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Fighting Rages in Eastern Ukraine; Pakistan Military Denies Taking Sides; Imagine a World

Aired September 1, 2014 - 14:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST (voice-over): Hello, everyone. Tonight, Moscow's defiance as Ukraine accuses a Russian tank of attacking one of its

airports. A senior Russian politician tells me Moscow is not to blame.


VYACHESLAV NIKONOV, RUSSIAN MP: So many people in America or in Ukraine who would like Russia to intervene and to have a big Russia-Ukraine

war. But Russia will not show up for that war.


HOLMES (voice-over): Plus protests in Pakistan: how far is the military willing to go in order to keep order in Islamabad? We'll be

speaking to the country's defense minister.


HOLMES: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in for Christiane today. A battle underway at

Luhansk Airport in Eastern Ukraine as Kiev says a Russian army tank attacked air fields in the area and elsewhere as well. This as Ukraine

president's, Petro Poroshenko, says the two countries are inching closer to what he calls a full-scale war.

Russia, for its part, still denies any direct involvement in the conflict; the West, well, they're not buying it. European leaders say

Russia has one week to reverse its apparent incursion into Ukraine or face a new round of sanctions.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): There won't be a military solution to this conflict. But we also cannot accept

Russia's behavior, either, and that's why I believe it's necessary to prepare such sanctions. The disadvantages which could also arise for us

are in no way as serious (INAUDIBLE) disadvantage not to do anything.


HOLMES: So Europe's position is clear.

But what about Russia? Will President Putin back down? Well, I spoke to a Russian member of parliament, Vyacheslav Nikonov, who says that Russia

has nothing to back down from.


HOLMES: Vyacheslav Nikonov, thanks so much for joining us on the program.

NIKONOV: My pleasure.

HOLMES: Vladimir Putin on state television called on Ukraine to engage in talks for a statehood for southeastern Ukraine.

Is that the answer from the Russian point of view, some form of independence or statehood for these areas?

NIKONOV: Well, actually, I think you got a wrong translation. He was talking, the President Putin, was talking about the talks about the status

of those areas in Ukraine.

Actually, today, when the consultations with all the sides resumed in Minsk, the position of the delegation from the republics was that they're

ready to negotiate their status inside Ukraine if certain conditions are met by Kiev.

But of course those conditions will be hard to meet.

But here is the point when Kiev needs to talk to Donetsk and Lugansk governments, to their authorities, and actually to the armed leadership,

which is now a strong political force in the east.

HOLMES: What is it that Russia wants from this, Mr. Nikonov?

What is it?

I mean, they are involved clearly on many levels. Since Crimea was annexed, there's been long talk that Russia needed a land bridge from

mainland Russia to Crimea.

Is that something Russia wants?

What is the end game here from Russia's point of view?

NIKONOV: Well, the end game for Russia is of course a peaceful Ukraine and Russian national security.

In case of the Crimea, it was an immediate reaction of the people of the Crimea for reunification with their mother country, with Russia.

Crimeans never had any Ukrainian identity whatsoever.

The people in Donetsk and Lugansk have maybe a little bit stronger Ukrainian identity, but now it's -- it would be very hard for Kiev to

convince them that they should stay inside Ukraine.

Russia is really not a side of the conflict. All these talks about Russia's invasion, it doesn't hold water. There are no Russian forces on

the ground. If there were Russian forces on the ground --

HOLMES: Well, they --

NIKONOV: -- the outcome of the conflict could be very predictable.

HOLMES: And this is something that Russia has said from the outset, that there are no Russian forces, that you have no stake in this in a

military sense, but now we're hearing from NATO that they have satellite imagery showing Russian equipment on the ground.

You've had paratroopers detained on Ukrainian soil, Russian paratroopers. You've got a soldiers' mothers committee saying that they

have testimony from families of Russian troops, families who say that their kids have been killed in Ukraine, in fighting. Russian soldiers, even the

rebel leaders say that Russian troops are on the ground.

How long is Russia going to go on saying that they have no troops on the ground, they have no hardware on the ground?

It's becoming a bit ridiculous, isn't it?

NIKONOV: Well, Russia will say that until it really has some forces on the ground. As at this point, definitely we don't have any.

If NATO has some satellite images, they'd better provide them.

The trained paratroopers of Russia presented in Ukraine -- for some reason had their documents presented. Soldiers in action never carry

documents. I don't know how these guys got there and what they were doing there.

As for the soldiers' mothers, actually the information was coming only from the soldiers' committees which were directly funded for many years by

the U.S. government. So that cannot be considered to be an independent source.

As for some parents who lost their kids there, it is a possibility, because there are Russian citizens. But there is no Russian army, and of

course there is no Russian weaponry.

HOLMES: Where did the T-72 tanks come from that people have seen, the other Russian artillery --


NIKONOV: T-72 tanks --

HOLMES: Where did they come from?

NIKONOV: Well, T-72 tanks were mostly coming from Hungary. Actually, the United States convinced Hungary to give a few dozen of tanks to Ukraine

to support the Ukrainian army, and that's how they got to Ukraine.

Actually, now the rebels do not need any additional weaponry, because on the daily basis they really capture dozens of tanks, of armored

vehicles, and so on.

HOLMES: Our team on the ground has seen Russian equipment on the ground, Russian weaponry on the ground. It's very hard to deny that that

is the case. And it would appear that Russia is the only one that's really saying that Russia doesn't have military involvement.

You know, Russia's own history of dealing with dissent in its own land is to crush it.

Why shouldn't Ukraine fight dissent -- military dissent on its turf?

What business is it of Russia?

NIKONOV: Well, it's an interesting internal dissent. You know, they organized an unconstitutional coup, they kicked out the president, they

formed a government which is unconstitutional and which was not recognized by a sizable part of the country. And this part of the country was

attacked by the army of the unrecognized government.

And actually, even in that situation, Russia has not intervened. It is a completely domestic Ukrainian mess. And, you know, people living

there, in eastern part of Ukraine, are mostly Russian. So I think it's very understandable why Russia emotionally is there though Russian troops

are definitely not there.

Of course there are many people in America or in Ukraine who would like Russia to intervene and to have a big Russia-Ukraine war. But Russia

will not show up for that war.

HOLMES: Do you think that after what happened in Crimea and Russia's denials about involvement in Crimea and being on the ground, the so-called

little green men that were everywhere there -- and, by the way, I was there, and they came into our hotel and, from all accounts, they were

Russian special forces on the ground there. I mean, I saw them myself.

I mean, given what happened in Crimea, do you think that the world is likely to believe what you're saying now?

NIKONOV: Oh, well, I don't know what the world is likely to believe, but I know that Russians were entitled to have 20,000 soldiers in the

Crimea legally according to the treaty on the Black Sea Fleet. So they were legally there.

And actually their mission --


HOLMES: They were armed and going into a public hotel --

NIKONOV: -- was mostly to observe --

HOLMES: I mean, they weren't down around the port.

NIKONOV: Their major function there was to promote law and order during the referendum, during the popular vote on the future of the Crimea.

And, you know, that was quite a sincere democratic vote.

HOLMES: Yes. And a lot of people have said -- well, a lot of people still say that that was an unconstitutional referendum.

But Crimea aside, what is Russia's next move then?

If you say you're not involved militarily in any way whatsoever, that this is an internal Ukrainian issue, what is Russia going to do about it?

NIKONOV: Well, Russia has been saying, once and again, that the only solution for that conflict is for the government in Kiev to sit down with

the governments of the republics, of the Novorossiya, as they call themselves now, and negotiate a solution, whatever that might be.

Putin is really pressing hard on the republics to negotiate with Kiev, because nowadays when they're really winning, they're not very much

interested in talks with Kiev. And it is Putin who really convinced them to do so. And he also tries to convince Poroshenko to start talks.

And actually yesterday, in Minsk, they are talking. They are -- these are the talks not at the highest level, but there is no other solution for

that as a negotiated settlement.

Russia will not be a broker in this situation. There are Europeans who are involved in the dialogue. I think Americans should be also -- get

involved, because of course without American position, Kiev's position cannot be changed.

HOLMES: Vyacheslav Nikonov, thanks so much, joining us there from Moscow.

NIKONOV: My pleasure.


HOLMES: And for many Russians, the scars remain 10 years after the deadliest terror attack in its recent history. On the morning of September

1st, 2004, students and teachers had just begun a new school year in the town of Beslan (ph).

Suddenly, armed members of an Islamic separatist group stormed the building, took some 1,200 children and adults hostage and demanded

recognition of Chechnya's independence.

Now for three horrifying days -- I'm sure you'll remember -- food and water were denied while hostages were executed before the terrified eyes of

the children.

Finally on the third day of the standoff, Russian security forces retook the school in a hail of bullets, explosions, heavy weapons fire. At

least 334 hostages were killed, more than half of them children.

Now the Beslan massacre is still remembered with tears and flowers today. But the tragedy also led to huge changes in Russia's

counterterrorism strategy, placed limitations on political freedom and strengthened the powers of Russia's president.

And after a break, another tense standoff, this one in Pakistan, were calls for reform have some fearing military intervention. We're going to

talk to the defense minister on the front lines when we come back.




HOLMES: Welcome back to the program. I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in for Christiane today.

Well, Pakistan's military on the streets of Islamabad today trying to restore order after protests against the prime minister Nawaz Sharif turned

deadly this weekend. Protesters attempted to storm the prime minister's house there, demanding his resignation.

Sharif was elected last year in the country's first-ever democratic transition on power. Now Pakistan's military has called for calm and

insists the problem must be solved politically. But some analysts say the military itself is dissatisfied with Mr. Sharif over his rapprochement with

India and his attempts to limit its significant power and could use the protests as an opportunity perhaps. It may have even supported those

protests from the start, according to some.

The military has categorically rejected those allegations, saying, quote, "The army is an apolitical institution and has expressed its

unequivocal support for democracy at numerous occasions," unquote.

The country's defense secretary's ardent support of Mr. Sharif says more force may be needed against the protesters.

So how far will this all go?

Khawaja Asif joins me now from Islamabad.

Minister, thanks for your time today. There have been those claims that the military actually supports these protests, even though the

military denies it.

What's your reaction as defense minister?

KHAWAJA ASIF, PAKISTANI DEFENSE MINISTER: Thank you, Michael. My reaction is that these are -- you know, just to give credibility to

whatever they are saying or to whatever they are doing.

The protesters and their leaders, they claim that they have the support of the Pakistan army or the intelligence agencies, which is totally

incorrect. And it's baseless. It's just to give credence to their claims. Otherwise, it is purely a political dispute. It is a purely political

situation which has gone bad.

And we are trying to correct it. And we are actually -- we have tried in the last two weeks to negotiate with the protesters, with their


And most of the points especially pertaining to reform, selection reforms and other reforms, they have been accepted by the government and

actually they're -- these reforms -- this reform package was part of our manifesto before the elections and we wanted to implement these reforms.


ASIF: So I think --

HOLMES: I wanted to just -- before we move on from the military -- how far in your conversations with the military -- and you are responsible

for them politically -- how far is the military willing to go to restore order?

There was, though, suggestions that the military was actually asked to mediate in all of this, the prime minister says not so.

What then is the military's role?

ASIF: The military's role is actually under the article of our constitution. It's Article 245. They have come in aid of civil par (ph)

and that is totally a constitutional move, which was undertaken about two months back in the middle of June, when the operation in tribal areas

started. The military asked us to give them the constitutional protection under Article 245.

So that is the reason that they are in the capital, not for these demonstrations or these protests.

So under Article 245, the government can ask them for assistance in controlling the demonstration or for internal security. That's totally

legal and constitutional. So there is nothing wrong with that. And we have acted according to the constitution.

HOLMES: How secure is the government? I mean, the calls from Mr. Sharif to step down while this is all sorted out, I mean, is the government

going to stay in power or is it under threat?

ASIF: Absolutely. There is absolutely no threat. There are a few thousand demonstrators. At the peak, there were close to 40,000-45,000.

Their numbers are gone, gone down to less than 10,000 now. The government would never under threat. It's just a perception. We still enjoy

overwhelming majority in the parliament, but there's an independence judiciary. There's an apolitical army. So there's absolutely no threat to

the government. We just have to deal with these protesters according to the law. There is no other problem. And we'll deal with them according to

the law --


ASIF: -- applying this train.

HOLMES: -- patiently, though, Minister, on the streets, isn't there? There is -- there is a problem --


HOLMES: -- the profits are not as big as those who organized had claimed it would be. But it's still significant.

ASIF: I agree with you. But, Michael, there are protests everywhere in the world, you know, even in the established democracies like yours or

like in Britain or elsewhere in Western Europe. There are protests. But that doesn't mean that the government should go or the prime minister

should resign.

We have the mandate of the people and we came to power in just about 14 months' time. And we have still about 3.5 years to go. So just because

10,000 or 20,000 or 25,000 or 30,000 people are protesting on the streets of Islamabad, the prime minister should resign. That is absurd.


HOLMES: You know, it's a bit of a worry when the Taliban released a statement thanking the protesters for doing a good job on their behalf. Of

course, your country's fighting a very serious and deadly insurgency against the Pakistan branch of the Taliban.

You're facing really a two-pronged opposition at the moment.

ASIF: You're absolutely right. You know, that is -- actually that should be our main focus. We are fighting an insurgency in northern areas.

And this insurgency is -- you can call it about 30 years old or 35 years old. When the Soviet Union took place in '79, we are in a state of war in

our northern area for the last 35 years.

And sometimes high intensity, sometimes low intensity. And now that we are clearing up that area of the terrorists who have sanctuaries in our

tribal areas, our focus has shifted to these political matters, which is unfortunate. We should actually focus in clearing up Pakistan from

terrorist sanctuaries and let the world know, let the international -- let the international community know that we are responsible people and we can

take care of our problems.

HOLMES: Well, sadly, you are having to confront this street protest at the moment. There have been these reports, too, that the military was

not all that happy with Mr. Sharif and his rapprochement with India and other issues as well.

Does the government have the full support of the military? Of course, you know, let's remember the military has very much a history in the

political stage in Pakistan.

Does the government have the full support of the military? What do they tell you?

ASIF: Michael, you're absolutely right. We have a checkered history. We have had four coups in 67 years, military coups. So that is always --

that fear is always lurking on the minds of Pakistani nation, our Pakistani people.

But having said that, last eight years since 2008, the military has stayed away from politics. We have been apolitical as it was said in their

communique last evening. And we haven't had any problems with the army in last eight years. The civilian government, last civilian government and

our government in last 14 months, we have had perfect relationship with the army.

And we hope to continue this relationship in the future. So there is no imminent danger. And it's more of a perception. The reality is

completely different from that.

HOLMES: Understood. Well, very briefly, we're almost out of time, but I want to ask what do you do now to placate those people on the


What can you say to them to make them go home?

ASIF: You know, we can sort out these problems politically through negotiations. But we will not let them take the law in their hands and

we'll not let them alone to violate the constitution. That's a very serious thing. You know, we'll not let them violate law and constitution

of the land.

But we are ready to negotiate. Most of their problems are reasonable. But if they're asking for the resignation of the prime minister, that's

unreasonable. We still enjoy the majority in the parliament and the prime minister will not resign.

But other reforms, the reformers now can be jointly undertaken.

HOLMES: OK. We'll have to leave it there. Khawaja Asif, the defense minister of Pakistan, really appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

ASIF: Thank you. Thank you very much, Michael. Thank you very much.


HOLMES: And if it seems the whole world is a powder keg at the moment with a very short fuse, well, imagine a spark that was lit 75 years ago and

became a global conflict that spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The first battle of World War II when we come back.




HOLMES: Before we go, a final thought for tonight, imagine a scenario that goes like this: the people of Europe and the West weary after years

of war that has left a bitter legacy of unresolved national and sectarian strife. Many close their eyes, pull up the bedcovers and hope the bogeyman

will stay in the closet.

Well, that doesn't stop the fighting nor the killing and, no, we're not talking about Russia's recent clashes with Ukraine. Now we're talking

about something that happened 75 years ago today, when Moscow's then-ally, Adolf Hitler, launched his Blitzkrieg into Poland, the first battle of the

Second World War.

Two weeks later, Hitler's partner in crime, Josef Stalin, sent in Soviet troops to gobble up his share of the Polish pie. Politicians in

Britain and France, after years of leading from behind, finally responded, coming too late to Poland's defense, while the United States, of course,

remained in isolation far away in Fortress America.

The Poles fought valiantly. But in three short months, the Soviets and the Germans had conquered and carved up their territory and the global

war that would cost tens of millions of lives had begun.

Well, as Poland remembers its heroes and its fallen today with flames and flowers and candlelight ceremonies, you can't blame them for looking

over their shoulders a little.

That is our program for tonight. And remember you can always contact us at the website,, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. Goodbye from CNN Center for now.