue this discussion. We're covering the crisis in Ukraine, all the breaking developments. We will be right back after this break.