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Russian Hacking Controversy; Syria Cease-fire; Trump Garners Iraqi Fans; Remembering Stars Lost in 2016. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2016 - 02:00   ET



CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Vladimir Putin decides not to retaliate against new sanctions. This as a U.S. power company finds evidence of Russian malware on one of its computers.

The Syrian cease-fire makes it to another day but we are now hearing from opposition groups that there have been numerous violations of the agreement.

Plus the U.S. secretary of state faces criticism from the U.K. prime minister over the question of Israeli settlements.

Hi, everyone, a warm welcome. Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta and CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


VANIER: Just hours after Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that he would not be taking any immediate action over new U.S. sanctions, we are now hearing that Russian malware has been discovered on a computer belonging to a U.S. power company in Vermont.

Investigators believe it is the same type of malware recently used to hack into U.S. political institutions. More on that in just a moment.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin stunned Washington on Friday when he said he would hold off on expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia. He said he will wait to see what Donald Trump does as president.

Trump applauded the Russian leader's decision in a tweet, "Great move on delay by Vladimir Putin. I always knew he was very smart!"

For the latest, here's CNN's Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A caravan of vehicles spotted leaving this Maryland compound used by Russian diplomats, headed for the Russian embassy in Washington.

The evacuation come after the Obama administration ordered the shuttering of the site along with a similar compound in New York and told 35 alleged Russian spies to leave the country within 72 hours.

In a surprise move, Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared to shrug off the administration's action.

After Russian officials promise a series of, quote, "countermeasures" would be announced today, Putin changed course, saying in a statement, "We will not create problems for American diplomats. We will not send anyone away," even if sending this unusual invitation to the children of U.S. diplomats there, saying in a tweet, "I invite all children of the U.S. Diplomats to the New Year and Christmas children's show at the Kremlin."

Signed, "Yours sincerely, Vladimir Putin."

The Russian president's decision not to retaliate contradicting his foreign minister, who proposed expelling U.S. Diplomats in response.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The U.S. Administration, without any facts or proof declared a new wave of sanctions against the Russian Federation. We cannot let such escapades happen without a response.

JONES (voice-over): Putin appears to be waiting for President-Elect Trump to take office signaling once again that he expects to have warmer relations with President Obama's successor.

Meanwhile, the White House is defending and explaining its moves.

LISA MONACO, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: We are putting forward a set of actions designed to respond to and impose consequences for Russia's aggressive activity. So included in that is this expulsion of these intelligence officers.

JONES (voice-over): As for these operators kicked out of the U.S., the Russian said Russia was sending a plane to bring them back home.

JONES: Now among those expelled some based on the West Coast, the Russian consulate in San Francisco, tweeting a statement, condemning what they call "an unfriendly and completely unjustified step being taken by the outgoing administration."

Speaking of the outgoing administration, President Obama's critics on Capitol Hill have been slamming him for what they call "years of failed policy" toward Russia, starting with his attempt to reset relations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, President Putin appears to be pushing for another reset with the incoming Trump administration. All this setting up a foreign policy challenge for Obama's successor, even before day one -- back to you.


VANIER: OK. Let's turn back to that Russian malware found at that U.S. power company.

Burlington Electric in Vermont has released a statement, saying, "We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding. Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems."

And Vermont senator Patrick Leahy is also responding. This is what a part of his statement says.

"This is beyond hackers having electronic joyrides. This is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter. That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly."


Richard Anderson is a professor of political science at UCLA. He joins us from Los Angeles via Skype.

We have been talking about this since --


VANIER: -- yesterday, Richard. Yesterday you were telling us that the back-and-forth of sanctions between the U.S. and Russia was mostly political theater with little real impact. Let's talk about this new development.

If it does turn out that Russia is trying to hack into electrical grids here in the U.S. doesn't that move the needle?

RICHARD ANDERSON, UCLA: No. I don't think so. My guess is that both countries are hacking into each other's grids. Part of political theater is to promise to protect people against war and, you know, if a war happens to, in fact, want to be prepared.

And for many years the Russians have been engaging in a variety of covert operations in Western Europe, in the United States, to prepare in advance for the possibility of a conflict.

That doesn't mean that they mean to conduct such a conflict. It just means that they are going through the preparations. Armies train; weapons are produced. Everybody gets ready for the war that they hope will never happen.

VANIER: OK, but let's consider potentially the political impact for Donald Trump.

Do you think the president-elect, soon to be president, can stick to his line of better relations with Russia after this?

ANDERSON: I think he can. I think the thing to say is that part of his negotiation with the Russians will be to get an agreement on both sides to stop doing this sort of thing. I think that agreement will be very hard to enforce. I think it will be carefully worded so as to allow a lot of it to go forward.

I also have always thought that there are limits to how close the United States and Russia can cooperate. Those limits are set by the bad news that's going to continually come out of Russia: bad news human rights violation, bad news underhanded conduct, crime, corruption.

All of these things are going to make that relationship tense all the time. But it doesn't have to degenerate. It just will be a certain amount of stress.

VANIER: How do you interpret Vladimir Putin not taking new measures, new retaliation against the U.S., despite dozens of Russian diplomats being expelled on Thursday?

ANDERSON: Well, one of the things that's happened in the former Soviet Union and Russia in particular has been a religious revival. And, you know, the Russians are Christians or that's the state religion, at least, and Christianity tells you don't hit back.

So this is a chance for Vladimir Putin to grab the moral high ground and, I think, he's taking it.

VANIER: All right. Richard Anderson, professor of political science at UCLA. Thank you very much for your insights.


VANIER: Turning to the Middle East, we have this just in. Several people are dead and wounded in Baghdad after an attack.

A Baghdad operations command spokesman said two suicide bombers set off their vests on a commercial street. The general said the area was crowded. So far it has not given any more details about the exact number of people either killed or hurt. We will continue to monitor the story and bring you more as we get the information.

Now to neighboring Syria, where we are just getting word that the fragile cease-fire has been violated more than 30 times. That's according to leaders of two opposition groups.

So far the new violence has not threatened the agreement. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that at least 10 people were killed on Friday, nine of them just northeast of Aleppo.

Still, though, officials are hoping that this could be the beginning of the road to peace in Syria. Our Muhammad Lila has the latest on the cease-fire.


MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have now officially passed the 24-hour mark since the cease-fire began and all of the indications on the ground are that the cease-fire, however fragile it might be, is holding at the moment. There were reports of sporadic clashes around the country, outside of Damascus and in the countryside, in other locations but none of the groups on the ground, the militant groups that were fighting or Syria, Turkey, Russia, Iran consider those sporadic clashes to be a violation of the cease-fire.

And this is critical because the first few hours and the first few days of the cease-fire will determine how well and how deep this cease-fire is taking hold. So the first day, if it's any indication, is certainly a positive sign.

Now if the cease-fire does hold for the next several days and weeks, the plan is for there to be long-term peace negotiations and those talks will involve Turkey, Russia, Syria and Iran.

Of course, those are the major players with very deep interests in how the Syrian conflict plays out. The Kremlin earlier on bypassing U.S. President Obama and speaking directly to U.S. President-elect Trump, saying that Trump would have a seat at that negotiating table if he chose to take it.

And at that negotiating table, they are --


LILA: -- expected to discuss the prospects for a long-term and a permanent cease-fire as well as the future of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

We know in the past that Bashar al-Assad has been a red line for the Iranians, the Syrians and the Russians, saying that he is the leader of that country and should not have to step down.

Turkey, of course, since day one, has said that Assad's future is nonnegotiable. They insist that he needs to step down in order for there any kind of political settlement.

Now Assad's future aside, the most important thing that all of the observers are watching is whether this cease-fire will hold and so far, based on just the first 24 hours, it appears that it is holding -- Muhammad Lila, CNN, Istanbul.


VANIER: On the diplomatic front, Russia is asking the U.N. Security Council to endorse the new cease-fire in Syria. The Kremlin, along with Turkey and Iran, brokered the deal between the Syrian regime and several rebel groups. Russia is now seeking a vote of confidence from the United Nations and asking that the vote on its resolution take place on Saturday morning.

The U.S. secretary of state's backlash over his speech on Israel: coming up after the break, what the U.K. prime minister had to say about John Kerry's tough talk.




VANIER: Welcome back.

Police in Rio de Janeiro are calling the death of the Greek ambassador to Brazil "a crime of passion." Investigators are holding the widow of Kyriakos Amiridis (ph). She is accused of ordering a military policeman, said to be her lover, to kill her husband. Police say the man's cousin also helped out.

Amiridis (ph) has been missing since Monday. His charred remains were found on Thursday in a burned car outside Rio. Brazilian news reports that Amiridis (ph) had been appointed ambassador last January. So far, no charges have been filed in his death but all three suspects are under temporary arrest.

The U.S. State Department says it is surprised by the backlash from the U.K. prime minister over American statements on Israel; given how close the U.S. and the United Kingdom are, this is highly unusual. Sara Sidner has more.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More diplomatic fallout after the U.N. resolution that condemned Israel for settlement activities, saying that it is an absolute impediment to peace and against international law.

The United States abstained from that vote; the U.K. voted for that resolution. And now, though, we're hearing the U.K. criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Prime Minister Theresa May coming out, saying she feels like he focused too intensely on the settlement issue when there are many issues here that are keeping peace from being able to happen and keeping a peace deal from coming to fruition.

And so she condemned Mr. Kerry for his comments. But then the U.S. State Department responded, saying they're very surprised to hear this from Prime Minister May because it is a longstanding British policy.

And they indeed voted for this very resolution --


SIDNER: -- condemning Israel on the settlement issue.

So you're seeing these rows go on with different countries and Israel certainly very angry about the U.N. vote and angry with the countries that voted for it as well as the U.S. for abstaining, because it allowed the resolution to be put down on paper and go through.

But in the end, these are, for the most part, allies; the U.S., Israel and the U.K. And Israel said, while it sees the Obama administration going out, they'll be happy to see another administration coming in. And that is the Trump administration. We saw Benjamin Netanyahu today, putting on his Facebook some compliments, if you will, to Donald Trump for the way that he talks about the Israel-U.S. relationship --Sara Sidner, CNN, Jerusalem.


VANIER: With his hostile rhetoric about Muslims, Donald Trump may not be an obvious hero to many Iraqis. But in the country's Kurdistan region, the U.S. president-elect has an unlikely fan base. CNN's Ben Wedeman has this story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At three weeks old, little Trump isn't bothered by his pesky brother, Rasheed. Yes, you heard right. This is baby Trump. Trump Hassan Jamiel (ph), to be precise, born in Kyrgyzstan.

The father explains what's in a name.

"I called him Trump," he says, "because Trump is charismatic and has clear policies. That's why he won the election."

This man heard Trump say he was a big fan of Kurdish forces calling for the fight against ISIS. In his honor, he named his recently opened fish restaurant in the city of Dohuk after the Donald and even designed the catchy logo.

In Iraq's murky waters, Trump has inspired some here to hope he'll also make Kyrgyzstan great again.

WEDEMAN: This fish is your standard carp. It's the way it's cooked, it's called masgouf here in Iraq. It is big-league popular. And this is a catch fit for a president.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): There's no flip-flopping here. It takes just 45 minutes for the carp, a bottom feeder, to go from the tank to cutting board to grill to plate. No time wasted.

"What I admire about Trump's personality," he says, "is that he's decisive, tough and hopefully, with that toughness, he'll finish off ISIS."

This man shrugs off as mere campaign rhetoric Trump's pledge to cast a wide net banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

He even wants to open a branch of his restaurant near the White House, Maybe Trump will invite him in.

Here's one man ready to serve the incoming administration -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Dohuk, northern Iraq.


VANIER: All right. Looks like Ben had fun with that and he also got a free meal.


VANIER: Pedram Javaheri, meteorologist at the CNN International Weather Center, you are going to talk to us about this continuing story in China, the severe smog. They have issued a red alert.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Correct. Red alerts, which are something we don't see every day, even considering how poor the air quality is in this region, Cyril. When you talk about red alert, businesses have to be shut down and

cars have to be taken off the roads, based on their license plates. Scenes like this out of the central business district in Beijing in the past 24 hours and, unfortunately, it is slated to continue at least the next couple of days across the region as the air quality doesn't look to improve because of the weather pattern over the region.

It has improved slightly in this last couple of hours. Still about 10 times dirtier than what is fit to breathe by the World Health Organization that is sitting at the AQI or air quality index of 235.

What's the culprit?

We know the culprit is coal. Almost 70 percent of the energy consumption for the country comes from coal. You think of China in particular, in the past couple of years, they have consumed on the order of 400 million tons of coal every year. The rest of the world combined, a little over 300 million tons of coal.

Again, one country taking over as far as the consumption of coal. Fascinating studies have been done. From the year 1950 to the year 1980s, free coal was distributed north of the Wei (ph) River. That's the line where temps on average in January and February are below freezing.

So the government was actually giving free coal out just to allow people to stay warm across the region. But it almost became an accidental experiment almost because they were doing to help save lives by keeping folks warm.

We know now since that time, since 1980, across that same region, 55 percent higher population --


JAVAHERI: -- in the region. We know life expectancy is cut on the order of about 5.5 years for an average person living in that region and consider the amount of coal being consumed in that region.


VANIER: Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, 2016 saw many deaths in the music, TV and sports worlds. We look at the numerous pop culture legends that we lost this year. Stay with us.


VANIER: We've been keeping tabs on mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey. And she has suffered yet another crushing defeat. Amanda Nunes of Brazil battered the American to a technical knockout just 48 seconds into the first round in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Nunes keeps her UFC bantamweight title. But Rousey has now hit a roadblock in her comeback. She was such a dominant fighter that she became the face of the sport for a while. But this was her first fight since her stunning loss (INAUDIBLE) 13 months ago, a defeat which Rousey says left her feeling suicidal for a time.

If you are wondering what a 48-second fight is like, that's about the time it took for me to say all of that. Very short.

From David Bowie at the start to Debbie Reynolds just days ago, it seems 2016 has been a year of unusually tremendous loss. Nick Glass remembers some pop culture legends who died and how they impacted our lives.



NICK GLASS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Debbie Reynolds in her first starring role, luminous and so young, much like her daughter, Carrie Fisher, in her first screen role.

Cassius Clay, as he then was, was a teen when he won Olympic gold.

George Michael, 19, when Wham took off, the same age as Debbie Reynolds when she stepped out in "Singin' in the Rain."


GLASS (voice-over): We lost so many stars in 2016, enough for a crowded tribute in the style of Sergeant Pepper. We lost Ziggy Stardust and David Bowie's many other persona; the original Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder, and the last of "The Magnificent Seven," Robert Vaughn.


GLASS (voice-over): We were left with so many indelible movie memories, Carrie Fisher as a feisty Princess Leia in --


GLASS (voice-over): -- "Star Wars."



GLASS (voice-over): Alan Rickman as pantomime villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Prince of Thieves..."


GLASS (voice-over): -- and from the Pink Panther films, the character actor, Burt Kwouk, forever testing Inspector Clouseau's martial arts.


GLASS (voice-over): David Bowie's death in January at 69 was the first shock, a profound, almost personal loss for his many fans, who have grown up with his music in the 1980s. Bowie himself was evidently well aware of his own mortality.


GLASS (voice-over): The things only got worse for the MTV generation, Prince gone at 57 in April.


GLASS (voice-over): We remember him in his purple pumps, diminutive guitar genius, prolific singer-songwriter.

And on Christmas Day, we lost George Michael, found peacefully in bed at home at just 53.

With 2016, us middle-aged (ph) newspaper pundits, the year the music died.



MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXER: I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean I make medicine sick.

GLASS (voice-over): Once, Muhammad Ali was probably the most recognizable face on the planet. Dogged by Parkinson's disease for over 30 years, he'd long fallen silent. His death in June at 74 had been expected for years but still somehow marked the end of an era.

In November, the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen faded away at home in Los Angeles. He was 82. Creative to the end, he gave a last interview to "The New Yorker" and released a final album.



GLASS (voice-over): These were just some of the stars we lost during the year. In the hours after Bowie's death, the song most played by fans was "Heroes." It helped lift collective spirits.


VANIER: And just a few hours left on 2016 now. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.