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Obama Talks Ukraine, Russia Crisis, Crimea; Complicated Search for Flight 370 Debris Field

Aired March 26, 2014 - 13:30   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just look at the young people of Ukraine who are determined to take back their future taken from government, rotted by corruption, the portraits of the fallen shot by snipers, the visitors who pay their respects at the Maidan, the university student wrapped in the Ukrainian flag, expressing her hope that every country should live by the law, a postgraduate student speaking of her fellow protesters saying, "I want these people who are here to have dignity." Imagine that you are the young woman, who said, "There are some things that fear, police sticks and tear gas cannot destroy." We have never met these people. But we know them. Their voices echo calls for human dignity that rang out in European streets and squares for generations. Their voices echo those around the world who at this very moment fight for their dignity. These Ukrainians rejected a government that was stealing from the people instead of serving them and are reaching for the same ideals that allow us to be here today.

None of us can know for certain what the coming days will bring in Ukraine. But I am confident that eventually those voices, those voices for human dignity and opportunity and individual rights and rule of law, those voices ultimately will triumph. I believe that over the long haul, as nations that are free, as free people, the future is ours. I believe this, not because I'm naive, and I believe this not because of the strength of our arms or the size of our economies. I believe this because these ideals that we affirm are true. These ideals are universal. Yes, we believe in democracy, with election that is are free and fair. And independent judiciaries and opposition parties, civil society and uncensored information so that individuals can make their own choices.

Yes, we believe in open economies based on free markets and innovation and individual initiative and entrepreneurship and trade and investment that create a broader prosperity. And yes, we believe in human dignity, that every person is created equal, no matter who you are or what you look like or who you love or where you come from. That is what we believe. That's what makes us strong. And our enduring strength is also reflected in our respect for an international system that protects the rights of both nations and people, a United Nations and a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international law and the means to enforce those laws.

But we also know those rules are not self-executing. They depend on people and nations of goodwill continually affirming them. And that's why Russia's violation of international law, its assault on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be met with condemnation. Not because we're trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up.

Over the last several days, the United States, Europe, and our partners around the world have been united in defense of these ideals, and united in support of the Ukrainian people. Together, we have condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and rejected the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum. Together, we have isolated Russia politically, suspecting it from the G-8 nations, and downgrading our bilateral ties. Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions. And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we will ensure that this isolation deepens. Sanctions will expand, and the toll on Russia's economy, as well as its standing in the world will only increase.

Meanwhile, the United States and our allies will continue to support the government of Ukraine, as they chart a democratic course. Together, we are going to provide a significant package of assistance that can help stabilize the Ukrainian economy and meet the basic needs of the people.

Make no mistake, neither the United States nor Europe has any interest in controlling Ukraine. We have sent no troops there. What we want is for the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions, just like other free people around the world.

Understand as well, this is not another Cold War that we're entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no block of nations, no global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia. In fact, for more than 60 years, we have come together in NATO, not to claim other lands, but to keep nations free. What we will do, always, is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article 5 duty, to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies. And in that promise, we will never waiver. NATO nations never stand alone.

Today, NATO planes patrol the skies over the Baltics. And we reinforced our presence in Poland. And we're prepared to do more. Going forward, every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden by showing the political will to invest in defense and developing the capabilities to serve as a source of international peace and security.

Of course, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, in part, because of its close and complex history with Russia. Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force. But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognize that they cannot achieve a security, prosperity and the status they seek through brute force. And that's why throughout this crisis we will combine our substantial pressure on Russia with an open door for diplomacy. I believe that for both Ukraine and Russia, a stable peace will come through de-escalation, direct dialogue between Russia and the government of Ukraine and the international community, monitors who can ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, a process of constitutional reform within Ukraine, and free and fair elections this spring.

So far, Russia has resisted diplomatic overtures, annexing Crimea and amassing large forces along Ukraine's border. Russia's justified these actions as an effort to prevent problems on its own borders and to protect ethnic Russians inside Ukraine. Of course, there is no evidence, never has been, of systemic violence against ethnic Russians inside of Ukraine. Moreover, many countries around the world face similar questions about their borders and ethnic minorities abroad, about sovereignty and self-determination. These are tensions that have led in other places to debate and democratic referendums, conflicts and uneasy coexistence. These are difficult issues, and it is precisely because these questions are hard that they must be addressed through constitutional means and international laws so that majorities cannot simply suppress minorities, and big countries cannot simply bully the small.

In defending its actions, Russian leaders have further claimed Kosovo as a precedent. An example, they say of the West interfering in the affairs of a smaller country, just as they're doing now. But NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years. And Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized, not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo's neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.

Moreover, Russia has pointed to America's decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. It is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world, but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate. And I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people, in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.

Of course, neither the United States nor Europe are perfect in adherence to our ideas. Nor do we claim to be the soul arbiter of what is right or wrong in the world. We are human, after all. And we face difficult decisions about how to exercise our power. But part of what makes us different is that we welcome criticism, just as we welcome the responsibilities that come with global leadership. We look to the east and the south and see nations poised to play a growing role on the world stage, and we consider that a good thing. It reflects the same diversity that makes us stronger as a nation and the forces of integration and cooperation that Europe has advanced for decades. And in a world of challenges that are increasingly global, all of us have an interest in nations stepping forward to play their part, to bear their share of the burden, and to uphold international norms.

So our approach stands in stark contrast to the arguments coming out of Russia these days. It is absurd to suggest as a steady drumbeat of Russian voices do that America is somehow conspiring with fascists inside of Ukraine, or failing to respect the Russian people. My grandfather served in Patton's Army, just as many of your fathers and grandfathers fought against Fascism. We remember well the sacrifices made in World War II. And we have honored those sacrifices.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have worked with Russia under successive administrations to build ties of culture and commerce and international community. Not as a favor to Russia, but because it was in our national interests. And together, we have secured nuclear materials from terrorists. We welcomed Russia into the G-8 and the World Trade Organization. From the reduction of nuclear arms to the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons, we believe the world has benefited when Russia chooses to cooperate on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. So America and the world and Europe have an interest in a strong and responsible Russia, not a weak one. We want the Russian people to live in security, prosperity and dignity, like everyone else, proud of their own history.

But that does not mean that Russia can rough roughshod over its neighbors. Just because Russia has a deep history with Ukraine does not mean it should be able to dictate Ukraine's future. No amount of propaganda can make right something that the world knows is wrong. In the end, every society must chart its own course. America's path or Europe's path is not the only ways to reach freedom and justice.

But on the fundamental principle that is at stake here, the ability of nations and peoples to make their own choices, there can be no going back. It's not America that filled the Maidan with protesters. It was Ukrainians. No foreign forces compelled the citizens of Tunis and Tripoli to rise up. They it so on their own. They did so on their own. From the Burmese parliamentarian pursuing reform to the young leaders fighting corruption and intolerance in Africa, we see something irreducible that all of us share as human beings, a truth that will persevere in the face of violence and repression and will ultimately overcome.

For the young people here today, I know it may seem easy to see these events as removed from our lives, remote from our daily routines, constant from concerns closer to home.

I recognize that both in the United States and in much of Europe, there's more than enough to worry about in the affairs of our own countries. There will always be voices who say that what happens in the wider world is not our concern, nor our responsibility. But we must never forget that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. Our democracy, our individual opportunity, only exists because those who came before us had the wisdom and the courage to recognize that ideals will only endure if we see our self-interest in the success of other peoples and other nations.

Now is not the time for bluster. The situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers, nor a military solution. But at this moment, we must meet the challenge to our ideals, to our very international order with strength and conviction. And it is you, the young people of Europe, young people like Laura, who will help decide which way the currents of our history will flow. Do not think for a moment that your own freedom, your own prosperity, that your own moral imagination is bound by the limits of your community, your ethnicity, or even your country. You're bigger than that. You can help us to choose a better history. That's what Europe tells us. That's what the American experience is all about. I say this as the president of a country that looked to Europe for the values that are written into our founding documents and which spilled blood to ensure that those values could endure on these shores. I also say this as the son of a Kenyan, whose grandfather was a cook for the British, and as a person who once lived in Indonesian as it emerged from Colonialism. The ideals that unite us matter equally to the young people of Boston or Brussels or Jakarta or Nairobi or Crackaw or Kiev.

In the end, the success of our ideals comes down to us, including the example of our own lives, of our own societies. We know that there will always be intolerance, but instead of fearing the immigrant, we can welcome him. We can insist on policies that can benefit the many, not just the few. That an age of globalization and dizzying change opens the door of opportunity to the marginalized and not just a privileged few. Instead of targeting our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, we can use our laws to protect their rights. Instead of defining ourselves in opposition to others, we can affirm the aspirations that we hold in common. That's what will make America strong, that's what will make Europe strong, that's what makes us who we are.

And just as we meet our responsibilities as individuals, we must be prepared to meet them as nations. Because we live in a world in which our ideals are going to be challenged again and again by forces that would drag us back in the conflict or corruption. We can't count on others to rise to meet those tests. The policies of your government, the principles of your European Union will make a critical difference in whether or not the international order that so many generations before you have strived to create continues to move forward or whether it retreats.

And that's the question we all must answer. What kind of Europe, what kind of America, what kind of world will we leave behind? And I believe if we hold firm to our principles and are willing to back our beliefs with courage and resolve, then hope will ultimately overcome fear and freedom will continue to triumph over tyranny because that is what forever stirs in the human heart.

Thank you very much.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president delivering a speech before a group in Brussels, Belgium, on U.S./European relations but spending the bulk of the speech condemning Russia for what it has done in Crimea and Ukraine. The president saying, "Russia's violation of international law," in his words, "is an assault on integrity and must be met with condemnation." The president insisting though at the same time that the U.S. and Europeans and Russia are not on the eve of another Cold War. He says, "This is not another Cold War we are entering into, after all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no block of nations, no global ideology." The president warning, if Russia pursues in its actions in Ukraine, the U.S. and the Europeans will take further actions, presumably referring to tightening sanctions. A very strong speech from the president in Europe. He gets ready to fly to Rome. He'll meet with the pope at the Vatican tomorrow morning at the Vatican. Much more of our coverage coming up on the president's trip to Europe.

Also coming up, searching for flight 370 in an ocean with waves that can reach 30 feet and where weather can take a serious turn for the worse in an instant. How brutal conditions are affecting the search area. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: The search for a debris field or anything from flight 370 is complicated by the remote location, shifting ocean currents and stormy seas. This video from last month gives you some idea how rough conditions can be in that part of the Indian Ocean. You can see a boat struggling against the waves. These pictures are not connected, by the way, to the search, but you can imagine the impact a storm like this could have.

Ryan Abernathy, assistant professor from Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University in New York.

Ryan, you studied the region. Give us a quick sense of what the searchers are up against right now.

RYAN ABERNATHY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF EARTH & ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, we are heading into the southern hemisphere winter. They can expect huge swells, big storms and, moreover, they can expect really strong anti-Arctic polar current, that major current system in the region, to spread the debris around really fast.

BLITZER: So if the satellite image spotted 122 pieces of something on Sunday, and now it is Wednesday, flights went out earlier today, didn't see anything, how difficult is it to find the location, given the currents, given the mobility of what's going on over there?

ABERNATHY: Just the back of the envelope calculation says the debris can move 20 or 30 miles around per day. So just because they saw it in one location yesterday doesn't mean it is going to be there today. And you know, certainly, it is very turbulent, so it is a tough problem they're facing.

BLITZER: And there's a lot of junk out there to begin with, so these 122 images, that could be debris, wreckage from the plane or could be something else, right?

ABERNATHY: Absolutely. So far, the evidence seems to be consistent that this could very well be the plane debris.

BLITZER: Why do you say that?

ABERNATHY: Just it is consistent with the radar information they have, and your experts that I've seen on CNN, say that this wreckage is consistent with a plane crash.

BLITZER: But now it will require ships to find the wreckage, get some of it on board, and inspect it to see if, in fact, that's wreckage. What you're saying, with the currents, the weather will make it very difficult.

ABERNATHY: The hardest problem is going to be to kind of try and go backwards in time to figure out where the crash occurred. The debris has been drifting for 19 days. They have to find the black box, which is probably where the plane actually crashed. It could be hundreds of miles away.

BLITZER: It will be a difficult process.

Ryan Abernathy, we will continue the conversation with you. Thanks very much.

That's it for me. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, a two-hour edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.