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U.S. Point Person on Ukraine Crisis; The Nazis' War on Modern Art; Imagine a World

Aired April 25, 2014 - 14:00   ET


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

Now there was a lot of talk about little green men this week, and it was nothing to do with NASA's announcing that it has discovered an Earth- like planet.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): These green men are the mysterious armed figures in camouflage and balaclavas, who first appeared in Crimea and have now been spotted throughout Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine and the United States say some of these men are, in fact, Russian special operatives.

As proof, the Ukrainian government claims these photos show the armed men everywhere, manning checkpoints, even posing with local residents like this child in Sloviansk.

And CNN's Arwa Damon first got this exclusive evidence from Ukrainian officials, passports of men they say are Russian military officers, as well as weapons, ammunition and maps of targeted sites in Eastern Ukraine.

This week began with a truce for the Holy Week of Easter. But that is now over and Ukraine says it's relaunching its anti-terror operation against the armed pro-Russian separatists, which prompted President Putin to warn of consequences if troops were deployed and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added that Moscow would, quote, "certainly respond" if its interests in Ukraine were attacked.


AMANPOUR: Russia has been lashing out at the United States from the start and it gets personal, specifically accusing one diplomat of fomenting unrest. She is Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European Affairs and America's point person for this crisis. She joined me exclusively this week from the State Department.


AMANPOUR: Secretary Nuland, welcome to the program.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Thank you, Christiane. It's terrific to be here with you today.

AMANPOUR: Let me first ask you what is the status of this deal that was signed in Geneva on Thursday and does not appear to be implemented?

NULAND: Well, as you know, Christiane, on Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the E.U. agreed that it was absolutely essential and urgent that these separatists, who are occupying buildings and are setting up checkpoints need to stand down now, need to participate in negotiations and that the organization for security and cooperation in Europe would be assigned to work with the Ukrainians to try to negotiate them out of these buildings.

So OSCE teams, very senior level teams, have been in some of the hottest towns, in Donetsk and in Sloviansk, trying to work on this kind of deescalation. There have been a couple of small towns, where buildings have been evacuated successfully by the Ukrainians in the last couple of days.

But we have not seen the kind of major deescalation that we're looking for nor have we seen serious Russian efforts to help the OSCE or to speak out against separatists since Geneva.

AMANPOUR: So the Russian foreign minister, as you heard me say, blames the United States, saying that you have to control your clients, as they call it, the Kiev government, and they're saying that there are buildings still occupied by forces in Kiev as well.

What can you tell me about that?

NULAND: Well, first of all, since the Geneva agreement was inked on Thursday, the Ukrainian government has stepped out very smartly to try to implement the provisions that are within its power.

For example, the agreement calls for amnesty to be granted to anyone who voluntarily left buildings or abandoned checkpoints. The Ukrainian government immediately, the next day, put into the parliament a very, very broad amnesty bill that would meet that requirement.

It has also sent senior level representatives out to the east to work with the OSCE, something that the OSCE also wants Russia to do, which it has so far not agreed to do.

And in Kiev itself, some of the barricades around the Maidan have come down.

But you can't compare the situation in Kiev, where now everything that is still being held by protesters is being held with licenses and with the agreement of the government of Ukraine, with the agreement of the Rada or with regular leases from the owners of the building, which is -- you can't compare that to what's happening in Eastern Ukraine, where you have armed separatists wearing balaclavas, carrying very heavy munitions, holding government buildings, refusing to allow monitors in, refusing to allow journalists in, kidnapping journalists.

In fact, I think you saw, Christiane, that there were four or five journalists kidnapped in Sloviansk and one is still being held today. This is not a comparable situation.

AMANPOUR: If that's the case then, give me an idea of who's actually calling the shots on the Russian side. Obviously President Putin is the president.

But it was Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, who inked the deal and, at the same time, just about, you heard President Putin talking about New Russia, alluding to an ancient and old word, Novorossiya, that claimed a lot of those Eastern Ukrainian towns, talking about the authority to invade if he had to and basically, as we've just seen, not implementing the provisions of the deal on the ground.

Is there a gap between Sergey Lavrov and President Putin?

Are you talking actually to the person who's calling the shots?

NULAND: Well, as you know, Christiane, President Obama has spoken to President Putin a number of times over the last three weeks on basically a weekly basis to try to encourage deescalation, to try to say to him that there is a better way, that Russia has a choice, but also to make clear that, if it continues to destabilize Ukraine and deny Ukrainians the choice to make decisions about their own future, that there will be more cost for Russia, more isolation and more sanctions.

But more broadly, we continue to be concerned that you cannot dress yourself like a firefighter and behave like an arsonist.

AMANPOUR: So when you talked to Sergey Lavrov, do you think you're getting an agreement? I mean, this one was practically unraveled before it even was signed.

NULAND: Well, as the secretary said to Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone today, it is still within Russia's power to demonstrate that it meant what it said last Thursday. It can assign a senior Russian to go out with the OSCE teams, to make clear to the separatists that they do not have Moscow's support to help negotiate them out of these buildings.

And if Moscow will do that, then the Ukrainian side will be in a better position to meet its obligations under the agreement, which also include a broad national dialogue about constitutional reforms, other steps to address some of these grievances politically rather than through arms.

But we've yet to see Russia put that kind of commitment into stabilizing the east. And that's what we're looking for.

AMANPOUR: You know, the Russians have blamed the United States fully, laying it all at your door. And they particularly point to you and they recall when you were handing out food in the Maidan, when this unrest started and the protests started.

And then I spoke to a member of parliament, also a member of President Putin's party, and this is what he said about you and about the United States.


VYACHESLAV NIKONOV, MEMBER OF RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT: We did not start this whole mess in Ukraine. That was a regime change operation, with some American assistance at least, Victoria Nuland said about $5 billion U.S. spent to promote democracy in Ukraine, which is oftentimes a code word for regime change.


AMANPOUR: So I don't know whether you heard that, Victoria, but it's Nikonov, the member of parliament, saying that you had spoken about $5 billion for democracy and they see that as a codeword for regime change.

NULAND: I didn't hear Mr. Nikonov speaking. The United States has invested some $5 billion in Ukraine since 1991, when it became an independent state again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And that money has been spent on supporting the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to have a strong, democratic government that represents their interests.

But we certainly didn't spend any money supporting the Maidan. That was a spontaneous movement, which is a far cry from what we are concerned Russia is up to now in Eastern Ukraine.

And with regard to the day on the Maidan when I was present, that visit happened the night after the Ukrainian special forces under then- President Yanukovych moved against peaceful demonstrators and began pushing and shoving them off the Maidan.

And it was a very scary and dangerous night. They ultimately had to pull back when more peaceful protesters came and surrounded them.

And the next day, when I when to visit Maidan, I didn't think that I could go down empty-handed, given what everybody had been through. So as a sign of -- a gesture of peace, I brought sandwiches to both the Maidan protesters and to the Berkut soldiers.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let's get -- we'll move past the sandwiches. And I want to ask you because you were also famously caught on tape, basically berating the Europeans with some well-chosen words.

Do you think there is a gap still between Europe and the United States, especially on efforts to deter President Putin? Where will sanctions go? And will they be targeted enough to make a difference?

NULAND: Christiane, we have been working in lockstep with our European partners. We've now done two rounds of sanctions. They have done two rounds of sanctions.

The president had very good consultations when he was in Europe about three weeks ago with key leaders. He has been on the phone with key leaders in Europe on a weekly basis to ensure that we're all seeing the situation the same way.

And we are all committed to trying to deescalate this diplomatically. That's why you saw E.U. High Representative Cathy Ashton there with us in Geneva, trying to deescalate the situation. But we are also together in having to impose costs on Russia if it doesn't participate in allowing Ukraine to move forward and make its own choices about its own future.

AMANPOUR: Vice President Joe Biden is there; previously, the CIA director, Brennan, was there.

What is it that you can do to help the Kiev government just survive?

It has been widely considered that its so-called antiterrorist efforts or its attempt to impose its authority in the East failed. And everybody has said that if there was any major confrontation the Ukrainians would not be able to hold their own militarily against Russia.

What is it that the United States has to do and can Kiev, this interim government, survive until their elections?

NULAND: Christiane, this interim government was brought in to do two things primarily for the Ukrainian people. And on both fronts, they are doing very well.

The first was to try to negotiate a deal with the IMF where they would institute real reform and try to turn the page on the age of corruption that had been rampant in Ukraine and they have now successfully inked a deal with the IMF. They've also passed a vast amount of reform legislation, including the -- to tackle corruption.

They were also brought in to take Ukraine to free and fair elections. And those elections, presidential elections, are scheduled for May 25th. There are some 20 candidates registered in those elections, representing all parts of the spectrum.

But now obviously, with this destabilization in the East, they also have to ensure that the country is peaceful enough for those elections to go forward. And that is why we went to Geneva and that is why we are pressing so hard on the Russians to help.

And that is why we are encouraging the government in Kiev -- and they've done a good job with this as well -- to reach out to the East, to make clear that grievances can be addressed politically, that the rights of ethnic Russians, Russian speakers, will be protected, that the Kiev government is ready to decentralize far more power out to the East, allow them to budget on their own, allow them to elect their own leaders.

So they are doing a good job. But there is a small group of separatists who are supported from the outside, who are trying to steal the choice of the Ukrainian people about their own future. And that is what we are trying to help them prevent.

And that's why Vice President Biden's trip is important to give them the moral, the political, the economic, the diplomatic support that they need.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, thank you very much for joining us.

NULAND: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And while the propaganda war rages over appearance and reality on Russia's borders, we'll take you down the corridors of time back when the Nazis made an art of propaganda and declared war on modern masterworks.

The renowned historian, Simon Schama, is our guide on a tour that you won't soon forget. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now the use of propaganda and the willingness to reshape history is hardly unique to the government of Vladimir Putin and what's going on over Ukraine right now.

In fact, the modern art of propaganda reached new heights or depths back in the 1930s by Adolf Hitler, when the Nazis, when they declared war on modern art itself.

An extraordinary exhibit at the Neue Galerie here in New York City is drawing huge crowds to see the kind of artwork that the Nazis admired hanging side-by-side with the kind they despised, what they called degenerate art.

The acclaimed historian, Simon Schama, took me on a tour. And he offered a chilling reminder that first they came for the art, and then they came for everyone else.


AMANPOUR: What is degenerate art?

SIMON SCHAMA, HISTORIAN: Well, degenerate art was a response to the city, to the modern city above all. It corrupted the ancient innocence of the German farmer, the stocky guildsman. You think about all those Wagnerian operas, not just of mythical figures with cattle horns on their helmets, but also noble townsmen in poetry and singing competitions.

So degenerate art presupposes there was health in the past and it was the Nazis' job to be the ultimate political doctors, to restore that health and the art bit of that were these beefy classical bodies and it's a very physical ideology, Nazism.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And we walked through the galleries to see exactly what Simon meant.

AMANPOUR: Simon, this is the kind of art that they liked, that he liked, that the --


AMANPOUR: -- this kind of heroic, very representational art.

SCHAMA: Yes, exactly, sort of Nazi beefcake, really, actually.


SCHAMA: It's sort of soldiers and sailors doing magnificent things, although the --


AMANPOUR: -- that's very --

SCHAMA: Yes, incredible. Well, actually, this style, it has to be said, was you know, not dissimilar from what you would see in the Soviet Union, either, these immense kind of, you know, bicep testosterone surging Nazis.

What Hitler liked -- what he hated was really what he thought was the literal deforming of art by Modernist tastes.

AMANPOUR: So this room is about the contrast. Even the wall is painted a different color.

What are we looking at here?

SCHAMA: Well, you're looking at the triptych that hung over Hitler's fireplace. This is called "The Four Elements," otherwise known as "Four Waitresses with a Chamberpot," really, but it's an example of the clinical, sanitized apt perfection which Hitler really wanted.

This on the other hand, you know, just look at them, and one is absolutely glowing with invention and creativity. It's full of an engagement with the 20th century but done in a new painterly language.

By the way, all the -- all the artists, very, very few were actually Jewish, they were deemed to be -- there were signs in the exhibit saying "Yiddish view of farmers," even if you weren't Jewish, you could be Jewish in the mind.

I think there's sort of the extraordinary thing was that --


AMANPOUR: So they blamed everything on Jews.

SCHAMA: Yes, absolutely. Secretly, of course, many of an artist, not Hitler, did love this stuff, actually. I mean, or liked it enough --

AMANPOUR: Did they go to see this?

SCHAMA: -- to hide it away -- almost certainly they did.

AMANPOUR: So tell me, because there were these exhibitions, these competing exhibitions.

SCHAMA: Yes, well, 2 million people went to see the so-called Degenerate Art Exhibition and we don't have, you know, obviously very frightened to say, ooh, I came to hate and I exited loving it. But obviously you know, really, you don't queue for hours and hours just in order to be disgusted, you want to have a good time.

And this was three times the number of people who went to see the rival exhibition of great German art, you know. So it was a propaganda disaster really.

AMANPOUR: And yet it was criminally effective.

SCHAMA: Actually even though it was not factually true, that modern art was a Jewish plot, like Jewish medicine and psychoanalysis were literally kind of poison inside the body of Germany, to that extent probably people who didn't go and see the show, but who listened to what it was meant to represent, that contributed to the horrible dehumanization of the Jews.

AMANPOUR: What about Hitler, particularly himself, made him go out -- look, we all read that Hitler was a good artist.

SCHAMA: No, no, no. He's an absolute terrible artist. But you really do wish that they'd let him into the Vienna Arts School, because he might not have been so traumatically alienated.

No, we'll never know. And he was a horrible artist. There were traditional academic German artists who were nondescript. If only Hitler had been merely nondescript, you know. He might actually have got into the Vienna School --

AMANPOUR: But do you think his attack on modern art, so-called degenerate art --

SCHAMA: It was profound --

AMANPOUR: -- was because of his own --

SCHAMA: Yes, yes, no, he carried on painting, let -- you know, there were two painters fighting the Second World War, Churchill and Hitler. And so actually Churchill, not a great artist, but much less terrible than -- you know, I think if they'd had fought it out with their brushes, you know, maybe the world would have been a more peaceful place.

AMANPOUR: Maybe so.

This exhibition is being hung at a time when we're in the anniversaries, 100 years of World War I, 70 years of World War II, but also at a time when we see propaganda fueling the fires of yet another war in Europe, for instance in Russia-Ukraine.

What is the danger of playing around with this kind of culture?

SCHAMA: Well, I think, you know, there are two views, one is that really all art should be an obedient slave of ideology, that nothing is more important.

Art -- you know, all great art is made out of a sense of imaginative rebellion. And also often the role of modern artists is to make you not sleep very well at night. It's supposed to trouble you, to stir you up, to see things anew.

Fanatical ideologies, whether they're religious ideologies or totalitarian ideologies, don't really like that.

I'll tell you something else, Christiane, that you know, very often the masters of that fanatical view say, well, ordinary people don't like modern art. They don't understand it; they don't get it; they hate it. It's all a conspiracy of a snobby elite.

Well, museums like MoMA here in New York or the Tate Modern in London or Pompidou in France give the lie to that because millions upon millions of millions of people, who never would go through the door of a museum of boring classical art, can be seen pouring through the turnstiles. They love it.

AMANPOUR: Well, they loved it apparently back in 1937 as well.

SCHAMA: They -- yes.

AMANPOUR: So why is it important that this exhibition is hung today?

SCHAMA: Well, I think probably, you know, I mean when actually walking through it, you look at these works and you have this extraordinary sense of the life force, of the greatness of German and other kinds of Modernism, created in explosive color, real freedom of the human spirit.

And do you know, I kind of miss that right now in contemporary art. Contemporary art has become a branch of fashion now and it's lost, actually, that life force, which is -- covers the wall there, totalitarianism is not the enemy of art. Now mindless fashionability is the true foe.

AMANPOUR: Simon Schama, thank you very much indeed.

SCHAMA: It's a pleasure as always.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where we can turn back the clock and be among the millions of people who saw the controversial Degenerate Art Exhibition for the very first time. A mere five minutes of black-and-white film, one of the survivors of Hitler's war, tells this story.

It begins with the huge soulless structure called the House of German Art, dedicated in Munich by the Fuhrer himself and meant to showcase Nazi- approved works of art.

From there, the scene shifts to the cramped interior of the hastily arranged exhibit nearby, where Hitler's minions wanted to expose the evils of modern art.

But it backfired, because huge crowds were drawn to the shabby little building that housed so-called degenerate art, a million visitors in just the first six weeks.

When you study their faces as they study the artwork, you can't help but wonder, are they following the Nazi party line and disapproving?

Or are they secretly delighting in the very works they were meant to despise?

And were they remotely aware that this was just the beginning of a nightmare that would engulf Germany and all of Europe, when the attack on art and culture gave way to a wholesale slaughter of millions of their fellow human beings?

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.