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Russia's Ambitions; U.N. Releases Report on Ukraine; Imagine a World

Aired April 15, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. After several stumbles, Ukraine's president says the much vaunted antiterrorist operation against pro-Russian separatists in the east is now underway. A large column of several hundred soldiers and armored personnel carriers have been seen heading towards the disturbances in parts of the Donetsk region.

This as Presidents Obama and Putin talk again and trade accusations about who is to blame for the dangerous unrest that's spiraling in Eastern Ukraine and in an explosive comment, the Russian Prime Minister Medvedev has said Ukraine was on the brink of civil war. And Putin's foreign minister delivered the standard anti-Western Kremlin line.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): They make up lies to justify their aggressive plans. They are spreading lies. The things that Russian Federation intended are not intended to do, alleging that Russia organized it all. I have never heard such nonsense.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But outside the Kremlin echo chamber, there is a consensus that Russia is stoking these flames just as it did in Crimea. But to precisely what end? Well, there is no consensus on Putin's intent. NATO ministers holding crisis talks in Luxembourg are discussing ground troops and more military exercises to amp up their deterrence. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned Moscow against making, quote, "a grave miscalculation."


AMANPOUR: Alarm bells are ringing in former Soviet republics, which are now E.U. and NATO nations, such as Estonia, where a quarter of the population is Russian-speaking. And as William Hague says in a speech tonight, Russia has violated the fundamental principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right of every democratic country to choose its own future.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland is trying to swat away any more land grabs, quote, "Our message to Putin and Russia is clear," she said, "NATO territory is inviolable," and, "we will defend every piece of it."

The Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves tells me that as an alliance member, he's confident of NATO's protection. But he wants to see much more done to deter any more of Putin's moves against Ukraine or anywhere else. And he joined me earlier from the capital, Tallinn.


AMANPOUR: President Ilves, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.


AMANPOUR: You have been very vocal in wanting more support from NATO. There are NATO meetings underway right now. The Supreme Allied commander has told me that one of the recommendations will be to step up ground forces and even military exercises in some of the NATO states, such as yours.

So as the president of Estonia, what do you need to maintain deterrence?

ILVES: Well, I think a physical presence on the ground is one thing we need in the region. We need more exercises. We think that the decision to increase the number of planes providing air policing in the -- in the region is a very good one. But given the uncertainty that we see to the east and the kinds of actions that we've seen in the east, that we need to make sure that others understand that this is not something to play around with.

AMANPOUR: President Putin has yet again told President Obama that he and the Kremlin have nothing to do with the unrest in Eastern Ukraine.

Do you believe that?

ILVES: I think that the State Department's 10-point statement two days ago shows that is good enough for us, that is we don't really believe those statements at all.

AMANPOUR: So what do you believe to be Putin's goal here?

What is he looking to do?

ILVES: Well, it's hard to read the mind of a -- of someone like that. Clearly as -- which we are a new territory right now. These -- the rules have been broken; the assumptions of the Helsinki Final Act of Non- Interference in other countries' internal affairs by military means, annexing territory, these are all out of a playbook that we last saw before World War II.

So that makes it very difficult for us to actually be able to guess what is in one or another person's mind because we find it so unfathomable because the -- we have all consigned this kind of behavior into the past. And now it's here with us this very moment.

AMANPOUR: So if the rules are all being rewritten, one of those could involve annexing more territory by the Kremlin.

Do you think that's a possibility?

ILVES: I would hope very much that it's not. The more benign, though not in any way acceptable theory would be that it's to add additional pressure on Ukraine and the West in the negotiations that are scheduled to begin on the 17th.

That would be a more benign view of things. But even that, as I said, is unacceptable to be putting on military pressure on a country so that it would be in a weaker position when it comes to negotiations.

AMANPOUR: So do you think there is a negotiated solution?

And what will it look like?

ILVES: Well, I think the position in the West is that all forces withdraw and let's -- let us keep in mind we do not recognize the forcible occupation and annexation of Crimea.

And if we do not go back to the status quo ante, then we all need in the West to sit down and figure out how we proceed in this new situation, much in the way that there was a reassessment of the security situation after the end of World War II, at the beginning of the Cold War.

I'm not arguing that the -- we have a Cold War here, as I think it's far more complex. And the moral categories are also much more confused.

But nonetheless, we really have to have a serious reassessment of what we mean by security in the transatlantic space, given these new developments.

AMANPOUR: The Russians have indicated and the Ukrainian interim authorities have indicated that there might be a solution based around having a referendum, some kind of looser federal sort of system, more autonomy for those in the more pro-Russian speaking areas.

Is that satisfactory as an outcome for the border states, such as yours?

ILVES: Well, I think the entire principle of applying military pressure and having a country cave in to that pressure to then hold the referendum is unacceptable for at least Western -- the Western world. We simply don't do those kinds of things.

Ultimately, yes, of course, if the Ukrainian authorities think that's one way out, we will accept that. But certainly as a principle of international behavior, that is unacceptable to us.

AMANPOUR: You in Estonia know Vladimir Putin pretty well. He was instrumental in trying to organize a referendum on autonomy for some of the Russian-speaking areas of Estonia. That was then struck down.

So I guess tell me a little bit about what you know about him and whether you feel the territory of Estonia is threatened right now.

ILVES: Well, we only have the official biographies. We don't know that much about him as an individual or more than we have -- I think all of us have been able to read.

But when it comes to Estonia, we're a -- we are a very successful liberal democracy where -- I mean, I just really -- it's very hard to think of people deciding to want to give up their euros for rubles, which is plummeting in value, and giving up their right to live or work anywhere in Europe, which is accorded to everyone living in Estonia and wanting to have to apply for visas to visit Europe.

That's -- I mean, it's -- just doesn't make sense. And our own opinion polls show that those kinds of views have virtually no traction in this country.

As the most successful country to come out of the Soviet Union, and one of the freest and most liberal and the highest degree of freedom of speech, including much of Western Europe, it seems kind of bizarre to us to suddenly have these kinds of issues crop up.

But we see that also the propaganda that is emanating from the Kremlin in the case of either Ukraine or the Baltic countries or, in fact, the United States, is at a level which we have not really since seen since the 1950s.

AMANPOUR: It is extraordinary; you're absolutely right, this level of what you call bizarre behavior. But the behavior continues. The Russian propaganda continues and the Russian military moves continue.

So again, I want you to tell me what you think has to happen to deter President Putin from any further military moves.

ILVES: Well, I think the consequences of his actions will lead to a dramatic downturn that we already are beginning to see in the economy of Russia, that loans are not being rolled over, access to Western funds are increasingly limited, the European Union will probably, at the next meeting of heads of state and government, extend the list of sanctions and sanctioned individuals.

And so this is -- we'll probably see that the quality of life, at least for the elite, is going to deteriorate.

AMANPOUR: Is that enough to deter President Putin?

ILVES: We don't know. Now that's our problem. We -- this is -- this is not, in the part of the sort of understanding we have of the behavior of countries as we've developed those understandings of the last quarter century.

It's hard to predict, frankly. But we -- as long as we think that the rules more or less -- rules of behavior are more or less understandable, then you would think that sanctions of this type will have an effect.

If they don't have an effect, then we will require an even deeper rethink of what transatlantic security is about.

AMANPOUR: On that note, President Ilves, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

ILVES: Well, thank you.


AMANPOUR: And reading the Russian tea leaves isn't limited to predicting the future. On this, the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, a new U.S. report has found that the Russian government declined several FBI requests for additional information about one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev at least two years before the attack.

In 2011, Moscow did warn the U.S. that Tsarnaev had become, quote, "a follower of radical Islam," but despite its earlier claims, it was only after the fatal bombing that Moscow shared the really incriminating details.

And after a break, incriminating evidence from Crimea. Is Putin taking a page out of that playbook right now in Eastern Ukraine? Our exclusive interview with the author of a damning U.N. report. That's up next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Now worried residents and onlookers around the world shudder at the similarities between what happened in Crimea last month and what's happening today in Eastern Ukraine. And now a new U.N. report examines the Russian playbook in all its cynical detail.

Far from being fair, the Crimea referendum on joining Russia March 16th was peppered with, quote, "many reports of vote rigging," according to this report, and far from being a spontaneous outpouring of fear and loathing for Ukraine, the report finds that, too, was fed by a diet of relentless Kremlin propaganda.

Joining me now is Ivan Simonovic, who is the U.N. assistant secretary- general for human rights. He's a former Croatian justice minister and he wrote that report.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Simonovic.


AMANPOUR: Let me start -- I've quoted a little bit about what you found. Let me just start by putting to you Russia's criticism of your report, saying that the report on Ukraine is one-sided and politicized. It seems fabricated, says the foreign ministry.

What's your answer to that?

SIMONOVIC: Well, we are not here to establish politically balanced report or to take sides. We just observe facts and we report based on facts. And this is what we were doing for this report and this is what we will continue to do.

I firmly believe that by doing that and by publicly reporting, we could help to deescalate tensions.

AMANPOUR: Well, tensions are really sky-high right now. So let's see if we can deconstruct this. Describe for me what you unearthed about, as I mentioned, that people's freedom to express their real free vote and will in the Crimea referendum.

SIMONOVIC: We were not examining the legality of the Crimean referendum. But we paid attention to human rights violations that were related to referendum. For example, the activities of the civil society were impeded. There were some arrests, some enforced disappearances, cases of torture. We still have some missing persons.

There were no free consultations about the questions at the referendum and unfortunately is something similar has been repeated now, with the passing of the so-called Crimean constitution.

AMANPOUR: Well, what do you mean by that, the -- what do you mean by specifically the Crimean constitution?

SIMONOVIC: There were no consultations. So we are hearing a lot of allegations coming from Crimean Tatars, that constitution was passed without any time and opportunity to express their views.


And of course, many -- in fact the Tatar leader told me that the majority of the Tatar population there actually boycotted the referendum.

But can I ask you this, because one of the things we hear all the time from Russia and from Russians in Russia is that oh, my goodness, Russia has to come to the rescue of people inside Eastern Ukraine or Crimea, who are being beaten up, who are being assaulted by, quote, "fascists," neo-Nazi movements.

What did you find about those kinds of complaints? Did they stand up?

SIMONOVIC: We identify some cases of people being harassed because of being close to former political establishment and President Yanukovych, a number of them being Russian-speaking or Russians themselves.

So there were cases of harassment but they were neither widespread nor systemic. We have also identified that those cases were overblown by propaganda and that such a propaganda was used to spread a feeling of fear and insecurity. It had significant impact in Crimea and we are witnessing something similar in Eastern Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: Well, I do want to get to Eastern Ukraine. But describe for me then the propaganda as you put it that was being pumped into Crimea. What kind of a diet of media were people getting there?

SIMONOVIC: One of problems that we faced in Crimea was first cutting of the channels, television channels, that were broadcast from Ukraine. So in a way, it was attempt to have a monopoly of information and then information quite often consisted of some cases where some violations that have taken place were exaggerated and also there were some unfounded rumors that were spread about trains coming filled with extremists well armed and wishing to prosecute Russian population. That has contributed to create the climate of fear and insecurity.

AMANPOUR: So what are you finding? Have you been to other parts, in other words, Eastern Ukraine, which we're witnessing right now, and what have you found there?

SIMONOVIC: I have been in Kharkiv. It was a resting place already then, but the situation has considerably deteriorated. It's not that number of protesters have decreased. There are no that many protesters we are -- we are speaking about a couple of thousands and at the time, we were hearing about some people who were coming from out of the region, participating in protests.

But the dangerous trend right now is that protests are becoming more and more violent that increasing number of protesters are being armed. And that makes situation extremely dangerous and it does also impose a risk of situations spiraling out of control.

AMANPOUR: You are Croatian; Croatia and the rest of the Balkans went through a terrible and similar process during the '90s. As you do your investigations, do you see any similarity between what happened under Milosevic and what is happening now?

In other words, are you worried by history looking like it's repeating itself?

SIMONOVIC: There certainly are some similarities concerning manifestation. However, I strongly believe that there will be an effective preventative action taken to prevent the tragedy that has happened in former Yugoslavia. I think that through impartial monitoring and public reporting, we can contribute to deescalation and prevention of such a tragic outcome.

AMANPOUR: But Mr. Simonovic is there the appetite for this kind of monitoring? It's been very rare. Yours is one of the rare reports. Monitors have had a notoriously hard time getting into either Crimea or Eastern Ukraine.

You know, what kind of real deescalation can you actually see happening? And I ask you as a rapporteur and as a politician, steeped in the knowledge of that region, how do you see this resolving itself?

SIMONOVIC: We are not just monitoring and reporting. Of course, that by itself is important because if you establish some facts about human rights violations, you are in fact, inciting government to do something about it. But you also issue any recommendations and we did issue recommendations to curb any form of hate speech and also what is at the moment, I would say, most important. It is to prevent arming of protesters and transforming them into paramilitary troops.

Whoever arms protesters can be held accountable for potential tragic consequences.

AMANPOUR: On that note, U.N. assistant secretary-general Ivan Simonovic, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And after a break, imagine a special relationship between two world leaders. No, it is not the long-established bond between the United States and Britain but a bromance between a modern-day Russian czar, who we've just been talking about, and an Italian Caesar whose salad days may be over. We'll explain when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, while President Putin continues to make like a czar, officially ending a 30-year marriage that makes him the first Russian leader since Peter the Great to be divorced and reinvigorating Peter's dreams of empire, his closest friend among former senior Western leaders and now fellow bachelor, the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, faces a challenge of his own.

Imagine a world where a modern-day Caesar has been stripped of his laurels and sentenced to community service, the 77-year-old billionaire convicted last year of tax fraud has been ordered to serve one-half day a week at a nursing home near his villa outside Milan.

The flamboyant Berlusconi will also have to limit the lush life with a nightly curfew and a ban on associating with known criminals. Some say the man who famously received this slap on the head at an E.U. summit back in 2007 has now been given a mere slap on the wrist.

Still, as the leader of Forza Italia (ph), center right opposition party, he is free to travel to Rome three days a week and Silvio is also free to advise his friend, Vladimir, who reportedly still uses him as a sounding board for what he sees as a lack of respect from the United States and the European Union.

Caesar may have lost his crown, but not his influence, not in Moscow, anyway.

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.