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The Most Dangerous Place for Children; Ukrainian Interim PM in Washington; Russian Influence in China; Imagine a World

Aired March 12, 2014 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Ukraine's prime minister is at the White House today, desperately seeking help from President Obama to stop Crimea being gobbled up by Russia.

Polling stations are being set up as the province defiantly proceeds with a referendum on joining Russia this Sunday. The West calls this referendum illegal while though bracing for a vote to go Moscow's way.

The G7 called on Russia today to stop trying to annex Crimea or else face more sanctions, warned the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and it's been announced that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov are to meet again this time here in London on Friday to give diplomacy one more go.

But first we turn to Syria and the children there with no childhood. This week marks the third anniversary of the Syrian war and UNICEF says that it's become the most dangerous place in the world for children. At least 10,000 children have been killed, and that's of the 140,000 victims that we know of so far.

Physical wounds, psychological trauma, starvation and polio roaring back again, that is life for children in this hell. More than 3 million Syrian children have been displaced.

Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad tweeted this picture of himself visiting those on the government side. He told them that he was listening to their needs.

But Anthony Lake knows those needs more than most. He's in Homs, where I reached him earlier, as executive director of UNICEF and as a former U.S. national security adviser, Lake has seen a lot, but nothing, he says, as dire as what he's witnessing right now.


AMANPOUR: Tony Lake, thank you so much for joining me from Homs. After three years of this brutal, terrible war, what is it like for children there? What are you finding?

ANTHONY LAKE, DIRECTOR, UNICEF: Well, the children, of course, are always the first to suffer and those who have the least influence over the course of events. Some of them don't have politics. So we're tremendously concerned about it. Over 5.5 million children are affected by this conflict now, and that's twice as many as last year.

So the wounds are getting wider and wider all the time and we're trying to build all the bandages we can. But it's very, very hard.

AMANPOUR: So how are you being able to take care of 5.5 million children? Your report this week says that Syria is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child today. What are the specific dangers obviously apart from the danger of being killed?

What are the other dangers?

LAKE: Well, the danger is to their -- not only to them in the present, but the danger is to their futures.

These are children who are now lacking education; almost 3 million are out of school. So many of them have been traumatized by seeing things that no child should ever see, that we worry a lot that when they grow up and are the next generation, they're going to lack the skills to rebuild Syria because of the lack of education.

That's what's in their minds and in their hearts, we have to ask whether they're going to have reconciliation in their hearts because of what they've seen and I hear that they're going to grow up with more vengeance (ph) than reconciliation.

AMANPOUR: And it's a terrible picture that you paint now. And polio is resurgent and I hear from Save the Children, a sister agency, of course, that you know, the hospitals are in collapse; the health care's in collapse, that children are having limbs amputated because they can't fix them up, that there are no bandages.

They're using old clothes as bandages and even there's no anesthetics and some people are opting, according to this report, to be knocked unconscious by metal bars before going into the operating room.

LAKE: It -- I'm afraid that's true. And I just now met with a few families who got out of the Old City here in Homs, an evacuation that was covered on many television sets a few weeks ago. And I talked to the two families, extended families, at some length about their experiences and the experiences of their children.

It was horrific. They were -- they've seen snipers. They had to get -- move around when they could move around in tunnels. They were sending their kids out to go and look in abandoned houses to find little bottles of olives, rotten bread, other things that they could eat. They were eating stray cats.

And now they have emerged some of them, although there are still probably around 2,500 or so still left in the Old City. And while I was interviewing these families, I could hear the artillery going as they probably hit the Old City again.

And now they're out and they don't have jobs; they don't have the papers they need, birth registrations, marriage certificates, etc. So we are all, the U.N. and UNICEF, are doing all we can to support them.

But this is just one sampling of over 250,000 people who are still in areas that are besieged, both by the government and by the opposition. It's getting worse, not better. On Saturday we will reach a very grim benchmark of three years of this war. And as I said, we are doing everything we can but pray God somehow the world can put a stop to it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they can, Mr. Lake?

LAKE: I think they must. They can and they must. Whether they will, will be up to the political will in all the capitals to remember that this is not simply an abstract diplomatic issue. This is an issue of human lives and the futures of all of these children and of Syria itself and the region, because if these children don't grow up to repair these wounds, then who is going to?

If I could just make one last point, as I talk to these families, what struck me over and over again is that while I felt pity for them and all they had gone through, even more I felt tremendous admiration for their courage and strength in having survived this and I think what they need now is support, not simply pity.

AMANPOUR: If I could just ask you to put on your former national security hat, you know, it's all our governments that are failing these children in Syria ,but how will this end if they keep standing back?

LAKE: It can only end if the governments and the people that they are accountable to and nations around the world say enough and demand that they put aside their political agendas, all of because the governance on all sides feel them strongly. And I understand that.

And this remembers what is at stake here, which are not the statistics of suffering, they're not statistics, these are human beings and these are children and this is the governments should remember a strategic issue as I said, because if these children grow up as a generation that does not have adequate education and does not have the kind of counseling that they need now to overcome the traumas that they have endured, then in the next generation, we're going to see a replication of the same violence and the same problems that will affect both the region and the world.

So this is a question not only of humanitarian obligation; it's also a strategic self-interest for all of these governments. And they need to step back and understand it.

AMANPOUR: Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, thank you for joining me from Homs in Syria.

LAKE: Thanks so much.


AMANPOUR: Now Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, has been posting Instagrams throughout the war, portraying himself as a hard-working leader with a heart. This Instagram was posted back in January. It shows Assad three years before the conflict began, helping to vaccinate a Syrian child against polio.

And as we just mentioned, polio is making a comeback amongst these victims of the war there.

The truth, of course, on the ground looks more like this, a child burning his chair for warmth. Health care and compassion have collapsed.

Coming up next, we mentioned that Ukraine's prime minister is at the White House today and we'll take you to Washington for the latest on efforts to end the crisis over Crimea. That's after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and now to Ukraine. Just moment ago, the interim prime minister arrived at the White House in Washington, and our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, joins me live now to tell me and to tell us what do you think can be pulled out of a hat in terms of last-minute diplomacy, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to have to work their magic over here at the White House, Christiane, as you know that referendum in Crimea is coming up on Sunday and the White House is trying to pull out all the tricks that it can to prevent the outcome that it really sees coming, and that is that Crimea will hold this referendum, that we will vote to join Russia.

But I had a chance to ask White House press secretary Jay Carney at the briefing this afternoon, what would happen.

And there's some -- been some speculation about this. If Russia were to say, OK, Crimea, you've had a referendum. But we're not going to annex you and that is something that people are talking about here in Washington.

It is something that has come up as a -- as a subject of discussion. Jay Carney basically saying at this point the only thing that he would say is that they are looking at the Russian reaction to that referendum as being a key question in all of this, and that they're hoping the Russians take the right path.

All of this is happening. As you know, the prime minister's visit, Yatsenyuk, just arrived here at the White House just in the last several minutes. They'd been meeting with the president in the Oval Office.

We expect the president and Yatsenyuk to make some comments and perhaps see the interim prime minister come out to the microphones outside the West Wing. But elsewhere, as you know, Christiane, the secretary of state is heading to London.

And that is an interesting development; he's meeting with the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. And this is happening after the State Department said earlier this week that this meeting would not be taking place unless the U.S. saw, quote, "concrete steps," unquote, that Russia is taking a diplomatic path forward here, that they're seriously engaging.

So perhaps they're starting to see that here as we're getting closer, maybe as it's getting close to crunch time, we're seeing all sides sort of starting to put their cards on the table.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me first take that last diplomatic headway that you just told me about that, sort of breakthrough in terms of a meeting.

As you -- as you know, there was a lot of anxiety and sort of trouble over Putin and Lavrov leaking and televising this whole notion that Kerry wasn't playing straight with them. That went on Russian television, and a huge amount of, you know, pro-Crimea, you know, propaganda has been fed by Russian television on all this thing.

But do you -- are they telling you that there might be some diplomatic openings? I ask because yesterday I spoke to the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who felt that there might be some way to allow more autonomy, a sort of a maybe a slightly different relationship in Crimea that might go some way to assuaging Russia's, you know, the fix it finds itself in right now.

ACOSTA: That's right. And I asked Jay Carney about that at the briefing, because it seems like, at this point, Christiane, that Vladimir Putin needs some sort of face-saving move here to get out of this crisis. And the White House seems to recognize that, is trying to find that path without giving up too much on their end.

And I think you're right, that televised performance between President Putin and Sergey Lavrov did -- was not received well over here at the White House.

But yet Secretary of State Kerry is heading over to London. And while they're not saying yes, we see a diplomatic breakthrough here they're not saying that they don't see one, if that makes any sense, Christiane. And we have been pressuring them on that.

So I think that that is an indication. And we're going to wait to see what the president says; we'll be getting his comments here in just a few moments, as to whether or not there are any diplomatic signals here.

Because what the White House has indicated all week long is that if Crimea goes forward with this referendum, the G7, the G8 nations minus Russia, will view this as being illegitimate. They will view Russia as trying to annex Crimea. And we are heading toward sanctions city.

And this is the last exit basically before sanctions city and of course it all depends on whether or not the Europeans join the U.S. But the White House has given every indication that if this happens, that the president is going to use his authority that he signed last week to go ahead and start issuing sanctions and getting that ball rolling -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, as we've been talking about and as you've been reporting as well, obviously the key European leader is the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has a personal relationship with Putin, and of course Germany has such a huge stake in politics and the economy with Russia. And she today said that if they try to annex Crimea, there will be more sanctions.

But really the question I guess: is there any sense that there would be any other move other than that from the White House, from the world leaders, if Crimea's annexation become a fait accompli, what really can the world do about it?

ACOSTA: Well, it sounds like that the White House is seriously looking at the possibility of kicking -- and of course they'd have to do this along with the other G7 nations -- kicking the -- kicking Russia out of the G8 and that was raised as a question at the briefing today; Jay Carney did not rule it out as a possible outcome in all of this.

So not only would there not be a G8 in Sochi, Russia -- keep in mind Vladimir Putin wanted to have that G8 in Sochi as another way to put Sochi to use after these Olympics and Paralympics have wrapped up.

They feel like Vladimir Putin, while he does sort of pine for the old days of the Soviet empire, the Soviet days that he was very much a part of when he was a member of the KGB, that he also likes to strut his stuff on the world stage, that he wants to be an international player, that he wants to cut trade deals with the United States and he wants to have economic ties to the West.

And what the White House is saying is that Vladimir Putin is putting all of that in jeopardy if he moves forward with annexing Crimea.

So you know, a lot of people are saying, well, you know, the U.S. doesn't have a whole lot of moves here. But what the White House is thinking at this point is that -- is, Christiane, is that they believe Vladimir Putin has a lot to lose here. And I think maybe people are underestimating that.

AMANPOUR: So let me just ask you finally, obviously the U.S. and Europe support the new interim authorities in Kiev. They've shown that in every which way. But clearly, as Madeleine Albright told me, there's going to have to be some tough love -- her words -- to the Ukrainian authorities.

You know, President Obama, what do you think he's going to be telling Yatsenyuk in terms of, you know, future Ukrainian actions? They're looking right at the U.S. for a lot of advice now in terms of democracy building, in terms of, you know, battling corruption, which they also have been engaged in.

ACOSTA: Well, you know, it is interesting; the president is trying to get financial support to the Ukrainians. That is something that I imagine he'll be talking about when he sits down and when we see that play out of that meeting with Yatsenyuk. And he's also trying to move lawmakers up on Capitol Hill to provide even more assistance. That might be -- that might be difficult.

But in terms of what the message is from this White House to the Ukrainians, in terms of where they stand after all of this, I mean, the White House is also saying, Christiane -- and this is part of the diplomatic signaling over to Russia -- that they understand Ukraine is a -- is in Russia's interest, that Russia has interests in Ukraine.

That is not to say that the White House believes that Ukraine is part of Russia's sphere of influence. They've rejected that kind of talk.

But they are starting to say that while, yes, you know, you know, Ukraine would be welcome toward the West, that that is something that the Europeans have been trying to do mightily, but at the same time, long-term, what the White House has been signaling is that Ukraine, you know, is still very much tied to Russia in many ways.

And I suspect, you know, we're going to hear that as part of any diplomatic dialogue to get the United States, to get the West, to get Russia out of this.

AMANPOUR: Jim Acosta, thank you very much for that perspective from the White House.

And of course we'll be looking very carefully at the joint statement by President Obama and the interim Ukrainian prime minister when it happens.

And now we're going to get the view from Crimea and our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, joins me live from Simferopol.

Nick, what does it look like from your perspective there?

How tense is the situation?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen to what Jim was saying, and I think it's really from here; it doesn't look like Vladimir Putin really wants an off-ramp at all. They are moving full speed ahead towards this referendum on Sunday. The pro-Ukrainian voice here is pretty silent.

And even on the ballot paper itself, as far as we understand it, from seeing the text, there isn't really much of an option to remain part of Ukraine.

The two choices in front of the vote is do you want to become part of the Russian Federation or do you want to go back to the 1992 constitution, under which Crimea had a kind of arrangement with Ukraine which many constitutional experts argue actually meant it was an independent state anyway.

So we're hearing from the parliament here to -- that they would see this vote as an authorization to move full speed ahead towards joining Russia. And I don't think anybody really expects to see anything on Sunday apart from a very quick move to bolster that.

The question really being, though, is that the moment where Putin chooses to be the international statesman or the big reconciler of karma, and say actually, no; we're going to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and allow a sort of state of autonomy to continue here? Perhaps with this strange Russian military presence still looming in the background here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Yes, exactly. And that is what Madeleine Albright was telling me yesterday. It's what you just heard from Jim. There seems to be a huge amount of hope being put into those five days between the referendum and when the Duma in Russia takes up the issue. Obviously the people in Crimea -- I mean, I hate to say this, but maybe they're just pawns in this big game.

But is there anybody there who thinks that perhaps there might eventually be a diplomatic solution, whereby, as you just laid out, there will be a referendum? They'll want to join Russia? But then Russia will say no?

WALSH: Well, the remarkable thing we're seeing here in diplomacy is a series of statements from Russian officials saying, well, you really ought to play ball with our idea of diplomatic solution or else.

And we know what the else is at the moment. Now it is very possible that Kerry is meeting Lavrov to explain what that else might possibly be, what the sanctions may look like, maybe a last-minute attempt to try and get something together.

Or it may simply be them finally meeting to reiterate to each other their positions, haven't really changed. That's been the ongoing problem for the past week, the Americans saying they haven't seen the Russians ameliorate their position at all. They still really want to see Crimea an exit bull (ph) here in terms of the view from D.C.

A potential last-minute diplomatic solution? It could be possible. Many were wondering why Putin was so vehemently pursuing his own path here.

We saw in that press conference a man who was most irritable when it seemed like people weren't quite understanding his position, but also quite angry, too, when he described how the United States always pursues its foreign policy interests with very little compromise or discussion and perhaps suggesting Russia should be allowed to do the same thing here as well.

So, yes, we could possibly see Putin take the stage and say, all right, let's calm this all down. I'm pretty sure he's feeling his own elite to all from bankrolling him, assisting his grip on power for the past decade, plus they may be concerned at the idea of their assets being frozen, about visa issues. You know, the Russian economy, it's not in a great state.

It has been for the past decade; now it's feeling significant issues. If you add to that the $60 billion that some say fell off the stock exchange and the economy took the hit on the first day trading happened after the moves in Crimea here, there could be a lot of very worried rich Russians, too.

And, Christiane, the broader issue, too, it's the whole point of Vladimir Putin, I think, to many Russians. He brought stability. He let the economy flourish. He allowed there to be a middle class in Russia. People could finally get mortgages for the first time and get a microfinance for buying a car. That wasn't around in the decade before. That's the gift I think he gave to the Russian people.

And removing the respectability on the world stage that this Crimean crisis has done and perhaps jeopardizing that economic growth and stability, that's a huge problem for many Russians, too.

There are opinion polls suggesting that they don't want to see him continue in power after the end of this next term in 20 end (ph), a substantial majority there.

So there must be eventually, I think, breaking through the very tight clique of advisers who are clearly saying yes to Vladimir Putin and not perhaps some oxygen of the reality of what's really happening perhaps on the international stage with Russia's reputation. And we have to perhaps see if that's going to affect things before the referendum.

My personal feeling is it's not -- this is a peninsula that's going in one direction very fast. It's quite clear, owing to the security measures we're seeing here and the kind of people on the streets and the presence of Russian troops we saw today as well, quite how Crimea's moving towards Russia very quickly indeed. And we're not hearing much pro-Ukrainian sentiment at all, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: All right, Nick. Thank you very much for that from Crimea.

And we're going to wait to see what happens on Sunday.

In just a moment, we're going back to Syria, though. The former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who I mentioned, has also joined the call to finally step up efforts to end the war in Syria.

Here's what she told me yesterday on this program.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECY. OF STATE: Some of the former foreign ministers are supporting a hashtag -- #withsyria. And I hope that there will be an outcry of people who understand that what is happening to the Syrian people is untenable and this will be the last anniversary of the humanitarian horror show.


AMANPOUR: And in just a moment, we'll bring you a moving portrait of what's happening there as seen in the empty streets and playgrounds of a lost generation, a humanitarian horror show indeed.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we've seen the unforgettable faces of Syria's suffering and abandoned children, a lost generation truly.

The street artist, Banksy, has released this poignant image, marking this grim anniversary in Syria. Remember that it was kids spraying anti- government graffiti in Daraa that lit the fuse for this war three years ago, children scarred forever, another haunting face of Syria, though, imagine a world where the streets are virtually deserted and children never play.

These are the shattered streets of cities like Homs and Aleppo after three years of shelling and slaughter. We leave you now as we close this program to wander through these streets set to the music of Gustav Mahler's elegiac "Songs on the Death of Children."

Goodbye from London.