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Crisis in Ukraine; A New Cold War?; NATO: Russia Violating International Commitments; John Kerry Live in Kiev

Aired March 4, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking his silence, Russian president Vladimir Putin defends sending troops into Ukraine. He claims it is a humanitarian mission and warns that more force remains an option.

The president proposes his 2015 budget this hour. He wants to expand a popular tax credit for the middle class, also the working poor.

And then emotional testimony at the Blade Runner's murder trial in South Africa, neighbors of Oscar Pistorius describing the screams before he shot and killed his girlfriend.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Michaela Pereira is off today. We would like to welcome our viewers here in the United States and also all around the world.

We will have those stories and more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

And @ THIS HOUR, a new escalation in the crisis in Ukraine, Reuters News Agency is reporting that the Russian navy is blocking a channel between Crimea and Russia.

Right now, we're waiting for a critical news conference from Secretary of State John Kerry. He is very much at the center of what is becoming the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. We will bring you the secretary's comments live.

He arrived in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, just hours ago. This is one of his first stops in Independence Square right there. You can see him at the makeshift memorial which has been created to honor those killed in the demonstrations on the street.

The secretary of state is offering money and support to Ukraine's new government amid the Russian incursion.

In the meantime, on the frontlines, tensions are rising.

That was a dramatic pictures of the scene at a military base in Crimea. Russian troops said they fired warning shots. They fired them in the air as unarmed Ukrainian soldiers approached them.

And perhaps most importantly today, for the first time since this crisis began, we have heard directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he was defiant.

This was his first news conference since ordering his military into Ukraine. He says, there is no need to use more force for now, but he does warn that any force does remain an option.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): If I take the decision to use military force, it will be completely legitimate and correspond to the norms of international law because we have a request of the legitimate president and also corresponds to our interest in protecting the people who are close to us historically.


BERMAN: And with that, the Russian leader put down a kind of marker.

I want to bring in our Matthew Chance. He joins us now from Kiev. And here with me in New York is our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

First to you, Matthew, you were in Independence Square a little while ago when the secretary of state, John Kerry, passed by.

What are people in Kiev, in Ukraine where you are, hoping to hear from the secretary of state when he speaks a few minutes from now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have been in Independence Square for the past few days where there have been these very emotional scenes with people laying flowers on the barricades where there once were pitched battles just a week and a half ago between the protesters and the police as they tried to oust the government of Viktor Yanukovych.

It has become a memorial to the people who died, mainly shot by snipers. You can see people still laying flowers here into the evening.

Very important for the people of this part of Ukraine at least that John Kerry was seen here in Independence Square paying his respects to the people that lost their lives here, sort of laying a memorial to them, as well.

They are looking for him now to take strong action to put whatever diplomatic, financial and political pressure he can on Russia, along with his allies in the international community, to pull back from their position in Ukraine.

Now, what exactly those levers are remains unclear for the moment. What's been announced, coinciding with John Kerry's visit by the U.S., has been a billion dollars in a credit line, credit guarantees for the Ukrainian government to enable them to get through this very difficult period, to enable them, in fact, to buy energy supplies into the country.

Also, expertise being given by the U.S. to the finance ministry and the central bank to help them plan their economy a little bit better.

But what's happening now is that John Kerry is speaking with members of the interim Ukrainian government to talk about what concrete steps the United States and others in the international community can take to help them out in this difficult position, to try and put pressure on the Russians, as I say, but also to try and get them through this very tight financial squeeze that they are going to be in over the coming weeks and months, John.

BERMAN: Matthew Chance for us in Kiev.

Again, we are waiting for Secretary of State John Kerry. He will hold a news conference there in about 30 minutes, and we will get that live as it happens.

I want to go now to Christiane Amanpour. Let's talk about President Vladimir Putin, because he said a lot today.

He said, among other things, that the current government in Ukraine is illegitimate. He said that Russia reserves the right to use more force in Ukraine if he wants to.

Those are strong words. But amidst all that, you detected, if not conciliation, at least reason to hope that the situation will not deteriorate more today.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear which audiences he was addressing. For the Western audience, for the international audience, he said, Russia has no interest in an annexing Crimea from the Ukraine. He said that we're not going to use force in Crimea right now or anywhere else in Ukraine.

But as you said, he did reserve the right to do so if the Ukrainians begged Russia to come in and help them. That, of course, has been the way they portrayed this.

He did lay into the new Ukrainian authorities, basically, distinguishing between the new parliament, which he says is legitimate and the new interim leaders which he said are not.

And it is hard to see how he can keep saying that President Yanukovych is the legitimate president of the Ukraine, but that is his position.

So, Secretary Kerry has a major act of diplomatic high wire to try to achieve -- somehow an off-ramp for the Russians and somehow to get some kind of mediated negotiation or direct negotiation between the Russians and whatever Ukrainian leadership they are willing to talk to.

BERMAN: International stock markets, including U.S. markets, seemed to like what the president said. He said -- they're way up today, at least about 200 points, at one point, so they seem to think things are calming down a little bit.

The Russian president also said some things that seem to be completely at odds with the reality that the United States and Ukraine are depicting.

He said, among other things, that the troops that we think have operational control of Crimea right now, he says, they're not Russian troops. You can pick up those uniforms anywhere.

He continues to proclaim that this humanitarian mission is to defend people in Ukraine from neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. Our reporters on the ground say they've seen no evidence of that either.

Secretary of State -- former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, earlier today on "NEW DAY," called Vladimir Putin delusional. Let's listen to that.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There is not this kind of a crisis in terms of the way that the Russian speaking people are in some way being harmed.

And so this is all made up. And I think it's part of a much longer- term plan that Putin has had, which is to try to recreate some form of relationship between Ukraine and Moscow.

I think that is the tragedy that's going on. Putin is in many ways, I think, delusional about this.


BERMAN: You are nodding your head to Madeleine Albright.

AMANPOUR: I'm listening very carefully, because what she seems to be saying is a little bit of what we heard reported from Angela Merkel's call with Putin and then relayed to President Obama.

But on the issue of Ukraine, Merkel is reported to have said that she believed Putin was out of touch with reality, in another world on this issue.

And diplomatic people have told me that means that in her private conversation with Putin, private conversation, where presumably these two leaders could speak frankly, Putin persisted in laying out his theory as to why this was going on rather than actually talking "mano- a-mano" to a fellow leader about what was really going on.

So, even in a private conversation with a leader to whom he's close, he was not able to do anything except stick to their Russian narrative of what's going on.

And this is what we understand to be a fairly false narrative, one that's been manufactured by the Russians to establish some kind of desperation within Ukraine by the Russian speakers and the ethnic Russians and that gives, in turn, legitimacy to incur if they decide they need to in the future.

So what Putin has done today is, in a way, backed off slightly, but kept the muscle flexing on the table. BERMAN: And maintain flexibility in case he wants to change his mind going forward.


BERMAN: Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, great to have you here.

And, again, what Vladimir Putin is saying is at odds with what our people on the ground in Ukraine are saying, and CNN does have people all over that country right now.

Thanks so much, Christiane.

Some other news we want to tell you about @ THIS HOUR.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says peace is Israel's highest aspiration. And he says he is ready to make peace with the Palestinians.

Listen to what he said moments ago, speaking to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL: Peace would be good for us, peace would be good for the Palestinians, but peace would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.

Many Arab leaders -- and believe me, this is a fact. It's not a hypothesis. It's a fact. Many Arab leaders today already realize that Israel is not their enemy.

But peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships.


BERMAN: Again, that's Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

More news, the president proposes his federal budget for 2015 @ THIS HOUR. This budget includes help for low- and middle-income family. This is a month late, delayed by bickering over the current budget.

Let's take a look now at the markets. U.S. stocks up big, rebounding big-time thanks to those comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He, of course, said that he has no intention -- he claimed, at least, that he has no intention of annexing Ukraine's Crimea region.

The Dow, as you can see, up just under 200 points, this comes a day after stocks plummeted because of worries over Ukraine.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, Vladimir Putin says the military option is still on the table as the crisis continues, developments every minute here.

Can diplomacy and the threat of sanctions really end this standoff? And is a Cold War mentality complicating this whole situation? That's next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

@ THIS HOUR, in fact, at this minute, we are awaiting a news conference from Secretary of State John Kerry. He is in Kiev, visiting that country as the crisis in that region continues. We will bring you that news conference the second it begins.

Ukraine is calling Russia's move into its territory an act of aggression. The United States calls it a violation of international law. But Russia's envoy to the United Nations says a treaty with its neighbors does allow up to 25,000 troops in Crimea. And while the West sees Vladmir Putin's move as military aggression, one Russian journalist says, we are not he seeing a return to the Cold War. Listen.


VLADIMIR POZNER, JOURNALIST: I think the whole idea have of Putin bashing is something very much, how shall I put this, in the context of Cold War. I think America is reacting in that context, automatically, that, oh, if it is Russia, it is cold war and he's -- and it's the enemy. And I think they are overdoing it. And I don't think sanctions are going to help anybody, certainly not the United States. And Russia will somehow manage.


BERMAN: So is the U.S. just seeing this as another cold war crisis and a cold war framework?

Let me bring in my guest, Douglas Brinkley -- is a presidential historian and professor of history at Rice University. And Michael Hirsh is a chief correspondent with the "National Journal".

Doug, let me start with you. If it is not the cold war, what is it then? It does seem like at a certain level, it is a classic battle about spheres of influence.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it is not the cold war in the sense that Putin isn't Stalin massacring his own people. And he is also not Khruschev, for example, in 1956 where he could just run into Hungary and we just do absolutely nothing.

Russia today is a world player and works with the United States. They are a part of the G-8. So we have tools to punish Putin in a different 21st century way, a non-Cold War wear, mainly economic sanctions. It would devastate Russia. Just yesterday, the Russian stock market was starting to tumble. They had -- we can start isolating Putin in a way. So it makes sense that this all rings our Cold War bell, but we don't want to exaggerate. America has some responses now that we can do to a crisis like this that didn't have during the Cold War years.

BERMAN: Of course, the market has regained almost all of its losses yesterday. If there are tools out there to use, the question is, how will the U.S. use them?

Michael Hirsh, let me bring you in here. You say this is the toughest crisis that President Obama has faced so far. There are people who say it seems that we make that statement about every next crisis. So what makes this one so tough, so important?

MICHAEL HIRSH, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, because it does have echoes of the Cold War. It is not the Cold War. But Putin clearly sees this as a battle of series of influence. This is the culmination of a 20-year period when there has been a westward expansion of both NATO and the E.U. into what was formerly seen as the soviet-Russian sphere.

Putin has reacted. These are still two nuclear armed countries. I think the Western countries look to Obama in this crisis much more -- to an American president -- much more than they would in, say, the issues with Syria or Iran.

And frankly, this president, Obama, a perception of indecisiveness and weakness that I think Putin, to some degree at least, might be reacting to. So this is a very big test for him, not just in terms of an American response but in terms of a united response, which, frankly, we haven't seen too much of yet.

BERMAN: It seems to me there are two issues here. One is solving this crisis or at least finding a way out of this crisis in Ukraine. And then the second issue is protecting the role of the United States in global affairs going forward, fighting what you say, Michael, to be this perception of weakness.

So, Douglas, first, to you and then to Michael here. How important is the Ukraine to protecting this image the United States says it wants to have going forward?

BRINKLEY: I think it's very important. But let's be honest here; we are not going to go to war over this -- Obara (ph) what's a former soviet satellite of Ukraine. So it is becoming very symbolic, though, abut the Democratic movement.

I mean, there's some people question why wasn't Ukraine perhaps brought into NATO. Does NATO matter anymore? We are having to ask ourselves a lot of questions.

But I think a lot of roads may lead to China. What if we, instead of we -- keep the G-8 this year -- China is invited in place of Russia, for example? We have developed all these trade relations with China. It is starting to work fairly well recently, even though there are human rights concerns. So we have tools our kit to punish Putin. And we must do that. BERMAN: Michael?

HIRSH: Yeah, no, I agree. There is no military response that is really thinkable here. You still have two countries with thousands of nuclear warheads. It's really, in that respect, not much different than it was in 1956 when Eisenhower declined to respond to the Hungarian invasion.

But there are economic tools, a whole array of them, as Douglas points out. And the question is, I think, really the only thing that could make Putin think twice is a sort of unified front that would include the east Asian countries, would include China and Japan.

But, you know, perhaps there should be discussion as we've heard some people surge (ph), of actually ousting Russia from the G-8, perhaps inviting China instead.

There are a lot of things that can be done, including with the help of the U.S. Congress, a new round of sanctions. That seems to really upset the Russian leadership and those, of course, target individual Russians in terms of where they can go and what overseas assets they can touch.

So there are a whole array of economic responses that could deliver the right message to Putin, even if they don't get him to back down.

BERMAN: All right, Michael Hirsh, Douglas Brinkley, thank you so much for your perspective here, appreciate you being with us.

Again, we are awaiting a news conference in Kiev. Secretary of State, John Kerry expected to speak any minute from there. In the meantime, I'm joined here again by CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, NATO's secretary general, just moments ago, once said that Russia is violating its international commitments. Let me read this to you. He said, "Russia continues to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. It continues to violate --" as I said -- "its international commitment."

AMANPOUR: Which is true under the Budapest agreement of 1994, which we have talked about extensively.

Let's remember back then when the Soviet Union collapsed and all these former soviet republics became independent states, you know, some of them like Ukraine were important militarily. They had a lots of nuclear weapons, a whole arsenal that belonged to the soviet.

BERMAN: Key bases.

AMANPOUR: Correct. And here's what happened. They gave up voluntarily the nuclear arsenal and for that in return, the Russians, plus the British, plus the Americans signed this agreement that guaranteed Ukraine's protection. It has given up its fiercest weapons. It needs to be protected. Its territorial integrity needs to be protected and its sovereignty. So that was the deal. At the same time or in conjunction, the Russians got to keep their Sevastopol base, their huge big Black Sea fleet there. And there is treaty agreement in that regard. So this was never in danger, even under the current crisis.

In the ousting of Yanukovych, there was never a moment when suddenly, these Ukrainian authorities said, you know, good-bye. We're not going to respect your Sevastopol base. No, that remains there.

And so, again, under international law, the Russians are skating on very thin ice, if any ice at all. They are not meant to be invading a foreign southern nation under an agreement that they themselves signed.

BERMAN: You're talking about icier. Let's continue the metaphor. How is the United States going to play this hockey game? Because we keep on hearing that the United States does have a lot in its tool box it can use to leverage authority and power and influence over Russia right now. We are expecting to hear from Secretary of State John Kerry any minute from now. What tools do you expect him to pull out of that tool box?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, I'm not a very good handyman, nor am I very good at ice hockey.

But clearly, the United States leads the world. Let's not pretend. The United States is the super power, and it is the leader of NATO.

And the Russians have a very intricate now economy that is not like the Cold War when these two nations were at loggerheads with multiple nuclear warheads pointed at each other, very different ideologies, wars or spheres of influence. It's not really like that anymore. It just isn't. That has changed, although Vladimir Putin does have this idea he wants to keep a strong sphere of influence in what they call their near abroad. In other words, keep as many of these ex Soviet republics on site as possible.

You know, that ignores the wish and the will of those people in those former Soviet republics who actually have had a taste of freedom and economic opportunity and want to pursue that, and don't see their future, by and large, with the former Soviet Union or indeed with today's Russia.

So what the United States can do -- they're not going to go to war. Yes, there have been all these NATO meetings. But they clearly have not got a military option on the table. So what Secretary Kerry has to do, is to flex as much U.S. leverage as possible, which involves economic, business, you know, world trade, all those kinds of things -- as we keep watching them prepare for this press conference right there -- and also, the G-8. And will Russia be a member of the civilized nations or will it not?

BERMAN: He has his work cut out for him because he needs Europe, the secretary does, to come along here. The United States is a trading partner with Russia. But it is not a major, major top three, top five trading partner with the United States. Russia and Europe are very closely intertwined. Germany gets 3/4 of its gas and oil from Russia. Convincing the Germans, convincing the Dutch, convincing the British and the French to do any kind of sanctions will be very, very difficult.

AMANPOUR: Well, but that's, you know, going to have to be looked at. And they're going to have to work very hard with all this. I mean, I remember covering things like -- I mean, I know this is different, but the first Gulf War. You know, it took quite a long time to get all nations on side to decide a response to a naked act of aggression by Saddam Hussein into Kuwait, whether it was sanctions, whether it was then, you know, gathering the world's biggest army -- armed forces, 500,000 in the Saudi desert, to push Saddam back.

You know, this is not the same situation. The diplomacy is difficult, and diplomacy has to be the arch of the possible and what they can do to really pressure and make it pay for this kind of violation, make isolation an issue. Make it pay for this kind of violation.

BERMAN: OK, Secretary of State John Kerry in Kiev right now making a statement right now to the press. Let's listen to what he has to say.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me say, first of all, how incredibly moving it was to walk down into Institutska Street and to have a chance to be able to pay my respects on behalf of President Obama and the American people at the site of last month's deadly shootings.

It was really quite remarkable, I have to tell you, to see the barricades; see the tires; see the barbed wire; see the bullet holes and street lamps; the extraordinary number of flowers; the people still standing beside a barrel with a fire to keep them warm; the shrouded vision in the clouds and the fog of the buildings from which the shots came; and the pictures, the photographs of those who lost their lives, the people who put themselves on the line for the future of Ukraine.

It was deeply moving to walk in to a group of Ukrainians spontaneously gathered there and to listen to them, to listen to their pleas of passion for the right not to go back to life as it was under former President Yanukovych.

One woman who pleadingly said how poor they were, how the rich lived well and how those in power took the money and how they were left behind. An particularly one man who told me that he had recently traveled to Australia. And he had come back here, but he came back determined to be able to live as he had seen other people live in other parts of the world.

So it was very moving. And it gave me a deep personal sense of how closely linked the people of Ukraine are to not just Americans but to people all across the world who today are asking for their rights, asking for the privilege to be able to live defining their own nation, defining their futures. That's what this is about. And the United States extends our deepest condolences to those whose grief is still very fresh and those who lost loved ones, who bravely battled against snipers on roof tops and people armed against them with weapons they never dreamt of having. These brave Ukrainians took to the streets in order to stand peacefully against tyranny and to demand democracy.

So instead, they were met with the snipers who picked them off one after the other as people of courage notwithstanding the bullets went out to get them, drive them to safety, give them comfort, expose themselves.

They raised their voices for dignity and for freedom. What they stood for so bravely, I say with full conviction, will never be stolen by bullets or by invasions. It cannot be silenced by thugs from roof tops. It is universal. It's unmistakable, and it's called freedom.

So today in another part of this country, we're in a new phase of the struggle for freedom.