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Interview With Former Israeli Ambassador To France Yael German; Interview With Former U.S. Ambassador Syria And Middle East Institute Senior Fellow Robert S. Ford; Interview With Hermitage Capital Management CEO And Co-Founder Bill Browder. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 14, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what's coming up.
Israeli's protests are governments plans to overhaul the judiciary. My exclusive interview with Israel's former ambassador to France who resigned
over her country's far right-leadership. Then, rescue efforts wind down as Syria finally opens up two more border crossings for quake aid. I'm joined
by the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. Also, ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL BROWDER, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, HERMITAGE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: I've never seen a moment where Putin shows any sign of compromise, any negotiation,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Once Russia's largest foreign investor, Bill Browder tells Walter Isaacson why the world must prioritize defeating Vladimir Putin.
Welcome to the program, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour in London where the British government joins the United States and Europe condemning
Israel's government plans to permit 10,000 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank. They say it'll, "Undermine efforts to achieve a
negotiated two-state solution".
It is just the latest as Israel's new far-right coalition faces a barrage of criticism including from its staunchest ally, Washington. President Joe
Biden took the unprecedented step of questioning any effort to undermine Israel's independent judiciary. Telling "The New York Times", the genius of
American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institution, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary.
Building consensus for fundamental change is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.
In a moment, I will be speaking exclusively about this to Israel's former ambassador to France, who has resigned because she feels she could no
longer serve this government. But first, we want you to bring you the picture from inside Israel with correspondent Hadas Gold on the policy and
protesters who are determined not to let it pass.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): By the tens of thousands, protesters streamed into Jerusalem with drums, flags, signs,
chanting and singing songs. One of the largest demonstrations for Jerusalem in years as these protesters skipped work and school to stand against Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government's sweeping judicial reform plans. Fundamentally, altering the balance of power by allowing parliament
to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.
GOLD (on camera): Now, for weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis have been coming out to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest. But on Monday, on the day
these judicial reforms were first formally introduced in the Israeli parliament, they decided to come here to Jerusalem, so that the shouts of
the tens of thousands could be heard in the halls of the parliament.
TZVIKA GRUNALD, PROTESTER: Just because they won a slim majority, does not mean that the right is with them. Changing the spirit and the life of the
country from a democracy to a totalitarian regime, we don't want to go there.
GOLD (voiceover): Inside the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, the reform passing its first legislative test in a committee hearing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in a foreign language).
GOLD (voiceover): To ferocious protest from opposition lawmakers who jumped over tables, yelling shame and disgrace before being forcibly
removed by security.
BENJAMIN NATENYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: (Speaking in a foreign language).
GOLD (voiceover): Netanyahu accusing opposition leaders of deliberately dragging the country into anarchy. Urging them to show responsibility and
leadership. The night before, Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, plea in a televised address for consensus and a warning.
ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRESIDENT (through translator): We are at a moment before a confrontation, even a violent confrontation. The powdered keg is
about to explode. And brothers are about to raise their hands against brothers.
GOLD (voiceover): Even U.S. President Joe Biden weighing in, saying it's the genius of American and Israeli democracies. That were built on strong
institutions on checks and balances, and on an independent judiciary.
Perhaps the message received. Monday evening after the protests cleared the streets, an announcement from the Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin --
-- that while they weren't going to stop the legislative process, they will meet with opposition leaders to at least start negotiations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Hadas Gold reporting there. More than 100 former Israeli diplomats wrote to Netanyahu protesting any changes to the judiciary. And
at least one serving diplomat has resigned. She is Yael German. was Israel's ambassador to France until just two days ago.
In December, she had sent this message to the prime minister, "I cannot lie to myself and continue representing a policy that is so radically different
from everything that I believe in." And she is joining me now from Tel Aviv for her first interview since stepping down.
Ambassador Yael German, welcome to the program.
YAEL GERMAN, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO FRANCE: Good evening.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you straight out, what exactly about this did you resign over? Why was it so important and so cataclysmic for you, that you
have stepped aside?
GERMAN: Well, first of all, as you know, my office is a trust office. It means that I got it from trust, by trust, from the prior prime minister,
Mr. Yair Lapid. He gave it to me because he trusted me and I got it because I trusted him and the policy of the government that he was the head of. But
I told him then, and it was very, very clear for me that the moment that the government will change, I will quit my office because then I did not
get the trust from the previous government.
GERMAN: And the previous government, I cannot represent their values as I believe in other values.
AMANPOUR: So, let me get this straight. You are saying that you are a political appointee by the previous government, which is a completely
different policy than the current government. Are you saying that that is - -
AMANPOUR: -- the only reason why you resigned, and therefore why not, or are you saying that something about this particular policy has troubled
you? I guess, what I'm trying to understand is what is it about this particular policy, if anything, that has caused your action?
GERMAN: When you are having a trust policy, when you're having a trust office, then it comes out of trust. I trusted my -- Yair Lapid, my former
prime minister of Israel and he trusted me. The moment that the government changed and there came another government and another prime minister,
obviously, then there is no trust between them and me. And I think I had to resign whether I like the policy or not.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, that is important then.
GERMAN: The sheer --
AMANPOUR: That's important then to make that clarification.
AMANPOUR: That you are not necessarily resigning over this policy. So, let me ask you, I reported that least 105, at least, former Israeli diplomats
did send a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the coalition assumed office. Warning about Israel's global status and standing if the
independent judiciary was compromised. Do you agree with that, and if so, in what way do you think Israel's global status might be compromised?
GERMAN: Well, first of all, I do appreciate this letter, and I would have signed this letter should they ask me. And they're absolutely right to warn
the government against what is going to be a tsunami against Israel. But I would like to, really, to point out that what we are doing now in Israel,
and the reason that they came back is because we are now fighting for our character. The character of the -- of Israel is being -- is a country -- is
a Jewish and democratic country. And we are now fighting for our democracy.
GERMAN: And we won't let anyone change this character.
AMANPOUR: OK. First, I want to ask you, what do you mean about a tsunami coming against Israel? What kind of tsunami? From where?
AMANPOUR: From what? From the world? From --
GERMAN: From all the country that cherish love and have relations with Israel, because Israel is the only democracy in our region.
GERMAN: It's one of our -- really, our treasures, the democracy. And now, if we are going to lose it, we are going to lose a lot in the public
opinion of the world.
AMANPOUR: Well, as I said, you saw me cite the number of governments which have protested the settlement policy, and we will get to that in a moment.
But I wanted to ask you because, you know, President Macron of France, where you represented Israel, has said to Benjamin Netanyahu when he
visited recently, that -- as least, according to "The Times of Israel", that Paris should conclude that Israel has emerged from a common conception
of democracy if this legislation on the Supreme Court and judiciary goes through. Do you agree with that? I mean, I think you've just said that,
that it would undermine your democracy.
GERMAN: Yes. Well, actually, President Macron set a red line. And he said that should this legislation pass, then we won't be any more democracy. And
that is a red line.
AMANPOUR: Uh-huh. And as you heard what President Biden said, again, quite an unprecedented commentary on an internal Israeli matter, but he also made
the same point, and sent it to Dick Durbin who, obviously, like most Americans and certainly legislators, a long term and very strong supporters
of Israel. He said, he's concerned that Netanyahu, your prime minister, is putting his own narrow political and legal interests ahead of the long-term
interest and needs of Israel. Netanyahu fully denies that. Do you believe this is a personal thing or is it bigger?
GERMAN: I would like to tell you something. I don't like talking against my prime minister, even though, perhaps, I don't agree with him. And
perhaps, I do agree with what you are saying. But I would like to make a point -- another point. It's the Israeli people that won't let anyone, not
Netanyahu, not anyone change the character of our democracy.
When I was born, I was taught that the declaration of independence, this declaration of independence is our I.D. And no one has the right to change
it. And in our declaration of democracy, in our I.D., it is written, loud and clear that we were a democracy, that we thrive for peace, equality and
freedom and no one can change it. That's the -- that's our I.D. that our forefathers signed 74 years ago and nobody gave no one the permission to
AMANPOUR: Well, yes, but these people have been elected. So, we're going to get to the bottom of this. You are right, and we've shown the pictures
that a very different coalition of Israelis have come out onto the street. We know that many former intelligence, many former security officials,
including high tech and high tech -- you know, business people who don't generally get involved in politics, and also army reservists.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu has said the following to CNN, about what he is doing. He is basically saying, it's no different than in many other
parts of the world. Here is what he said. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NETANYAHU (through translator): Here's a country that has exactly this provision, it's called Canada. Is Canada not a democracy? Is Britain not a
democracy? Is New Zealand not a democracy because they all have -- either have these provisions or -- such a provision or have no ability of the
court to strike down laws?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, how do you answer that? What is so different from the provisions that his government is trying to ram through?
GERMAN: Well, first of all, I don't like to argue with my prime minister. Maybe I would like to do it but I would like to do it here in Israel and
not through CNN. But I have to answer that you can't compare Canada to Israel. Canada has a constitution. Canada has two parliaments. We don't
But on the other side, we've got the declaration of democracy that that is, as I said, this is our I.D. And Netanyahu doesn't have the right to change
GERMAN: Even though he was elected by 64 members of Knesset, do we think that if you know we are getting into the definition of democracy. Democracy
is not only the majority. Democracy is also the values. Democracy, with that values has no -- it doesn't stand for nothing.
AMANPOUR: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
GERMAN: When you are talking about democracy or talking about values, about ideals, and you have to keep those ideals, even though you were
elected by majority. Majority is only the outside of democracy. The inside of democracy is the ideals that we're holding (ph). And our ideals is
democracy and equality and liberty.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I hear you. And we see in other parts of Europe as well, a certain elected democracies are calling -- are proudly calling themselves
illiberal democracies by also tampering with some of the founding principles, including the judiciary. So, what are you concerned about.
GERMAN: We don't want to be like them.
AMANPOUR: Yes. So, what exactly so that --
GERMAN: We don't want to be like those.
GERMAN: We are very concerned that if this revolution will come through and if those legislation will be legislated in our Knesset, the power of
government will be without restriction.
GERMAN: There will be no restriction for the power of the government. And as a matter of fact, it can do whatever it wants and decide whatever it
want, and this is not a democracy. I would say, this is a dictator.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador German, obviously, also in terms -- well, I guess for you, all is domestic policy, for the U.S., it's international policy. The
idea of the two-state solution, the increase in settlement units that the prime minister has just approved and announced. We know that the U.S.
Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, along with others, have been very, very upset about this.
And it came right after Blinken's trip. Awfully, he asked the prime minister not to take unilateral steps. So, Blinken has said, we are deeply
troubled by Israel's decision yesterday to advance reported nearly 10,000 settlement units. Like previous administrations, Democratic and Republican,
we strongly oppose such unilateral measures which exacerbate tensions and undermined the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.
I know there's been a lot of violence on both sides. But I want to know from you, as a diplomat, is there any hope for anything resembling
negotiations on a two-state solution given that the settlement and the settlement believers are emboldened by now their backers who are in
GERMAN: Well, first of all, I would like to remind you the outstanding speech of our prime -- previous prime minister, Yair Lapid, in the U.N.
where he laid down the two-state solution, very firmly and very clearly. So, you have to know that there are those who think the solution is a two-
state solution. And one of them is Yair Lapid, and not only -- there are a lot of Israelis who think like him.
But on the other side, I would like to point out that should I give you now a paper signed as a peace treaty with a two-state solution and I'll tell
you go ahead, go to Ramallah (ph), to the Mukataa (ph), wherever you want, I wonder if you will find one Palestinian leader that will be willing to
GERMAN: So, please remember that the Palestinians didn't want to sign the treaty that we offered them three times.
Last time it was when Olmert, prime minister -- previous Prime Minister Olmert offered a peace treaty with 96 percent of the territories that we
were willing to give up. He gave it to Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen told him, OK. I'm going with it to my counsel and I'll be back.
GERMAN: He never came back. He never gave a positive answer. So, you have to remember it. And there is also one thing that I would like to point out.
And I would like you to make -- to try it. When you come into any school in Israel and ask the students, what would you like for Israel? There will be
one answer. Peace.
GERMAN: All the students, wherever you will go, we answer this. Now, try to ask the same question in Gaza or in the Sea of Jordan. You'll got
another -- other answer and the answer will be, we would like Israel to be out of the region. We would like all the Jews that are in Israel to be
dead. They don't have the right to exist.
AMANPOUR: Uh-huh. Ambassador --
GERMAN: And this is something that everyone in the world should know and should bear in mind, that on the other side, there are people who doesn't
want us to be alive. Who doesn't think that we've got the right for our own country.
AMANPOUR: You are right, there are some people who believe that. But like you said, the majority, I think you said, most Israelis, and you said, most
students in Israel want peace. The latest polls from the Palestinians side also show that they want a peaceful two-state solution to coexist with you.
It is -- it's a conundrum.
Can I finally ask you, because your president, when he made his address to the nation, he also -- well, he talked about the possibility, you know, of
an explosion, a social explosion. He talked about if this all went through it could really damage the social and political cohesion of the nation.
We've seen in 2021 when, you know, Israeli Jews and Arabs went at it. Do you think that there is any possibility of a sort of civil conflict over
this political crisis that you're facing?
GERMAN: I would like to believe there is no such chance because, actually, we are one people and we are very united. But you have to be aware that
such a thing won't happen. That's why we are on the street. That's why we are fighting. We are fighting for our country. We are fighting for our
community. We are fighting for our democracy. We are fighting for peace to be someone. We are fighting for hope. And I am sure that we will again and
that we will win, eventually.
AMANPOUR: Really, really interesting to get your valuable perspective. And thank you so much for joining us, Ambassador Yael German. Thank you for
being with us from Tel Aviv.
GERMAN: Thank you and good evening. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, the death toll across Turkey and Syria continues to climb. More than a week since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the region, more
than 41,000 people are now confirmed dead, with many more injured. But rescues do continue to offer hope. Just look at this video of a woman being
pulled from the rubble alive after 203 hours. But as time ticks away, aid workers are saying the windows for miracles like this are coming to a
Now, the focus is on getting aid to the desperately needy. In Syria, finally, President Bashar al-Assad has opened two more border crossings to
allow in humanitarian assistance. Joining me now to talk about all of this is the U.S. diplomat, Robert Ford, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria
amid the bloody civil war.
Ambassador Ford, welcome to our program. Can I ask you -- I'm not sure whether you are listening to former Israeli Ambassador Yael German, but she
was absolutely, you know, impassioned by the need to defend Israel as she said national I.D. Its democracy against what she believes, and obviously,
many protesters believed to be a threat in terms of a threat against an independent judiciary. What is your reaction to that? and you've heard the
U.S. president and others talk about it.
ROBERT S. FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA AND SENIOR FELLOW, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Well, it's clear, Christiane, that there's a lot of
disagreement in Israel. And there have been some big demonstrations there. I think there was one yesterday in Jerusalem and there have been big
demonstrations in Tel Aviv as well.
What is, for me, the most striking perhaps is that the Biden administration, the president himself, but also the Secretary of State,
Tony Blinken, have actually made comments about the internal political debate in Israel, and that is not normal for an American administration.
AMANPOUR: What would be the context for the United States and for its -- well, its alliance, its policies in that region or anywhere if Israel's
democracy was compromised?
FORD: Well, I think the administration is being a little careful. You noticed that they used the word consensus and they urged the Israeli
political leadership to build a consensus among Israelis themselves. That's kind of a nice, gentle way of the Americans saying, be careful about the
steps you are taking because they are divisive.
So, I think longer term, I think there are people in Washington who are wondering two things. First, is Israel going to be a democracy or not over
the medium of long-term? And second, related to the two-state solution you were talking about briefly there, will Israel be able to maintain its
status as a democracy and also a Jewish state if it in fact absorbs through annexation of millions of Palestinians?
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you now to talk about what unspeakable horror, in terms of a natural disaster, is happening in Syria where you were also --
where you were, the U.S. ambassador. We know that through international pressure, I suppose, of what is your view of why Bashar al-Assad has
decided not to allow two more openings more than a week after this earthquake for his people.
FORD: Well, first of all, I have to say it's a surprise. I don't think many people expected it. And I think the U.N. Humanitarian Relief boss,
Martin Griffiths, talked to him. I suspect also that the United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed, was just in Damascus, and I
suspect he too was urging Bashar to take the step.
I suspect that Assad has two calculations in his mind. Number one, making this gesture. And it is important, let -- if it's implemented, it is
important. It may help him normalize relations with some countries. And the second reason I suspect he did it is that he could not really control those
two additional border crossings anyway. They're controlled by the Turks, the Turkish side, and Syrian rebel groups on the Syrian side, and already
some non-government organizations, some aid organizations were beginning to use them.
And so, with this announcement from Bashar al-Assad's government, in a sense they take credit for something that likely was going to happen with
or without them.
AMANPOUR: So, I was speaking to America's Global Ambassador-at-Large for, you know, humanitarian and other, you know, accountability war crimes and
the like, Beth Van Schaack. And she -- I asked her about, you know, why -- what can be done to hold a leader accountable if he or she deliberately
withholds humanitarian aid against the international law. And she said that arbitrary withholding of humanitarian in an armed conflict can be a
violation of the law of war. And using starvation as a weapon of war is a criminally punishable was crime.
So, I don't know whether you want to weigh in on that. But why do you think the leader of a country would not want to open all the floodgates, wherever
they may be leading to, to help his people, if he wants to be considered leader of all those people?
FORD: Well, Christiane, I don't think ever since this conflict in Syria began in 2011, we have seen repeated instances where Bashar al-Assad does
not particularly care about Syrian civilians who are opposed to his rule. And I'm not going to catalog all of the atrocities that the al-Assad
government has committed against its citizens, but they are real. And therefore, for anyone to presume that he cares about all of the citizens of
Syria, I think that would be quite a stretch of imagination.
AMANPOUR: So, there are many -- they're -- particularly in the humanitarian field, like the White Helmets, who are upset with the world.
They're upset that it's taken the U.N. and others this long to get this amount of basic humanitarian care and need into that desperately needy
place. We know the U.N. has just launched today a $397 million humanitarian appeal for the victims in Syria for three months.
But here's what the head of the White Helmets has written today. Assad's intervention is a cynical move that's come far too late. The U.N.'s
insistence on waiting for the Syrian regime's permission, the very regime that has bombed, gassed, starved, forcibly displaced, and imprisoned
millions of Syrians is unforgivable. I mean, is he right?
FORD: I think he is right. I don't think that donor states, and I include the United States, I don't think they had to wait for the United Nations'
permission. I think they had very clear legal justification under international and humanitarian law and under the Geneva fourth convention
about its treatment of civilians in conflict areas.
They had ample justification to start using those additional border crossings. I understand that the one that was approved by the United
Nations, there was some road damage and that it slowed it down a bit, too.
FORD: But other border crossings were absolutely open. And they probably could have even flown in supplies, at least by helicopter and brought in
teams. I don't blame the White Helmets director at all for being angry.
AMANPOUR: And they could have airdropped, as you say. So, what is it with a Security Council? Why did they wait then? Why didn't they do it? Why
didn't your government do it?
FORD: I'm not going to speak for the administration, Christiane. But I think the Russians constantly make an argument in the security council
about defending the sovereignty of the Syrian state and its borders. But in a situation like this, international humanitarian law gives ample
justification, legally, under international law, to put aside the sovereignty issue while you are delivering urgently needed, lifesaving
AMANPOUR: And just so that we're all clear, I've been told by many officials that the sanctions that are -- on Syria do not play at all when
it comes to this kind of humanitarian crisis, and that there are exemptions, and extra measures are being taken around that.
Can I just ask you whether you can comment on the other side of the border? Turkey. There has been, as we've seen, so much collapse. I mean, in Syria,
sadly, so much was already rubble. I mean, it was just awful. In Turkey, that was not the case. And there has been so much anger from people on the
ground there as well about buildings that they say, that simply weren't safe.
This is what was written just right now in foreign policy by the author of "Erdogan's War: Strongman's Struggle at Home and in Syria", wrote this,
powerful earthquakes kill people. But they are more deadly in countries like Turkey where building regulations aren't enforced, unqualified
loyalist fill key positions, independent state institutions do not exist, civil society organizations have been wiped out, and the interest of a
corrupt few are prioritized above all else.
Now, we know that the Erdogan government has called for the arrest and investigation into certain numbers of these people who have been complained
against. But talk to me about that. What do you think of that criticism?
FORD: Well, I think the Erdogan government, in a sense, made it a significant and turnout politically to be important, perhaps, concession to
a lot of contractors operating in that part of Syria who were putting up high rise apartment buildings. When I would visit cities like Gaziantep,
they were beautiful. But apparently, they did not meet Turkish government codes for construction in an active earthquake area. And the contractors
knowingly built their high-rise apartment buildings that way and got a, sort of, amnesty --
AMANPOUR: Oh, wow.
FORD: -- from the Erdogan government in return for relatively small payments. What was in it for the Erdogan government at the time, and we're
talking five, six, seven, eight years ago, two things. Number one, small amounts of money. But second, economic growth. And that part of Turkey,
historically has not been a particularly privileged economic part of Turkey.
A lot of cities there, sort of, struggle, economically. And so, the construction sector was booming. And of course, that benefited President
Erdogan and his political fortunes.
FORD: Now, that bill may be coming due.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you then to put on your prognosticator's hat because Erdogan, who's been in power for some 20 years, is running again in
these elections in May. And we remember that he came to power after a tragic earthquake in which he promised to fix things. So, you say the bill
FORD: Exactly. Absolutely, that's exactly --
AMANPOUR: Yes. You -- the bill may be coming due. Do you think there is anything that can dislodge him given the -- as this author points out, the
complete lack of civil society, independent press, all of that. All the -- you know, the heavy sanctions against them.
FORD: Well, I think in any kind of competition like this, and there are still democratic elements in Turkish political society. So, my big question
is, as I look at it, will a coalition of Turkish opposition parties, and there are six parties --
FORD: -- that have agreed to cooperate and work together in the upcoming election, and to all support one single candidate. Will they be able to
agree on that candidate? And will that candidate, in turn, run an effective campaign? And those are two big ifs.
FORD: And I think the future of the Turkish election will depend on the answer to those two questions.
AMANPOUR: It's really a remarkable period of time. Thank you so much, Ambassador Ford, for joining us.
FORD: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Now, we turn to the war in Ukraine. Over the past two weeks, chaotic scenes of Russian tanks exploding and driving into minefields were
recorded by Ukrainian military drones in Donetsk. Some Russian military bloggers have called it a fiasco. And it points to major failures in the
Kremlin's military tactics as it gears up for a spring offensive.
Our next guest, investor Bill Browder, joins Walter Isaacson to discuss the effectiveness of the NATO ally sanctions on Russia and the pace of its
assistance to Ukraine at this critical juncture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Bill Browder, welcome back to the show.
BILL BROWDER, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, HERMITAGE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Great to be here.
ISAACSON: You were once the largest foreign investor in Russia. And now, for the past two decades, you've been one of the strongest enemies, I would
say, of Vladimir Putin, especially trying to put sanctions on him for the things he has done. And now, Ukraine. Tell me, in the past year, since the
Ukrainian war has happened what you've learned.
BROWDER: Well, we were living in a world before where everybody was for -- literally, for 20 years everybody was trying to appease Putin. He would do
the most terrible things. He invaded Georgia. He carpet-bombed Syria. He took Crimea. And nobody wanted to do anything. And somehow thinking that if
they just, like, kept their hands away from him, he would somehow behave himself.
And what we've learned is that he's a murderous -- a mass murderer who's invaded a foreign country, escalated the war, killed tens of thousands, if
not hundreds of thousands of people. And we're now in a world where we have to use everything we've got to shut this guy down to --
ISAACSON: Wait, when you say everything we've got, are you talking more about economic sanctions or should we just go in militarily?
BROWDER: Well, I don't think any of us want to send our own troops into Russia. But I think that if you look at the behavior of the United States
and the E.U. and various other countries militarily, we've given the Ukrainians enough not to lose the war. But it is drip feeding as we give
them the stuff, and they certainly don't have enough yet to win the war.
Zelenskyy is going around begging for stronger weapons to repel and get the Russians out of Ukraine. And it's a thought-out strategy not to give the
Ukrainians what they need. I've heard this stated explicitly from the United States and other countries. Everybody is worried now about provoking
Putin and escalating when Putin is doing all the escalating.
ISAACSON: Well, wait. You say, you talked to U.S. and other military officials and people around the world and they say, we cannot do that
because the escalation could get too bad. Ain't there a little truth in that? Don't they have to worry about this really escalating out of control?
BROWDER: Well, so, it's -- it escalated out of control on February 24th. Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of a peaceful neighbor. That was the
escalation. He's bombing them every day. He's bombing civilians.
He is trying to take out electricity infrastructure. He is killing people all over the place. That's the escalation.
And so, all we're trying to do now is stop this, and the only way to stop it is by defeating him. And if you look at it from a U.S. standpoint, here
you've got a hostile international power that is -- doesn't have our best interests at heart, we don't have to lose a single American life by
supporting the Ukrainians. They are ready to fight for all of our freedom, we should give them everything they ask for.
ISAACSON: For the past year, you've been going around the world, and you're talking about more and more sanctions. Tell me, though, what
sanctions have been effective so far?
BROWDER: Well, I think all of them have been to a greater or lesser extent. But you have to think about sanctions to wins. What -- sanctions
can either be a deterrent, which they haven't been because we did not use them properly beforehand, or they can be punishment. Here, they've been a
And so, there is a whole different, sort of, sections of sanctions. The first is that we've frozen $350 billion of Russian central bank reserves,
that's like their war chest, that money is no longer available to them. We've also sanctioned about 40 Russian oligarchs, and there's hundreds of
billions of dollars of oligarch money frozen around the world, which in my opinion, that's sort of another war chest to Putin. He can draw on that
And we've also cut Russians -- Russia's banks, many of them, most of them, off of the SWIFT international banking system. We've sanctioned the oil
companies. We've also made it impossible for them to import technology. And this is -- I think all of these things are grinding Russia down. It's not
going to be something that happens overnight, but it's grinding Russia down.
ISAACSON: And when do you think that will grind them down so that they might stop?
BROWDER: I'm not sure it's going to grind them down to them stopping for one simple reason because they continue to sell oil and gas in large
quantities to the west. The numbers after the war were like a billion dollars a day of western money was going into Russia. And billion dollars a
day was being spent to kill Ukrainians.
And the numbers might not be a billion dollars a day anymore, maybe it's $700 million a day or $500 million a day, but it's still a lot of money
that's going into Russia which they can use for their war effort. And until we stop buying their oil and finding a way to get other people to stop
buying their oil, they continue to have money to do this.
ISAACSON: How can we get people to stop buying oil? I mean, what should we do on oil?
BROWDER: We could say to all the -- there is a big proportion of the world right now, a very big proportion, the G7, the European Union, who have all
said, we want to sanction Russia. We want to prevent them from doing this.
And then there is a much smaller section of the world from an economic standpoint that says, we want to continue to do business with Russia.
Countries like South Africa, and Indonesia, and Brazil, and India. And we could easily, if we wanted to, we could say to those countries, if you want
to do business with us, you can't do business with Russia.
ISAACSON: Well, wait a minute. If we had to do that, we'd be saying, you can't do business with China, you can't do business with India, you can't
do business with South Africa. All of these countries have not yet joined the sanctions regime.
BROWDER: But that's what I'm saying. So, you go to South Africa, for example, you say -- you know, you want 70 percent of the world or you want
one percent of the world? Because if you do business with one percent of the world, we're going to cut you off from 70 percent of the world. We
could actually do that.
And if we did that, they would have to make a choice. Right now, we're not forcing them to make any choice. And we could isolate Russia much further
than we're currently doing if we said to everybody, you know, it's either us or them. And everybody always votes with their feet and votes with the
money when it comes down to it. We have not put that to them. We haven't been tough in that way, that's one thing we could do.
There is one other thing which I've been going around the world talking about which I think it would make a big difference in the war in Ukraine.
Which is that, after the war started, the first thing the western governments did was we froze $350 billion of central bank reserves. The war
has done one -- at least a trillion, maybe $1.2 trillion of damage to Ukraine.
Russia's done the damage. We have custody of their money. Instead of just having that money frozen, that money should be confiscated and handed over
to the Ukrainians, both for their defense and their reconstruction. Putin broke it, he should fix it. That's probably the single biggest thing we
could do in a very short term to tip the balance in Ukraine's favor in this whole conflict.
ISAACSON: Explain to me the mechanics of confiscating their central bank reserves.
ISAACSON: Well, so at the moment, those reserves are protected by something called sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity means that anything
that belongs to a country, a state, can't be taken away. You cannot, like, just move into the embassy because you would like that property because it
belongs to that country. And normally, that would be a reasonable thing and that's how international law has worked for the las, you know, many, many
Now, Putin has redefined international crime. He has redrawn the borders of Europe. He's invaded a foreign country. He's killed -- he's been a mass
murderer. He killed the unimaginable numbers of people. And so, we're sitting there in the situation where he is redefining international crime.
And we're sitting there and saying, and your money is still protected. We need to redefine international law to elevate it to the level of his -- the
way he is become an international criminal.
And what does that mean specifically? That means that laws have to be passed in a number of major developed countries which says that sovereign
immunity always applies in every single circumstance, except in the circumstance when a country has invaded a neighboring country and committed
an act of aggression, which is how this war is being defined under legal terms.
So, that's the one narrow circumstance where sovereign immunity no longer applies. If we did that, if the United States and the European Union and
Great Britain and Canada and Japan, we wrote their laws to say that sovereign immunity applies in all circumstances other than those, then we
could then confiscate their money. We wouldn't be doing it illegally. We'd be doing it based on a law that's been rewritten to adapt itself to the
ISAACSON: If you wanted to confiscate the foreign reserves and you've talk about laws being passed in the west, would China and India have to go
BROWDER: Well, so the thing is that all you to do is get the countries that have reserve currencies to revise their laws. So, in other words, if
we don't -- you know, if China -- we don't keep our money in China. So, it's not a reciprocal thing. If you get the major reserve currencies in
places where Russia keeps their money -- and by the way, there's one other great benefit to doing this which is that if we confiscate Russia's money
for invading a neighboring country, who else has got a whole bunch of money?
In the west that's eyeing and potentially going to invade a neighboring country, that's China. Now, some people would argue that this idea is a
dangerous idea because what where's -- China will just, like, abandon all countries and keep their money at home. But that's just -- you know, if
it's just the U.S. doing this, that might happen with the dollar. But if everybody does it together that has a reserve currency, China -- then China
will have to go along with it -- I mean, they'll have to be scared of it.
ISAACSON: What about in the Middle East? Both Israel and the Saudis don't seem to be on board. What do you -- what is the reason for that and what
can be done?
BROWDER: Well, I think it's really shameful that the Israelis who -- Israel is a country that was formed as a, sort of, reaction to a genocide,
are now seeing a genocide taking place in another country and are not helping out that country. I find that really unpleasant and disturbing.
ISAACSON: Why is that, do you think?
BROWDER: Well, their argument is that the Russians are in Syria. Syria proposes an existential threat to Israel and therefore, they've got to play
all different sides. I think they could easily -- for example, the Israelis have an iron dome defense situation which prevents people from bombing
them. They should provide that iron dome defense mechanism to Ukraine so that they're not -- the Ukrainian infrastructure isn't destroyed. They
could easily help Ukrainians with defensive weapons.
And on the Saudi Arabian side, they've really not been a good ally to the United States. They're -- historically, the United States had a deal, which
is that the Saudis keep oil prices stable to keep the economy stable and in return, the United States provides a, sort of, military blanket over Saudi
Arabia so that they are protected. And the military blanket continues to exist, but they haven't been playing ball when it comes to oil.
I mean, when the oil prices went up because of Putin. What did they do? They cut production even more. I think the Saudis aren't playing fair game,
and nor is the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates are hosting scores of Russian oligarchs, numerous Russian oligarch yachts are parked in
Dubai. You know, this is another country that's supposed to be an ally of the United States and they're not playing ball.
And so, there's a lot of pressure that we could apply to our allies if we chose to do it. And the United States is a very powerful country and I
believe should in all three cases.
ISAACSON: One of the things you've always pushed for is going after Putin's wealth personally. Tell me, how did he get all that money and where
is it and what can we do?
BROWDER: Well, so, Putin doesn't keep any money in his own name. If he did, then whoever had the bank documents to show it could blackmail him.
So, Putin has to rely on people he trusts. I call them oligarch trustees.
And so, when you see an oligarch who is supposedly worth $15 or $20 billion on paper, you can be pretty well sure that half that money belongs to
Vladimir Putin. And so, when we sanctioned the oligarchs, when we identified the biggest and richest oligarchs in Russia and we freeze their
money, we're not just freezing their money, we're freezing Vladimir Putin's money.
And so, one of the reasons that I've been so forceful on the issue of sanctioning Russian oligarchs is because we're sanctioning Vladimir Putin
personally. And so, the -- we've done a good job with that. And, you know, he says, oh, this doesn't matter. Well, he's fuming when these oligarchs
find their assets frozen at different banks around the world.
ISAACSON: You said this is going to be a long war, the way it's going now. Envision for me what it will be like five years from now if this thing is
still going on the way it is.
BROWDER: Well, this is Putin's -- Putin, his vision, in my mind, is he knows he can't win the war. But he also doesn't care about the lives lost
from his side. He doesn't really care about the destruction of his military equipment.
In this -- in his mind, what he's thinking is that we're going to lose patience before he loses patience. He's thinking that in these democratic
countries where we have elections all the time, where we grow tired and are -- where we have a limited bandwidth that eventually we're going to stop
supporting Ukraine. And that's his only way out of this whole thing, is just to outlast us. And so --
ISAACSON: Well, wait, wait. Might he be right?
BROWDER: That -- I think, that's my biggest fear. I mean, if you look at the trajectory of the Ukrainians right now, they're really causing just no
end of hardship for Putin and his military. And on the current trajectory, he -- the Ukrainians probably would eventually succeed over some long
period of time.
And so -- but -- the -- we've heard murmurings in the United States and Europe from far-right, from all sorts of strange character saying no more
money for Ukraine, no more support for Ukraine. If those murmurings that are, at the moment, very narrow in sections of the political establishment
become bigger sections, Putin may very well be right, and that's the fear I have. And the reason why it is so important that we actually finally pony
up whatever we have to do to help the Ukrainians win in a shorter period of time.
ISAACSON: Is it possible that there could be negotiations or is that something you just can't envision?
BROWDER: Well, I've been in a conflict with Putin -- personal battle with Putin for more than a decade over the murder of my lawyer, Sergei
Magnitsky. And I've seen -- and the battle has escalated to the point where there is international sanctions named after Magnitsky applied to Russia
which has led to all sorts of retaliation by the Russian government.
And every time the Russians have an opportunity to do the right thing to negotiate, to back down, to be reasonable, instead of doing the right
thing, they've double down, tripled down, and escalated. I've never seen a moment when Putin shows any sign of compromise, any negotiation, any
reasonableness. In anything I've ever dealt with and anything else, he doesn't have the capacity to do that.
And so, here we are with this war in Ukraine and he can't afford to show one tiny sign of negotiation or compromise. And I -- so, from that
perspective -- and we've seen it play out. He doesn't -- and he says, I'm ready to -- for a peace negotiation. And that negotiation, the
preconditions are Ukraine gives up their territory and that's it. And of course, the Ukrainians aren't going to give up their territory. He invaded,
he should be rewarded with their territory, no way.
ISAACSON: Bill Browder, as always, thank you so much for joining us.
BROWDER: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, on this Valentine's Day, love is in the air all over the world. Flowers, balloons, and weddings from Thailand to
Pakistan, Philippines, and Afghanistan. A reminder that even amid war a natural disaster, love does unite us all. A powerful and constant force on
our planet. And so, we leave you with images of Valentine's Day from around the globe.
Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.