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Crisis In Ukraine; Military Standoff in Streets of Ukraine; Vladimir Putin Gives Statement

Aired March 4, 2014 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, a tense military standoff in the streets of Ukraine capturing the attention of the world. Soldiers firing their guns overnight. Secretary of State John Kerry now hours away from arriving in Ukraine, this as the world pressures Russia to bring its troops home.

We're expecting a statement from Russian president, Vladimir Putin, any minute. We're bringing you live, team coverage as the situation intensifies this morning.

All right. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Those the first shots fired, I think, not fired at Ukrainian soldiers, but fired in warning. I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

Let's get to that breaking news now from Ukraine this morning, where we're seeing dramatic pictures of a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces. The Russians firing in the air as Ukrainian troops approached. Apparently, these troops, these Ukrainian troops, were asking to negotiate. That as Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has ordered troops along the border to head back to their bases.

Military exercises complete. He's expected any moment now to speak. At the White House, President Obama and his cabinet met late into the night to plan their next steps. The U.S. has now begun cutting ties with Russia and preparing sanctions to level on some top Russian officials. The secretary of state, John Kerry, is expected to land in Ukraine shortly to step up efforts at diplomacy. We have Diana Magnay in Crimea now with the very latest. Diana, bring us up to speed.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. Well, I'm in a military base just outside the capital Simferopol. I'll step aside. It's pretty common now. You know, we've seen the Russian troops that you can see behind me, actually had conversation with their Ukrainian counterparts. Around all these bases, the Russians asking the Ukrainians to surrender their allegiance to Kiev and to swear an oath of loyalty to the Crimean premier.

Although, we've heard reports in the Russian press that they've done that. The Ukrainian military of defense says this is just a Russian ploy. No one has signed their allegiance to Crimea. This just isn't true. You can see some troops moving around there. There are about 100 Russian soldiers here, we think. You can see that, pretty well dug in. But we've seen fuel going from the Ukrainian base to the Russian field camp here, which gives you a sense of the good relations, presumably to fuel their generators.

So, things are quite relaxed here. At that military base which we're talking to, as you said, shots were fired into the air. The Russians are in control of that base. The Ukrainians are trying to get it back, but so far, things are non-confrontational, not violent for now, but it really would take just one false move and things could go very badly wrong, Christine.

ROMANS: Diana, so much in Crimea right now. Let's listen to Vladimir Putin. He is going to take to the cameras and going to answer some questions. I'm not sure exactly who's speaking right now, but let's listen in and see if Vladimir Putin is going to take questions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): To go back to the agreement of 21st of February. The Russia has promised financial help to Crimea. Yesterday was in order, do know much from which sources and which conditions the situation is quite difficult there. One second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When and on what conditions and how much? Can military force be applied in Ukraine or how does it respond to international agreements with Russia? And to the recent exercise, does it have any relation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Are there still any provocations or any danger for the Russian population in Crimea? And is the dynamic positive or negative, because there are different reports? In case you decide to bring troops, have you calculated potential risks, like economic sanctions and global danger and problems and use of programs and the global isolation of Russia?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yesterday, Russian markets were falling after the -- and the ruble has fallen to the historic minimum. Did you expect such reaction, and what consequences do you expect and what measures should be taken? Do you think that the decision of central bank to free ruble course was a bit preemptive, a bit early?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I'll try to answer. Don't interrupt me, please. Firstly, the evaluation of what has happened in Kiev and in Ukraine as a whole. The evaluation can be just one. It isn't anti-constitution, no coup and military seizure of power. Nobody argues this. Who argues this? For me, the question is, which I cannot answer and my colleagues either who I have been discussing the problem of Ukraine over the phone.

The question is as follows, why has this been done? Please pay your attention President Yanukovych together with three foreign ministers of Poland, Germany, and France, in the presence of my representative, Ombudsman Lukin of Russia spoke. They signed between the opposition and the authorities on the 21st this very agreement, according to which, whether it is good or bad, Yanukovych has already given up his power.

He agreed to everything the opposition has been wanting, for the early parliamentary elections, early presidential election, to go back to the constitution of 2004. He agreed to request of us and west not to apply force. He did not give any criminal order to shoot in the poor demonstrators. Moreover, he made an order to withdraw all police forces from the capital, and they fulfilled his order.

He went to Farkev. As soon as he went to Farkev (ph), instead of freeing the administrative buildings, they immediately seized his presidential residence and the government building, instead of following the agreement. I want to understand why this was done. He had already given up all his power, and I told him before that he did not have any chance to be re-elected, and all my colleagues that spoke to him agreed to this.

Why did they need to these unconstitutional actions and bring the country into the chaos it is in now? Military men are walking around Kiev in masks still now. They wanted to humiliate someone or show their force. I think this is very stupid. And the result, I think, was opposite to what they expected, because these actions, they destabilized east and south of the country.

As for the reason why the situation has arose, this was a revolutionary situation, which started from long ago since the independence of Ukraine, and a simple Ukrainian man was suffering always under Nikolai II and Kuchma and Yushchenko and Yanukovych. Nothing has changed for the better or corruption has reached the levels you haven't even dreamed of here in Russia, and such similar problems exist in our country as well.

But in Ukraine, it is even squared or even cubed. And of course, people wanted changes, but you can't instigate unlawful changed on the post-soviet territory where these political structures are still weak under the economy still weak. You have to act exclusively by constitutional. The mistake would always to go to outside constitutional field. I understand that people in my done (ph), although I don't agree to the fact of the change of power in this way.

I still understand the people in Maidan who still demand not just a repair the facade of the power but cardinal changes. Why, then, are they demanding? Because they're used to one thieves being changed for other thieves, and people in the regions don't even participate in the forming of regional authorities. We had the process of appointing regional leaders, approving by the parliament, but there, it's very different.

In eastern region, they started to appoint oligarchs as local governors, and of course, people don't agree with this. They think that these people have become rich unlawfully during unlawful (INAUDIBLE), and now, they even have power. (INAUDIBLE) the oligarch has even cheated our oligarch, Abramovich, some time ago. they have signed some contract. Abramovich transferred several billion dollars, and he pocketed this money and not fulfilled the agreement.

And when I asked him how he managed to do it, he said, "I have no idea how it was possible." I don't know how he managed to do it or whether this deal was eventually done, but this is a real situation from three years ago, and this man has become a governor. Of course, people are unhappy. They were unhappy, and they will still be unhappy if these people who call themselves legal power are going to work like this.

And main thing, people have to be given the right to decide their fate and to their region's fate, and to have even rights in participating in the future of their country as to whether this current authorities are legitimate, the parliament, partly yes, but the rest of them are not. The executive -- the acting president, of course, is not legitimate. The legitimate president is only Yanukovych.

There are just three ways to dismiss the president from power -- death, his personal request, and the third one, impeachment. Impeachment is a constitutional norm, which in constitutional court and other courts have to participate. This procedure wasn't followed. So, from the legal point of view, this is why today's authorities have decided to dismiss constitutional court, which is outside the laws of both Ukraine and Europe.

They not just dismissed the court, but also, they gave the order to the general prosecutor's office to start criminal proceedings against the constitutional court judges. How can you give such order? If there is some crime, the law enforcement orders have known to do themselves, but you can't give such orders. Now, the financial assistance to Crimea. We have decided to organize the work of the Russian federation.

The regions in order to provide humanitarian assistance to Crimea, I can't say how much and which sources, because regions bordering with the Crimea are working on this. About the use of military, there is no need for this so far, but there is such a possibility. Our military exercise recently were not related to the events in Ukraine in any way. They were planned before.

But of course, not announced, because it was -- and to the ministry of defense reported to me long ago about this directive to start this exercise. It has been finished, and yesterday, I gave the order to return all the military command to the home stations. What can cause the use of military force? Of course, it is extraordinary. Firstly, it is legitimacy. Firstly, we have a request of the legitimate President Yanukovych to protect the welfare of the local population.

We have neo-Nazis and Nazis and an anti-Semites in some part of Ukraine, including Kiev. You have probably seen that one of the acting governors was chained in a square to some building in winter. Water was poured on him, then he was put in a cellar and tortured. What is this? Is it democracy? Is this to show democracy?

By the way, he was appointed quite recently in December. Even if you think that all the people in the power are corrupt, he hasn't even the time to steal anything. When they seized the party of regions building, only two or three technical workers came out and said to the attackers, he said, "Guys, please let us out. I'm the engineer. I have nothing to do with the party of regions," he was shot straight away. The other one was put in the cellar and burned alive by Molotov cocktails. So, when we see this, we understand what the citizens of -- Russian-speaking citizens of east and south of Ukraine are worried about. They're worried about this unlawfulness. If we see this unlawfulness starting in the east, and if they request us for help, we leave the right for ourselves to take all measures to protect the rights of these people and we consider it quite legitimate.

This is a final measure to be considered that Ukraine is not our closest neighbor, but our brotherly republican neighbor and our military are friends. A lot of them know each other personally, and I'm sure that Ukrainian troops and Russian Troops, they're not going to be on different sides of the barricades, but on one side of the barricades. And this unity is taking place in Crimea at the moment.

Thank God there hasn't been a single shot and a single victim, so far, apart from one, someone casualty that happened one week ago. People came to the military bases and convinced them that they had to subordinate to the will of the civilians who live there. There hasn't been a single shot. Therefore, the situation in the Crimea connected to the military force was exhausted.

The only thing was needed, we have fortified our troops because we saw that members of nationalist organizations were already approaching, and we -


BERMAN: All right. You've been watching Russian president, Vladimir Putin, answering a series of questions, really all at once there in Moscow. A strange image, the Russian president sitting slouched in a chair there but delivering really a forceful opinion and analysis of what he believes to be going on in Ukraine and also in Crimea, and it is at stark odds, I think, with what the rest of the world currently believes.

He called what happened in Kiev, the demonstrations there, an anti- constitutional coup. He said that Vicktor Yanukovych, the now-deposed ex-leader of Ukraine, is the only legitimate president of Ukraine. He does not believe that the current government there is legitimate.

ROMANS: That's right. And he thinks that the Russian authorities and the Russian military has every right to protect the Russian-speaking citizens of eastern part and southern part of Ukraine, and he, again, talked about how Yanukovych is the only legitimate leader of that country. He said there are some members of parliament who are legitimate and there are some who are not, and that is simply the fact that he is -- that he really believes Yanukovych is the only leader of the country.

BERMAN: He says they are getting requests, the Russians are, from people inside Ukraine, for protection against what he calls neo-Nazis and anti-semites that are now running rampant in Ukraine. Again, our reporters right on the ground in Ukraine say there is no evidence of that. There is no evidence they've seen that any Russian citizens or Russian speakers need protection in that country. ROMANS: Diana Magnay has been telling us how it seemed rather calm in Crimea where you have Russian troops and Ukrainian troops literally right next to each other and Vladimir Putin saying, our military and their military on the same sides of the barricades. They are friends. They know each other and remarking that no one had been hurt by any shots fired, so far.

BERMAN: Do we have Phil Black in Moscow? All right. Let's go to Phil Black in Moscow. Phil, let's get your interpretation to this. You've been listening to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as well. What's your take?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think his justification is kind of what we expected to hear, I think, because it is to some extent what we have been hearing from other Russian officials. He talked about the need to go into Crimea because nationalist forces were approaching. They acted just in time. And what he said there just a few moments ago, and I think this is key, is that he hopes they don't have to do this in the east of the country as well.

Certainly, not ruling out the possibility that Russian forces could move into the east. And indeed, a few moments ago, that was the point that he made. If they recede, requests from help in the east of the country, if people there feel that they are under threat from these nationalist forces that he keeps referring to, then Russia believes it is legal, appropriate, and right to go to the help of these people and do, in his words, use, take whatever necessary measures are indeed necessary.

And really, he tied this all back to the change of government in Kiev, and he said that is what has caused all of this, made it very clear that he believes that change of government is illegal, unconstitutional. He referred to it as a coup. He said the events that have taken place there, they have caused the instability, the uncertainty, the fear that now exists in the south and the east of the country, and that is why Russia has taken this action -- John.

BERMAN: What is now being called the Putin doctrine, the Russian president reserving the right to go into other countries, to sovereign nations, to protect Russian-speaking people, ethnic Russians, people asking for his support and making clear, as you said, Phil, that he reserves the right to do it again.

ROMANS: And Russian financial interests, let's not forget that a great deal of Russian energy runs right through Ukraine on its way to markets in the west. It's interesting, Phil, because as well you've got markets not really moving. You've got a little bit of a recovery in the Russian stock market. They think that Putin is ratcheting down tensions.

BLACK: Yes, little bit of a recovery here. The Russian market took a big hit yesterday. But the ruble tumbled further. It's been tumbling through the year already, hit historic lows. The market lost more than 10 percent. Both have come back a little, but not enough to wipe out or to recover from those losses, I should say. Interesting what you say there about the Putin doctrine, the issue of sovereignty.

He does reserve the right to cross a border into a sovereign state and do it here, but you have to note that when it comes to other issues, Syria in particular, sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty, that is what we've heard repeatedly from Vladimir Putin. No one has the right to violate a country's border. In this case, he believes there is an exception.

BERMAN: And if you thought that Russian president, Vladimir Putin, would be backing off this morning in these statements, that did not happen at all. We will be watching them very closely to hear what else he says. We'll be right back just after this break.