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Reining in Putin; Missing Malaysian Airliner; Imagine a World

Aired March 20, 2014 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

President Barack Obama raises the heat on President Vladimir Putin after he takes Crimea and redraws the map of Europe. Putin's closest circle, wealthy supporters, including his powerful chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, who's seen here, as well as his personal banker, Yuri Kovalchuk, are now in the firing line as the United States slaps on another round of sanctions.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've seen an illegal referendum in Crimea, an illegitimate move by the Russians who annexed Crimea and dangerous risks of escalation.


AMANPOUR: Indeed, NATO's secretary general calls Crimea a wakeup call and is sounding the alarm over Putin's possible next moves. Like the United States, European leaders meeting in Brussels are also talking of tougher sanctions.

But can all this rein in President Putin's ambitions and stop him from moving any further into Ukraine? A short while ago, Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, told me that Putin's eyes are fixed on getting a friendly government in Kiev and Crimea could be just his first move.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Bildt, thank you for joining me from Stockholm.


AMANPOUR: The President of the United States today has announced more sanctions on Moscow, Europeans are discussing and considering more sanctions.

What effect do you think this second round is going to have?

BILDT: I think the second round is going to be a significantly more powerful than the first one. I think the first round was meant to send a signal to Moscow that if they go on, go further, we are prepared to go further. They didn't take notice and now a second round is coming. What President Obama has announced just a couple of hours ago, that hits significant economic interests that are fairly close to the ruling circles in Moscow. It will be noticed, no mistaking.

AMANPOUR: So what do you make, though, of President Putin's intentions and his end game?

The NATO secretary general told me that he was very concerned. He sees no deescalation and that it would be very possible that Russia, President Putin, would move beyond Crimea.

What is -- what do you think?

BILDT: I think that Crimea is the opening game. I agree with that. It is not that President Putin is primarily interested in Crimea. He's interested in Ukraine. And it is really where Ukraine ends up six months, two years down the road, five years down the road, that is going to determine the outcome of this particular issue.

So I think what we need to do is, of course, we need to make clear to Moscow that there's a price to be paid for aggression. But secondly and more important, support Ukraine, support viable economy that's going to take some effort, support the democratic system, support the politicians who are struggling in a very difficult situation in Kiev. That is what is going to be decisive.

AMANPOUR: And what about the pain that Europe is going to be willing to bear now that you've gone down this sanctions route? First of all, do you believe Germany, which is Russia's biggest European trading partner, will be -- go to the end with these sanctions wherever they go?

And how can Europe be weaned off its trade dependency and its energy dependency of Russia?

BILDT: I mean, the energy dependency is significant for certain countries. There's no question about that. I think you will see that changing, but that will take a couple of years to change, because we talk about infrastructures and pipelines and those things. But the process that is already underway since 2009 will be further accelerated by this.

Or the other cost of sanctions, I mean, the European Union is not particularly dependent on Russia. Russia is highly dependent upon the European Union. The vast amount of his exports, his trade is with European Union. The overwhelming part of the West investment that Russia needs so desperately is coming from the European Union.

And this is going to be heard. This is going to hurt, irrespective of sanctions, because what is happening now is that we see Russia emerging as an unpredictable power. That's extremely worrying from the security policy point of view but also from the business point of view. If there's one thing that business men want, they want predictability. And now Russia is one of the most unpredictable places that you can find around the world. That's got to have a significant economic impact over time.

AMANPOUR: And what about the cost to Russia of having annexed Crimea?

Crimea is entirely dependent on Ukraine. I read you a couple of statistics. You know, it's dependent for 90 percent of its water, 80 percent of its electricity, 65 percent of its gas comes from Ukraine.

How does Russia absorb all of that -- or does it?

BILDT: I think it does. I think they are prepared to pay that particular cost. As you indicate, there's an infrastructure dependence on the rest of Ukraine that is significant. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk in Kiev has said that they're not going to cut those supplies. But there is, of course, a risk here that Russia will move on militarily from Crimea. If you read carefully what President Putin said in his big speech at the Kremlin the day before yesterday, what he says about (INAUDIBLE) those sorts of things apply not only to Crimea, but also to southern parts of Ukraine. And that is where we should be extremely alert to the risk of President Putin moving further even militarily, beyond Crimea.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is really --


BILDT: -- yet.

AMANPOUR: That's a really scary scenario. You say he hasn't done it as of yet. But what is going to stop him if that's on his agenda?

BILDT: We don't know. I would suspect that he makes up policy as he goes along. So I think the measures that we are taking now and the very clear signal that either goes further, further measures are going to come, I hope that we'll be able to deter him. And I hope that he will see their enormous costs to Russia if he goes to aggression against virtually all of Ukraine.

He's not to be excluded. He has shown that he's willing to do things that most of us didn't think that he was going to do. So we have to be very alert to the risks that are there.

AMANPOUR: You know, you say you hope that he will not go further from Crimea, but hope doesn't have any battalions, no brigades. You all hoped he wouldn't do what he did in Crimea. So am I to understand, is Ukraine to understand that if President Putin decides to go militarily into Ukraine, there is not much anybody can do to stop him?

BILDT: But in that particular case, there would be no question about that. Then you would have very significant sanctions coming. And those sanctions will have a significant destabilizing effect on the Russian economy. Then I think you're into a completely different ballgame. And even if -- look, if you look at opinion polls in Russia today, there's no question about the sort of nationalist rhetoric that we saw in the Kremlin the day before yesterday. Yes, it does have its audience. Yes, it does increase support for him short-term. But there is significant unease in the elites of Moscow, in those that have responsibility for the future of the country, in those that are thinking about the future economy and economic development of the country. And I don't think very many of those are keen on entering such a scenario. That might not stop President Putin at the end of the day. But I think the costs will be very significant if he does.

AMANPOUR: You keep saying Putin may not be stopped.

Do you all believe, as you sit around and talk about this, that that might be on his agenda, that that is on his agenda?

BILDT: We don't know. I'm pretty convinced that his real ideal is not Crimea but Kiev. Whether -- and I think he's prepared to play this long . I don't think that's necessarily going to be decided over the weekend or weeks. I think it's a question of months rather. And I think he is prepared to use both economic measures, subversion, destabilizing issues, economic issues. But at the end of the day, what we have seen during the last few weeks is that he's also prepared to use military instruments and that is what is scary and deeply worrying.

AMANPOUR: And finally, one of the leading Ukrainian leaders, Petro Poroshenko, told me this week that they demand that Crimea be, as he said, "deoccupied," and return to Ukraine.

Is that even in the realm of the possible now?

BILDT: I don't think that's going to happen within the next few weeks. But I think --


AMANPOUR: What about years?

BILDT: -- that we -- well, could be; could be. I don't think it's entirely unrealistic and I think it's very important that we stand very firm on the principle that military -- that sort of borders between states cannot be changed by military means, because if we cave in on that one, I think we open up Pandora's box. That is going to be the detriment of security and stability not only in Europe, but as a matter of fact, across the world.

AMANPOUR: Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

BILDT: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So you see all these worries from Europe and the United States, NATO, about possible future military moves.

And meantime, still we ask, who are these masked men? Russian President Putin says they're not his troops, but nobody believes that. And as this photo shows, armed men in balaclavas surround a Ukrainian naval officer after the takeover of naval -- takeover of naval headquarters in Sevastopol.

These masked militia or whoever they are have now been made into the famous matryoshka dolls. And one more note: we continue to reach out to the Russian government for their comment, including officials such as U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. We haven't had much luck, but perhaps people like Churkin feel they don't really have to leave their comfort zone. Churkin's own daughter is the U.S.-based reporter for "Russia Today" in New York. She's shown here, quizzing U.S. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki over this whole Ukraine crisis.

And in the past, she's even reported on her own father.

After a break, 1,500 miles off the coast of Australia, the most compelling aviation mystery of our time. Is there a lead at last? The narrowing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 people on board remains a mystery. But today, 12 days on, the Malaysian government says that it has found its most credible lead yet, and it came all the way from Australia.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search. Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And here is that satellite imagery, showing debris floating in the southern Indian Ocean, 2,500 kilometers off the coast of Perth. Four airplanes were scrambled to the area, but bad weather has hampered their search.

So attention is now turning to this Norwegian merchant ship, the St. Petersburg. It was on its way from South Africa to Australia when it received a call to divert and join the search effort.


AMANPOUR: The ship is part of a voluntarily international search and rescue organization called AMVER. It says that more than 7,000 boats around the world make themselves available every day to help out when needed. And if you want to know what that looks like, just take a look at that image behind me. It shows the location of AMVER ships around the world.

And the director is Ben Strong, who joins me now from New York.

Mr. Strong, welcome to the program.

Let me first ask you how recently you've been in touch with the Norwegian vessel, where it is and what it's been able to see; I know that it's nighttime right now and the search is off until the daylight hours.

BEN STRONG, DIRECTOR, AMVER: Thank you for having me, Christiane, and Australian rescue authorities sent me an email just within the last hour about the vessels that have been transiting the location of the -- the last known location of the debris.

But the Australian rescue authorities will be in contact with the ship's crew almost on an hourly basis and once search conditions improve with morning, they'll give very specific instructions to this -- to this crew of mariners to be on the lookout for anything at all, debris, rafts, anything at all that may -- that may indicate it's a piece of the aircraft.

AMANPOUR: So they have not as yet got close enough to find anything?

STRONG: Not as of yet. And it's such a challenging and complex search and rescue case. The rescue authorities are using essentially science and then every tool, as we say, in the rescue toolbox in order to find anything from the aircraft.

AMANPOUR: Now this is a merchant ship and as we said, we've got this amazing diagram that shows a spider web of all your routes around the world.

It's a merchant ship. So I know it's sort of commandeered to go and do this rescue. But are they also trained to do that? Do they have the special whatever, technological equipment, scientific knowledge, to do that?

STRONG: And that's one of the partnerships, the United States Coast Guard has this incredible partnership with commercial vessels from around the world. The crews are trained in search and rescue, should they have to go out and take part in a search and rescue mission. They'll take direction from the rescue authorities; in this case, professionals in Australia. But there are a host of different technologies that are being employed from beacons that can be launched from aircraft, provide wave height, temperature, drift, to just good old-fashioned seamanship, where you've got crew members on the bridge and on the sides of ships looking, using binoculars, employing their radar, anything they can do to stop something at sea.

AMANPOUR: Earlier, when we woke up, our morning, the news was this incredible lead, this first credible lead. And then people started to doubt whether or not it actually was part of the plane.

Do you have any further information that you can share?

Is this still an active search for bits of the plane?

Or could it be unrelated?

STRONG: It could be any number of things, and I won't speculate as to what the pieces of debris that were seen by satellite. But these merchant ships aren't -- this isn't the first time commercial ships have been used in search and rescue for aircraft that have ditched or been lost at sea. In 2009, we had over four commercial ships searching for parts or survivors from Air France. So these crews, again, are skilled. And search and rescue isn't for everyone. You know, these skilled aircraft crews, search and rescue controllers that are on shore, utilizing these satellites and SAR data buoys and then the seamen, many who come from the countries of China and Indonesia and Malaysia themselves, they're very eager to participate and hopefully to bring this to resolution.

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned the Air France disaster, and I guess that is the closest example that people have been pointing to and your company dealt with that as well. You were the first, your ships, on the scene.

Give us an idea of how long it took to find anything credible from that disaster and then how long it took to piece it together and how difficult it was once you got there to actually find debris.

STRONG: You know, our seafarers that were underway at the time and searching for Air France pieces, you know, they described it as challenging conditions because there aren't necessarily beacons that are emitting a signal that you can home in on or radar reflections on a bridge radar.

So, again they're relying on their eyes; they're looking for pieces, depending on the size of the ship and hauling things aboard or coordinating with countries, rescue vessels, Australia happens to be sending rescue vessels, in this case. As I mentioned, it's incredibly complex. But the partnership between all of these entities works very, very well together.

AMANPOUR: Earlier today we heard that there were pings detected after we -- after we were told about this debris, the satellite imagery and that was then being analyzed. Then planes were sent over and we heard that there were pings detected.

Is that -- is that true? Did that hold up?

STRONG: I wouldn't know about the pings but I know if there was something heard, the rescue controllers in Australia who essentially are the -- you know, in the United States, we would say the 9-1-1 operators, but they're the folks that are in charge of coordinating this array of aircraft and ships and rescue buoys and things. If they do receive that ping, they can use that to quickly divert aircraft or the commercial ships, in the case of this car carrier, directly to that site. And hopefully they will and this will come to resolution quickly.

AMANPOUR: And how long has it been since the satellite imagery was first detected, first picked up on, until we, the public, have been told about it?

And how does that distance of time affect the search or where that debris might be?

STRONG: The Australian rescue authorities would have the detailed information on when the satellite imagery was captured and interpreted. But there are special buoys that you may have heard about that can be dropped here in the United States; we call them search and rescue data locator marking buoys. And they will transmit drift information back to the search and rescue authorities shoreside, who are using mathematical equations to determine drift.

So depending on when that particular piece of debris was discovered, if there's a buoy close by to that location, they can then determine the speed that it may have moved, the location that it -- that it -- that it traveled and they can -- they should be able to pinpoint with fairly decent accuracy where it may have ended up and then direct whatever resources are available to find it.

AMANPOUR: Give me an example of some of the search and rescues that your ships have been called to do. Obviously there was the Air France. But what are the other sort of instances of distress that your ships are called to try to fix?

STRONG: Yes. Ships that participate in the AMVER program rescue on average a life a day, within the last week, several yachtsmen have been rescued off the United States coast. One of the biggest cases that we were involved in was Achille Lauro back in the '90s. The cruise ship Prinsendam, which sank in the -- went down in the Gulf of Alaska in the 1980s

But there was also a tall ship with Canadian students on board that sank; 64 students were rescued by multiple AMVER ships. Seafarers really care about people that are lost at sea and will -- they'll risk their lives to save people and to -- you know, to help out when there's an emergency. So we're indebted to their service. And they're doing a fantastic job here.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the Achille Lauro. That was such a famous ship, if I'm not mistaken, it was hijacked. It was a case of terrorism. It was in the '80s.

Walk us back through that amazing moment there and what did your ships do?

STRONG: Well, when -- you're correct in the Achille Lauro was involved in a hijacking. But subsequently in the '90s, it caught fire off the coast of Somalia. And additional cruise ships, commercial ships will use any ship that's available to assist in the rescue. The participating AMVER ships were able to come into the Achille Lauro and rescue the passengers, bring them off life rafts and ensure that they were safe.

So I mean, it's just an amazingly complex search and rescue case, any of our cases, even if we're picking up one or two yachtsmen, we may be rescuing hundreds of migrants that are in the Mediterranean or in the Caribbean. Again, every day, at least one life is being saved somewhere in the world. It's just an amazing program.

And again, without the world's commercial shipping community volunteering for this, it's difficult to say what would happen to folks at sea.

AMANPOUR: But finally, you don't really expect to be saving lives from the Malaysia Airlines disaster, do you?

STRONG: You know, this is proving to be a very long and complicated rescue. My hope is that the dedicated seamen and crew members that we have out there in whatever capacity they can -- will help bring this -- bring closure to the families that are involved.

AMANPOUR: Ben Strong, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

STRONG: Thank you.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): And after a break, imagine a respite from bad news and bad weather. "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is now a United Nations resolution. We'll explain when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, with all the bad news that we've been reporting recently, imagine a world where happiness isn't just a smiley face; it's an international imperative. March 20th marks the first day of spring after a long freezing and wet winter for most of the planet. It is also the start of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which is celebrated from Iran to Afghanistan.

And two years ago, the United Nations made it official, Resolution 66/281 proclaimed this the International Day of Happiness -- really. And according to the U.N.'s latest World Happiness Report, these are the top five happiest countries on Earth, based on a variety of merriment metrics and while long winter nights don't seem to bother happy Scandinavians, Danes are the happiest Europeans. And there is one country, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a veritable Shangri-La that eschews its economic GDP and touts instead its GNH or Gross National Happiness index. Really.

Grouches everywhere point out that happiness is difficult to quantify and indeed studies show that money doesn't necessarily make you happy and no surprise, poverty doesn't either. Still, as the famous cherry blossoms reappear from Tokyo to Washington at the Jefferson Memorial, let's let Thomas Jefferson have the last word.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are empowered, endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights that, among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

And today, he might have added all women, too.

That is it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.