Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Shot Down
Aired July 17, 2014 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us. It is a very busy and frankly a very grim night.
Breaking news on two fronts with each one bad enough in itself and each with broader global implications. The shootdown of a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine. The question now who's responsible? How did it happen? And the Israeli ground defensive in Gaza now underway.
We begin with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and the search for who did it. Who is responsible for the loss of nearly 300 lives in a brief instant aboard an airliner over eastern Ukraine? The plane cruising at 33,000 feet one moment, pieces on the ground the next. That is the scene.
Wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 bound for Kuala Lumpur from -- from Amsterdam. And in that field of twisted metal, the remains of 298 men, women, children. Three of them we now know infants. In all, 283 passengers, 15 crew members, 298 souls on board, 154 Dutch, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysian, 11 Indonesians, unclear how many if any of the rest were American. The list at this hour is incomplete.
So is our information about who ended their lives. We want to be very clear about that. Who tracked the plane? Who aimed the missile? Who launched it and on whose behalf?
The fact that it happened in the heat of a civil war that many believe was fomented and fostered by Russia's Vladimir Putin adding another dimension to the tragedy, potentially making it in the words of one analyst today a game changer.
President Obama spoke today with President Putin and Ukraine's prime minister, as well.
We're going to examine of course the geostrategic dimensions in our special two-hour live coverage tonight. We'll look at what the intelligence community knows about what happened and hear from people who lost loved ones in what we began as just another routine flight.
COOPER (voice-over): Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 departed Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. local time, 298 people on board, 283 of them passengers, the rest crew members. The flight's path took the jet over Central and Eastern Europe before continuing on into Asia. At 2:15 Ukraine's air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft while it was cruising at 33,000 feet.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, EARLY START: A Malaysian Airlines flight with about 295 people on board has crashed we are told.
COOPER: Its last known location in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine, about 30 miles from the Russian border, an area ripe with fighting between Ukrainian military forces and pro-Russian separatist.
This video shows the moment of impact, parts of the plane crashing into a field. Debris scattered for miles, personal belongings still intact on the ground. A reporter at the site described the horror.
NOAH SNEIDER, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Debris I'm seeing, there's body split up in fields. People said the plane kind of exploded in the air and everything rained down into bits and pieces, the plane itself, the people inside.
COOPER: President Obama was notified on the phone by Russian President Vladimir Putin as initial reports began surfacing and pledged his support in any way possible.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I've directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government, the United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why.
COOPER: A U.S. official later confirming to CNN that the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. And exactly who fired that missile is still unknown. Ukraine's prime minister quickly laid the blame squarely on separatists.
"We do not call it an incident or a catastrophe," he said, but a terrorist action.
There were already warnings for passenger planes flying over parts of Ukraine. The FAA had banned all U.S. commercial flights from flying through the Crimea region in April because of the ongoing conflict. But no such bans existed for flights over this part of Eastern Ukraine.
COOPER: Certainly not at this altitude. Now before the flight began a darkly ironic image and a message. Take a look this. It's a picture of the plane at the gate purportedly taken by a passenger about to board. He posted online with a reference to the still missing Flight 370. Translated it reads, "In case it disappears, this is what it looks like."
As always, we have experts on every angel tonight. Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto with the breaking news, aviation correspondent Richard Quest is here with me in New York, Philip Mudd, veteran counterterrorism official of the CIA and FBI, and safety analysts David Soucie, author of "Why Planes Crash: An Accident Investigator's Flight for Safe Skies."
Jim, let's start with you on the security angle. U.S. intelligence saying this was a missile strike. How is it they know that?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Two pieces of evidence, one U.S. assets in the region detected what appeared to be a missile system, radar locking on to this plane before it disappeared, and two, other U.S. assets detected the heat signature, which would indicate a missile rising from the ground into the air and then striking this jetliner.
So those two things lead them to believe it was a missile strike but as you say, they have not determined who was behind the missile strike.
COOPER: Phil, at this point in terms of what the intelligence community is trying to do, I mean, not just U.S. intelligence, obviously it's intelligence agencies from all around the region trying to draw a picture from all the data points.
Can you kind of paint us a picture of how that works?
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: Sure, we've been looking throughout the day at one sliver of intelligence, and that is things like the thermal footprint, whether something that was fired was picked up on U.S. intelligence systems or, for example, whether there was radar that picked up a launch. There is a bunch of other slivers. One of which would be communications among commanders, not only before but in my experience after this, especially if this was an accident, people start to talk.
And U.S. intelligence collectors, people like the National Security Agency, NSA, will pick up the rebels if they did this talking about what just happened. So I suspect the intelligence is still rolling in. One more piece and that is what we call human, human intelligence. Do we have sources within the Ukrainian opposition who have access to commanders who can talk about this.
My one guess, Anderson, is that 7:00 a.m., 6:30 a.m. tomorrow on the president's desk will be a piece of paper that offers a fairly clear picture of what happened here, whether or not the White House is telling us yet.
COOPER: And I'm sure, I mean, we have already heard Ukrainian officials claim that they had intercepted phone conversations that indicated conversations between separatists and even Russians.
Do you think it's going to take a long time to actually figure out where the missile was launched from and who is responsible, who actually pressed the button and gave the order? Is it possible to find out the actual launch trajectory? To Phil?
MUDD: I don't -- I don't think it'll take that long. My guess is by tomorrow, again, whether or not we're hearing a White House speak to us or the Pentagon, that they will have a pretty clear picture not only from technical sources, things like whether they saw the launch trajectory but from human sources who are talking about this. So I think the president is going to have some decisions to make tomorrow. One more thing, Anderson, we haven't talked much about. When you look
at intelligence capabilities, there are very few countries that have the tremendous capability to do things like follow missiles. One of those is Russia. If I were in the CIA now and I spent 25 years there, I would also be putting a piece of paper on the president's desk that says the following.
This is our assessment of the technical capabilities the Russians have in this military area and the knowledge that Putin has about what happened here, and I'll close with what I think the conclusion will be. President Putin has got to know at this hour what happened because they had Russian intelligence services have a tremendous capability on the ground to collect information about this.
COOPER: Richard, if this was in not a contested area, the crash investigation would have already probably begun in terms of international group or even the local country, Ukraine in this particular instance but Ukraine doesn't -- officials don't have access to this site. It's held by separatists. That's a hole in the layer into this investigation.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: A very worrying layer. Because you not only -- at all sorts of levels, at the public health level, because unfortunately there are now humane remains that are there. At an investigating level because you want to get the wreckage so you can start to look and see what the implosions like --
COOPER: Not just the black boxes but data recorders and the actual wreckage itself.
QUEST: You can tell a huge amount in that. And then you want the black boxes, you want the flight data recorder, because you want to see what failed and what sequence and how quickly. You want the cockpit voice recorder so you can hear what expletives and what was said in the cockpit, and what other noises happened at that moment.
So the mere fact that this is not a secure, sterile site at the moment is of concern and that's why the rebels -- offer to have a ceasefire so that they can go in and see it. It will be something that has to be looked at and taken care of.
COOPER: Rebels and insurgent have said themselves they want international investigators. Whether or not they actually do or not is another thing entirely.
QUEST: So you're looking at an environment where it would be European country, an American -- whichever one that would do the investigation.
COOPER: Right. Certainly not Russian authorities or Ukrainian authorities ideally, and certainly for the family members on board.
COOPER: That's not something that they would want.
David Soucie, I mean, you've been involved in a lot of crash investigations. When we spoke earlier, you raised an important point which is don't jump to any conclusions that this was being shot down by a rocket, by a missile, and in fact, you pointed to the video of what we believe is the actual crash where you don't see a trail of smoke as the plane is plummeting toward earth and that made you question whether or not the plane in fact had been shot down.
Now we're hearing from U.S. authorities saying in fact that is the case, it was shot down. What do you think it counts for the lack of a smoke trail here?
DAVID SOUCIE: Well, there's a couple of things that could have happened, depending on where the missile exploded at obviously, but we've also done some research since I spoke this morning about it in that if the fuel vapors are not vaporous, if the tanks aren't empty enough then the explosion would happen and that the actual vapors of the fuel itself are not -- are exposed and out before the flame starts and then the fuel without being vaporized can actually stop that flame from occurring so it actually kind of extinguishes itself because jet fuel in itself when it's in liquid form is not flammable.
It's the fumes that are flammable. So that would explain it. But I -- but the point I think this morning was more important to me was, as you said earlier, not to jump to conclusions. At this point I would offer not to jump to conclusions as to who fired that missile certainly, and that's the next step.
COOPER: Phil, in terms of the weaponry involved here and David Soucie just alluded to it, you know, we all think of a missile actually striking an aircraft. My understanding on the Buk system, which is this Russian system, that is very possible as the one that was involved here, it's actually not a factor of the missile itself, the warhead hitting the plane but actually detonating prior to hitting the plane and the plane is actually struck by a whole variety of things that are inside that warhead.
Is that your understanding?
MUDD: Yes, I think that's correct.
SOUCIE: Yes, yes, it is.
MUDD: And I think one of the -- one of the -- I'm sorry.
COOPER: Go ahead, Phil.
MUDD: (INAUDIBLE) question is going -- one of the other questions you need know to ask, Anderson, and one of the clues here is what didn't happen. My guess is --
MUDD: Whoever fired this had to have significant expertise. These are not the terrorists I used to chase. They were pretty limited. They could fire a surface -- a shoulder-fire missile, pretty basic. This is a military system that requires expertise, but if whoever fired it didn't know that that was a civilian aircraft, that suggests to me that they weren't hooked up enough to an air defense system like the Russian air defense system to track the aircraft. That tells me, maybe rebels.
COOPER: Jim Sciutto, your thoughts on that?
SCIUTTO: Well, just one thing to add. There is another evidence trail here and oddly enough, it's on social media and this is something that Ukrainian officials cited to me early in the day that a separatists militant at the time that this plane was shot down tweeted that he had just shot down what he thought be a Ukrainian military transport, an Antonov or an AN-26, and added the ominous warning in his tweet, you know, don't fly, we warned you before, don't fly through our skies.
Those tweets were later deleted and then, of course, you have the denials from the militants that they shot this plane down but in the panoply of evidence and clues that's out there now in addition to, as you mentioned, Anderson, the intercepted telephone conversations that Ukrainian intelligence has put out between militants and a Russian agent at this plane was shot down, you have a tweet of all things from one of these militants as this plane was shot down believing that it was Ukrainian military transport.
COOPER: And add to that, Jim, we should point out, of course, that that insurgent have actually claimed credit for shooting down other Ukrainian military aircraft over the last several days.
SCIUTTO: That's right.
COOPER: As always, we're going to be turning to the panel throughout the evening. So stick around.
Next, what an eyewitness saw. It's an extraordinary account. You're going to hear from one of the few Western reporters actually on the scene of the crash when our extended two-hour coverage of 360 continues tonight.
COOPER: The images are just -- it's sickening to contemplate. The wreckage of Flight 17. CNN investigative producer David Fitzpatrick recently took that very flight, he took the video at the gate, same flight, same model aircraft, identical in every respect to the one that was shot down just today.
And as we mentioned the pieces fell into the eastern Ukrainian countryside into rebel-held territory. Our Nic Robertson has just arrived in Ukraine's capital Kiev. He joins us tonight.
What do we know about the investigation on the ground as it stands right now if we can even really call it an investigation? Because as of several hours ago when I talked to somebody who was actually at the crash site they were talking about, you know, separatist soldiers basically combing through the wreckage, not really trained investigators.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what the government is saying is that it took a number of hours indeed, they said it's only been six, seven hours now that the five separate rescue and investigation teams were allowed into the area. Of course the government doesn't control the area. These investigators are saying that they are hampered by the wide area of the debris that's strewn over.
They are hampered, they say, by the armed groups who are getting in the way of their work. These intercepted phone conversations have already indicated that part of the debris is being looted and taken away. We've seen pictures of people standing on parts of the aircraft, the crime scene is contaminated, and the government doesn't have jurisdiction. So really for a thorough international investigation, it seems hard to envisage at this moment how that can happen -- Anderson.
COOPER: Do we know at this point -- one of the reporter I talked to and we're going to play that interview shortly early in the day talked about locals trying to recover the bodies of those who had died, trying to kind of gather them together, also marking off the spots where other people had been found with white flags.
Do we know any more details about how the people themselves who died are being cared for? Are there facilities there for this number of fatalities?
ROBERTSON: It's just not clear to us, at least here in Kiev, at the moment how that's being handled on the ground. What we do know from a separatist is that they variously called for humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire but -- in different calls from different groups asking for this help to deal with the situation, the bodies and the investigation. And they don't speak with one voice.
There have been different separatists groups that have said the black box has been recovered, should be sent to Moscow, yet you have the president of Ukraine saying the responsibility at the moment for what's happened lies with Ukrainian government. So the situation from what we can see here where the government is in the capitol is a very confused and unclear picture -- Anderson.
COOPER: Nic Robertson, appreciate you being there.
Now as I mentioned earlier I spoke with one of the first people on the scene, a freelance journalist named Noah Sneider. Listen to what he saw there.
COOPER: I want to go to Noah Sneider, who is an American freelance journalist, who I'm told is actually on site.
Noah, where are you exactly? SNEIDER: We are in a village a little ways north of the city called
Torez. It's kind of long, long road and a big wide field where the debris and the wreckage in the plane is kind of split up. And there's still emergency service who's working but it's getting pretty dark. So folks are trying to wrap up for the day.
COOPER: Who is in control of the site and what are you seeing?
SNEIDER: The site is controlled directly by the separatist DPR, Donetsk People's Republic, forces. There's some rebels coming down the road. But I think most people here have been searing battles with the Ukrainian forces for a few days now who are stationed not far down the road. And -- I mean at the moment I'm not seeing much of anything, it's pretty dark, but when you get to here, it's a gruesome scene.
There's bodies up played out in the fields. People said the plane kind of exploded in the air. And everything rained down in bits and pieces, the plane itself, the people inside.
COOPER: How intact is the debris that you saw earlier? I mean, how long --
SNEIDER: It's pretty burned. It's going to be -- nearly impossible to establish with any certainty what happened here. And there is a few, sort of engine rudders, big huge metal pieces that are still intact, but for the most part everything is burned up and charred, and scattered over a few kilometers through these fields.
COOPER: How wide a field of debris are we talking about?
SNEIDER: I mean, it's hard to say with certainty but nearly five kilometers. It's a pretty wide radius. And the debris starts kind of up the road, there's a tail fin, and you come a little bit further down and you see the place where the emergency services crews have set up a base of sort, some firefighters and rescue teams. And they're kind of in the center where most of it landed. There's a white tent up in the field where they're collecting bodies.
But you kind of wonder through these open fields there's not much of anything, there's a chicken farm nearby, and chicken factory someone said. And then these little sort of Ukrainian villages. Dilapidated homes and not much of anything.
COOPER: So an effort has been made and is being made to collect the remains of those aboard.
SNEIDER: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely, people are -- rescue teams have been going to the fields for the last few hours, marking where bodies are, applying little white cotton ribbons to sticks. So when you walk through the fields, if you see one of those, you know that's where a body is. But there's still a lot, I mean, 295 people on this plane, I know that they found all of them yet. And it's too dark now really to do much more work. And people are
trying to figure out at the moment what to do with the site for the night. Like I said, it's kind of an open field, it's unclear. They don't know what will happen overnight, and it's going to be really difficult for anyone to secure this in a way that would be certain that no one can come in.
COOPER: We've seen images, Noah, of passports, travel book for Bali. Are people's possessions clearly visible? Are they clearly retrievable?
COOPER: Are they scattered all about?
SNEIDER: It's visible, they're visible and they're being collected. That's one of the things that these rescue teams are doing. But I mean, if you -- as you walk through the field, when you see the bodies, you see, you know, a man with a -- his cracked iPhone sticking out of his pocket, and these -- sort of people's -- I mean clothing everywhere, most of it is kind of ripped off by the air.
And there's some suitcases and stuff in a pile along the road. One fighter was telling us that not to touch them, that was, you know, the thing we notice the most. People have been flying and just, you know, this thing -- Russian movies, and so they've been finding lots and lots of those.
COOPER: And Noah, is an effort being made to collect the passports, to collect identity documents?
SNEIDER: Yes, I mean, they're trying to collect everything they can, but first and foremost the bodies. I think that's -- my sense is that the rescue crews' number one priority right now. Collect as many bodies as they can and gather them under these tents, gathering point. And some people are picking up personal effects. Some people are walking straight by them.
It's also -- you know, keep in mind it's kind of -- it's a long, long grass, like I said again, a really wide field, so finding things like passports is not a chance.
COOPER: Noah, I appreciate you talking with us. I know this is a horrific scene.
SNEIDER: No, absolutely, thank you very much.
COOPER: And I appreciate the way you've handled it and communicated it to our viewers, thank you very much.
Noah Sneider, an American freelance journalist who's on the scene of this crash.
COOPER: It's hard to imagine being there. Coming up, if it was indeed a missile that brought down this flight,
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, we want to take a closer look at exactly what type of system we are talking about and how it could bring down a passenger jet with 298 people on board at some 33,000 feet. That is next.
COOPER: As we've been reporting, the United States has come to the conclusion that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was in fact shot down. That according to a senior U.S. official who tells our Barbara Starr that two different systems picked up signs of a surface-to-air missile right around the time the plane went down.
Right now we want to take a closer look at what type of system could have done that and how it can bring down a passenger jet flying at that altitude at that speed.
Tom Foreman joins me now with more on some of the mechanics -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, to answer those questions, first of all, you have to look at the geography of where this plane was, the circumstances, as it was flying over Ukraine, we know that it was around 32,000, 33,000 feet above the ground at that moment. We also know that it was about 31 miles or so away from the Russian boarder here. So you can't shoot this down with a shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile like we see in so many pictures.
You need something much more robust. You need something like this. This is the BUK anti-missile system. As you can see it holds four people and highly mobile and has four ready to launch missiles on it. It can go from a roll to a stop, setup and fire a missile in 5 minutes and those missiles can acquire a target and fire in 22 seconds.
So let's talk about the power of the missiles themselves. Let me bring one in and talk about this. It's about 16 feet long in real life. I've made it a little smaller to get it into the picture here. About 16 feet long, each one will weigh about 1500 pounds. The war head at the tip of it about 154 pounds of high explosive. It doesn't actually have to hit the target.
If it simply gets close with that much explosive up there, it can do tremendous damage, but it has a guidance systems on it that is operated from vessels on the ground, which track the target, that's what U.S. officials were able to track this system looking for a target out there and guiding this toward it.
And look at the speed because this really matters. This top speed 2,684 miles per hour, that's more than three times the speed of sound. It is much, much faster than an airplane like this, which is about 500, 600 miles an hour that means if this is the type of system that hit it and it almost certainly has to be something like this, the people on board may very well have never even seen it coming -- Anderson. COOPER: Tom, thank you very much. Fascinating information. Back with the chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, national security analysts and former CIA officer, Bob Baer and also, aviation analysts and private pilot, Miles O'Brien.
Bob, when you look at that BUK system, how much training would somebody need or multiple people need to be able to operate that?
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: You would need a lot, Anderson. It's a sophisticated system tracking an airplane at that altitude, not like a shoulder fired weapon that would take a week training. So it was a crew that worked together that could track an airplane like that, especially at that altitude of 33,000 feet. You know, this is Russian trained crew now whether they were answering to a Russian unit or Ukraine decedents or even a Ukrainian unit, I can't tell you. It takes a lot. This was a skilled crew.
COOPER: We should point out the Ukrainian military itself, they most likely, do they have these systems, as well?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They do have those systems. One reason we know they do is because Ukrainian officials have told me that they had a system like this, a base in Eastern Ukraine. It was over run at the end of last month, end of June, June 29th by pro-Russian separatists who took Ukrainian officials say took control of one of these BUK missile systems.
When they did that, they advertised it on Twitter. There was a Russian television story about it so there are pictures out there of Russian militants taking control of this. That's one reason why Ukrainian officials say they believe it was a BUK missile system that took this plane down. The other reason they site is because they say it's the only missile system with that capability in that area.
That's just their own conclusion. But those -- that is the missile system at least Ukrainian officials have been pointing to since really just the moments after this plane went down.
COOPER: Also, I just want to be very clear, often early information turns out to be incorrect and so I just want to be careful. We do not know for a fact it was a BUK system. Certainly, it had to be more than a shoulder fire weapon. Miles O'Brien, how difficult is it to tell whether or not an aircraft at 32,000, 33,000 feet is in fact a military aircraft or civilian aircraft? Whoever shot this down, my understanding is it's very possible they could have thought they were shooting down a military aircraft, correct?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, but if it walks like a duck, it usually is a duck, and this was the profile of a commercial airliner, 33,000 feet, level on a corridor where commercial airliners would be. Now admittedly, this aircraft was flying a little more to the north than it did in previous days because of some weather, but basically, military aircraft have an enhanced transponder capability. It's identification friend and then all others.
And this would fall in the category of all others. Then it's up to the crew to look at the blip on the radar and say does this look like something that has hostile intent? If you have a crew inexperienced or trigger happy or aggressive, they might make a decision to shoot first and ask questions later.
COOPER: Bob, do you agree with that? Again, because Miles did raise the possibility that, you know, you shoot first and ask questions later. I'm just trying to think of why from a strategic stand point, separatists, anybody involved in this conflict would intentionally shoot down a civilian aircraft from a strategic standpoint, I don't see an argument for anybody doing this intentionally, do you?
BAER: You know, on the face of it, no, it makes no sense to us, but you have to look at the Russians for instance trying to provoke a true fallout war and don't intend to give it up. What disturbs me right now is the Russian media has been saying that this was an attempt on Putin, which, you know, if the Russians truly believe that, this is a reason to go to war, to actually send troops into Eastern Ukraine.
As I've been saying, Putin will not give that area up. He continues to arm the decedents and I don't know what he's capable of. I don't think we'll ever find out for sure. We don't have enough intelligence agents on the ground and the people that really know what happened are the decedents or the Russian military.
COOPER: Appreciate all you being with us. More ahead on the context. Months of violence in Ukraine. New American sanctions on Russia, we'll take a look what is behind the conflict in Ukraine and talk more about how it bears on today's tragedy. We're live until the 10:00 hour tonight.
COOPER: We have a breakdown of the nationalities of those who lost their live about Flight 17 today. Here they are on the screen, from the Netherlands 154 people, Malaysia 43 people, 15 of them were crew members, Australia 27, 12 of the passengers were from Indonesia, nine from United Kingdom, four from Germany, four from Belgium, three from the Philippines, one from Canada and unverified 41 people, it's not clear where the nationalities are from, if any were American, we simply do not know at this point, that's total of 298.
Earlier in the day, the death toll was thought to be 295 but that was revised to 298. As we said earlier, the downing of the plane has global implications. Here is what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a short time ago in an interview with Charlie Rose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There does seem to be growing awareness that it probably had to be Russian insurgents. How we determine that will require some forensics, but then if there is evidence pointing in that direction, the equipment had to have come from Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down one day after the U.S. imposed sanctions on some of Russia's biggest companies including its largest oil producer. Sanctions sparked by Moscow's failure to curve violence in Ukraine. Now Ukraine erupted back in February as you remember when anti-government protests in the capital of Kiev turned deadly and President Victor Yanukovich was ousted.
Weeks later, pro-Russian armed men seized government buildings in the southern region of Crimea. In March, Crimea voted to become part of Russia. Russia denied sending troops into Crimea and President Putin also denies unrest in Eastern Ukraine where Flight 17 was shot down.
Joining me now is our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour and former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, who I spent time within Kiev earlier this year. Christiane, how much does this change the conflict in Ukraine based on what we know? Is this really a game changer, potentially a game changer?
CHRISTIANNE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly it is. It depends though in which direction. I mean, look, if it is proved and some of your guests have said that it may never be proved where exactly these missiles shot from at this plane. If it is proved that it is pro-Russian separatists or even from the Russian side of the boarder, God forbid, then that would be a massive game changer.
And let's just say what we do know. It's not just the Ukrainians who are accusing the Russians or rather the pro-Russian separatists, but over the last couple days, you've mentioned the U.S. has added sanctions on certain individuals and certain targets inside Russia.
But also the Europeans, Iron Lady Chancellor Merkel, who is really taking the lead here in Europe said again this week that President Putin hasn't delivered, hasn't delivered on the peace proposal, the new Ukrainian president has offered, has not stopped the flow of fighters and weapons into Eastern Ukraine.
And I spoke to the Ukrainian foreign minister, just happened to speak to them at length yesterday and he started off by telling me exactly what was coming across the border and he included anti- aircraft missiles as well as tanks and the like. So this has been going on not to mention that three Ukrainian planes have been downed since June 14th. So there is a pattern that we know here.
COOPER: And Jill, you think this actually could be a really fatal blow to U.S. Russia relations.
JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN BUREAU CHIEF: There is no question if there is any relationship left. Really, it's the end of the road, I think, if there was one drop of faith that Vladimir Putin was really sincere that he wanted to bring this to an end, whether justified or not, I think in Washington that is gone and I think ditto for Moscow. I really do think that Vladimir Putin has basically given up. I mean, publicly, he would say let's keep trying to bring
people together peacefully, but when it comes down to it, I don't think he believes that the United States or the west want to do much of anything. And I think Anderson, one of the dangers here is that there is no -- that there is a lot of, let's call it serendipity, there may be a better word.
But Vladimir Putin wants to crank up the discontent and then kind of let it simmer and bring it up, crank it up again when it is useful to him in order, originally, to damage the Ukrainian government. Now, it may be that he's cranked it up so much there is no way even he can really stop it.
He can stop the weapons, of course, he can close the boarders but the people who are carrying out things like this, yes, definitely, but even if he did, there are a lot of people in that conflict zone right now out of control and who want -- who are taking things into their own hands and it's dangerous.
COOPER: And Christiane, that there had been kind of a change in the capabilities of Ukraine's military just in the last several weeks, not necessarily in this region, but in other parts against the separatists.
AMANPOUR: Well, here is the thing, we go back to Crimea. The Ukrainians basically made a decision not to take on the Russians. The Russians who came in and annexed Crimea. Why? Because they knew they couldn't fight the Russians and win. We have spoken about this from the beginning of this crisis. There is no way Ukraine would voluntarily get itself into a war with Russia so it didn't.
It stopped and did not take on Russia in Crimea. After President Parashenko was elected and overwhelmingly so including a majority of people in the east, he then decided to try for a peace process, plus he did go on an offensive there against the separatists, not against the Russians. So the Ukrainian capability that you talk about was against the holdouts where they did take back the city of Slavyansk.
And now those separatists have gone back to Donetsk and making their stand here. So that's where they are concentrated, but the president says the president of Ukraine says he's been trying since he was elected to them, we'll talk, and we want a peaceful end to the process.
COOPER: Christiane Amanpour, thanks for being with us. Jill Dougherty as well.
We'll going to continue to bring late developments on this throughout the next two hours, throughout the night. We're on until 10:00 tonight. We'll have a lot more from Eastern Ukraine on downing of this aircraft.
Next, the other breaking news tonight, major escalation in the Middle East. Israel moving to Gaza. We'll take you there on our special expanded edition of "360" continues.
COOPER: Welcome back, the other breaking story today, of course, with far reaching implications, after 10 days of airstrikes, bombings and intense fighting, Israel has now launched a ground operation in Gaza. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister ordered the ground offensive just a few hours ago.
Netanyahu's media advisers says the point is to destroy tunnels from Gaza into Israeli territory, the kind of tunnels Hamas tried to use to infiltrate Israel just this morning. Hamas is condemning the ground action and says Israel will pay a heavy price for it.
Joining me now live is Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem and Ben Wedeman in Gaza City. Ben, let's start with you. What have you been seeing on the ground in Gaza? Does the air offensive continue as the ground invasion is underway?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, Anderson, we've seen sort of a lessoning of the air activity in the last few hours with, of course, the exception of some air strikes very close to our office here in Central Gaza, one building about 400 meters away from here was hit about half an hour ago and according to reports from the hospital, five people were wounded there.
But more than the air activity, what we're seeing is fighting to the north, it appears that Israeli troops have come in into the northern part of the Gaza strip. We've been seeing a lot of flairs being fired there and also behind me along the eastern boarder behind the neighborhood in audition to further south according to some reports, Israeli tanks have reached the main north south highway in Gaza.
And if they are going to follow the same pattern from back in January 2009, they may be going all the way to the sea. What they did then was cut the Gaza strip in half. So we're definitely seeing a lot more action and basically since about 8:00 p.m. this evening, we saw a real intensification of air strikes and what sounded like artillery and tank fire as well -- Anderson.
COOPER: Wolf, you've been talking to Israeli officials there in Jerusalem, what does Israel hope to accomplish with this?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": They hope to destroy as much of Hamas infrastructure, stockpiles of the rockets and missiles, but primarily the first objective is to go after these underground tunnels that they built. One was opened up this morning on the Israeli side tunnel built from Gaza into Israel.
The Israeli showed video of the destruction of that tunnel earlier. They say they killed 13 Hamas infiltrators. Hamas denies those 13 were killed. In any case, the Israelis say their mission right now is to do on the ground what the Israeli air force, F-16s or F-15s can't do.
They have to go on the ground and military commanders, including a spokesman for the IDF, told me it's not just hundreds of Israeli ground troops but thousand have already gone in. They've already mobilized 50,000 reservists and indeed another 20,000 are about to be mobilized. This is a pretty significant military operation.
COOPER: Ben, obviously, you have been there before when Israel has come into Gaza. The risks for a ground operation like this on both sides are great.
WEDEMAN: Yes, of course. Keeping in mind that Gaza is a very crowded place and what we saw for instance in 2009 is even those areas where the Israeli troops went in and avoided the really crowded areas, but there are people living everywhere here. There were areas where we saw just one house after another completely destroyed. The roads ripped up and, of course, very high civilian casualties and that is of course the danger, as well.
Now for the Israelis, of course, they are entering into territory with the fighters, whether they are Hamas, the popular front for the liberation. This is their turf. They know this area very well and Hamas has made it clear that they believe or they are confident that just as they have been able to increase the range of their rockets.
That their ground forces are better trained now, better trained now than ever before, so they are saying that they will be able to confront the Israeli troops, but we'll see if that's actually the case.
COOPER: Ben Wedeman, be careful. Wolf Blitzer, as well. Stay with us for another hour of 360. We'll have more what is happening in Gaza and Israel and the latest information that continues to come in for us on the shoot down of Flight 17. We'll be right back.