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Ukraine on Edge; Syria -- Evacuating Homs; Imagine a World

Aired May 8, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


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

Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine have defied the West and even Vladimir Putin today. They've announced they will move forward with a referendum on breaking away. The votes are planned for this Sunday in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and the Russian ruble slumped on that news just 24 hours after it had risen, when President Putin yesterday said that he was pulling Russian troops back from the border and telling separatists to postpone their referendum.

Now we've been watching these scenes for months now, pro-Russian rebels clashing with Ukrainian police, taking over buildings, tearing down Ukrainian flags. But the facts and the people tell a different story. Majorities in these areas do not want to join Russia. A new Pew poll out today finds that 77 percent of all Ukrainians want to remain in a united Ukraine and significantly in the East, site of the so-called uprisings, the number is nearly as high with 70 percent saying they do not want to break away from Kiev.

And perhaps most noteworthy, even among Russian speakers in the East, there is still a majority -- 58 percent -- who say they want to stay in a united Ukraine.

But the situation is very volatile, despite efforts by the Ukrainian government to regain control. Joining me now from Kiev is the foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia.

Good evening, Mr. Foreign Minister. Thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Now I don't know whether you believed President Putin or the separatists, would they listen to him when they said -- when he said postpone the referendum. But they say they're going ahead.

What is your take on that?

And how badly would that destabilize even further the nation?

DESHCHYTSIA: Look, this referendum is illegal and it is held in the very limited regions of Ukraine. Technically it's almost impossible to have this referendum. The -- in few buildings that were seized by these separatist groups.

So Mr. Putin's saying -- asking for the postponing referendum, which is -- he asked for postponing referendum which is absolutely also unprecedented, because he -- what he should do is to ask to stop the referendum or cancel the referendum at all.



DESHCHYTSIA: If this referendum is held, it will destabilize the situation even more in these regions.

AMANPOUR: -- are you prepared still to go ahead with the May 25th elections? Do you think you can hold those even if this referendum is held this weekend?

DESHCHYTSIA: Yes, of course. We are committed to have the elections, presidential elections, on the 25th of May and the protests of the election campaign is ongoing according to the schedule set by the central election committee. And we do believe that these elections will be held all around Ukraine and this is actually the reason why the law enforcement units in Eastern Ukraine are -- has launched the operation to restore the order in this part of Ukraine --

AMANPOUR: Yes. As we watch --

DESHCHYTSIA: -- to make sure that people -- that people can -- that people can vote on the date of elections.

AMANPOUR: -- right, but, you know, we see pretty mixed results of these operations going on in Eastern Ukraine, you know, a lot -- there have been significant deaths and it hasn't all worked. There are still barricades in Ukraine -- you, Kiev, still haven't established full order over that region.

Why not?

DESHCHYTSIA: Look, this operation was postponed for a few times and the reasons for the different reasons for the Geneva talks, for the Geneva implementation of the Geneva occurred for the operation to release the OSCE military observers. So this operation was suspended but it will continue because these separatist groups did not stop. They've been in the last few days to take in more and more buildings and to right in more civil population. So I think that we -- that the Ukrainian government and the law enforcement forces has to be more decisive and actually that's what people from the region are expecting, too, from us.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Foreign Minister, new pictures have emerged from Russia, showing President Putin observing some military exercises, notably rocket launches. And we're playing these pictures on the air right now.

What do you make of the fact that he said he was going to be pulling back troops from your border? And the United States is telling CNN certain officials that they believe President Putin's aim is to landlock Ukraine, take control of Odessa, the port, and landlock Ukraine.

DESHCHYTSIA: Look, I think that we -- that Russians are threatening in Ukraine and Ukraine people, while deploying more and more troops on the Ukrainian-Russian border. And also it's escalated situation and it's -- goes wrong with the Russian commitment to implement the Geneva document which is aimed to stabilize situation in Eastern Ukraine.

I think that Putin was -- needs leading given this information about the withdrawal of troops from the borders. According to the intelligence data for Ukrainian military, there is no movement of Russian troops back to the Russian territory.

AMANPOUR: That's right, NATO says the same thing.

But is there any effort, ongoing effort, to try to deescalate this, your authorities, is your interim government in any talks of any substance with the Russian government? Is President Putin engaged in any diplomacy that makes any sense to this crisis?

DESHCHYTSIA: Look, we still believe in the diplomatic and political solution of this conflict. And this is a reason that Ukrainian government is participating in the Geneva format. And we also are ready to discuss this conflict directly with the Russian officials.

However, we think that Russia is limiting itself and saying -- by saying that Russia is interested in stabilization, which we do not see; we wanted to see some actions and not only words. And not only declarations from Russia.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, thank you very much indeed for joining me tonight from Kiev.



AMANPOUR: And as President Putin continues to confound the West, President Obama has vented his frustration with the seemingly intractable crises that he faces around the world from Ukraine to Nigeria and of course the brutal civil war that's been tearing Syria apart.

In a speech last night, he said that even though he is the President of the United States, quote, "Every day when I wake up and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria, there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids."

Meantime, in Syria, combatants are taking matters into their own hands and forging their own deals.

President Assad's forces today raised the victory flag in rubble- strewn Homs, and waved portraits of Assad after an agreement that allowed more than 1,000 rebel fighters to leave with one small weapon each and government forces to take back the strategic town.

It is a major victory for Assad, ahead of what most describe as sham elections that he's called for next month. Rebels had held out here in Homs for more than a year under a brutal siege and on the verge of starvation towards the end. But they say they're not surrendering, just slipping away to fight another day.

But as Homs quiets for now, a massive bomb rocked Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city. Rebels reportedly destroyed a hotel, used as a base by President Assad's forces.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Now coming up next our electrifying eyewitness account of the totalitarian state of North Korea. But first as we take a break, if President Obama is frustrated with Syria, look at this scene that unfolded live on Jordanian television, two journalists sparring over Syria got so angry that they destroyed the set.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

It is the world's most secretive state, ruled by a brutal family of dictators and an extraordinary cult of personality. The state is North Korea and Kim Jong-un is the latest dictator. Any image from this hermit state is carefully scrutinized for meaning.

So why is young Kim always surrounded by notetakers? Analysts say the meaning here is to portray himself, even at 31 years old, as the all- knowing sage. But my next guest has deeply disturbing stories to tell about his life as a favorite of Kim's father, Kim Jung-il. For years, Jang Jin-Sung served as the regime's propaganda machine.

Listen to why even he fled his privileged position and who he says really runs the state and runs the Kims.

Jang fled 10 years ago and he's just published his memoir, called "Dear Leader." He joined me earlier in the studio.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Jang, welcome to our program.

JANG JIN-SUNG, NORTH KOREAN POET (through translator): Really honored to meet you.

AMANPOUR: Every year, thousands of North Koreans try to defect. You did this 10 years ago.

Let me ask you what price you had to pay for leaving; you've left your family behind.

JANG (through translator): I could not tell my parents when I decided to leave North Korea because that would -- that would jeopardize their innocence when they came to be questioned by the Secret Service when they learned of my defection.

So I was not even given the right to say goodbye to my family for one last time. So to me, I am a sinner in that regard that I could not say goodbye to my parents.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they're alive?

JANG (through translator): I can't know for certain but knowing North Korea and the things I have been doing, the truth I have been telling, they would have suffered somehow because of my escape.

AMANPOUR: You met Kim Jung-il several times.

What was he like? Very few people can actually come out and tell us what he was like.

JANG (through translator): Until the day I met Kim Jung-il, I truly considered him divine, as someone more holy, like a sage, someone to be revered, someone who was better than us, who was sacrificing his own life for the people.

I really thought he did not use the toilet. It's just somehow set apart. But when I met him, I realized there was more than one version of our country's narrative because the man I saw standing in front of me was a man. He was a human being. He was not a holy man. He was not a saint. He was not a god.

He was a man just like me, who did use the toilet.

And yet that is not how our country portrayed him, how our party portrayed him.

So I started to think, wow, there are two Kim Jung-ils in our country. There are two narratives in our country.

AMANPOUR: What kind of a guy was he? We all know he wore high heels because he was short.

JANG (through translator): The only voice of Kim Jung-il that I had known was the voice that we heard through the propaganda. He always spoke in perfectly composed, flowery language and he always respected the people. He used a higher register for the people when he spoke.

But when I met him, he just spoke in slang like in a kind of commanding colloquial, working-class slang, even to his most senior men.

And that was shocking to me, almost seemed to say, again, there were two men here.

And you mentioned the high heels. He was wearing high heels.

Why does this great perfect leader have to wear high heels just to present something to us? What is he trying to hide? Why is this a fabrication?

AMANPOUR: We all have been told these terrible stories whereby even the slightest crime in North Korea can be punishable by death, whether it's breaking traffic rules or all the way to disrespecting the regime.

But you were in the heart of it. And you were obviously paid well in a country that was really, really poor.

What caused you to break with Kim Jung-il? Why did you decide to leave?

JANG (through translator): After I met Kim Jung-il, I became one of his admitted into his inner circle of immunity and in North Korea, when you get admitted into his inner circle after having spent more than 20 minutes with him behind closed doors at his personal request, you -- this kind of sanctity, divinity gets transferred onto your person so that you become immune from all prosecution, all harm. You're protected by his divinity.

And at that point, I had gone the highest place you could go as a North Korean. And when you reach that point, there is no way to look but backwards. As I looked back on the life I had lived, I realized that there was nothing here, that there was nothing I could do to move ahead.

And I looked back and saw suffering, saw lies; I could not reconcile where I was with the country I was living in.

AMANPOUR: You describe in your book the horrors that you witnessed, the terrible famine that ravaged the province that you came from, where maybe a million people died of starvation. You talk about seeing bodies in the streets and people clearing them up in stacks.

You also say that you witnessed a public execution.

What was that like for you to see that horror and to fear it?

JANG (through translator): I went back home to my hometown of Sariwon and that was when I really witnessed the devastating effects of the famine. That's where I saw the corpses in the station area just piling up and being taken away. I might have heard rumors about famine sweeping through the provinces in North Korea, but I did not think it could really be true.

And seeing it in my hometown, happening to my townfolk, wow, this is real. In North Korea, 3 million people may die; 13 million people may die.

But there is no way to verify what is happening because the only authorized version of history is the one written by the state.

AMANPOUR: You write in your book that executions were public, that the soldiers brought people to witness these executions and that they weren't so much punishment; they were something else.

JANG (through translator): In North Korea, a public execution is -- literally it's not classified as a punishment in response to a crime. It's considered a method of moral education, of building up society's standards of morality.

So that's why these executions happen in public places, such as market squares, where people watch it. And in this way, this rule by fear, the rule by terror that's constant awareness that if you step against, if you step out of line, if you think -- if you defy the regime's narrative, this will happen to you.

It becomes a theater. It's not a matter of law or crime and punishment. It's a matter of reinforcing publicly what is morally good and bad.

AMANPOUR: It's extraordinary to hear you describe it like that.

So what about Kim Jong-un, the current dictator in North Korea? Many people thought because he was young, because he went to school in Switzerland, because he likes Disney, because he has a pretty wife that there would be a change.

And yet he has gotten rid of a lot of the old guard, including his own uncle, who he had executed.

JANG (through translator): When Kim Jung-il died and Kim Jong-un succeeded him, people saw the transfer of power from father to son.

What they did not see also was what happened to the apparatus of the totalitarian system that supported the rule of Kim Jung-il; it's called the Organization and Guidance Department, the OGD.

This is the organ that Kim Jung-il rose through up 30 years with his friends in the university. Kim Jung-il had the OGD as his old boys' network. Kim Jong-un may have friends in his Swiss school; he has no one inside North Korea. He did not build up his power to get where he was. He received it symbolically.

After the execution of Jang Song-Thaek, he has become an orphan, not just in terms of family connections, but in terms of politics. He's a political orphan. He has to rely on his father's advisers.

The OGD has remained then and now. The same men are in power. The same men have kept their positions, the men the world has not seen.

AMANPOUR: Since you left 10 years ago, there's been a tiny little bit more opening and penetration, DVDs come in; USBs come in. The people are seeing and hearing more than they did before.

Look at these pictures of a woman confronting a soldier because he's trying to stop her selling a little bit of rice to make a bit of money.

Do you think people will rise up against the Kim dynasty?

JANG (through translator): Currently, there are two classes in North Korea locked in battle with each other. One I will call the loyal class. This is the class that is invested, in that it has a stake in this continuation of the status quo of repression and surveillance and control.

The other class are the market buffers (ph), like the woman in the video. Their livelihoods are not sustained by the system but actually oppressed by it. And this is the struggle: change cannot come from the top. Change cannot come from the class that it has a stake in the continuance of the status quo.

Change will come when the market becomes stronger. In the past, there was only one thing to belong to, one thing that sustained you, one thing that kept your family going, was loyalty to the cult of Kim.

But now people have realize finally, after the famine, that it is not loyalty that feeds them. It is money. It is work. It is owning something. It's individual property that feeds one.

So people are actually in practice worshiping their livelihoods over loyalty to the state.

AMANPOUR: Jang Jin-Sung, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

Fascinating story.

JANG: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And just a note about raising your voice for the state, Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend topped the charts before she was toppled from favor with stirring tunes, such as "I Love Pyongyang," "Excellent Horse-like Navy" and other favorites.

And after a break, politics has stolen the spotlight in this year's Eurovision song contest. They may not be singing "Cry Me a River," but they ought to. We'll explain when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the resurgence of Cold War alliances isn't just taking place in and around Ukraine. Imagine a world where geopolitics and pop music collide on stage.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The Eurovision song contest, that campy musical extravaganza that gave the world Abba and Celine Dion and humbled Engelbert Humperdinck, is expected to draw a staggering 100 million viewers for the televised finals this weekend. And among the potential finalists are Russia's 17-year-old Tolmachevy twins, who wowed the first semifinals with this number.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And they'll take the stage again tonight in the penultimate round with a chance to vie for the crown. But politics rose up and threw rotten tomatoes when it was announced that the Russian twins were moving forward in the competition. The cheers turned to boos.


AMANPOUR: By the way, Ukraine is also in the finals. Now for years it's been suspended that nationalist loyalties have swayed the voters. But a recent study seemed to debunk that theory until Russia decided to bully Ukraine and annex Crimea for an encore.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And it isn't just two perky twins from Kursk who have drawn fire and ire. Austria's entry with the mouthwatering name of Conchita Wurst is a gender-bending drag queen, the latest in a series of transsexuals and transvestites who pushed the entertainment envelope.


AMANPOUR: But Russia, not busy enough carving out a new empire, has added its petitions to Belarus and Armenia, demanding the best of worst be removed or edited from the program. Stay tuned.

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 London.