Return to Transcripts main page


Russian Separatists Pressured to Permit Investigation into Downed Airliner; Interview with Congressman Ed Royce; Interview with Fmr. US Ambassador to Ukraine

Aired July 21, 2014 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, Ukraine's Prime Minister with strong, strong words for the Russians this morning.


ARSENIY YATSENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: I don't care about -- not rebels, but these Russian-led guerillas, they are not rebels. I expect nothing from the Russian government. What they can do, they can supply weapon, they can send well-trained agents, they can support these guerillas, but they have to stop.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Strong words from Ukraine's prime minister. He said that 270 bodies have been recovered, 250 have been transferred into these refrigerated train cars that we'll show you later on, and that sounds right because, as I said, we just saw another truck with bodies from this site coming through not long ago.

But here is the problem. The promise that the Dutch are now here and that they can identify the bodies and they can lead this investigation with their expertise is great coming from Ukraine's prime minister, but he is not in control of the area where I am standing right now. The man who is, a self-appointed prime minister, has a very different sense about Ukraine's authority, which is to say they have none. Here is a little bit of what happened when I interviewed him and asked him some of the hard questions.


CUOMO: A show of force by those controlling MH-17's crash site, the devastation seen here surrounded by hostility as those in control are the very people suspected of shooting the plane down over eastern Ukraine. Startling satellite photos show acres of ground scorched by the explosion at the point of impact.

On the ground we're told hundreds of bodies removed at the hands of government emergency workers along with a group of coal miners, inexperienced, but allowed in by pro-Russian rebels. The remains of more than 250 loaded into two refrigerated trains, the Ukrainian government negotiating with militants for the bodies to be transported with no information about when they will be identified or where they'll end up. The scene here exposed, fueling international concerns of tampered evidence.

You can tell that this piece hit, rolled, and then was moved, and that's going to be a really big distinction for investigators.

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted a team of international experts conduct work on the site to ensure security. Rebel leaders claim to have the cockpit voice and data recorders which may hold key information about MH-17's last moments. In audio intercepts the alleged commander says Moscow is very interested in the black boxes and urges his subordinate to find them. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of that audio.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence points to the mounting evidence of Russia's involvement including evidence that pro-Russian rebels secretly moved a heavy arsenal of weapons into place days before the crash.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have a video showing a launcher moving back through a particular area there out into Russia with it missing, at least one missing missile on it. So we have enormous input about this which points fingers.

CUOMO: This is that video posted by Ukraine's interior ministry of a Buk missile launcher heading back into Russia, suggesting it had conducted a launch according to the U.S. embassy in Kiev. I spoke with the rebel prime minister about those occasions.

The belief of the western community and Ukraine is that a Russian missile brought down this plane, and there's suspicion it had something to do with fighters from your region. What do you want to say to people who believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): I don't know what to say because the world community doesn't want to hear it. We had no reason to take down this plane and Ukraine had this reason to destroy our government.


CUOMO: One thing is for sure, the fighting is very real. We're getting reports right now that in Donetsk which is the nearest city to where we are there is active fighting. Ukrainian authorities say they plan to retake the city. It could be going on right now. We'll keep you apprised of that.

I want to bring in right now, though, Congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs. Thank you very much for joining us Congressman. When I interviewed this self- appointed prime minister, he refused to answer any question about Russia. When I pressed him about whether or not he's getting aid, he said it's not for me to discuss another sovereign. Go talk to him. He was surrounded by who I am told are Russian military. What do you think the reality is?

REP. ED ROYCE, (R) CALIFORNIA: The reality is exactly that. I was in eastern Ukraine and we were in the neighboring state, and indeed what we found was that they were catching Russian agents in that area. Those Russian agents were there to try to support people, to try to foment revolution in the region. And as we talked to several society leaders, women's groups, different minority groups in order to make sure we talked to all of the Russian groups, Russian-speaking groups in eastern Ukraine, they all gave us the same message -- tell the Russians to butt out. They're bringing the weapons in. As long as Putin does that, it keeps this chaos going.

CUOMO: So identifying the problem seems to be fairly simple, congressman. I don't know if you can see the scene behind me, but I'm sure you're familiar with it. The question is very obvious. What are you going to do about this? The self-appointed prime minister had a smile on his face when I talked about the U.S. and western authorities maybe taking action against this region of fighters or maybe even Russia because of this, there was a smile on his face. Do you believe there's anything you can do to influence what's going on?

ROYCE: Yes, absolutely. We need U.S. leadership right now because with all of the anger that you see in Europe and in Asia and around the world over this issue, this is the first opportunity we have to force Putin's hand. Now, that vote is going to come today in the Security Council, and Samantha Power, our U.N. ambassador is going to raise this issue. Already Russia is trying to what they are down, but the international community is going to take a stand here on this resolution. And afterwards they should look at international sanctions. We need the international will to come together here.

Listen, Russia has transferred 150 tanks, rocket launchers, and similar heavy equipment there recently into eastern Ukraine. They are ramping this up. They've shot down 12 planes so far. This one just happened to be a civilian jetliner. Now is the time to put the pressure on Putin. So U.S. leadership to get the Europeans and the rest of the world on board for the types of strong sanctions that would force Putin's hand.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, you're talking about ramping up violence in the region. We've also seen ramping up of sanctions over time against Russia. But now we still are seeing that Russia is not seeing this as leverage for them to really have to act in any way that the international community wants Vladimir Putin to act. At some point doesn't it become a moral imperative, a moral responsibility for the United States to lead and to do more? There are 298 souls that have been lost innocently in this tragedy.

ROYCE: That's what I just indicated. We have been in favor --

BOLDUAN: But is sanctions going to do it?

ROYCE: Well, the problem so far is sanctions are usually U.S. sanctions here. The question has been, how do you get the Dutch on board? The Dutch last time were one of the countries that did not want to support these additional sanctions and watered them down. I can guarantee you the Dutch have changed their position, and not just the Dutch. I can guarantee you that from Malaysia to Central Asia to East Asia, everyone now recognizes that the transfer of this kind of offensive weaponry, missiles, into the hands of poorly trained separatists is a threat to everyone. So I think Putin is going to be under enormous pressure. Now is the

time to lead and bring about an international coalition to isolate him not just diplomatically as we will at the U.N. today, but also economically in terms of sector sanctions. And I think we'll have the power now to do it if we're aggressive and do it.

But remember, we have not -- up until now the administration has not really helped Ukraine on the ground. So you've got this massive influx of Russian agents and Russian heavy weaponry and we haven't done anything in response to that.

BERMAN: Should the U.S. do more to help the Ukrainians on the ground, chairman? Do you think the United States should be sending weaponry, should the United States be sending people to train the Ukrainian forces here? And as you were talking about the European leaders, you're talking Netherlands and I assume Germany as well. Are you really confident that after all this time finally Germany, among others, will step forward and say, hey, we'll pay a little extra for fuel and maybe levy extra sanctions on Russia?

ROYCE: Now is the time for Germany to step forward on this because when we were there, the neighboring state there to Donetsk, we had an opportunity, as I indicated, to talk to Russian speakers at every level right up from the governor on down, to all the leaders in civil society, and the message was the same. There's only one thing that prevents peace.

Look, we have a very generous peace plan put forward by Poroshenko here. The only thing that prevents it is the machinations of Putin and his Russian agents. That needs to stop. For that to stop Europe has to stand with the United States, and so does Asia and the rest of the international community, and we have to go forward with the type of leverage that only Putin will understand and respond to. Until we do that, he will continue to create this chaos.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Mr. Chairman, it's Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. As we speak right now, the secretary of state John Kerry is on his plane. He's flying to Cairo. He's trying to get some sort of ceasefire. Is that doable right now? Do you have confidence in the secretary of state that he knows what he's doing right now?

ROYCE: I have confidence that this ceasefire is the way to go because, as you indicated, the Arab League is on board, Egypt is on board. Who isn't on board is Hamas. I remember my discussions with you, I was in Haifa, you were in Jerusalem during the second Lebanon war. And at that point in time there were hundreds of rockets coming into Haifa, 600 people, Israelis were in the hospital there in the trauma hospital where I had visited. And I can tell you, if it wasn't for the Iron Dome, you'd have much more serious casualties across Israel today.

So Israel is going to take this opportunity as long as the rockets are being fired at it to try to go in and get the tunnels and suppress those launchers, but they can't stop until the rockets are no longer being launched, the rockets supplied by Iran to Hamas. For that to happen, you know, it's going to take a negotiated ceasefire and that's the attempt right now that our secretary of state is involved in.

BLITZER: Do you believe the Israelis are overreacting right now? They are facing a lot of international condemnation. You see these awful pictures, the kids who have been killed in Gaza, the civilians who have been made refugees. Has Israel gone too far in your opinion, Mr. Chairman?

ROYCE: Oh, no, no. I think that's a mischaracterization, because I have seen on the ground in these situations the way in which Israel goes to the utmost length. They will put their soldiers in harm's way in order, in order to try to minimize civilian casualties.

And remember what Hamas is doing here. It's putting these rockets specifically, specifically in areas where they ask civilians to come and protect the rockets while their own commanders are under ground in bunkers. This is the thing that really makes me irate. The Hamas commanders will go down in the bunkers and they will ask human shields to try to protect the rockets and then they'll light these rockets off and send them to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

This is unconscionable. And that's what is producing civilian casualties. It's not by intent. The intent here by Hamas is to have civilian casualties. The intent by Israel is to try to prevent it. So it's just absolutely ironic that it is portrayed this way given the efforts that Israel takes. And remember, 2,000 rockets have now been fired at Tel Aviv and at Jerusalem and other cities in Israel. What other countries would put up with that kind of conduct by Hamas?

Those rockets, by the way, these longer range rockets, all made by Iran. So let's not forget Iran's contribution to this ongoing war. Again, if Iran would quit sending the rockets to Hamas, Hamas wouldn't have the inventory to do this.

BLITZER: Chairman Royce, thanks for joining us on NEW DAY. Let's see what the secretary of state can do, if he can do anything to work with the Egyptians, the Palestinian Authority, and try to achieve a ceasefire that is badly, badly need. Guys, back to you in New York, Kate, John.

BOLDUAN: All right, well, thank you very much. Chairman Royce, thank you again for your time. Michaela is here with a look at some of your other headlines this morning.

PEREIRA: And of course we'll get back to our top story immediately. But here are the headlines at this hour. A California man who told federal agents he was going to Syria to join ISIS will be arraigned. And 20-year-old Adam Dandach allegedly told the FBI that he planned to help ISIS with anything they asked him to do and believed that killing U.S. soldiers was justified. He was arrested earlier this month before boarding a plane in Orange County.

Get ready to pay more for airport security. Starting today the SA will add $5.60 to every plane ticket. The previous charge was $2.50. This budget increase is part of a budget deal approved by Congress to reduce the federal deficit. Got to show you some scary video. A hot air balloon crashing into

power lines in Massachusetts over the weekend. Yes, over the weekend. You can see the bright flash; you can hear a loud buzzing sound come from the power lines. There were six people in the balloon at the time of the crash. Officials tell us fortunately they only suffered minor injuries.


BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, Secretary of State John Kerry is calling the MH-17 disaster a moment of truth for Vladimir Putin. How will the Russians respond today? We're going to talk to the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

BERMAN: And then former president Bill Clinton tried and failed to bring peace to the Middle East. CNN's Anna Coren spoke exclusively to the president about the current conflict and other major issues as well.


CUOMO: All right. You're seeing what's happening here right now. This is what, in a way, we've been waiting for. The OSCE is now joined by Dutch investigators. They're here, one, because they understand how to control a crime scene like this. And, of course, they lost the most in terms of life on MH-17 and they're here to identify their loved ones, assuming they can find the bodies and they're given proper access.

And that's the problem. The man who just ran across, he is a member of a police force that had a very nasty reputation during the recent fighting in Ukraine and Kiev called the Berkut. When they showed up, very rough, weapons out, telling everybody to get out of the way and limiting access to the scene by the same people they're supposed to be cooperating with.

And that's the frustration now. That's going on right now. That, on one hand, this is good. The experts are here. The people who lost so many of their countrymen are here. But, at the same time, they're being restrained by very impressive military men. And, again, the Berkut aren't just local militia. They're special police who are somewhat outcasts in Ukraine at the most recent fighting. They have taken up residence here in Donetsk and are part of the security force here.

So that's what's going on here. We'll monitor the situation as long as it stays safe. This is all happening amid reports that fighting has been renewed in Donetsk where we all just came from, that Ukraine is trying to retake that city. And we will tell you what we hear about that as it becomes reporter.

All right, now though, I believe I want to bring in William Taylor. He is the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Do we have Mr. Taylor?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: We do. CUOMO: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. You've been hearing what

I'm saying here. Help us understand this inconsistency where you have, on one side, there's access, and, on the other side, there is complete lockdown by very, very aggressive military. You know the special police, the Berkut; help us understand the dynamic that's going on here in terms of power and access.

TAYLOR: Well, what we see here is the Russian-supported separatists. As you say, the Berkut, which used to be in the Ukrainian government that was expelled from that, is now just part of the separatist government, self-declared government.

They are responsible, the Russian-supported separatists, are responsible for the problem. They have been -- as you know, they have been part of the problem for the last several months. It's taken this tragedy, this tragedy of the shootdown of this civilian airliner, to bring the world's attention to what's been going on with the Russian supported terrorists and separatists in southeastern Ukraine.

So that's the real problem that's been going on for some time. Now we understand it.

CUOMO: All right. But we understand it. You've understood it for a long time. The U.S. government has understood it for a long time. So the question becomes how did we allow this to happen? We, the international community, U.S.-led with Western authorities. How did we allow the people in the circle of suspicion for bringing down the plane to be in charge of the crash site, and allow the bodies to languish for days? Complete indignity. How is that allowed if this local self-appointed militia is so unimpressive in so many ways? Why are we standing in the current situation that we're in?

TAYLOR: We're standing in the current situation because we haven't acted forcefully against the Russian government, frankly. The Russians have been supporting these separatists for months. They have been supplying weapons for months. Now we know -- now we can see the weapons that they've been providing and we see the training that they've been providing and we see the leadership they've been providing. We see the Russian citizens, indeed the Russian officials out of the military intelligence, the Russian military intelligence, who are leading in this.

So we've seen this for some time. We've taken some mild sanctions, some mild actions in the form of pinpoint sanctions, that have only been recently expanded. It's now up to us to lead the Europeans in broader sanctions as well as a criminal investigation of those responsible for this tragedy.

CUOMO: You're a former ambassador; you a little more leeway to be candid here, I would imagine. So let me ask you something and see if we can just get a straight answer on it.

This sounds like cheap talk -- not coming from you, sir, with all due respect. But the idea that we put any pressure on Russia at all seems almost laughable. They literally smile here. This self-appointed local prime minister, or whatever you want to call him, when told that the U.S. and Western authorities aren't happy with what's going on here, he smiles. He shakes his head, like, so what?

How can you look at what's going on with Russia right now, for all your pictures and your understanding of what they're doing and that they're training these people, and your sanctions -- it has done nothing. Isn't that the truth?

TAYLOR: That's the truth. But also the truth is that it doesn't matter what those separatists say. Those are thugs. They are self- appointed thugs -- mainly criminals, thugs, drunkards as we've seen. They are irrelevant.

What's relevant is the support coming across the border from Russia into southeastern Ukraine. That's what has to stop. Mr. Putin can stop that in a heartbeat. He can close off that border. That's what he needs to do. He has a choice -- he can either double down supporting these thugs, these criminals, these separatists or he can disavow them and cut off the supply and seal that border. It's really up to Mr. Putin; it's not up to the thugs that you're talking to there in southeastern Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: To this point, it's pretty clear he's chosen to be evasive. He's chosen plausible deniability in his involvement in this.

TAYLOR: The evidence is overwhelming. Secretary Kerry was very clear. The international community has seen all of the evidence. It's mounting daily. He can no longer avoid -- Mr. Putin can no longer avoid this. He has to make a decision. Double down or disavow.

BOLDUAN: So with those two options, double down or disavow, where is the U.S. role in this? You say that the United States, the international community, has not reacted forcefully enough with Russia's involvement here. What should be done in the most immediate sense, the first step today? What more can be done if sanctions to this point haven't forced him to choose the correct path, if you will?

TAYLOR: The sanctions have not been broad enough or deep enough or harsh enough. So the sanctions that Mr. Obama -- that President Obama announced last Wednesday are a beginning. They need to go further.

The Europeans need to go further. We need to push them to go further. In the U.N., the Russians will be further isolated today. That's clear. The French are about to sell the Russians two Mistral weaponS systems, naval weapons systems, helicopter -- aircraft carriers, essentially. We should buy those. We should not let them go to the Russians. We should buy them from the French. And there are ways that we could do this.

CUOMO: Buy them from the French? Why isn't the answer to use your political leverage that supposedly the U.S. should have to tell the French, "Don't sell the Russians weapons systems when they're obviously using them to equip people who are doing things that are supposedly antithetical to humanity?"

I mean, if you look at Syria and you look at where I am right now, and if Russia is in control, they're basically allowing the dead, who have nothing to do with this conflict, to just swelter in the sun, their bodies have been here for days. And you're saying, well, we have to have tougher sanctions.

It just seems, Mr. Former Ambassador, that it's a hollow rationale, it hasn't been enough. It hasn't been enough. There has to be a better answer. Do you believe anything better will be coming or is it going to be more of the same?

TAYLOR: I do think better is going to come. I think that this is a game-changer for the Europeans. The Europeans have been able to look away and think of this as a small little conflict that doesn't really affect them. Now it affects them. The Europeans are going to take serious action.

When I say buy these Mistrals from the French, they, it turns out, are about to pay a large fine. We should reduce that fine a little bit so that they can send those Mistrals to the United States instead of sending them to Russia. The French will be willing to do this. The Dutch are so angry, they are going to take steps. The British are calling for the same thing.

We should lead that. We should make it clear that Mr. Putin is going to pay an enormous price if he doubles down on those separatists and he needs to disavow them and close that border.

CUOMO: Well, listen, Mr. Taylor, William Taylor, former ambassador of U.S. to Ukraine, I thank you for your time (ph) this morning. I'll tell you, the international community, it may be the flash point for them, but I have to tell you, they're not here, only the Dutch are here. And luckily we have the international monitors for violence who are here. He's going to join us right now and talk to us, but thank you very much for joining us.

Guys, do you want me to talk to Michael now or do you want to wait until after the break? Let me know.

All right, so we're going to go to a quick break here. When we come back, the head of the local monitoring mission, really the only set of fair and fresh eyes on the ground that we've had to date in this situation. We'll be right with him after the break. Stay with us.