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Madeleine Albright: Diplomacy still possible in Ukraine, if Putin wants solution

March 11th, 2014
04:42 PM ET

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.

Scare tactics

Meanwhile, intimidating billboards have gone up in Crimea equating the referendum – between Ukraine and Russia – to a choice between Nazism or Russia.

Albright decodes Crimea's Nazi billboard

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.’”

Albright's 'peculiar' run in with Lavrov

“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.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Ukraine
soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. Maria

    Why Putin don't buy Crimea? They have money, gas, land, etc. This could a peaceful way to solve the problem.

    March 11, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Reply
    • john

      Crimea was part of Russia for 250 years and supposed to be autonomous by agreement with Ukraine, USA, and Russia. In 1996, Ukraine revoked Crimea's autonomous status. Ukraine violated any deal first. If they are mostly Russians, let them go back to Russia or become independent. We, the USA, are such hypocrites. We brutally put down peaceful protests here ( occupy wall street) and support coups everywhere that our corporations want to gain a business foothold. We are waiting the average persons taxes on these interests of the elites.

      March 13, 2014 at 8:00 am | Reply
  2. Maria

    Conflict is not a solution! They must sit down and talk.

    March 11, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  3. ObtuseAmericanNegotiating

    Just like Obama infuriated Americans with his obtuse stonewalling of the fact based argument that Obamacare is causing American working hours to be reduced to part time, he and John Kerry are infuriating the Eastern Ukrainians, the South Ukrainians, the entire Russian population, the Chinese, Indians and most Americans, by being obtuse about the US complicity in the violent coup in Kiev that brought neo-Nazis to power (at least until May 25). The Russians has simply reacted to a neocon American aggression, astounding in its audacity for going so deep into Russia's sphere of influence.

    You do not deal with Russians by being obtuse and pretending the obvious did not happen (in this case the US backed coup and a rump parliament making new laws and appointments without the representation of the east and south and Crimea). Putin was right when he characterized Obama as a pigeon playing chess by knocking over the pieces, etc. Obama really behaves that way. He doesn't negotiate (which is why the unpopular law Obamacare still exists despite being opposed by a majority of Americans since 2010) and he doesn't use fair logic or recognize facts staring everyone in the face (the existence of neo-Nazis in the new Kiev government, the American business-people and employees who swear that people are working fewer hours and getting paid less because of Obamacare).

    Now, a good solution in Crimea will be that Sevastopol, which votes in a separate vote, will choose to become Russian territory, and this will be accepted in Moscow on the same day, permanently making the naval base part of Russia, while the rest of Crimea will at least not be accepted back into Russia until after the May 25 election for all Ukraine.

    March 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • GeneC

      Written by the Kremlin Ministry of Propaganda? RT script writers? Geez, they're everywhere.

      March 11, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Reply
      • ObtuseAmericanNegotiating

        Actually written by a proud US veteran who was a neocon most of his life. I still believe the Vietnam War was necessary to stop real Chinese/Soviet expansionism. The US had an interest in stopping that, but has no interest now in stopping Russia from protecting the east and south Ukrainians who are mostly against the composition of the new temporary gov in Kiev.

        I also believe the Iraq War was necessary because it diverted the attention of Al Qaeda from blowing up passenger planes in the US to reverting back to the age old rivalry with the Shiites i n the Euphrates area. In contrast, the Russians would never blow up passenger planes like crazed Islamofascists. In fact, they are more determined to stop Al Qaeda than Americans are. Look at who is supporting Al Qaeda in Syria and who is opposing Al Qaeda there.

        So Russia has to be seen as a major potential ally and not a threat remotely in the league of Al Qaeda.

        In eastern and southern Ukraine, the males are mostly pro-Russia – in terms of Russia protecting them in a civil war, not in terms of the east and south of Ukraine becoming part of Russia, while some young women, like their counterparts among American liberals, don't want to believe that they were exploited by foreign powers and some hard right western ukrainian groups when they went to the Maidan. They still cling to the fact that 95% of the Maidanisti were good, honest people. When males in the region tell them that the other 5% is what got a lot of key appointments, they start to feel ashamed and say "I don't want to believe that".

        Disillusion with what happened with the coup may or may not grow depending on whether the temporary government continues with censorship or violence against those who want to protest against it.

        But anyway, the males in these regions will say they were against Yanokovitch but were never fooled by the Maidan and they are not going to be ruled by western Ukrainian nationalists.

        This can be resolved peacefully if the people from the east and west stay separate until May 25. Christianne is going to want to look into the new separate army the Right Sector wants to build.

        And what I wrote about Sevastopol being accepted as Russian territory but the rest of Crimea staying autonomous, was a very good idea. It could be the solution the great powers are looking for as a compromise. Christianne should look into this. There will be two separate votes like I said.

        March 11, 2014 at 8:19 pm |
      • letmeeatcake just b u t t h u r t because russia olympics were not made to be the gay olympics this year...go home american gay...

        March 12, 2014 at 2:41 am |
    • Ivo

      Unfortunately ...your ideas about the future are void.
      Crimea joins Russia.
      The rest of Ukraine ,either totally submits to be a only Russian sphere of interest and accepts ,to be a part of the Russian national security,or ...stops to exist.
      I hope ,you see nothing wrong in this.

      March 13, 2014 at 3:30 am | Reply
  4. GeneC

    * IF * Putin wants a solution? Madame Albright: a solution to what – himself? Mr Putin needs to be *given* a solution, a demand to fully retreat from Ukraine. You cannot approach this as a "meeting somebody halfway" solution. Any inch he gets is one he doesn't have a right to. Every excuse from the Kremlin for Putin's actions is nonsensical and untrue. The West has given up Syria, parts of Georgia, Moldova. There should be push back on all of those, as well as Ukraine. If not, this little tyrant might try to reclaim resource-rich Alaska which was once a part of Russia. Lord knows Alaskans have Russian roots and have to be saved from fascist neo-Nazis that threaten their daily lives. With Putin, you just never know.

    March 11, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Reply

      One thing i pray for is their shouldn't be any war .... but talking about ALASKA ... I don;t thing he will even think about , not to talk of trying to do anything

      March 12, 2014 at 8:32 am | Reply
  5. kyriakides

    the US propaganda machine is getting desperate if it dragging out Albright to put in her 2 cents. she still believes murdering 100k Iraqi civilians justified the purposes (?) of the invasion. she is just another Helen Thomas, wacky and old

    March 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Reply
    • jojnjo

      Well it's still nothing on Russian propaganda...if you piled their propaganda all up you could wrap it around Mars, the Earth & the Moon...a hundred billion, million times.

      March 13, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  6. Asif Hussain

    Man was created weak. Men commit Genocide. But a group of women is just a Knitting club.

    March 11, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Reply
    • Latina

      Try to knit – and we'll see what you are able to!!!

      March 12, 2014 at 5:36 am | Reply
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  15. Vinay Prasad

    Albright, it gives me a feeling, after reading the article, is speaking out of frustration. She is speaking against Russia to make herself feel better. She is still in the old frame of mind, when, after WW2, America overtook Russia in most spheres of life, like generation of wealth, technology, sending man to the moon, military spending and more. So whenever she feels frustrated with Russia, what else will she say – Russia is drawing itself to isolation. Who will believe her? She also should remember during her Secretary of State days, with Bill Clinton as President, and Yeltsin as Russian President, there was a time when Clinton and Albright almost daily used to threaten Russia. She got a slap on her face when Yeltsin, on a China visit, with Jiang Zemin in toe, Putin warned America very sternly that Russia is a nuclear state and will not tolerate irresponsible statements from America's leadership and any further such insinuations will prompt Russia to act against America sternly. Instantly Bill Clinton and Albright shut their mouth. No more words from them against Russia.

    March 12, 2014 at 12:45 am | Reply
    • jon barrow

      Mr Prasad, with this kind of language 'Instantly Bill Clinton and Albright shut their mouth. No more words from them against Russia' you are obviously someone who has little sense, either practical or theoretical, of what liberty entails (for a start, freedom of speech).

      As someone who lives in Kyiv and was active throughout the protests (one of my colleagues – a sensitive and intelligent man who was helping supply food – was shot and killed), I can assure anyone reading this that the protests were overwhelmingly a push for liberty; and against chrony, post-Soviet mentality (including corruption and repression) – as also characterised by Putin-style governance. On a personal level, my original twin aims in the protests were to help reverse creeping dictatorship in Ukraine (two weeks ago, freedom of speech and association were in great danger); and to help develop an active, responsible and freedom-minded citizenry here. Both aims have been largely achieved. Ukraine now feels to me like a different country, which has gone through a wholesale change in mentality – there is at last a citizenry of the type that can start to develop a liberty and democracy-based society.

      Apart from John McCain's visit, in three months of almost daily involvement in the protests I saw no evidence at all of any kind of western intervention – on a state level, there have not even been statements of support for the protest movement until quite recently.

      From my perspective, I would be happy to see many in the West have greater belief in their traditions of liberty and democracy, which have gloabl appeal and have spread around the world to a great extent in the last 100 years. I've just read Alexis de Toqueville's 'Democracy In America' and would recommend it to anyone. I do think it has been a foreign policy error by the US to suppose that these kinds of values can be easily exported, they have to be desired and learned by other societies. I also think that humans tend not to value what we don't struggle for. But mindless US-bashing, especially within the US, seems highly destructive of the kind of liberty which I value.

      March 12, 2014 at 7:20 am | Reply
      • Vinay Prasad

        OK, Jon, I value your ideals of freedom and democracy. I may have been somewhat obtuse in my comments against linton and Albright. But let me clarify, I am a neutral party. I am from India and live in India. I am sometimes outraged by the comments of some leaders of America, that only they have the right to deem it fit what is good for other countries. this is what has made the country loose influence. I hope they learn from past mistakes.

        March 12, 2014 at 2:40 pm |
  16. American in the Baltics

    Albright still sounds more reasonable than any of the defeatist comments I’m reading. The great majorities of the Ukrainian, Baltic and American peoples understand that freedom is a long-term project, and that freedom is its own best “weapon” in its defense. It is not surprising that the Kremlin would regard as a “threat” the existence of former parts of the USSR living and governing themselves in freedom without rigged elections and political prisoners. It is sad, however, to see certain American “conservatives” so conflicted over whether to oppose or to excuse the Kremlin in its recent actions.

    March 12, 2014 at 3:44 am | Reply
  17. Pi Chao Wei

    Now, when a proven pair (Albright and Amanpour) are again together, as in previous catastrophic and bloody crises (Yugoslavia as first), the solution is for sure achievable! New World Order Leaders, please replace your soldiers, those are spent!

    March 12, 2014 at 4:44 am | Reply
  18. Alexander

    "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"
    OK, illegal? Remember Kosovo at 2008, Mr. Obama?

    March 12, 2014 at 6:00 am | Reply
  19. Lola Gojani Mazreku

    Two wonderful ladies, two brilliant minds!

    March 12, 2014 at 7:51 am | Reply
    • Ivo

      Yes..two very easy is the king.
      No moral,no shame,no ....EXISTANCE

      March 13, 2014 at 3:25 am | Reply
  20. letmeeatcake

    ...diplomacy still possible if america b u t t out and go home...

    March 12, 2014 at 8:28 am | Reply
  21. Simonzee1

    All Obama and the EU has done is lost Crimea while the rest of the East descends into civil war. Look at Libya now... and that is the template. We will see pipelines attacked by the far-right or other terrorists to disrupt gas supplies to Europe; and America will use all the chaos to start exporting gas to Europe but with the price that Americans and their industry will pay more for gas. More jobs for Europe with cheap gas. Less jobs for America with expensive gas. That's how Obama rolls!!

    March 12, 2014 at 9:06 am | Reply
  22. Mark

    This will virtually happen.

    March 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  23. Russia

    Russia, Belarus, Ukraine – is a native Slavic sisters. Millions of Russian and Ukrainian families are vitally linked. USSR never occupied Ukraine and noborot – developed agricultural and military industry providing millions of jobs for people. Crimea – is the native land conquered Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Virtually all Western media lie about Russia – We love Ukraine.

    March 13, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  24. Russia

    In Russia not banned gay relationships. Prohibited propagate Gay relationships among young children. Russia does not interfere with or infringe upon the rights of gays, gay live in peace – if you do not disturb the common people. In Russia embarked on a healthy family values ​​- most importantly children. Russian President Vladimir Putin – the best.

    March 13, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  25. Vera

    They need to put Albright back in her coffin; the sun can damage the vampire's complexion. What happens in the Ukraine/Russia is none of our or NATO's business.

    March 18, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Reply
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