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Arrests in Ukraine Crackdown; McCain Attacks Over Foreign Policy; Kerry Defends Foreign Policy Moves; Russia Warns Ukraine About Civil War; No New Pings for Flight 370; Equal Pay Laws; Interview with Sen. John Hoeven

Aired April 8, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the war of words other Ukraine is heating up dramatically. Secretary of State, John Kerry, lashing out against Russia's, quote, "illegal illegitimate actions." And Russia is showing a harsh warning of its own saying any use of force could lead to civil war.

Also right now, Tuesday's black box search comes up empty, at least so far. No more pings detected. As we approach 33 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing.

And right now, President Obama signs two measures to help ensure equal pay for equal work. Critics say it's all part of a Democratic Party push to win the women's vote in November. The White House says, it's all about fairness.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. Russia is now warning that Ukraine could be on the brink of civil war. That warning comes as Ukrainian troops began cracking down on pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine. As many as 70 people were arrested in an anti-terrorism operation. Demonstrators had taken control of several government buildings.

During a Senate hearing just a little while ago, secretary of state John Kerry put the blame squarely on Russia.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: No one should be fooled, and believe me, no one is fooled, by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian Special Forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours. Some have even been arrested and exposed. And equally as clear must be the reality that the United States and our allies will not hesitate to use 21st century tools to hold Russia accountable for 19th century behavior.


BLITZER: We're going to hear more from Secretary Kerry in just a moment, including a very testy exchange he had with Senator John McCain over foreign policy.

But first, let's get to the crackdown on pro-Russian demonstrators. Our own Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from inside eastern Ukraine in Donetsk. Nick, the demonstrators took control of one government building there. What is the very latest on the ground?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the real fear, of course, is, Wolf, while all this drama plays out on the eastern border, we still have thousands -- 10s of thousands of Russian troops ready, say NATO potentially to make a move.

In Luhansk, we have worrying reports from Ukrainian security sources that potentially as many as 60 people are being held by pro-Russian protesters who they say are armed and have explosives. But here, in Donetsk, a city which seems to be carrying on normally, there is still a troublingly isolated patch, almost kind of anarchy, where pro- Russian activists have taken over the local administration.



WALSH (voice-over): It's small, scruffy, but noisy. This tiny space is the self-declared people's Republican of Donetsk, where days ago, it was just a local government building. It's a bit like the pro- Europe protests of Maidan Square in Kiev. The clumsy barricades, Molotov cocktail, tires ready to burn, and the lack a leader or concrete plan, fed by local donations.

But there's one huge difference. These people want to join Russia and Russia, even its army, to help them do it. This man says he's from the eastern front, a new local group.

EDUARD AKOPOV (translated by WALSH): We're about 6,000 people, he says. Men ready to protect the fatherland. But women, too. Even the elderly.

(on camera): They say they've let us in because they want to show that they're here entirely peacefully. But there are clear preparations ready here. They're worried about an assault by Ukrainian forces, particularly from the roof. And they've barricaded the stair wells.

(voice-over): The power went out last night. Many, like these nurses, fearing Special Forces were coming. But they didn't. And their numbers and readiness grow. Fears of poverty fuels this, that the rivalry between Kiev and Moscow will cost them their jobs. Rising price, wages worth less by the day. Some, like Tatyana Ganina, hanker for the Soviet past.

TATYANA GANINA (translated by WALSH): My father was a retired KGB colonel, she says. And his genes must be passed on to me. This is why I'm here. And we're going to stand until the end.

WALSH (voice-over): The top floor here was the new office of a Ukrainian billionaire appointed governor by Kiev to fix the economy and to be rich beyond corruption. This man says Moscow isn't behind this, it's mostly local complaints. SERGEI TARUTA, GOVERNOR, DONETSK(translated by WALSH): Sergei Taruta, elsewhere for now, says Moscow isn't behind this, it's mostly local complaints.

We've had a lot of negotiations with them, he says. There are no people so committed here who would be prepared to sacrifice their lives. This rhetoric borders on bravado, he says, adding, the Russian forces on the border are aimed at imposing psychological pressure.

WALSH (voice-over): This tiny pocket of grievances and whims sat at the heart of a massive struggle for Europe's east and so powerful far beyond its size.


(live): Now, Wolf, what you saw there, of course, looks in many ways local, almost parochial small in size. The real issue, of course, is how it feeds into the broader question. These 10s of thousands of Russian troops. No doubt, really, these protests across eastern Ukrainian cities happen in a coordinated fashion. They seem to calm and then flare again. The real fear behind Russian rhetoric asking for constitutional reform, perhaps federalization of Ukraine. There normally is sentence injected there suggesting that it doesn't happen. There could be further violence ahead. And, of course, those in Washington point to those 10s of thousands of troops as perhaps the harbinger of worst times ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tense situation indeed. Our Nick Paton Walsh in eastern Ukraine for us. Thank you.

Just a few moments ago, we heard the secretary of state talking about Ukraine. His remarks came during a Senate foreign relations committee hearing. Ukraine wasn't the only issue on the agenda. Listen to this, a very spirited exchange between John McCain and John Kerry on Ukraine, Syria, Iran and Middle East peace.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The Israeli-Palestinian talks are -- even though you may drag them out for a while, are finished. And I predict to you, even though we gave the Iranians the right to enrich, which is unbelievable, those talks will collapse too. You can talk about Mali, and you can talk about other places in the world. But on the major issues, this administration is failing very badly.

On the issue of Ukraine. My hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say, talk softly but carry a big stick. What you're doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick. In fact, a twig.

So, here we are with Ukraine being destabilized. Part of it dismembered. And we won't give them defensive weapons. I take strong exception to Mr. Murphy's statement, we don't want to provoke. We don't want to provoke Vladimir Putin by giving these people the ability to defend themselves after their country has been dismembered and there is provocations going on? We don't -- that's -- that, I say to you, sir, is the logic of appeasement. The logic of appeasement. I want to know, and I think the American people should know, and maybe most importantly, the people of Ukraine should know, why won't we give them some defensive weapons when they're facing the -- and another invasion, not the first, but another invasion of their country? It is just beyond logic.

And, frankly, when we don't give people assistance to defend themselves, then it just -- as the Syria decision, it reverberates throughout the entire world. I'd like to know why it is not at least under serious consideration to give them some defensive weapons with which to defend themselves.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Senator, let me begin with the place you began with your premature judgment about the failure of everything. I -- and -- you know, I guess it's pretty easy to lob those judgments around but particularly well before the verdict is in on any of them. Geneva II, my friend, I said will not succeed maybe for a year or two. But if the truth is there's no military solution and there is only a political solution, you have to have some forum in which to achieve it.

You know, the talks on Vietnam, you know this better than anybody, went on for how many years? Years. It took them a year to design the table to sit around. And if Syria is ever going to be resolved, it's going to be through a political process. And that political process, Geneva II, is now in place. Though the moment is not ripe because we still have to change Assad's calculation. And you know, as well as I do, because you and I have talked about that, that that has yet to happen. It has to happen.

Secondly, Israel-Palestine. It's interesting that you declare it dead but the Israelis and the Palestinians don't declare it dead. They want to continue to negotiate.

MCCAIN: We'll see, won't we, Mr. Secretary?

KERRY: Beg your pardon?

MCCAIN: We'll see.

KERRY: Well, yes, we will see. But why declare it dead --

MCCAIN: It's stopped. It's stopped. Recognize reality.

KERRY: OK. We'll see where the reality is as we go down the road here. There are serious problems. It's a tough issue. But your friend Teddy Roosevelt also said that the credit belongs to the people who are in the arena who are trying to get things done. And we're trying to get something done. That's a Teddy Roosevelt marxism. And I abide by it. I think it's important to do this. Sure, we may fail. And you want to dump it on me? I may fail. I don't care. It's worth doing. It's worth the effort. And the United States has a responsibility to lead. Not always to find the pessimism and negativity that is so easily prevalent in the world today.

And, finally, on the subject that you raise about Iran. We're talking. The option is you can go to war. A lot of people are ready to drop bombs all the time. We can do that. We have the ability. But this president and this secretary of state believe that the United States of America has a responsibility first to exhaust every diplomatic possibility to find out whether we can prove what the Iranians say, that their program is peaceful.

And before you ask the American people to go to war, we have an obligation to exhaust the remedies that are available to us in order to legitimize whatever subsequent action we might have to take.


BLITZER: A tough exchange there between Secretary Kerry and Senator McCain.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. North Dakota's Republican senator, John Hoeven, is joining us. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Yes. Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. So, where do you stand on the U.S. Army and Ukraine right now?

HOEVEN: Look, the primary thrust has to be economic and diplomatic sanctions. And I think they can be effective. Certainly no one's talking boots on the ground. But we have to be careful about foreclosing any options. But there is no question that if we can get a united front with the E.U. and impose sanctions and go to banking and energy and some of these other areas, it will clearly have a deterrent effect on what Putin is doing.

BLITZER: You were just in Ukraine. And I know you're heading back. You're obviously interested in the subject, a very tense subject right now. So, you heard senator McCain make the case for at least the U.S. providing defensive weapons to Ukraine. Are you with McCain on that?

HOEVEN: Well, I think we have to be careful to analyze what we can do to help. We shouldn't foreclose that option. And I think that the sanctions that I'm talking about can be effective, but we also have to work with the E.U. on an energy plan which is one of the things that I'm doing with our energy secretary legislation. In order to get them to stand with us in a united front on the kind of sanctions that I think -- the kind of economic and diplomatic sanctions that I think can actually be effective.

BLITZER: So, you have an open mind on defensive weapons for Ukraine. But on sanctions, the administration, together with the E.U. and others, they've imposed sanctions. The NATO allies, they've not gone far enough, is that what you're saying? Are you satisfied with the level of sanctions imposed on Russia right now?

They haven't gone far enough. And as I listen to that exchange between Senator McCain and Secretary Kerry, they talked about Iran. One of the fundamental mistakes we've made with Iran is that we didn't keep the sanctions in place while negotiating. That -- sanctions take a long time to have an effect. But when you relax them, the relief is immediate. That's the mistake. And I think that's what senator McCain was pointing out. So, we've got to work to get these sanctions in place as a long-term strategy. We can't just kind of lurch from crisis to crisis. That doesn't work.

BLITZER: Senator Hoeven, thanks very much for joining us.

HOEVEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, no new pings. So, what does that mean in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370? We'll go live to the search zone -- the search zone for the very latest.

And it's a policy issue but also a big political issue. President Obama strengthens equal pay laws to a certain degree. What's going on? His senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, joining us live from the White House this hour.


BLITZER: Listening for clues and racing against time, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 intensifies, even though the pulses detected over the weekend have not been pick up again. Search crews are using those towed pinger locators to try to scan for the signals. The pulses detected earlier were consistent with the signals emitted by the plane's two black boxes. Our panel of experts, they are here to weigh in on the latest developments. But first, let's go live to our correspondent, Will Ripley. He's in Perth, Australia. That's the staging point for the search. He's got the very latest.

What are you hearing, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, we're entering day 33 here in Perth, and there are two simultaneous searches happening right now. There are the planes taking off, many of them from the air base where I'm standing, and they're heading out to a newly refined search area that is one-third of the size of the old search area. But it's still a very large area. You're talking about 30,000 square miles. And what the planes are doing is they're flying overhead looking for any sign of debris from Flight 370 because, as of right now, we still do not have one physical piece of this plane to verify that it even went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

But there's a lot of attention as well on this other area where the Australian ship, the Ocean Shield, is towing behind that Navy pinger locator. It's towed - it's been going back and forth eight hours to do a sweep and it's basically like mowing the lawn. They're sweeping back and forth. The ocean is like a grid and they're scanning to see if they can relocate those two pings that they heard -- or they think they heard over the weekend. One signal held for a little over two hours, the other for about 15 minutes. But it's now been more than two days and they haven't heard anything, Wolf. So the search continues and we know that time is running out on those black box batteries.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of fear that the batteries, which are supposed to last for about 30 days, it's now, as you point out, entering day 33. Those batteries may be dead, which will make this search clearly a lot more complicated.

Will Ripley in Perth for us, thank you.

Up next, we're going to bring in our panel of experts. Should search crews be worried about not hearing more pings. Experts standing by to give us their take on what happens next.


BLITZER: They're listening, but they're not hearing anything. Crews searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have not heard any new underwater pulses. Let's talk about that and more with our panel of experts. Mark Weiss is a CNN aviation analyst, former pilot, 777 pilot for American Airlines, Bob Francis, former NTSB vice chairman, and Tom Fuentes, our CNN law enforcement analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

How concerned should we all be that they haven't recreated or heard those pings since the initial pings were spotted, heard over the weekend?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think the biggest concern is just how long this is going to drag out now to try to find a better refined search area before they can put in the Bluefin side-scan sonar. So that's the main concern.

BLITZER: Bob, they're pretty convinced that the pings that they did detect were consistent with the two black boxes. One going for nearly -- about two hours plus, one going for about 15 minutes. Two different locations, but near each other. So they're pretty convinced that those were actual signals emanating from the two black boxes, the flight data recorder, cockpit voice recorder. So how difficult should it be, even if the batteries are now dead, to go ahead and find those two black boxes?

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, as I understand it, the area that those signals could have come from is extensive. And assuming -- and I think it's a fair assumption to make now -- that the batteries have run out. I think you've got a tremendous investigative project before you in order to find those boxes.

BLITZER: But those towed pinger locators, they say their range is only about two or three miles to detect those pings. After two or three miles, they can't really detect it. And some experts have suggested, if that's the case then maybe they only have a five or 10 square mile radius of area, which is still a big area to look for two small box, but presumably there might be other wreckage in that area as well.

FRANCIS: If that estimate of the footage is correct, then that certainly is a more manageable kind of challenge.

BLITZER: But they're not going to send in that underwater, unmanned vehicle, if you will, to start searching until they're sure that those batteries are dead. Is that your understanding, Mark?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: My understanding is just that. But, you know, it kind of goes back to that old expression, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck. It was on the right frequency. It was on the Inmarsat arc. Let's just hope that this is the real duck that we've got now.

BLITZER: Yesterday the U.S. Navy said they were cautiously optimistic that it was the real thing coming from those two black boxes. There was a relatively upbeat assessment. All of us were pretty encouraged by that. Are you still pretty encouraged, Tom?

FUENTES: Pretty much. But, again, just knowing that it's going to be the long haul is going to make it harder for everybody to stay as encouraged about the whole thing. But I think the idea that they have it and the plane is somewhere in that area is encouraging, rather than just completely guessing.

BLITZER: It's unusual, though, that they've heard pings from two black boxes without spotting any wreckage whatsoever, at least so far.

FRANCIS: I think that's true, but when you look at the amount of time since the aircraft disappeared, you know, wreckage could go a long, long way. Even heavy pieces of the aircraft could be - could be -

BLITZER: There was, as you know, Mark, a typhoon in that whole area -


BLITZER: That really could have spread any wreckage around. You're not one of those who believes it's possible that the plane could have basically gone underwater intact.

WEISS: No. I really think - I mean it's like hitting concrete, Wolf. So, you know, when that hit the water, I mean this wasn't a Sully Sullenberger type of a landing. This went in and it probably went in at a pretty decent angle. That went in but broke apart. It just could not hit that water without coming apart.

BLITZER: Who gets access to those two -- let's say they find the flight data and the cockpit voice recorders, who should get access to inspect it?

FRANCIS: Well, I think that it's going to have to be a combination of people that have the competence to read them.

BLITZER: Who's that?

FRANCIS: Well, probably the Australians.

BLITZER: Do they have competence in that?

FRANCIS: They would have -

BLITZER: What about the NTSB? You used to --

FRANCIS: Well, the NTSB certainly would have the competence and would be willing to do it. The British. The French. There are a lot of people that are competent to read recorders. BLITZER: Practically speaking, who will get custody of those two black boxes?

FUENTES: Well, it's actually not finders keepers. So once the Australians recover it, the Malaysians will decide who specifically does the analysis and opens up the recorders.

BLITZER: That could be a whole other can of worms.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, President Obama aims to shrink the pay gap between men and women, but his executive order doesn't impact everyone. We'll have details.

And later, a crackdown in Ukraine. Are pro-Russian demonstrations actually an invitation to invade? We're taking a closer look.