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Crisis in Ukraine; Interview with Garry Kasparov; Cold War Reignites?

Aired March 3, 2014 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD and a special edition of the lead, where we're covering the crisis in Ukraine.

We just heard from the United States -- the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, talking about trying to justify Russia's incursion into Ukraine, specifically the southern peninsula of Crimea.

I want to also play some sound right now from the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who is criticizing Russia's recent actions. Take a listen.


SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Russia's actions speak much louder than its words. What is happening today is not a human rights protection mission and it is not a consensual intervention.

What is happening today is a dangerous military intervention in Ukraine. It is an act of aggression. It must stop.


TAPPER: CNN's Anderson Cooper is live in Kiev, where he's been monitoring the very latest developments. We're also joined right now by the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who now teaches at Stanford University.

Anderson, I'm going to go to you in a second.

But, first, I want to get, Michael, I guess I could call you, or professor, I called you ambassador last time we spoke.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Call me whatever you want. Call me whatever you want.

TAPPER: Your reaction to this remarkable United Nations testimony by the Russian Federation ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, justifying -- seeking to try to justify what Russia did. What's your immediate reaction? MCFAUL: Well, my immediate reaction is not that much different than Ambassador Power, which is to say the allegations, the -- quote, unquote -- "threat" that his government sees there, there is no basis in reality for.

There has been no terrorists that have attacked anybody in Crimea. There's no Nazi horde running through Crimea threatening ethnic Russians. That's complete fantasy. And I think, therefore, it is the right response to get international monitors into Crimea, as we are now -- the international community is working to do, so that we can have a basis of a discussion about what is happening there with some basic facts that we all share.

What the Russians are saying just simply is not true. There's absolutely no supporting evidence to the claims that Ambassador Churkin just made.

TAPPER: Let's take a listen to just a little bit of what the Russian Federation ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said in this remarkable, remarkable testimony.


VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS (through translator): ... who support anti-government statements. They have encouraged their participants who have moved to aggression of force in capturing and setting fires to administrative buildings, attacking the police, and stealing from warehouses, and making -- mocking officials in the region of crude intervention into churches.

The center of Kiev and many towns in Western Ukraine have been taken over by armed national radicals under extremist anti-Russian and anti- Semitic slogans being used.


TAPPER: Let's go to Anderson Cooper, who is heading up CNN's coverage in Kiev.

Anderson, the ambassador from the Russian Federation, Vitaly Churkin, painting a stark description of what life is like in Ukraine. I know that you're in Kiev in Western Ukraine. Is there any evidence of what he's described where you are or from any of our other reporters and producers throughout Ukraine?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: No, there has not been evidence. There is not evidence of that.

Certainly, there were a wide variety of groups involved in the ouster of the former president, and some of those groups are ultra- nationalist and probably have some odious views. There were a lot of different people in the square behind me which ultimately led to the president fleeing.

But there's no evidence on the ground in Eastern Ukraine or in Crimea certainly of churches being attacked, of Russian-speaking people being attacked as well. The new government in Kiev did pass -- did pass an initiative to lessen the teaching of secondary languages, of the Russian language.

They have rescinded that order because that obviously caused great concern among Russian-speaking people in Eastern Ukraine and in Crimea. But in terms of attacks on people on the ground, it simply did not some one.

And, Jake, as you pointed out, some of the statements by the Russian ambassador are really extraordinary. He even read a letter from the former president which was basically a letter from the president asking Vladimir Putin to intervene militarily in Ukraine, the country that he was formerly president of.

It's extraordinary to think that a former president would ask another nation to intervene militarily in his own country to basically restore him to power.

TAPPER: Ambassador McFaul, when you were ambassador to the United States -- from the United States to the Russian Federation, you were constrained by what you needed to say diplomatically and for the sake of preserving the relationship.

You are under no constraints right now. Can you give us your idea of whether you think the Russians actually, the Russian government actually believes what they are saying in terms of this chaos in the streets that they are describing that requires their military to go into another sovereign nation, and what you imagine the scenario is that would cause Yanukovych to write a letter inviting another nation to invade it?

MCFAUL: Well, tough questions.

I mean, the first thing I would say in terms of the violence that Mr. -- Ambassador Churkin talked about and other Russian officials have talked about, we need to separate out their disappointments and their reaction to the violence, the horrible tragedies that we saw on the streets of Kiev a couple of weeks ago from the fictitious threats in Crimea.

Those are two different things. And, you know, I was just ambassador last week, by the way, in Moscow, and met with many senior government officials to make farewell calls. I think the overwhelming impression I came away with from those meetings was their deep disappointment in President Yanukovych from not restoring order, from not taking a tougher line.

And, ultimately, after I had then left, then he left, an amazing just departure. Remember, he was the guy that signed this accord that's been mentioned, the February 21 accord, but he didn't stay around to try to enforce it. He just fled.

And that gets me to your second question. I was in Sochi, actually, when President Yanukovych gave a quite extraordinary press conference from Rostov. At that moment, on live television, with people asking questions, he was pretty categorical that he did not want Russian intervention into Ukraine.

Now, you know, he's still in Russia. He didn't come out and announce it. It was just some letter that he sent to Putin. Obviously, he must be under some extraordinary pressure to have reversed his thinking in just the last few days.

TAPPER: Anderson Cooper in Kiev, I want to ask you, I have heard anecdotally from friends who have relatives in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, and these people are afraid, afraid of what might happen with Russian troops there.

Is there movement of citizens from other parts of Ukraine into Kiev, the western part of the country that will probably be the last place to fall if Russians actually do invade?

COOPER: You know, I don't have direct evidence of that.

It would not surprise me, certainly. There is concern. We speak about these Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine and also Crimea. But there are other groups as well. In Crimea, some 60 percent are Russian-speaking ethnic Russians, but there's 40 percent of people from other backgrounds, Qatars who are Muslims and others as well.

So it is not a monolithic bloc in any of these areas. And in Crimea, the borders are pretty set in terms of where Russian-speaking areas are, but less so in Eastern Ukraine. So, it's much more diverse and much more difficult to kind of pinpoint where Russian-speaking areas begin in Eastern Ukraine.

And, certainly, there's a lot of people who are in favor of the government in Kiev who are now being quiet because there are Russian troops on the ground in their communities.

TAPPER: Anderson, before I let you go, what can you tell us about the latest in the standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces?

COOPER: Certainly, it is a very tense situation.

To call it a standoff, at this point, Russian forces have surrounded basically all of the military, Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, at least 10 bases that we know about. And there was talk -- there were reports earlier in the day of an ultimatum given by a Russian Black fleet commander to Ukrainian forces to either pledge allegiance to the new government in Crimea, to the pro-Russian government in Crimea, or to surrender.

Russian military officials have now categorically said that ultimatum never occurred, it did not happen. So, whether or not it did happen, we can't say for sure. But it doesn't seem, from what we can tell, that there is an official ultimatum on the ground for forces, Ukrainian forces to surrender.

So, standoff, as it is, will continue. But, as you know, Jake, and as you have been reporting, the Ukrainian military does not have the capabilities to take on Russia. They have called up reserves today. There's going to be a 10-day training period for those reserves.

I was down in the square earlier today. There were 65-year-old men coming up to me saying they were ready to volunteer. They were ready to fight, to die to try to keep Ukraine together. But the Ukrainian military, they have not, you know, devoted a lot of money to it just in the last few years. They certainly don't have the size. They just don't have the capabilities to take on Russia. The key for this is it's some sort of a diplomatic solution.

TAPPER: Ambassador McFaul, we just got a statement posted on Putin's presidential Web site reading out phone calls he had with the presidents of Kazakstan and Belarus.

I want to read one part of it out. "The leaders discussed the development of the crisis in Ukraine which is creating a real threat to the lives and legal interests of the Russian-speaking population first and foremost in Crimea and the eastern regions of the country."

Obviously, this is the precedent that they are setting to justify their military incursion into Crimea, but their mentioning of the eastern regions of the country, that would seem to be setting a stage for perhaps their next move militarily. Are you concerned about that?

MCFAUL: Yes, of course. I'm deeply concerned by that, because, you know, these things start in one way and then there are unintended consequences.

There's a shoot-out in one city and suddenly you have an action/reaction process that could create new kinds of movements into Eastern Ukraine. And I want to emphasize a point that Anderson made that I think is really important for people to understand. The eastern part of Ukraine is not all Russian and Russian-speaking.

In fact, it's really divided. The cities tend to be more ethnic Russians, but the countryside tends to be more ethnically Ukrainian. This is not going to be some neatly way to divide this country. It will be very messy if, God forbid, there is more conflict and greater military conflict in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine.

The good news so far is that there has been none. And that's an important thing to remember. Maybe that gives diplomacy one last chance to try to de-escalate this conflict.

TAPPER: Let's hope so.

Ambassador Michael McFaul, Anderson Cooper in Kiev, thank you so much.

Coming up, the brilliant chess player and a devastating critic of Vladimir Putin, Garry Kasparov, he joins me next.

Plus, Vice President Joe Biden also getting involved. What is he doing now to try to talk some sense into the Russian government?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Continuing now with our breaking news on the crisis in Ukraine. Moments ago, Russian's U.N. envoy said that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asked Russia to send troops to, quote, "establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine," close quote. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin read a letter that he said was from Yanukovych at the meeting of the U.N. Security Council. It's one more twist in a chaotic and baffling situation that has both the international community and world markets rattled.

President Obama spoke out again today saying that there will be consequences for Russia breaking international laws.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The steps Russia has taken are violation of Ukraine sovereignty, Ukraine's territorial integrity, that they are a violation of international law. 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 opposed to force.


TAPPER: What President Obama describes as a potentially costly proposition for Russia comes after weeks of bloody protests in the streets of Ukraine's capital Kiev, which costs more than 100 people their lives. But this comes as no surprise to one outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Garry Kasparov. You might remember him, he became famous in the 1980s as the youngest world chess champion in history, but he has since faced persecution in Russia for protesting what he calls Putin's, quote, "repressive regime".

Garry Kasparov left Russia last year and he's currently living in the U.S. He joins me now from New York.

Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

There's a lot of debate over whether Putin is just using this as something of a muscle flex, a show of force by Russia, or whether he plans to actually reclaim this part of Ukraine if not more for Russia.

Based on what you know of Putin, what do you think the end game is?

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, THE HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION: I think the answer is quite obvious now. Russian troops have been occupying Crimea for the last few days and today, Russian parliament, puppet parliament, of course, has been contemplating a new law that will make possible to annex Crimea in the next few weeks.

And I don't think that Crimea is the end of the story because Putin clearly has an appetite to what he -- at least in his mind to go after restoration of the great Russian Empire. As much as he can grab, he will. And it's very unfortunate he's facing very weak leadership of the West, Europe, and the United States and simple words will not stop him from moving in this direction. TAPPER: You've been very critical of the leadership of Barack Obama, the president here, as well as European leaders. Right now, the G-7 countries, the U.S., U.K., France, et cetera, are talking about using economic and diplomatic abilities to isolate Russia. Do you think that will be enough?

KASPAROV: That's what I've been saying at the time of the Syrian crisis. When Obama blinked on this red line, I warned that losing credibility of the U.S. presidency may have dramatic consequences because you don't want to use force any time when the international piece is in danger. You want to send a credible threat.

And unfortunately now, Putin doesn't believe in any words, which means that the cost of containing Russian dictator is now -- is growing. But unfortunately, if we wait for more one more week, one more months or even longer, the price will go up. This is the rule and we just have to read history books to understand that later we confront the dictator, the higher the price the whole human race pays.

TAPPER: I don't think that's any enthusiasm in the United States or Europe to send ground troops to actually take any military steps. So barring that, what can the U.S. and European Union do beyond isolating Russia diplomatically and economically?

Putin clearly wants more access to trade with the U.S. and Europe, to being able to travel freely with -- for Russians there. What more can the U.S. do short of going to war?

KASPAROV: OK. It's the -- let's separate Putin and every dictator needs an army of his followers who are ready to comply with his criminal orders. And I don't think that Putin cares about anything other than staying in power. His grip of power is of upmost priority and it's why when he's facing sluggish economy and the drop in the leading standards of majority of Russians, he needs as every dictator, he needs a foreign policy result successes.

But people surrounding him -- they may not be so bullish and may be more cautious when the West is threatening serious sanctions. That's why the goal today is to make sure that most people who are vital for the success of Putin's dictatorship will recognize that they will pay real costs for a big part of this blatant aggression. They have fortunes abroad. And the economic sanctions of the West should not unnecessarily hit ordinary Russians.

First target, the most important target, is Russian ruling elite that cannot afford to lose this access to the Western markets, to the Western capitals, to the fortune that they have been allocating in the free world.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, President Obama famously said he does not view any showdown with Russia as some Cold War era chess board. As somebody who is an expert on both the Cold War, Putin, and chess, do you think Putin views it differently than President Obama? Does he view this as a Cold War era chess board?

KASPAROV: Yes. I would be warning against using chess analogy because in chess we have rules and clearly Putin doesn't care about rules, because what he's been doing now in Ukraine, it violates international law and international treaties as signed before. And whether Obama likes it or not, whether the European Union likes it or not, they are already engaged in confrontation with Putin, because it's Putin who started this confrontation, and he will continue and no matter what Washington does now, eventual confrontation is inevitable and let's hope it will be just a Cold War with economic sanctions and it will not go further.

TAPPER: Garry Kasparov, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

KASPAROV: Thank you for inviting me.

TAPPER: When we come back, President Obama says he's ready to take on Russia but he needs some help from Congress. But are Republicans prepared to work with him? I'll ask the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, next.

Plus, can Putin even be reasoned with? Why the leader of one European Nation is now saying the Russian president is, quote, "in another world".