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Kremlin's Propaganda Machine; Interview Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch; Interview with The New Yorker Editor David Remnick. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 15, 2022 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The stunning state TV protest seen around the world.
I asked Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar about chinks in the wall of the Kremlin propaganda machine.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do.
AMANPOUR: Thrust into the Trump impeachment spotlight, Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch reflects on what brought us to this
DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, "THE NEW YORKER": It's illegal to write the truth about the war.
AMANPOUR: Editor of "The New Yorker" and former Moscow correspondent David Remnick talks to Walter Isaacson about Putin's war of death and
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
As Russia's war on Ukraine grinds on and Moscow tries to keep its people behind a propaganda war, is some light finally shining through?
Reverberating around the world since Monday night, a remarkable moment, when an editor of Russian state TV, Marina Ovsyannikova, dashed daringly
onto the set, waving a sign in English and Russian that said: "No war. Stop the war. Do not believe the propaganda. They tell you lies here."
The mother of two also recorded an anti-war video, saying that she was deeply ashamed to have worked for Kremlin propaganda. Sure enough, she was
hauled into court today with her lawyer, after she says she was questioned for 14 hours. The Kremlin called her protest hooliganism.
There appears to be a gradual ramping up of dissent over this war inside Russia. More than 800 people were arrested just on Sunday. And, before
that, the CIA believed up to 14,000 protesters had been arrested for coming out against the war.
Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar knows all too well what it's like to go against the Kremlin propaganda machine. He founded the independent news
channel TV Rain, which just went dark in response to a new media crackdown.
And he's joining me now.
Mikhail Zygar, welcome to the program. And we are not revealing where you are, because we want to make sure you remain safe.
But I want to ask you, given your experience as a journalist, as a founder of an independent station, those five seconds that reverberated around the
world and inside Russia, how effective was Marina's on-screen protest?
MIKHAIL ZYGAR, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST: Hello, Christiane.
Thank you for having me here. No, it was very impressive. And I don't know -- I'm not sure if it could be really effective for the huge audience of
Russian viewers who have been watching propaganda on state-owned TV channels.
But it's really a very important gesture for those employees of all those propaganda TV channels and for those journalists and other technical stuff,
who never dare to protest against that mainstream propaganda. And, as far as I have heard, today, many journalists or other employees started filing
applications to quit their job, and -- because that protest of Marina Ovsyannikova was a huge shock for them.
And, as far as I know, many people surrounding her really supported her lone protest.
AMANPOUR: So, that's important, what you're saying. I mean, it obviously is making a difference. And, as you say, it seems to be impacting at least
colleagues, who, as you just said, are filing their resignations.
And we know that an NTV employee, another news channel there, resigned last week. We're not sure exactly why, but she left the country and then -- and
then she resigned. And you said you don't know what kind of impact it would have, but just try to cast your mind, and if you were still in Moscow.
It would be one of the few signals, right, that actual Russians were getting, because now we have -- you have got a law there that criminalizes
even calling it a war.
ZYGAR: You know, actually, Russian population is divided into several very huge groups.
And, sometimes, we even call it some kind of generation gap, because younger people -- that could be up to half of the population -- they never
watch television. It's others that state propaganda is -- is always telling lies. And that's why millions of Russians have -- didn't have an
opportunity to watch that protest on air during the evening news show, because they are never watching it.
They have been getting all the information from the Internet, from the independent news Web sites from the channels in Telegram. And they never
relied on state-owned television. And, for them, the situation is pretty much the same, with only one tiny exception, that, two weeks ago, after
that infamous amendment to the criminal code equalizing any information about the war to the state -- state treason, lots of independent Web sites,
news media had to stop their activity in Russia, and had to end.
Like, thousands of people, really maybe tens of thousands of people started fleeing Russia. All the independent journalists who used to work in Russia
during the last years have already fled. They are now in Istanbul, in Belize, in Yerevan.
But that doesn't mean that no independent information is available in Russia, because a lot of media are still continuing their activity from
abroad, from Riga, from other cities of neighboring countries. So, I guess those people who had -- who wanted to have an access to the information,
they still have it.
AMANPOUR: All right.
ZYGAR: But if we speak about other groups of Russian population, for example, a lot of people -- I guess that's the majority. They are very
skeptical, not to say cynical.
They know that Putin's propaganda is a lie. They get used to that idea that they don't want to watch Russian television because they don't believe it.
But, at the same time, they came to that level of skepticism. They don't believe anything. They consider everything to be propaganda, pro-Russian or
ZYGAR: Putin's propaganda, or information from -- coming from Ukraine, they call it Ukrainian propaganda. And it's very hard to talk to those
people to address them, because they prefer not to see anything.
ZYGAR: That's some kind of ostrich position, who is hiding...
ZYGAR: ... his head in the sand.
AMANPOUR: And, Mikhail, I was stunned, because, just to what you're saying, there's this famous story about a Ukrainian who called his father,
who's in Russia, about what Russia was doing, shelling the buildings, shelling civilians, and shelling towns and cities and his own environment.
And the father just did not believe him, because he said he's hearing exactly the opposite on Russian television.
I just want to run a little bit of the sort of video letter that Marina had actually posted, I believe on WhatsApp. We're not quite sure, but it was on
social media, just before she made her TV protests. Let's just run this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARINA OVSYANNIKOVA, EDITOR, CHANNEL ONE (through translator): Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One
and doing Kremlin propaganda. And now I'm very ashamed of it.
It's a shame that I allowed to speak lies from the TV screens, ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people. I'm ashamed that we kept silent in
2014, when all this was just beginning. We didn't go to rallies when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this anti-human regime.
And now the world has turned its back on us forever. And another 10 generations of our descendants will not be able to wash away from the shame
of this fraternal war. We are Russian people, thinking and smart. And it is only in our power to stop all this madness. Go to the rallies and do not be
afraid. They can't arrest us all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, it's very powerful, Mikhail.
And we did learn today that, in fact, as we know, she had been detained. She says that she'd been questioned with no legal counsel, nobody around,
unable to make any calls for about 14 hours. Then she was fined some 30,000 rubles -- apparently, it's the equivalent of nearly 300 U.S. dollars -- for
We don't know what will happen to her for the on-camera, on-set protests. What do you think might happen to her?
ZYGAR: Actually, I do think that she might be in danger, because, according to the new amendments, she could be charged with some kind of
state treason, because any criticism of official Kremlin's position, or quoting any Ukrainian sources, or even calling war a war is now a crime.
So, actually, she could be facing much more severe accusations. And, actually, the fine is nothing. It's a very -- it's a very low fine. So, if
that's all, if they have decided to name her hooligan, and nothing more, that means that they're kind of afraid of a much bigger scandal, they don't
want to attract that attention, because, for them, it would be safer to pretend that it's solid, all the people working for state television are
supporting the regime and supporting the war.
They don't want to alienate probably that huge amount of journalists and other people, of bureaucrats, of employees of other state-owned
AMANPOUR: Do you have any sense of how Zelenskyy's use of social media, his videos, his direct speaking to Russian soldiers and the Russian people
in Russian is playing in Russia?
ZYGAR: As I have already mentioned, Russian population is very polarized.
ZYGAR: And you have mentioned that discussion between Ukrainian son and his father living in Russia.
I know lots of such stories, a lot of stories with families being torn and with huge feuds inside the family, because a lot of people do not believe
any information coming from Ukraine. They really believe, sincerely believe that the Russian liberators are trying to save those people in Ukraine and
only Ukrainians are bombing their own country.
At the same time, lots of Russians understand that that's a nightmare. And -- but, usually, it comes not -- it leads not huge arguments inside the
inside the country. But people who are afraid and who are denouncing the war, they started fleeing the country.
But, no, I guess that almost everyone is watching all those videos from Ukraine and watching President Zelenskyy's speeches. It's very powerful.
It's really impressive, but only for them, for those people who are ready to listen and who are -- who want to watch that, because, on Russian
television, we have -- they have absolutely different picture.
ZYGAR: They are doing something. I don't know how they film it. But they are really showing happy Ukrainian faces and happy people greeting Russian
soldiers as liberators. And that's a shame.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you? Because you have written "All the Kremlin's Men," and you have basically written about Putin and who surrounds him and the
whole sort of situation inside the Kremlin there.
What is your take on where he is now? I don't mean physically, but in his head, who's with him, what kind of advice he's getting. We hear so much
about how he isolated himself during the pandemic and how many of the interlocutors, certainly the foreign leaders who talk to him, report
meeting a very different Putin now than they did even a year or two ago.
ZYGAR: Exactly. You're absolutely right.
And I was trying to describe this situation in my recent text op-ed for "The New York Times," that even during his late meeting with President
Emmanuel Macron, the French president was astonished with the fact that President Putin was lecturing him about history, and he didn't want to
discuss any present situation.
He's really obsessed by history. And, probably, that started exactly during the pandemic. According to my sources I have been talking to during the
recent months, he spent his vacation during quarantine of 2020 at his Valdai residence. That's in between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
And he was staying there with his longtime ally, longtime friend Yuri Kovalchuk, who doesn't have any official position, who's just a
businessman. And he's holding a doctorate in physics.
But he's considered probably man number two in Russia today. And he's really influential. And he shares the same attitude to the global politics,
to the geopolitics. And he, as well as Putin, believes that the greatness of Russian empire has to be restored. And, probably, he's the closest
person to the Russian president now.
And they have been discussing those plans to restore Russian greatness since 2020. At the same time, I have heard that probably the plan or the
operation of -- they call it military operation, in Ukraine started being prepared almost immediately after the previous Ukrainian war after 2014,
after the annexation of Crimea.
And at least in the general stuff, some preparations were started, and all the documents were ready, but probably pandemic stopped those preparations.
Otherwise, we could have seen that terrible war even earlier, several years ago.
AMANPOUR: Mikhail, let me just quote what you wrote about Kovalchuk.
"He has a doctorate in physics," you write, "but he isn't just a man of science. He's also an ideologue subscribing to a world view that combines
Orthodox Christian mysticism and anti-American conspiracy theories and hedonism. This appears to be Mr. Putin's world view too. Since the summer
of 2020, Mr. Putin and Mr. Kovalchuk have been almost inseparable. And the two of them have been making plans together to restore Russia's greatness,"
sort of what -- some of that, you just said.
But I guess the question, is Kovalchuk also keeping Putin in the dark? I mean, did Putin and do you think your sources who you're talking to now had
any idea that this Russian invasion, the war, would not go as everybody expected it to go, as the -- certainly the Kremlin expected it to go, much
smoother, much quicker, much more successfully?
And we hear from Americans, who've got all the satellite imagery, that it's stalled? I mean, it's just stalled, despite their shelling from the air --
well their strikes from the air and their long-range shelling. The actual ground is not working, the ground force.
Obviously, they were expecting absolutely different outcome. They were prepared for the fact that the war was going to be over in a couple of
days, and the Kyiv -- and the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, would surrender.
And we cannot really know the answer, because we're -- none of us has direct source inside Putin's inner circle right now. We don't know if he's
really well-informed, or, as, we used to see that, his inner circle is trying to tell him what he wants to hear. That's a longtime tradition,
that, normally, everyone is trying to guess what Putin expects them to say and try to stick to that line.
So, probably, he might he might know not the full picture. He definitely understands that something goes wrong. But, usually, his advisers, his
staff tell me that -- tell him that that's not about -- that's not because of their mistakes. That's not because of their miscalculation or because of
the plans were terribly wrong, but because the enemy is trying to fight them really hard.
So, probably, they are even trying to use his paranoia and his anti-Western conspiracy theory. And they are explaining all the successes of Ukrainian
army, with a huge success from the West. And actually, for him now, several days ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ridiculous -- ridiculously
claimed that Russia has never attacked, Russia has never invaded Ukraine.
Actually, that's something that really fits to Putin's way of thinking, because he truly believes that he was attacked by the American. In --
according to his mind-set, there has been a long war against him. He feels here himself surrounded by Americans probably since the moment when he saw
Moammar Gadhafi being killed during the revolution in Libya.
ZYGAR: And he was expecting some kind of attack from Americans all of these years. And he was preparing to defend his power.
So, that's very unrealistic attitude to the reality.
But it's important to understand that and to try to figure out a way out of this.
Mikhail Zygar, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
Now, from his increasingly embattled country, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy maintains his drumbeat of videos shoring up the people's morale and nonstop
appearances with world leaders to shore up support. He addressed Canada's Parliament today, and he again called to close the airspace over his
Here's a bit of the speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I know that you all support Ukraine.
We have been friends with you, Justin. But, also, I would like you to understand, and I would like you to feel this, what we feel every day. We
want to live. And we want to be victorious. We want to prevail for the sake of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Zelenskyy addressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Parliament in Canada. Tomorrow, he will address the U.S. Congress.
Let us turn now to someone who sat right at the center of the American- Ukrainian relationship for years. She is Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who became a household name as a witness during
President Trump's first impeachment trial. And she's now out with a memoir, "Lessons From the Edge."
And she's joining me from Washington.
Ambassador Yovanovitch, welcome to the program.
AMANPOUR: I wonder -- I just wanted to pick up with the last comment that Mikhail Zygar made. And, also, Fiona Hill has made it, your erstwhile
colleague, that Putin looks at what happened to people like Saddam Hussein, or Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, or there but for the grace of his own air
force, Bashar Assad, and thinks, I'm not going to let that happen to me.
What does that mean, in terms of your experience, or watching the situation, for any kind of an endgame, any kind of negotiated settlement or
a way out of this now?
YOVANOVITCH: I think there are two parts to this.
The first part is, of course, the domestic situation inside of Russia. And you had a long and really interesting conversation with Mikhail about that.
And I guess I'm hoping, although hope is not a policy, I'm hoping that Marina's very brave stance actually did get out to the people that are not
on the Internet, that people that are not in big cities, and are not getting real news, but are being fed disinformation on Channel One.
That is the single largest television station. And many, many people watch it. And so maybe this will be one little brick that informs people. But I
think any sign of opposition to Putin, opposition to the war is being pretty ruthlessly suppressed right now in Russia.
And we have been seeing that. You just discussed it. But I think that's one element of his concern. The other element, of course, is what is going on,
not only in Ukraine. The very vigorous and inspiring is about the only word I can use, inspiring defense of Ukraine, not only by the military, not only
by the territorial defense forces, but pretty much by every single citizen.
And I also think that he's concerned about what is happening further west. He was anticipating -- you all previously spoke about the miscalculation
Putin made with regard to his own armed forces. He clearly miscalculated the Ukrainian armed forces, the resolve within Ukraine, the strength of
Zelenskyy as a wartime leader.
And he miscalculated about the West. I think he thought that, as we did pretty much in 2008 with Georgia, 2014, the first time he invaded Ukraine,
that there would be some scolding, maybe a couple of sanctions, but he could withstand it, and he could continue and he could move on.
Instead, he has inspired a resurgence of NATO. And he has -- the West is united in opposition and trying to provide not only sort of strengthening
NATO and the flank countries on Ukraine's border, but also in providing support to Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: Given the fact that this support is going, but, obviously, you know that President Zelenskyy wants more, he needs and he wants the
airspace to be closed -- and, if not that, I heard his ambassador here say, if it's not a no-fly zone, we need enough anti-aircraft missiles and that
kind of defense to let us do it. Let us shoot their planes that are shooting at us.
Do you think they get they're getting enough? I mean, he's addressing, as you saw today, the Canadian Parliament, tomorrow Congress. Eventually, he
will discuss with the Israeli M.P.s. He's been here at the British Parliament, the E.U. Parliament, all via Zoom. But it's very effective.
He's get standing ovations. Is he getting enough real support?
YOVANOVITCH: I think I think Zelenskyy is addresses and communication with a parliament, but also just with ordinary people, has been very, very
effective, because he has sort of single-handedly, almost -- that, plus the bravery of the Ukrainian people -- rallied the world behind Ukraine's
I think that we have been providing a lot of assistance, not just the United States, but other Western countries. And we need to provide a lot
more, because we need to help support Ukraine, and we need to help save Ukraine.
And I think that there are many options on the table. I don't think any of them should be taken off. At this point, we should be concentrating on
defensive sorts of things, anti-air, anti-tank, and other systems in that category.
This is about -- this is a war of extermination. It's pretty clear. And we need to do everything we can to help Ukraine withstand this assault from a
tyrant. This is more than about Ukraine, in fact. It is about the fight between freedom and tyranny, and we need to stand up and help those who are
fighting for freedom.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Yovanovitch, you had several tours, at least two tours of duty in Ukraine. In the early 2000s, you were there in the months
before the Orange Revolution, when a democratically elected president came in.
You mentioned the Rose Revolution in Georgia, which led to Putin's first attack there. But you do write in your book about this time: "We thought
that the arc of history was bending towards democracy."
So, I need to ask you is that the idealist, American view, that who -- who really thought that was going to be on the cards? Or were you derailed by
just one person? In other words, is all of this one person? Or is it a wrong reading of democracy and its longevity and its strength?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, I hope not.
I think that, when you look at the history since the end of World War II, the international order, brought together by mostly democracies, but also
other countries, including the Soviet Union, I would add, has presided over -- so this is the international rules-based order, where things like
sovereignty and the viability of borders, these kinds of principles guide countries as to how they should behave with one another.
And they have presided over really an era of unprecedented prosperity, unprecedented freedoms for most and unprecedented security. And I think
this is what Vladimir Putin, who cannot compete in that space -- Russia, at this point, is bankrupt of ideas. You can see countries turning West. You
can see Ukraine that is trying -- Putin was trying to hug Ukraine for a long time.
And now, as I have heard one person say, if you're not going to marry me, I'm going to kill you. And that is exactly what he's trying to do right
I think that democracy is still that shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan talked about. And I think that, when people have a choice, they will
go to democracy. They won't talk about it as a democracy. They will talk about it, as you know, I want -- I want to live in a country where I'm
safe, where I have a good job, where my kids have prospects, where I'm treated the same way as everybody else, which we would call rule of law.
And that is democracy. And democracy isn't perfect, but it's -- as somebody once said, it's the better system than all the rest.
AMANPOUR: Let's go back to your book. And let's go back to the issue that put you front and center and made you a household name.
And that was obviously Trump's first impeachment trial, which was generated by what he called the perfect call, the call to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which
turned out to be a transactional call, saying that, our weapons and our help to you might depend on you giving me dirt on my political opponent.
First, I want to ask you, materially and substantively, how dangerous was that holding out on weapons, on the kind of help that many NATO countries
were providing to Ukraine? Did that make a material difference to Ukraine's ability to defend itself then?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, it always makes a difference, if not materially, certainly signaling U.S. support. Because we are Ukraine's strongest
partner. We have provided more assistance, whether it is humanitarian, economic or security assistance than any other country. And for the
president of the United States, as was revealed, to be ready to trade security assistance and really, our national security values and interests
for his own personal and political gain sends a signal, first of all, to Ukraine that maybe we don't have Ukraine's back. Maybe we are not that
strong partner that Ukraine needs. Because don't forget, Ukraine was still, even at that time, at war with Russia.
But it also sends that signal to Putin and every other bad actor in the world that this is a president who is thinking about his own interests, not
necessarily the interests of the United States. He is working for himself. He is not working for all of the American people, which is what the job of
the president is.
AMANPOUR: You know, trying to figure out from, you know, a career foreign service officer, an ambassador like yourself with so much experience, you
know, not a political person, I still -- you know, Putin's obviously read successive American presidents, whether it was Trump, whether before that
it was, you know, Obama, whether it was Biden, on all sorts of issues from the red line to pulling out of Afghanistan to really -- you know, President
Biden came in not wanting to project American power in the world if he possibly could not. In fact, the opposite.
How much of that do you think in your experience and knowledge contributed to Putin's move into Ukraine?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, I think that under the Trump administration, Putin was getting exactly what he wanted. I don't think that while our official U.S.
foreign policy was very strong with regard to Ukraine, it was clear that President Trump, to the extent he thought about Ukraine, kind of dismissed
Ukraine as a weak country. It was just a pawn for him for his own uses.
So, I think that he -- Putin read that. And he also read President Trump's very dismissive comments about NATO and his actions about NATO, which, you
know, many of Trump's former advisors have said that, if he won a second term, it's likely he would have pulled the U.S. out of NATO.
So, no need to go to war, right, if you're getting what you need or you want through other means. I think when Trump lost the elections, when
President Biden became president, it was clearly another set of circumstances that he had to deal with.
So, to respond further to your question though, I would say that Putin is a bully. He really only understands strength. And while nobody wants to push
Putin over the edge or into a corner, we need to understand that he cannot be allowed to dictate the conditions of this war and what we do or what the
Ukrainians do or others do.
We need to understand that if we don't respond robustly to a man like Putin, to this Russian war of choice, this Russian war of aggression, there
is risk there as well. So, this is a very difficult issue, you know, what the military calls the wicked issue because it's so wickedly hard to solve
or resolve. But we need to look at all sides of this because there is risk in not acting sufficiently boldly. But there is also -- there's also risk
in the other direction.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. I want to ask you personally, because you -- you know, you suffered quite a lot personally from seeing this transcript of that
phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy and then, it was all made public. And then there was all -- you know, the testimony around the world. You
know, the president of the United States calling you, you know, bad news, that you were going to go through some things, all very weird, because you
had already left. I mean, this came -- you know, those comments came after you had been forced out.
What was your reaction? You know, and how did you process that kind of direct assault on you and on your reputation?
YOVANOVITCH: Well, it was a frightening time, because I didn't know what the most powerful man in the world meant when he said, she's going to go
through some things. He had already removed me from my job.
I was teaching at Georgetown. In fact, when I read the transcript, I was in a class at Georgetown. With a what did that mean? So, what did that mean?
And it was frightening. It was a very frightening time. But I relied on, you know, my family, my friends, my faith, and I hoped that I would get
through that period. And pretty quickly, I also hired a team of lawyers to help me through kind of the next stage, which was testifying during the
first impeachment investigation.
AMANPOUR: So, I wanted to ask you, you know, again, about your parents who are no longer alive. You dedicate your book to your parents, and both of
them had to flee. They had -- they were Russian background. They had to flee Nazis and communists. Ended up meeting, marrying, they had you. And
you dedicate it to them.
But I just wonder what they would think of the country they fled to and its democracy. What do you feel today? Because part of this also is about the
strength of American democracy and whether it can keep projecting that and keep standing up for that part of the world. What do you think?
YOVANOVITCH: Yes. Well, thank you for raising my parents, because part of the reason I wrote this book was to try to honor them. Because they came to
this country with nothing, like so many immigrants. And they were so grateful to the United States that they could live in freedom and security
and build a life for themselves and their children. And they were, you know, wonderful role models. Not just for us but for generations of
students. They were both teachers.
I think that my parents would be very concerned about the state of our democracy. I'm always an optimist that we can work together and we can
continue to strengthen our institutions and put good people, men and women of integrity, in place to help lead our nation, both on the career civil
servant side as well as on the political side. But there's no question, we have some serious challenges right now.
YOVANOVITCH: As you said, that's important not only domestically, and we need to do everything we can to shore up our democracy, but overseas as
YOVANOVITCH: Countries still look to us as an example. But we need to be meritorious about it.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, thank you so much for joining us.
Now, the young KGB officer Vladimir Putin took the collapse of the Soviet Union as a personal humiliation. It is illuminating to hear how he
identifies now as the one to redeem what he sees as a lost glory. Pulitzer prize-winning author and editor of "The New Yorker" magazine, David
Remnick, joins Walter Isaacson to explore Putin's past.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, David Remnick, welcome to the show.
DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: Good to be here, Walter.
ISAACSON: You were a bureau chief in Moscow for "The Washington Post" in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Russia was going through this openness
with Gorbachev and then Yeltsin, you won the Pulitzer Prize for that great book, "Lenin's Tomb." What happened? Why have we regressed to an
REMNICK: Well, it's literally a long history. Russia has been under authoritarian rule for a millennium and communist rule for seven decades.
The Gorbachev moment was an interregnum of great promise. Much talk of democracy, even democratization. And the '90s were incredibly chaotic. And
we know the history of that. So, we shouldn't underestimate the power of the historical tug toward what you now see is Putinism.
Really, what is Putinism? Putin was installed by Boris Yeltsin at the beginning of the 21st century. And very quickly, very rapidly, certainly
within a couple of years, he became the standard bearer of Russian resentment toward the West, toward Europe for a whole host of reasons.
Remember, Walter, that he viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union not as the liberation of Ukraine and Azerbaijan and Armenia and the Baltic States
or the possibility of a democratic promise or any of those things. He viewed it as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, his
words, not mine.
And as time has gone by, his resentment toward the West has deepened and deepened. And we have seen instances quite quickly also of his ability to
use violence and revenge and fury exacting upon its own people, in (INAUDIBLE). That's the way power began with Putin. So, it's just gotten
worse and worse and worse. And people are -- some people are only wakening to it now.
ISAACSON: So, in other words, we should have known at the beginning Putin was going to be this way or has he changed radically?
REMNICK: Well, I don't think Putin was ever a great -- somebody who felt that Gorbachev was on the right track. He's always felt that Gorbachev was
a fool and weak and a play thing of the West. You know, he comes from a certain background. Maybe it's useful to go through that. He comes from
Leningrad. You know, his father went through the war and -- in the most horrendous and yet typical way. He entered the KGB. He was not in the elite
strata of the KGB by any stretch of the imagination. And he experienced the fall of the Soviet Union while being a kind of mid-level lieutenant colonel
in East Germany.
And he experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union as the absence of power, as a humiliation, not as a moment of promise. You know, he saw what
was happening in Germany as a catastrophe. And so, and he comes out of the KGB.
Walter, I -- you know, I can't emphasize enough how the KGB as an institution and a network didn't disappear with the end of the Soviet
Union. In fact, it took advantage of it in many ways. It became in large measure part of the elite. It took advantage of it in business. And never
more so than under Putin.
ISAACSON: Was he most provoked by the expansion of NATO or is he worried about liberal democracies rising on his borders or is this just clinging to
REMNICK: All of the above. All of the above. You know, Putin changed the constitution not long ago so that he basically will be in until the end of
his days. Be into the end of his days. NATO has been a debate and a point of real contention with the Russians from the very moment of the collapse
of Soviet Union, if not before. You remember, this is happening during the George H.W. Bush administration, and there's a long history of that.
But I think, you know, as Ukraine is concerned, Ukraine has been independent since 1991, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And Putin
has never accepted that. And more and more, he has delved into esoterica of 19th century Russian nationalist texts to derive a sense that -- of the
great Russia, which is Russia, white Russia, which is Belarus, and Mollerussa (ph), the small Russia, which is Ukraine. That's 19th century
nationalist language. He believes it.
He believes Ukraine is not a country and he believes Ukrainians are not a people. And what you are seeing with this invasion is an attempt to bring
Ukraine as a nation and Ukrainianness to its knees through the complete step by step annihilation of the civilian population, by -- through terror.
That's what's going on.
ISAACSON: Do you think that NATO should have expanded to include Ukraine?
REMNICK: No. You know, clearly, you know, Ukrainians now feel that that might have been a good move. But I think, right now, I don't think that is
very much in the discussion. Look, I want any number of things to happen at once. I would want the war to end. Above all, you want to see the suffering
But look at the -- listen to the Ukrainians. Watch what Ukrainians are doing. They are putting everything on the line to defend their nation,
their Ukrainianness and to fail to be moved by that and persuaded by that and to have to discount that into your thinking, I think, is something
extremely odd and mistaken.
You are seeing Ukrainians putting themselves in harm's way in the most extreme and moving and astonishing ways. And I think we have to take that
very, very seriously. Do I think a no-fly zone is a good idea and recklessly engaging Russia in a war? No, I do not. No, I do not. Do I think
there are easy ways out of this? No, I don't.
I wish there was some easy, you know, answer. Anybody suggesting an easy answer, an easy resolution to this, considering who is in the driver's
seat, who is exacting the punishment here, Vladimir Putin, I think is deluded.
ISAACSON: Do you think Ukraine can actually win this war and that's a resolution of this?
REMNICK: Well, what constitutes winning? Does constitute winning that the Russians, all of a sudden, on Wednesday retreat and the tanks head back to
-- head north toward Moscow? That's hard to imagine considering the sheer preponderance of armaments that they have. But I think what we have seen
now in three weeks of fighting is that a vastly outmanned Ukrainian army and defense force among the civilian population that has far, far fewer
armaments have fended off what Putin had hoped to be a blitzkrieg, a decapitation of Ukrainian power.
Probably the arrest, if not worse, of Zelenskyy and his aides and other officers of the -- elected officers of the Ukrainian government. He had
hoped and probably been told by the defense minister Shoigu that that was possible within a week. So, the Ukrainians have pulled off, in military
terms, if not even in spiritual national terms a kind of miracle.
And even if they lose in a most conventional sense, even if Kyiv is "taken," it is almost a certainty that what would commence from there is an
insurgency. This is an enormous country, Walter. I know very few people -- or not a lot of people are completely familiar with it in detail. This is a
country of 45 million people. It's an enormous space in Europe. It's a complex country from East to West.
And taking it, you know, in a matter of days or even taking it at all is not a simple matter, as Putin is finding out to his pain. And at the same
time, he has to deal with potential unrest or uprising from two directions. First is the street and second, probably more consequentially, in his own
So, he is trying to deal with the street by complete information cone, by trying to fend off the internet, independent press and all the rest. Now,
that's only partially effective and might get less effective as time goes by.
How is he dealing with people around him? Well, he's got a bunch of loyalists who are not of the top ranks sometimes, because that's what
happens in authoritarianisms, you don't pick the best and brightest. You pick the most loyal and sometimes the dumbest. Will they rise up against
Putin? Will they see this as a catastrophe that they can't bear or countenance? I think that's what U.S. intelligence is studying every single
ISAACSON: Do you think sanction will work and cause real pain in Russia?
REMNICK: They already have caused a lot of pain. The question is, have they caused the pain to the right people and has it happened rapidly
enough? You know, we hear a lot of talk on television and in the press about the oligarchs. And that bears clarifying. It's --- that term was used
during the Yeltsin years to define about seven to nine people who got into business with the Putin -- excuse me, with the Yeltsin government and were
given essentially given or given unbelievable great preferential deals on certain huge and influential businesses.
And they had enormous influence on Yeltsin. I'm talking about (INAUDIBLE), Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky and so on and so forth. That picture changed
enormously when Putin came to power. When Putin came to power, he told those nine people or a dozen people or whatever it was, you are not allowed
in politics anymore. If you want to keep your own gotten gains, fine. Stay out of politics.
ISAACSON: Tell me about "The New Yorker." It has the most astonishing coverage. How difficult is it for your reporters who are there?
REMNICK: Well, it's difficult for all reporters. We have Joshua Yaffa who is based in Moscow but who is no longer in Moscow. He just spent a month in
Ukraine and wrote an astonishing long piece that's out this week. But like so many reporters, he's had to leave because it's now illegal -- try on
this or really in a sentence, it's illegal to write the truth about the war, whether you are Russian or not.
Masha Gessen has been in Ukraine and has been in Moscow and now, is, again, out of Moscow because, you know, the same reasons. And we have other people
coming through. And Luke Mogelson is a war reporter. Ed Caesar has been working on refugees. We have all kinds of people who were reporting on
this. You know, just extraordinarily complex and horrific complex events.
ISAACSON: A couple of them have been on our show. Tell me how they're trying to get through the disinformation and censorship.
REMNICK: Well, they pick up the phone. They talk to people. I mean, nobody is censoring us. I mean, we are blessed by a freedom of the press and
ownership of "The New Yorker" that allows us to publish what we want.
The censorship issue is -- has to do with the ability to have reporters in Moscow, in Russia and sending dispatches out. I mean, you have seen "The
New York Times" bureau, which is, you know, a much bigger and more complex animal. That's disbanded. And CNN, I think, a lot of -- so far as I know,
all of them, BBC, it's terrifying.
And, you know, it's an indication of what Russians already do, those who are in the know, fear for the future of Russia, which is that Russia will
become cut off from the world. You know, the old metaphor was the iron curtain. I don't know what the new metaphor would be. But it's hard to
imagine in the age of the internet and modern communications that that can be anything like it was.
But, you know, Russia was, in many ways -- in limited ways and with all the caveats about the authoritarian of the state, in some ways, was joining the
world, right? In business terms, Russians traveled much, much more widely in the post-Soviet era than before, people -- you know, middle-class people
going to Turkey or Greece on cheap flights. This became part of life.
Again, I'm not talking about oligarch. You know, more and more students abroad. People joining the world. Will this, with this horrific war, end?
Now, that's a big concern for a lot of Russians. And I would say tens of thousands of Russians have left in the last three weeks. And now, find
themselves living in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and all the rest, and they feel they are stranded.
ISAACSON: In "Lenin's Tomb" you have a sentence that I find memorable, which was, once the system showed itself for what it was and had been, it
was doomed. Is Putinism doomed?
REMNICK: Well, that sentence was written because it tried to get at a larger truth. One of the things that Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary
of the communist party and then, his president, was to come to the conclusion, without a real reckoning of the truth, without coming forward
and saying, this is our history for all its complexities and tragedies and barbarities too, this is our present for all its faults, without reckoning
with that, we can never modernize, we can never move forward, we cannot live in an (INAUDIBLE) present and we -- and -- because we will never
achieve a decent future. That was his conclusion. He was right.
God knows the United States is not perfect, not even remotely so, and we are reckoning with our past when we are honor with ourselves every day and
should be, with our history of race or income and equality, whatever it is. Our history is something that we have to reckon with and deal with and all
the rest. Putinism wants to know part of that.
One of the things it did in the runup to the war in Ukraine is it shut down an organization called Memorial. Memorial, which studied the stone has
past, which had, you know, opened up archives. My own -- my wife, whose grandfather died in a camp in Russia, was able to get the archives through
Memorial when it began many years ago. That's just one detail in the way that Putin has increasingly moved on history and truth. Not in a way that
resembles Stalin exactly, but in a modern way that has been extremely effective, unfortunately.
ISAACSON: David Remnick, thanks for joining us.
REMNICK: My pleasure, Walter.
AMANPOUR: With important insights there.
And, of course, finally tonight, some 3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded nearly three weeks ago. In a much-needed reminder of a
shared humanity, here are a couple of the warm welcomes that caught our eye. At this school in Italy, seven Ukrainian refugee children were greeted
with a round of applause. Their new schoolmates gifting them with stationery and goldfish in case they lost any pets on their journey.
And here in the U.K., when a government scheme asked residents to take Ukrainian refugees into their homes, more than 100,000 British people
signed on in less than 24 hours, overwhelming the system. And in this case, the British people's generosity far outweighs the government's, which has
so far protest -- process a poultry 4,600 visas.
That's it for now. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.