tv Amanpour on PBS PBS March 20, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PDT
welcome to "amanpour" on pbs. tonight, no surprise from russia as vladimir putin wins another six-year term. but will he ever be able to mend ties with the west amid election tampering and spy poisoning scandals? i asked the former british foreign secretary, and the director general of the russian international affairs council. plus, the author dave eggers and the incredible story of e immigrant who risked his life to bring yemeni coffee to america. ♪ "amanpour" on pbs was made possible by the generous support
of rosaland p. walter. good evening. i'm christiane amanpour in london. president vladimir putin is embarking on his fourth term as president along with a stint as prime minister, his years in power stretch from 2000 to 2024. the kremlin barred his most viable opponent alexei navalny from running in the election. independent observers say there was a lack of genuine competition. all of this comes as tensions rise dramatically with both america and europe. the british government is in a standoff with the kremlin over a poisoning of a russian double agent and his daughter. the kremlin denies it, but the british prime minister says there is no alternative conclusion but that the russian state is responsible for the attack with a military grade nerve agent. this is what the nato secretary general said today.
>> the attacks in salisbury was the first use nerve agent on alliance territory. russia's response has demonstrated a clear disregard for international peace and security. we continue to call on russia to provide complete disclosure of the program to the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. >> joining me now from moscow is the chair of the russian international affairs council, a think tank. and malcolm riffkin. the former british foreign secretary. welcome to you both. let me start with you from moscow. here we have a very tense situation. president putin is embarking on his fourth term, and it couldn't be worse relations with the west. do we expect this level of
tension to continue? how do you see this ending? >> well, i hope that the tension will gradually go down. putin made his case. he had the decisive victory and i don't think that he should be interested in any further escalation of tensions with the west. i think the opposite is probably more right. the question is how he can do that without making too many unilateral concessions. >> you said he made his case. he had a decisive victory. let me put to you that his own campaign managaid he tnked the u.k. for helping to reelect . putin. whenever russia is accused of something indiscriminately and without any evidence, the russian people unite around the center of power and that is putin. do you agree that this crisis with the u.k. played to mr. putin's strength or favor? >> i don't think it was a decisive factor in the victory
of mr. putin, but i can imagine that it added some votes to the victory of mr. putin. indeed, the general perception here in moscow that the british accusations are not fair, that they are premature and when it gets down to a situation like that, the country usually rallies around its leader. moreover, i should say that whether you like it or not, but the foreign policy of mr. putin is perceived by the majority of russians as a successful foreign policy, not as something that russians should be ashamed of or should regret. >> so that's an interesting point. the russians like what he's doing abroad. do you agree that the assessment is unfair by the british and by the west to what happened in the
uk with the novichok? >> frankly, if the russians are claiming, as they appear to be, that the british response to the attempt to murder two people in the streets of one of our cities is to be welcomed because it boosted mr. putin's vote in this bogus election, that makes me sadder than i've been for a long time. it's pretty pathetic. putin was bound to win this election by a vast majority because no serious candidate was allowed to stand against him. how can a great country like russia tolerate a leader who appears to be authorizing the murder of his political perceived opponents in other countries simply as a normal act of foreign policy? we had one person murdered by plutonium almost certainly by the instructions of the kremlin. the only other leader behaving in this way is kim jong-un in north korea, who had his own brother assassinated. if mr. putin seems to use kim
jong-un as some sort of role model, then that's a matter for sadness and not jubilation. >> i'd like to play for both of you gentlemen the following sound bite from an interview that president putin did a while ago and it is about the concept of political enemies and betrayal. >> you know, that does play into >> you know, that does play into what most people believe about mr. putin, exactly what he says, he does not forgive betrayal. explain to me how that plays. do you think that the skripals for instance betrayed mr. putin and russia? >> well, as far as i recall, mr. putin pardoned skripal before skripal was exchanged for
russian spies. it's a standard practice of intelligence services that when a spy is exchanged, his file is closed and that's the end of story. frankly, i consider it to be very counterintuitive to imagine that the russian leadership would go after a spy who didn't have any valuable information and who was detained more than 12 years ago, especially using this kind of very explicit nerve gas. it's like killing someone in london with -- and speaking of the statements by the british prime minister, let me remind you that some time ago another british prime minister argued that he had evidence that chemical weapons were at the disposal of ddam hussein and that was the reason for the british engagementn the middle east. we know that it turned out to be
wrong. you know, i don't want to claim anything, but my point is that probably indeed this statement of theresa may was a little bit premature. >> i wt to ask this very point. i hadn't planned to ask you this now but i do want to ask you. president putin has been giving interviews. it is generally assumed by experts in the west that two things turned putin off the west, one, the iraq war based on the faulty evidence and the previous one was a year earlier, president bush pulling out of the abm treaty. are you prepared to say that president putin could have been really angered at the west by these two things? >> i don't doubt for a moment that he was angered by these two things. in fact, i think it goes back further than that. i think part of it was the events in kosovo in the late
1990s when nato military power was used. the way that putin is responding is not to punish the west. he is using these controversies as a way of trying to deny true independence to the post soviet states, countries like the ukraine, like georgia, the baltic states, to deny them their full independence and determine their own destiny. we all remember putin saying the greatest disaster of his life had been the collapse of what he called the soviet union and what he meant was the russian empire. that wasn't caused by the united kingdom or the united states or nato. the first president bush actually went to kiev and spoke to the ukrainian parliament before they declared independence and suggested that would be a mistake. it was known as the chicken kiev speech afterwards. the one thing the west did not do is cause the implosion, the collapse of the soviet union. that's because the peoples in the soviet union wanted their freedom that they'd been denied
for 100 years. >> i do see you nodding, i assume in agreement. could i ask you, what then is the way forward? can the u.k., can the usa be at constant loggerheads in an increasingly dangerous and dramatic way with russia? how do you go forward on this? what is expelling 23 russian diplomats going to do for instance? >> i think it is desperately sad that the relationship between the west including united kingdom and russia is so poor and so bad. there may be elements of blame on our side. i don't say every single thing that has happened, russia is to be blamed for. however, and it's a very important however, you cannot expect the international community to have real respect for russia when two things are continuing. first of all, our own citizens
are being either assassinated or fighting for their lives because of the use of russian nerve agents. now, the second time in the united kingdom. and there have also been incidents elsewhere. secondly, as long as the russian government's foreign policy is to deny countries like ukraine and georgia and others the right to determine their own destiny, these are the two causes which makes russia so difficult to have a relationship with. when mr. putin say what is he's seeking is respect for russia, of course we have respect for russia as a country. but we have lost respect for putin as the president of that country, because he acts in ways that are normally associated with criminals and lawbreakers, killing people, assassinating people, trying to destroy their lives through his intelligence agencies or the links his intelligence agencies have with the russian criminal underworld.
>> you've heard it all before, but it's nonetheless incredibly serious indictment of your president on global television. you know, what can we expect going forward? i just say that somehow this has got to be rectified. or do you think the next six years of president putin's rule is going to be like these in terms of foreign policy and tensions? >> well, first of all, let me be very clear. whoever committed this crime in salisbury should not get away from that. having said that, i do hope that there will be a degree of collaboration between russia and the united kingdom in investigating this crime. i think that we need to know the truth no matter what the truth might be. second, on a broader issue that was raised by sir malcolm, i think that the question is how to get russia integrated into a
larger european security system. the problem for russia is not the enlargement of nato as such, not the enlargement of the european union but the process of the continuous marginalization of russia and europe. if nato is the only game in town and you're not in nato, you're not in europe. this is not the position that any power which claims to be a great power can be happy about. >> let me ask you this. russian state television basically has a whole new sort of environment where for instance last week, it said putin, we own trump. and the reason they said that is because after secretary tillerson accused -- or agreed that russia was responsible for the attack in britain, he was fired. and they linked those two together. there is that going around in russian official media circles, this whole "we own trump." what is your analysis?
>> well, of course we don't own trump. moreover, i would say that trump is arguably not a part of the solution but rather a part of the problem, because indeed he's caged. russia is a toxic asset for him. it's not likely to get away too soon. for example, we didn't have a single summit meeting between president putin and president ump, unlike we had earlier. i think that whatever russian television might say should be taken with a grain of salt. >> on that note, thank you both so much for joining me this evening. now, russia is also reasserting itself in the middle east backing syria's president assad. today the world was treated to this extraordinary video of assad driving into the very damascus suburb he had put under
withering shell fire. also in the region, the u.s.-backed saudi war in yemen enters its fourth bloody year. this as the saudi crown prince makes his first official visit to the united states. we focus on the true story of a yemeni-american, and he has made it his mission to revive yemen's ailing coffee industry and get the precious weans to america, dodging bullets and kidnap attempts in the process. one of america's leading authors david eggers profiles this incredible journey in his new book "the monk of mocha." which is the yemeni port city where coffee was first exported centuries ago. they both joined me earlier from what they call home in san francisco. gentlemen, welcome from san francisco. can i just go straight to you dave eggers? novelist extraordinary. u dn't evehave a cup of coffee, i read, until you were 35 years old.
why this book, why this character? >> well, my introduction to coffee was when my daughter was born and i needed some mental acuity in the morning. i still was sort of a coffee ignoramous. that is until i met mokhtar. even in our first coffee talk, he educated me about the history of coffee and the conditions for farmers now. so that became an integral part of my attraction to mokhtar's story. >> so mokhtar, the way we read your story, basically your life story -- you're very young to say your life store by. nonetheless you were described as fairly reckless, a little bit aimless, an immigrant second generation to the united states. and suddenly you discovered that coffee could be a great entrepreneurial thing. what brought you to the coffee cause?
>> as an immigrant kid living in the west, sometimes it's hard to find your place. my family is from yemen and i grew up here, so sometimes you don't fit in either place. coffee was a wonderful way for me to bridge my cultures together. i'm someone who believes in social impact. i knew that i wanted to do something around that in my life. i felt that coffee could be a great way to do that. >> how did you know? where was the lightbulb moment when you realized that yemen was the first place to actually brew coffee about 500 years ago? >> you know, sometimes in life it can be something as small as a text message that can take you on an epic journey. a friend of mine texted me about a statue of a yemeni man drinking coffee. it was the hill's brothers. it was an old kauch -- coffee
xaemp. >> from like six blocks from where we're sitting. >> i want to ask you to weigh in about something that you say but also about what he was just saying about being proud of his heritage. the fact this he's an immigrant to the united states. you write that the story is about how u.s. citizens who maintain strong ties to the countries of their ancestors and who through entrepreneurial zeal and dogged labor create indispensable bridges between the developed and developing world. and you carry on. this comes at an incredibly heightened time regarding immigrants in trump's america. what are you trying to say at immigrants, dave? >> well, i believe that our openness to the world and our status as a country of welcome is our greatest streth. it'so embeed in our history and such a bone deep part of who we are that i'm offended when we try to reinvent ourselves or
reverse course or close our borders, close our mind and become xenophobic and borderline unwelcoming country. i think that stories like mokhtar's remind us of who we are at our best, where the immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants are profoundly entrepreneurial. they dream the american dream best. and highlighting these stories, i think, can remind us of who we are when we remain open minded and celebrate our diversity and our openness to cultures from around the world, expressed through second generation immigrants like mokhtar. >> your country right now, one of the poorest in the world, is under a withering war. there's an american backed saudi initiative. they are fighting what they say is iranian backed houthi rebels. you found yourself in the middle
of it when you were trying to bring your coffee out. tell us about that instance. how did you get out? >> everything that we consume comes from somewhere and there's a political reality to that place. yemen is going through a very difficult time. when i started my project, i didn't know how bad of a place it was at the time. things went from bad to really bad really quickly. and i found myself overnight stuck in yemen in what is now this horrible war going on. to wake up one morning and to feel and hear and see air strikes around you, to feel death and not know if you would live to see the morning, to have to send messages to my parents not knowing if that would be the last thing they would read from me. it was quite difficult. the same time i had this mission i believed in, had these farmers who relied on me. i felt that i could do something. even with all the difficulties
and these big players, i had something i could accomplish and achieve. i think it's important in life that no matter how difficult things are, we should never lose hope. >> we spent almost three years together doing interviews and retracing his steps. and one of the things that i could not get my head around was why he risked his life not once but twice trying to get out of yemen in the middle of some of the most contested parts of yemen during the civil war. and just to get to a coffee conference in seattle. i couldn't figure out what was so important about that, because he would have been safer staying during some of these darkest moments. t for him, all of his work and all of his dreams rested on bringing yemeni coffee to a world audience in this conference in seattle. he was willing to risk all for
that. so he left the country on a tiny boat across the red sea carrying only a suitcase full of coffee samples, which was, to me, one of the more remarkable things about mokhtar's story. it's just this unbelievable courage and this sort of bravery driven by this somewhat quixotic dream that he had. the fact that he's here, that he's achieved it, that the business is thriving, that his farmers in yemen are among the most prosperous in their field, all because he has introduced, reintroduced the best yemeni coffee to the world. >> when this wolf novelist, dave eggers asked to test your -- tell your story in a book, did you even know who he was?
>> i'll be honest with you, i didn't know how great of an author he was. because i met dave before as a friend, he's very humble. he has a flip phone and no wifi in his house and i just assumed he was a good author from what i read. because of my accessibility to him and how humble he was, i didn't see much. it wasn't until a few weeks after we started the project and we began interviewing one of my mentors. he's a huge dave eggers fan. then i start to understand how great of an author he was and how lucky i was to have someone like him tell my story. it's been wonderful. >> finally, dave, he mentioned you don't have wifi. famously you wrote the book "the circle" about the intrusion of technology into our lives. that was a good few years before
we realized how intrusive it's been in every aspect, including elections. tell me what you're feeling right now about that. >> i intended with that book to scare the pants off the media and everyone i knew, but it got much more sinister and much more terrifying in the years after. i had no idea. i wrote speculatively about how the internet might affect democracies but i had no idea it would actually happen to such a degree. i'm far more scared and almost paralyzed with fear now. but i nd it all so disspiriting that the only way sometimes to deal with it is to try to greatly limit our participation in the internet,
limit our exposure to it as much as possible, which is one of the reasons why i don't have wifi at home. >> i think we have ways as consumers to exert power, i think and make choices and not necessarily acquiesce to every technological advance that most of which are done without any ethical considerations. i think we as consumers have to slow it down, have to make choices that are privacy oriented and ethically oriented. >> thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you so much. >> an honor, thank you. on the issue of the american consumer, the american people making choices, when it comes to the war in yemen, both mokhtar and dave are also raising awareness about a bipartisan effort in the u.s. senate to force a vote this week to stop u.s. military involvement in the war there. that is it for our program