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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Violent demonstrations rage in Ukraine

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 18, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Looking live in Kiev, Independence Square, where police battled their way there today. Three months of protests really coming to a head. The bloodiest day there as the protesters are battling with the police forces and demonstrators, some armed with clubs, wearing helmets, body armor, trying to stand their ground. Vice President Biden calling Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych earlier today, asking him to stand down. 18 killed so far, as you can see at this hour, 1:51 in the morning there in Kiev -- it is continuing.

We're back with the panel. Charles, what about this? This is less than 1,000 miles from Sochi where obviously the Winter Olympics is taking place.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And this is the epicenter of the struggle between Russia and Europe over the most important state lying between them Ukraine, which is, in part, Russian-speaking, in part tied to the Russian economy, but largely Western oriented. And the demonstrators are the ones who are extremely upset that a deal between Ukraine and the EU, which was supposed to have been concluded a couple of months ago, was all of a sudden withdrawn. The Russians put great pressure on the president, on Ukraine to say no, and to join sort of a semi-union with Russia.

This is Russia's attempt to grab Ukraine as a way to reconstitute a mini-Soviet empire. Remember, Putin is a guy who said the greatest tragedy of the 20th century was the breakup of the Soviet Union. Here is his attempt to reconstitute it. So normally in civil wars, the objective and the source of the conflict is a muddy one. Here it is clear. Europe and a Western democracy or Russia oriented towards Russia with the same kind of corrupt autocracy. It's extremely important. I have a question. Why is it Biden on the phone and not Obama? The stakes could not be higher on the fate of that part of Eastern Europe.

BAIER: As you are looking at the map, Mara, and we're talking about Sochi, from Kiev to Sochi, you just go up, it's 866 miles. And there you see president Putin, and he is going to all of these events, and he is overseeing these games so far, you know, not an incident there, but not far away, there is a big incident.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: There is a big incident. And despite all of the competition and all of the kind of spectacle of the Olympics, this kind of thing has never been very far offstage. Whether it was Putin's crackdown inside of Russia or this unrest in the Ukraine, I don't think that that's ever been -- he has ever been able to completely put that to the side.

BAIER: George?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Lenin and Stalin were forever worrying about what they called the nationalities question, because in theory, the workers had no fatherland. They were going to be communists. But the nationalities persisted. And today what you are seeing nationality asserting itself against a former KGB operator. There's no question that Putin who is seen by the world and certainly by those closest to him in the Ukraine as a thug and a killer, is being repudiated because, and here it is sort of nice to see. Europe has lost a lot of its energy. But it's not lost the ability of European culture to pull in a decent direction and that's what's going on here.

BAIER: Where does this go? I mean, obviously Russia pushes back.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it's not going to push hard until after Sunday night. So, the world -- I mean, look, one of the reasons that there is all the fire on the screen that we can see, is because Putin just a day or so ago released a huge amount of aid, and then all of a sudden the next day you get a crackdown of police on demonstrators who have been out there since, I think October or November? It could be a coincidence but it's a hell of a coincidence.

It is clear that the one who is pulling the strings is Putin. He won't step in an open way until after the Olympics. He doesn't want to embarrass himself. But I think there's been a lot of weakness on the part of the Europe Union it. It could have competed in the economic arena with a small amount of cash. It would have had a huge influence. And where is Obama? Ten years ago during the Orange Revolution, a similar one, the United States spoke out unequivocally on behalf of those in the street and the United States today is equivocal and quiet and timid. It's a terrible mistake.

BAIER: Quickly, Mara, is there a pull back on foreign policy, do you think, from this White House?

LIASSON: In general. Well, there is certainly a pull back on the part of the American people. They just don't want to be involved in any more wars. That's different than exerting our diplomatic muscle. And as a matter of fact, Victoria Nuland got into trouble when she tried to do just that. The United States has been involved behind the scenes trying to get rid of the Ukrainian leader and get a different government in there. And the widely held assumption is that Putin, the Russians leaked that conversation of her and the ambassador talking.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for a lesson in snow removal. 

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