By Mick Krever, CNN
A diplomatic solution to the standoff over Crimea is still possible, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
“There is a solution,” she said. “There could be more autonomy for Crimea. The question is whether [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants a solution. He may like this kind of disarray, because it's kind of in everybody's face.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked on the phone Tuesday about their respective countries' ideas about resolving the Ukrainian crisis, a day after Lavrov announced that Kerry had postponed a face-to-face meeting with Putin, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“There are moments where you think, ‘Why can't we get this together,’” Albright told Amanpour. “The bottom line is, scoring points is not what it's about.”
There is a solution, she said, in which the country has a relationship with both Russia and the United States.
“What I think is a tragedy is that Putin is providing a zero-sum game. And it doesn't have to be.”
Crimea will hold a referendum Sunday on whether the peninsula should become a part of Russia or remain within Ukraine.
The interim Ukrainian government – and foreign leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama – have called that initiative illegal.
Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, will discuss legislation on March 21 on Crimea joining the nation, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Tuesday.
Could Crimea’s fate be a “fait accompli,” Amanpour asked.
“I suppose it is possible that it could be a fait accompli,” Albright said.
Ultimately, however, she said that the Russians would be “punished” for their actions, including sending armed men into Crimea.
“Instead of bringing Russia into a world where we are cooperating economically and diplomatically, the Russians are isolating themselves.”
She described as “short-term” thinking the idea that any sanctions against resource-rich Russia would backfire.
“What has happened to Russia in many different ways is kind of the oil curse. They have done no reforms whatsoever because they have that oil money. Oil prices may go down as a result of the shale revolution in a number of different ways. There are other sources.”
For example, she told Amanpour, a long-term deal over Iran’s nuclear program could further lift sanctions and make that country a global exporter of oil and gas.
Meanwhile, intimidating billboards have gone up in Crimea equating the referendum – between Ukraine and Russia – to a choice between Nazism or Russia.
Albright, a diplomat with extensive experience with Russia and Eastern Europe, translated the billboard.
“It says ‘16th March … we choose.’”
“This is just pure, unadulterated scare tactics,” she said.
“I was watching Russian TV in the last couple of days. And what they have done, there are, let me just say, probably good-willed people who are concerned that their Slavic brothers and sisters are, in fact, all of a sudden being subjected to fascism or Nazism.”
Many older people, she said, still have vivid memories of the “tragedies” that took place in Ukraine during World War II.
“That is one of the more outrageous placards that I've ever seen.”
The Russian mind-set
Many veteran Russia observers, such as New Yorker editor David Remnick, believe that President Putin is trying to reassert Russia’s place in the world as a great, powerful nation.
“The Russians are really good at revisionist history,” Albright said, who served as Secretary State in the crucial period following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“We didn't win the Cold War, they lost the Cold War. The Soviet Union disintegrated from inside. This was not something that the West did. The communist system simply does not work. And so that is the genesis of the problem.”
“We were asked to do something that has never been done before, which is how to devolve the power of your major adversary in a respectful way.”
The invited Russia into the G8, she said, and “made a point” of welcoming them into various international organizations.
The U.S. also pushed NATO – the Cold War-era military alliance – further, and closer to Russia’s border.
“I know there are those who think that that was a mistake,” she said. “They've just misunderstood from the very beginning.”
“I went to talk to Yeltsin about this. And I said this is what we're doing. And he said, ‘We're a new Russia.’ And I said, ‘This is a new NATO. It is not against you. And you can ultimately be a member of NATO.’”
“They are using this ‘Oh, woe is me,’ in order to garner sympathy, and have some kind of a recreating something that they destroyed themselves.”
Insight into the Russian foreign minister
Albright also has extensive experience with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, having served as ambassador to the United Nations at the same time he did.
“He can be hot and cold. I mean he's very, very smart. He argues very well.”
“The last meeting we had was really peculiar,” she said. “I arrive at the foreign ministry – and I am known for my pins – so I had on this pin that is a knot. And he looked at the pin and he said, ‘So what is that?’ And I said, ‘It’s our bond.’”
“So then we left the hall, we went to sit down at the shiny table and he looks across the table and he says, ‘I know what it is! It’s James Bond.’”
“And I said, ‘No, Sergey, it’s our friendship.’ And he said ‘No, it’s what you think of our pipelines.’ And I said, ‘No, Sergey, it is a sign of our relationship given to me by your predecessor, Igor Ivanov.’”
“He has this capability of seeing what he wants to see. And he does like to score points.”
An optimistic view
In her interview on Tuesday, she wore a large sparkling sunflower brooch – “very-optimistic looking,” as Amanpour described it.
Is Alright optimistic about Ukraine?
“I wore it on purpose, because I do think that this can be solved,” she said. “There's a combination of tools here.”
“The Ukrainians have to be at the table. You can't do to the Ukrainians what happened to the Czechoslovaks at Munich, where they were told to do something and the country was sold down the river.”
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark and Diana Magnay contributed to this report.