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CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, Ukraine’s response and what we might be able to expect from Russian President Vladimir Putin. This an edited version of the transcript.
You’re well aware of what is going on with the politics and the violence in this country right now. As you heard us report, there are reports of civilian casualties as Ukraine says it's trying to take back checkpoints on the outside of Donetsk. Curious timing for them, don't you think, in the middle of trying to deal with MH17. What do you think the strategy is there?
What it could suggest is that the government of Ukraine, the government in Kiev, has begun an offensive to try to take control of this part of Ukraine. This part of Ukraine is not under the control of the government in Kiev. It is under the control of the pro-Russian separatists.
One of the things that the Kiev government has kept insisting on is that they need to get control of their own country. They may have seen this as an opportune moment because the rebels are on the defensive, they understand that the world is watching them and perhaps most importantly their patron, Vladimir Putin, is on the defensive. So this would not be a moment where you would imagine Russia would be sending in advisers, streaming across the border at night, sending in heavy equipment, heavy machinery.
So it may well be that the Ukrainian government decided this is the moment to act, and as you say, these thugs have fled the crime scene, which suggests that they're going to reinforce their comrades in Donetsk itself.
Two questions. If Russia is so in control, why would Vladimir Putin allow this shameful act to go on? And the other question is, a lot of talk from the Western world about how now is the time, now we must press. But there are no representatives from the Western world except the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is an international monitoring group. Nobody is on the ground. Where is everybody if they care so much?
Great questions. On the second one, as you know, the problem is the place is dangerous, as you have been pointing out. It has been very dangerous until really a few hours ago and my guess is people are trying to figure out exactly when they can go without creating an incident or some kind of violence.
But to your broader question, I think it’s very important for us to try to figure out what is going on, why did Putin let this happen? This strikes me as a special op gone awry. If you think of Crimea, Putin seemed like a genius because what he did was he got these special operations forces – without uniforms, with no discernible trace to Russia – to wrest Crimea away from Ukraine. And he can then say I don't know what you're talking about, I had nothing to do with this, we had nothing to do with this, these were locals.
Well, that looked great. Here you see the dark side to that, those kind of KGB operations. You're using rogues, mercenaries, thugs, you're using people with limited training and my guess is what happened is this operation went awry. The Russians may not have had as much control and direction over it, though they clearly trained these forces, and now, everyone is scrambling and perhaps these locals aren’t listening to their Russian handlers or masters as carefully as we think.
But it's a predictable consequence of trying to do this kind of special ops foreign policy, where your goal is to produce chaos on the cheap.
So, what's the game now for the Russian president? Because I think that's what it might take, to stand up and say, yes, these were the pro-Russian separatists there. Can he do that?
I don't think he can. He's locked himself into a corner. If you watch Russian TV, and I've done it a little bit with people who can help guide me through the language, they're in an alternate universe. The Russians are hearing a story about how the Ukrainian military is responsible because this happened in Ukraine, omitting the fact that the part of Ukraine it happened in is not controlled by the Ukrainian military.
They are hearing the Ukrainian military was trying to assassinate Vladimir Putin, trying to shoot his plane and missed and hit the civilian jetliner. So, that's the context in which those statements that Putin made have to be considered. He’s defending Russia against the “evil” West, defending Russia against this “evil” Ukrainian government.
We often talked about, throughout this Ukrainian crisis, how you often said he maintained plausible deniability in all of the machinations of Russian involvement in Ukraine. At this point, you say he's kind of backed into a corner. The, he's got two options – double down on the path he's been taking, or turn the corner and help. Which one is going to choose? And how does the U.S. influence that at all at this point?
I don't think there is any evidence he's turning around, because domestically, he remains very popular. And as I've said, they've created this alternative narrative of Russian nationalism, which is not based in reality. You would be surprised – Russia is a big country, television is the only method that connects the country together. So there are newspapers in Russia that are saying different things, but not on TV since it’s all state controlled.