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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Meeting in Paris; Sanctions against Russia; Crisis in Ukraine; U.N. Envoy Detained in Crimea

Aired March 5, 2014 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Wednesday, March the 5th. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

Let's continue with our breaking news. If there's a breakthrough to be had today in the Russian occupation of its neighbor on the Black Sea, it may not come from Ukraine and it may not come from Moscow, but it may just come from Paris, where Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting face-to-face this hour with his Russian counterpart, the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. It is their first direct talks since Russian forces, allegedly, not according to Russians but according to everybody else, is on the ground, swooped in and occupied Ukraine's heavily Russian Crimean region, an act that has outraged the west.

Here is where things stand right this moment. Kerry is expected to brief reporters this hour on what, if anything, he and his Russian counterpart are able to accomplish in the meeting that's planned. And, of course, we're going to bring it to you live.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he's beefing up a U.S. military training mission in Poland and he's adding planes to a Baltic air patrol mission, too. All of this right next to Russia.

And in Moscow, lawmakers are drawing up a measure that would confiscate U.S. and European assets if the United States and Europe slap sanctions on Russia. The House Foreign Affairs Committee could vote tomorrow on a non-binding sanction revolution.

But for now, the west is more focused on economic aid to the Ukraine. And the EU, today, promising $15 billion in trade, economic and technical assistance over two years.

I want to show you some video that's just coming in-house at CNN. A critical meeting that is about to get underway, if not already. Here is the United States secretary of state, John Kerry, heading into a meeting with the foreign secretary from Russia, Sergei Lavrov. This has been a much-anticipated meeting.

But here's what's fascinating. It is not the first face-to-face meeting since this crisis. That happened actually moments ago, within the last few hours. Something that was not supposed to happen, but did. Sergei Lavrov of Russia and John Kerry face-to-face in something called a pullout meeting. Something that happened on the sidelines of something altogether different in Paris. Some discussions had, nothing made public. But there is one thing that the secretary of state of the United States is urging, and that is direct talks between Russia and the Ukraine.

Joining me now to put all of these pieces together is CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

So let's start right there on the diplomatic front, because that seems to be where most of the action is right now. The secretary of state pushing for these talks between Russia and Ukraine. Do we have any clue whether Russia is the least bit interested and whether Ukraine is the least bit interested?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a start that they're talking, right, because this has been something that hasn't happened. There have been a lot of unreturned phone calls from U.S. officials to their Russian counterparts, but also a refusal on the Russian side to meet with the Ukrainian government at all because, remember, they look at this government as illegitimate. They say that the legitimate government was the pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled his post a little more than a week ago.

But you already had Kerry meet Lavrov, that's face-to-face, U.S. to Russia, the real key players here. They're going to meet again and they're clearly applying a lot of pressure on Lavrov to join in on a meeting that has his Ukrainian counterpart present. That's essential. So we're going to have to see in the next couple of hours if they're successful.

BANFIELD: And do we know anything about this, what they call -- I love the diplomatic speak, the pullout meeting, the sideline meeting that happened?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BANFIELD: It was effectively the first time, Jim, that these two had come face-to-face since this massive incursion in Crimea. Do we know if anything came of that?

SCIUTTO: It is. And, you know, it's a typical tactic to kind of lower the level of a meeting, right, for some -- from something official. And it's something that's been used, you know, in the past, for instance, when U.S. officials met Iranian officials before the recent, you know, warming of relations.

They met at a U.N. General Assembly, sort of walked by each other in the hallway and shake each other's hand, you know, that kind of thing, as an initial step towards more substantive contact. So I think that's something of what you saw here, although Kerry and Lavrov have plans to sit down, face-to-face, have a lengthier discussion.

BANFIELD: So the other question is, as all of this, you know, effort towards diplomacy seems to be getting traction in Paris, everywhere else in the world there's still a lot of rhetoric and ramping up of the threats. For instance, Chuck Hagel suggesting that there's going to be increased patrols of some of the NATO nations.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BANFIELD: Poland, in particular. And also in the Baltic regions, which is just right next - it's really on the cusp of Russia. And then the Russians also saying, you know, come after us, we'll come after you and freeze your money. So it sounds like everybody's still talking trash, except in Paris.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, you're right. Listen, it's a good cop/bad cop strategy. And it -- but it's typical diplomacy, right, that, you know, diplomacy has to be backed by force and strength. So you have these two paths, you know, the good cop path, speak to the Russians, try to get them down to the table with the Ukrainians, offer an off-ramp for the Russians.

That's this idea that, you know, for instance, sending international observers into eastern Ukraine to address Russia's concerns about -- Russia's claims, in fact, that ethnic Russians in that part of the country are under threat and were demanding a Russian rescue in effect. OK, so we're going to send observers in there and see if, you know, if indeed the ethnic Russians are under threat. That's what Kerry and others are offering.

But to back that up and to show that the patience of the Americans and the Europeans is limited, they're taking steps now to show their commitment to those NATO allies. You know, whenever we put the map up, it's always just great to remind people that those countries just to the west of Ukraine, they are NATO allies of the U.S. and they're nervous about this because if Russia is willing to go into a sovereign state in Europe, Ukraine, with its forces, with its guns drawn, you know, does that set a precedent for them to do the same, to move a little bit to the west and threaten one of those NATO allies.

BANFIELD: I'm really glad you mention that. I'm really glad you mention that, because look at the NATO members. I'm not sure if you've got the same map up if you've got a monitor.

SCIUTTO: I do, yes.

BANFIELD: But pop that map up again if we could. So the NATO members right up against Russia and Ukraine, I mean that's Russia's perspective right there, that ever since the demise of the Soviet Union, while people have been dancing on their grave effectively and bolstering a large block, which could be considered an enemy, right up against their border, that's the perspective of, you know, of Prime Minister Putin.

And with that in mind, I just wanted to ask you about something that transpired on Capitol Hill. Senator John McCain was at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, and he went after the sec def, the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, on what the Pentagon knew in advance. What kind of intelligence did we have? How good are we at knowing what Putin is up to? Have a listen. I want to ask you about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I'm not going to get into intelligence matters here in an open hearing, Senator, but --

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm not asking for intelligence matters. I just want to know whether you were made aware of this threat that -- that it was going to take place. I don't know how classified that would be.

HAGEL: Well, Senator, as I noted, I was at NATO last week and there was a NATO/Ukraine commission meeting. And early last week, we were made well aware of this threat.

MCCAIN: So are -- despite all the media reports, our intelligence sources predicted that Lavrov would invade Crimea?

HAGEL: As I said, I don't get into the specifics in open hearing. But if you would like a briefing, your staff, on your specifics of your question -

MCCAIN: Well, how about commenting on news reports that say that?

HAGEL: Well - well, news reports are news reports, but that's not the same as real -

MCCAIN: (INAUDIBLE) accurate -

HAGEL: It's not real intelligence, though.

MCCAIN: OK. In other words, the fact is, Mr. Secretary, it was not predicted by our intelligence, and it's already been well-known, which is another massive failure, because of our misreading, total misreading of the intentions of Vladimir Putin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Ah, some pretty critical conversation going on right here on Capitol Hill. So how much do we know, Jim? And not to suggest that you know what they know, but how much do we know about what they know?

SCIUTTO: Well, I'll tell you - I'll tell you, good question. I have reached out and I've spoken to the CIA about this. I've also spoken to other officials who have read those intelligence reports. The CIA pushes back very hard. They say that they presented a number of scenarios for possible intervention. There's their on the record statement.

"The CIA regularly updated policy makers to ensure they have an accurate and timely picture of the unfolding crisis." It goes on to say, "these updates included several possible scenarios and any suggestion otherwise is flat wrong." So they're pushing back very hard, you know, hinting that they did say that this is one possibility.

Now, here's the thing. And Senator McCain knows this. In my old job, I've read classified intelligence reports. You know, we have this imagination that they say, x is going to happen tomorrow. And, you know, intelligence is a murky thing. They have indications, they make judgments, occasionally they'll put percentages attached to the possibilities of things. But very rarely, or maybe never, do you see an intelligence report that says, x is going to happen tomorrow. President Putin is going to do x and here's how it's going to look like.

BANFIELD: Sure.

SCIUTTO: So, you know, the CIA's argument here is that we presented a number of scenarios. He's an unpredictable guy. These scenarios, you know, what happened was among these scenarios but, you know, so to say that, you know, we had no idea he was going to do anything is incorrect.

On the other hand, Ashleigh, you know, Senator McCain makes a point, because we were hearing from U.S. officials last week that it was not their assessment that the Russians were going in. So, you know, that -- you can call that a mistake. But it's hard for these guys to be certain about these things all the time.

BANFIELD: You know, say what you will about hearings and them being all theater, but it's great to hear some of the things in those hearings. Jim Sciutto live for us. Stand by. Thank you for that.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BANFIELD: I want to go directly to Dana Bash, who's also on Capitol Hill. I want to go from the Senate to the House, the foreign affairs group that we've been talking about. We've also got the House Foreign Affairs hearing as well. And the vote that's going on, apparently tomorrow, regarding sanctions.

Dana, I'm not sure if they got the memo on what was said by Prime Minister Putin, if there are sanctions, we'll freeze your assets and we'll freeze assets of anybody else involved in those kinds of sanctions. Do the congressmen -- are they taking that into account with their thoughts about this vote tomorrow?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably not because they are going to take a vote. And the reason I was looking down when you were commenting to me, Ashleigh, is that CNN just obtained this resolution, that the House foreign Affairs Committee is going to vote on. And I got it as - you know, right before you were coming to me, so I haven't had a chance to read it in full.

But the basic concept of it is to, as you can imagine, condemn the actions that Russia has taken in the Ukraine. Calls upon the president and leaders of other democratic states not to attend the G-8 Summit in Sochi, Russia. And also talks about the idea of financial and economic assistance.

And in addition to that, it does talk about the concept of some sanctions. And I'm going to go into it and I can get back to you with the specifics because, as I said, I just got it. This is first on CNN.

But the broader answer to your question about why Congress is doing this is because Democrats and Republicans, both parties, feel the need for Congress, at least those in the House, to make a stand, to make a statement. The thing to underscore here is that this is nonbinding. It doesn't have the act of law underneath it. But it is, instead, a message from Congress.

And that's why they feel that they at least want to go ahead with that in the Congress to kind of give the president a little bit of teeth and a little bit more of a stick as he goes ahead and tries to convince Vladimir Putin to back down and do some of the things that the United States is demanding.

BANFIELD: All right. Dana, do a deep dive into that and then when you've had a chance to digest the salient points, without question, come back and report to us what you found.

BASH: We'll do.

BANFIELD: And thank you for getting that on as quickly as you did. Appreciate that. Dana Bash reporting live from Capitol Hill.

I've got something else that's just come into our offices as well, and this one really raised the hackles for a couple of people. A U.N. envoy, who is in the Crimea, was threatened at gun-point. Apparently there were several armed men who tried to get Robert Serry into a car. This according to the United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, telling CNN that this was possibly an effort to kidnap Mr. Serry. He is a direct envoy, a representative to Ban Ki-moon. He was sent to Kiev and he was sent to Ukraine and then to the Crimea to continue watching the developments there. So very distressing to hear.

Apparently 15 -- somewhere between 10 and 15 armed men, who took him to a car, held him at gun-point, prevented him from leaving. Apparently he was taken to a cafe and then left unharmed. So whether this was -- and this is courtesy, by the way, of our Richard Roth, CNN's Richard Roth, giving us this information via the deputy secretary general, who is in Kiev right now.

But again, Robert Serry, a U.N. envoy to the Ukraine, threatened, intimidated, possibly an attempted kidnapping. He is OK, as we are led to understand at this point, and is not in the custody of anyone but those who are allies and friends.

Russia's president threatening to seize the assets of American companies if America does what it says it might do, sanctions. We're talking about some of the world's biggest name brands like Pepsi and Exxon and GM, General Motors. Just ahead, we're going to talk about what this means to the world economy, and then right down to your bottom line, as well. Christine Romans is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Want to keep you updated on breaking news on the crisis in Ukraine, and that is that a U.N. envoy may have had an attempted kidnapping, actually, just in the last hour.

But Robert Serry apparently was approached by 10 to 15 armed men and was intimidated, possibly even abducted and taken to a cafe. He is OK at this time. But I want to go directly live to Anna Coren reporting for us. Do you know the specifics of what transpired and if Mr. Serry is OK right now?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, it's a pretty fluid situation. We're just getting bits and pieces of information, trying to put it together.

We do understand that this is taking place as we speak, that Robert Serry, the special U.N. envoy to Ukraine, is being held against his will in a cafe. He is there with an ITN journalist, one of our affiliates, a British network.

So currently in this cafe, armed men, not letting them leave. The ITN journalist, he is tweeting in real-time, saying that they are not hurt. They remain unharmed. They are being held against their will. We understand that Mr. Serry, who is from the Netherlands, had been speaking to a naval commander a little bit earlier.

The U.N. has come out and said that he has not been kidnapped, but certainly according to these tweets from this ITN journalist with Mr. Serry, they are being held against their will in a cafe, not very far from where we are.

Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Well, I don't know what the definition of kidnapping is over there, but I will tell you, the definition under U.S. law of kidnapping is being blocked from moving. In fact, O.J. Simpson was convicted of something similar in a hotel room.

So if they are not able to leave that cafe, are there threats going outside? Are there demands being made from these armed men? What exactly do we know as the reason why they can't leave?

COREN: Yes, Ashleigh, I wish I could tell you more. Unfortunately, just limited information at this stage, just the facts that we have, being held in this cafe.

The U.N. from New York has said he has not been kidnapped, but as I say, these ITN journalist, by these armed men who we can only presume are pro-Russian. There are plenty of those people here in Simferopol, which is, of course, the capital of Crimea.

Russian president Vladimir Putin says that the people who are roaming around, being these thugs, if you like, are not Russian troops, that they are a local militia.

Ashleigh, I can certainly tell you they are pro-Russian, and that anyone who is against them, anyone who is "pro" the new Ukrainian government, pro-West, is considered the enemy.

BANFIELD: Anna, as you're talking, I'm getting some other reports, as well. I just want to get this broadcast, as well.

Apparently, he was ordered to get in the car, and he was told to go to the airport. My information is very sketchy, as well. He apparently refused his assailants' demands to go to the airport, stayed in the car. And then what happened after that is completely unclear. What we do know, as you reported, is that he was taken to this cafe. From what we gather, he's unharmed.

Anna, stay put, if you will. I want to bring in a veteran U.S. ambassador and the current dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Christopher Hill, you were held at gun-point in Kosovo. I'm not sure if you were the ambassador at that time, if you were an envoy at that time, but maybe you could try and elucidate a little about what you think may be happening or at least what this experience is like for those who are in a position of observatory power to be intimidated like this.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, DEAN, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER: Well, I was -- in my case, I was a special envoy to Kosovo, and you do a lot of traveling, internally. And in my case, I came across a checkpoint, and I wanted to get through the checkpoint, and they wouldn't let me. And then they wouldn't let us go.

And so -- what you have to do is kind of be patient, because the command and control in these kinds of situation is very sketchy, to say the least, so you don't want to give into these people.

At the same time, you want to be a little careful, because you have no idea whether they're just, you know, real army or wearing some kind of uniform they bought somewhere. You have no idea really who they are and what their control is.

And, you know, they can also be just people sort of taking their, you know, mafia-type operations and becoming politicized and therefore part of the political scene.

So, you have to be very careful in these circumstances, speak very softly, be kind of firm about what you're doing and be clear about whom you're representing, in my case, the U.S. government. So they let us go, but it does speak to the fact that these circumstances can be very fluid, and information reaches the ground.

I mean, after all, the real action right now in Ukraine is in Paris, so if you're a Ukrainian on the ground, you're sort of worried, What's happening to your country? What are people talking about, thousands of miles away? So, it gets very, very tense.

BANFIELD: You know, and as you're speaking, Mr. Ambassador, I just want to update some of the information that's coming into us via Richard Roth, who is our correspondent at the United Nations.

He's been in contact with some of his contacts there, as well. And the deputy secretary general for the U.N., Jan Eliasson, told him that, apparently, he -- Mr. Serry was told to get into a car and was told he was going to be taken to the airport.

Apparently, he refused. He sat in the car, but then was blocked by those men from leaving. Somehow he was able to then get to a coffee shop and call Jan Eliasson here, with the U.N. So, we're a little unclear at this point as to whether he was blocked or impeded from leaving that cafe.

And look, a fog of this I understand. I've been on the ground in enough combat situations, and this isn't even a combat situation. It's just extremely confusing, especially with so much of the rhetoric that flies about, the threats and the propaganda, as well.

Help me understand this. If you're in a circumstance like that and these are quote/unquote armed men, do you even know who you're dealing with and do you know the right or wrong words to say when you don't know who it is who has got you?

HILL: Well, you need it make it clear to them you are representing higher authority, that is, if they mess with you, that somehow they're going to be messing with higher authorities.

So, I think that's important in this in these kinds of circumstances. I might do something different if I were captured by al Qaeda or something.

In my case, though, they finally let us go, but then they wanted to keep the embassy Belgrade driver, whom they knew to be a Serb, and wanted to hold on to him.

And I said very firmly, no, he comes with us. We're not moving until we have our embassy driver with us. So, it was one of these things where you could clearly see there was not a lot of command and control.

You know, there is not a lot of training that goes on in these things. They're told, you know, keep this checkpoint, and don't let anyone through. And this was in a place that I remember Richard Holbrooke described as the most dangerous spot in Europe. This little prosaic place called Kicevo.

So, there is a certain banality to the whole thing, but you just have to be kind of calm and firm and clear about your intentions. And the fact that you're unarmed, I think, should send some signal to these people.

It sounds like they were saying, you know, Foreigner, go home, get on the airplane and we'll take you to the airport, this kind of thing. And so it sounds like it was well handled on the part of the U.N. representative.

BANFIELD: Sounds banal. I recall a checkpoint in Afghanistan that was manned by a bunch of 14-, 15-year-old kids who seemed extraordinarily high at 3:00 in the morning.

And it's all banal, until they have no clue what's going on and they don't have a lot of the sensibilities or sensitivities that perhaps older, more experienced people have, so matter what -

HILL: You've got to - BANFIELD: Yeah, it's frightening. It's very frightening.

HILL: Yeah, I mean, they're -

BANFIELD: You're more brave than I am, doing this for a living.

HILL: Yeah, there are people in that part of the world who grow up with their life ambition to own their own checkpoint.

And when they own their own checkpoint, there is money to be made. There is all kinds of authority to have when you have your own checkpoint.

BANFIELD: Can you stand by, Ambassador Hill, for a moment? I've got a couple other things on the agenda, but I definitely want your perspective on them, not the least of which is a NATO news conference which is about to get under way, as well.

This, of course, all about the pressures that are being exerted on Russia over the Ukraine, and how Russia is responding and what can NATO do to help in any kind of off-ramp? What can NATO do to really ramp up those pressures, be them economic or be them something else?

Hopefully we'll get some answers from NATO when they speak in just a few moments. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)