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Interview With Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov; Interview With Bellingcat Executive Director Christo Grozev; Interview With Washington Post Global Opinions Writer Jason Rezaian. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 22, 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 Kremlin's view of the war, an exclusive interview with Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's chief spokesperson and
He spent more than 20 years at the Russian president's side.
Then: in a war of information, getting the facts with the Russia investigator for open source intelligence site Bellingcat.
JASON REZAIAN, JOURNALIST DETAINED IN IRAN: It is very, very fishy. And I think, by keeping it quiet, we haven't done her any favors.
AMANPOUR: Jason Rezaian, "The Washington Post" journalist formally detained in Iran, talks to Hari Sreenivasan about the case of the American
basketball star Brittney Griner, who has been held in Russian custody since mid-February.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
As the war in Ukraine rages into its fourth week, a huge question remains: What is Russian President Vladimir Putin thinking? What is the endgame?
If anyone knows, it is my first guest tonight, Dmitry Peskov, who has served as Putin's chief spokesman for more than two decades. And he's been
at Putin's side throughout his rise to power. He is a close confidant. It's a relationship that's made him also a high-profile target for Western
And Dmitry Peskov is joining me now from Moscow for this exclusive interview.
Dmitry Peskov, welcome to the program.
Can I start by asking you -- we're, as I said, nearly four weeks into this war. You, by all intelligence, I guess, experts, are somewhat stalled,
certainly around Kyiv and in other parts. There seems to be low morale amount amongst your troops. There seems to be equipment breakdowns and
My first question is, what does President Putin think he has achieved in Ukraine to date?
DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, first of all, not yet. He hasn't achieved yet.
And we're speaking about special military operation that is going on. And it is going on strictly in accordance with the plans and with purposes that
were established beforehand.
And, of course, well, first of all, I think we have to speak about the reasons for this operation, I mean, because speaking about the morale
against -- amongst our military, of course, you operate data and information coming from different media and from your intelligence.
But you would probably have to doubt this information. You have to doubt it, and you have to think twice whether it is true or not.
AMANPOUR: Well, here's the thing, Mr. Peskov.
Intelligence that really predicted the invasion turned out to be true, despite what you all told us from the Kremlin. So, let's just get past
that. We have also heard civilians and journalists who've seen Russian troops and who've recounted.
But that's -- that's -- be that as it may, when you say he hasn't achieved, President Putin hasn't achieved yet, what do you foresee? Because this was
going to be, according to your own side, in the press, in the state- sponsored media in Russia, a pretty quick operation.
It was even suggested that, within a couple of days, that -- quote, unquote -- "Ukraine would return to" -- quote, unquote -- "mother Russia."
What has gone wrong? And what do you see for the next phase of this?
PESKOV: Well, of course, no one would think from the very beginning about a couple of days. It's a serious operation with serious purposes.
And I think, if we try to remember those purposes, those main goals of the operation, it's to get rid of the military potential of Ukraine. And,
actually, this is why our military are targeting only military goals and military objects on the territory of Ukraine, not civil ones. Russian
military are not hitting civil aims, civil targets.
Number two is to ensure that Ukraine changes from anti-Russian center to a neutral country. And, in this sense, let's remember that, after the
collapse of the Soviet Union, actually, the neutral status was fixed in a declaration of independence of the country.
Number three, to get rid of the nationalist battalions and nationalist regiments who are now actually, who are now opposing Russian troops, who
are now trying to cover themselves under the shield of civilians, thus paving a way for civil casualties.
PESKOV: And also...
PESKOV: And, also -- I beg your pardon, if you let me -- and also to ensure -- to ensure that Ukraine acknowledges, acknowledges the fact that Crimea
is also an untakable part of Russia, and that People's Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk are already independent states, that Ukraine actually has lost
them after the coup that happened in 2014.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, basically, you are putting and laying out the original demands from President Putin, which I understand seem not to have changed.
Let us talk about civilian infrastructure.
Look, I know you guys say that you're not targeting civilians. And you have just told me it was a special military operation, which is, I know, what
the Kremlin military censorship demands. It is a war and it is an invasion. And we're all watching it all over global television, no matter what you
tell your own people.
There are so many civilian targets that it's hard to count them right now. And you may deny it, but even the Chinese, Dmitry, even the Chinese, who
are your friends, have expressed a very, very deep concern about civilian targets.
Let me just read what the Foreign Ministry has said. It is "deeply grieved to see the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and highly concerned about
the damage done to civilians."
They are very, very concerned. Those are your friends, the Chinese, not weirdo journalists or anybody who's actually watching it with their own
eyes and can tell the truth.
So, what is -- the real question is, what is President Putin's strategic goal in blasting the civilian infrastructure of places like Mariupol, which
we are watching turn to smithereens, for the last several weeks now? What's the strategic goal?
PESKOV: Well, the strategic goal is to clear up the Mariupol from nationalistic regiments who are there, and in a heavily covered
environment, and so -- and, by the way, they're simply not letting people out from the city, from the town.
And this is a problem, because now we're receiving lots of refugees coming from there. And they simply tell us -- they're eyewitnesses. They simply
tell us that they were used like a shield. They were used under heavy bombardment. And then those nationalists, they were -- they were killing
people who would want to leave the city.
And now the main goal is to get rid of those bad guys there.
AMANPOUR: Dmitry, we also have reporters who are quite close to Mariupol. And they are watching, because, actually, some civilians are getting out
And they obviously tell a completely different story, that they have been prevented from getting out. And we know that any attempt to establish any
kind of humanitarian corridor has collapsed under the weight of Russian shelling, even when you give assurances.
There is no food going in. And your own Defense Ministry said these last few days that only if Mariupol surrenders will they allow food, water
medicine to go in there.
I have -- I have covered a siege, probably the longest in modern history, the siege of Sarajevo. So I know the playbook very, very well.
So, the question is, why are they then coming out and telling -- telling us that? But, also, there are reports that Russia is taking civilians and
citizens from Mariupol, taking them over to Russia, and, in some cases, putting them way out in the hinterlands and to work, in perhaps work camps,
I don't know, but putting them to work.
PESKOV: No, this is not true. This is not true. It's a fake. It's a fake.
And then -- well, believe me, we're all living, well, not under the -- not only under the circumstances of military operation. We're living in a
severe informational war, in a war of fakes.
And then -- well, you have to -- you have to know the situation from the outside -- or from the inside. And, sometimes, it's very hard to understand
what is going on there.
So, and -- if you are a journalist. And we're receiving operation there from our military -- information. And then we know what is being said by
the people who are -- who are, well, led by those nationalist regiments to leave the city. And then -- so, it's very desperate stories that they are
AMANPOUR: Why do you think most Russians who are able to get out of these horrendously besieged areas and horrendously shelled areas, why do you
think they're fleeing west, they're trying to get out to other parts of Ukraine and to the west, rather than fleeing to Russia, if -- if they feel
so safe with you? Why do you think that's happening?
PESKOV: Part of them is going eastwards. Part of them is going westwards. It's a choice of people.
And no one is making any obstacles.
AMANPOUR: Let me put it this way, then.
Let's just say you believe all of this. You have just talked about a disinformation war. Russia is known to have perfected the disinformation
war ever since it was the Soviet Union. Russian propaganda is incredibly effective, incredibly effective.
Let's just say that your people believe it. Let's just say that they believe all this stuff that you have said as a reason for this war, for
this invasion, whatever you call it, special military operation.
How then do you -- how then do you square the circle that something like 90 percent of the Ukrainian people, asked, believe that they will win, and
that barely a single one of them has collaborated, has surrendered, has shown anything other than a fierce patriotic fervor to hold onto their
country and to hold onto their sovereignty and their Ukraine?
Are you surprised? Is the president, President Putin, surprised by that?
PESKOV: Well, first of all, you are mistaken.
There are Ukrainians who are collaborating. There are Ukrainians who are in cooperation with our military. There are Ukrainians who would like to avoid
any casualties and who are in contacts with our military, whether they like it or don't.
But they understand, because it was declared that, if you don't -- if you don't aim our -- target our military, if you're not trying to kill them, no
one is going to hurt you.
We will hurt, but we will hurt those nationalistic Nazis. We will hurt Nazis, not ordinary people and civil people. It is forbidden to target
civil people for our military. So, and then, partly, partly, they are in cooperation with our guys. So, you are simply mistaken.
And speaking about propaganda, starting from a great school of the Soviet Union, I would say that masterpieces of propaganda that we're witnessing
now in the West is a good school for us. And we're not that good pupils.
I mean, I can even ask you why -- why, for example, CNN is that single- sided in covering this story.
AMANPOUR: Well, you lead me then to -- I wasn't going to get there.
But if you would allow journalists to come into Russia, and actually report this in a truthful way, rather than heavily military censorship, we would
be able to report much more of your side.
But let's park that for the moment, and let's carry on.
President Putin -- first and foremost, you have seen it, Dmitry. I know that you're watching international news. I know that you watch it, whatever
the Russian people see. You have seen the Ukrainian people refuse to surrender.
Every single time your forces issue an ultimatum, not an invitation, an ultimatum, they simply refuse to surrender. And I'm not talking about
troops. I'm talking about old men and women. I'm talking about young people. I'm talking about kids. They just won't surrender.
This is something that has surprised and impressed, actually, the whole world.
So, let me just quickly ask you again, what is the endgame? Is it to occupy Ukraine? Can you actually do it with the number of troops that you have? Do
you really think that, even if you win a battle here or there, that you can win a long war?
PESKOV: Occupation is not among the aims of the operation that were stated.
AMANPOUR: Right. OK. Well, that's that answer then.
Let me ask you, again, about -- we're trying to get to the truth, right, Dmitry ?
So, I'm going to -- actually, let me -- let me just ask. Do you see President Putin often? I mean, you're his spokesperson. You -- you know, we
know that you're obviously a close official, a close confidant. Do you see him often?
When was the last time you saw him?
PESKOV: Well, we are in contact on daily basis.
AMANPOUR: Face to face? Sorry. It's just interesting.
PESKOV: Sometimes -- sometimes face to face, sometimes on the telephone. It's -- it doesn't matter.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you this question about the Ukrainians, because several analysts are watching.
And they have listened to what President Putin has said about mother Russia, about a fraternal Ukraine or a Ukraine that doesn't exist and has
no right to exist. And they're wondering whether the president is getting very angry with the Ukrainians. They're wondering whether there's a --
there's sort of a punishment against the Ukrainians being leveled.
I spoke with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, who, as you know, has met many times with President Putin. And he described to me what he felt
was a sense of growing, I'm going to use -- well, hatred is what he said, by President Putin for the Ukrainian people, for the Ukrainian leadership
PESKOV: No, he's not angry with Ukrainians. And no one here in Russia is angry with Ukrainians.
He's angry with the -- those people in Ukraine who want to be part of NATO and who want to deploy nuclear -- American nuclear missiles on their
territory. And he is angry with those people in Ukraine who forbids people to speak Russian in their country, including those Russians who are living
in Ukraine for ages.
He is angry with those people in Ukraine who carries symbols of Nazis on the streets of Kyiv and Lviv. And he's crazy with the -- he's angry with
the Ukrainians and those people in Ukraine who would want to -- who would want to speak with the world, with Minsk negotiations group, years and
years, without implementing any obligations.
It's a fact...
AMANPOUR: Well, look, President Putin tore up the Minsk Accords by deciding to do what he wanted to do.
And, as you know, Zelenskyy has already said several times in the last few weeks that he knows there is no NATO on the table for Ukraine. So, all the
other things are presumably negotiable, what you have just said about neo- Nazis and signs and languages.
But you know also that neo-Nazis or ultranationalists, which do exist there, are a very, very small group that barely won any percentage in
recent elections. So, it's kind of a straw man.
But you mentioned nuclear. You know better than I do that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 to Russia, and Russia was meant to defend it,
according to the agreement in Budapest -- Bucharest or Budapest -- I'm sorry, I can't remember -- not to attack it.
But it's President Putin who has put the nuclear card on the table. Can you tell me and tell the world whether you believe President Putin has tried to
scare the rest of the world and Ukraine by mentioning the nuclear option? Can you tell me that? And can you tell me that he would never use a nuclear
PESKOV: Two things.
I would disagree with you, firstly. President Putin was not the one who ruined Minsk Accords.
PESKOV: That was Ukrainian side. This is number one.
Number two, Ukrainian, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, handed in all the nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation. But, unfortunately, in
the year of 2022, just a couple of months ago, in Munich conference, President Zelenskyy started to speak about possibility of generating
nuclear arms on the territory of Ukraine.
And, most probably, you have witnessed that.
AMANPOUR: I was actually there, Dmitry.
AMANPOUR: And I actually interviewed him.
I do remember him saying: Look what we have got for giving up our nuclear weapons.
And the real issue is now what do you expect other countries to do when you ask them to give up their nuclear weapons? Because territorial integrity
and sovereignty has been violated. Again, even your friends the Chinese have said they respect every nation's territorial integrity and
sovereignty, including Ukraine's.
Could I quickly ask you, though? I need to ask you this, because the world is afraid, and I want to know whether Putin intends the world to be afraid
of the nuclear option.
Would he use it?
PESKOV: President Putin intends to -- intends to make the world listen to and understand our concerns.
We have been trying to convey our concerns to the world, to Europe, to the United States, for a couple of decades, but no one would listen to us. And
before it is too late, it was a decision to start -- to launch a special operation, military operation, to get rid of entire Russia that was created
next to our borders.
AMANPOUR: What? To get rid of Russia?
PESKOV: Anti-Russia, because Ukraine -- actually, Ukraine started to be -- it was formed by the Western countries, anti-Russia.
AMANPOUR: Oh, OK. OK.
PESKOV: This is the problem.
AMANPOUR: Look, Ukraine is a country, sovereign. It's recognized by the United Nations. It's been around for a very, very long time.
But I just want to know. I want to ask you again, is President Putin -- because, again, the Finnish president said to me that when he asked Putin
directly about this, because President Putin has laid that card on the label, President Putin said that, if anybody tries to stop him, very bad
things will happen.
And I want to know whether you are convinced or confident that your boss will not use that option.
PESKOV: Well, we have a concept of domestic security, and, well, it's public.
You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used, in accordance with
PESKOV: There are no other reasons that were mentioned in that text.
AMANPOUR: So, you are basically saying only an existential threat to your country.
I still don't know that I have got a full answer from you. And I just -- I'm just going to assume that President Putin wants to scare the world and
keep the world on the tenterhooks.
What about chemical and biological weapons? The United States has said that they have -- they believe that there's intelligence that a frustrated
President Putin, lack of progress on the ground, may be preparing to use chemical or even biological weapons against Ukrainian troops, civilians or
PESKOV: Well, unfortunately, we have a very strong reason to believe and a very strong evidence that United States have been developing biolabs
programs on the territory of various countries around the Russian Federation, including the territory of Ukraine.
And this is quite -- quite a sophisticated and quite a dangerous biolab program that was led, top secret, by American specialists.
PESKOV: This is reality that we're facing.
PESKOV: And when it comes to biological and chemical weapons, we don't have these weapons anymore.
In the year of 2017, if I'm not mistaken, it was destroyed completely, in accordance with international agreements.
AMANPOUR: Dmitry Peskov, the United States and allies completely deny that.
Basically, there are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories, not near Russia's border, not anywhere, says the U.N. ambassador, only public health
facilities proudly supported and recognized by the U.S. government, the World Health Organization, and other governments and international
They believe this is part of your disinformation campaign, which confuses issues.
Can I ask you the following? Before the invasion, yourself and several other high-ranked Russian officials denied to the whole world that there
was going to be anything like this and accused all the rest of the world of being hysterical.
In November, you responded yourself, saying: "Such headlines are nothing more than empty, unfounded escalation of tension. Russia poses no threat to
Your E.U. ambassador, Chizov, eight days before the invasion says: "I can assure, as far as Russia is concerned, there will be no attack this
Wednesday. There will be no escalation next week or the week after or next month."
And your deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, shortly after negotiations with the Americans and other side in January said the
following. And here's his sound bite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERGEI RYABKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: I do believe that there is no risk of a larger-scale war to start to unfold in Europe or elsewhere.
We do not want, and we will not take any action of aggressive character. We will not attack strike, "invade" -- quote, unquote -- whatever, Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Dmitry, those are emphatic denials of any such intention very close to the day of the invasion, and as what now turns out to be very
accurate intelligence was telling everybody that this was going to happen.
So, I guess I can't ask you why the lies, but what I want to ask you is, after all those lies, how do you expect Russia at the highest levels to be
taken seriously now? What can one believe about what's coming up next and about what you all say about what -- what's next in terms of negotiations
or the situation on the ground?
PESKOV: Well, yes, we have said it.
And we have said that hoping, hoping that Ukraine will never get prepared for strike against Donbass. Yes, we have said that hoping that, at the end,
that, at the end, there will be a breakthrough in Normandy process, Normandy format.
And -- but, after that, in a couple of days, there was perfectly clear for us, there was perfectly clear for our military specialists that Ukraine was
going to launch an offensive against Donbass, that Ukraine, by the way, before the end of the operation, Ukraine have concentrated more than
120,000 military personnel at the border, at the division line.
And there were clear signs that an offensive was going to -- to start. So, this was the reason. This was the reason.
Like elsewhere, like everyone in the world, until the last moment, we never wanted to believe -- we never wanted to believe that -- to that grave
sense, no one would listen to our concerns. No one would warn Ukrainians not to do that. No one would push Ukrainians towards the solution within a
framework of Normandy process.
But no one -- no one did that.
Well, there are all these foreign leaders. We know that both presidents went to France to talk about this. None of the intelligence that we heard
suggested any such buildup by Ukrainian forces, in fact, the opposite, with President Zelenskyy saying, no, no, no, no, it's not going to happen, stay
In fact, Western intelligence was concerned there wouldn't even be a defense from Ukraine, that they hadn't even been prepared for what was
coming their way.
Are you, is the president surprised at the level of defense and resistance by the Ukrainian forces?
PESKOV: Well, near the Donbass, actually, the level of resistance in Donbass shows that they were quite well-prepared, but they were not well-
prepared for the defense. They were preparing for offensive operations. This is the case.
AMANPOUR: OK. All right.
Well, here's the thing. They have held you off for nearly four months -- four weeks. Who knows what's going to happen in the future, but you are a
much more powerful military. So that constitutes resistance and defense in most -- in most understandings of that.
Can I finally ask you? Alexey Navalny has been sentenced, I believe, to nine years in maximum security. People on the streets of Russia have been
hoovered up and detained somewhere in the region of, according to the CIA, some 14,000 to 15,000 Russians.
You have prevented independent news organizations from calling it a war, from describing anything about it, other than the Defense Ministry line and
the Kremlin line.
My question is, what are you so afraid of, of Navalny, of journalists, of the truth? What is there to fear?
Well, Navalny -- Navalny is a prisoner. He's a prisoner. He had his first sentence. Now he's got his second one. And he's blamed -- and it is proven
by the prosecutor's office that he's blamed for fraud. So, it's purely economical crime.
He was collecting money by his foundation from citizens, regular citizens of Russia, and also from abroad, and he was spending part of that money for
his personal purposes. This is fraud in our country. And he was supposed to be punished.
And no one is afraid of him. It's -- if people is a criminal, he should be in prison. This is the same thing that is happening in the United States
and in European countries.
AMANPOUR: I know you say that. I know the prosecution says that, but the people who allegedly claim that he was taking their money and using it for
himself then said on the stand they had been forced to make -- to make those testimonies.
So, listen, Dmitry Peskov, I appreciate you being with us. It gives us something of an understanding from your side. And I hope we can continue
the conversation as we watch this war unfold.
Thank you so much.
PESKOV: Yes, I would be pleased to do that.
AMANPOUR: My next guest is one of the leaders of the open-source investigative organization known as Bellingcat. The site gathers and
verifies information from public data to find things that others don't -- often miss rather.
You may recall, they work in Syria where they uncovered evidence chemical weapons attacks by President Assad against his own people. And now, they're
tirelessly working to track, verify or debunk information surrounding the war in Ukraine.
Christo Grozev is Bellingcat's executive director and lead Russian investigator, and he's joining me now.
Christo, welcome to the program.
Obviously, Russia is what you work on most, and particularly now. What would you say you got from what my conversation with Dmitry Peskov right
now about what's going on the ground?
CHRISTO GROZEV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BELLINGCAT: Well, first thing I got is that you have extreme patience, and I admire you. I would not have been
able to sustain that conversation.
But what I understand is that Mr. Peskov is probably not really aware of what Russia's strategy is and what Russia's revised strategy after the
initial failures is because his answers did not make any sense. And I do think that that reflects a broader understanding that only a very small
group of people close to Putin, most militarized (INAUDIBLE) or power elite are aware of what he thinks, and probably that is the extent of Mr. Peskov.
But what we do is we try to track the evidence of war crimes or evidence of civilian harm. We focused nearly 100 percent of Bellingcat's activity since
the start of the war into that. We sometimes divert into debunking the random claim that Russia puts or Ukraine puts out, regardless which country
puts forward unsupported claims. But essentially, all after our efforts are going to focused on chronically logging and preserving for judicial
investigations, evidence of civilian harm. So, that's what we do now.
AMANPOUR: So, let me -- before I get to those details, can I just ask you whether you also see what American intelligence seems to be seeing, that
they say somewhere, you know, between seven and maybe 9,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. You know, they're also suggesting that a number
of generals have been killed. Are you able at all to open-source or geolocate any of that?
GROZEV: This is not our main activity. We did start at the beginning tracking casualties on the Russian side. But we have to focus fully on
tracking civilian harm. The numbers that are put forward by the Ukrainian side, which is about 12,500 are a bit high based on what we see. We do see
numbers that are more in the 8,000 to 10,000 range.
And we understand that domestically, within the Russian military command, they're also acknowledging about 5 ,000 deaths at this point. This comes
from several sources inside Russia to us. And I do think that 8,000 to 9,000 is the right number at this point.
AMANPOUR: Can you talk to me about the civilian targeting? I mean, the Russians are absolutely clear in everything they tell the world, we do not
target civilian infrastructure. And yet, we see before our eyes what's happened to Mariupol, what civilian targets are hit in other cities,
including in Kyiv, and, you know, the number of dead and wounded.
But there's a very sophisticated way that they have of saying, well, this person is a fake and that person is a fake, and it was all actors and it
was all staged. Can you get beyond that given that there's not many independent journalists in Mariupol?
GROZEV: We try to. So far, we've gathered more than 400 incidents of civilian harm. Of those about 10 percent, 40 of them represent egregious
civilian harm incidents, which could have been prevented, should have been prevented with care and compliance with military rules of engagement.
What we're seeing is a neglect on the Russian side of the traditional military rules of engagement that are meant to avoid civilian casualties.
Every war will have collateral damage of civilian casualties. What is particular here is that the Russian side does not make the effort. And one
makes -- one may believe that actually is part of their strategy to terrorize the population in order for pressure to build up on the
government to come to some sort of a compromise with Kremlin.
But what we see is not only evidence of targets that have zero military infrastructure importance such as schools, hospitals and theaters, as we
have seen recently, administrative buildings, but we also see some explanation for why that is happening. There are a lot of intercepted phone
calls that are being published by the Ukrainian Security Services and we were able to verify a small portion of that, the ones where they publish
also the phone numbers of the calling parties.
And we hear a lot of Russian officers and soldiers talking to their loved ones in Russia complaining about the plight that they're in, and actually,
informing their wives, of their spouses that they have been given instructions to ignore the duty of care to civilians, to actually not even
pay attention to whom they're shooting as long as somebody is in their line of view. And this would explain also the total neglect for civilian
casualties when artillery or other missile shelling is taken -- is implemented.
AMANPOUR: Well, that is quite extraordinary information to be able to have. Just very briefly and finally, you did a lot of investigation, Bellingcat
did, in Syria and you saw the pattern. Are we seeing some of the same pattern now?
GROZEV: Yes. We're seeing a pattern of, well, first of all, disinformation and continuous industrial scale fabrication of fakes. What we're seeing is
a slightly different direction of the fakes coming from the Russian government. They're mostly meant for domestic audience. They kind of have
given up on trying to convince the world.
They did make some ludicrous claims such as the Russian ambassador to the Netherlands showed up on a program on Dutch TV and claimed that the two
different women who were victims in the Mariupol Maternity Hospital, one of whom died, he showed the photographs of these completely two different
women and claimed that both of them are a crisis actor, the same one at that.
So, they're doing some ill-advised international attempts with most of the -- most of this information is targeting a domestic audience. What we see
is also terrorizing civilian areas that have a particular emotional effect such as hospitals, and I think that that may be part of the strategy to
terrorize the population as opposed to an incident.
AMANPOUR: Thank you for being with us. Christo Grozev, thank you very much, of Bellingcat.
Too often, ordinary citizens get caught up in the days' geopolitical dramas. Take the recently released Anglo-Iranian aid worker Nazanin
Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was held for six years held by Tehran and the American basketball star Brittney Griner who is being detained right now in
Russia since its war on Ukraine, rather a little before.
Our next guest has experienced these cruel tactics firsthand. Jason Rezaian writes for the "Washington Post Global Opinions" and while serving as the
paper's correspondent in Teheran, he spent 544 days unjustly imprisoned on trumped up charges by Iranian authorities. And here he with Hari
Sreenivasan discussing how to help those who are too often used as bargaining chips.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks.
Jason Rezaian, thank you so much for joining us.
You've got a unique perspective on this. I want to talk about Brittney Griner, I mean, we're talking about quite possibly the best basketball
player out there. She's a phenomenal athlete. And you wrote recently, Jason, that you are really concerned for her and her detention in Russia.
JASON REZAIAN, WRITER, WASHINGTON POST GLOBAL OPINIONS: Well, thanks for having me on, Hari, and asking these questions.
I think, first the red flag for me was that this arrest was announced through Russian media, state media. We can call it propaganda. I think
that's fair to say. With a mug shot. That announcement through their media was made a couple of weeks after her arrest. Then we learned that she was
being denied consular access to officials from the U.S. government whose job it is to the end to the needs of Americans in trouble abroad. Whether
there's any credibility or truth to charges against her, she has those rights.
And the fact that those two things were our initial sort of understanding of the situation were red flags for me. I've been following cases of other
Americans detained abroad since my own detention in Iran, and this one leapt out at me as being problematic from the get-go.
SREENIVASAN: So, for people who might not understand. Why was this WNBA player in Russia in the first place?
REZAIAN: So, Brittney Griner is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, probably the -- as you noted, the best or one of the best in the
WNBA. But many WNBA players have the opportunity to play in a foreign league during the off season, do so to earn another income. The contracts
that we hear about from the NBA or Major League Baseball or NFL astronomical numbers in the tens of millions are unfortunately not
available to WNBA players.
And so, you know, those like Brittney Griner who have these immense talents seek an opportunity to, you know, have financial gain, and they go to
another country and Russia being one of the leading ones.
SREENIVASAN: So, she's out there, basically a second job to make ends meet, so to speak. But -- and to keep playing. And she is detained in Russia
right now. And I wonder if this is just a semantic difference. What is the difference between a pretrial detention on whatever charges they think
she's being guilty of versus basically being held a hostage?
REZAIAN: I think that there are very subtle differences, but when you talk about a pretrial detention in a country like Russia, in a country like
Iran, in a country like China where we know that the judicial processes that a lot of people and often, usually, foreign people go through are not,
you know, similar to the ones that we know in the West where due process is a right that's guaranteed to all. One wonders very quickly what are the
So, to me, as someone who has been through this, the idea of a pretrial detention is more to explain to the Russian public why this superstar is
being held for an extended period of time. What is there to investigate? Right? She arrived on an airplane. Her bags were searched. There was a
substance in there or there wasn't. Why do we have to wait two months while she's being kept held incommunicado unable to speak to representatives in
the U.S. government?
It is very, very fishy, and I think by keeping it quiet, we haven't done her any favors.
SREENIVASAN: (INAUDIBLE) minimizing this. But it seems like these human beings are just pawns in a much larger, you know, game. This is just stable
stakes. Well, I have got two of yours, you have two of mine. You want to talk about this. Let's get this other thing over with. And the higher
profile person that I have maybe is worth more in my stack of chips. I mean, again, I don't want to, you know, belittle it to a card game but it
just seems like --
REZAIAN: But that's what it is. And, Hari, you know, you've put it very well. And my deep concern is that with 40-something Americans being held in
this way right now, the State Department is spread thin in trying to work these cases and bring people home.
What happens when that number becomes 100, 200, 400? My concern is that, at that point, the U.S. government throws up its hands and says, you know,
this is not an issue that we can get a handle on. Travel beyond our borders at your own risk. That's not the future that I want to live in.
And I think that that's the direction that we're headed. If we don't come to a consensus with our allies first, and then create credible deterrents
to the Hostage-taking nations so that they understand that the cost of doing this, it is going to be higher than the perceived benefits.
SREENIVASAN: You have looked into this, and you have created a documentary at "The Washington Post," which was fascinating called "Bringing Them
Home." And it looks not at the Brittney Griner case, but you actually look at the case of a single family and talk about how this is actually
happening to multiple people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We haven't heard from Emad (ph) for 12 days. You just kind of start thinking a bunch of stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: And one of the facts that really leapt out at me was that there are now more Americans being detained by countries or state actors
than there are by terrorist organizations. And that was just -- you know, it floored me. I had no idea.
REZAIAN: It's astounding, and I think it's important to note that there are probably thousands of Americans being held on credible charges of legal
violations in different countries, or at least in charges that might be credible that are not, you know, put into the category of wrongful
detainees. Wrongful detainees is a determination the U.S. government makes about Americans who are being held by foreign states in situations that
clearly either are politically motivated or motivated by trying to extract leverages from the United States.
We identified about 43 cases of that. Four cases of Americans being held by terrorist organizations. It's a stark difference that has shifted over
time. And my colleagues at "Washington Post Opinions" and I, as we looked at this phenomenon through the lens of this individual family, the Shargi
family, whose father, husband, Emad Shargi is being held in Iran right now, we started to understand that the U.S. government doesn't have a great
approach to dealing with this problem.
And actually, the U.S. government's approach is better than that of, say, the U.K., Canada, Australia. But it's getting worse and worse. There's more
and more of these cases happening all the time. Well, we've done a pretty good job at putting down Hostage-taking of organizations like ISIS and Al
Qaeda, we haven't done so well in terms of these foreign adversaries, usually authoritarian governments, taking American prisoner, putting them
through a judicial process that is opaque and not based in -- of the rule of law as we know it.
And so, we're trying to shift the conversation and get people to understand that these are not Americans being held for any crimes that they committed,
they're being held as a tool by a foreign state to try to get something in return from the United States of America. And if we want to save those
people from these terrible fates, we're going to have to engage in some kind of negotiations until the time that we have credible deterrents to
stop this practice going forward. We don't have those in place right now.
SREENIVASAN: You know, there's a scene in the documentary where I think it was a member of Congress who told the Shargi family, hey, you know, look, I
don't think we're going to completely change our entire stance to Iran based on what we -- you know, we obviously want your husband back. I'm
paraphrasing here. But that sort of clarity is rarely out in the open.
I mean, what you hear from the State Department and other, we are trying our hardest, we're doing everything we can, but guess what, there's this
elephant in the room we can't ignore.
REZAIAN: I want to acknowledge that. That was a Congressman Ted Deutch from Florida who has been one of the most vocal and committed advocates for
hostage families. Because of one of his constituents, Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent was abducted in Iran, and, you know, never heard from
again. The Trump administration announced that it had intelligence that he had died while in Iranian custody in 2020.
But you know, the fact of the matter is, very few representatives want to engage in these conversations. The fact that the Congressman Deutsche would
be so honest and up front about the challenges of it is admirable. And it also speaks to the kind of very difficult calculations that the government
has to make.
Ultimately, though, if a citizen's condition and freedom and safety are a concern, until we find ways to make this less attractive, it's going to
keep happening and we're going to have to give some kind of concessions to get people out.
Historically, since the Nixon administration, the U.S. government has had a policy of no concessions. But that policy has been flouted on dozens of
occasions, in instances where the political costs here at home became too high to not frame someone. You can see it in the U.K. right now in their
freeing of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ansari (ph), those families had raised the cases of their loved ones for years until finally
it came to a breaking point.
But in the process, they left other Britons behind. This is a really treacherous business, and one that while the U.S. government, the U.K.
government, the Canadian government, the Australian government, Western European governments, they're not responsible for the Hostage-takings that
these authoritarians are doing. But they are responsible for the safety, wellbeing and freedom of their own citizens. That's what governments are
SREENIVASAN: What kinds of disincentives can the United States government impose on a Hostage-taking or detaining nation? I mean, you know, who do
you penalize, and who do you make life difficult for where they have an incentive to say, you know what, we should probably let Emad out?
REZAIAN: We have, first of all, global magnets, these sanctions, which are part of the international law now, sanctions that are targeted to
individuals who are human rights violators and terrorists, terrorism perpetrators. Hostage-taking is one of those crimes by which you can go
after officials of states who are involved in these events.
You can seize their assets internationally. You can put red cards out for their arrest internationally. You can try them in international courts if
they are detained. That's one. Another is freezing assets of governments and placing new sanctions on economies. I'm not a big fan of blanket
sanctions on entire nations and their economies because from experience, I've seen that they almost always hurt normal people more than they do the
perpetrators of these crimes.
But ultimately, it's going to keep happening until we have those measures in place, and those measures are shared by like-minded governments. We all
have to come together and say, hey, you know what? This is not going to stand on our watch. Right now, in the negotiations between Iran and world
powers, every single one of the western countries, the United States, the U.K., France, and Germany, along with Austria, the host nation of the JCPOA
talks have citizens being held hostage in Iran right now.
I think it's a very compelling argument to say, Iran, we're not going to talk about lifting these sanctions until you clear the -- free all these
people and stop this practice moving forward. Unfortunately, those governments have not come together and made that decision that they're
going to take that unified front. And for that reason, I'm worried that we're going to see a new spate of Iranian hostage-taking in the not so
SREENIVASAN: I cannot imagine any world in where, for example, if this was Steph Curry, if this was Lebron, that it wouldn't be on every newspaper
above the fold every day for the entire time that Brittney Griner has been gone.
REZAIAN: I agree with you 100 percent. I mean, I think the truth is -- I mean, if you look in my case, you know, "The Washington Post" made it a
matter of public record. And kept a count on a website, and in the print edition writing stories about me. Same argument could be made. You know,
maybe somebody worked at a smaller regional or local paper and was abducted in another country. Are they going to get the same attention? Probably not.
All the more reason for me and people who have the understanding of what's at stake here, and what is likely actually happening in this supposed case
against her, all the more reason for us to be waving our arms and trying to shine the spotlight on it.
I think that ultimately my great hope is that Brittney comes home very soon, and that I have a chance to meet her and talk to her in the cases of
other Americans who have been held wrongfully hostage by other governments. I never had one that I met after the fact that I reported on say, I wish
you'd been quiet on my case.
SREENIVASAN: Did you think people did not care about you on the outside? Were you told that?
REZAIAN: I was told that for weeks while I was being held in solitary confinement. The Iranian -- my interrogator said that the Iranian state
media had announced that my wife and I had been killed in a car accident and that people believed it. I had no way of knowing if that was true or
not. They were also saying that I had access to legal representation, which was certainly not true. I didn't see a lawyer for the first nine months of
So, you know, it's a period that the first days are ones of confusion. Then that confusion becomes terror. You wonder if you're ever going to see the
light of day again. You wonder if you're going to be executed. And then, as time drags on, you wonder if you're going to die in prison, and, you know,
your fears, your apprehensions, your anxieties shift multiple times during one of these ordeals.
And in every single way, it's inhumane and it is torture to create the circumstances by which captors are trying to really make the detainee go
SREENIVASAN: Jason Rezaian of "The Washington Post," thanks you so much for joining us.
REZAIAN: Thank you, Hari.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Just awful for anyone involved in that kind of inhuman treatment.
And that sit for now. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.