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Ukraine: Russia Threatens A "Military Storm"; Obama Threatens Sanctions Against Russia

Aired March 3, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next, a military storm. That's what Ukraine says Russia is threatening tomorrow morning. President Obama is taking a long, hard look at what to do. Can anything stop Putin?

Plus, shocking testimony in the trial of Oscar Pistorius. A witness describes the blood-curdling screams on the night Pistorius shot and murdered his girlfriend.

And what happens when a python meets a crocodile? It's not pretty. It was down under. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We begin with the breaking news the world is following tonight, President Obama meeting with his top aides at the White House at this moment about the crisis in Ukraine.

This comes after rising tensions and Russian's threat of what is a, quote, "military storm." Ukraine tonight accusing Russia of an ultimatum either surrender the Crimean peninsula or face attack. Russian state media saying reports of an ultimatum are utter rubbish. And these conflicting reports are just part of a day of fast-moving developments in the southern region of Ukraine, the peninsula of Crimea.

Here is another fact that's in dispute. Senior American officials say Russia has moved as many as 6,000 troops to Crimea. Ukrainian ambassador to the U.N. says that number is 16,000. It's pretty incredible in this day and age when we are talking about the NSA surveillance of people's phone calls around the world and social media and spying that we don't even know how many troops are there.

At this hour tonight, the president says the U.S. is looking at ways to isolate Russia, with economic and diplomatic penalties, calling Russia's actions a violation of international law. According to American officials, Russia has complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula, including border posts, ferry terminals, and all Ukrainian military facilities.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says Russian jets have entered Ukrainian air space and that Russia has blocked mobile telephone services in some areas. Now, there was anger at Putin and it was on full display today in New York at a U.N. Security Council meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: 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.


BURNETT: But the pro-Russian leadership in Crimea is calling this a quote, "Crimean spring," where locals are finally able to choose, which country they belong to. Ben Wedeman is live in Crimea tonight. Ben, who is telling the truth, as far as you can tell? I mean, these stories are completely and utterly opposite from each other. Who is more of the honest broker here, Ukraine or Russia?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really hard to say in this case. Certainly, these ultimatums and the later denials that we're hearing may be part of a psychological war, because certainly, on the ground, and I've been around, we were in the far eastern Kirsch, near the Russian border.

Now we're in Sevastopol, and it doesn't seem very tense, because, for instance, when we were in Kirsch today, we ran into a contingent of 100 of these men in green, shall we call them, these armed men in combat uniforms outside a ferry port, where ferries go to Russian destinations nearby.

There we were able to speak not on camera to the commander of the forces, and he said, I'm from the Russian Black Sea fleet. I'm the commander here. I'm normally based in Sevastopol. He insisted they were there to protect the locals, to prevent a breakup of the Ukraine along the lines of Yugoslavia.

And we saw local people coming and offering them food. Apparently, they're providing them with shelter and showers. Here in Sevastopol, very pro-Russian area. It's relatively, in fact, it's quite calm, very quiet, very relaxed. But you speak to people in other parts of Crimea and they are concerned about this Russian presence.

We were outside a base yesterday that was surrounded by Russian troops and there were Ukrainians there, very unhappy with the president. So both sides, really, are doing an awful lot of posturing, a lot of barking, so to speak, but not a shot has been fired. There hasn't been any biting. So it's very hard to tell where the truth lies -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Ben. And the situation in Ukraine is deja vu for Mikheil Saakashvili, who was the president of the Republic of Georgia in 2008. That was the last time Vladimir Putin used military force to occupy a former Soviet province. He's still in control of those two provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

That war lasted five days, nearly 300 died. The result of that invasion is well, Russia is still in control. Troops are still there in those two provinces of Georgia. OUTFRONT tonight, President Saakashvili, he is in Kiev. He has been working with opposition leaders there.

Great to see you, Mr. President. We appreciate you are taking the time. Again, it's good to talk to you. You know Vladimir Putin --


BURNETT: Thank you, sir. You know Vladimir Putin so well. He denies issuing an ultimatum to Ukraine. How far is he willing to push this? You heard Ben Wedeman say, not a shot has been fired. You told me on Friday, you thought this could be a hot war.

SAAKASHVILI: Well, I just had a long conversation with the head of Ukraine's security service, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, and he, indeed, confirm that there were multiple ultimatums coming from Russia and he confirmed that Russia is preparing for some kind of attack on Ukrainian navy, that is surrounded in Crimea, and certainly, the longer it lasts, the bigger it will get.

Back in 2008, it's true that hundreds of people, some people would argue, from both sides, when you also see Russian casualties, thousands of people were killed as a result of Putin adventure in the invasion of my country. Half a million of Georgia's have become IDPs. We see all the same risk in Crimea.

We have Crimean tatars that don't want to live with Russian occupation. We have those people in Crimea who don't agree with Russian president there. And certainly, Vladimir Putin has rooted for his people. And that's why in Georgia, ethnic cleansing, occupation, and annexation of his territories, if he's allowed to get away with that.

BURNETT: And ethnic cleansing is obviously a very serious, serious word. Do you mean it in all of what that word might mean?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, I mean, in Georgia, they did apply it. There are several ways of ethnic cleansing. Basically, the places they occupy in Georgia, one place totally emptied the population. The other has only 20 percent of pre-war population. So they cleansed like half a billion people for a country of less than 5 million. It's a huge burden.

And certainly the problem is in Crimea, is that they have a big number of Crimean tatars, the indigenous population that are totally pro- Ukrainian government, that don't want to live with the Russian occupation. These people have been protesting very vividly.

And certainly, I think they're all in danger as well as the other people that would not agree with Vladimir Putin. That's the problem we are facing there. And so, I think the world has to act, because the further it gets, it will get bigger, it will influence everything, starting from Syrian situation for financial markets.

It will influence European situation. I'm sure if it goes like that, it can influence domestic U.S. politics. So it's really a big, big crisis that is looming and getting bigger with every hour. BURNETT: And Mr. President, when you talk about this getting bigger, and you say just moments ago that, you know, you're reporting that the Russian navy has been surrounding the Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea. When you say get bigger, what do you think could happen? Do you think there's actually going to be shots fired? There's actually going to be tanks? There's actually going to be war and if so, how quickly?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, I mean, Russian's brought in their latest combat helicopter gunships. They've not used it in any conflict before. Their Russian jets have been cruising around. Ukraine has enough anti-air capabilities to shoot down Russian planes at any moment. I got confirmation about it from Ukrainian sources that they can easily shoot them down. They have not got these orders yet.

But you know, today, all over Ukraine, people are lining up for draft. There are lots of volunteers for Ukrainian army, for up to several weeks of total war propaganda on Russian media. Now if you look at the Ukrainian media, there is this big, patriotic wave of really heroic people. Ukrainians our heroic PEOPLE saying, well, first of all, they use word "enemy" about Russia all the time now.

It was not the case even 24 hours before that and this situation is that Ukrainians are still looking at the world. President Obama says that it will cost Russia, it's a very good statement to make. I think I welcome it. The Ukrainians are welcoming it. But the point is that, because for Putin it's a zero sum game. If it doesn't cost Russia, it will certainly cost all of us, it will cost United States.

That's why, you know, the Ukrainians are looking with hope that their NATO members are -- I hope Georgia will be put on fast track for membership as well for NATO because all of us in danger and we all need now strong banking for western alliances, just for the sake of peace.

By the way, when you mentioned that U.S. should know that, I just got confirmation that U.S. satellites are focused on Crimea, so the United States have full information about what's happening really there.

BURNETT: So you said the United States numbers, it sounds like you're trusting those, given that you're reporting really for us now that the satellites are focused there. Before you go, President, let me ask you this though, this crucial question, because you've been through this before.

Your country was being fast tracked for NATO and that got taken away. I mean, in a sense, you could look at it and say Georgia got punished for what happened. With the situation right now, the United States saying, sanctions are on the table, they're going to work with Europe on those, is that enough? Do you think that the west will be able to stop this without using military force?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, I mean, there are many others things they can apply. As I mentioned, there's a procedure for the U.N. and NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine. But also, there are a number of other instruments that can be used. You know, last time I was in Miami, it was full of, you know, kids of Russian government members and the Russian oligarch. They all worked very closely with Putin.

They have houses in Florida. If the United States no longer gives them visas to go there, you don't need to send even text, you can send physical agent to the U.S. banks, and there are a number of other measures that the U.S. can apply at this stage to send very strong signal.

You know, people are defecting for Putin, would defect from Putin if they see that their bank accounts are closed. They can no longer go freely to the west. And, you know, Russia, it's not North Korea. It's not, you know, it's not some other pariah state. Russians want to be part of the community, but they also don't want to pay cost for all these kind of adventures.

You cannot have both. You cannot go shopping to western capitals and at the same time run around with your troops and beat European country. Those two are not compatible and I think this should be clearly demonstrated by the United States. And it's doable. It's perfectly doable.

But with every day delay -- you know, I've heard the European Union say, very strong words, aggression and occupation. Now, what we need to see, that the U.S. credibility's in force here, because, you know, when Europeans said, we need to de-escalate, it's not about de- escalation anymore. It's already escalated. It's about the occupation.

It's occupation situation here and if you use the word, it should be applied to occupation rather just to de-escalation. Until Russia leaves the territory, for good, there can be no de-escalation here.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you very much, President Saakashvili, we very much appreciate your time. As we said, he's been meeting with the opposition in Kiev and reporting tonight, that they're saying that there are Russian ships surrounding Ukrainian vessels off the port of Crimea.

OUTFRONT, next, more of our breaking news coverage, President Obama has threatened to isolate Putin. Is it too little, too late? We're going to be joined by the former chief of NATO to talk about what the real options are here.

Plus, the crisis in Ukraine has led to a huge plunge in world markets and we take you inside the courtroom for the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. One witness came out and what she heard on the night Pistorius killed his girlfriend.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could hear that it was blood-curdling screams.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, more on our top breaking news story -- tensions high, as the United States and allies in Europe try to break up the situation in Ukraine.

Thousands of Russian troops are already on the ground, and President Obama says Putin's country is -- quote -- "on the wrong side of history."

Now, today, President Obama warned there will be consequences. Here's how we explained that.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If in fact they continue on with the current trajectory that they're on, that we are examining a whole series of steps, economic, diplomatic, that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia's economy and its status in the world.


BURNETT: Joining me now is a former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark, and the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

And I appreciate having both of you with us.

Ambassador McFaul, let me begin from you, because you just heard Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia. In 2008, Putin rolled his tanks and his fleet into Georgia. And you heard the president just talk about it. The two provinces there he took are still under Russian control. There weren't a lot of repercussions. He still has control.

President Saakashvili says there are things President Obama can do. He could freeze bank accounts for wealthy oligarchs who have houses in Miami, as just an example. Will that work?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: It's hard to predict what will work.

I think there's a short-term gain and a longer-term gain. In the short-term, President Obama and other Western leaders are raising the specter of these kind of sanctions to try to change Putin's behavior now, hoping the that he may think more pragmatically about what he's done so far, bring his troops back.


If that doesn't happen, and they remain in Crimea, then they will have to go forward with the kind of sanctions that President Saakashvili was talking about.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you, General Clark, a lot of people may look at this and say, all right, we're talking about renegade provinces. Why is this so significant? So I have this map made of Crimea, just to ask you, why is this area so important? You can see you have got the Ukraine here to the north. It's a peninsula right here in the Black Sea. Why do people describe this as a crown jewel in the mind of Putin for Russia?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, it's the access of Russia to warm waters.

That's where the Russian fleet is. That's how they get out to support the Mediterranean squadron. It's where the shipping comes in. It's where oil could be shipped out. So it's a very strategic, sensitive point for Russia.

BURNETT: General Clark, I wanted to follow up on that, though. Russia, last week -- no one noticed this, but I saw it, sort of saved this story. Eight governments, Russia says it's negotiating with right now, around the world, right?

We have got the Caribbean included in there, all the way around. These are all warm water ports to try to deal with the issue that you're talking about, that they only have one port, this one, which is ice-free year-round. Do you take that threat seriously, that Russia could get access to ports around the world in an unprecedented expansion of its power?

CLARK: Well, I think you have to take that seriously. I don't want know if it's a threat or not.

That depends on whether you consider Russia a threat. But I would say this, in response to what Ambassador McFaul said. I think you have to go on three tracks. One is a sanctions track and isolation track. The other is, you have got to really understand and win the legal argument on this.

Now, is this the legitimate government of Ukraine that's in Kiev? If so, we should be saying it at every opportunity. And what made it legitimate and why is Mr. Yanukovych not legitimate? Because that's Putin's argument.

And then, finally, I think you have got to really get down and look at the facts on the ground. And so I would like to see an assessment mission go in from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or maybe from NATO itself, just some people who can go in and say, here's a report that the Russians are on this border. Are they there? Is there movement? What can you see behind it?

Because, as this crisis escalates, which it might, the most important commodity is going to be on-the-ground, eyes-on-target information. You can't get it necessarily from NSA, as good as NSA is, and as good as the satellite coverage is. You have got to have people who can talk to people on the ground.

BURNETT: Which is important. As President Saakashvili was just saying, he heard the satellites were pointed there.

But, to the general's point, it's not enough to get all the information you need. Ambassador McFaul, what about this crucial point, though, General Clark raises? And that is, what about the legitimate government?

A lot of people around the world, of course, as you both know, are critical of the United States that seems to champion people toppling governments when they don't like the guy who was in power, and then out of the other side of their mouth saying the United States supports democracy and democratically-elected governments. How does this play out in this particular case, where you had a government, a -- quote, unquote -- "bad guy" in the American point of view, who was toppled by crowds, and now we're saying, well, this is a legitimate government?

MCFAUL: Well, first of all, President Yanukovych wasn't a bad guy just a couple of months ago.


MCFAUL: Vice President Biden called him, I think, a dozen times to try to de-escalate this conflict.

I have met President Yanukovych with the vice president. We weren't treating him that way. He was the one that shot on innocent protesters on the streets of Kiev. That's an important fact to not forget that made him a bad guy.

Secondly, I think you're right. At the end of the day, it's for the Ukrainians to decide who should be their government, what constitutes a path out of this crisis. But it is not for Russia to decide by invading a sovereign country. That is just illegitimate in every stretch of the imagination.

And that's the strategic interest we have. Economic interest, this trade with Ukraine and that, that's secondary. Our paramount priority is the legitimacy of the international system. You just can't go invading other countries and scooping up territory. That's not the 21st century.

BURNETT: And, of course, I want to note to our viewers, Ambassador McFaul was the ambassador until just last week. When he talks about being involved in this, he was.

Before we go, with General Clark, quickly, I just wanted to show one other map here, and this just sort of makes the point about how Ukraine is to Russia. You see Chernobyl on this map. Most Americans think Chernobyl is in Russia. Well, it was in the USSR, but you can see how far away it is, General, right? And this is in the middle really of Ukraine. And north of it is even another country now, Belarus.

It sort of makes the point here about how Russia feels.

CLARK: It certainly does.

Ukraine is a big country. It's strategic. It's right in the heart of Europe. And Russia has -- as Putin said when he went to the presidential inauguration of President Kravchuk in Ukraine in 1999, he said, Russia and Ukraine, we're more than brothers. We're in each other's souls.

So Putin himself feels very strongly about this. And that's why another thing we need to be thinking about is, where really is the center of gravity over the next few days? And, in my view, you have to really pay attention to the loyalty of the Ukrainian military.

So far, it looks good. One admirable turned, he was replaced. But that's going to depend a lot on whether they think they're in a hopeless situation, and it's in Russia's interests to make them feel that way. So anything we could do, through a visit of a couple of NATO staff officers or something, to say, how are you doing, what do you need?

We did this for Georgia. We need to be doing this for Ukraine. We need to be doing it soon, because, if that army crumbles, it's going to let the Russian forces just walk in. And it will change the facts on the ground so fast that the economic isolation and the sanctions we put in, they may not have time to work, even though I think they're the absolute appropriate things we need to be doing right now.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to both of you. And we're going to talk about those sanctions and whether they will work.

OUTFRONT next, though, the world's financial markets plunged, and this was really completely around the world. The reason? The crisis in Ukraine.

Plus, President Obama takes Vladimir Putin to task. So will these sanctions work? And will they get there in time?

And one of the most incredible images of the day, yes, was this, a python and a crocodile. You shall see the outcome.


BURNETT: Breaking news: Markets around the world fell sharply thanks to the crisis in Ukraine and the escalation today -- in New York, the Dow Jones industrial average down 153 points, about a full percentage point.

Oil prices surged nearly $2 a barrel. Russia is the largest provider of crude oil. Russia's currency plunged to an all-time low, a pretty incredible plunge when you look at this.

Joining me now, Peter Costa, the president of Empire Executions.

This is a severe market reaction to a crisis that's been going on for a while. Why the sudden plunge? You saw it in Germany. You saw it here, everywhere.

PETER COSTA, PRESIDENT, EMPIRE EXECUTIONS: Well, part of it was saber-rattling, obviously, with the Russians saying that they were going to invade, let's say, Crimea to take it over.

And the other thing, I think, was the market was ripe for a little bit of a sell-off anyway. We have been looking for a reason to sell. Seeing the markets in Europe start getting hit very early on, that just, you know, cascaded to New York.

And I think that it was a little bit of both. I think it was -- you know, we were expecting this to happen. It happened. It -- you know, any time there's any kind of geopolitical situation, it could be very consequential to the markets. That's what this was. And then we were also ripe for a little bit of a correction too.

BURNETT: A little bit of a pullback. All right.

So, in that sense, you're sounding like it's -- you're being calm about it.

COSTA: Right.

BURNETT: But if there are sanctions that have to be ratcheted to the next level, that means Europe has to be involved, because Europe is the big buyer of the natural gas and the crude oil that is so crucial to Russia's existence.

COSTA: Yes. Right.

BURNETT: If that were to happen, oil prices could surge for everyone, everywhere around the world.


BURNETT: Is that going to happen?

COSTA: I do -- I do think that's going to happen. But I think what will end up happening, the U.S. is going to ramp up production. They're also going to put pressure on the Saudis to ramp up production.

I do think there's going to be, you know, the U.S. economy is not the big driver of oil, you know, that it used to be. China is.


COSTA: So, I think that we can put pressure on the Saudis to increase production. There can be more production out of Venezuela. They need money more than anybody. And I think that you're going to see that these production levels are going to start going up, which the price of oil will go up anyway, but I don't think it's going to go up as severely as people think it will.

BURNETT: All right. Peter, thank you very much. Ironic, of course, China's the biggest buyer or soon to be of Russian crude, to be accurate, and Venezuela, of course, is having a huge crisis of its own.

OUTFRONT next, more of our breaking news coverage here on CNN. President Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history. Putin, though, is describing this as a Crimean spring, where they're going to get what they want, which is to be part of Russia. How far will President Obama go to stop Vladimir Putin? Plus, disturbing testimony today at the trial of Oscar Pistorius. What a neighbor heard the so-called Blade Runner (AUDIO GAP) his girlfriend?

And we've got new images of a massive sinkhole in which eight Corvettes were swallowed. We're going to show how they started to get them out today.


BURNETT: Welcome back to our viewers around the world tonight. Breaking news in the Ukraine crisis: troops are mobilizing. Already, there is a war of words. Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations tonight, upping the estimate of Russian troops in the Crimea from 6,000 to 16,000. Ukraine also claiming Russia threatened a military storm.

Russia calls it, quote/unquote, "rubbish". Crimea's vice premiere says this is the Crimean spring, where the people of the peninsula can finally make their own choice about which country they call home. There are a lot of lies, but as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said to the U.N. today -- well, here's her point of view.


SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It is a fact that Russian military forces have taken over Ukrainian border posts. It is a fact that Russia has taken over the ferry terminal in Kerch. It is a fact that Russian ships are moving in and around Sevastopol.


BURNETT: Those are the facts, reported by U.S. intelligence.

And, of course, tonight, President Obama is threatening sanctions against Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Congress, of course, is needed for those, which is why the fact that the senate's top Democrat is not on board matters.

Harry Reid told the magazine, "Politico", quote, "The most important thing for us, the United States, so to make sure that we don't go off without the European community. We have to work with them. Their interests are really paramount if we're going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us."

Joining me now, CNN political commentator Peter Beinart, and Ambassador Mark Wallace, who served at the U.N. under President George W. Bush.

Great to have both of you with us. This issue of Europe is a really big deal. And it's not just some people out there who are on the right side of the ledger may say, oh, Harry Reid, he's being wishy- washy. He's not. It's a mathematical fact, when you look at who buys what Russia makes, which is oil and natural gas, Peter, it's Russia, 15 of the top 30 biggest buyers of crude oil from Russia are European and the other big ones is China and we know they're not going to get on board with the sanctions.

So, sanctions will not work without Europe.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the huge diplomatic challenge for Barack Obama, one of the biggest of his presidency. And the question is, can he get the Europeans, who can put more pressure on Russia, but also have more to lose, because they rely on all that Russian gas, especially the Germans, who have already said they don't want to kick Russia out of the G-8, can Obama rally them to take a tougher position so we can be unified and put more pressure on Russia?

BURNETT: Germans, as of 2012 latest stats I had, Mark, the single biggest buyer of oil. So, you can see that's coming from position of self interest.

And what about the British? Obviously, not a part of the E.U., big oil buyers. And today, there was a photo taken of a document somebody was unfortunately had it out, at least for them. We got a picture of it.

And in it, it says, "The U.K. should not support for now trades or close London's financial center to Russians." When you think about it, if you were to close London's financial center to Russians, the real estate market could plunge.

MARK WALLACE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: There are no good options, really, before the United States right now. It's equivalent to talking about sanctioning Russia and blocking oil sales or blocking the Bosphorus or something. I think there are really no good options for American foreign policy in dealing with intransigent Russia right now.

I think it does reflect a little bit sort of where American foreign policy is right now. Remember, President Obama has been running much of America's foreign policy through Vladimir Putin's Russia. And it does call to question, maybe we have to re-evaluate our approach, whether Syria, Iran, or other places.

BURNETT: So, you're saying we're coming from a position of weakness, but we could have avoided being in this position of weakness?

WALLACE: I think one of the unintended consequences of the reset with Russia has been empowering Vladimir Putin. Certainly, we're not responsible for Putin's intractable actions in Russia, invading Crimea. But it does suggest that perhaps we should rethink that reset with Putin.

BURNETT: And let me just play for you, Peter -- you know, Republicans have been very critical of President Obama. You know, it's pretty easy to be very critical of somebody when they're not in their position. But here are two prominent ones, John McCain and Mike Rogers.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: I think Putin's playing chess and we're playing marbles. And I don't think it's even close.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are where we are because of a feckless, misguided, delusional foreign policy that has put us in this place today. Putin is acting the way he is because he believes, and very likely, he will, get away with it.


BURNETT: Very likely he will get away with it. That seems like -- look, maybe that's true, but what options does the U.S. have? Because from what I'm hearing, from anyone on the left or right side of the aisle, politically, nobody has an answer.

BEINART: Look, when the Soviets went into Buddhist in '96, Dwight Eisenhower did not risk U.S. lives. When the Soviets went into Prague in '98, Johnson did not risk U.S. lives. When the Russians went into Georgia in 2008, George W. Bush, which I don't think John McCain or anyone else in the Republican Party would have called feckless, did not risk U.S. lives on the line.

This is a tragic situation. We have to do whatever we can for Ukraine. But it is a long-established fact that the United States does not going to risk significant U.S. casualties to fight a war with Russia near Russia's soil. And that fundamental reality, as much as we can try sanctions, as much as we can try diplomacy, is a fact before Barack Obama and after Barack Obama.

BURNETT: There's also this issue, Mark, though, about -- people have been asking me this question. The United States wants to say it's for democracy and all these countries, but only when they like the person in power or like the person being taken out of power. What if Crimea would democratically vote to be a part of Russia, wouldn't the U.S. have to support that to be consistent with its morals?

WALLACE: Well, I think what John McCain is saying and what Lindsey Graham and others are saying is what you're hearing in private around the world. If there is a pullback of American leadership, and you're seeing that, it's creating a vacuum and a void.

Right now, the United States ran its foreign policy on Syria, regrettably, through Russia. Right now, we're dependent upon Russia related to Iran. But at the same time, we're lecturing some of our allies in the region and telling them how to do their business with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others.


WALLACE: And I think what we have to do is engage in a smart policy. Whether it's democracy promotion for Americans or Republican, or Democrat, we support democracy. But at the same time, we have to be smart about it. And we shouldn't be empowering a weakened Russia and making Vladimir Putin stronger, which I think is what President Obama's policy has done.

BURNETT: The Pentagon has just this moment suspended all cooperation with Russia. Perhaps not surprising, but it is significant.

How significant is that, as you talk about escalation here, Peter?

BEINART: I think what the Obama administration is trying to do is trying to have a kind of escalating ladder of potential sanctions, in order to do two things. First of all, prevent Russia from going further into the rest of eastern Ukraine and create some kind of possibility for a diplomatic resolution where they will get out.

But I do think it's really important that you bring this point up. We have to strengthen the government in Ukraine. But we also have to remember that this government in Ukraine was not elected by anybody. It may well have represented the desire of the people and that Yanukovych was horrible and corrupt and killed people, but we have to think about creating democratic legitimacy for this government in Ukraine, because right now it does not have it via an election.

BURNETT: Right. It wasn't elected at all. He was toppled and now there's -- definitely not democratically elected.

All right. Thanks very much to both of you.

And OUTFRONT next, a lot of excitement in Hollywood last night. Some awards, though, still need to be handed out and Jeanne Moos will do them for you.

Plus, dramatic testimony during the murder trial of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. A witness describes what she heard the night he shot and killed his girlfriend. We'll be live in South Africa.


BURNETT: And now let's check in with Anderson Cooper. He is live in Kiev with a look at what's coming up on "AC360."

Hi, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erin. Yes, I'm right on Independence Square, where up until a little bit a week, week and a half ago, there were protesters fighting and dying right in this area, manning the barricades behind me, it's now a memorial for those who died.

There are still protesters here. There's a lot of people just hoping, praying, worried about the future of Ukraine and what is going to happen now. We're going to have complete coverage tonight on "AC360."

We'll talk to Senator John McCain, who's been very critical of the Obama administration response to events on the ground in Crimea. We'll also speak to the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, who left his post just about a week ago. So, he is very fresh perspective on Vladimir Putin and what Vladimir Putin is thinking and trying to achieve in Crimea.

Full reports, live from Ukraine, coming up, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks, Anderson. We're really looking forward to seeing that in just a few moments.

Well, claims of blood-curdling screams and gunshots riveting testimony this morning on the first day of the murder trial involving Oscar Pistorius, who you may know as Blade Runner. The trial in South Africa that has drawn reporters from around the world as the one-time Olympian makes his case that he didn't mean to gun down his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in the bathroom a year ago.

Our Robyn Curnow is OUTFRONT live in Pretoria, South Africa.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oscar Pistorius greeted in court by a crush of cameras. The South African Olympic sprinter dubbed the Blade Runner is charged with killing his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day last year. Prosecutors say he shot her through a locked bathroom door in a fit of rage, the charges that put the double amputee behind bars for life.

JUDGE: Do you understand the charges, Mr. Pistorius?


JUDGE: How do you plead?

PISTORIUS: Not guilty, my lady.

CURNOW: Pistorius' lawyer then read a statement from the athlete.

BARRY ROUX, DEFENSE LAWYER: While I admit that I inflicted the fatal gunshot wounds to Reeva, this occurrence was indeed an accident, that I had mistakenly believed that an intruder or intruders had entered my home and posed an imminent threat to Reeva and me.

CURNOW: The defense revealed a key part of its case and says the investigation has been riddled with mistakes.

ROUX: Whilst the investigating officer tasked with preserving the scene, that the scene was contaminated, disturbed, and tampered with.

CURNOW: But prosecutors maintain Pistorius knew he was shooting at his girlfriend. Pistorius' name, Michelle Burger, the first of more than a hundred potential witnesses, testified about the night that the three-month romance between Pistorius and Steenkamp seemed to take a fatal turn.

MICHELLE BURGER, OSCAR PISTORIUS' NEIGHBOR: My lady, just after 3:00, I woke up from a woman's terrible screams. It was very traumatic for me, you could hear that it was blood-curdling screams. It leaves you cold. You can't translate in words, the anxiousness in her voice and fear.

CURNOW: The same witness who was not shown on camera today, also said she could hear a man yelling for help, but could not say whether it was Pistorius.

BURGER: Just after her screams, my lady, I heard four shots. Bang, bang, bang, bang.

CURNOW: That account contradicts Pistorius' version of events. And when asked on cross-examination if she thought if Blade Runner was lying --

BURGER: I don't know how -- I cannot see how it's possible not to hear, because I heard it.


BURGER: A woman scream.


BURNETT: Robyn is live in South Africa tonight. I mean, Robin, Reeva's family was looking at him, at the mood amongst the family, side by side in the courtroom. You were there. What was it like?

CURNOW: Well, it was quite claustrophobic. There were about 100 journalists packed into those benches, and Steenkamp and the Pistorius families were all sharing the same bench. So, at one point they were literally within touching distance of each other.

From what I could see, Oscar Pistorius never made eye contact with the Steenkamp family. In fact, he rarely turned back toward us, the media, he spent a lot of time writing notes, talking to his lawyers. As for Reeva's mother, we know that she did give him a few beady eyed looks, some long sustained stares.

Generally, it was an unemotional courtroom compared to some of the scenes of previous court appearances, Erin, when Oscar would cry, the way he would break down. This was definitely more clinical, more procedural. Both families seem to be able to deal with the weight of what was happening.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much to Robyn Curnow who is going to be covering this for us as the trial continues.

But, you know, for many of you who may have forgotten what happened, there are two different versions of what weren't down the night Oscar Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.

Our Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.

So, Tom, I know you've been really analyzing this in an amazing visual way. Pistorius' neighbor said today she heard a woman for help. So, what actually really happened? Walk us through it.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this fits into the prosecution's story, because the prosecution has said all along, that basically the two of them were having some kind of a big argument in the middle of the night. In the course of that argument, they proceeded from the bedroom, down the hallway here into bathroom, in another part of the room here. You go all the way down here and in the bathroom, she barricaded herself in the bathroom, and at that point the prosecution said he became angry after trying to smash the door down and shot through it with intent to kill her.

So, the idea she would be screaming and you would hear gunshots, that fits very nicely into the prosecution's story, Erin.

BURNETT: Pistorius' lawyer is obviously saying this isn't what happened, that the athlete thought someone had entered his home, some kind of a robber, an intruder. Did the fact support that at all? Is there anyway to make that claim?

FOREMAN: Well, here's the story, it's important to understand what they said. Their argument is that they were both asleep in bed, that he got up and went out to the balcony, in the darkness to bring a fan in and to close the door. And while he was out there, she got up and went down the hall and he did not know it.

So when he came back into the dark room, he heard a noise off in the bathroom. He followed it down the hallway, he got he go this gun, he thought that somebody had broken in through the window here, which was open and barricaded themselves in here, he said he was shooting through there to protect himself and Steenkamp.

Can that fit together with her screaming? No. But remember, the witness also said she heard a man screaming. You know there will be challenges ultimately on the sequence. Did she really hear this before that?


FOREMAN: How does it all come together? Those are the two competing stories, though, and they're going to keep pushing against them on both sides.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much to Tom Foreman of covering that story.

We have another story we brought you on this program. The National Corvette Museum and the United States has begun removing the eight Corvettes. They fell into a 40-foot wide sinkhole that it opened up underneath the museum's center. It's the sky dome, glass ceiling.

The first car removed was a 2009 Blue Devil ZR-1. As you can see coming out with the crane, how they did this in the museum. Nearly unscathed, the museum says, that car was. And 1993 ruby red 40th anniversary Corvette was also removed. And officials are hoping to remove a 1962 black Corvette tomorrow.

Now, not many animals could turn a crocodile into its prey. But this is incredible. Down under, a python in Australia did it, it's so rare and amazing. The woman who took the photos told the Australian broadcasting that a three foot crock initially fought the python but finally became exhausted and, quote-unquote, "gave in". The python made the crocodile its meal.

The whole ordeal lasted about four hours. Wow.

Next, Jeanne Moos with the craziest moments of the Oscars. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: A lot happened at the Oscars last night, you probably saw them. But one of the most of most awkward moments? Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oscar hangover, there was Cate Blanchett on Ellen's show.

CATE BLANCHETT, ACTRESS: Would anyone like to hold this?


MOOS: When Ellen asked if Blanchett slept with the Oscar, Cate said it was the closest she and her husband had ever come to a threesome.

We're still dreaming of our favorite Oscar oddball moment, number five.

(on camera): What did John Travolta just call her?

(voice-over): He was supposed to introduce singer Idina Menzel.

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR: Please welcome the wickedly talented, one and only Adele Dazeem.

MOOS: We don't know if there's even one Adele Dezeem, since her real name is Idina Menzel.

"BuzzFeed" imagined what if John Travolta had to pronounce everyone's name at the Oscars, from Maddow Mahogany, to Bratt Spit.

(on camera): Some defenders say Travolta is dyslexic and that explains why he misread the teleprompter.

(voice-over): CNN was unable to confirm whether Travolta really has dyslexia.

Number four, our favorite awkward moments.

LIZA MINNELLI, ACTRESS: I'm just nervous.

MOOS: The actual Liza Minnelli was described by Ellen as one of the most amazing Liza impersonators.

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST: Good job, sir. I mean, that is really --

MOOS: And Kim Novak got her back rubbed by Matthew McConaughey.

KIM NOVAK, ACTRESS: I'm really glad to be here. It's been a long time.

MOOS: Some who remembered her from Hitchcock's "Vertigo" lost their balance, "Kim should sue her plastic surgeon," tweeted Donald Trump. NOVAK: "Frozen."

MOOS: Number three.

(on camera): Another reason to fall for Jennifer Lawrence.

(voice-over): She fell again, tripped over a traffic cone getting out of her limo.


MOOS: Number two, Ellen's Oscar pizza capper. She brought in a pizza delivery guy who thought he was delivering to the writers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going in, I'm on the stage.

MOOS: Ellen passed Pharrell's hat to pay the tip.

DEGENERES: Six hundred dollars or something like that. Here's $1,000. You have a total of $1,000 --

MOOS: And our number one oddball moment. That selfie full of stars. Sure, it got mocked by Larry the Cable Guy, it was photo shopped with Rob Ford, Ellen everywhere, and pepperoni pizza.

But whether out of popularity or coincidence, moments after it was posted, Twitter crashed. Even better than that, was when Liza Minnelli crashed the selfie from the rear.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: Our coverage of the crisis in Ukraine continues now with Anderson Cooper live in Kiev.