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Putin Threatens More Military Action and Reserves All Options On Ukraine; 16,000 Russian Troops In Crimea; Can Obama "Isolate" Putin?; Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial

Aired March 4, 2014 - 06:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. We're following major developments in the situation in Ukraine. You are looking at, of course, Vladimir Putin. He is live in Moscow, Russia, right now, giving his first comments about the situation in Ukraine. He is explaining the invasion of Russia. He says it is not an invasion. He says that this is a savior mission for Russia to go in to help people wrongfully oppressed by a coup that deposed the rightful president there and that the eastern part of Ukraine is in jeopardy.

He uses the word "coup." He has said during these speaks that this is a wrongful revolution. He is also providing a new potential definition of Ukraine as two separate sovereigns, east versus west, and the rights of those who are being victimized there. Most importantly, he is also talking about sanctions that may be levied and warning that we are also interconnected that many people could be hurt by sanctions.

Also important to know before we get back in and hear to what else he to say, what he says is on the table going forward -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. He really is remaining steadfast. From what we've heard, so far, he's not giving ground at all. Putin at one point saying that Russia reserves the right to use all options if there is lawlessness in Eastern Ukraine. Really critical when you look at -- we try to understand and get into his mind to understand not only his motivation now, but where he could be going and moving going forward.

CUOMO: He says no one has been hurt. No shots have been fired. That they are only there to help. They will provide economic relief as well. He is entertaining valleys of questions from the people in front of him. We believe they are part of a journalist core. Let's dip in now and listen to some more and see if we can get anything more out of it.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translation): -- the law followed. There are no violations there. Several days ago, group of armed people tried to seize the building of the parliament, among local Crimean population, they thought it would start going to the Kiev scenario. This is why they have formed self-defense teams and took over the control of military bases. When I saw yesterday what they have taken over, they -- there are 22,000 troops and a lot of arms. But as I said, without a single shot, it is now in the hand of the Ukrainian people. The people who were blocking the commands of the Ukrainian --

CUOMO: All right, let's get back out of this now and explain what's happened so far. We have Peter Beinart with us. He understands the situation in Ukraine very well. From what we've heard so far, let's just go over these headlines. He's been speaking about 20 minutes now, Vladimir Putin. We believe he's entertaining legitimate questions. They've coming in valleys.

The big headlines, this is not an invasion. We are coming to help. This is a wrongful coup that has happened, that President Yanukovych was wrongfully deposed. He keeps talking about east and west as if they were separate places there.

That people in the east are somehow under siege from corruption and oppression. That he will provide aid. That the idea of sanctions should be very carefully examined because they will hurt everyone and that all options are on the table for him.

So Peter, the first question, as it seems that Crimea is not the end, it is only the beginning. That Vladimir Putin seems to be saying he has a right to help at least half the country. Your thoughts.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. It seems to me this is availed threat. He's saying this government is illegitimate and implicitly saying unless I have a seat at the table in deciding what's going to happen in the future of the government of Ukraine, we reserve the right to go further into Eastern Ukraine to use Russian influence.

Of course, the pretext is the threat to the people of Eastern Ukraine as it was a supposed threat to the people of Crimea. But he's really giving no evidence of that. I think what he's really saying is, I don't like the way things have gone in Ukraine and if it continues to go this way, we may use further measures in order so we make sure we can prevent Ukraine from going in an anti-Russian direction.

BOLDUAN: Now, you guys tell me if we do, do we have Phil Black? We do. OK, let's bring Phil Black in. He is also going to be joining us. I want to get his take on this as well. Let's bring him into the conversation.

Phil, you've been listening to this press conference, we'll call it from the very beginning. A lot coming out of this. Most notably what you really here is a steadfast Vladimir Putin also saying at one point that this is a humanitarian mission on the part of Russia, what do you take from it all?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely not backing down. The other point to take is that Russia's intentions, its actions from here are still quite open-ended. It may not be the end of what we've seen in terms of Russian military incursions into Ukraine. Despite that, it's difficult to quite understand why. That President Putin seems to be drawing a distinction between what Russian forces have already done on the ground in Crimea and actual military action.

He said there hasn't been any need for that yet. We've heard this from other Russian officials over the last few days. Without any real clear understanding of precisely how they can say that this occupation of Crimea as it exist at the moment is not yet actual military force. But they say and we've heard from President Putin again that it may still be the case.

And as you've said, reserves the right to do whatever is necessary in the east of the country if the people in that region also start to feel threatened. When talking Crimea he said that it was a situation where nationalist forces were approaching. They acted in time and now hopefully he says that won't be required in the east of the country as well.

But he made it very clear indeed that if those people in the east of the country request Moscow's help then he believes it is legal. It is appropriate. It is right then Russia will take all necessary means to step in and intervene militarily as it has already done so in Crimea.

CUOMO: Peter, is the definition that he's using of Ukraine accurate? He keeps talking about the east as if this were East and West Germany. As if all the Russians were in one area, but when you look at the demographics of the map and most recent information, it seems culturally you've become very mixed there in terms of who identifies themselves as Russian. Is he giving a bogus definition?

BEINART: Well, there are a lot of Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language.

CUOMO: That doesn't mean they are Russian.

BEINART: Right. And the point is that Putin is right to say that there are divisions in Ukraine and Ukraine also has to get back to a constitutional democratic process in terms of figuring out how it's going to have a government that is broad-based and represents all people. I think that's true.

Where he goes astray is in the idea that sending Russian forces into Ukraine in any way can help to improve that situation. The Ukrainians need to come together to create a democratically elected broad based government. Having Russia unilaterally decide that it's going to send troops into Ukraine, it basically just creates a de facto division of the country. I don't think most Ukrainians want that.

BOLDUAN: And Phil, let's clear up one thing, you are talking about how Vladimir Putin says if they get the kind of the signal that folks in Eastern Ukraine feel threatened, then Russia, they would say doing their humanitarian part will move into help. Let's be clear on one thing. So far all we've heard is that Russia seems to be the one making up facts on the ground in Crimea. There hasn't been any evidence yet that there has been a request for assistance in that portion of the country where his military has moved in, right?

BLACK: Yes, the view of the west, the view of the United States is very clearly that this is a bogus argument. There is no real threat to these Russian-speaking, this culturally Russian areas of the country. That this is being used as a pretext of some sort for this unilateral military action, which the United States and the west clearly believes is illegal.

And as a clear inconsistency, I think in Russian policy here because we've heard from President Putin so many times the importance of sovereignty to international law. The unviability of nation's borders. He's repeated it so many times, particularly in terms of Syria. He says that other countries just don't have the right to go in.

It's a criticism he's made of the United States many, many times. In this case, though, he seems to believe that in Ukraine there is an exception. He is using the humanitarian argument. That's also something he's criticized the United States for in the past when it comes to military intervention.

He has said explicitly in the past that he doesn't believe countries when they say they are acting militarily for human rights interest or issues. He believes there's usually something else behind it, but in this case, this is the very argument that he's using to justify his actions here.

CUOMO: That's an important point that Phil is making because if you think about it what he's saying, all options are on the table. We are looking forward. The people called out to us, that's why we're there. We don't want do anything more. It does sound, you know, uncannily like a U.S. proposition going into a situation like this.

BOLDUAN: I think the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said it very strongly yesterday during that Security Council meeting when she said, you cannot convince us as much as you might want to that black and white and up is down. Facts on the ground are what facts on the ground are, and that's what we need to keep squarely focused on.

Phil Black, we going to be getting back to you. You obviously need to get back to listening to this press conference. Peter, stick with us. One important note we're just hearing, Vladimir Putin did also say during this press conference that Russia does not want to make Crimea part of Russia and that only the people of Crimea can decide that. We'll have a lot more to dissect in Vladimir Putin's press conference going forward.

Let's take a look, though, at the very latest, this being part of it, the very latest of what's going on inside Ukraine. Just this morning, a very tense standoff at an air base in Crimea unfolding just hours ago. Listen.

Three hundred unarmed singing Ukrainian soldiers ignoring warning shots to confront heavily armed Russian forces at an air base in Crimea. They're demanding an end to the occupation. Sixteen thousand Russian troops have boots on the ground in Crimea right now.

They have taken control of every critical government and military installation on the peninsula at this point as well all key communications and transportation posts.

CUOMO: And obviously an image that Vladimir Putin would say does not exist in terms of being the aggressor in the situation there. Again, the Ukrainian soldiers had dropped their arms, walking towards those soldiers in a banner when admittedly a warning shot was fired not direction of the troops.

Now in the next hour, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to touchdown in Kiev. The question is what is the mission? What is the line of leverage that the U.S. can try to impose here? Is he just going to try to show support for Ukraine's fledgling government including desperately needed financial help?

Let's pick up the story there. CNN's Ben Wedeman is live at that air base in Crimea where you saw that altercation between Russian and Ukrainian troops. Ben, what's the latest?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we understand from the commander of this base, which is called the Belbek military base north of Sevastopol, is that earlier today he received a verbal ultimatum from what we presume was a Russian commander saying that by noon, this base must surrender to Russian forces.

Now it's now 1:00 local time. There doesn't seem to be any move to try to impose or implement that ultimatum, but clearly, the situation here is quite tense. Now, right behind me, there are Ukrainian soldiers, some with arms at the ready. They insists they aren't about to surrender to anybody here.

We've watched this some of their wives and relatives have come bringing food and refreshment for them. The wives as well saying that they are here to stay despite the possibility of an implementation of an ultimatum that could result in violence.

CUOMO: All right, Ben, and again, a reflection of the two very different narratives being told here. To hear from Vladimir Putin, there are calls for humanitarian aid, the Russians are just trying to help. But there on the ground where Ben Wedeman is, you have Ukrainian families saying that they feel that they are under siege by the Russians and they will not surrender at this point.

Puts the White House in a very tricky situation in terms of how to respond to this. President Obama is holding high-level cabinet talks at the White House. This happened last night. The plan moving forward is to rally world leaders and make Russia pay for the Crimean incursion.

So let's bring in the White House correspondent for us this morning, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what do we understand about what direction these talks will take and when?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that, we've seen over the last few days the U.S. response to this building in these measured steps. Most lately, we've seen the U.S. cancel all bilateral trade talks with Russia, cancel all joint military exercises. The question being of course is any of this expected to have any affect at all on Russia's current course of action in Crimea? We heard a little bit from Vladimir Putin just now reinforcing what he's been saying that he sees the current situation in Ukraine as illegitimate and what he is doing is helping his own interests and Russian people that are in Crimea.

Well, last night, President Obama met with closest adviser, Secretary of State John Kerry before he left for Ukraine, secretary of the Treasury, and chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff with the purpose, the White House says, of looking at other options that might further isolate Russia.

We know that the White House has been preparing possible sanctions. Not to say that they will be taken. That's what many in Congress have been calling for. Here's what President Obama said yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are examining a whole series of steps, economic, diplomatic, that will isolate Russia.


KOSINSKI: We've heard from a number of members of Congress using strong language as well saying that the U.S. needs to do something right now, that members of Congress might actually get together on both sides of the aisle and draft legislation that could lead to sanctions. Something similar to the Magnitsky Act that we saw Congress do last year, putting -- basically putting restrictions of travel and finances on certain members of the Russian administration.

We could see that happen, but Obama has called for everyone working together on this. That he said he wants to see you unanimity on the top of sanctions among members of Congress. Back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Michelle, thank you very much. We're going to be following up on this as there are more developments. Again, Vladimir Putin is still speaking right now. I will be dipping in and out of that for you. And again, his main claim is that this is a humanitarian effort, not an invasion. Where are the facts to suggest that on the ground right now? We don't know.

There are a lot of other stories this morning as well. So we are going to get to John Berman in for Michaela following the top stories.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Chris. In the midst of everything else happening today, President Obama is set to deliver his 2015 budget plan. The general theme is reducing income inequality. Among the proposals, expanding a tax break to help low- income workers without kids. The budget announcement was delayed a month after Congress suspending plan for this fiscal year. The next fiscal year begins in October.

So you think your wireless carrier is over charming you, you are not alone. The federal government is now suing Sprint over the cost of bugging people's phones. The lawsuit filed Monday claim Sprint overbilled the FBI and other agencies by $21 million. It's legal for carriers to charge the government for installing and maintaining wiretaps. Sprint says it did nothing wrong.

Developing overnight, a Phoenix detective is in an intensive care unit this morning after a shoot-out with a fugitive left another officer dead. Police say the two detectives were chasing a suspect by car when he crashed and opened fire while fleeing on foot. Responding officers shot and killed the suspect after he exchanged fire them near the crash site.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will try to shift focus from Bridgegate. He will hold will the town hall today. This one will focus on the second wave of Hurricane Sandy federal relief. But even that, as we all know, is controversial. A report last month blamed the state for mishandling thousands of dollars of recovery money requests.

This as attorneys for Christie's former campaign manager say that he is now being investigated by federal agents for any role he may have had in the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.


CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, John.

We're going to be following up with the headlines. We'll keep dipping back to Ukraine as developments happen. But we do also have to follow what's going on here with the extreme cold grip that's just strangling the Midwest and the East this morning. It could be breaking more records. These records date back to the 1800s.

Take a look at the map. The arctic air dipping well into Texas, engulfing the Deep South. What does it all mean? How bad can it get?

Meteorologist Indra Petersons knows it all -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, the fact that it's actually March now. We're still talking about the jet stream doing all the way doing even into the Southeast. Yes, these temperatures are very cold, with the potential to set records, where this morning, Indianapolis, still single digits. Burlington without a wind-chill looking at subzero temperatures. Seven below right now, and even all the way down to the South, we're talking about temperatures currently below freezing.

We keep saying, are we breaking any records? Well, we already have. Detroit already breaking the record, from five degrees, now only four degrees. Binghamton also, 2 below zero. That breaks the previous record of one below.

So, we continue to see these record-breaking morning lows this morning. And unfortunately, this cold air, it's going to be lasting. I still don't have any good news for you. You can actually see down to the south, about 30 below. Memphis only seeing 35. Charlotte looking about 11 below, even the Northeast, about a good 15 below where they should be. Tomorrow, we'll recover a little bit. But it doesn't feel much about it, and you're still talking about 15 below average instead of 30 below average.

So cold that this cold air has gone all the way down even in through Texas, where they're currently talking about an icing situation, an inch to a quarter of inch of ice possible, which, of course, means some rain for Mardi Gras -- Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks.

CUOMO: All right. Thanks, Indra. Appreciate that.

Coming up on NEW DAY, we'll take a break. Obviously, the developing situations in Ukraine to talk to you about.

But other stories as well. Right now, you're looking at the murder trial of Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius. Day two of testimony now underway. We're going to tell you about the neighbor who say she heard desperate screams -- key word -- before the fatal gunfire. What could that mean to the prosecution?

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, President Obama is facing criticism for what some are calling a weak strategy in the Ukraine. One prominent senator, former senator, says no one believes in America's strength anymore. We're going to ask former Senator Jim DeMint about that.

Plus, we're continuing to monitor Vladimir Putin's press conference happening this morning, live, which is still underway.

We are back.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back.

More testimony today in the second day of the Oscar Pistorius trial. The Olympic bladerunner faces charges, including premeditated murder in the shooting death of his model girlfriend.

Back on the stand this morning was a neighbor who said she heard blood-curdling screams before the fatal gunshots.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is in Pretoria, South Africa, following this trial for us.

Robyn, what's the very latest?


Well, the court has adjourned for lunch. Already, this morning's session was fascinating. Take a listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make way. CURNOW (voice-over): Day two of the trial of the century, Oscar Pistorius arrived in the court this morning with the same defiant expression as the previous day, the Blade Runner's lawyer launching a full frontal attack on the credibility of witness Michelle Burger's ability to hear Reeva Steenkamp's screams during cross-examination.

BARRY ROUX, DEFENSE LAWYER: You heard that out of a closed toilet in a house 177 meters away.

CURNOW: Clearly rattled at times, she was granted a small reprieve as the court investigated claims her image has been seen on TV, a violation of her rights to remain anonymous. Yesterday, Burger kicked off the trial as the prosecution's first witness.

MICHELLE BURGER, WITNESS: My lady, just after 3:00, I woke up from a woman's terrible screams.

CURNOW: Burger testified that she heard Reeva Steenkamp's screams coming from the estate last year on Valentine's Day.

BURGER: It was very dramatic for me. You could hear that it was blood-curdling screams. It leaves you cold. You can't translate into words, the anxiousness in her voice and fear.

CURNOW: Burger described the pause after the first shot, which the prosecution points to as proof Pistorius knew he was shooting Steenkamp.

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

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


JUDGE: How do you plead?

PISTORIUS: Not guilty, my lady.

CURNOW: The Olympic Blade Runner has said he was terrified the night his girlfriend died, mistaking her for an intruder. He's described getting out of bed without his prosthetic legs and aiming at the bathroom door in the dark, only later having discovered he had killed his model girlfriend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The allegation that I wanted to shoot or kill Reeva Steenkamp cannot be further from the truth.

CURNOW: The defense hopes to show the investigation has been riddled with mistakes from the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The investigating officer and tasked with preserving the scene, that the scene was contaminated, disturbed and tampered with.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CURNOW: OK. So, when we go back into court in the next 45 minutes or so, we're going to hear more testimony from witness number two, another neighbor, who's testimony for the state so far seems to be backing up Oscar Pistorius' version of events.

Back to you, Kate and Chris.

BOLDUAN: Robyn, thank you so much for that.

Twists and turns already happening only in day two.

CUOMO: Very unusual and important to watch the trial early on. That's not usually the case. But here, these two witnesses could be the foundation of which way this judge determines the case. So, it's important to watch early on.

BOLDUAN: And Robyn is all over it for us.

We're going to take another break. But coming up next on NEW DAY, we have breaking news that we are following this morning. Russian President Vladimir Putin breaking his silence on the crisis in Ukraine this morning. He says he reserves the right to use military force, if needed. So how will the White House respond to this?

Former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint will also be joining us to discuss.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TRANSLATOR: They played the role in (AUDIO GAP) to power. It can all be really unexpected.

CUOMO: Now the line you just heard there from a translator at a live press conference. That is Vladimir Putin in Moscow, for the first time addressing Russia's actions in Ukraine, where we pick there -- Vladimir Putin now talking for just about an hour was just referencing Hitler and what led Hitler to power, and what's so different about this situation.

And the headline is Vladimir Putin is telling a very different story than the way the situation in the Ukraine has been described to date. He says this is humanitarian, not military. That people are calling out for the help of Russia in Ukraine because they are under oppression of a coup from a wrongful government there. That there is oppression and threats to Russian lives and that's why they're there. That there has been no violence, that that's not why they're there, that they are not looking in Russia to take over Crimea.

And his warning is that Russia right now is doing nothing that the U.S. hasn't done before, including reserving a right to take military action if necessary to help the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. We will be following this throughout the morning whenever there is a significant development, both in his press conference and on the ground. We have people at CNN in every significant place in Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula.