Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Russia Approves Sending Troops to Ukraine; U.N. Security Council Calls Emergency Meeting; 1945 Yalta Meeting Set Stage For Ukraine; Obama Recognizes Young Staffer; 28 Killed in Knife Attacks in China; One Killed in 104-Vehicle Pileup in Denver; Rain, Mudslides Pound California; Can Russia Back Its Claim on Crimea?

Aired March 01, 2014 - 18:00   ET


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And now shocking the basketball world, hear this, the Shockers Mauled Missouri state 68-45 today, to become the first team in ten years to enter its NCAA tournament undefeated. They are now 31-0 in the NCAA play. Congrats to Wichita state on their big win.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and hello to the viewers in America and around the world. You are this the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Don Lemon. And this is breaking news on CNN.

President Obama now personally joining the efforts to defuse a military crisis overseas that is escalating by the hour. The president spoke for an hour and a half this evening with Russian president Vladimir Putin telling him Russian troops are breaking international law and violating the sovereignty of another country, and that is Ukraine.

We have seen hundreds, but there may be more Russian troops inside of the Ukraine's borders right now, mostly in the ethnic Russian region called Crimea in the south. Moscow say the Russian people there need production. Ukraine's leader called this a dangerous slide toward war.

Throughout Ukraine, not just Crimea, pro-Russia crowds have been fighting with anti-Russian crowds and the nationwide crisis is already topple the highest level government. Ukraine's elected president left office and left the country fleeing to Russia, White house correspondent Jim Acosta is with me now, and CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow.

First we are going to start with Jim. You know, the president made it very clear that he will stand with the international community in any decision about in handling the message with Ukraine, it was a very tough message was it in this 90-minute phone call?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a very tough message, Jim. We do know that both presidents spoke by far in a week and a day ago, but obviously, developments have moved along so quickly in Ukraine with respect to Russia's involvement that the president came down very hard today in the statement.

He said that the United States condemns Russia's military intervention in the Crimean territory, this according to a White House (INAUDIBLE) of this phone call. And I just want to put this up on the screen, because I think that this really illustrates the statement here. Just how concerned the White House is about what is happening by Russia.

It says the United States calls on Russia to deescalate tensions by withdrawing the forces back to bases in Crimea, and to refrain from interference elsewhere in Ukraine.

Jim, the reason why, you know, I isolate that particular sentence from the statement is because it is a couple of things. One is, at this point, does the White House really expect that Russia would pull all of the forces off of the streets of Crimea? Russian president Vladimir Putin say saying in his own statement through the Kremlin that was released with by the Kremlin, that they believe that this is necessary to protect Russian nationalists who lived in Ukraine for security reasons in Crimea. And there is also this portion of, it says in the statement, any interference elsewhere in Ukraine is concern here at the White House about what might happen later on in eastern Ukraine if Crimea goes, perhaps does the rest of eastern Ukraine go where there are many ethnic Russians.

And Vladimir Putin saying in his owned statement released by the Kremlin basically blaming ultra-nationalists in Ukraine for these tensions inside of that country right now. And one thing we should also point out from this phone call and from these readout from the White House, is that the White House is now saying, Jim, that it is no longer making preparations for the G-8 summit, and to attend the G-8 summit that Vladimir Putin was supposed to host later on this summer in Sochi in June. And Sochi of course, that is where they were just holding the winter Olympic games. This was going to be yet another time the for Vladimir Putin to sort of flex his muscle, put Russia up on the world stage. And now the U.S. is saying, you know what, we may pull back on our involvement from that.

The other thing that we should tell you about earlier, today, Jim, as you know, the national security team for the president met here at the White House. We know that Vice President Joe Biden joined in by videoconference, and secretary of state John Kerry joined in the videoconference, and at there were top officials at the meeting such as the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the joint chief of staff, and the defense secretary.

And according to the White House, they were looking at the policy options quote "policy options" with respect to Ukraine. So, a lot of movement going on over here at the White House today when it comes to the issue of Ukraine. This White House and this president is, if you look at that statement, very, very deeply troubled by the events that are unfolding.

SCIUTTO: And well, Jim, we also saw in the phone call, the readout from the phone call with president Putin, the first time that President Obama has spelled out a penalty for Russia's actions there and that is cutting off planning for this G-8 summit. Yesterday, he talked about cost. And now, we know that he specified one of those potential costs. But clearly, and this escalates the White House has to consider other options as well if that does not have the teeth, in effect, to the push the Russian forces back. Are you hearing anything about what those other options are that his security advisers, national security advisers are considering?

ACOSTA: Well, at this point, and we should point out that the president was not at that national security meeting. He was briefed by his national security adviser Susan Rice. And -- but one thing that we do know is yes, the national security team, they are looking at the policy options. They are not saying as to what they would do at this point. That does speak to the limited options at this president has, perhaps militarily, and there really is no talk of any kind of military involvement when it comes to Ukraine.

But when it comes to the diplomatic levers that this president can push, you mentioned G-8, but senior administration official was saying yesterday that Russia would very much like to see some trade deals, some commerce deal of reached between the United States and Russia. The senior administration official saying yesterday, Jim, that this activity in Crimea, what is happening in Russia does put it in jeopardy. So, the White House talking about things that they can do, steps that they can take, and also things that could happen organically such as the value of the ruble.

Basically, the White House is saying at this point, everything is on the table right now when it comes to the penalties, costs, consequences for Russia when it comes to what is happening in Crimea right now.

SCIUTTO: And now, the hard decisions off what exactly the steps they will take.

Thanks very much to Jim Acosta at the White House.

We have our own Fred Pleitgen who is in Moscow. And I just wondered, Fred, as this call takes place, and I know it is the middle of the night there, but it is not the first warning that senior American officials including the president have made publicly against the Russian action in Ukraine. What is the reaction there? Do the Russians bristle when an American president says don't do this or don't do that? Is there any intimidation? Is there a sense that there is power in the president's words, the warnings coming out of the White House?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think at this point, Jim, that there is no intimidation whatsoever after this phone call. And certainly, ultimately not after the warning that President Obama issued yesterday. In fact, today, in the parliament here in Moscow, there were several parliamentarians who called on Vladimir Putin to recall Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Vladimir Putin, at this point, says he is not going to do that just yet, He said he has not made a decision on that yet. But certainly, people here are very, very angry when they hear things like that out of the U.S. We were listening earlier today to that U.N. security council meeting where the Russian ambassador to the U.N. spent a lot of time for blaming western nation who were allegedly fanning the flames in Ukraine before the President Yanukovych was ousted from there. So clearly, there is a lot of blame that is being placed on the west. The west, and specially the U.S. is being made responsible for a lot of the things that are happening.

At the same time, the possible penalties that the U.S. is putting out there, for instance, not participating in the G-8 summit, are also cancelling some potential talks about trade deals. I don't think this is not going to go a long way to intimidating the Russians either. I this think the issue of the Crimean peninsula is was too important to them. That is something that the utmost importance.

And one of the things that Vladimir Putin said both in his talks in this phone call with President Obama and as well as a phone call with Ban Ki-Moon that he held as well. He was very, very clear that if he feels that Russian citizens are under threat both in the Crimean peninsula or in the east of Ukraine, and we have been saying how the resolution that was passed today by the Russian parliament doesn't just mention Crimea as far as putting the Russian forces on the ground. But it mentions all of Ukraine.

So if in Eastern Ukraine or in the Crimean peninsula, the Russians are under threat, that he will take actions. He said to Ban Ki-Moon, Russia will not be remain on the sidelines. And certainly, that is a very stark warning that the Russians are very serious about this, especially serious about the Crimean peninsula, which is in absolutely key place to them, both militarily, strategically, as well as having that large Russian populations there, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. And you are right. We still appear to be in day where you have charge and counter charge being leveled in each direction, not encouraging.

Thanks very much to our Fred Pleitgen who is in Moscow.

Now, despite the phone call between President Obama and Russian president Putin, the situation on the ground in Ukraine unchanged. Earlier today, Russia's upper house of parliament voted unanimously to send troops into Crimea. The majority of people living there would be about half of Ukraine are Russians.

Our Ian Lee is monitoring the situation in Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

So Ian, what if anything would the Ukrainian government saying about these new developments, the vote in the Russian parliament, and also the pushback that is coming from Washington?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we have seen the strongest response so far from the government here in Ukraine with that resolution being passed in Russia. This is the first time they have ever mentioned the military in any of this conflict so far.

Earlier, it has always been the diplomatic measures, but this time, they say their military is at the highest level possible, that any incursion into Ukraine by the Russian military will be an act of war, that they would respond with their military might, and that would essentially cut off any relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

Right now, though, they say that their security forces around nuclear power stations and airports are also on high alert. Although, the prime minister said that he is urging calm. That they don't want this to turn into a real shooting war between the Ukrainian military and the Russian military. And they are watching also the situation in the Crimea. They want the Russians are to leave that area, to pull back to their military base in the Crimea, and also pull other troops who have gone in from other places to Russia out,

And they want some sort of calm. They asked for the European Union to send in monitors to reassure those ethnic Russians living the Crimea that they won't be discriminated against, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And to be clear, there are so many things are happening and I don't want to accentuate only the negative because there were some fledgling positive signs, something that was referred to by the deputy secretary general in that emergency U.N. Security Council meeting earlier today.

He mentioned the possibility, it was coming out of Kiev, the new offer from the new Ukrainian government in Kiev to broaden the government, to add more representation from eastern Ukraine where you have this heavy Russian population. Can you explain how important it is and how the reception has been to that offer at this point?

LEE: Well, that is extremely important, because you are right, the eastern part of Ukraine leans towards Russia. This is a country that is fairly divided down the middle. And you can't say that one side is completely with the pro Europe, and the eastern side is completely leaning towards Russia, but it is a very stark contrast there and it is important for Ukraine to move forward as a country in a whole to have a dialogue between the two sides.

Now, remember, this is a government right now that is fairly young, and less than a week old, and usually they would be going about the business of the country, and the economy is doing horribly right now, and they need to kick start that, but they are dealing with the issue of Russia, but they will need to have, have dialogue with those factions that feel like they are being left out, especially those pro- Russian protesters that were seen in the streets, not only in Crimea, but who were also seen in other cities in the east. They are going to have to pacify them, reassure them that they are not going to be the second class citizens that they believe they are going to be under this new government in Kiev, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Ian.

Before I let you go, just very quickly, I still hear some speeches in the background, that is, I imagine, is the famous square behind you. Are demonstrators in still in that square as this is playing out?

LEE: There all are, actually. And they are here all night. It is the early hours of the morning here, and there is speeches, there is music playing all night. And if you go down and talk to these people, they say that they are also to hold this current government responsible. They say, you know, they have demands that weren't for fulfilled the last time during the last revolution. They say they are not going to make the same mistake twice. They said they are going to stay in the street to keep the pressure on this new government to fulfill the promises that they have made, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Incredible. Incredible watch. Thanks very much, Ian Lee in Kiev, just right in the middle of it.

Now, just about an hour ago, the U.N. security council got together for an e emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, and in that meeting the members stressed that Ukraine and Russia should use restraint and talk out the differences.

Senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth and our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott joining me now.

Richard, if I could start with you. We are hearing a very different version of events from the Russian and Ukrainian ambassador just as we are hearing a very different versions of events from President Obama, President Putin. Explain that differences, if you can, and if you see anyway where those sides can be brought together at this point?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it doesn't appear that it is imminent. And right now, the meeting is over. Ambassadors are trickling out. Ambassador Turchynov not sticking around apparently to speak to the media that UK ambassadors speaking out, saying that in the meeting they just had after the formal speeches in front of the cameras, there were suggestion made to the Russian ambassador about bridging the gap that he did not respond favorably too.

The president of the security council using rather diplomatic language trying to say there was a general discussion about solutions. But what we are hearing is those divisions still continue behind closed doors after the rather fiery remarks especially from Russian ambassador Turchynov.

In the formal session before cameras, the Ukraine ambassador said his country was under attack, in effect, aggression by the Russian. The Russian ambassador scoffed in many of the points raised and accused European Union nations of stirring up much of the trouble.

There does not appear to be any agreement at this point. Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary-general just spoke with Russian leader Putin by phone. The secretary-general saying he is gravely concerned about the recent events, cool heads must prevail, dialogue must be the only tool. He said he appealed to President Putin to engage in direct dialogue with authorities in Kiev. Of course, Jim, as we heard earlier, the Russian ambassador said, he wanted cooler heads to prevail. He didn't believe that the Ukrainian ambassador displayed such calm. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Richard, thanks very much. We are going to go now to our Elise Labott, foreign affairs reporter at state department.

Elise, I understand you have some new information?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, just talking, Jim, with senior administration officials about some of the policy options that are in discussion that will be presented to President Obama. Of course, we have talked about the carrot and the stick in terms of the carrot that Russian influences, Russian interests in Ukraine would be considered when the Ukrainian government puts together the national unity government.

But they are looking at how far is president Putin willing to go? Is he thinking of a full scale invasion of eastern Ukraine, and what should the policy options for that, and with what should they be this is there is possible sanctions on the Russian entities, Russian individuals. Of course, there is talk about the G-8. There is other things that they can do, but they know that Russians will retaliate.

If you look at what happened last year with the Magnitsky Act when the U.S. passed out, what did the Russians do? They ended all international adoptions. So they know that there will be some kind of retaliations from the Russians. But if they feel that if Russia is going to go all of the way and go into Ukraine any further, that they need to be willing to do something to show that there is a cost for that, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Right, trying to define what the cost is right now and see if it is effective.

Thanks very much, Elise Labott at the state department for us.

And coming up, it has actually taken months of protests and tension to get to this point in Ukraine. So, how did we get here? We will have the back story next.

Plus, Senator Bob Corker join us live. He will tell us why he said the conflict in Ukraine is bringing back memories.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. CNN continues to follow the crisis on the ground in Ukraine. And now, here in the U.S., a Republican senator is slamming President Obama's response so far to the crisis there.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says quote "Obama really doesn't have a plan." Corker says quote " Vladimir Putin is seizing a neighboring territory again, Congress will consider targeted sanctions against the Russian persons and entities that undermines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

And now Senator Corker joins us on the phone live. Senator Corker, you and others, Senator McCain, we had Adam Schiff on earlier who talked about this path to sanctions which would be targeting decision makers, Russian leaders, Ukrainian leaders perhaps as well with target blocking their travel, maybe going after their foreign assets, how powerful of a path is this? How influential do you think this would be? And is that really the best weapon in effect in the administration's arsenal at this point?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE (via phone): So I think that is one of the weapons. I do want to say that I did appreciate both what the president had to say today and have had a conversation with secretary Kerry and just had a very strong conversations with the counterpart in Russia. So, I do think that they have been slow to the table. I do think they understand what is at stake, and I do think that they are stepping up the game.

Much of what I think that they are going to need to do is going to take congressional approval. And we stand ready to work with them. I think that you know that we are working this weekend with Senator Menendez to put in place some sanctions.

But as you mentioned, sanctions are one of the routes. There are trade issues that we can deal with. Other countries in the region, I think they are going to be stepping out, and very strongly condemning what Russia is doing. At the end of the day, Russia needs to be isolated, basically to even think that they are a member of the G-8 is almost an insult.

This is an autocratic petro state. The G-8 is something that is set up for industrialized democracies. The fact that they are even a member is should be greatly questioned, certainly we should not attend the G-8 meeting in their country. But I think what you are going to see is an orchestrated chorus of isolation. I think you are going to see NATO, not militarily, but doing some consultant work with each of the countries, speaking with one voice. But I think we need to do everything that we can to isolate this country which obviously is still smarting from the breakup of the soviet union by a leader that is nothing but an autocrat, and he has a self-image that is very different than what nations in this day and age act upon.

SCIUTTO: I want to the ask you, Senator Corker, how it would work, because I think our viewers are curious how the sanctions would play out, and who they would target in effect.

You talked about targeting individuals or entities behind these decisions, these military moves. How high up would this go? Would it go to Russian officials or the Russian president? And how do you target them, and how does it play out in the coming weeks and months then?

CORKER: Yes, we have -- we already have a mechanism this place that allows us to target individuals. And we can do so without naming who it is that we are targeting. We can do things with the visas, we can, you know, do things regarding the freezing assets. I mean, there is a whole list of things that we can do. I think that of greater importance though is sanctions against the country, itself. Sanctions against the entities within the country. Isolating them relative to trade. Isolating them relative to gatherings, if you will, where other important nations, if you will, have discussing oral issues.

But at present, look, I'm going to be honest, I think that it is going to be very difficult to pull them away from the activities that are being carried out in Crimea. It is just too important to them. I don't think that there is much that nations are going to be able to do to keep them from carrying out their will there. And this is the same, same kind of game plan that was carried out in Georgia not long ago. I think that we need to do everything that we can to resist any more of that activity within Ukraine, itself, and the rest of Ukraine.

But, again, I think that they are set on Crimea. I think we are going to see their continued involvement there, if we continue to see it. And I think we need to do everything that we can to isolate them, to push them into the different stance.

SCIUTTO: Just so I am clear there, Senator, before I have to let you go. You are saying that even with these measures that you are discussing, and the options you think that are available to the president, you think Russia is going to stay in Ukraine? CORKER: I think that they are going to, the Crimea portion where the naval base is, I think that it is very difficult to keep them from carrying out their will in that area. And I think that you are going to see other nations isolate them. I think you are going to see us do everything we can to isolate them. And I'm sure you are going to see Congress wanting to weigh in hand in hand with the administration to see it happen.

We also on the other side of this, we have got to do some things relative to loan guarantee, those kinds of things that calls to the country of Ukraine, itself to be able to function. I mean, people there are in great economic strife. We have got to work with Europe, with the IMF to do those things necessary, but transition them while we are putting pressure on Russia to monitor to mitigate their conduct, if you will.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, and all of that pressure may be a price that Russia is willing to pay.

Thanks very much to Senator Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

CORKER: Bye, thank you so much. Yes, sir.

SCIUTTO: Coming up after this, protest in Kiev continue. Tension in several other countries are also on the rise. Are we seeing the cold war revisit?


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. SCIUTTO: And welcome back. In many ways you can trace what is happening today in Ukraine to the waning days of World War II in something called the Yalta Conference. It took place in Yalta in the Crimea region of Ukraine right where events are taking place today. It was 1945, President Roosevelt, Britain's Winston Churchill, and Russia's Joseph Stalin met basically to decide what the post World War would look like. But Russia reneges on promises for free elections at Eastern Europe, setup its satellite states and the Cold War followed.

In Ukraine today we seem to be headed back in that direction in some ways. So joining me now to talk about it is former ambassador, Christopher Hill, he's on the phone, and Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus at both New York and Princeton Universities, and himself a Russia expert as well.

This is a case where the past off (ph) and prologue, and I want to start with you if I can, first, Ambassador Hill. You know, what do we see here that is similar to the Cold War days, but without going so far, because there are many differences as well, but is Russia, and this is a point that we talked about before trying to set up that old sphere (ph) of influence that it had before of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and before the collapse of the Soviet Union?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE (on the phone): Well, you know, if you live in Poland and I have lived there for several years, the polls often say that a Russia without Ukraine is just Russia, but a Russia with Ukraine is somehow a recreation of the Soviet Union. So these are huge stakes, and you are quite right, it goes back to the waning days of World War II, but it also goes back before that when Stalin essentially gave parts of Poland and helped create the modern Republic of Ukraine.

So, you know, they have been manipulating these borders for a while. And now what we are seeing is a, you know, this is not Yeltsin, but this is Putin, and whether he is going in to Crimea as a first step or whether he is going in to put incredible amount of pressure on the people of Kiev, these are - these are huge moves. And it is very clear that he is not so concerned about, you know, what are the sanctions that the European Union and the U.S. comes up with, but he is concerned about kind of playing this Russian nationalist card within his country.

SCIUTTO: Since you mentioned Boris Yeltsin he's an (INAUDIBLE) cautionary tale among the Russian leadership today. They look at him as having given up Russia's power in effect. I want to go if I can to Steven Cohen, just to ask you how much is that driving force when you look at someone like president Putin to say, you know, in his words and in his views, I'm not going to repeat Yeltsin's mistake. I'm going to be stronger. I'm going to stand up. I'm going to hold on to these countries that we consider part of our sphere.

STEPHEN COHEN, RUSSIA AND COLD WAR EXPERT: That is not a factor, and you have to understand already if you don't already what we are witnessing. We are witnessing as we talk the making possibly of the worst history of our lifetime. We are watching the descending of a new cold war divide between west and east, only this time, it is not in far away Berlin, it's right on Russia's borders through the historical civilization in Ukraine. It's a crisis of historic magnitude. If you ask how we got in it, how we got into the crisis, and how therefore do we get out, it is time to stop asking why Putin - why Putin is doing this or that, but ask about the American policy, and the European Union policy that led to this moment.

SCIUTTO: Well let me ask you, what were the mistakes in your view that led to this moment?

COHEN: I don't know if you your listeners or views remember George Kennan. He was considered the greatest thinkers, strategic thinker about Russia among American diplomats but he warned when we expanded NATO, again this was under Bill Clinton, that this was the most fateful mistake of American foreign policy and that it would lead to a new Cold War. George lived to his hundreds, died a few years ago, but his truth goes marching on. The decision to move NATO beginning in the 90's continuing under Bush and continuing under Obama, is right now on Russia's borders.

And if you want to know for sure, and I have spent a lot of time in Moscow, if you want to know what the Russian power elite thinks Ukraine is about, it is about bringing it into NATO. One last point, that so-called economic partnership that Yanukovych, the elected president of Ukraine did not sign, and that set off the streets - the protests in the streets in November, which led to this violence in and confrontation today, that so-called economic agreement included military clauses which said that Ukraine by signing this so called civilization agreement had to abide by NATO military policy. This is what this is about from the Russian point of view, the ongoing western (ph) march towards (ph) post Soviet Russia, Putin had no choice, and he has no choice, and if you put him in the corner, you are going to see worse.

SCIUTTO: That is a sobering assessment to say the least. I want to bring you back in Ambassador Hill, to ask your view, did the West bring NATO in effect too close Russia's backyard, and do you share Stephen Cohen's assessment that we are headed back into the cold war like relationship with Russia?

HILL: Well, I would certainly share the assessment that there are those who want to bring NATO right to the Russian border and the Russians are not prepared to accept that. Specifically they're not prepared to accepting the Soviet Black Sea Fleet somehow having to move and have that base turned into a NATO base. They are very concerned about the possibility of NATO being there. This kind of dynamic took place a few years ago with respect to Georgia.

So I think there is a - absolutely a lot of reason to be very, very concerned about Russian attitudes here, and why it is going to be kind of hard to dissuade the Russians. On the other hand, I think the Russians realized that if you have a dismembered Ukraine, and that is if you only have a western Ukraine that is somehow independent, that western Ukraine will act with kind of impunity toward Russian long- term interests. And so it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if Putin moves against eastern Ukraine, I think western Ukraine will move even more quickly into a western orbit. Right now, Ukraine has always been a kind of delicate balance of east and west. Obviously, that delicate balance has been - has been affected in the last couple of months, but a lot of the problems have been Yanukovych's very poor handling of the economy that has kind of tipped the balance toward, you know, those who want to see a closer relationship with Western Europe.

So I think that it is that we are in a very sobering moment. I do not agree with the notion however that we should not have enlarged NATO, we should not have somehow brought Poland in and these others. But I do believe that we have to understand that when you get right up against the Russian border in places like Georgia and Ukraine, you got to really think very carefully about those kinds of moves.

SCIUTTO: Well, it is a sobering assessment from both of you and a reminder that what is happening in Crimea, a tiny little corner of Ukraine, has implications in the region and very much beyond. And thanks very much to Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus at NYU and Princeton, and also to ambassador - former ambassador Christopher Hill, who's going to be joining us later in the program.

Now if Russia takes military action in Ukraine what would that look like? Coming up we'll talk to our Pentagon correspondent about the possibilities. But first here's today's making their mark. Just a few days ago President Obama announced his My Brother's Keeper initiative. The goal is to encourage and empower boys and young men of color to beat the odds of miseducation, crime and broken homes. During his speech on Thursday, the president told the story of Maurice Owens, one of the young staffers who beat those very odds. Our Don Lemon talked to Owens about the obstacles that he had to face and overcome.


MAURICE OWENS, RECOGNIZED BY THE PRESIDENT: Many of my friends were drug dealers. A lot of - throughout my years in growing up in the Bronx, I lost over 16 friends to gun violence and drugs and jail. It is just, it was a norm for everything not to be conducive to somebody achieving higher goals (INAUDIBLE) which is not just an urban nightmare I guess you would call it.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: But this president did what he said, him acknowledging you and your mom, and making an initiative for young men of color across the country, what did that mean to you?

OWENS: Well, (INAUDIBLE) sang praises to my mother in (ph) the way she raised me, and what she wanted to make of my life. So that's foremost (ph) I can only thank the blessings of god for that, and it means to me that the president cares, and he is invested in people like me, and people like him.



SCIUTTO: We are not taking our eyes off of the situation in Ukraine, and we'll get right back to our breaking news coverage. But Rosa Flores is here now to look at some of the other big stories we are watching at CNN.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, good evening, and good evening to you at home. A terrifying attack at a Chinese railway station has killed at least 28 people and injured more than 100 others. Police say that a group of people armed with knives stormed the station in southwest China. They say that five of the suspects are dead and several others were caught. Police are calling it a premeditated terrorist attack. Right now, there is no word of a motive.

In Denver, a massive pileup on an ice-covered freeway. Police say 104 vehicles slammed into each other today on interstate 25. One person was killed, 20 others were injured. A woman who was on the road at the time says that it was snowing, and the pavement was icy. She says, drivers were trying to slow down, but they just kept hitting each other.

And the envelope, please. Movie fans getting ready for tomorrow's Oscars are keeping the fingers crossed that the rain that is pounding California will end before the big show starts. But that might not happen. Walls of mud and water have washed through the roads and communities near Los Angeles, hundreds of people have been told to leave their homes and more rain is expected through the weekend. I know that, Jim, all of the folks are going to Oscars are going to the want the red carpet dry, because those gowns are really expensive.

SCIUTTO: I would not want to get my gown wet.

FLORES: And keeping the fingers crossed for them for sure.

SCIUTTO: All right. Thanks very much, Rosa Flores. Ahead, what if Russia does take military action in Ukraine? We're going to ask our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr about the possibilities. That's coming up right after this next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: The tension in Ukraine reminds many of the cold war days, and if the Russians decide to move even more troops into Ukraine, experts say they can do it in almost no time. That would leave very little time for any U.S. response, all of that has the Pentagon's full attention. Pentagon's correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us by phone right now. Barbara, we have talked about this a lot, and you have a major Russian military base there. It's right across the border from Russia, do they have the presence and the power to do what they are threatening to do, occupy the country in effect, get the forces in there quickly?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (on the phone) Well, you know, this is the key question the Pentagon and the CIA are watching right now, Jim, as you well know. How will they do it? If they decide to do it, what comes next? Will they go be able to capture enough airfields and control enough airfields to get in the heavy transport aircraft that would have to bring in large numbers of troops, supplies and that sort of thing? Are there the rail lines across the border for them to bring in armored vehicles?

Getting in perhaps sustaining it over a long period of time, resupplying it is going to be a challenge. Many U.S. experts say when they look at Russia it is a long supply line to keep that kind of operation up significantly for a long period of time. But, look at all of the unrest that they have and the churn in the world in the last 48 hours with just perhaps as many as a few thousand troops. So the level of concern is quite significant, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And now, Barbara, how about the Ukrainian military? Do they have any formidable force, substantial force to stand up to what the Russians can put into that country?

STARR: Well, the Ukrainians have some capability, certainly. They have been struggling in recent years to modernize. But then you have to sort of ask yourself the question, is this going to be a force on force conflict? Is it going to be tank versus tank, artillery and howitzer versus artillery and howitzer? If it came to that that would be -- the outcome that no one would want to see.

The Russians may be showing quite a different hand. The troops we have seen they are equipped for being in cities, in sort of light weapons if you will, light precision weapons, light armored vehicles and when we have seen the pictures we've certainly seen, these are not heavily armored troops. There could be certainly some, but the Russians are going in light. Very maneuverable, and that may be an advantage that they have in what -- there would be very difficult for the Ukrainians to counter across the country.

SCIUTTO: And I imagine for the west, for Europe to counter as well, a stealth occupation. Thanks very much to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Russia is threatening to move even more troops into Ukraine, so what is the end game? Up next some answers from a former U.S. ambassador.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. We continue to follow the breaking news. Russian's parliament voting today to give President Vladimir Putin permission to use troops inside Ukraine. So what is the end game here for Russia?

We are joined again by Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador to Korea and Poland, very close to Ukraine, right across the border, joining me now by phone. So explain to our viewers if you can, Ambassador Hill, what is your assessment of what Russia hopes to gain here?

HILL: Well, one would hope that when President Obama spent 90 minutes talking to Putin, he posed that question, because right now, it's very unclear. It might be that Putin simply wanted to make a clear statement that Crimea is something that is very much Russian. And we are not going to see that go to the west. And so, kind of making a clear statement that there are limits to what they are prepared to see in Ukraine. So that is one possibility.

But then the other possibility of course is that he would be, this is a precursor to going after all of eastern Ukraine, and essentially recreating a sort of partial Soviet Union. So that is a rather frightening prospect, frankly speaking, and it is something that I think would force western countries to look at a lot of very unappetizing policy choices, you know, throwing away the key, throwing the Russians in the deep freeze. I mean that means, you know, 20 years of trying to work with Russia just down the drain. So there are a lot of problems with that, but I down think we can sit there and do nothing. And I think we have to have a strong reaction to this move.

So, one hopes that there can be a resumption of dialogue, certainly the idea of international observers is a possibility although, you know, maybe we could sweeten the pot by making a lot of, putting a lot of the Russians in that international observer force or something like that. But I think it's going to be really tough, and what we hope is that Kiev can understand that Russia does have an interest in this. And that they are going to have to come up with a government in Ukraine that recognizes that interest.

SCIUTTO: Ambassador Hill, Senator Bob Corker on the air (ph) a short time ago said something that caught my attention, as they are considering in the Senate, the White House reactions, punishments for Russia in effect penalties for this, and he said that, you know what, no matter what we do, Russia is probably going to stay. Sobering, do you share that assessment?

HILL: That's a very sobering assessment. Now I think that there are a lot of nuances to this. If Russia dismembers Ukraine and grabs the eastern part, they are pretty much assured that the western part will (INAUDIBLE) gallop westward. So I'm not sure that is in Russia's interests. So they may be trying to simply put a heck of a lot of pressure on Kiev to come up with a government that kind of respects sort of Russian interests in this. As they, you know, look to cut the deals with the European Union and other things.

So, I think that it is a time for diplomacy. It is time for making sure we don't have mixed or mixed signals or we don't miss signals. So even though there is a certain grim inevitability of some of this I think we need to really stay in touch with Moscow. It is kind of unfortunate we don't even have an ambassador there now. So I think we really, really need to kind of step up the diplomacy with the Russians right now.

SCIUTTO: And the Russian parliament is asking Putin to recall the Russian ambassador to the U.S. today. Thank you very much to Ambassador Chris Hill. The impact of the Russia's decision to move into Ukraine may spread beyond both of their borders. We will explain how after this.