Beginning of the end of the G8?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 20, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're taking these steps as part of a response to what Russia has already done in Crimea. At the same time the world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine. For this reason we've been working closely with our European partners to develop more severe actions that could be taken if Russia continues to escalate the situation.

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEY LAVROV, (VIA TRANSLATOR): They trampled down the law to place in power their stooges, those who rely on ultra- nationalists, and they accuse us and the Crimeans of breaking Ukrainian law.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama today signing another executive order, actually two, stepping up the sanctions against the Russians, expanding the number of people who are targeted as well as a bank, and also targeting key sectors in Russia, like energy and mining. The Russians in turn turning around and sanctioning and going after some senior U.S. officials, including White House officials and senior lawmakers, with similar sanctions.

Here's what the "Washington Post" opinion editorial had to say. "The Obama administration and its European allies have been too slow to grasp that Mr.
Putin is bent on upending the post-cold war order in order and reversing Russia's loss of dominion over eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and central Asia."

With that let's bring in our panel tonight, syndicated columnist George Will, Nina Easton, columnist for "Fortune" magazine, Juan Williams, columnist with "The Hill." George, your thoughts on the president's moves and were we are?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: When this all started Angela Merkel of Germany said Russia was exposing itself to massive damages. Those are not in sight so far, and Germany may be part of the problem because Europe is really hostage to the most reluctant member, and Germany is the one that has the most to lose from a serious disruption of economic relations.

The problem is the president says we're looking for a diplomatic solution.
The word "solution" implies a problem, and Mr. Putin doesn't think he has a problem. He thinks he's accomplished what he wants and may want to accomplish more, so there's an asymmetry here. We have a problem, which is to try to stop him. He doesn't have a problem because he doesn't want to stop. He does not want an off-ramp.

BAIER: You hear the administration talking, and they seem to really believe that these targeted sanctions will eventually cripple the Russian economy to the point where they will back down. There are many up on the Hill and elsewhere who don't buy that.

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Particularly the sanctions against individuals which the Russians seem to view it as farcical because they said we'll keep Harry Reid and Dan Coates out of Russia and left half of the Capitol Hill jealous that they weren't included on that list.

The thing is, there is economic blood to be had, but it's not the only thing the administration should be doing. Russia is a very weak economy, growing by about one percent. It's heavily reliant on energy and it's -- it swallowed -- Crimea is a disaster, an economic basket case.

The problem is not only is Russia very intertwined with the -- with Europe, but a lot of what you could do, which would be to make -- wean Europe off the energy supplies of Russia our longer-term solutions. And it could very much hurt Russia but it takes longer time than what we're seeing now.

In the meantime, you know, the president has taken military intervention off the table, and he very narrowly defines military intervention. There are ways to use military force and shows military force, supporting the Ukrainian military to get one step ahead of Putin. He's been one step behind the entire time. And keep in mind Putin is someone who said in 2008 to George W. Bush that he didn't even consider Ukraine a real country.

BAIER: To your point about lawmakers touting the sanctions from Russia, John McCain wrote this. "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen. Nonetheless, I will never cease my efforts on behalf of freedom, independence, and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea."
Juan, does this get to a boiling point that we are beyond, you know, where the administration seems willing to go now?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE HILL": If the Russians continue on their path and would, for example, engage in provocative behavior, attacking anybody close to the border and the eastern Ukraine, any incursions towards the west, that takes us to a new level in this dispute.

Right now I think that the administration is still invested in creating this off-ramp. They still want to downplay the idea of military intervention both for domestic political reasons, and the American people don't support any such thing, and secondly because they don't want to give Putin an excuse for attacking the Ukraine, that if it's seen as this more of an interventionist United States imposing their ideology, and you heard the language today, using their puppets at their will, then all of a sudden the United States becomes the bad guy.

So these sanctions, as Nina just said, they are not wrist slaps. They will take time. When you go after the banks and say you can't have those kinds of transactions, when you threatening the energy sector, you are threatening the oligarchs in Russia.

BAIER: Yesterday we talked about this, Vice President Biden in Lithuania talking about the Article V section of the NATO treaty in which the U.S.
would defend any country in NATO that's essentially invaded by another. He mentioned that the president wants to talk to all the NATO countries about how to best position forces in September. That's six months from now.

WILL: And there are 28 of them. That's rather a lot of talking to be done. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are the real danger point because they are in NATO, and Article V says an attack on them is an attack on us.

There's room in diplomacy for tactical ambiguity, but there are moments when you have to be clear. A British diplomat once said the secret of diplomacy is to know your own mind and make sure the other guy knows it, too. And Putin has to understand that there are limits. If he wants the rest of the Ukraine, he'll take it, and we won't stop him. The only thing inhibiting there is whether he thinks digesting that and the domestic turmoil that might come with it is worth the price. We can't stop him.

BAIER: Is the effort to stop him with these economic sanctions that the EU is buying in on and Germany is buying in on, does that have an economic reverberation, especially for Europe, that is -- that is negative?

EASTON: Well, that's a concern in Europe, which is why they haven't gone as far as they probably should go. But here's the thing just to George's point. Diplomacy is also about being one step ahead of the guy that you're trying to best, and we've been one step behind the entire time. So we're going to wait for them to make moves. We're going to wait for Putin to make his next move before we ratchet it up. I think there's a place for soft military power, for a show force, to show them he shouldn't be messing with NATO countries.

BAIER: And about weapons to Ukraine, that's not in the cards?

WILLIAMS: What I heard today was it's nowhere near the cards. And, again, it's because the White House perceives this as if you put advisers or trainers on the ground to help the Ukrainians and they are attack, that's a definite attack on the United States and there's no choice. That forces our hand. We do not want to put Putin in control of our actions.

So part of this is to sustain whenever we can in any way, but not militarily, the Ukraine, and, to come back to George's pint, to make it very clear to our opponent that if you do anything to a NATO country you have started a war.

WILL: Well, that's exactly right. That's where the miscalculation that could set the world afire could occur. But right now the administration's mind is being muddled by its own metaphor, the off-ramp. Off what? Mr.
Putin is on a roll. He's more popular than ever before at home, and he's not a democrat but he does care about what people think. He's on -- he's fulfilling a clear plan to reestablish if not the old Soviet Union as least the old czarist empire. Off what? He doesn't want off.

WILLIAMS: We want off. The United States does not want to become embroiled in another military fiasco.

BAIER: Is this more about the U.S. not becoming involved or more about stopping Putin?

WILLIAMS: At this point it's up to Putin what he wants to do, but it's very clear that if Putin takes any more provocative action the United States is willing to respond. Vice President Biden's presence in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania I think is a very clear signal, George. I don't think you can miss it.

BAIER: Last word.

EASTON: I was going to say instead of off ramps we should be considering this as a chess game. It is a chess game and you have to anticipate Putin's next move.

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