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Facing Down the Russians; Imagine a World

Aired April 14, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Bring on the blue helmets. That is the desperate plea from Ukraine today for U.N. peacekeepers to keep Russia from biting another chunk out of their map. Britain, Germany and other Western allies accuse Russia of fomenting dangerous instability possibly as a pretext for invading the East and within the last few moments, the E.U. foreign policy chief has confirmed that they will be expanding the scope of sanctions against Russia.

Meantime today, Ukrainian authorities saw their deadline and ultimatum ignored by pro-Russian agitators. Instead of clearing out of government buildings in the East, they're brazenly occupied yet another one, another tense standoff here last night in New York as well, during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. And did with Russia warning that if Ukraine uses force against protesters, it can expect a full-scale civil war.


VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): The terrible actions leading to coup de force by the self-proclaimed Kiev authorities is threatening once and for all to tear the fragile fabric of the mosaic-based (ph) society.


AMANPOUR: But despite these protests, the real threat clearly comes from Russia itself. Just today, a Russian fighter jet flew several provocative passes by a U.S. Navy ship in the Black Sea. So with the whole situation getting increasingly hard to control, what can this fledgling interim government in Kiev do to avoid the worst?

Joining me now is Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations and he joins me from headquarters here in New York.

Ambassador Sergeyev, welcome back to the program.


AMANPOUR: Can I ask you what is your government doing to try to stabilize this unrest in the East?

SERGEYEV: Yes, tough task for the government; tough question for me. What government already made so the invest the regions of the East or the South, the prime minister visited all these regions. They talk on the possible referendum. They talk on the changes to the constitution. They talk of the language issue.

So the government right and is trying to be inclusive and to reach every city, every village in the regions. So this is -- this is what is tremendously important because to resolve all the problems on the East and the South by the means of only by the means of the force, it's impossible. The second part is how to stop the violence and how to stop the separatism in spite from Russia.

How to cope with the terrorist attacks and the seizure of the administrative buildings, this is another task which is also very tough. How to avoid bloodshed and to stop all these dangerous operations that we observe in some of the cities.

AMANPOUR: Well, Ambassador, let me ask you precisely to that point, your government issued one, in fact two ultimatums, the latest one was for this morning, to have those pro-Russian agitators evacuate and clear out of the buildings that you've mentioned. That deadline has passed, even though your authorities said an anti-terrorism operation would take place.

Why has that not happened?

SERGEYEV: So as I understand, that the anti-terrorist operation is in the process. So the problem is the release of these buildings, as it was explained by one of the security and defense council of Ukraine authorities today, that inside the building, there are -- there are children and women. And this complicates the operation as well as all these buildings, they are surrounded by the peaceful demonstrators.

So the -- those who are coordinate this operation, they are to organize the dialogue with the peace demonstrators and to bring them on their side and to be a part of this joint performance because the cities, they need to live in peace and to resolve their problems.


AMANPOUR: Right. I can -- I can hear you grappling with the dilemma obviously. You don't want to create more bloodshed; blood has already been spilt.

But how do you impose your authority in a situation where you and the West are blaming Russia for instigating this very violence potentially as a pretext for an incursion or any other such interference?

How do you resolve these standoffs at these buildings right now?

SERGEYEV: Well, the problem is really complicated because what we know that the Russian agents so they created these groups of separatists who became being a weapon to the terrorists. So we have in these buildings both Russian secret officers and the Ukrainians who are there inside. And it's really very difficult to find a solution to avoid the blood.

So it's a combination of different approaches should be used, professional dialogue with those who are inside, professional dialogue with those -- with those who are outside and the professional performance of what is a provision by the Ukrainian law on the counterterrorist operations. We have this law.

And the rather (ph) instruments they're inside but I understand that is not easy to implement in a full capacity and to go ahead. It's a real problem. But you know, during all the discussions, all these days, even yesterday, the Security Council, so some of the delineations they addressed has just to be very accurate with these terrorist operation, anti-terrorist operation, not to harm the peaceful citizens and peaceful protesters.

So I understand that is not an easy task for the peace enforcement troops there.

AMANPOUR: All right. Now all of this obviously around the great big question of what does President Putin want.

What do you think Vladimir Putin's goals, his aims are right now with those 40,000 troops sitting on your border? Does he want to invade or does he want to just intimidate you and get a friendly government in Kiev?

SERGEYEV: At least he got the legal improvement by his parliament to do whatever he wants, to predict his behavior is very difficult because we are operating within the frames of the human logic. But he performs in a different way.

That's why -- that's why we are addressing the world community to assist us, to do everything possible to stop them, either by economic sanctions or by political pressure or even as it happened today, the government addressed the secretary-general of United Nations to provide peacekeepers. So even this kind of the address from Ukrainian side is very important to demonstrate that Russia is isolating and we have the support from all around of the world.

AMANPOUR: OK, let me -- I want to -- I would like to play for you a portion of an interview I conducted with the top military commander of NATO, General Breedlove, about possibly stepping up NATO's military presence. Let me just play this for you.


GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, EUROPE: I believe we already have a very good plan for sustainable air. I think we have a plan that is coming together very nicely for sustainable maritime. And now the tougher decisions will be with our allies about what is that land component that will be the reassurance piece that carries us into this new paradigm?


AMANPOUR: So General Breedlove there basically talking about the possibility of land troops, on exercises or such in NATO countries. He has briefed NATO members and he's about to make it all public or they're got to decide this week on what to do.

Apparently there might be military exercises proposed for the Baltic States. What -- is that going to send the tough signal to Russia that you expect?

SERGEYEV: This is one of the strong signals which have already given and so it works in terms of the Black Sea presence of the NATO ships and others. Yes, this is -- this is a signal. This is a signal.

AMANPOUR: And what do you think the reaction of Russia will be?

SERGEYEV: So the -- we have already reaction, the narrows (ph), the -- well, even the -- recently they demanded from Ukraine to keep the secrets on the rocket technologies, suspecting that was probably we will move them to the NATO allies and others because they are producers of that. And they have the ballistic rockets in their hands and we need protection from not ballistic but from their regular armaments. That's why it's -- we are observing our obligations on the embargo for rocket technologies spreading but we are to protect ourselves. Why not cooperate with our allies?

AMANPOUR: Right, Ambassador?

SERGEYEV: So this is something which there narrows (ph) Russia a lot.

AMANPOUR: Right. Ambassador, I can feel a lot of nerves in the atmosphere right now.

What is the United States specifically doing to help you?

And why was the CIA chief, John Brennan, in Kiev this weekend?

SERGEYEV: So I know about your last question, because only the rumors, Russian ambassador, yes, has raised this question. I don't know these details --


AMANPOUR: No, no, it's been confirmed by the White House.

SERGEYEV: Oh, OK. So I don't know the details -- well, at least most probably his role to investigate what's going on and to inform the American leadership what steps could be done more from the United States side, what we got from the United States is strong political and moral support. We got them the first -- the first round of the sanctions provided against the Russian physical and Ukrainian physical authorities who perpetuated all the problems and so the next steps, economic sanctions and financial economic support to Ukrainian government to provide the reforms and to be practically inclusive with the regions in need.

So most probably is -- there is -- this is exact role which is in the hands of all the intelligence services to bring the right information from the ground. So --

AMANPOUR: OK, Ambassador. Sorry to cut you off there. Ambassador Sergeyev --


SERGEYEV: No, this is the only thing that I think and can say on my -- on my part about that.

AMANPOUR: All right. We'll keep following this story, of course. Thank you for joining us, ambassador from the United Nations.


SERGEYEV: Thank you.



AMANPOUR: And after a break, a vote against the annexation of Crimea, nope, it was not cast in Ukraine but in the heart of Moscow itself and we'll meet the Russian lawmaker who cast that vote and who could face the consequences. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And so as the world wonders where the crisis in Ukraine is headed, politics and myth play an ever-prominent role.

Could Russia's President Putin be setting up Eastern Ukraine for a military incursion, disguised as a rescue? He says he's receiving appeals for help from them and yet, of course, he's the one widely blamed for stoking those fires of discontent.

Given his stranglehold on a subservient media, he's receiving wide support at home. But not from everyone. The biggest crowd of anti-Putin protesters since his disputed election two years ago took to the streets on Sunday to oppose what's going on in Ukraine and how it's being covered by the Russian media. And an unlikely source of regret? None other than ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. He has said that he now regrets having ever invited Russian troops into Crimea and he wants to talk to President Putin about giving the province back to Ukraine.

Unlikely to happen.

But in Russia's parliament, there's just one lone figure who stood against the annexation. He's Ilya Ponomarev, a member of the State Duma, which is the lower house of the Russian parliament. And last month he was the only lawmaker in the Duma out of more than 440 to vote against Crimea becoming part of Russia.

And he joins me now from Moscow.

Mr. Ponomarev, thank you very much for joining me. Can I ask you what is going on in the Duma right now and where you think this latest crisis is headed?

What is in Putin's mind?

ILYA PONOMAREV, RUSSIAN STATE DUMA: Well, Duma was on a break last week and only this week our hearings resumed. So there were not so many discussions inside the lower house of the parliament. And talking about Putin, he, of course, needs to continue the policy that he starts -- started with Crimea, and that's the general logic. He needs to play tough in front of his constituency because if he will not, he will be seen as traitor himself. So he needs to escalate the crisis to be seen as a true leader in front of the majority of Russians.

AMANPOUR: So do you believe there will be another incursion?

And do you believe there will be, you know, a greater war breaking out?

PONOMAREV: You know, it's very much dependent on how the Ukrainian government would act, actually, in the coming days and weeks. And that's why I'm just back from Kiev and I was having meetings with several Ukrainian officials, trying to explain that it's in their interest to have this whole Ukraine referendum on federalization.

All the polls show that the majority of Ukrainians, they oppose federalization of the country. And most likely, it would be like 20 percent to 80 percent who would say no to the federalization. But that would help to ease the tensions and to reclaim those three runaway territories of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, who are now demanding this federalization.

AMANPOUR: So you say you're advising them to call Putin's bluff, which actually you just heard Ambassador Sergeyev said that they are talking about referendum in this regard.

PONOMAREV: Yes, I'm more than happy to hear, because when I arrived to Kiev on just Friday last week, there was a very firm no to any kind of referendums.

Today, the acting president of Ukraine, Mr. Turchynov, announced that he agrees to this referendum, if it would be a whole Ukrainian referendum. That's exactly my preposition. So I think that's -- that can be the way out of the crisis.

AMANPOUR: So if that is the way out of the crisis, what then do you think is the effect on President Putin if the NATO commander or rather the NATO government announced this week that they are prepared to step up not just sanctions but to step up also military exercises and the kind of deterrence that many people are calling for?

PONOMAREV: Well, my opinion that in the best interest of both Ukrainian, Russian and European nations is to keep NATO as far from Ukraine as possible because any interference of foreign military forces would polarize the society in Ukraine even more.

And if NATO would come to Ukraine, then it's 100 percent guarantee that Eastern regions would separate and most likely it would be not just those three regions, but it would spread to other provinces, which are also dominated by Russian-speaking society, and they are very strongly anti- NATO.

AMANPOUR: Right. Of course, nobody's talking about NATO going into Ukraine; it was just proposed that there may be military exercises with members of NATO such as the Baltic States.

But let me move on a little bit and --


PONOMAREV: Look, that doesn't -- that doesn't matter.


PONOMAREV: That doesn't matter because it's seen as an evidence that the whole story in Kiev has been provoked by foreign nations. And that's exactly the propaganda that Putin is trying to carry through the controlled media that we saw the coup in Kiev, that the current authorities in Kiev, they are fascists who are being manipulated by United States and European Union sponsored by them and that Russians are actually liberators, that we are not aggressors, that we are liberators who helped to free our brother Ukrainians, not Russians, by the way, Ukrainians, from fascist aggression.

AMANPOUR: Right. Certainly, as you say, that is the propaganda that's being spread about and obviously being spread about by the Russian media, and they've closed off a lot of independent media inside Ukraine. We know that and we've seen that.

So what do you think the effect of the anti-Putin, anti-state media protest that we saw in Moscow this weekend, will that have any effect at all?

PONOMAREV: Frankly speaking, I don't think so. I think that Russian opposition by the whole story in Ukraine is very much alienated with the rest of the society. It's actually a tiny portion of people in Moscow who, yes, they are very mobilized and they're on the streets and they're protesting and they are very honest and devoted people. But again, the overwhelming majority of Russians, they think that Ukraine is in trouble; we have a lot of relatives in Ukraine and Russians think that we need to help them to fight against fascism. That's exactly the motion of the majority of Russian population.

AMANPOUR: Given that fact, given that fact, how have you been treated and what do you think will be the consequences of your lone vote back in March against the annexation of Crimea?

PONOMAREV: Currently, we are being labeled and I myself personally are being labeled as a traitor, as a representative of fifth column, you know, as a person who works for the West as a foreign agent and, you know, whatever you can call it.

But I think that the history would tell and it's now a question of whether we would be able to play down this crisis and whether we'll be able to avoid the war, whether we'll be able to avoid the bloodshed . That's the most important thing to do. And if we will be successful in this, then we'll see how it turns out.

AMANPOUR: Ilya Ponomarev, thank you very much indeed for joining us, member of the Duma in Russia. Thanks so much.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, imagining the other. It isn't merely putting yourself in someone else's shoes; it could be the key to conflict resolution from places such as Kiev all the way to Jerusalem. A Palestinian professor and his students visit a Nazi concentration camp. Now that is a first -- when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the showdown between Russia and Ukraine demonstrates how hard it is to understand the story of the other. The struggle over narratives dates back at least to the time of the Passover, which begins tonight, when Pharaoh kept the people of Moses in bondage.

So now imagine a world where imagining the other could mean deliverance for warring sides such as Israelis and Palestinians.

In what may be a first, Mohammed Dajani (ph), a Palestinian professor at the Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, recently took 27 of his students to Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp in Poland. The idea was to promote greater understand between peoples and yet Professor Dajani (ph) was branded by many of his own people as a traitor.

He proudly calls himself a Palestinian nationalist, but he's also a fan of the renowned Israeli author, Amos Oz (ph), who appeared on this program four years ago to talk precisely about understanding the other. He came with a Palestinian lawyer, whose son had been killed and who had commissioned an Arabic translation of Oz's (ph) work.


ELIAS KHOURY, PALESTINIAN LAWYER: First of all, I think to know the other side, it's something important, whether we want to fight him or whether we want to make peace with him. And knowledge is a light for good and for bad.


AMANPOUR: So if knowledge is the light, Oz (ph) himself also spoke of the importance of translating and understanding the other.

AMOS OZ, AUTHOR: But it will improve the ability to imagine the other. And I believe imagining the other is a moral quality.


AMANPOUR: Meantime, Professor Dajani (ph) has defied his critics, saying, quote, "I do not regret for one second what I did. As a matter of fact, I will do it again if given the opportunity. I will not hide. I will not deny. I will not be silent. I will not remain a bystander, even if the victims of suffering I show empathy for are my occupiers."

Powerful words indeed.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.