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Gunmen Force U.N. Envoy to Leave Crimea; Top Diplomats Hold Talks on Ukraine; Russia Drafts Payback Plan for Sanctions; Hillary Clinton Compares Putin to Hitler

Aired March 5, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hell, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're following breaking news out of the crisis in Ukraine. Armed gunmen have now forced a United Nations envoy out of Crimea. This is a photo of the envoy, Robert Serry, taking refuge at a cafe with a T.V. reporter after gunmen tried to get him into a car. Serry later left for the airport, saying he was happy to leave Crimea if it would help reduce tensions.

Also right now, we're waiting for the secretary of state of the United States, John Kerry, and the Russian foreign mini minister, Sergey Lavrov, to conclude their talks in Paris. We expect -- we expect that they will be speaking to reporters. We'll have live coverage of that.

In the meantime, let's go right to CNN's Anna Coren. She's joining us from Crimea. Erin, this U.N. -- Anna, this U.N. envoy had to leave, leave a coffee shop. It was an ugly scene unfolding. Tell us what you know.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, an ugly scene indeed, Wolf. We understand that Robert Serry was surrounded by up to 15 armed gunmen. They ordered him to get into a car and head straight to the airport. He resisted. He was then led into a coffee shop and ITV reporter James Mates was with him, and tweeting in real-time as to what was taking place. So, we understand that they were in that coffee shop which is not very far from where we are here in Simferopol. And that they were there for a period of time.

And then, as you as you mentioned in your introduction, he agreed to leave, to quit his post here in Ukraine. He is, of course, the special envoy to Ukraine. Quit his post and leave the country to try and deescalate the situation. We don't know why these local militia had such a problem with Robert Serry. But you would have to assume, these local militia are pro-Russian. Obviously, whatever Robert Serry was saying didn't seem to agree with these local militia. So, they have ordered him to the airport. He is there now, due to catch his flight out of Ukraine. And as we mentioned, try and deescalate the situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a very tense situation underscored by that incident. I want to get back to you, Anna. Stand by. In the meantime, the top diplomats for the United States and Russia, that would be John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. They huddled today at the Russian ambassador's residence in Paris. They're still meeting, apparently, right now. The U.S., Britain and Ukraine have called for international observers in Ukraine. The organization for security cooperation in Europe said it would send 35 unarmed military personnel to Ukraine at the same time.

Our own Elise Labott is traveling with the secretary of state. She is joining us from Paris. Elise, what, this is the third meeting these two men have held today. What's Secretary Kerry's main priority in dealing with Sergey Lavrov?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They're just wrapping up their third meeting of the day, and now Secretary Kerry will be huddling with the French, the German, the British foreign ministers all in an effort to try and get some diplomatic process going and deescalate the situation. His single sales objective for the Russian foreign minister is to get him to sit down with the Ukrainian foreign minister. As we know, the Ukrainian foreign minister flew with Secretary Kerry to Paris from Kiev last night. And he's been waiting all day, wants to sit down with the Russian foreign minister, try and get some dialogue going, try and deescalate the situation. But so far, foreign minister Lavrov is not biting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, we expect that they will come out and hold a joint news conference, or that Kerry will have his own news conference. Do we know?

LABOTT: Well, Secretary Kerry's news conference was supposed to start about 15 minutes ago. But he just wrapped up his meeting with foreign minister Lavrov and now he's going over to the French foreign ministry. So, there is a lot of intense diplomacy, a lot of various machinations of discussions going on, all in an effort to try and get something going. And the fact that he is postponing this press conference and going over to talk to his foreign minister counterparts does signal that something could be going on. There has been a lot of pressure on Sergey Lavrov today. Despite all the tough talk about Russia, he's really the man of the hour. Everybody courting him to try and sit down with the Ukrainian foreign minister -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But as far as we know, that has not happened, right?

LABOTT: Not yet. So, Ukrainian foreign minister is waiting. There were some reports he was -- he had a 6:00 flight local, which is about noon eastern time. He was going to head to the airport. But Secretary Kerry and the others said, listen, stick around. See if we can try and get something going. Doesn't -- don't know if it'll happen, but you know Secretary Kerry has been often trying to pull things out of a hat. It could be a long night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly could be. All right, Elise in Paris for us. Thank you.

So, diplomatic efforts clearly in overdrive right now. They're trying to find some sort of peaceful resolution to this Ukraine crisis. Our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is monitoring what's going on. And, you know, these diplomats, U.N. envoy basically held there. It getting ugly. But maybe Lavrov and Kerry, they do have a personal relationship that goes way back. Maybe they can come up with something.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They do. A relationship that helped with that chemical weapons deal in Syria now a few months ago. But, you know, you look at that incident with the U.N. envoy and other little skirmishes, you remember yesterday we saw Ukrainian and Russian soldiers go nose to nose and shots --


SCIUTTO: -- fired in the air. This is why you need diplomacy now. You need the sides talking to each other to deescalate because you have a very volatile mix of guys with guns on the ground there and emotions that have been stoked up by Russian propaganda.

And remember, these gangs, these uniformed gangs, kind of pro-Russian militias, you know, there is a Russian hand in that. That's a tool of Russian power on the ground there. This is not happening by accident, those guys coming together. And, you know, we've talked about this before. Once you get that genie out of the bottle, it's hard to put it back in. So, they really have to find a way forward.

There was another incident today, which was worrisome as well. There were some monitors coming from the OSCE into Ukraine and we heard that they were turned around. And still -- the State Department is still trying to figure out who turned them around. But, remember, Russia is asking for monitors on the ground. They want to have some, you know -- they want to basically corroborate their charge that ethnic Russians are under threat. So, you need the diplomacy. You need the talking to happen now. And you need de-escalation quickly.

BLITZER: And the world will be anxious to hear what Kerry says. Once he does go before the microphones over there and starts speaking, whether it's going to be positive or negative, so much will depend on what's happening in this critical meeting right now.

SCIUTTO: No question. And, at the same time, you have this good cop, bad cop going on because you have the diplomatic efforts, Kerry in Paris, but you also have military moves now by the U.S., putting more planes in the Baltic Region up there. NATO allies extending an air mission in Poland, another NATO ally. That's the pressure. And financial pressure, as well. A vote tomorrow on the Senate foreign relations committee on sanctions against Russian banks.

BLITZER: Yes, world markets are going to be watching what Kerry has to say. So, we'll stand by --

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- for his statement. All right, don't go too far away. Jim Sciutto reporting. Russian lawmakers are warning there will be financial payback if the west imposes economic sanctions on Moscow. They're drafting a law right now that would allow authorities to confiscate assets of U.S. and European companies, including property and financial accounts.

Our own Phil Black is covering all of this for us. He's in Moscow. So, if Russia were -- this is still a huge if. If Russia were to seize the assets of these U.S. and European international companies, what would the financial impact, especially in Europe, be?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in Europe, it could be quite significant, Wolf. Europe is Russia's European Union, is Russia's biggest trading partner. So, a lot of business going both ways. These two economies are heavily interconnected. There is a lot of Russian money in European financial centers. So, in the event that Russia were to do this, it could, in effect, have quite a significant impact.

And there's this other Russian potential leverage that hangs over Europe as well, which, of course, is Russian oil and gas, which Europe is still heavily dependent on. All of these factors together could be why Europe, in particular, seems a little less willing, a little less gung ho when it comes to the idea of hitting Russia quickly with heavy economic sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the tension in Moscow clearly a palpable as well. Let's see what happens. All right, Phil, we'll check back with you.

We're waiting for the secretary of state, John Kerry, to emerge from his meeting with the Russian foreign, Sergey Lavrov. We expect Kerry to make a statement. Will it be positive? Will it be negative? We're also waiting for more information on the breaking news. A United Nations envoy in Ukraine, in Crimea specifically, there you see him right there, Robert Serry, he was detained. We'll tell you what's going on. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The special United Nations envoy to Ukraine, Robert Serry, was held by armed gunmen just a little while ago.

We're getting more information. Let's bring in our Senior U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth. What are you learning about what happened, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Robert Serry, the U.N. envoy for Ukraine, appears to be a wanted or hounded man right now on the streets of Crimea. He had recently arrived there following a logistical problem several days ago to get there. And he visited a naval base, according to senior U.N. officials.

And then, upon exiting that area, seemingly alone with no security, armed men, 10 to 15 in number, some wearing military fatigues, surrounded him and told him he had to leave the country, the area, immediately and go to the airport. He sat in his car, he refused to go to the airport. They blocked the car. He eventually exited, walked the streets, got to a coffee shop, called U.N. deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, who is in Kiev for the U.N. and told him of the situation. He was described by Eliasson, who told reporters in a phone briefing, that he was shaken up.

Now, the U.N. tells us he's still in that coffee shop. There are media reports that he is blockaded or surrounded and not able to leave. The U.N. has not given any information on the level of the threat. This may be the best place for him to simply hang out. There are reports that he was ending his mission. The U.N. will not confirm that he has decided it's best to leave Crimea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did the deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, did he say who was responsible for detaining him for trying to hold him? Were these Russian troops, were these pro-Russian troops, do we know if they were thugs? Did he give a description of who these people were?

ROTH: He said he asked Robert Serry. Serry was unable to describe in detail, some in military fatigues. He did not describe the voices, whether there were accents. Didn't know, but that they were quite menacing.

U.N. observers, U.N. envoys sometimes bear the brunt. They're the early centuries sometimes sent in to rather hostile situations to see if they can lay the groundwork, diplomatically, for either talks, negotiations, international monitors. Sometimes they're like kind of the - that actor in an early episode - early scene in a "Star Wars" episode -- or "Star Trek." They're the ones who suddenly disappear. They're the first sent in to harm's way. Serry may go to Kiev to brief the deputy secretary general of the U.N. on what's happening.

BLITZER: Richard Roth at the U.N. If you get more information, let us know.

Angela Stent is here. She's a professor and a Russia expert at Georgetown University here in Washington, served in the government in various capacity (ph). What do you make of this - this - they've detained, in effect, that he's holed up in a coffee shop, right now the special U.N. envoy for Ukraine. He's in Crimea, which, of course, is part of Ukraine.

ANGELA STENT, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Oh, yes. I mean this is a very dangerous situation. One thing we've seen right from the beginning, from the first occupation of Crimea last week, is the deliberate ambiguity. You don't know who works for whom. Nobody has insignia. And then each side accuses the other one of being provocative. But it really is a highly dangerous situation and it shows a real disrespect for the United Nations and calls into question this idea of an off-ramp possibility of having observers there calm the situation down.

BLITZER: All right, so you served in the intelligence community in the United States.

STENT: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: If you're getting this kind of information, does it have the fingerprints of Russia? Would Russia be engaged in this kind of murky activity, individuals wearing uniforms, we're not exactly sure if they're Russia, pro-Russia Ukrainians, who they are, but does it have the fingerprints of Russia?

STENT: Well, I mean, you - I'd have to have more information than I have now. But certainly one of the difficulties always is figuring out who's doing whom and who is who. And, again, it's deliberately obscured like that, so you can't say for certain. And that is, you know - and that's what the Russians, I think, and the pro-Russian people in Crimea are using to put people off their guard because they don't (ph) know (ph) what's happening.

BLITZER: you saw Mike Rogers -


BLITZER: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He says he wants to do a review now because he suspects the U.S. intelligence community failed to understand what was going on, did not anticipate that Russia would actually move troops into Crimea, which is part of Ukraine. They're doing a postmortem, which they presumably should do. But I wonder if you want to comment on that.

STENT: Well, I mean, they always do postmortems after things like that. I mean I think nobody quite saw the revolution coming in Kiev, and then, you know, it's only February 21st, right, there was an agreement signed between the former president, I guess he is now, Yanukovych, and the Europeans. And then the next day he flees and we don't know why he flees. He shows up in Russia. So, you know, you have to play catch-up.

But the idea that the Russians could put pressure on Crimea - I mean people have always thought about. There were times in the 1990s when it looked as if Crimea was going to try and secede. So the principle has always been there, but it's always the timing. You never know if it's going to actually happen then.

BLITZER: It's a - because if the intelligence community misread it, that's significant. I remember the first Gulf War, when the intelligence community didn't appreciate Saddam Hussein was about to invade Kuwait, they misread his deployment of troops. In 2008, in Georgia, did the U.S. intelligence community anticipate Russia would move troops into Georgia?

STENT: Well, I would just say that the scenario for what happened in August 2008 had been thought about before. Whether they realized it was going to happen at that time, I don't know. I wasn't in the government then. But, again, people have thought about these eventualities, but it's sometimes figuring out when it's going to happen.

BLITZER: Yes. If they didn't understand it and didn't appreciate it, they need to do a postmortem and learn from those mistakes.

STENT: Yes, they would (ph).

BLITZER: Angela, thanks very much for coming in.

STENT: Thanks.

BLITZER: Angela Stent, always helping us in understanding Russia and Ukraine.

Just ahead this hour, why didn't the U.S. know Putin's intentions in Ukraine before it reached a crisis point? Was that true?

And as we just mentioned, it's a question some members of Congress want answered. We had some tense moments today up on Capitol Hill. You're going to see the extreme. Stand by for that.

And up next, Hillary Clinton reportedly comparing the Russian president to Adolf Hitler. And a U.S. senator says he agrees.


BLITZER: The former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, reportedly comparing Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine to those of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Hillary Clinton was speaking at a private fund-raiser in California. According to the Long Beach Press Telegraph she said this, and I'm quoting, "now, if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the '30s. All the Germans, the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they're not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous."

Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is watching all of this.

She hasn't clarified those comments yet, because there's a lot of buzz out there, why Putin may be bad, but he's not Hitler.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and I think what she was trying to do was add some context and talk about how this was something that Nazi Germany sort of did or draw similarity, not in the totality of Hitler. But this is sort of a nuanced argument. I've talked with some Democrats and Republicans who say, you know, she may have some sort of point, but you invoke Hitler, you invoke Nazi Germany and you're really sort of stepping on the third rail of rhetoric. Her camp has not - her representatives have not addressed this. They're not making a comment on this. But she will be speaking, lecturing actually, to thousands of people, including 1,800 students at UCLA, here in a couple of hours. So if she does feel a need to do some clean-up here, then she certainly has a venue to do that here today.

BLITZER: Yes, because usually you can make comparisons. Once you start comparing people or states to Nazis and to Hitler, that's almost like a rookie mistake. You don't necessarily expect that from the former secretary of state.

KEILAR: Yes, and I think some Democrats and some Republicans thought that it wasn't particularly sophisticated. I mean, when you look at someone like Hillary Clinton, she's normally -- this would be out of character for her if this wasn't something that she really thought about. She's normally pretty careful. You know, she doesn't sort of, I think, throw out these things that kind of explode all the time. She doesn't do that. She's pretty careful.

But the other point we should make is, this was an off the record campaign event - or not campaign event, off the record fund-raiser, I should say, closed to the press. But you and I know, and certainly Hillary Clinton knows, and all of those close to her know, there's really no such thing as off the record when you're talking to 300 people at a fund-raiser. Mitt Romney certainly learned that -


KEILAR: During the campaign in 2008 when he made his very damaging 47 percent remark.

BLITZER: Yes. When you have that many people in a room with cell phones and iPhones and everything else, you know, there's a lot of -- and a reporter from the "Long Beach" paper who was there.

KEILAR: Exactly. They always get in there.

BLITZER: Yes. Obviously.

All right. McCain, John McCain, he tweeted this, though I must say, he was supporting Hillary Clinton. He tweeted, "she's right on this comparison. Hillary Clinton compares Putin actions in Ukraine to Adolph Hitler's in Nazi Germany." So he's giving her some support.

KEILAR: He's giving her some support. And so there are a number of things at play here, and this is one of the other things is, Hillary Clinton, by making these remarks, distances herself from President Obama and from Secretary of State Kerry. She has traditionally been more hawkish when it comes to foreign policy. These are certainly hawkish or harsh remarks. And so you see her in line more with someone like John McCain than with the Obama administration in these comments.

Is that on purpose? That's really the question. Does this help her ultimately to be sort of aligned more in that way to create some daylight, to distance herself? But I think the general consensus that I'm hearing is, when you do invoke Hitler, when you do invoke Nazi Germany, you're really letting your message kind of out of your control. If it's somewhat nuanced, which her argument is, you're going to lose the nuance.


KEILAR: People just sort of hear that connection to Nazi Germany and Hitler.

BLITZER: And, remember, she's the one who pressed that reset button at the beginning of the Obama -


BLITZER: With Sergei Lavrov. They were going to reset U.S./Russian relations and that hasn't exactly worked out that well.

KEILAR: No, and she's facing - and she will face criticism for that. And certainly as her side, as if she does consider throwing her hat in the ring and she does want to sort of really, obviously, show the time she spent at the State Department as a show of her leadership, it's going to come under criticism.

BLITZER: She's a former senator. They always say on Capitol Hill, and you're a former congressional correspondent, they can revise and amend their remarks. And let's see if she does. You'll let us know.

KEILAR: Yes. We'll see. All right.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much.

The defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, he's in the hot seat up on Capitol Hill today. Some lawmakers asking why the U.S. didn't know about Vladimir Putin's plans in Ukraine before he carried them out.

And as the crises in Ukraine simmers, Russia has threatened to freeze western assets if sanctions are imposed by the U.S. and other western powers. We're taking a closer look at the money involved in all of this. That's coming up.