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Ground Level View of Destruction at Donetsk Airport; Journalist's Prison Ordeal Ends; Imagine a World
Aired February 2, 2015 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: latest pictures from the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, Moscow's military machine rumbles on,
Kiev pleads for help and Washington considers sending in weapons.
So is this a turning point?
Also ahead, journalist Peter Greste deported from Egypt but free at last. His parents speak of their ordeal and joy now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JURIS GRESTE, FATHER OF PETER GRESTE: This time of the day happens to be your morning after we've had a pretty tiring and long 24 hours. So I
hope our smiles don't kind of fade too quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And in a moment a group of heavyweight U.S. national
security officials warn the West is at a critical juncture with Russian over Ukraine. I'll be exploring the options.
But first in Eastern Ukraine, Russian-backed rebels are waging a fierce battle for the strategic railway town of Debaltseve, having already
seized Donetsk airport.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has just been there and witness ground zero of this conflict first-hand. We warn you, of course, some may find some of
the images in this piece disturbing.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Where has the fighting been fiercer in the worst war to hit Europe since the
Falklands spent here, Donetsk's once proud Sergei Prokofiev International Airport.
Ukraine's army is still shelling here despite being pushed out of this former stronghold two weeks ago by these Russian-backed separatists,
themselves heavily armed.
This is their form of airport shuttle.
We're moving now in an armored car towards the new terminal of the airport, territory which the separatists have taken but it still regularly
under fire from the Ukrainian military.
We pull into the airport's long-term underground parking.
(INAUDIBLE) occasionally shells are still landing here.
The fighters here kill hundreds as Ukrainians used service tunnels to hold parts of the complex. The men claim these bodies were left in the
Ukrainian retreat. The last call for passengers on this walkway passed months ago, these pictures from three years ago showing how it used to
Hard to imagine how just six months ago we were here, flying out of Donetsk at this that was then a state-of-the-art international terminal.
Just look at the destruction and how this symbolizes how far Eastern Ukraine has fallen.
Mortars often fall here, so we move fast. They used to call this the new terminal, opened two years ago for football fans coming to see the
European Cup. But that newfound European optimism has evaporated. The war here is entering a new phase, still the heaviest of weapons and the random
shelling of civilians, in which victory has become more important than its spoils.
These men blame Barack Obama for this devastation; Russia blames NATO for fomenting this war. NATO says nonsense and that many of these fighters
are actually Russian regular army. Blame, hatred and charred remains everywhere, but Ukraine's bright hopes of modern prosperity, the gate is
closed -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Donetsk.
AMANPOUR: So will the United States change posture and send lethal weaponry to help Kiev?
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins me live from Washington.
Barbara, thank you.
What are officials telling you?
Is there going to be a change of what they're delivering to the Ukrainians?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the big question on the table right now, Christiane. Top national security
officials, it's our understanding, Secretary of State John Kerry, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marty Dempsey, outgoing Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel say it is time to look at this question again.
It had always really been off the table. The White House didn't want to do it. But now with Russia having made these advances essential
Russian-backed separatists, it's Moscow. That's the feeling here in Washington.
The question arises, what can you do?
And now part of the mix of ideas is something that the Pentagon is calling defensive lethal aid. What we're talking about, anti-tank, anti-
mortar, anti-air weapons, anything that they might be able to give the Ukrainian forces so they can make an effort to hold onto the territory they
have against these separatist advances.
Will it be enough?
What will Moscow do if the U.S. decides to move ahead?
These are all the questions.
What do you really accomplish by doing it?
Can it make a difference on the ground?
AMANPOUR: Well, Barbara, clearly it can make a difference if they add weaponry. But the key question you just raised is what will Moscow do.
That has been plaguing the administration from the beginning. But surely we basically know what Moscow will do.
I mean, what are they afraid that Moscow might do anymore than it's doing now?
STARR: Well, it is this very key question, is Vladimir Putin -- he's not going to likely react well to the introduction of weapons from the
United States and the allies.
How far would he go in responding?
Would this now lead to some full-out major assault by Russian forces?
This is the calculation the U.S. wants to make. It's the calculation the White House is asking the U.S. military and State Department to make,
to assess what Putin might do.
There are several hundred separatist forces already in Eastern Ukraine; approximately 7,000-10,000 heavily armed Russian forces on the
Would they move in?
Would it just destabilize the situation further?
Could the Ukrainians really make a difference in terms of pushing the Russians back significantly and then holding onto the territory that they
could gain from it?
It's all a calculation, Christiane, how far does each side go?
What do you get for what you give? Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Barbara Starr, thanks so much from the Pentagon.
And we're going to dig deeper into this right now with Andrew Kuchins. He's the director of the Russian and Eurasia program at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies and he joins me now live from Washington.
Mr. Kuchins, thank you very much indeed for joining me.
First and foremost, is the West at a critical juncture?
Does a policy have to be changed now?
ANDREW KUCHINS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, you know, Christiane, I've been an advocate for defensive weaponry for
Ukraine, for the government in Kiev going back to February 28th in the first military occupation of Crimea.
But where we are today, I think Mr. Putin is showing no signs of taking any offramp. He is completely intransigent and duplicitous. And it
is seemingly the Russians are preparing themselves and in the midst of a further offensive maneuvers supporting the insurgent in Eastern Ukraine.
Now I think that one of the reasons why I'm supportive for defensive weapons for the Ukrainian government and military and military training is
because I think that the losses of the insurgents, and especially the Russian soldier component of the insurgents, is far higher than what is
The Russian government does everything possible to try to hide the numbers of Russian soldiers dead. The head of the Russian soldiers'
mothers organization, Lena Basilyaba (ph), back in the fall, estimated that the casualties, the killed in actions on the Russian part are 5,000-plus.
The Russians -- the Russian military, I think, is more strained in Eastern Ukraine than we may think.
AMANPOUR: So does that answer --
KUCHINS: -- responses typically well the Russians will -- if we provide weapons for the Ukrainians, the Russians can simply out-escalate
I think that there is -- I think that there can be deterrence involved and to changing the calculations for the Russians and their actions.
AMANPOUR: OK. So you've just kind of answered the question, what will Putin do. In other words, he's taking more of a hit than is commonly
known and is unlikely to want to confront the West head-on.
The question now is, obviously this group of former national security officials have basically said the kind of things that you're recommending.
What do you think should go to Kiev?
And if it doesn't, what do you think Putin's next moves will be?
KUCHINS: Well, I think that the kinds of weapons that should go to Kiev are the kinds that Barbara Starr was just talking about a minute or so
earlier: antitank, anti-artillery, the kinds of weapons that could contest where the Russians seem to have some domestic on the battlefield.
Now as to what Mr. Putin is going to do if this doesn't happen, I think we're seeing what he's going to do if this doesn't happen. He --
despite the fact that the -- his economy is going down the toilet, so to speak, he's so invested in his own domestic political support in the
activities in Ukraine that it's very difficult for him not to continue this operation.
And so I think we need to be -- step up our support for Kiev. And the way that Mr. Putin loses this is if the Ukrainian state survives,
economically, militarily and politically.
AMANPOUR: And what would you say to assuage the Obama administration's apparent fear that whatever they do might stir the
hornet's nest? As you say, Putin keeps advancing. The policy of sanctions has, in fact, hurt the economy but it's failed to change his posture over
Do you think the administration is going to go in the direction of sending weapons or not?
You're right there in Washington. What do you -- what does your gut say?
KUCHINS: My gut says that they're going to -- we're going to start seeing some weaponry going to Kiev. Now the preferred option would be if
it were done at least through in a NATO context or through a coalition of the willing.
There are a lot of decommissioned weapons, NATO weapons, in states close to and/or bordering Ukraine that could be very useful for the
Ukrainian military. So that's, I think, what we need to look into.
Straight bilateral U.S. military assistance carries more political risk. It'll feed into the Russian narrative, of course, is that this all
about U.S. support, trying to weaken Russia and taking an anti-Russian posture. And one of the concerns for the administration is that we have a
number of other equities in the U.S.-Russian relationship that we're concerned about, for example, what is happening in the talks about the
Iranian nuclear program and other issues -- and I think there's concern that the Russians will kind of asymmetrically respond and remove some of
the cooperation that they have -- it has continued in other areas of the relationship.
So I think that's kind of the box that the Obama administration feels themselves in. But for me, the situation in Ukraine is such an existential
issue for not only Ukrainian security, obviously first and foremostly (sic), but for the credibility of the NATO alliance and U.S. credibility
commitment around the world.
AMANPOUR: Could you see a scenario whereby if the NATO and the Western alliance doesn't step up their game now, they could be faced with a
real set of problems if President Putin continues to read NATO for what it is right now and for instance moves on one of the Baltic States, which has
to be defended.
KUCHINS: Absolutely. And Mr. Putin, again, is so invested in this kind of broad anti-Western confrontational posture for his domestic
political support, he will continue where he feels that there is not pushback. There was not adequate pushback, I think, after the Georgia war
in 2008. And I think that led him to think there's a more permissive environment to do what he's done in the past, in the past year.
There was no pushback in Ukraine, for what happened in Crimea. Now I think he's miscalculated in the nature of the pushback that's happened in
the Donbas over the past 6-7 months. But it's absolutely essential that Kiev be in a position to defend its positions, not necessarily take the
offensive, but to be able to defend their positions because Mr. Putin -- there's the talk of the land corridor to Crimea. There's the possibility
of doing something in Moldova. And as you just stated, if he really wants to roll the dice, he could play a game with Article V and NATO commitments
in the Baltic States or elsewhere.
KUCHINS: We have to change his calculations and clearly we've not been effective in doing that so far.
AMANPOUR: So that's the challenge. If the Ukrainian government does not get these defensive weapons, what do you think will happen to Ukraine
as a unitary state?
KUCHINS: Well, I think that the military pressure will continue on it. There may be larger chunks of territory that can be taken in
southeastern parts of Ukraine, potentially to create that land corridor.
That is not something we want Mr. Putin to think that he can possibly do, maybe not with impunity but simply that he can get away with doing.
It's a -- to some extent, it's got a fundamental deterrence. And I think Mr. Putin has to be rationally believe that it's credible that the United
States, its allies, NATO allies are going to -- that are going to escalate their support for Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: Andrew Kuchins, thank you very --
KUCHINS: You know, it -- each posture is risky here. It's risky if you don't do it; it's risky if you do it. To me, I think the risk is
greater if we don't.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much. And as you said, back to old- fashioned real deterrence. Thank you so much indeed for joining us.
And after a break, we turn to the terrible trials of journalists and their families. On the very same weekend that the Japanese freelancer,
Kenji Goto, was killed by ISIS, Egypt freed and deported the jailed Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste. And I talk to his parents next.
But first, another example of the Kafkaesque world of reporting today, from prosecuted to poster child, the American Jim Weiss was arrested while
covering the Venezuela election of 2013. He was released just two days later and joyfully reunited with his family.
But Venezuela managed to use that happy picture of a reunion in a commercial for their tourism industry. When their error was pointed out,
Venezuela quickly dropped the image.
And when we come back, good news, 400 days in the making.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
And now some rare and welcome good news today for the friends, family and colleagues of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, as he flies home now
to Australia after a 400-day prison ordeal in Egypt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER GRESTE, AL JAZEERA JOURNALIST: I can't tell you how relieved I am at being free. I really didn't expect that we were settling in for a
period of months behind prison and for the retrial and so to be out now today with just a few minutes' notice really is just extraordinary. But I
also feel incredible angst about my colleagues, leaving them behind.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): And those colleagues are Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed; both remain in jail.
Now all three of the journalists were caught up in the brutal post- Arab Spring politics of that region. And they were charged with supporting the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood and conspiring to spread false news,
which they repeatedly and strenuously denied.
I reached Peter Greste's parents, Lois and Juris, at home in Brisbane after their long day of celebration.
AMANPOUR: Lois and Juris Greste, welcome to the program. You have smiles on your face the likes that I have not seen in a year.
JURIS GRESTE: Indeed, indeed. I regret to say that for us, this time of the day happens to be your morning after we've had a pretty tiring and
long 24 hours. So I hope our smiles don't kind of fade too quickly.
AMANPOUR: No, no, they're not fading. And you've had a long 24 hours and a long year.
How did you first hear that your son was basically free and being deported?
LOIS GRESTE, MOTHER OF PETER GRESTE: Well, we heard first time now and we weren't too sure. It was pretty difficult to actually take it in,
that this was really going to happen.
But then a couple of hours later we got a call from Peter to say he was in the airport and about to hop onto the plane. So that's when we
started to say, well, yes, maybe this is going to happen.
JURIS GRESTE: He was just as surprised as anybody that he was asked to pack his small amount of gear and be ready to leave.
AMANPOUR: What does this mean now for the future?
He's been deported. And as you know, the Egyptian government, knowing this is probably never, ever going to happen, said, well, actually he
should continue his sentence in his home country. Clearly that's not going to happen.
LOIS GRESTE: No. That's right. There's no basis for him to be jailed in Australia. But we have to yet to find out in the legal small
writing and details yet. That hasn't been attained from Cairo.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's what I was going to ask you, Juris, whether you know whether he's banned from Egypt, whether he can go back.
What do you think he might be able to do and what his plans are?
JURIS GRESTE: Well, we're not trying to evade your question, Christiane. But truly, we don't know. As Lois says, we have to await some
further information from our foreign ministry and just get more complete background on what actually happened to enable his release. Even though we
are still thrilled and on a high ourselves, all that has been somewhat dulled by the knowledge that Peter's colleagues and other co-accused are
still in prison and that is deeply concerning for all of us.
AMANPOUR: I absolutely imagine that and certainly for their families and for all of us in the journalistic community, the struggle still goes on
to get their freedom.
It's taken a huge toll, I imagine, on the family and you've been back and forth to Cairo. I understand one of the family members has been there
almost constantly for the last year.
LOIS GRESTE: Yes, that's correct.
JURIS GRESTE: Well, it has been very, very grindingly tiring and wearing on us and at the risk of being too repetitive, none of our lives
will be the same again after all this. We just don't know what the future will bring. We'll wait until Peter comes back. He will reassess his
directions and we will try and resume some kind of normal lives.
AMANPOUR: Were you surprised by the outpouring from around the world and the commitment by his colleagues and so many other people to get him
and the other two out of jail?
JURIS GRESTE: Well, absolutely more than surprised, more than surprised. We were truly overwhelmed and, again, the word "humbled" is
being used perhaps too often. But we truly felt that we didn't deserve all the generous support that we received from all over the world.
LOIS GRESTE: I think it was an invitation of also to Peter, a standing in the journalist world, that helped to create it, of course.
AMANPOUR: And Lois, you're a mother. What are you going to do the first minute you see him?
LOIS GRESTE: Juris suggested I might put him over my knee and give him a whack.
AMANPOUR: Tell him not to worry his parents so much in the future.
LOIS GRESTE: Exactly. But I don't know. Foreign correspondents have a habit of doing things like that.
AMANPOUR: They do indeed. Well, I'm so glad that this story has a happy ending. It's been a long time coming and I wish you all the best of
luck and a great reunion.
Lois and Juris, thanks so much.
LOIS GRESTE: Thank you.
JURIS GRESTE: Our pleasure, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Happy days as Peter Greste is freed.
But let's remember the plight of jailed journalists still in Egypt and around the world. Those include of course not only Greste's two Al Jazeera
colleagues who we've been talking about, but also eight others who remain behind bars in Egypt.
China is now the world's biggest jailer of the press with 44 journalists in prison.
And in Iran, a hardline judge has just been assigned to the case of the imprisoned "The Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian.
But as we're reminded, after a break, the principle of a fair trial dates back 800 years.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a failed feudal peace treaty becomes a cornerstone of today's freedoms. Originally
intended to stop an English rebellion against King John in 1215, the Magna Carta, or the Great Charter, is where the alternative to government by
absolute power was born.
It's one of the most important documents in history and this year it celebrates its 800th anniversary. Soon after signing it into existence,
though, King John himself got the pope to ban the charter for eternity because he found its claim that, quote, "no one is above the law" so
It returned under a new king just 10 years later and it became the inspiration for democratic principles around the world, including the
United States' Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are enshrined by the U.N.
Today, its revolutionary finding that, quote, "no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgment of his equals," rings as loud and
true as ever.
And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always see the whole show online at amanpour.com, and follow me on Facebook and
Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.