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tv   Inside Story  Al Jazeera  December 20, 2013 5:00pm-5:31pm EST

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>> this is al jazeera america. live from new york city. i'm david shuster with a look at today's top stories. president obama held his end of the year news conference addressing challenges such as the forwardable healthcare act, the immigration scandal and health care reform. he said he does not gauge his success with polls. more documents leaked by he had card snowden said that there was spying by the nsa. and a federal judge has just struck down utah's ban on
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same-sex marriage. it was called unconstitutional. 17 states now allow same-sex marriage. the united states is blocking iran from participating in a syria peace conference set for switzerland. they all decided on the syrian delegations and on the other countries who will attend the meeting. one of russia's foremost critics is now spending the night in germany. many believed he was imprisoned by trumped up charges. "inside story" is next. >> after the chaos of the post selsoviet 90s, russia and president putin wants everyone to know that they're pack.
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a resurgent russia is the inside story. >> hello, i'm ray suarez. when the soviet union died russia was a mess. it's economy was a mess. the ruble were plunging in value as were numbers and life expectancies. several former sel soviet membes went their own way. fast forward, boris yeltsin is
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dead, and yeltsine successor vladimir putin has reasserted russia's place in the world. >> russian president vladimir putin had a few surprises up his sleeve thursday as he announced the prisoner releases in his announcement. most notable, mikhail khodorkovsky. he has spent ten year in jail. he was found guilty of tax invasion in 2015 and i am bes embezzlementment in 2010. >> he's citing humanitarian reasons, his mother is ill. i think taking that into circumstances it is possible to make the relative decision. >> reporter: the russian president also announced a new amnesty bill which will free
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several political prisoners. prisoners not involved in violent crimes, minors, women, small children and first time offenders. the bill will grant release of greenpeace activists involved in an arctic demonstration and members of the punk group pussy riot who was arrested a. >> it was denigrating to women. >> reporter: pew ton cut neighboring ukraine's natural tax tax 30% and promised to helped the nearly bankrupt country $30 million. >> we just see that ukraine is in a difficult state, and it is necessary to support it.
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>> reporter: for almost a month now thousands of pro west ukrainians have taken over independent square in the country's capitol of kiev. they're protesting viktor yanukovych's decision to reject an agreement with the e.u. and instead tied ukraine to russia. many see that as a way to polish its image just before the world descends upon russia just before the owe olympics. >> we are the host country, and the main thing for us is to create equal conditions for all the sports men so every one of them, no matter which country he represents can show his best qualities, make our and his fans feel happy and bring significant contribution into the development of olympic movement. >> reporter: but in the background is a question of
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human rights. putin has been cracking down on the press and others against homosexuality. president obama will not be going to the sochi games and instead named two gay sports figures to represent the u.s. at opening and closing ceremonies. >> the fact that we've got folks like billie jean king or brian boyntano who everyone acknowledges their excellence and character who also happen to be members of the lgbt community, they should take that for what it's worth. >> and putin touched upon relations with the u.s. by absolutely addressing the nsa surveillance program. russia has been harboring leaker edward snowden for months, although putin said he never met
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him. >> i envoy president barack obama. i envy him because he's able to do this. there is not much to rejoice about all this, though, but on the other hand there is no big reason to be unhappy about it either. >> this is not the first time the russian president has tried to clean up his public persona, formerly head of the kgb, putin frequently broadcasts himself as an all around tough guy. publishing photos of himself hunting, fishing, riding horses without a shirt. shirtless or not, his gestures will have outcomes on the amnesty bill and an expected 2,000 people could be released from prison. >> is president putin's pardon of khodorkovsky a token gesture
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to western nations or something else entirely. here to talk about this question and others, katherine stoner and tamori yakamashivili. he's now a trans-atlantic fellow. katherine stoner, let me start with you. you heard what president putin had to say about his motives, what do you think this has t th? >> i don't think this has nothing to do with khodorkovsk khodorkovsky's ill mother. i think it has everything to do
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with the olympics. >> is it really that important? >> it depends on what you call state. it's a lot of money and the most expensive olympics. and the second stake is the participation. putin is expecting to have high level international participation, and that is exactly the reason, it's to give those leaders who want to come, but they cannot come under current circumstances. it's kind of a giving and, cues more than shap--excusing the shf russia. >> so they feel safer coming and they won't have to have public relations blow back if they
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visit russia during the games. >> yes, exactly. if you look at how russians behave from their imperial past, they amount certain problems, that this should not be a problem at all. then they start to sort one by one. khodorskovsky, the pussy riots, and the notorious arrest of the greenpeace activists people were very surprised. but those who are russian are not surprised. going back to normalities is doing a favor to somebody. in this case, people who do not belong to prison, it's a sign of normalization, but in reality it's a sign that putin want high level of participation in sochi
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because he's invest there. >> khodorkovsky literally went right from his cell to the plane and onto berlin. is part of he being free mean he is out of the country. >> i think so, that he will be completely out of russia, and therefore not being able to become a political leader. >> is he still rich? >> yes, he's certainly quite rich. we can see that there are organizations that are well off. >> katherine stoner, did people reign in their ambitions seeing what could happen from trying to
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fly too high in putin's russia? >> yes, he was really an example that putin made for the others. around the same time we have others like boris and those who control important media assets and oil and gas assets, and we saw them withdraw more and more from politics, and they had been warned by putin to stay out of politics when he came in as president in 2000 k.h.o.d.o.r.k.o.v.s.k.y. was warned, many others had left russia.
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khodorkovs ky stayed, and he took the risk of being arrested, and he was pulled off his plane and then the court cases from there. >> we're going to take a short break. and when we come back we'll talk about russia's moves and where it comes in conflict with the united states. you're watching "inside story."
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>> welcome back to inside story. i'm ray suarez. we're discussing a resurgent russia and vladimir putin on the stage and what it means for america's foreign policy. we've seen vladimir putin very much intervening in the east versus west battle inside ukraine, russia very assertive in the negotiations over iran's nuclear program over whether or not syria had chemical weapons, and once it was established how do they get it out of country. how do you understand what is going on now? >> well, i would rather emphasize the fact that russia
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has awful relations with lots of its neighbors. vermont putin is trying to come back to chemical arms with syria, and now with ukraine, but what this means for ukraine, it is that ukraine, indeed, becomes more dependent on russia financially, economically, and geopolitically. but it also means that neither russia nor ukraine would really benefit. this is a decision against reforms, against any corruption that is pervasive both in russia and ukraine, arguebly it would be worse in ukraine. >> temuri yakobashvili, you heard awful relations with the united states, and awful
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relations with europe. does it have to be that way? could russia have been a big power on the world stage and still have good relations with these big power centers. >> everybody including russia's neighbors, that is everybody's dreams, especially russia's neighbor's dreams that russia would be part of a bigger future. but russia is the best country to fill the vacuum. with the united states being on more defensive, or giving that impression, created the void that russians jumped in. it was in every single case being it in syria, being in the middle east, in iranian talks, ukraine, and many other places. russia is trying to fill the vacuum. that's historically how the russian empire was growing.
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there was a vacuum and russia was jumping in very aggressive and fill in. we can debate whether it is the right move or wrong move, i feel it is sustainable, but that is what is happening. i don't feel its good for the russian state because they're otherspending resources and focusing on outside than inside. but that's the russian leadership. >> katherine stoner when you look at the 1990's during the yeltsin period, is this a remi reminder to the russian people that their will can be exerted on the world stage. is this russia getting it's mojo back? >> sure, and actually i think that's a good way of putting in. i was in a conference in russia at the end of september that the
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administration runs every year. it's something that putin started up in 2003, the same year that khodorkovsky was arrested. it's interesting because seeing him there, it's a small setting. there are 50 or so foreign experts on russia invited, he has in this--this was impressed upon me this time more than any, he has a vision for russia. the vision is to reassert this country as a global power, superpower even on the international stage, and the sochi olympics are part that have. not just in terms of money, a lot of money has been invest in the sochi olympics, and a lot of of it has been corruptly embezzled as well, evidently, but he sees this as a way to put russia forward internationally and remind everyone that russia
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is back and wants to be on top. i think with respect to ukraine, this is another part of the plan. not necessarily to reconstruct the soviet union in terms of economic and political system, but to re-establish russia's preeminence over an area that it considers part of its natural domain, and the stakes in russia are very high in keeping the ukraine in the fold. this is why evidently $15 billion is the price russia is willing to pay to keep ukraine. >> anything else you wanted to say? >> i think that he's very good on public relations. that's what we're talking about today. khodorkovsky, the pussy riot girls, the greenpeace activists, and all this is done before the
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sochi winter olympics. it's very important for russia. russia expects to win them. but putin is a character who is a little bit of nationalist, a little bit of orthodox church, a lot of patriotic emotion. let's not go too far. beating up on america. but look at the economy. it's barely growing. the growth rate is at 1%. the russian economy is 10% of the u.s. economy. you see the military industry is in terrible shape. to spend more on their bad military equipment does not make sense. their war in georgia, how poorly their military functioned, and it has not improved. >> we can talk about what kind of power russia is going forward
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when we come back from the break. you're watching "inside story" on al jazeera america.
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>> welcome back to inside story. our discussion on vladimir put putin's rush. again we're joined by anders aslund, senior fellow at the peter's constitution for economic. kathryn stoner, and temuri yakobashvili at the german marshall fund. and just before the break we heard anders aslund talking about how russia is still a very poor country in comparison of its global rivals. it is not concentrating on
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becoming a richer country as far as it's people's standard of living. what do you make of this behavior? >> i think the shaefer there to hide the major problem that russia has, and that is an identity problem. they never transitioned into a nation-state, i can claim that putin is not a patriot of russian federation but something that would include form soviet union, but something else, probably eurasian union. and to put that in place, it' is partly an idea to be homophobic, and it's not a local kind of thing. he's now trying to gain more of
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the moral authority in those who opposed lgbt community. this is a part of a larger plan. isn't russia has not been a nation-state, for them it is a quest for identity. not only economy, oil, gas, pipelines or something else, it's very much part of their identity crisis, at only economic crisis. that's why because there was never russia that would fit into the existing borders and this is the country that has a problem with notion of borders, it's very problematic for georgia and other neighbors, that's still the process of the new russian identity. >> let me though that to kathryn stoner. are every day russians willing
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to remain poor compared to their western european brothers and sisters in order to live out this grand vision of something else that hasn't gotten here yet? >> i'm think the short answer is no, they're not. i would just want to point out just to give perspective. russia was growing rapidly between 200 2000 and 2008 gdp yr on year. well, isn't that the sell of natural resources and october tracting industries. it's not on the basis of productive capacity. >> right, exactly. that's the problem is that in those rich times they didn't diversify the economy, and putin is directly responsible for that. the russian economy has reached it's maximum capacity and it has
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to diversity. growth rate this year means a lot to the average russian. national i am iism is importan temuri is right, they talked about conservative values juxtaposing russia to the west in that regard. you can talk about values all you want, but you still have to earn a living. russians got used to earning a better living for eight or so years, and now in the long run hence forth it's difficult to see how that would continue in their economic trouble. >> the 1.4% economic growth rate, for those who want more, does butting heads with the united states and the u.n.
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security council. >> yes, the falling economic growth, the economic decline, that is the serious problem that i think we should focus on. >> well, i'm wondering what happens--what happens now? should we look for short-term changes, or is the table for the world pretty much set for the near term? >> i think short term president has a very stable situation that is politically controlled. this is more of a system, and a authoritanauthoritarian state. oppression is not much. but you can't organize opposition. >> that brings us to the end of this edition of inside story. "inside story," thanks for being with us. in washington i'm ray suarez.
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>> sir charles, the round mound of rebound. he is one of the best players and biggest personalities to ever play the game. basketball star charles barkley was a dominant force on the hardwood, but he's also known for his entertaining and sometimes controversial commentary, from sports to politics and social issues, he everything. i sat down with the nba legend termed emmy award winning analyst when he was in new york. >> well, with the nba season starting, i know you are in hand demand. first of all thank you for taking some time to talk to al jazeera. i remember years ago when you were still playing, it seemed

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