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More Uprisings in Ukraine; Jailed Journalist's Parents Speak; Imagine a World

Aired April 11, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Fred Pleitgen, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to a special weekend edition of the program, another look at some of the major stories we've been following.

In a moment, an emotional interview with the parents of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, detained in Egypt since December. We learned on Thursday that he and his colleagues will spend at least another week in captivity.

But first to the volatile situation in Ukraine and the scramble to stabilize it. Tensions are boiling over in the eastern part of the country, where pro-Russian demonstrators occupied buildings and declared their desire to join Russia just as Crimea did last month. The United States and Ukraine's interim government pin the blame squarely on Moscow and NATO says there are 40,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border ready for combat.

They released these satellite images allegedly proving that assertion. Russia, for its part, denies all this.

Andrey Klimov of the Russian Federation Council, told me his country only want to be good neighbors with Ukraine.


ANDREY KLIMOV, RUSSIAN FEDERATION COUNCIL: First of all, we are looking at this country as our neighbor country. And of course we are looking for peaceful coexistence and not only we are looking for cooperation in this country with the people of this country and even with the government of this country, but legal government.


PLEITGEN: But the emotions and the stress were on full display this week in Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, MPs literally battled it out with pro-Russia Communists and far right nationalists trading punches in the chamber.

One nation closely watching these events is Poland. Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, joined me from Warsaw.


PLEITGEN: Foreign Minister, thank you for joining the program. And the first question has to be clear, we've seen sanctions in the past. We've seen limited sanctions against Vladimir Putin's inner circle. Clearly it's not having any sort of effect on the Russians.

What next? How can you up the ante?

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, what's happening in Ukraine is unacceptable, a more powerful nation is first taking problems away from a less powerful country.

And now financing subversion, using the pretext of ethnic problems, which are non-existent, you know, both in Crimea and in East Ukraine, everybody speaks Russian. The media are Russian. And until now, there were no ethnic problems there.

And of course there are acceptable ways of dealing with ethnic issues through Council of Europe Conventions, OSC and so on. So this kind of subversion is unacceptable.

And we have to think about what to do about it. We've, both in Europe and in the United States, announced that if Russia moves entirely into Ukraine, we will go to stage three, which means economic sanctions.

But I understand that the United States is considering some sanctions in response to this subversion as well. And traditionally what happens is that the U.S. goes first and then the European Union follows.

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely right. The U.S. does seem to be leading the way again on this. As you said, they're talking about targeted sanctions against important Russian industrial sectors, the financial sector as well as the energy sector, of course, being the two key sectors.

I want you to listen in to an exchange between Secretary of State John Kerry and John McCain that happened earlier today on how tough an approach it would be. And then I'd like you to comment on it if possible.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: What I do know is that we are sending a signal today of the clarity of our intention to use whatever sanction is necessary if they continue.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: On the issue of Ukraine, my hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say, "Talk softly but carry a big stick."

What you're doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick. In fact, a twig.


PLEITGEN: Is John McCain right? Is Europe -- is America, are they carrying a twig instead of a big stick?

SIKORSKI: I hugely respect Senator McCain. But of course one can be easier with one's words when one is in the legislative branch rather than us in the executive branch being responsible for the policy.

Look, it will be best if Russia just started talking to the Ukrainian government, which is democratically elected. The two countries have important interests at stake, including economic interests. You know, Russia can't launch its space rockets without Ukraine. And President Putin, in his annexation speech, said that Ukrainians are a brotherly nation.

Well, if they are, they should be collaborating and then the issue of sanctions wouldn't arise.

But also remember that Poland and the United States trade in cash terms about as much with Russia. But of course this is a much bigger part of our economy. And this goes for the E.U. as a whole, which I think explains part of Europe's reluctance.

So American leadership on this is understandable.

PLEITGEN: Are you happy with Europe's response so far? Or do you think things should be tougher?

I mean, Poland is a nation that's historically -- has suffered a lot under the Soviet Union. I mean, there's a lot of Poles who are quite afraid of the situation right now.

SIKORSKI: Well, not just the Soviet Union; we were partitioned by Russia in the 18th century; literally our country was occupied. And this was also done on the pretext of protecting national minorities. Russia always comes to the assistance of national minorities rather than invading.

So it's an old story. It's like watching an opera whose libretto is known in advance. And it's completely unacceptable because, in Europe, there isn't a country that doesn't have national minorities.

And if we started changing borders on the pretext of protecting them, we would be back to the hell of the 20th century. And that's why everybody feels so threatened by what President Putin has just done.

PLEITGEN: I want to go back to one of the things you said. You said that the government in Ukraine, in Kiev, is democratically elected. That, of course, is something that the Russians dispute.

They say all of this was a coup and they also say that everything that the new Ukrainian government has done has done nothing but alienate the Russians who are living in Ukraine.

And one of the things that's certainly true is that while there might not be a real threat to the Russians in Eastern Ukraine, there is certainly a perceived threat. There are many, especially older Russians, who are very afraid of what's going on in this country right now.

What do you think the government in Kiev needs to do different to deescalate the situation for its part and show these people that they are part of this country?

SIKORSKI: Well, look the parliament of Ukraine was democratically elected. Everybody said so, including the Russians. And the democratically elected parliament has appointed a government with a two-thirds of votes. And this elected government invited into the coalition the Party of Regents, which represents Eastern Ukraine. The Party of Regents refused.

So it's a government which is preparing a presidential election in which, for example, the leading contender was a minister under Yanukovych, is a former member of the Party of Regents and is a sort of conciliatory figure. So I don't think there is any need to castigate or to denounce this Ukrainian government.

Moreover, when we negotiated the agreement between President Yanukovych and the opposition with the participation of a personal representative of President Putin, we had all agreed that Arseniy Yatsenyuk would become prime minister. This was seen as obvious also by Russia.

So this is a government that the Russians should be able to do business with. And they have very important business to do. They need to negotiate a fair price for gas so that Ukraine can start filling up its huge storage of gas so that parts of Europe may be supplied with gas next winter. This is very important.

There is absolutely no reason not to help this Ukrainian government start implementing reforms, implementing the IMF agreement and getting the commercial relationship with --


PLEITGEN: Sir, but, sir, if I could -- if I could just interject there, what about integrating the Russians better into what is Ukraine right now, showing them that Ukraine is also their home, that Ukraine wants to look to Russia as much as it looks to Europe and deescalating the situation that way?

Because there are many Russian Ukrainians who say that they do feel Ukrainian but they also distrust the current leadership.

And so far, very few of the politicians who are now in power in Kiev have actually gone to the east and spoken to these people.

SIKORSKI: Oh, there are things that the Ukrainian government can do. And the attempts never materialized to change the language, was unfortunate.

But as I say, there are a Council of Europe Conventions on national minorities, on regional languages. And I'm sure the -- and I know that in the new constitution these guarantees for Russian speakers is something that can be included.

PLEITGEN: Foreign Minister Sikorski, thank you very much for joining the program.

SIKORSKI: Thank you.


PLEITGEN: And as Ukraine and Russia play out an ancient feud dating back 1,000 years, they might look to another ancient grudge, this one between Britain and Ireland as an example of conflict resolution.

Irish President Michael Higgins was welcomed today by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, marking the first state visit to the U.K. of an Irish head of state. It was another step toward reconciliation two years after the Queen's visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

There she shook the hand of Martin McGinnis, a former IRA commander, now Northern Ireland's deputy first minister.

And while many in Ireland refuse to forgive or to forget, Mr. Higgins carried his message of friendship to London, becoming the first Irish president to address the Houses of British Parliament in the Palace of Westminster.

And after the break, we'll turn to Egypt, where three journalists have been denied their freedom simply for reporting the news.




PLEITGEN: And welcome back, I'm Fred Pleitgen in for Christiane Amanpour.

It's a scene now all too familiar, Al Jazeera journalists caged in a Cairo court and once again on Thursday, the men were denied bail and sent back to the prison where they've been held for more than 100 days.

The journalists are accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood. They say they were just reporting the news.

Al Jazeera launched this international campaign demanding their release.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Imagine being kept in the dark about major global events.

MARK FERGUSON, CHANNEL 7 NEWS: Imagine being silenced when speaking out --



PLEITGEN: In the past nine months, more than 60 journalists have been detained in Egypt. That's according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most have been freed, but 12 remain behind bars.

Among them is Peter Greste. His parents joined me, just before the court's decision, from Brisbane, Australia.


PLEITGEN: Lois and Juris Greste, welcome to the program. Thank you for being with us.

We heard that you got a phone call from Peter today. You were able to speak with him on the phone.

What was he saying? How's he doing?

LOIS GRESTE, MOTHER OF PETER GRESTE: He sounds good. He sounds brash. He said they have their down days and their good days, like we do. We have our down days and good days, too.

He was asking about the family and what we'd been up to and just a general catch-up and chitchat, because we haven't spoken to him for more than a month now. And I was very thrilled to hear his voice and very happy.

JURIS GRESTE, FATHER OF PETER GRESTE: What gave me a big lift was to hear him actually have a laugh, have a chuckle. Anybody who can do that on the eve of a very unpredictable next court case obviously, you know, must have it reasonably well together. And I feel very thrilled and very proud about that.

PLEITGEN: So how much contact are you able to have with him?

How much do you know about his emotional well-being and also his physical well-being?

LOIS GRESTE: He's only allowed now one -- two telephone calls a month to us.

JURIS GRESTE: Yes, I have to add that my impression is that unless you are disciplined in a physical sense, in a mental sense, in a spiritual sense, it can be very difficult to see it through. You can easily capitulate and crumble. And we are pleased to know that Peter is certainly very disciplined and strong and keeping himself very well together.

PLEITGEN: Yes, it seems like it. There was this amazing picture of Peter in the courtroom when the three of them were brought in, where he turned around and smiled at the camera.

So you must be very proud of him for that resilience that he's also displaying publicly, just to show that all of this is not getting him down.

LOIS GRESTE: Oh, absolutely. And you know, we're very proud of everything that he's done. Up until a couple of weeks ago, they weren't even allowed reading material.

And so to keep themselves occupied, they used anything, off labels, off plastic bottles and food containers. And they made a mural on the wall, which said, "Freedom now." Unfortunately, that had to be pulled down because the prison authorities considered that as a slogan.

But instead, he's got more creative and out of foil made a sun with rays that go out to a meter wide. And this is now on the wall. And when the sun comes through a little window that they have in the cell, it's arranged so that the sun hits the foil and lights up the whole of the room. So I think that's wonderful.

JURIS GRESTE: Yes, they are indeed amazingly resourceful and, again, I don't know what the other inmates do, but I understand that you have to be otherwise, you know, you could end up completely off the rails.

LOIS GRESTE: I think they use some of the containers also for making games and using the bottles and the bottle tops and that sort of thing.

PLEITGEN: There's nothing more difficult for parents to deal with than to see their children in a state of duress. And you say that you have your up and down days.

What do you find most difficult to deal with in this phase?

JURIS GRESTE: Well, Fred, while Lois is thinking, can I say that really, there isn't a most difficult or an easy day. It truly is a roller coaster ride in a very literal sense. Regrettably much beyond our shores that affect Peter's immediate future is very unpredictable.

And so we're sometimes living not only from day to day but from moment to moment. And that can be very wearing.

I have to say that after this afternoon's or this evening's call, I feel quite upbeat and yet undeniably after the previous court case, the way it ended, really shattered us. And it took us just about the rest of the week to put ourselves back together again.

PLEITGEN: Why are you feeling upbeat so now after this call? Why does it make you feel upbeat?

JURIS GRESTE: Well, as I said a moment ago, what gave me a great thrill was to hear Peter laugh, have a -- have a chuckle and you know, almost make a joke of a few things. No anybody who can -- who can do that on the eve of a very unpredictable mixed court case obviously, you know, must have it reasonably well together. And I feel very thrilled and very proud about that.

PLEITGEN: What do you hope happens next?

What do you hope the immediate future will bring? Because the next court date is very soon.

LOIS GRESTE: We hope in our hearts that of course it will be all over and Peter will be free. But you know, hence we are trying not to expect too much.

JURIS GRESTE: I also wanted to say that we know and be assured that what keeps Peter going is knowing that people like Christiane and other international media are taking an interest in it. And that buoys him up no end.

PLEITGEN: But Mohamed Fahmy, who is in prison with Peter, was my producer for a very long time and I did several documentaries with him.

And I do believe that the whole thing is an absolute outrage and you know, in the -- in the realm of the international reporters, we don't really have any competition with each other. We do support each other. And we know that he would be doing the same thing for us.

So it is definitely an effort that's going to keep going. But I do hope that it ends well for you.

LOIS GRESTE: Thank you very much.

JURIS GRESTE: Well, so do we.

LOIS GRESTE: Thank you.

JURIS GRESTE: Our pleasure.

PLEITGEN: After the break, we'll turn to Syria, where there is no sanctuary, not even in the house of God. The making of a martyr when we come back.




PLEITGEN: And a final thought tonight, after three years of civil war, it's hard to grasp the death toll in Syria, more than 150,000 killed.

Do we really understand the magnitude of that number?

Now imagine a world where one among the many deaths brings home the horror and the waste. CNN's Arwa Damon reports on the life and death of Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest martyred in the cause of peace. Beware, though, some of the images are disturbing.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Father Frans van der Lugt loved Syria, a country he called home for decades, a people he did not want to abandon.

"We don't want to drown in an ocean of hunger, pain and death," Father Frans implored from the altar of his church, where both Muslims and Christians sought sanctuary.

By the summer of 2012, Old Homs was under intense bombardment and siege.

"Sometimes we eat a soup of cracked wheat. These are the olives we eat in the morning, and sometimes at night," the 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest points to the remaining meager supplies in his monastery.

"The people suffer" -- his own.

In February, the U.N. brokered a brief cease-fire, allowing some civilians to evacuate. But Father Frans stayed, refusing to leave anyone behind.

On Monday, a known gunman stormed into his monastery, killing Father Frans with a single shot to the head. He had begged the world on behalf of the suffering of Syrians, "We love life. We want to live." But no one listened -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.


PLEITGEN: A Jesuit like Pope Francis, Father van der Lugt was lauded by the Vatican as a man of peace and great courage.

Meantime, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, another Jesuit priest who also dedicated his life to the cause of peace in Syria, has been missing since last summer.

And that's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always contact us at our website,, and you can follow me on Twitter @FPleitgenCNN. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.