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Interview With Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili; Interview With Former Ukrainian Defense Minister And Adviser To The Ukrainian Government Andriy Zagorodnyuk; Interview With The Washington Post Russia, Ukraine Editor And "The Dissident: Alexey Navalny" Author David Herszenhorn; Interview With "A Kids Book About Israel & Palestine" Author Reza Aslan. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 13:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello everyone and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.

Physical fights in parliament as Georgia passes a controversial Russia style security bill. As thousands protest this tilt away from the E.U., the

stakes are huge. President Salome Zourabichvili joins me.

Then --


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And we know this a challenging time, but we also know that in the near term, the assistance is now on the



AMANPOUR: -- another stop in Kyiv, but can American promises stop the Russian advance in time? Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy

Zagorodnyuk joins me.

Plus --


DAVID HERSZENHORN, RUSSIA, UKRAINE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: A lot of attention has shifted away from this giant transformation that's underway

in Russia.


AMANPOUR: -- Russia remastered, how Putin has changed that country and the world. David Herszenhorn joins Hari Sreenivasan with his important new

reporting series.

Also, ahead, "A Kids Book About Israel & Palestine." Why that matters for us and our children. I speak to writer Reza Aslan.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Georgia's future hangs in the balance. The former Soviet Republic has seen mass protests for weeks coming to a head today as riot police clashed with

pro-European demonstrators after its parliament passed a controversial foreign agents bill, which critics say mirrors a law in Russia which is

used to crack down on any opposition and any dissent.

Much like Ukraine, Georgia is caught between Russia and Europe. But today, the country appears to have taken a step back into Russia's orbit, and away

from what the overwhelming majority of Georgians want, which is to join the E.U.


KETI MATCHAVARIANI, PROTESTER: I feel like this law is going to destroy the European future that my country has been fighting for. I think the Georgian

government is trying to take something away from us that we -- the majority of us is, like, very desperate to have.


AMANPOUR: There were even physical fights inside parliament during the debate. The new law requires organizations that receive more than 20

percent of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence. Critics call it an anti-democratic move, including U.S., E.U.

officials who say it'll damage the country's chances of joining the bloc.

This bill has been spearheaded by the ruling party, which is considered to be under the control of a pro-Kremlin oligarch. Georgia's president, Salome

Zourabichvili, has vowed to veto it, and she's joining me now from Tbilisi.

President Zourabichvili, welcome back to the program. How dangerous and critical a moment is this for Georgia in its democratic transition?

SALOME ZOURABICHVILI, GEORGIAN PRESIDENT: It is critical, because as you know, Georgia has received the candidate status to the European Union last

December and was on its way to have the opening of negotiations, addition negotiations by the end of the year.

So, it's very middle point that there is this new pressure The reintroduction of this Russian law, because it's nothing else but a Russian

law, and many other laws that are very disturbing and that take us away from the recommendations of the European Commission and from our European

past in general.

The message that we're seeing today in the streets, on the streets, the way to treat very peaceful protesters is a very Russian way. It's a way of

intimidation, of trying to stop the protest, and to stop people to say that they want their European pass back.

AMANPOUR: President Zourabichvili, I just wonder, because I think a lot of people will remember that something very similar happened in Ukraine back

in 2013. The overwhelming majority of people wanted their passage towards, you know, partnership with the E.U., while the Kremlin-backed president of

Ukraine basically said no and that caused, you know, huge protests, which eventually led to where we are today.


Do you see that danger as well? Do you see Ukraine caught in a situation that could lead to -- sorry, Georgia caught in a similar situation?

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, I think that it's not -- it's very similar methods because that's the way Russia behaves and governments that are getting

closer to Russia behave, but we are in very different situations. We've gone through our maiden much earlier. We have gone through the same

protests and we are further down the road.

There is here population that has gone through many tests and has resisted. It is a very peaceful demonstration. And we have elections. And I'll be

leading the pro-European front in those elections that will be a kind of referendum, not by involving myself directly in the elections, but I will

be the guarantor of this pro-western, pro-European front of political parties and of civil society.

Because what is very important is that we have a very mature civil society, very mature young people that have been demonstrating for three weeks now

without having broken any window or burnt any car and that will tell a lot for a number of other countries about how mature is the population here and

how determined they are to keep their European pass.

AMANPOUR: Figures show that some 80 percent of your population disagrees with this and wants to be closer and eventually join the E.U. You, before

this law was passed, said in a post that the people always win. Well, it appears today the people lost. You say that you're going to veto this bill

when it comes to your desk.

Can you? Does it matter? Because the actual ruling party is in the majority in parliament.

ZOURABICHVILI: Yes, there was no illusion, I think, at any time because they have reintroduced this law and they have a majority in the parliament

and it's a monolithic majority of a one-party rule. So, there was no illusion that they were going to go ahead.

I will veto because that's a symbolic veto, as symbolic is this Russian law. We have many other Russian laws. We have a law on the -- making

Georgia an offshore of the offshores, which is very strange and very non- transparent. There is in preparation a law on changing the pension fund and making the -- something that is available to the government.

So, there are many, many concerns. But the way and the place where we can reverse all of these is the elections in October, that's very close, 26th

of October, and we have to use this mobilization of the society and this consolidation of the political parties to go and win those elections

because that's the European way. It's not overthrowing governments. It's winning in the elections. And this overwhelming majority that you've

mentioned that once you're up is going to be there at the day -- on the day of the election.

AMANPOUR: OK. Now, let's get to the nitty-gritty of this law. Why is it so opposed by the majority? What makes it so dangerous? Those groups that back

it -- well, the ruling group that backs it, which we understand is pro- Kremlin or backed by the Kremlin says that it's all about sovereignty and, you know -- and independence. So, what do you say about that?

ZOURABICHVILI: First of all, it's a copy, a duplicate of the law that Putin adopted in 2012. And the law was used to really completely oppress and

repress the civil society. As a result, we see today what's happening in Russia. And it has this main aim.

And what is even more preoccupying in a country like Georgia that has never known that, that through this law and through their rhetoric at the same

time the authorities are calling, in fact, our partners of 30 years, foreign powers that want to subvert the country, they are calling them, our

partners, agents that want here to provoke a new war like in Ukraine, but that's what they are saying. And the population here is very well aware of

these old Russian Soviet propaganda tricks. So, it doesn't work. They see what's happening, and they're going to stop it from happening.

It's not in the parliament, clearly, because there is no way to out rule this majority that is really so coherent that yesterday the third hearing

on the committee was adopted in one minute seven seconds. That's a way to show how monolithic and how united is this one-party rule.


But we have elections. We have a vibrant civil society. We have non- governmental organizations that are not yet closed or repressed. We have partners that are very present, and we see that today. Mr. O'Brien is

present in PBC. As I'm talking to you, he's making a press conference. We had a long discussion earlier on. We have the presidents of foreign affairs

committees of seven European countries tomorrow morning, foreign affairs ministers of four Baltic and Iceland countries And so on and so forth.


ZOURABICHVILI: So, we are not alone. We're supported and we'll go to the end.

AMANPOUR: You say that, and you must also be aware of Russia's expanding influence, the fact that Russia still occupies some 20 percent of Georgian

territory since 2008, as it does in Ukraine, and Russia's success, frankly, in driving wedges between its vision and those who believe in a western


So, the question, I guess, is, are you confident and -- or rather, do you believe that Russia tried to -- is trying to sabotage Georgia's

rapprochement and further integration in the E.U., as some in your country believe?

ZOURABICHVILI: I think that Russia is worried about that, has been worried and is more worried when it comes closer and closer, which is a case when

we have already the candidate status and we're in the possibility, have the possibility to see the opening of negotiations. So, they certainly don't

like it.

But they also do not like the evolution of Armenia. They also do not like the evolution of Azerbaijan and their closeness with Turkey. They also do

not like the fact that they do not control the Black Sea as they would wish to, but not everything that Russia likes happens. So, we are -- again, we

are determined.

Yes, we have 20 percent of our territory that is occupied by Russia, but that does not diverted Georgia from following its European past. It has not

stopped us an inch and it will not stop us from continuing.

AMANPOUR: Well, President Salome Zourabichvili, thank you very much for joining us from Tbilisi tonight. Thanks a lot.

And turning now to Ukraine, where the strength of Russia's aggression is being felt on the battlefield, Ukraine's top general says the situation in

the Northern Kharkiv region has "significantly worsened" after Russia's recent advance on several villages around that city, which is Ukraine's

second biggest. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Kyiv trying to provide reassurance.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The coming weeks and months will demand a great deal of Ukrainians who have already sacrificed so much. But

I have come to Ukraine with a message, you are not alone. The United States has been by your side from day one. We are with you today. And we will stay

by your side until Ukraine's security, its sovereignty, its ability to choose its own path is guaranteed.


AMANPOUR: It is the first visit from an administration official since the long-stalled aid package passed through Congress. But President Zelenskyy

has made clear his country still urgently needs more air defenses.

Here to discuss is the former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk, and he's joining us from Kyiv. Welcome back to the program.


AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you, because, you know, Secretary Blinken did go there, and the end of his statement was a little different. I don't know,

usually they say, we'll stay, you know, as long as it takes, et cetera, et cetera. But he seemed to say, we'll stay at your side until all these

conditions are met. In other words, until your victory. Did you read it that way?

ZAGORODNYUK: Yes. Yes, absolutely. We see, actually understanding within the western governments that the only way to end this war is for Ukraine to

win it. Clearly, there's been a lot of different -- other agendas in the beginning, particularly in the 2022 when there was a discussion to put

Ukraine in a better place and negotiating table and so on.

But right now, people see that Putin is absolutely adamant to go until the end. He is -- he poised to destroy Ukraine. He poised to destroy

international law, international world order. And basically, there's no other way. I mean, he needs to lose. Ukraine needs to win.


Some people have been saying this for a while. But right now, we see that more and more governments understand that, including United States.

AMANPOUR: OK. Right. And so, what do you make? I would really like to know your analysis of Ukrainian losses right now on the northeastern front

around Kharkiv. The fact that voluntarily, we're told voluntarily and not forced evacuations are happening. What is happening that we need to know?

What is the accurate situation around the Kharkiv City?

ZAGORODNYUK: Russians are pressing in a number of locations, in a number of villages and small towns which are right at the border. We have a very

extensive frontline with Russia. It's over 1,500 kilometers. So, it's like -- it's huge. And of course, the whole Ukrainian defense positions are

quite stretched and spread quite thin.

And so, what Russians are doing, they're trying to put some efforts in some locations to go to some villages and different -- in different places

around Kharkiv. Also, they tried a bit over to the north in the Sumer region. And basically, the whole idea is to tear Ukrainian defense there

and advance as much as possible.

Usually, this happening within one or two villages, which are right at the border where there is no serious enforcements and the presence of Ukrainian

forces is limited. And they have some tactical success there. But generally speaking, it's difficult to see any sort of strategic advantage, which

they're getting from that.

AMANPOUR: Do you think --

ZAGORODNYUK: And certainly, the reinforcements have been sent. Yes.

AMANPOUR: So, you say your reinforcements have been sent. So, first of all, do you think they're trying to get the high ground at Chasiv Yar? That's

one question. And then, you know, President Zelenskyy says there will be no gaps in our defense. But your military intelligence chief, General Budanov

says that we are critically low on, you know, ammunition and people.

ZAGORODNYUK: Oh, absolutely. We're still low because the assistance which is coming, it's coming quite slow. I know that there's been quite

substantial efforts of DOD and the other ministries to help, to -- logistically, to bring this, but to bring this to the 1,500-kilometer

frontline is extremely difficult. So, yes, we still have shortage of ammunition in a whole number of locations. And Russians see where that

shortage is. And that's where they try to break.

And the different part of theater, which is Chasiv Yar, which is in Donbas region, they're trying to -- yes, they're trying to get the high ground in

that little town in order to create a favorable conditions for the further advancements. Because basically their idea, which still is the same for

months and years now, is to occupy the whole Donbas region, which I think they will not succeed with that, but they're trying to as much as they can

right now.

AMANPOUR: Can you analyze how much the delay in weapons and ammunition cost your forces?

ZAGORODNYUK: Well, we're talking about thousands of casualties. We're talking about these villages and different other locations. Certainly,

there's been a massive shortage of the ammunition for months now, like for many, many months. The proportion between us and Russians has been

sometimes even one to 10.

So, there's been a severe shortage in this rationing of the ammunitions every day. When the battlefield units were receiving a very few every day,

and basically, they could only fight for X number of hours. And after that, they could just defend with the small arms and so on.

So, certainly, with this type of war, like a land war, which we have right now there, the artillery is absolutely critical. And obviously, when Russia

has artillery and we have very little of it, I mean, there will be these consequences.

There's -- you know, Ukrainians are -- Ukrainian forces are extremely brave and are very resolved, but, you know, we need to be understanding the

objective reality, if there's no weapons, it's very difficult to hold positions.

AMANPOUR: So, I just want to, on that note, just quote from the former NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who basically said, you know,

North Korea was able to deliver to Russia the same quantity of artillery munition in one month, equivalent to what the European Union was able to

deliver in a year. That's embarrassing.

That is -- that's quite a stark statement. And obviously, President Zelenskyy has said that you need a huge amount more still of air defense

systems and to knock those missiles from the sky before they reach you. So, what do you think, given this fact, is the best Ukraine can hope for in the

next months or for the rest of this year?


ZAGORODNYUK: Well, I mean, there is certainly stocks of ammunition in some countries. There are still stocks in the United States. So, the fact that

U.S. is resulting -- decided legally to deliver those to Ukraine, I'm sure that that will help tremendously. I think we can stop Russians from any --

from moving anywhere. It's absolutely realistic.

But we absolutely must realize the fact that European industry and generally European defense sector wasn't prepared for any large war in

Europe. And that that's a fact, because they run out of their stocks very quickly, whether they're from there -- with their inventory very quickly.

And right now, there's been a decision last year to supply 1 million of rounds of 155 ammunitions to Ukraine, and that hasn't been done because

simply they cannot make them.

So, Europe needs to step up there, and it's not just for Ukraine, it's generally to enhance European security. It's absolutely clear. And that's

also a fact. And I think that there's -- there are already factories being built in Europe right now to -- for ammunition. There is already some

activities happening, but unfortunately, that takes time.

And Russians currently are trying to use that window of opportunity to maximize the gain in the battlefield, but more importantly, in the

information sphere, so that they're projecting the success, which we need to be very clear about that because lots of their gains, particularly these

villages around Kharkiv, they have very little strategic effect.

It's more to show maybe to president -- to Russian government, maybe to international community that Russia still can be winning. But they cannot

win strategically still, and that's what we see here. Because despite the full day efforts, they still cannot substantially progress in the front.

AMANPOUR: So, you're talking about the information war, which is, you know, incredibly important, obviously.


AMANPOUR: Why do you think Ukraine's Black Sea successes don't get as much play? You know, why can't -- why haven't you capitalized in terms of the

information sphere on that? Because it's extraordinary what you've been able to do there with the drones reading today that the grain exports have

gone out, you know, and almost at the same levels as pre-war or a pre-2022 full-scale invasion.


AMANPOUR: And that you're doing it without being hassled right now.

ZAGORODNYUK: Yes, absolutely. So, Russia had an absolute majority in the naval power in Black Sea, and obviously they exited from the agreement,

which was brokered in 2022 by Turkey and United Nations in order to secure the grain corridor, they just exited from that agreement, thinking that we

got nothing to do. And then we effectively destroyed the functionally Black Sea fleet single handedly by alternative weapons, by drones and et cetera,

and missiles. And of course, it's extraordinary.

And yes, we rebuild the freedom of navigation in the western part of Black Sea by ourselves to the level of pre-war level. And yes. And thank you for

raising that because we're trying to say that that's the way Ukraine can win. Ukraine can win. I think, asymmetrically, Ukraine can win when it has

the right solutions. And we are trying to build up on that success.

And I do believe that there will be days, perhaps even this year, when we can say that we completely locked the Black Sea fleet of Russia and

restored freedom of navigation in the Black Sea generally. And that's what we need to do in -- on the land as well.

AMANPOUR: Do you --

ZAGORODNYUK: So, the victory is absolutely possible and the Black Sea is a great example of that.

AMANPOUR: Do you think -- we talked about sort of the move -- you know, moving, sort of thinking about all of this with Tony Blinken's statements.

Do you think the idea of the -- of not wanting to, and I'll quote Biden, enter World War III with Russia over Ukraine is still a dominant thought?

In other words, there's still some slowness, I think, in producing or sending you long-range artillery. Some have come, ATACMS and other such

things, but other countries are not.

Do you think there is still a concern of -- by the West, of somehow further provoking Putin?

ZAGORODNYUK: Provoking to what? That's the question which we ask. Because he's already mobilizing as much as he can. He's already producing as many

weapons as he can. So, the only resort which he has is obviously the nuclear escalation. But the world, and that assumes all global powers, not

just western, have managed to explain to Putin that a nuclear escalation is definitely not to his interest.

And as we can see right now, except for the verbal kind of nuclear rattling, he cannot do much and he's not doing much, because he clearly

understands that starting a new -- going through this nuclear threshold is much worse to him.

So, essentially, I mean, he doesn't have that much room for escalation right now, and I don't think that these concerns are valid anymore. We

understand that there's been some concerns before, but right now, we clearly see we passed already through this escalatory kind of thresholds

many, many times. And there's -- the Russians can do only what they can do. And -- but they're trying as much as they can.


So, I think that all those self-deterrence and self-restraints about providing some missiles and so on, they simply delaying the situation and

actually not working to anyone's favor except Putin. So, I think that we -- the global community definitely need to reconsider that and then understand


We need to win. And the best way to win is as soon as possible without as much as -- with as less as self-deterrence as possible.

AMANPOUR: Andriy Zagorodnyuk, former defense secretary, current government adviser, thank you very much for joining us.

Now, the political tension that we were talking about in Georgia and the war in Ukraine each have a common cause, yes, Vladimir Putin's efforts to

deny them democracy and integration with Europe and expand Russia's sphere of influence.

David Herszenhorn is a specialist on the region for "The Washington Post" and spearheads its "Russia Remastered" series. He's joining Hari

Sreenivasan now to explore Putin's dramatic domestic transformation which prioritizes a military posture.


HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: David Herszenhorn from "The Washington Post," thanks so much for joining us.

You have a new series out, "Russia Remastered." And it fascinated me because there was just so much that I didn't realize was happening in

Russia because I have, probably like most people on the planet, been looking at news about Russia in the context of the Ukraine war. Why did you

decide to launch the series?

HERSZENHORN: That's exactly right, Hari. Because so much bandwidth, so much attention is focused on Ukraine, a lot of attention has shifted away from

this giant transformation that's underway in Russia.

And if we step back, this obviously a civilizational fight between Ukraine, which wants to be a democracy, to be a member of the European Union, to be

a member of NATO, to join the western community of nations, and Russia, which has a totalitarian system, an authoritarian leader for the past

quarter century. Vladimir Putin just inaugurated. We can't even call it a real presidential term because, of course, he's been circumventing term

limits for decades now.

And in the context of that war, folks have lost sight of Russia itself, just how much change is going on there. And the fact that for Americans,

especially for Western European residents, it's Russia that is the focus that Russia that is the threat, Russia that has the world's largest nuclear


So, keeping that in mind, we wanted to bring readers attention back to what is happening under Vladimir Putin. This has been going on far longer than

the invasion, which began full-scale, of course, in February of 2022. But indeed, it is accelerated. Putin has leveraged the war, leveraged the

invasion to speed all of this up in a very dramatic fashion.

SREENIVASAN: You have these ways for an outsider to look at what's legitimately called Putinism, right? And one of those, you point out is

forging an ultraconservative, puritanical society mobilized against liberal freedoms and especially hostile to gay and transgender people, in which

family policy and social welfare spending boost traditional Orthodox values.

What is his interest in trying to, you know, kind of harken back to a nostalgic Russia, a make Russia great again campaign? What's he trying to


HERSZENHORN: So, part of this is an appeal to more traditional societies in the Global South, but mainly it's to position Russia as the antithesis of

the U.S.-led global order, to up in that global order, to present a challenge to it.

Russia, of course, for all of its communist decades, you know, didn't put religion to the forefront. Now, Putin is basically in an unholy alliance

with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch Kirill has effectively blessed the war in Ukraine. The -- as you described, the crackdown, the

persecution of LGBTQ rights. I mean, where Russian court has outlawed the international LGBTQ movement, as if that has an address, as if that's a

person that's even possible.

But this, of course, began going back years with anti"-gay propaganda laws," laws that were supposedly to protect children from gay propaganda,

what it effectively meant was anything that referred to a nontraditional lifestyle in Russian press was outlawed. So, this has been growing and

growing and growing.

The motivation for Putin to present Russia as a renewed superpower, as an alternative and a challenger and the global leader against the West and the



SREENIVASAN: What is he doing to marginalize or silence critics? Obviously, he's not a fan of anybody who's saying that his stance on the war against

Ukraine is wrong, but you point out that this is -- he's trying to have a chilling effect across society in different ways.

HERSZENHORN: So, we need to be very clear about this. The Russian opposition at this point is either exiled, imprisoned, or in the case of

Alexei Navalny, who I wrote a book about, dead. Navalny, of course, was being persecuted. There was an assassination attempt against him with a

nerve agent in 2020. The persecution of Russian political opposition leaders is not new. But in the context of the war in Ukraine, it has


Obviously, Navalny died in an Arctic prison. His family asserting that he was, in fact, murdered. We know that KGB -- FSB assassins were after him

previously. Vladimir Kara-Murza, contributing opinion writer to "The Washington Post," just won a Pulitzer Prize, sentenced to 25 years in

prison for treason. Why? Because he wants a democratic Russia, where free and fair elections can take place. Ilya Yashin, a colleague of Navalny's,

who is also in prison, long prison sentences. Their intimidation can't be overstated at this point.

You know, Navalny's wife, who's tried to take up his baton, operating from outside of Russia now, same with his anti-corruption foundation. Mikhail

Khodorkovsky, named the Russian opposition leader, Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, all now either exiled, or if they remained in

Russia, it seems imprisoned or dead, quite a chilling effect on the Russian opposition there. Again, not new, but accelerated since the invasion of

Ukraine with criticism of the military outlawed, even one-time allies of Putin.

Remember, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Mercenary Group, known as Putin's chef, because he made billions off of catering contracts

with the Kremlin, who had challenged Putin and the regular defense ministry, a brief rebellion that he then called off and ends up dead in a

very mysterious plane disaster. So, any challenge to Putin clearly is meeting very, very strong and forceful pushback.

SREENIVASAN: Putin just swapped out the defense minister in the time -- in a time of war. What's behind that?

HERSZENHORN: Well, we've seen Russia change commanders at numerous points throughout this war. Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, has now been

moved to head the National Security and Defense Council. So, he's hardly ousted. In some ways, he'll be closer to Putin himself. But indeed, it's a

shakeup within the Kremlin security leadership.

And part of that is because of endemic corruption in the defense ministry. Now, we know Russia has long suffered from extensive corruption among high

level officials. Navalny made his name as an anti-corruption crusader.

Now, curiously, the war has served as an anti-corruption tool in the sense that it is now hugely important. There's a great imperative in Russia to

make sure that resources directed to the defense ministry are not stolen, but in fact, yield weapons and soldiers and uniforms, all the material

that's needed at the front.

And so, we have a new defense minister coming in, who's actually not a military guy. Belousov, Andrey Belousov is an economist, a former economic

development minister, believe his mandate in part will be to oversee and exercise some tight control over a vast increase in military spending that

Putin is authorized to be sure that, in fact, those rubles are spent on weapons, on the bombs, on the shells, on the uniforms that are needed to

fight in Ukraine and not lost to graft.

SREENIVASAN: You have an incredibly well reported piece on the education system and the higher education system in Russia and how radically that's

changed in such a short period of time. And you can even -- you know, there's several different ways to measure that. Tell us.

HERSZENHORN: In the case of the education system, we know that campuses can be hotbeds of political activism. We see what's been happening in the

United States, for instance, in response to conflict in the Middle East.

In Russia, the response there has been for pro-Kremlin administrators to move very rapidly to embrace Putin's nationalist zeal, to shut down

humanities programs that focused on liberal arts that engaged in partnerships with the West.

Our article looks at a program at St. Petersburg State University called Smolny College that was effectively shut down. This was a program that had

been run by Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister, very close, confident of Putin for many years, liberal economists who had helped Russia build in

the kind of buffers that modern economies need to prevent shocks. The crises that had taken place in the 1990s had robbed Russians of their

savings as the country went into default.

Kudrin, again, not the most liberal in terms of politics, but it had been the dean of this college, out. The college itself effectively dismantled.

Courses on international politics, even English language courses ended. Professors and students who had exhibited any criticism or any opposition

to the war in Ukraine fired, expelled, ousted. And this has happened in other places in other schools.


Meanwhile, Putin has promised that there will be a new elite of workers and warriors. And part of those benefits, accruing to the new elite, are places

in prestigious universities that he's now allocating for the children of military veterans who have fought in Ukraine, bypassing some of the

traditional entrance requirements.

Russia can be a very competitive place, very rigorous academic standards. The demand for good grades and test scores out the window and instead,

basically a reward for fighting in Ukraine. And Putin himself has spoken about how important it is for military veterans to work as teachers. In his

yearend news conference twice, he said, wars are won by teachers.

And he talked about his own experience in law school at St. Petersburg State University, where some of his teachers, he said, were veterans of

World War II and how influential they were and how important it was to build this nationalist ideology that he's now trying to build in the new


SREENIVASAN: Is there any indication that if Vladimir Putin was successful in his takeover of Ukraine that he would stop?

HERSZENHORN: in the minds of the closest in Russia watchers, I'm thinking about the Baltics now, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, there is no doubt, Putin

will not stop in Ukraine. That if he is able to succeed in completely disrespecting internationally recognized boundaries, if he's able to derail

Ukraine's self-determination, its desire to be a democratic country in the European Union that, in fact, he will continue and exert that Russian

authority, that Russian violence in other places as best he can.

We know there are Russian troops stationed in Moldova, in the Transnistria region. We know Russia, in 2008, invaded Georgia. Georgia experiencing mass

protests these days over a Russian style foreign agent law, the same kind of law that Putin has used to crack down on political dissent, on free


So, Russia's reach is quite long. Again, largest nuclear arsenal anywhere in the world. We see these threats against the West all the time that if it

overreaches and, in fact, intercedes too strongly in Ukraine that Russia will resort to a weapon of mass destruction.

So, for the West, there is a real need to recognize what kind of a challenge Putin is presenting, especially as he builds a generation, trains

an entire new generation to see the West as its enemy. That's just the reality of Russia today. And it is exactly why, Hari, we've been working on

this series to explain to people just what's happening inside Russia these days.

SREENIVASAN: How does that propaganda change? How does, you know, a 12- year-old at school get a new version of reality, a new history of Russia?

HERSZENHORN: It is literally a rewriting of history and a rewriting of textbooks. New textbooks being issued, for example, to minimize Ukraine as

an independent nation. Important for folks to remember that even during Soviet times, Ukraine had its own seat in the United Nations General

Assembly, the Soviet Republic of Ukraine was regarded as independent enough to have its own seat there, as did what is now Belarus.

In fact, the textbooks, the history lessons are being rewritten to make it out as if Ukraine was always just some part of Russia. And as you know,

this argument has found some currency in the United States, including in the Congress, this idea that Russia is, you know, exerting its proper

authority over a sphere of influence rather than understanding that, in fact, Ukraine has its own, you know, thousands of years of history and its

own desire to live as a free democratic country. If there is that democratic model next door, there is no reason why Russia itself should not

be democratic and free.

I've lived in Russia. I absolutely believe that democracy was possible in Russia and is still possible in Russia. There is no reason why one man has

to rule that country as he has for a quarter century, circumventing all the term limits and having a democratic Ukraine would prove that point.

SREENIVASAN: Is the point to break international law? I mean, does that help with Putin's own credibility of trying to build a Russia that makes

its own rules?

HERSZENHORN: That makes its own rules. Indeed. That ignores international institutions or presents those institutions as bankrupt, as beholden to the

United States, whether that's the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes related to the illegal

relocation, illegal deportation of Ukrainian children. Whether that's the U.N. itself, where we know for a long time, Russia has used the Security

Council sometimes allied with China, sometimes on its own, taking that veto to prevent action on many important topics around the world.


This a no question that over the years Russia is showing its desire to return as a great power on the world stage, but not just in the world as it

exists, but in a world that is a bit retrograde, again, divided up back into spheres of influence among great powers.

SREENIVASAN: There have been widespread and well documented reports of kidnappings that have been happening in Ukraine where those children are

essentially put up for adoption inside Russia. What's the point of that?

HERSZENHORN: Well, there's a mythology that's been created around this invasion. Several in fact. One is, of course, that Russia's in this

existential fight for survival against the West. The other is that Russia is defending Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine, who are being persecuted,

who are under attack.

I can assure you that even with my bad American accent, it was possible to speak in Russian from one side of Ukraine to the other without anyone ever

giving you a bad look. That was before, of course, the big invasion. Now, of course, a lot more pride being taken in speaking Ukrainian, in

separating Ukraine from Russia because it is bombing and destroying Ukrainian cities, killing thousands of civilians.

In the case of these children, some of them, again, it's a matter of building this new generation, convincing them. And we've seen the child's

right -- child rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who along with Putin has faced an arrest warrant from the international criminal court

describing how she herself adopted a Ukrainian orphan, took him in and had to retrain him essentially to love Russia, to reprogram him to not think of

Ukraine as his home. Quite chilling.

Some of these stories that we've heard from children who have escaped, who have gotten back to their families in Ukraine, who have managed to get this

in terms of long circuitous route to get there. So, again, this part of this effort to essentially prove that there is a greater Russia. There is

no independent Ukraine. Putin has described that in public interviews.

This view that Ukraine has just always been a part of -- a small part appendage of Russia and that, in fact, Russia should reassert its

influence. Seizing these territories, four regions in addition to Crimea, that he's intent on annexing. He's declared to be annexed in violation of

international law. And the relocation of children is just part and parcel of that, pretending as if they're being rescued in some way.

SREENIVASAN: What does Putin want to be seen as?

HERSZENHORN: Well, there's certainly been a renewal of Stalin worship, one might call it, a resuscitation of the image of the brutal communist

dictator, sent millions to the gulag, you know, responsible for untold numbers of deaths and crimes against humanity.

In fact, Memorial, the -- one human rights organization that had documented those crimes is now outlawed and shut down in Russia, was a co-recipient of

the Nobel Peace Prize. So, indeed, there's an effort to resuscitate. The image of Stalin and Putin would like to see himself perhaps as a cross

between Stalin and Peter the Great, the modern czar.

I think you can put it as making Russia great again. He will be the leader who restored Russia to a level of power and influence in the world that it

lost when he was a KGB agent stationed in East Germany and Dresden. There have been a lot of biographies that have described this, Putin calling

Moscow as the Soviet Union was crumbling and Moscow being silent, and he had vowed that under his watch, Moscow will never be silent. In fact, it

will be the opposite. It will always have an answer to any challenge. And this what we see. And this incredible transformation that's going on in the

country right now.

SREENIVASAN: David Herszenhorn, the Russia and Ukraine editor for "The Washington Post," the series is called "Russia Remastered," thanks so much.

HERSZENHORN: Thank you, Hari.


AMANPOUR: Such an important series. And finally, tonight, the author trying to break a cycle of pain with a children's book. The horrors of conflict

can be nigh on impossible to broach with the young, and there's often the instinct of parents to shield their kids from trauma, like the one

engulfing Israelis and Palestinians right now.

But my next guest thinks a different approach is necessary, with "A Kids Book About Israel & Palestine," writer and religious scholar Reza Aslan

aims to open the door to understanding the conflict and imagining the path to peace. And he's joining me now from Los Angeles. Welcome back to our

program, Reza.

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR: Thank you, Christiane. Great to be back with you.

AMANPOUR: So, you know, it just seems to be such a daring thing to do right now, to write a children's book about the hottest conflict, well, obviously

Russia and Ukraine as well, but one of the most difficult ones to broach and to think about. So, just tell me why you did it and who actually you're



ASLAN: Well, as you know, over the last seven months of this conflict, since the attacks of October 7th, which led to the death of 1300 Israelis,

including 33 children, some 14,000 children have been killed in Gaza. That's more children than in all the other global conflicts around the

world since 2019.

And when you're, you know, confronted with that kind of devastation, that kind of horror, I could understand why, as parents, we want to shield our

children from it. But I truly do believe, as a parent of four children myself, that this conflict is actually an opportunity to teach our kids and

give them the tools necessary to cultivate compassion and empathy, the critical thinking skills, because, yes, this war has been devastating for

the children of Israel and Palestine, but children all around the world, including here in the United States, have also been impacted by this

conflict. They're inundated with these images of destruction and despair. It's unavoidable, Christiane.

And as parents, I get it. Most of us feel like we ourselves barely understand this conflict. I do it for a living and I barely understand it.

And so, what I wanted to do was provide a text that would allow caregivers, parents to have the meaningful conversations necessary with their children

that could give them context, a sense of understanding about where we are in this conflict. And most importantly, to counter some of the stereotypes

and the prejudices that are just flooding them from all sides.

AMANPOUR: Reza, this your first children's book, and you've written many, many books, you know, about that region specifically, politically,

religiously, et cetera. And you're well known for it.

You know, you're talking about two sets of children, Israel and Palestine, as your title says, who have been raised on completely different diets and

narratives about the other. What did you choose to put into this book to show that there are two sides who are human, two sides who are victims, two

sides who need to understand the story of the other? How did you choose the anecdotes or the historical facts to put in the book?

ASLAN: That's a great question. And I'll be honest, it was not easy. As you rightly note, there are two parallel national narratives here, and so often

when we talk about either one of these narratives, we necessarily erase the other one. It becomes very hard to talk about the suffering and the

oppression that Palestinians have experienced without negating the Israeli narrative and the seeking of peace and security, et cetera, and vice versa.

So, the real challenge here was, can we provide a factual opinion lists history of this conflict that lays out both sides, both narratives, and

then to challenge children to simply be able to see both sides? Can they walk in both shoes, if you will? Because if they can, as I explained in the

book, that's a kind of superpower. It means that they have the empathy and the compassion, the critical thinking skills necessary to become the

generation that can advocate for peace in this conflict.

You know, children, I think, people have to realize, have the ability to maintain very complex ideas in their minds, sometimes conflicting ideas,

sometimes contradictory ideas. And as long as these issues are brought to them in an age-appropriate way, as the book tries to do, they have the

ability to grapple with what we think of as perhaps things that are inappropriate for children.

But, again, we live in a world in which insulating our children from the problems of the world, whether it's Israel, Palestine or whether it's

Ukraine and Russia or whether it's anywhere else in the world, that's just simply not feasible any longer. So, we have to give them the tools

necessary to be able to navigate those complexities to become the generation that can actually advocate for a lasting peace between Israel

and Palestine.

AMANPOUR: And you said, the only way we'll ever be able to do that is to -- and to bridge the divide is to understand both versions of the story. And

you have said that this book is not just to be read by kids but by parents to their kids or with their kids.


ASLAN: Yes, as a matter of fact, it's specifically designed to allow parents to fill in the empty spaces of this narrative, if you will, with

their own ideas, their own values, their own morals. Really what the book does is it provides a foundation, a context, the historical information

necessary to actually look at what's happening right now in this present conflict and to talk about it in terms that families themselves find to be


There's a whole host of after questions in the book, opportunities to create precisely the safe space necessary so that caregivers and children

can have this larger conversation. And really, if that's all that happens, if all this book fosters is an opportunity, the space necessary for

parents, caregivers, and children to have meaningful conversations about complex, sometimes discouraging issues around the world, then that's


AMANPOUR: You know, Reza, as you know, and as we always, you know, report on, there is a very troubled history of school textbooks in Israel and the

Palestinian territory. So, Israel always accuses textbooks of, you know, falsifying history, promoting hate. On the other hand, we know that in

Israeli schools children are not taught about the Nakba, what happened in 1948, et cetera. So, both sides, both children and both generations are

growing up with a distorted view of the other.

Is this book also for children there? Do you think that gulf can be somewhat bridged or blurred?

ASLAN: Well, as a matter of fact, when I was writing this book I gave it to a number of Israeli and Palestinian friends and really encouraged them to

give me their thoughts, their ideas, ways in which the language that I use could be more accessible to both sides. And so, that was something that I

really was focused on.

But if I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, this book is not so much for those stakeholders, because they are living the reality of this

conflict every day. Really, it's for all of the adults and the children in this muddy middle who are constantly bombarded with information, a lot of

it misinformation, prejudices, stereotypes about one side or the other, these images that are becoming increasingly impossible to avoid, regardless

of where in the world one lives, and who really don't know how to think about this conflict and are just looking for some kind of groundwork, if

you will, some context, some ability to understand how we got to the place where we are today.

Because this not a conflict that began on October 7th, everybody understands that. This an intractable, decades-long conflict that isn't

about religion, it's not even really about politics, it's about things that children understand, sharing, justice, fairness. These are things that your

kids get in a deep visceral level.

And so, just simply laying out the conflict for them and then giving them, along with their parents and caregivers, the opportunity to talk about how

their values of sharing and fairness and justice can be applied to this conflict is an incredibly valuable insight.

AMANPOUR: So, I wonder because I note that you do not include the events of October 7th or the war in Gaza that has followed. And that's obviously a

specific choice. But have you had, nonetheless, backlash at all? Have you found pushback for your attempts and for this book?

ASLAN: Yes, Christiane. As you know, I write about religion and politics for a living. So, I get yelled at a lot by every side in almost any

conflict. And that's been the case here as well.

One thing that I will say that's been kind of encouraging for me is that, you know, oftentimes I will hear from one side that the book is too fair to

the other or vice versa. And I understand that. But I also feel like that means that I must be doing something right.

Look, grownups, we have -- our brains have ossified, if you will, you know, those preconceived notions that we have, those opinions, those ideas that

we've developed over a lifetime they've kind of stuck themselves in our brains. But what we do know, what research has shown us is that kids don't

think in those terms.


And so, I get that sometimes parents feel as though this book isn't fair to their view, or it's too fair to the other side, or maybe it doesn't talk

about some of these other, frankly, quite complex issues, but it's not meant for grownups. It's meant for children, in conversation with grownups,

and that's why it was written in such a way for them to be able to not just understand it in a rational way, but to really understand it in an

emotional way.


ASLAN: As I say, this may be one of the most complex issues in the world, but kids have the ability to understand what is fair and what is right.

AMANPOUR: Reza Aslan, thank you very much. Author of "A Kids Book About Israel & Palestine."

And that is it for us. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. Remember, you can always

catch us online, on our website, and all across social media.

Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.