Russia’s former foreign minister discusses Putin’s motivations in Ukraine

GWEN IFILL: Now we turn to Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis, and a conversation with a key player in Moscow's relations with the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Weekend clashes across Eastern Ukraine are just the latest flash points in a struggle over that nation's future, ever since pro-Western demonstrators ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian ally, in late February.

For those protesters, and the transitional government now in charge in Kiev, Ukraine's future lies with Europe and the West. But for many in Ukraine, especially in the heavily Russian-speaking East, Vladimir Putin's Russia, and echoes of Ukraine's Soviet past, hold more appeal. President Putin used such sentiments to justify the invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Putin has made clear the pride of place he feels Ukraine holds in Russia's identity. But he also argues that the post-Cold War expansion of West's military alliance, NATO, is spurring his actions in Ukraine. Since the Soviet Union dissolved 23 years ago, NATO's ranks have swelled to encompass many former Warsaw Pact satellite states in Eastern Europe, and three former Soviet Republicans in the Baltics.

During a televised call-in show last month, Putin charged this expansion represented a broken promise by the West and a threat to Russia.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): When the infrastructure of the NATO military bloc is approaching our borders, it raises certain questions for us. We have to take some steps in response. If we don't do anything, they will drag Ukraine to NATO and tell us that it's not our business.

MARGARET WARNER: To explore Putin's motivations in Ukraine, I sat down last week with Andrei Kozyrev, Russia's first foreign minister for five years after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

Andrei Kozyrev, thank you for joining us.

ANDREI KOZYREV, Former Foreign Minister, Russia: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Let's start with Ukraine. What do you think President Putin is after in Ukraine?

ANDREI KOZYREV: He thinks that this revolution which happened in Ukraine was going into the wrong direction, that is, kind of Western direction, and it was, according to him, even instigated, if not directly or indirectly, by the West.

And that's why he thinks that this will lead to increase of Western influence in Ukraine, as opposed to Russian.

MARGARET WARNER: President Obama likes to talk about finding win-win solutions. Do you think that is possible with President Putin in addressing the Ukraine issue?

ANDREI KOZYREV: Difficult. Probably, they mean different things when they speak of win-win solution.

I would guess for President Putin and for his type of people, the win- win situation would be like a formal or informal division, agreement that this part is your part of influence, the Western part of influence, and this part is our zone of influence.

So for — I think, for them, that would be a win-win situation. For President Obama, it's a little bit unclear what he means. And that's what bothers me.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying that you think American policy toward the Ukraine crisis has been unclear?

ANDREI KOZYREV: I think the policy was kind of a little bit different in words, and not followed up by deeds.

If you call something aggression, this kind of term, which is the strongest, it should be followed by something. But those, what they call sanctions, they don't match with this word. So, that's the problem, empty threats and empty promises, they are very, very confusing and counterproductive.

MARGARET WARNER: How much of what Putin is doing in Ukraine do you think is driven by NATO's expansion eastward, Russia feels duped by the West or that the West took advantage of its weakness in the early '90s, and violated promises and assurances not to move this military alliance ever closer to Russia's borders?

ANDREI KOZYREV: Well, I think my outlook of the world and my assessment of the NATO alliance is very different from that, because I don't think that NATO is an enemy of Russia in the first place.

And I think that re-creation the enemy image in NATO, that it was a big mistake, and that's the core of the problem. So if you see that NATO is an enemy, of course inclusion of members into enemy alliance is a threat. Advancement of enemy alliance to your frontiers is a threat.

That is what President Putin says, that is the enemy is advancing.

MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think what he is doing in Ukraine is so apparently appealing and popular with the Russian public?

ANDREI KOZYREV: Well, you know, there is a big force of propaganda. Let's face it.

It's a very strong instrument, especially if you control 99 percent of the media, and especially if you control TV, which is still, to a large extent, the channel of communication to the people in Russia. So, the propaganda machine is — has proved to be very effective recently.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it also speaks to something in the Russian soul? You don't think there's a strain of kind of chauvinism or nationalism?

ANDREI KOZYREV: No, I don't believe in chauvinism in Russia.

And the Russian people are not driven, I'm pretty much convinced, by this kind of racial or nationalistic in that terms. But, yes, they are vulnerable to anti-Western propaganda. And, again, it all feeds into the narrative that there is enemy, the West, the NATO, the United States, and the enemy is advancing. That's what Russian people react to.

MARGARET WARNER: So far, the U.S. and the E.U. have imposed limited, targeted sanctions on individuals in Russia. Are those effective at all?

ANDREI KOZYREV: They evidently hit a few people, but it's too small a number of people, and some of them — most of them, actually, are not public figures.

And the problem is that, you know, the propaganda portrays the West as an enemy, while Russian ruling class lives there in the NATO zone. They have villas. They have bank accounts by proxies or directly.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean in Europe or in the U.S.?

ANDREI KOZYREV: Yes, Europe, U.S. there, mostly in French and Italian Riviera, in London, in New York, Miami. So, if you want to convey something, you should convey it to Duma members. And those Duma members, they voted, actually, for the actions in Ukraine, both Crimea and Ukraine in general.

So, for the West to look credible, these guys should understand that they did something wrong, or they did not. In that case, they are welcome to spend a vacation at their villas in the West. So, I mean, there should be some consistency.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it different for you, who comes to the States a lot because you have a son here in school, to speak frankly about what you think President Putin is doing?

ANDREI KOZYREV: In a sense, yes, because, you know, you have to be mindful of the so-called patriotic fever which is today in Russia.

And it will pass. It will kind of come to normal sooner, rather than later. But in time of kind of hysteria, you should be mindful of that situation. And I want to keep my channels open to try to help to moderate the situation. So, yes, you have to be very careful.

MARGARET WARNER: Former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, thank you.