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Russian President Putin Gives Speech on Ukraine Crisis; Interview with Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Obama to Focus on Issues at Home; An Icy Commute; Putin: Efforts in Ukraine Humanitarian, Not Invasion; Soldiers on the Ground in Ukrainian Base

Aired March 4, 2014 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry will be touching down this hour in Kiev. He'll be delivering a show of support for the new Ukrainian government along with desperately needed financial aid package there. And much more on that and we'll be following the developments as the secretary of state will be touching down this coming hour. We'll be following that closely.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's bring in Anderson Cooper right now. He's part of our coverage that we have on the ground there. Anderson is live in Kiev monitoring the situation. Anderson, thank you for joining us. Tell, what are you standing in front of and what are you finding on the ground?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": Yes, well, we're just by Independence Square where, as you know, more than 80 people were killed a little bit more than a week and a half ago. The final death toll is still not known because a lot of people are still missing. And this is basically a shrine now. The protestors say they are going to remain here. They are still camped out here, hundreds of them all night long all throughout the day, and thousands of people come to pay their respects. It's really become a shrine, holy ground, if you will.

You can see the barricades are still up, barricades basically charred black with soot and smoke because of the fires that took place here. Tens of thousands of flowers have been laid. People bring religious items to pay their respects. They leave poems to those who died here.

Over here there's a shield that people actually use to try to hide behind and protect themselves from snipers. Often, though, bullets would go right through those shields, and a number of people died just down the block, shot right behind the shields that they were hiding behind.

As you pointed out, Chris, Vladimir Putin is still giving this press conference. And it's really been a remarkable day of events here to hear Vladimir Putin's version of accounts. The Russian forces we've been seeing in Crimea, he claims they are not Russian troops at all, which seems to fly in the face of facts on the ground just about everybody is reporting on the ground from Crimea. As you know, they are troops, they're not wearing any insignias on their uniform. He claims they are just local defense forces, but, as you said, he reserves the right to send in Russia forces if and when he deems it necessary on what he calls a humanitarian mission.

And he says that they new government here, the new president, the new prime minister, are not legitimate leaders, that this was an unconstitutional coup. That's the backdrop for John Kerry's visit. Secretary Kerry is expected to come directly here in Independence Square to pay his respects to the fallen before meeting with the new president and the new prime minister in order to try to figure out how help resolve the crisis in Crimea and also figure out some sort of economic aid package for this desperately poor country.

CUOMO: I know you've been reporting around the clock. I was watching your show last night, and you were talking about how people on the ground are going to volunteer to join the Ukrainian effort against what they see as a Russian invasion. Any take on the ground there from this fundamental premise that Putin was laying out in his press conference, which is that he is only responding to calls for humanitarian aid from those Russians on the ground who are being repressed? Are you hearing that? Is there any reason to believe Vladimir Putin when he's saying we're only responding to this oppression, these victims that are on the ground there?

COOPER: You know, there's no evidence of attacks on Russian-speaking people in Crimea in eastern parts of Ukraine. The reports of attacks into churches which the Russian ambassador to the U.N. made yesterday, of -- as Samantha Power, the U.N. ambassador said yesterday, if you believe Russia, it sounds as if there are fascists attacking Russian- speaking people all throughout the Ukraine. That's simply not what people on the ground are seeing at all. There certainly are nationalist elements, even some reprehensible elements, who were part of the demonstrations here, who were part of the uprising here in the square a week and a half ago. And Russia seems to be focusing on those small number of fascist elements or nationalist elements as a justification and painting with a very broad brush the entire movement here, which certainly is an unfair portrayal.

CUOMO: For all the natural resources and ability for farming there in Ukraine, it could be a robust economy, but it's in really bad shape now, and it has an unstable government and everything else going on. What do you see on the ground in terms of the condition of people's lives and what direction it's taking?

COOPER: There's a lot of concern about that, obviously. As you know, gas comes from Russia. Pipelines run through Ukraine. They supply gas here to Ukraine but also to much of western Europe. So there's a lot of economic ties. A lot of exports go from Ukraine to Russia. Ukraine depends on Russia for an awful lot. So the need is great. Vladimir Putin talked about that today, about raising the price of gas, the subsidized price of gas, which would obviously be yet another blow to the economy here in the Ukraine.

The new government here has talked about trying to re-channel money now to the armed forces, which is the last thing they need to be doing in an economic crisis like this. But it is because of the military situation something that they feel is critical. They need to bolster their forces as best they can. They are calling up reserve forces. And you walk around here in the square, there are thousands of people who come here, as I said, throughout the day to pay their respects. You talk to any of the men, they all say that they are willing to fight. They give their names and phone numbers to local officials here, saying call us if you're calling up civilians. We'll go down and fight even if we have no military experience. I talked to an elderly man yesterday who said he's well beyond the age of military service, but he is ready to fight and die to try to keep Ukraine together. And that's the message you hear from everybody here. It's not a question, they say, of a divided country. They say this is a country of multiple ethnic groups and multiple religious groups and they want to keep that country together.

CUOMO: It does seem from the reporting I've been watching from you that they are people desperate to control their own fate. Anderson, thank you very much for checking in with us. Good luck over there. We'll check in with you later. Kate?

BOLDUAN: So that's a viewpoint from the ground in Kiev. Thanks, Chris.

Now let's bring in former secretary of state Madeleine Albright for her perspective on what seems to be a very critical day, another critical day in this crisis. Madam Secretary, thank you so much for your time.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Of course. I want to get your take, first off, on what Russian president Vladimir Putin said today in his very lengthy press conference in part saying that Russia is on a humanitarian mission in Ukraine in response to a coup. And he also says Russia isn't doing anything different than the U.S. has in the U.S. interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, he pointed. What do you say?

ALBRIGHT: I think with what Angela Merkel said after she spoke to him is that he is living in some other world. I think that either he does not have the facts. He is being fed propaganda or his own propaganda. It doesn't make any sense. There are no calls for assistance. This is not something where, as Anderson just reported, that in fact 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.

BOLDUAN: If Putin is delusional, as you say, and if he working not on this world, as some are saying and Angela Merkel has said, that makes the question all the more important, what can the U.S. do? What can secretary of state John Kerry do when he touches ground in Kiev to stop this?

ALBRIGHT: Well, President Obama asked Secretary Kerry to go. President Obama is leading really the planning of how this has worked, which are the tools that can be used. What Secretary Kerry is going to do is go and show American support for the people of Ukraine. This is all about what the people of Ukraine want. They want to be able to make decisions about their own lives and live in their country peacefully in a friendly way both with Russia and the Europeans.

And so Secretary Kerry is going to be supportive of the people. And as I understand it, he's going to meet with the leaders and talk to them about a package of immediate assistance, which they need, be their economy is in such a really distraught way, talk to them about how they can get ready for elections and to be able to run the country. They were elected by the parliament, this leadership. So I think it's very important that Secretary Kerry is there. I think also he is going to keep pushing having this OSCE mission go in which could verify what in fact is going on to show, again what Anderson has been saying, is that there are no threats against Russian speaking people anywhere, much less in Crimea.

BOLDUAN: Madam Secretary, it seems at this point that there seems to be two very different realities playing out. You have one, the conversation going on in Kiev, Secretary Kerry going in to show U.S. support for the rights of Ukrainian people. And then you have what Russia is doing or believes they're doing in Crimea. When you see these two different realities and also what seems to be very little that the U.S. can do at this point to stop Russia, do you think President Obama underestimated Vladimir Putin and his motives?

ALBRIGHT: No I don't think so. I think President Obama has been clear about the fact that the issues in Ukraine have to be resolved by the Ukrainians. I think that Putin, as we know, he and President Obama have not had the world's closest relationship, but I think that we have made very clear, President Obama has, that this is not the cold war, this does not have to be a zero sum game, but that in fact what Putin is doing is not legal and aggression is aggression. So no, I do not think that President Obama has in any way misunderstood any part of this. He is leading the way to try to help to get this solved.

BOLDUAN: I assume you support a diplomatic resolution to all of this. Economic sanctions is one thing that is being very seriously considered. I do wonder though if you think economic sanctions would be effective here without the support of our European partners?

ALBRIGHT: Let me just say this, which is there are not an awful lot of tools that any country has. And diplomacy is the key one. Secretary Kerry is carrying that out as is Ambassador Power at the United Nations. I think that economic sanctions would obviously be more effective if they're multilateral with the Europeans.

I think the issue here is, and President Obama said this yesterday, is President Putin can be a part of an international system in which we all cooperate, in which we understand that destabilizing a country is not useful, or he can be isolated. And the economic sanctions are the way to do that.

You have already -- it's been reported all morning -- is that Russians are having trouble with their currency, with a variety of aspects with their own economy, and they can be isolated. I think it obviously would be better if this were multilateral sanctions with the Europeans, but I do think that is one tool.

And then we always have to think about what NATO can be doing. NATO has made some statements. The Poles have asked for help in terms of consultations as have some of the countries that are NATO members around Ukraine. So there are a number of tool that can be used, and I do think that the economic sanctions done properly are a way to isolate President Putin. And obviously that issue about not going to the G-8 and thinking about whether they belong in that group at all.

BOLDUAN: Madame Secretary, as you look at this from the 30,000-foot view and you say Vladimir Putin could be delusional in all this, do you think it's clear at this point as some of suggesting that the Obama administration's so-called reset policy with Russia, do you think that reset policy today is dead?

ALBRIGHT: I think that it was a very smart policy in terms of trying to figure out how to have a different relationship with Russia. I can tell from the time that we were in office, the United States has been trying to figure out how one works with the new Russia. I know that our point, President Clinton's, was in fact to try to figure out how to integrate the new Russia into Europe. It has been part of what the United States has been trying to do. I think there are many aspects to the policy.

But this is a very tough time. And I think President Putin needs to understand that in using force in some kind of a pretend -- to respond to pretend provocations, I think is not the way to go about this. And we have many issues that we need to deal with the Russians. We want to be able to figure out how to cooperate with them. But the bottom line is they have crossed an international line, and that is not the legal way to operate when there has been no reason to do so.

BOLDUAN: Madam Secretary, finally, from your perspective and what you're seeing in Ukraine play out in real-time, do you envision this getting worse before it gets better or do you think it can be diffused from this point with Russia?

ALBRIGHT: Well I think it can be diffused, but I do think this is going to on be a long story. And one of the things that I think is such a tragedy here is that attention has been diverted from what is really needed in Ukraine, is a strong economic package, trying to help that government get Ukraine back on its feet and trying to figure out how to help the people of Ukraine.

I am a hopeful that maybe have President Putin has had this peculiar press conference, that he will have gotten something out of his system and that he will be ready to try to figure out a way to use the OSCE -- they are members of the OSCE -- in terms of trying to figure out how to diffuse this. But the United States by sending Secretary Kerry there is really showing our support for the Ukrainian people. He is bringing some economic assistance, and I think that is the right direction in which to go. BOLDUAN: Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Madam Secretary, your voice is always important and critical in this crisis. Thank you so much for your time.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Chris?

CUOMO: Now in a moment we're gonna go live to Crimea. That's where a tense stand-off is taking place right now. But first, we're going to take a look at some of the other stories making headlines so you can get caught up this morning.

We're gonna start with the Environmental Protection Agency. They're taking a stand against smog. They're going to cut the amount of sulfur allowed in gasoline, which also reduces the pollution released into the air. The EPA says the changes could prevent 2,000 premature deaths a year. The new gas is expected to be available by 2017.

BERMAN: The Obama administration is taking Sprint to court saying the wireless carrier knowingly submitted false claims and overcharged federal agencies some $21 million for wiretaps. Phone companies can charge the government to install and maintain the bugs used to tap people's calls. Sprint says it has fully complied with the law.

CUOMO: For all of the stress and concern surrounding Ukraine, there are big issues at home as well. President Obama is set to deliver his 2015 budget today. CNN's Michelle Kosinski is at the White House. What do we expect?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Chris. Everybody has been focused on the U.S. response and potential response to this crisis is Ukraine. But President Obama has still had to remain focused on some of the most pressing issues here at home like the minimum wage.

Today he presents his budget proposal for next year, wanting to make changes in areas that have been particularly difficult: helping the working poor, including now more assistance for workers who don't have children, younger workers; and also helping Americans afford things like child care, education, and retirement. He wants to do this by closing tax loopholes for higher-earning workers. And the administration says if this were to be accepted by Congress, it would help raise about a half million Americans above the poverty line. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Michelle, thank you so much. And we'll, of course, look quickly to the Republican response to the president's budget today.

Now, 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 the suspect by car when he crashed and then began opening fire while fleeing on foot. Responding officers shot and killed the suspect after he exchanged fire with them near the crash site. CUOMO: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will try to shift focus away from Bridgegate during a town hall today. Topping the agenda, the second wave of Hurricane Sandy federal relief. But even that's going to be controversial because a report last month blamed the state for mishandling thousands of recovery requests. Christie is also accused of withholding Sandy relief in order to push through a redevelopment plan in Hoboken.

BOLDUAN: Much of the eastern half of the U.S. is waking up to extreme cold this morning. Even Houston, which it was in the 70s on Sunday, is dealing with an icy commute today. Let's get back over to meteorologist Indra Petersons tracking the latest forecast for us. Where is it now?

INDRA PETERSONS, METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, that jet stream is still way down to the south. So all this cold air still making its way even to places like Texas this morning where we're seeing temperatures in the single digits again as they're waking up. But this time, not just in the -- the Midwest and the Northeast, but also down even in the south, temperatures this morning below freezing.

So much cold air, the potential here to set early morning records, even for March. We're talking about setting records here. Binghamton already set the record. Detroit this morning set a record for the coldest low we have seen, temperatures a good almost 30 degrees below average even as far south as the south itself.

And unfortunately, tomorrow we're not recovering very much. We're also still going to be talking about some very cold air. So yes, icing conditions, you guys just mentioned this, out towards Houston, even Austin looking for some ice this morning. And of course, we do have Mardi Gras, and there it looks like more showers and even the threat for, yes, some showers for Mardis Gras itself. John.

BERMAN: All right, let's take a look, Indra, at what is happening in the morning papers right now. First off, in the "Washington Post," an analysis of the midterm elections shows that the Americans trust Democrats more but Republicans may have the upper hand come November. The out of power party typically does perform better in midterms, especially six years as frustration mounts with a president.

In the "Wall Street Journal," an alarming story about the vulnerability of the nation's power supply. The journal reports that the U.S. would be ill-prepared for an attack on its electrical grid, the weak link, the difficulty of replacing high-voltage transformers. The journal reports that attacks on key transformer locations could trigger extended black-outs.

And in the "Los Angeles Times," they're reporting a federal study that isolates doctors as the primary cause of America's prescription drug epidemic. The study found drugs prescribed by doctors contributed to nearly half the fatal overdoses in southern California in recent years, and the study concludes that authorities are failing to use an available date base that can easily identify overprescribing physicians. Chris? CUOMO: All right, John. Thank you very much. We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. A lot of breaking news. Showdown in Crimea. What you're looking at right now is a Russian soldier pointing a loaded weapon and firing in the face (ph) of unarmed Ukrainian troops. It was a warning shot, but again, the Ukrainian soldiers were marching toward them asking for peace. A warning shot was the response. We're going to take you there live in a moment.

Also, another intense day in court. Bladerunner Oscar Pistorius, his neighbor on the stand, a critical witness for the prosecution. What she says she heard before she heard warning shots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back. There is a lot of breaking news on this new day. You're looking at pictures from Crimea. This is in Ukraine, obviously. We had a Russian soldier fire a warning shot in the face of unarmed Ukrainian soldiers who were marching forward asking for peace. This, as Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Kiev. The question is, what will he be able to accomplish there? What is the leverage? Is there resolve among our European partners to do anything that would punish Vladimir Putin?

Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time this morning, well over an hour, may still be speaking now. We keep dipping in and out of the press conference. He's telling a very different story. He says it's not an invasion. He says it's a humanitarian effort. He says that there are calls for help from Russian citizens on the ground in the eastern half of Ukraine, that they are being oppressed and attacked by wrongful revolutionaries, the function of a coup that deposed the rightful president.

Is there any proof of those threats on the ground? We're not hearing them from reporting. He is also, Vladimir Putin, thumbing his nose in the face of any threats from the West, the idea of sanctions, literally saying they better think about that because many will be hurt. The question is, is he right? Where is the leverage?

All right, so now we want to get onto the ground. CNN is uniquely positioned in all of the places that matter, including right where that armed stand-off just took place. CNN's Ben Wedeman is live at the air bas where that warning shot was fired.

Ben, please explain what happened and what the reaction has been on the ground.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That was earlier today in Belbek military base, north of Sevastopol. What happened there was a group of Ukrainian soldiers approached the Russian - men in green, shall we say, the Russians, apparently for the sake of dialogue, to try to talk to them and defuse the situation.

However, the Russian soldiers -- and this is footage that we obtained from a local Crimean station. The Russian soldiers, some of them fired in the air. Fortunately, fired only in the air. Now subsequently, what we've learned is that they did open some sort of dialogue. These soldiers were able to talk to the Russians. We understood from the commander of this base who we spoke to earlier today that there was a 12:00 noon deadline. It's now 2:30 in the afternoon, so that deadline has passed.

Now just a few moments ago, as we were right here, we saw that same group of soldiers who were involved in that almost confrontation parading into this base with the Ukrainian flag, with their battalion flag as well. Now basically, they've come back here for an hour, a break, after these negotiations. And they say they plan to go back again, clearly trying to diffuse a very tense situation here where, on a variety of levels, on one-to-one, between commanders, they are trying to diffuse a crisis that really has started at the very top with the leaderships between the two countries.

CUOMO: Unfortunately, very little will probably get done on the ground, then, because obviously the leaders will have to decide the politics in this situation.

But two questions. One seems obvious, the other not so much. These green uniformed men who fired the warning shot, we understand that the uniforms aren't traditional Russian military. What is the opinion of the Ukrainian soldiers, your opinion, those on the ground in terms of whether or not those are Russian military members?

And secondly, the idea that Vladimir Putin was putting forward in his press conference, which just ended, we're told, that that there are calls for oppressed Russian on the ground. Have you heard any of that? And are those men in green simply Russian soldiers?

WEDEMAN: Well, it does appear the men in green, most of them are Russian soldiers. In fact, yesterday we were in another part of Crimea where we had a fairly open conversation with a commander from one of those Russian units who did have his hat at an insignia, the Black Sea fleet.

And he said, yes I am from the Russian army. I'm normally based in Sevastopol. And he really wasn't -- I mean, he came out of the closet, so to speak.

And I think that what you see in situations like this is that there are these men in green, Russian military shall we say, but there are also supporters, pro-Russian civilians who have come to express their solidarity and support for the Russian presence as well. And some of them do wear sort of thrown-together military fatigues, uniforms that don't necessarily indicate that they are part of the official Russian military.

As far as local people expressing fear, you do hear that many of the Russians who live in the -- Ukrainians of Russian origin who live in Crimea have watched what's going on in Kiev and are concerned. But you don't really get the feeling that there's hysteria, that there's panic. There is concern.

And certainly where we've been, where these men in green, the Russians have been deployed, they've largely deployed in areas where the local population is sympathetic to them. Yesterday, we drove through a large part of the peninsula here, through areas where Tatars live. They're an ethnic group that make up about 15 percent of the population. They're not great supporters, and among them, we saw no Russian forces.

CUOMO: Now, just in case people are tuning in, Ben, do me a favor; tell us who's behind you. I know they're Ukrainian soldiers. But just set the stage for us. Give us a tour around, if you can do a little walk-and-talk.

WEDEMAN: OK, as far as my cable will go, I'll give you a little walk- and-talk. So yes, these are the men who you saw in that video earlier today who were involved in this confrontation.

And as I said, we saw them streaming through with their flag, with their battalion flag as well. And what you can see is, you know, they are talking, looks like this case, one of their wives. They want to know where the situation lies, what is going on. Is there going to be a forced take-over by Russian forces of this base or not?

And it's important to keep in mind that the -- this is a military base, but families live here as well.