Return to Transcripts main page


Russia's Next Move; The Horror of Child Abductions; Imagine a World

Aired April 16, 2014 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Chilling images of a dangerous new development in Eastern Ukraine, apparently Kiev's anti-terror operation to recapture areas seized by pro-Russian separatists is being commandeered by those same separatists.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): A column of Ukrainian armored personnel carriers, flying Russian flags, rolled through the eastern town of Kramatorsk, according to the Ukrainian defense ministry, six of their vehicles have gone over to the militants now and elsewhere in the east, two soldiers and a Ukrainian officer have been taken hostage.

There was a tense faceoff, too, in Sloviansk, Ukrainian troops who had been massing on the outskirts of the town tried to settle the unrest but were blocked from entering by a group of local residents.

On Ukraine's other border, Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria today asked Moscow to recognize its independence while the Moldovan president warned Moscow not to do so and not to annex the region.


AMANPOUR: Moscow is being blamed by the West for setting up this entire crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin says it, quote, "essentially puts the nation on the brink of civil war."

Heated rhetoric ahead of four-way talks between Russia, Ukraine, the E.U. and the United States which are set to start tomorrow.

But Russia's ambassador to the European Union says that Moscow has no intention of annexing anything. He told me that when I spoke to him about this crisis earlier from Brussels.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Chizhov, welcome to the program.

Let me start by asking you, Ambassador, what on Earth is going on, as far as you're concerned, in Eastern Ukraine?

We've got these armored personnel carriers that the Ukrainian National Guard brought in to try to calm the situation down, which are now flying Russian flags. We have pictures of Ukrainian National Guard being surrounded by Russian-speaking militants and pushed around by them.

What is happening in this very dangerous region of Eastern Ukraine?

VLADIMIR CHIZHOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO E.U.: Well as far as I know -- of course I may not be aware of all the latest details.

But the criminal order by the so-called Kiev government to launch an anti- terrorist operation in full contravention to the Ukrainian constitution, because no state of emergency has been declared, no martial law has been declared.

So this so-called anti-terrorist operation in the eastern part of the country was bungled, in a way, because some of the units of the Ukrainian Army that were involved, they preferred to switch sides and join the people. That's why they put Russian flags on the APCs and declined to fulfill that order.

AMANPOUR: Let me pursue what you've just said. You've obviously used a lot of words that many would disagree with -- criminal government, et cetera. But it is interesting that you say that they may have changed sides, those people in Eastern Ukraine.

Obviously, Russia is being blamed for stoking a lot of the fires down there in Eastern Ukraine. I know you all deny it.

But why are you not trying to deescalate the tensions there?

Why are we seeing pro-Russian separatists taking over buildings?

Again, that would be in violation of law.

Why are they doing that and why aren't you stopping it?

CHIZHOV: Well, they are doing that out of desperation, I suppose, because those who have taken power in Kiev, they have not been listening to the demands, to the requests of people in the eastern part of the country.

And those people, they did not see the government in Ukraine as somebody representing their views, their interests. So they didn't have any other choice.

And so if you mention my country, of course it's not in Russia's interests to see a situation evolving as it is. We are keenly interested in deescalating the situation.

That is why Foreign Minister Lavrov will be tomorrow participating in a quadripartite meeting in Geneva in the hope that it will provide an impetus toward a political solution of the current Ukrainian crisis. It can only be resolved by peaceful means, not through use of force.

AMANPOUR: Let me follow up on what you say about the talks.

These talks that are due to get underway, what would be, to Russia, an acceptable political solution?

CHIZHOV: Well, an acceptable political solution has -- was already outlined, not by Russia, actually; by Ukrainians themselves, in the presence of the E.U. foreign ministers back in February. That is a road map outlined in the 21st February agreement that would envisage the constitutional reform followed by elections.

It's my deep conviction that the current constitutional structure of Ukraine, that of a unitary country which never reflected the diversities between the various regions of Ukraine, it simply hasn't worked.

So a new system should be elaborated. And we certainly hope that tomorrow's meeting will be a kickstart for an inter-Ukrainian genuine political dialogue.

AMANPOUR: Now, let me take you up on some of the accusations you were making in your last answer.

The Ukrainian interim authorities have, indeed, reached out to those Russian-speaking people in the east. They have talked about a referendum. They have talked about more autonomy. They have said that Russia will be an official language.

And many, many people, including Ukrainians all over the country, are saying that they do not feel under threat.

I would like to play for you a piece of an interview that I did with the U.N. human rights assistant secretary-general yesterday regarding the so- called allegations of Russian-speaking members of Eastern Ukraine feeling under threat.

Listen and then respond.


IVAN SIMONOVIC, U.N. ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: 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.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador, Russia is very respectful of the United Nations. This is an official U.N. report.

Why is it that you don't believe what he's saying?

CHIZHOV: Well, I believe, to the extent that he admits that, oh, there were no cases of fear, intimidation and so on, how widespread is to anybody's guess. But certainly I wouldn't claim that authorities in Kiev have done nothing.

Yes, under pressure from both my country and your country and European countries, they made a few steps. And last Friday, Mr. Yatsenyuk actually flew to Donetsk and made a few announcements.

But it so turned out that the very next day, in this -- an anti-terrorist operation was launched by the self-proclaimed acting president, Turchynov.

Whether that reflects a rift within the Kiev government or not remains to be seen.

AMANPOUR: It's a weird sort of situation of like a hall of mirrors. On the one hand, Russia is complaining of chaos and anarchy in Eastern Ukraine. And on the other hand, it criticizes the interim government in Ukraine's attempts to calm it down.

But I want you to respond to the following. There has been a recent poll taken. And this has been taken since the Crimea referendum in all parts of Ukraine. And this is what Ukrainian people are saying, that the majority - - Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine -- do not feel threatened. In addition, the majority support closer ties with Europe.

How is that going to affect Moscow?

What is Moscow going to say about that, particularly with these talks in the future of Ukraine being discussed starting tomorrow, and presumably ongoing?

CHIZHOV: Well, first of all, you do not calm popular protests by sending troops, by declaring an end to terrorist operation.

Secondly, of course Russia doesn't mind Ukraine having good relations with the European Union. It's perfectly OK and they are fully entitled to do that. But the immediate problem is for Ukraine to find a way out of this political crisis. And I believe it's a common duty of Russia, Europe, United States, to help Ukrainians find that way out of the crisis.

AMANPOUR: Of course, everybody does hope that there will be a political solution to this.

So let me ask you, as a representative of the Russian government in Europe, where you have access to so much more independent media than your own people have right now, or, indeed, people in Crimea, who are being fed a steady diet of Russian propaganda. I hate to say it, but that's a fact.

Do you think that Russia has any intention of annexing or moving in or invading or somehow taking control of any more territory in Ukraine, particularly right now in Eastern Ukraine?

CHIZHOV: I could argue with you on the degree of objectivity of the Western media on this. But let me give you a straightforward answer. And that answer is no. Russia has no plans to intervene militarily, no plans to invade anybody, not Ukraine, not any other country, or to annex anything.

AMANPOUR: Loud and clear, I hear you, then, Mr. Ambassador.

So let me just ask you quickly, one last postscript to that. In the Transnistria region, people are being, you know, calling for Russian help and the president of Moldova has warned Russia against annexing any part of that area.

Do you still maintain that Russia will keep its hands off even that area?

CHIZHOV: Well, again, hysteria is becoming contagious. It's not Russia's intention to annex Transnistria or any other territory in any other place of the world.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ambassador Chizhov, thank you very much for joining me from Brussels.


AMANPOUR: Now separatist struggles have been going on for years all over the world.

In Africa, students, not just soldiers, are often the targets. The award- winning writer, Susan Minot, chronicles one of the most notorious child abductions in her new novel, "Thirty Girls," and she joins us to shed light on that story, a tale made all the more chilling by the recent kidnapping of 200 -- as many as 200 school girls in Nigeria this week.

History repeating itself -- when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

A nighttime terror in northern Nigeria, the Nigerian military is hunting for over 100 girls who are still missing after they were kidnapped from their dormitory as they were asleep on Monday night. They were taken by heavily armed members of the militant group Boko Haram. Child abductions have been going on in parts of Africa for years.

Remember the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and that "Stop Kony" video that detailed his vile acts, and it went viral with nearly 100 million hits over just a few days? Well, President Obama has even sent troops to that region to help capture him.

When I covered this story at its height back in 1998, this nun, Sister Rachele, was in tears as she showed me how and where 139 girls were taken from her school in the dead of night by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.

They were forced into his ranks of child soldiers.

And now the award-winning American writer, Susan Minot, is putting the tragic tale back into the spotlight with her latest novel, "Thirty Girls." As the Nigerian drama was unfolding earlier this week, she told me that her mission is to put the plight of these children back into the public eye.


AMANPOUR: Susan Minot, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: The Lord's Resistance Army and Joseph Kony has been something that we newspeople had been following for the last 15-20 years. Why did it suddenly become the focus of your novel, of your latest novel?

MINOT: Well, it was when I did this story, for about 20 years, he was marauding and looting and victimizing children.

And so eight years ago when I was writing this book it was still going on. So I wanted to try to write about it as a novelist from sort of the inside out.

AMANPOUR: The protagonists are a novelist's dream; Sister Rachele in real life is Sister Julia in your book. Agnes in real life, one of the girls who was abducted and then actually managed to escape is Esther in your book.

What was it about what particularly happened in that school, in that convent that touched you?

MINOT: Well, it's quite a dramatic story to have 139 girls woken in the middle of the night and kidnapped by a group of bandits and led into the -- into the bush and to have one of the teachers of the school chase after and bring almost all of them back --


AMANPOUR: It is remarkable --

MINOT: -- that story.

AMANPOUR: It is remarkable and we're going to play a little chunk of what she said, about how she begged for their return.


SISTER RACHELE FASSERA, TEACHER, ST. MARY'S BOARDING SCHOOL: He bent down and on the ground he wrote, "The girls are 139. I will give you 109." He wrote, "I keep 30."

I knelt in front of him and I said, "No, please give me all the girls."

He said, "No."

Then they started, "Sister, they will rape us tonight. Sister, will you come back tonight? Sister, can you bring us the toilet tissue? Sister, I mean, we're in my period." Ah, I could not remember that one.

And some of them they look at me like this without, you know, imploring with their eyes, that I could do something for them. I couldn't do anything. That was the last time I saw them.


AMANPOUR: When you hear that, what do you think about what she went through?

MINOT: Well, I think a lot about it. I've thought about it for the last 16 years, since I heard her story. And the bravery that she went through, the horrible situation that she was in just haunted me.

AMANPOUR: We have another clip from this girl who I interviewed and who you met as well when you went to cover the story, Agnes, who'd been one of the girls who was kept by the rebel commanders. And this is her telling me how she was forced to kill.


AMANPOUR: Did you take part in punishing a girl for trying to escape?

AGNES: All of us were made to do so.

AMANPOUR: What did you do?

AGNES: They gave us this firewood to beat her and you beat her and pass, beat her and pass.

AMANPOUR: So you have to beat her?

AGNES: Yes. Quickly --

AMANPOUR: And you walk by and some of the others beat the girl.

And did she die?

AGNES: She died.

AMANPOUR: What do you think about having been made to kill somebody?

AGNES: I'm OK at times.

AMANPOUR: At times?

AGNES: There are times I could think of her.

AMANPOUR: You still think of her?


AMANPOUR: You see her face?



AMANPOUR: When you hear children who are, after all, the same age as your own daughter, talk like that, I mean, can you even believe it?

MINOT: No. It was, you know, it was unbelievable to hear. Or it wasn't - - I won't say unbelievable because, again, I've thought about this a long time. And turns out there's nothing that's really unbelievable. But it's, to me, the most horrendous thing about it was that this was going on continually and the world was not doing anything to stop it.

AMANPOUR: Read a little from your book about Esther.

MINOT: OK. Well, this is from Esther's who's returned from being with the rebels for years. And she's trying to piece her life back together.

"The first days are still vivid for me. I would not be sorry to forget them, but so far they stay. Things latch onto you and they're not so easy to unlatch. You may try to forget, but forgetting happens without your trying when you no longer care.

"None of us knew how long we might be with the rebels, if we would live or die. For myself, I tried to keep a calm place inside me. This place I thought of as my soul."

AMANPOUR: It's amazing, hearing you read that, just takes me back all those years to talking to Agnes, the little girl who had that experience.

What's been the reaction to your book?

MINOT: People have been very -- I see them open and listening to the situation in a way that when I wrote my nonfiction piece, I actually never even heard a peep back about it.


MINOT: So it was sort of one of the reasons why, you know, eight years later, I thought, there's that story still and I never really heard anyone respond.

And yes, activism is certainly a response. But just the sort of human recognition of that we're not so very far away from other people's experience.

AMANPOUR: Susan, thank you very much.

MINOT: You're very welcome.


AMANPOUR: And with that in mind and with the crisis of ordinary students being forcibly recruited even today as child soldiers in Africa, it is worth recalling again my conversation with Sister Rachele back in Uganda in 1997.


AMANPOUR: And so for 10 years these kind of abductions were going on.

Why did it take so long for this to come to public attention?

FASSERA: I don't know. I know that I feel responsible also for the silence. We started talking, moving, doing something only when they took our girls. It is a crime to remain silent. I think that we must do something.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the power of art, it can expose the tragedy of child soldiers and their victims, as we just saw with Susan Minot's new novel, "Thirty Girls," and now imagine a world where it can also breathe life into the simplest of things, a pair of scissors and a piece of paper.

"Henri Matisse: The Cutouts" opens this week at the Tate Modern in London, the largest such collection of the great artist's works ever assembled under one roof. These deceptively simple-looking paper cutouts were created by the modern master and contemporary of Picasso in the last years of his life. In his 70s, when other elderly artists might have retired or merely repeated themselves, Matisse created a whole new art form.

Confined to a wheelchair and unable to hold a paintbrush at the time, he began cutting out colored paper into glorious vibrant shapes that celebrated the essential beauty of nature and the joy of living.

No wonder Matisse was one of those modern artists that the Nazis condemned and confiscated back in the 1930s, and tomorrow along with the renowned historian Simon Schama, I'll visit the Neue Galerie right here in New York City, where crowds have been lining up to see an extraordinary exhibit of what Hitler labeled Degenerate Art.

Humanity versus the merciless machinery of hate, a battle that still rages in our world today. We focus on that tomorrow.

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