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U.S. Point Person on Ukraine Crisis; Ukraine Media Freedom; Imagine a World

Aired April 21, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


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

Now they are known by their nicknames, the little green men. Their effect, however, is anything but benign and evidence is mounting that Moscow is intent on destabilizing Eastern Ukraine. Those mysterious armed men in camouflage and balaclavas, who first appeared in Crimea and are now spread across Eastern Ukraine are, in fact, Russian special operatives.

We have just obtained photos from the Ukrainian government proof they say of Russian involvement and the U.S. government agrees.

Look at the bearded man there, his face circled a couple of times in red. He's seen with the Russians in Georgia in 2008 and now in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. And they are everywhere, manning checkpoints, even posing with local residents like this young boy in Sloviansk.

CNN's Arwa Damon first got this exclusive evidence from Ukrainian officials last week, passports of men they say are Russian military officers as well as weapons, ammunition and maps of targeted sites in Eastern Ukraine.

And General Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, has said the weapon handling discipline and professional behavior of these forces is consistent with a trained military force.

And that is now backed up by none other than the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, himself, who, after dismissing the rumors as nonsense, admitted last week that of course Russian service men stood behind the Crimean incursion.

Today the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Kiev to shore up the shaky interim government, even as the fragile Geneva deal appears to be unraveling. Russia lays all the blame squarely on the United States, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today that American must, quote, "fully accept responsibility" for the unrest.

In the Russian narrative, it's an American diplomat who's scheming to grab Ukraine for the West. That diplomat is Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European affairs and point person for America's response to Russia's land grab. And she joins me exclusively from Washington.

Secretary Nuland, welcome to the program.

VICTORIA NULAND, US POINT PERSON ON UKRAINE CRISIS: Thank you, Christiane. It's terrific to be here with you today.

AMANPOUR: Let me first ask you about the importance of this evidence that Ukraine says and has shown CNN that Russia is fully and directly involved on the ground with special forces in Eastern Ukraine.

NULAND: Well, I think we've made absolutely clear that we are very concerned about the Russian hand behind the destabilizing things that we're seeing in Eastern Ukraine. The president's made that clear as has Secretary Kerry and you've shown some of the photographic evidence including the bearded man who was clearly a GRU agent in Georgia and who appears again in Eastern Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: That's Russian special forces, we understand, also intelligence operatives, we're told, active there in Eastern Ukraine.

So tell me now, then, what is the status of this deal that was signed in Geneva on Thursday and does not appear to be implemented?

NULAND: Well, as you know, Christiane, on Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the E.U. agreed that it was absolutely essential and urgent that these separatists, who are occupying buildings and who are setting up checkpoints need to stand down now, need to participate in negotiations and that the organization for security and cooperation in Europe would be assigned to work with the Ukrainians to try to negotiate them out of these buildings.

So OSCE teams, very senior level teams, have been in some of the hottest towns, in Donetsk and in Sloviansk, trying to work on this kind of deescalation. There have been a couple of small towns, where buildings have been evacuated successfully by the Ukrainians in the last couple of days. But we have not seen the kind of major deescalation that we're looking for nor have we seen serious Russian efforts to help the OSCE or to speak out against separatists since Geneva.

AMANPOUR: So the Russian foreign minister, as you heard me say, blames the United States, saying that you have to control your clients, as they call it, the Kiev government, and they're saying that there are buildings still occupied by forces in Kiev as well.

What can you tell me about that?

NULAND: Well, first of all, since the Geneva agreement was inked on Thursday, the Ukrainian government has stepped out very smartly to try to implement the provisions that are within its power.

For example, the agreement calls for amnesty to be granted to anyone who voluntarily left buildings or abandoned checkpoints. The Ukrainian government immediately, the next day, put into the parliament a very, very broad amnesty bill that would meet that requirement.

It has also sent senior level representatives out to the east to work with the OSCE, something that the OSCE also wants Russia to do, which it has so far not agreed to do.

And in Kiev itself, some of the barricades around the Maidan have come down. But you can't compare the situation in Kiev, where now everything that is still being held by protesters is being held with licenses and with the agreement of the government of Ukraine, with the agreement of the Rada or with regular leases from the owners of the building, which is -- you can't compare that to what's happening in Eastern Ukraine, where you have armed separatists wearing balaclavas, carrying very heavy munitions, holding government buildings, refusing to allow monitors in, refusing to allow journalists in, kidnapping journalists, in fact -- I think you saw, Christiane, that there were four or five journalists kidnapped in Sloviansk and one is still being held today. This is not a comparable situation.

AMANPOUR: If that's the case then, give me an idea of who's actually calling the shots on the Russian side. Obviously President Putin is the president. But it was Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, who inked the deal and at the same time, just about, you heard President Putin talking about New Russia, alluding to an ancient and old word, Novorossiya, that claimed a lot of those Eastern Ukrainian towns, talking about the authority to invade if he had to and basically, as we've just seen, not implementing the provisions of the deal on the ground.

Is there a gap between Sergey Lavrov and President Putin?

Are you talking actually to the person who's calling the shots?

NULAND: Well, as you know, Christiane, President Obama has spoken to President Putin a number of times over the last three weeks on basically a weekly basis to try to encourage deescalation, to try to say to him that there is a better way, that Russia has a choice, but also to make clear that if it continues to destabilize Ukraine, and deny Ukrainians the choice to make decisions about their own future, that there will be more cost for Russia, more isolation and more sanctions.

But more broadly, we continue to be concerned that you cannot dress yourself like a firefighter and behave like an arsonist.

AMANPOUR: So when you talked to Sergey Lavrov, do you think you're getting an agreement? I mean, this one was practically unraveled before it even was signed.

NULAND: Well, as the secretary said to Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone today, it is still within Russia's power to demonstrate that it meant what it said last Thursday. It can assign a senior Russian to go out with the OSCE teams, to make clear to the separatists that they do not have Moscow's support to help negotiate them out of these buildings. And if Moscow will do that, then the Ukrainian side will be in a better position to meet its obligations under the agreement which also include a broad national dialogue about constitutional reforms, other steps to address some of these grievances politically rather than through arms. But we've yet to see Russia put that kind of commitment into stabilizing the east. And that's what we're looking for.

AMANPOUR: You know, the Russians have blamed the United States fully, laying all at your door. And they particularly point to you and they recall when you were handing out food in the Maidan, when this unrest started and the protests started.

And then I spoke to a member of parliament, also a member of President Putin's party, and this is what he said about you and about the United States.


VYACHESLAV NIKONOV, MEMBER OF RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT: We did not start this whole mess in Ukraine. That was a regime change operation with some American assistance at least, Victoria Nuland said about $5 billion U.S. spent to promote democracy in Ukraine, which is oftentimes a code word for regime change.


AMANPOUR: So I don't know whether you heard that, Victoria, but it's Nikonov, the member of parliament, saying that you had spoken about $5 billion for democracy and they see that as a codeword for regime change.

NULAND: I didn't hear Mr. Nikonov speaking. The United States has invested some $5 billion in Ukraine since 1991, when it became an independent state again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And that money has been spent on supporting the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to have a strong, democratic government that represents their interests.

But we certainly didn't spend any money supporting the Maidan. That was a spontaneous movement, which is a far cry from what we are concerned Russia is up to now in Eastern Ukraine. And with regard to the day on the Maidan when I was present, that visit happened the night after the Ukrainian security forces under then-President Yanukovych moved against peaceful demonstrators and began pushing and shoving them off the Maidan. And it was a very scary and dangerous night. They ultimately had to pull back when more peaceful protesters came and surrounded them.

And the next day, when I when to visit Maidan, I didn't think that I could go down empty-handed, given what everybody had been through. So as a sign of -- a gesture of peace, I brought sandwiches to both the Maidan protesters and to the Berkut soldiers.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let's get -- we'll move past the sandwiches. And I want to ask you because you also famously caught on tape, basically berating the Europeans with some well-chosen words.

Do you think there is a gap still between Europe and the United States, especially on efforts to deter President Putin? Where will sanctions go? And will they be targeted enough to make a difference?

NULAND: Christiane, we have been working in lockstep with our European partners. We've now done two rounds of sanctions. They have done two rounds of sanctions. The president had very good consultations when he was in Europe about three weeks ago with key leaders. He has been on the phone with key leaders in Europe on a weekly basis to ensure that we're all seeing the situation the same way.

And we are all committed to trying to deescalate this diplomatically. That's why you saw E.U. High Representative Cathy Ashton there with us in Geneva, trying to deescalate the situation. But we are also together in having to impose costs on Russia if it doesn't participate in allowing Ukraine to move forward and make its own choices about its own future.

AMANPOUR: Vice President Joe Biden is there; previously, the CIA director, Brennan, was there. What is it that you can do to help the Kiev government just survive? It has been widely considered that its so-called antiterrorist efforts or its attempt to impose its authority in the East failed. And everybody has said that if there was any major confrontation the Ukrainians would not be able to hold their own militarily against Russia.

What is it that the United States has to do and can Kiev, this interim government, survive until their elections?

NULAND: Christiane, this interim government was brought in to do two things primarily for the Ukrainian people. And on both fronts, they are doing very well. The first was to try to negotiate a deal with the IMF where they would institute real reform and try to turn the page on the age of corruption that had been rampant in Ukraine and they have now successfully inked a deal with the IMF. They've also passed a vast amount of reform legislation, including the -- to tackle corruption.

They were also brought in to take Ukraine to free and fair elections. And those elections, presidential elections, are scheduled for May 25th. There are some 20 candidates registered in those elections, representing all parts of the spectrum.

But now obviously, with this destabilization in the East, they also have to ensure that the country is peaceful enough for those elections to go forward. And that is why we went to Geneva and that is why we are pressing so hard on the Russians to help. And that is why we are encouraging the government in Kiev and they've done a good job with this as well, to reach out to the East, to make clear that grievances can be addressed politically, that the rights of ethnic Russians, Russian speakers, will be protected, that the Kiev government is ready to decentralize far more power out to the East, allow them to budget on their own, allow them to elect their own leaders. So they are doing a good job. But there is a small group of separatists who are supported from the outside, who are trying to steal the choice of the Ukrainian people about their own future. And that is what we are trying to help them prevent. And that's why Vice President Biden's trip is important to give them the moral, the political, the economic, the diplomatic support that they need.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, thank you very much for joining us.

NULAND: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And among the hotly disputed issues between Russia and Ukraine, you can also add a recipe. This one is not a recipe for disaster; rather, it's one for a classic chicken dish.

The credit for chicken Kiev -- or Kiev, as it's now known -- that tasty boneless breast stuffed with garlic butter, has been fought over in kitchens for 100 years or more. Named for their capital city, Ukrainians naturally take pride in what they consider their national dish.

But the Russians insist it belongs to them, first cooked up in St. Petersburg back at the beginning of the 20th century. And just to add to the conflicting claims, the French maintain the recipe actually dates back to the early 1800s, when one of Napoleon's favorite chefs invented it.

How to separate poultry from propaganda and fact from fiction, that deadly serious issue, the battle for truth, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Another fierce war has been raging over Ukraine, the war of information. Take a look at this Ukrainian TV tower in Sloviansk. It's been taken over by pro-Russian separatists, who've now tuned the channels to Russian TV channels. The pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine are being influenced and encouraged by very exaggerated Russian TV coverage.

Russian media has portrayed the government in Kiev as fascist neo- Nazis and insists that Russia is only protecting those who are under threat. This despite the opinion polls that tell a very different story. The overwhelming majority here say they don't feel threatened and they suggest only a minority of people favor a Crimea like reunification with Russia.

My next guest is the OSCE's representative for freedom of the media; Dunja Mijatovic has just got back from a fact-finding mission to Ukraine and she joins me now from the OSCE headquarters in Vienna.

Welcome to the program and thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you first and foremost, what exactly did you discover?

MIJATOVIC: Well, unfortunately, everything we discovered is not something that we can call being comforting or anything even close to this. The situation is extremely dangerous. I would say media is under siege in Ukraine. I receive reports or intimidation threats, harassments of journalists on a daily basis, today even on the hourly basis.

Media is used as a tool for manipulation. What we also hear -- and you just mentioned it -- that channels are switched off overnight, like it happened in Crimea and replaced with channels originating from the Russian Federation.

So the pattern is known, unfortunately. And it is something that is happening as we speak.

AMANPOUR: Just to be clear, when you talk about the threats and the intimidation and you also heard Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state, say that journalists have been killed, who's doing the threatening, to whom?

MIJATOVIC: Well, we have the situation that started back in December 2013 and then repeated incidents in February 2014, where almost 200 journalists were beaten, attacked and one was killed during the Euro Maidan protest. After that, what we experienced is actual intimidation and threats in Crimea of so-called or effective government or authorities that are in charge now in Crimea, who actually targeted journalists as a first target.

And this is something that is reflecting the security situation, the reality, because media, as we know -- and history taught us about this -- is always the first one to be attacked, because they should not be reporting and actually showing us what is happening around the world.



MIJATOVIC: What happened in Crimea is one of the most brutal examples of media manipulation and restrictions of free speech and freedom of the media.

AMANPOUR: Just to correct, Victoria Nuland said journalists are being kidnapped; I misspoke. She didn't say they'd been killed.

But nonetheless, you have said in your report -- and you just sort of touched on it just now -- "Media freedom is a reflection of the overall security situation. From my perspective, the situation is alarming with the risk of further deterioration unless it is immediately improved."

In terms of alarming, what do you mean?

In terms of the overall tensions on the ground? Or just internally in the media?

Do you mean that it could have a spillover effect into the -- into the -- into the actual war on the ground?

MIJATOVIC: Well, I cannot say that. But what I experienced and I'm talking based on facts, based on talks with journalists from Kharkiv to Odessa, I also during my recent trip I met journalists from Crimea, who escaped in a way, because they could not stay, because they received many threats, not just them but also their families.

They are almost homeless, wandering around. And what I think when I say that it has an effect to the overall security situation, it is actually the pattern and the format that is very clear, that the media are targeted. You know, even if they have press accreditation, if they -- even if they have that, there are attacks by protesters. Unfortunately, police is not doing anything in Eastern Ukraine at the moment to help journalists.

They're even turning their backs in order not to engage in a battle between protesters and journalists. And this is something that I raised with the government in Kiev and the foreign minister who I met last week. Of course, with the full understanding of the complexity of the situation and for not real possibilities to offer.

AMANPOUR: Briefly, Dunja --


MIJATOVIC: But in general I think --

AMANPOUR: -- Dunja, let me just ask you another question -- let me just ask you a last question.

You're from Bosnia. You were there during the wars. And you saw the effect of manipulated media on the ground. It changed the narrative. It distorted the narrative.

Is that happening here, do you think?

MIJATOVIC: Well, you know, unfortunately I have to say that the format and the pattern is the same. What we experienced with the Milosevic propaganda in former Yugoslavia and what I'm seeing now and the way the media is manipulated and the evil is -- of propaganda is used in order to manipulate people, is extremely dangerous.

What we see is conspiracy theories, you know, prejudice, even the injections of hatred being used for dividing people, is something that I, unfortunately, have seen in my own country. And that is why I called a permanent council of the OSCE to pay attention to this very alarming signs, that we see, and also calling for all parties engaged in this conflict to make sure that the journalists can do their job freely.

And this is something that I would like to repeat even now in order the safety of journalists has to be ensured.

AMANPOUR: Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, thank you very much for joining us from Vienna.

And the search for truth and accurate information isn't just the challenge of our times. During the Crimean War of the 1850s, battlefield journalists were almost unheard of. Newspapers and periodicals in Russia sometimes relied on officers at the front to send home dispatches to boost morale and reassure the nation. One young Russian lieutenant upset the apple cart with his first-hand report, and he still towers over the Russian landscape and its literature of "War and Peace," when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where there's no TV coverage of conflicts like Crimea, no instant Internet access, no Facebook pages that face off, asking users to like or dislike one side or the other. In the last battle over Crimea, back in the 1850s, czarist Russia was fighting to keep control and defend the Black Sea port of Sevastopol from a siege led by Britain and France, which were allied with the Ottoman Empire.

A 26-year-old Russian lieutenant named Leo Tolstoy commanded an artillery battery close to the French lines. And during the constant bombardment, sought shelter in his dugout, writing first-hand accounts of the battle.

Young Tolstoy wrote of the reality of war and his disillusionment with those leaders who wasted precious lives in battles that never should have been fought. A preview of the disillusion, of course, that would emerge from the front in literature and poems during World War I.

Tolstoy sent his stories from Crimea to a publisher back in Russia, where they became an instant sensation, giving readers the first true account of what was happening at the front and the terrible toll it was taking. Russia lost the Crimean War along with a half-million casualties. But Tolstoy's reputation as writer and reformer was made.

Ten years later, his Crimea experience suffused his monumental saga, "War and Peace," considered to this day one of the world's greatest novels ever written. That young lieutenant would go on to become the world's most famous pacifist and his belief in non-violence would influence later idealists like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.