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Crisis in Ukraine; Carnage After Kidnapping; U.S. Military Team Heading to Nigeria

Aired May 7, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Vladimir Putin, strong like bear, just turn tail like rabbit over Ukraine, or is this all some sort of weird head-fake?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Those 40,000 to 50,000 Russian troops perched on Ukraine's border, well, Putin said today that he's pulling them back. And that vote on Sunday that could break away Southeastern Ukraine, well, Putin says, move that back. Naturally, the White House is skeptical of it all.

Also in world news, the terrorists who vow to sell more than 270 girls they kidnapped, well, they're only growing bolder in Nigeria, assaulting a village with bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Now that Nigeria is accepting American help, what is the U.S. prepared to do?

And the buried lead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The girl's going nuts trying to get out of her house.


TAPPER: He became an unlikely celebrity when he rescued three young women who had been held captive in a neighbor's home. Now a year later, Charles Ramsey will visit THE LEAD to tell us how the experience has changed him forever.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the world lead. I am not sure who this guy is, but he does not sound much like Vladimir Putin, Russia's president today making a stunning reversal from the combative rhetoric he's been tossing out for months about the Ukraine. Speaking in Moscow, Putin says he's withdrawn those 40,000 to 50,000 troops he's positioned along Russia's western border with Ukraine, though the White House officials say today that they have not seen any evidence that that is actually happening.

They add that Russian troops are there not to train, but to destabilize and agitate. But that supposed withdrawal by Putin, it's not the only thing that this man, who I'm going to call bizarro Putin, spoke about today. He also reached out to the pro-Russia separatists who have seized government buildings in at least a dozen cities in Eastern Ukraine. Putin asked them to postpone a secession vote set for Sunday. More on that in a moment.

And just a day after his own foreign minister questioned whether it was appropriate for Ukraine to hold presidential elections on May 25, in the middle of an uprising, well, Putin today said, with some reservations, they're a good idea.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I want to underline that the planned presidential elections in Kiev are a move in the right direction. But they won't solve anything if all of the citizens of Ukraine don't understand how their rights will be guaranteed after these elections are held.


TAPPER: Now, last week, President Obama told Russia to stay out of Ukraine's elections or risk tough new sanctions targeting entire sectors of Russia's economy.

White House officials are very suspicious of this new tone from Putin today. They don't think he's at all sincere about pulling his troops back. In fact, behind closed doors, they're warning he's got another prize waiting for him in Ukraine in his crosshairs.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here to break the story -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, as always with the Ukraine, two different versions of reality, right, one you will hear from Russia, one you will hear from U.S. officials.

But multiple sources on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon tell CNN, the U.S. senators were given what they described as a sobering briefing by the White House last night on the situation in Ukraine. According to the assessment, Russia now has its sights set on the southeastern -- southwestern, rather, port city of Odessa and will not allow it to stay under Ukrainian control since Moscow views as too crucial to both its trade and the resupply of Russian troops that are in the Transnistria region of Moldova.

This is the western part of the country now occupied by Russian forces, all this as attempts by the Ukrainian military to reassert its control in Eastern Ukraine again faltering.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The Ukrainian flag torn down, a pro-Russian flag paraded through the crowd, and with that one fleeting success of government forces in Eastern Ukraine reversed, as pro-Russian separatists retake part of Mariupol, Ukrainian troops who had moved in only hours earlier unceremoniously marched out. This tug-of-war between east and west inside Ukraine is growing more intense and more deadly, five pro-Russian activists killed overnight. U.S. officials say Russia remains the driving force behind the crisis.

But Russian President Putin continues to sell a different narrative. Today, he claimed Russia has withdrawn its troops from the Ukrainian border and called on pro-Russian separatists to delay a referendum on annexation by Russia scheduled for this Sunday.

PUTIN (through translator): A necessary condition for the start of this dialogue is the unconditional stopping the use of any violence for both the use of military force and the use of armed illegal units, extremists elements and forces, is absolutely unacceptable in the modern world.

SCIUTTO: With crucial national elections now less than three weeks away, the administration's critics in Congress are increasingly calling for tougher sanctions against Moscow.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't understand. I just -- I truly don't get it. We got 40,000 troops intimidating people on the inside. We have got black ops little green men doing the things they're doing on the inside. I don't understand. I really don't. I just don't understand the thinking of waiting until the damage is done.

SCIUTTO: But a Ukrainian presidential candidate in Washington argued that sanctions are just making matters worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We need to give Russia the opportunity to reevaluate its policies, but at the same time give the chance to save its political face. I believe the sanctions against Russia have no future.


SCIUTTO: As for President Putin's claim that Russia has now pulled back its forces from the Ukrainian border, President Putin invited the West to confirm this -- quote -- "using modern intelligence techniques, including from space."

But I spoke to a senior military official who has access to some of those modern intelligence techniques from space, or at least the intelligence arising from them, and he told me that he checked both this morning and this afternoon. There's no indication that those troops have moved back. And he said, frankly, I would be surprised if they did.

So, they have not a lot of trust coming from Washington in the direction of Moscow.

TAPPER: Yes, and that's not the first time that we have heard something from Russia, the United States has, and turned out not to be accurate in this story.

Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. With Eastern Ukraine in turmoil and Putin's cryptic comments, it's tough to tell which direction this crisis will go.

Earlier today, I spoke with former CIA and National Security Agency Director General Michael Hayden about Putin's strategy and what the U.S. can do to protect Ukraine.


TAPPER: General Hayden, thanks for joining us.

So, there was a closed-door briefing last night about Ukraine. Afterwards, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, came out and said that, in terms of Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine -- quote -- "This is clearly an invasion."

Has Russia invaded Ukraine?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Look, it might depend upon your meaning of the word, Jake.

Look, we have high-grade, high-density infiltration by Russian special forces, probably FSB officers as well, into Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Invasion, infiltration, it may be a difference without much distinction.

TAPPER: And what should the U.S. do?

HAYDEN: Well, the first thing we need to do is to actually establish true governance in the Ukraine.

We actually help -- have to help the government in Kiev really be a government, responsive, responsible, functioning. They haven't had that in Ukraine for several years. So, that's the first step.

I also think we need to, well, perhaps, increase the cost and the calculus that the Russians are making. A remarkable article yesterday in Politico by Zbigniew Brzezinski, I mean, one of the deans of American strategy, actually calling for the United States to arm the Ukrainians with weapons suitable for urban warfare as a way of deterring a massive Russian invasion.

TAPPER: In fact, let me quote that directly.

Brzezinski wrote in Politico -- quote -- "We should be making an effort to negotiate with Russia. Even at the same time, we should be more open to helping the Ukrainians defend themselves if they're attacked. To be able to defend a city, you have to have handheld anti-tank weaponry, handheld rockets, and some organization."

The truth of the matter is that the United States citizens, the public opposes arming the Ukrainians. And I don't sense any desire on behalf of any policy-makers, Democrat or Republican, to even risk the life of one American troop to defend Ukraine.

So, is this actually a good idea? HAYDEN: Actually, I do.

It's an edgy idea. It's leaning well forward kind of idea. It puts American prestige perhaps a bit more at direct risk. But, Jake, it doesn't put Americans at risk. We're not talking about putting Americans in the Ukraine. And, look, I understand, the nation is war- weary. We have got a lot of things to focus on at home.

That's why you saw the rest of Brzezinski's article called for very strong presidential leadership, for the president to speak up and speak out as to why this is important, that failure here leads to an unraveling of the post-Cold War status quo in Europe.

Right now, with what happened in Odessa, what happens in Kharkiv, Slavyansk, you have got the pawns on the board, the people in the streets, controlling the movements of the kings and queens. That's really bad.

TAPPER: We had Stephen Hadley on the show not long ago, your former colleague. He was a national security adviser for President Bush.

And he said that, in retrospect, when Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, it was a mistake for the Bush administration to not have imposed more serious economic sanctions against Russia. Do you agree?


HAYDEN: I agree, absolutely.

And what we did at that point didn't last long enough. Putin got out of the penalty box almost immediately after our presidential elections. And we are now -- we're now seeing the consequences of that action.

So, you asked a question earlier, are the American people willing to do this? This may be a "pay me now or pay me later" kind of proposition and inaction now might demand much more dramatic action on the part of the United States in the future.

TAPPER: Georgia's defense minister is giving some advice to Kiev -- we just talked about Georgia a second ago -- from their own experience with Russia in 2008. He said hunt for moles early, watch for these nongovernmental organizations that are really fronts for Moscow, seek out encrypted communications from the West.

What other advise would you give Kiev right now?

HAYDEN: Get organized. Have a real plan. Again, I'm not all calling for any American forces on the ground.

But I think the Ukrainians, the government in Kiev could use some military advice. How should they go about this strategically, operationally?

TAPPER: They can't fight Russia. Russia is much too big.

HAYDEN: We're not talking about fighting Russia.

And if the Russians decides to push those motorized rifle regiments across the border and sure enough the deep black earth of the Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainians can't stop them.

But to Brzezinski's point, the Ukrainians have never taken an occupation well. This is something Putin has to keep in mind. Crimea was bloodless, Jake. He does this in Eastern Ukraine, he succeeds for the first 96 hours, and then Russian soldiers start to come home in body bags. I hope that's a deterrent for him.

TAPPER: General Hayden, thank you so much.

HAYDEN: Thank you.


TAPPER: Coming up: The same terrorists who kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls strike again, this time throwing grenades and bombs into a crowded market. Will U.S. commandos soon be on the ground as the search for the girls intensifies?

Plus, confusion or cover-up? The Republican tasked with leading the investigation into what happened at Benghazi tells me he does not think the head of the CIA was being truthful -- that interview coming up ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the world news, first, the mass kidnapping, now, mass carnage. The terror group that took close to 300 teenage girls in Nigeria is now being blamed for blasting and burning their way through a town in a 12-hour rampage this week. Officials say 300 people may have died in the attack.

Now, finally, we're seeing worldwide outrage turn to action and finally, Nigeria opening its doors to help. We think.

Something parents like this mother who spoke to CNN have been demanding for weeks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most of the women, we mothers, we started crying because we have nobody to help us.


TAPPER: We now know that U.S. military personnel will be part of a group heading to Nigeria to help bring those girls home before they're sold into lives of slavery, forced marriage and prostitution. But don't expect special forces to swoop in, at least not yet.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr explains. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Mounting worldwide outrage at Boko Haram's vicious kidnapping of 200 school girls, now leading the U.S. to offer widespread intelligence and military assistance to Nigeria.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've accepted our help, a combination of military, law enforcement, and other agencies who are going in.

STARR: Nigeria agreed to accept U.S. help somewhat grudgingly, and still has to agree to the specifics. But a team of U.S. military experts are on the way, along with the FBI and others, offering help with intelligence, communications, and planning for a possible rescue.

There is already talk of U.S. commando raids.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: I think that the people on the ground have to -- going to have to determine if special forces are necessary.

STARR: But the Pentagon says, don't expect to see U.S. troops in action. More likely, detective work.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, RET. AIR FORCE COLONEL: Every single thing is based on having iron-clad intelligence on the target, on exactly where the girls are and how the girls are being treated. What they'll also look at is how the guards operate, what the routine is.

STARR: And that's the kind of intelligence the U.S. simply doesn't have at this point.

And what if the girls have already been moved?

LEIGHTON: Each one is going to be in an individual house, probably in different buildings, maybe even in different cities, and that makes it really difficult to do a coordinated raid to go after them at exactly the same time.

STARR: Without all of the raids at exactly the same time, Boko Haram would have advanced warning the U.S. is coming after them.


STARR: So what could the U.S. military offer? Perhaps drones flying overhead to begin to monitor Boko Haram's movements and communications, a first step to tracking them down -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Earlier, as you know, I spoke to the former head of the CIA and the National Security Agency, General Michael Hayden. He applauded the Obama administration's efforts to get involved in hunt for Boko Haram but cautioned that this could put another target on America's back.


GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: There's a cost, all right? You've got this al Qaeda franchise movement from Pakistan all the way to West Africa. Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, those al Qaeda guys are already committed against the far enemy, you and me. Boko Haram is not. Boko Haram is local.

And now we're making a choice -- I think it's right, but it carries consequences. We are putting an American face on opposition to Boko Haram, an organization that doesn't target Americans yet. And we may accelerate that process because of what we've done.

Again, I think it's right thing to do. But I can see why we had been hesitant to do it up until now.

TAPPER: Can Boko Haram strike us here in the U.S. or are you concerned about American targets in Africa?

HAYDEN: I am more concerned about American targets in Africa, Nigeria, in the capital, Western targets. They have attacked the U.N. compound there several years ago.

But, Jake, we went through the same calculus with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with al Qaeda in Yemen, and we did not take sharp action against them when they were embryonic and they grew.


TAPPER: U.S. authorities say that Boko Haram already receives weapons and communications training from al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and in the greater Middle East.

When we come back, more on the search for those missing school girls as a gathering of international leaders in Nigeria is overshadowed by terror. Will it scare off those who were thinking of investing in Africa?

Plus, the congressional battle hanging over Hillary Clinton's head. Will she be forced to testify again? I'll ask the Republican leading the charge, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our money lead, it is the event that leaders of Nigeria would no doubt like us all to focus on, the World Economic Forum on Africa. It opens today in Nigeria's capital, it's a three-day gathering centered on fostering the recent growth on the continent, with large swaths of the population are mired in dire poverty.

Right now, the headlines are dominated by Islamist terrorists abducting hundreds of young girls and laying waste to villages.

Let's bring in CNN global economic analyst, Rana Foroohar. She's also the assistant managing editor for "TIME" magazine and joins us live from inside Nigeria.

Rana, good to see you.

Is anyone going to pay attention to what's happening at that forum in Nigeria when the lives of nearly 300 girls are hanging in the balance and getting such global attention?

We lost Rana Foroohar. So, we'll come back to her in a second. How much the uprising will affect, of course, the -- is she coming back? Is she back?

OK. We're going to take a quick break.

Coming up, the GOP taking heat from one of its own trying to make money off the Benghazi investigation. Next, the Republican leading the congressional review tells me it should stop.

Plus, he's a former "American Idol" and he just might be the next Democratic candidate for congress in North Carolina. An update on the race too close to call last night, coming up.