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U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Russia for Election Meddling; Syrian War All Began Seven Years Ago; Bashar al-Assad's Role in Reducing Syria to Ruins; U.K. Identified Military Grade Nerve Agent as Novichok. Aired 11a- 12n ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: In the United States fresh sanctions on a number of Russian companies and individuals over claims of meddling in

the 2016 U.S. election. Among those targeted, the man known as Vladimir Putin's chef who has already been indicted by the Mueller investigation.

Yevgeny Prigozhin is accused of funding the Russian troll farm that created social media posts targeting U.S. voters.

All this on the same day that British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the city where a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned

by a nerve agent. Moscow accusing the U.K. of ignoring international law and jumping to conclusions. And Russia says it is considering retaliatory

measures in response to Theresa May's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats among other steps.

CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is in London. CNN's Abby Phillip is in Washington with the very latest from there. And Abby,

today's sanctions list includes all the people and entities, in fact, indicted by Mueller and his investigation. The president, of course, has

dismissed that probe as a witch hunt. So, how does this work?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Becky, I don't know if you can hear me. But these indictments come at a time when the Trump

administration is really facing a lot of pressure. Especially in light of this brazen attack in the U.K. to finally say what a lot of the

international community is saying, that Putin and the Russian regime right now needs to be condemned. Now, the sanctions are using the Mueller

indictment clearly as a jumping off point now that there are legal proceedings moving forward against those individuals. The Trump

administration is finally putting in place the sanctions that have been mandated by Congress for quite some time now against those individuals.

Now, as you just pointed out, the Mueller indictment specifically said that the internet research agency and those individuals were trying to help the

Trump campaign and hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign. That is a conclusion that President Trump and a lot of folks in this White House have been

reluctant to say and now that these sanctions are being placed on them, they're still not actually repeating that part of the Mueller indictment.

But it becomes untenable for them to no longer take action against Putin, especially at a time now where U.S. allies in Europe are looking to the

United States to step up their action against the Putin regime.

Now, White House officials and administration officials have been saying for months, they've been working on this issue and they've been saying

counseling some patients on the part of their critics in Congress and the public saying that they are looking for the best way to move forward. Now

we see a first step on the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but of course, Democrats on The Hill are likely to look for even

more as we move forward -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Nic, given what is going on in the U.K. and what Theresa May has done in her efforts to address these alleged Russian interferences in the

U.K., one assumes that she will be pleased to see some support out of the U.S.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, absolutely. I mean, what she will hear and what she will take away from these new

sanctions by the United States will be a very warm, pleasant feeling. This is the message that she wants to get across to Russia, the message that

they cannot act internationally without impunity. And that has been bolstered even before these announcements coming from the U.S. Department

of the Treasury by a statement, a joint statement, that was issued from the White House, from 10 Downing Street, the Chancellor, Angela Merkel and the

President of France, Emmanuel Macron.

And that joint statement says that this use of a military grade nerve agent by something that is a type developed by Russia constitutes first use of

such a nerve agent in Europe since the end of the second world war. They say that this is a threat to all of us. They say that all the information

they've received from the British government so far persuades them that there is no other likely cause of this other than Russia, and they are

taking a very firm and united position.

[11:05:00] So, this is what Theresa May is looking for. Of course, acting alone, expelling 23 Russian diplomats is hardly going to bring Russia to

its knees. However, a combined international response, and a loud joined- up message followed by actions would be precisely the sort of support that she wants to have, that she feels, and the others appear to feel now is

necessary to curtail Russia in what her defense minister here today called Russia's ripping up the world rule book.

ANDERSON: Nic, we haven't seen this sort of action by the U.K. against Russia in years. When you step back and take a look at what is going on

and how you have described the support from the Europeans, we are now seeing support from Donald Trump as well. How would you describe the state

of relations?

ROBERTSON: I would say that there's an international feeling that's coalescing that sort of come to a crux, if you will, with the poisoning of

Sergei and Yulia Skripal. And this international feeling was expressed then by the White House in a statement last night that Russia said -- they

say that Russia doesn't -- Russia doesn't abide by the sort of international norms of international law. And this isn't just from this

poisoning, but it comes from the way they acted in Ukraine, crossing the border with troops there. It comes from the way that they annexed Crimea.

It comes from the way that they've interfered in the U.S. elections, interfered in other elections. And what we're beginning to see is in

essence the international community coming together because of this issue to draw a line, a very clear line. It has fallen, really, to Theresa May

in Britain to take this position but very quickly, other international partners have come into line behind her.

ANDERSON: And Abby, we are just getting lines now that Donald Trump says, and this is being reported by Reuters, we should hear this shortly, that it

looks like Russia was behind the poisoning of these -- this former spy and his daughter in the U.K. How significant is that?

PHILIP: I think it's quite significant, Becky. This White House initially when they were asked this question they did not forcefully condemn Russia.

They didn't name Russia at all in response to this attack. And it took an additional day for them to finally put out a statement that identified

Russia as being responsible. Some tough words coming from Nikki Haley, the U.N. Ambassador, on this issue, but to hear it from President Trump's mouth

is significant. This has been a president who has been reluctant to call Russia out --

ANDERSON: All right, Abby, hold on. Let's hear from Donald Trump himself on this. Standby.

(WHITE HOUSE PRESS CONFERENCE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have property there, and I may never get to see it again. But I know --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you play golf.

TRUMP: I do play golf and you play golf, right?

LEO VARADKAR, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: I don't but I 'm always willing to learn. So, you can take me for a few rounds.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to go to the border with Northern Ireland?

Well, that's an interesting border also. We have two interesting borders. One happens to be where you are. Right?

VARADKAR: That's correct.

TRUMP: It's going to be interesting to see what happens. It's my great honor to have the very popular Prime Minister of Ireland with us, and we --

we 're having some good talks about trade and about military and about cyber and all of the other things that we're talking about. The

relationship is outstanding and only getting better. And it really is a very special group of people. A tremendous number of Irish are living in

New York where I grew up, and they're living in the United States and these are truly wonderful people. We love them. And Mr. Prime Minister, great

to have you.

VARADKAR: My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

VARADKAR: So, I'm going to be in New York on Saturday.

TRUMP: Oh, good.

VARADKAR: For the parade, so marching on Fifth Avenue.

TRUMP: That's good I'd like to do it with you. I don't know.

VARADKAR: Does it pass Trump Tower?

TRUMP: It does. It goes right by Trump Tower.

VARADKAR: That's good.

TRUMP: I used to watch it all the time. I would watch it all the time. So, you'll be there on Saturday?

VARADKAR: Yes. So, a lot of my -- a lot of the American side of my family came through New York. They're all in New Jersey and Florida now.

TRUMP: All right.

VARADKAR: Some will be at the reception later.

TRUMP: That makes sense. And this is the first time in the Oval Office?

VARADKAR: It is. I was telling President Trump I was here before as a congressional intern back in 2000, but they didn't let me into the Oval

Office on that occasion.

TRUMP: And now we do. We made great progress. Thank you. Thank you for being with us.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any comment on the Russian sanctions, Mr. President?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- who was behind this Mr. President?

[11:10:00] TRUMP: It looks like it. I spoke with the Prime Minister, and we are in deep discussions, a very sad situation. It certainly looks like

the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen, and we're takin it very seriously, as I think are many others.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any more staff changes coming, sir?

TRUMP: Well, the story was very false. I mean, they wrote a story about staff changes today that was very false. We made a wonderful change. I

think Mike Pompeo is going to be an incredible Secretary of State. We have some wonderful ideas. I've gotten to know a lot of people over the last

year. I 've been to Washington for a little bit more than a year where some people have been here for 30, 40 years. I've gotten to know great

people. So, there will always be change but very little. It was a very false story. It was a very exaggerated -- a very exaggerated and false

story.

But there'll always be change and I think you want to see change. And I want to also see different ideas. Larry Kudlow just came in a little while

ago and I think Larry is going to be outstanding as economic adviser. So, we look forward to it. But we'll talk to you about it later. Thank you

very much, everybody. Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Thank you, everyone.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why don't you come to Ireland next year, Mr. President?

TRUMP: It could happen. That could happen.

You may be able to help.

I look forward to being there. It's a great country. I guess I have received a formal invite.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will you visit the border?

TRUMP: I'd go to the border.

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

Say hello to the people. Great people.

ANDERSON: Donald Trump there at a meeting with the Irish Prime Minister their saying, and I quote, it certainly looks like the Russians are behind

the poisoning of the former spy in Britain.

Let's bring back our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, who is in London. All this, of course, on the same day that the British Prime

Minister Theresa May visited the city where that former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent. Abby Phillip is

still with us from Washington. Nic and Abby, saying quite significant this support from Donald Trump, outspoken and in front of media.

ROBERTSON: There will be a real sense that it's taken a long time for President Trump to be even this declarative about President Putin -- and he

didn't use President Putin's words -- but Russia as being responsible. You know, for any malfeasance it's clearly something that troubles him to use

that kind of language. So, it will be recognized that this is the strongest he's been on this issue and on Russia on the subject of -- on its

malfeasance, if you will. What this will mean for Theresa May, it will reassure her that the support isn't just coming from the State Department.

It isn't just coming from the spokes people at the White House. This is coming from President Trump. That will be reassuring.

But what will equally be reassuring for her is that joint message today came from allies in Europe whom she is trying to negotiate Brexit with at

the moment. This a very painful and difficult process. So, to have the backing of France, the backing of Germany at this time as well is key.

Obviously, these are words, this is a statement. Theresa May will be looking to take that and move forward. Her national security adviser,

Sedwill was at NATO today, in Brussels at the Atlantic Council meeting there today. Again, putting Britain's point of view forward, explaining

what Britain knows at the moment about the use of this nerve agent. But again, trying to build that broad international consensus that it's going

to take, they believe, to effectively send a message to Russia, cease and desist this type of activity.

ANDERSON: Abby, this is a U.S. president who has been criticized, wholly criticized, for his unwillingness to criticize Russia in any way, it seems.

And given the cloud over his administration that is this Mueller -- Robert Mueller investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 elections,

just how significant a moment is this?

PHILIP: Well, Becky, as you just mentioned, this is a president who has constantly, it seemed, conflated Russian interference in the 2016 election

with the legitimacy of his own election, and so he has been very reluctant to criticize Putin. He's been very reluctant to even have some of these

conversations in public that a bipartisan consensus in congress says that the United States needs to have.

[11:15:00] And I should add to everything that Nic just said that this is also a president who there were questions about months ago, did he really

stand by the NATO charter that essentially says, an attack on one is an attack on all. This is essentially an attack on British soil that is

extraordinary and brazen as Theresa May said, and the United States' allies have been looking for the White House to step up and say, we believe you

and we are going to stand by you at this moment.

The president finally did that, and I think it's very important. It is reassuring at a moment, especially for a president who has really shaken up

some of these long-standing alliances and beliefs about how the United States acts when it comes to its allies and when it comes to Russia.

ANDERSON: Abby Phillip is in Washington. Nic is in London. And we 've had the NATO secretary general speaking out today. He said this is the

first offensive use of a nerve agent on alliance territory since NATO's foundation. All our alleys agree that the attack was a clear breach of

international norms and agreements, he said in Brussels. And he goes on to say, this is unacceptable, this has no place in a civilized world. NATO

regards any use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security.

Well, Irish media reporting that the meeting between the Irish Prime Minister and the U.S. Vice President, Michael Pence, will be behind closed

doors. He and Mike Pence will attend a traditional St. Patrick's Day breakfast on Friday, an event that is usually open to the media. But

remarks by the two leaders are now banned from being recorded. A decision reportedly made by the vice president's office. Now, the Irish Prime

Minister is openly gay, while Pence has been criticized for his views on gay rights.

Busy hour for you here. We're going to take a very short break, but still to come, a bloody battlefield, a battered, bruised, and brutalized

population. How Syria moved from civil strife to being fought over by world powers. This is a conflict now seven Years in. Is there an end in

sight? That after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TEXT: serious civil war has been raging for seven years. Here are the defining moments of CNN's coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: 2011. They're chanting peaceful, peaceful around this massive Syrian flag.

[11:20:00] You will notice that some people have scarves on their face or other things. They're telling us that it is because they want to hide

their identity. They're afraid that Syrian security forces if they see their image will come and detain them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: 2012. On the road to Zabadani, it feels like we're entering a war. We cross to the anti-government side, follow Arab

League monitors through twisting streets into the town center. After more than an hour, as the monitors inch their vehicles through the crowds, more

and more press forward. They don't want the monitors from the Arab League to go, telling them soldiers will use their tanks to fire on the town as

soon as they leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: 2013. A plowed over lot in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka, this is actually a mass grave with the bodies of many of

those killed in last week's alleged chemical weapons attack. There's very little space left as one resident shows us and that space might soon be

occupied with many unidentified bodies in the local field hospital. A lot of them children. Residents say the alleged chemical attack happened in

the middle of the night, killing many in their sleep while others struggled to escape like 6-year-old Abdul.

After the chemicals hit, they woke us up and told us to put masks on, he says. I told my dad I can't breathe. My father then fainted, and I

fainted right after that.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 2014. From the ground level inside the city, you can see what months of fighting has done,

absolute devastation. It's almost impossible to imagine this city sustaining life at any time in the near future. But still the fighting

persists. The shelling almost constant, so much of it caused by crude homemade devices like this.

It is the graveyard that tells you about the near future and the more distant one. A trench dug for the dead they expect next to those they have

already buried. Headstones from rubble. Again, a morbid playground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: 2016. There was just an air strike here in the town of Ariha, so we're now driving very quickly. It's not clear yet

what was hit, but we are hearing that there are still planes in the sky.

(voice-over): Arriving on the scene, our team found chaos and carnage. The strikes on Ariha that day killed 11 people, among them a woman and two

children. Rescue workers wasted no time in clearing away the rubble. And this ugly war, massacres have become routine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: 2018. Yasa's tiny chest heaves with each breath. He was born during a week that even by Syria's ungodly standards

was especially punishing. The hospital he was at was bombed. The footage from that night is a glimpse into the magnitude of the horror, the fear.

Hanan watches her baby fight in one of the last remaining facilities where he even stands a chance. But what kind of a world are these babies

fighting to live in?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: We get you to that raging war now, that of battlefield Syria, the carnage there still so raw. Right now, we are getting in these

shocking live pictures. This, an exodus happening right now in an area right outside the capital pummeled for weeks. We'll explain more in a

second. But if such pictures seem ordinary, then words seem to fall flat to describe what is going on. So why don't I give you a single number. A

single number with two grim meanings.

On today, exactly, Syria's war has erupted on for seven long years. Seven years of merciless fighting and through each of them, we 've worked out

every seven minutes, a man, a woman, a child killed. That's as far as we know. The number could be higher.

As ever, we are connecting the world for you on Syria. Ben Wedeman following every day of that war. He's in Beirut for you tonight. Jomana

Karadsheh in Jordan. Why the hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled there across the long border, the countries they share. So, let's start

with you, Jomana. This war has gone on for so long that it's almost hard to remember how it all began. Remind us.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you recall, Becky, the first couple of months of 2011 were just incredible. It seemed like that myth of

the Arab strongman, the Arab regimes was being shattered by ordinary people. And so, you had that domino effect across the region.

[11:25:03] But when it comes to Syria, what is remarkable is what is actually considered to have been the spark of that uprising.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARADSHEH (voice-over): It might be hard to believe this is how it all started. Peaceful protests demanding freedom and dignity. Even harder to

believe why it all started.

It was an active teenage defiance. 514-year-old boys did the unthinkable. They spray painted anti-regime graffiti on their school's walls.

MOUAWIYA SYASNEH, ARRESTED FOR GRAFFITI (through translator): My friends and I used to stand on the corner of our school and the police officer

would prevent us from moving freely. We saw the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt where they were writing freedom and down with the are regime.

So, we wrote on the walls too.

KARADSHEH: Mouawiya Syasneh was one of the 15 boys rounded by the security forces in the city of Daraa. Their families protested, demanding their

release.

SYASNEH: They took me at 4:00 a.m. during the dawn prayers. I was asleep. They woke me up, handcuffed me. They told my parents they will

bring me back. It was a terrifying feeling. They took us to the police station where they tortured and beat us. They also break my friend's

fingers.

KARADSHEH: As protests spread across the country, they were met with bullets. Violence escalated, and the country slowly descended into the

seemingly endless civil war. The streets of Daraa old city, where it all began, now stands scarred. Years of battles have left this destroyed

southern city split between the regime and opposition fighters. Daraa seems an abandoned city. Half its population is believed to have fled the

war. Syasneh is now another boy of Syria's lost generation. Going to university, a distant dream for this rebel fighter who lost his father to

the violence. If he could turn back time, he says he would spray paint that graffiti again.

SYASNEH: I don't regret what I did because we were only calling for freedom. It is the regime that turned it into a war, destroyed the nation,

and killed the people.

KARADSHEH: How it all started, a chapter for the history books. Now, it's hard to imagine how it all ends.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARADSHEH: And you know, Becky, for the past few months, Daraa has been relatively quiet. That's after that de-escalation agreement was reached

between Jordan, Russia and the United States last summer. But over the past couple of days, we've received reports of airstrikes on Daraa. A very

ominous sign people there are telling us for Daraa they feel that it might be next on the regime's list of territory, that shrinking territory that's

under rebel control that the regime is reclaiming.

ANDERSON: Jomana is in Jordan for you tonight. Ben's in Beirut. And the Syrian government wants the world to see this video, Ben, of its softer

kinder side, if you will. Its own state TV showing its own troops helping let people out of Eastern Ghouta. Here, one even carries a baby out to

safety. But it's troops like those from the Syrian regime, supported by the Russians, who have been smashing the place to pieces for weeks now.

That's why you're looking at what is an exodus feeling your screen. Some 10,000-people running for their lives within just hours. And so, the war,

Ben, it seems, is far from over.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, this war, I think, one phase of it is slowly coming to an end, and that is the phase of the regime

with the help of Russia, Iran, and others is to crush the opposition. But then we are moving quickly into another phase where you have on the ground

in Syria, Turkish forces, American forces, Russian forces, Iranian forces in addition to Kurds who are independent from the government, supported by

the United States, and the Syrian regime. And slowly we are seeing that the lines separating those foreign forces in Syria are becoming ever

thinner.

You had, for instance, earlier this year, that Israeli F-16 that was shot down by the Syrian forces. And so, as the opposition and ISIS are being

crushed, you still have massive foreign forces in Syria who are very close to a hair trigger when it comes to conflict between them.

[11:30:00] It was described -- I heard it described this morning as a mini world war within Syria itself. It could be very much a part of that next

phase. So yes, we're finishing one phase but the next one could be even more dangerous Becky.

ANDERSON: Appreciate it Ben, thank you. We have mapped out the war then into three arenas. Arena one where we just were the regime attacking

rebels, the same true up near Idlib in the east arena two. That's where the war on ISIS has been playing out. Back towards the north, arena three,

a fairly new extremely intense front in what is this multifaceted conflict.

Well, in retrospect, it seems improbable, even inconceivable that soft spoken ophthalmologist who once practiced in London would go on to unleash

one of the worst wars this century. We will profile the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: And just after half past 7:00 in the UAE. I'm Becky Anderson. This is our special coverage of the war in Syria. We have heard so many

horrific numbers about the dead and wounded, the civilians forced to flee their homes. And children who've grown up knowing nothing but war.

[11:35:00] And yet as this conflict enters its eighth year, the world is still essentially a bystander. With Russia's help, the Syrian president,

Bashar al-Assad, may eventually be able to win this brutal civil war that began as a peaceful uprising. But what kind of nation would be left for

him to rule. CNN's Nic Robertson reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): President Bashar al-Assad has all the traits of an old school dictator. He is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of

thousands of Syrians, but it's not how he sees himself.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: My enemy is terrorism. The instability in Syria. This is our enemy. It's not about people. It's not about

persons. The whole -- it's not about me staying or leaving. It's about the country being safe or not.

ROBERTSON: To his loyal followers, Assad is a bulwark against a threat of radical Islamist terror. Before the war, many in the West thought he was a

bulwark against instability sweeping the region. He trained and practiced as an eye doctor in London. Was thought to be more sophisticated than his

brutal father, Hafez, whom he replaced 18 years ago.

But it was a sham. When faced with peaceful protest, he called in the tanks. Assad had never expected to lead Syria. His tougher older brother,

Bassel, who had been groomed to be president died in a car crash in 1994. Once the civil war got under way, Assad's family, in particular his younger

brother, Maher, a feared military commander, stiffened his resolve for a long, bloody fight.

Iran and their Lebanese proxies added their punch, backing Assad's forces with weapons and troops. Then, Russia, detecting a lack of Western will,

flew to Assad's rescue with massive air power, turning a tide of battlefield losses to strategic gains. While hospitals were crushed, and

civilians starved and pulverized under their brutal bombing, areas under Assad's control escaped the worst ravages of the war. Compare the center

of the capital, Damascus, Assad's official home, with Eastern Ghouta less than ten miles away.

In his rare appearances, Assad, occasionally accompanied by his wife, appears unruffled by the mayhem they are spawning and in even rarer

interviews, he sounds as callous as he is blind to the facts under his knows. This, in 2011.

ASSAD: The only thing that you could be afraid of as president to lose the support of your people. That's the only thing that you can be afraid of.

ROBERTSON: And this, six years, hundreds of thousands of deaths later.

ASSAD: The suffering of the Syrian people, the humanitarian interaction between me and every city and my family who died, who only died. This is

the only thing that could deprive me from sleep from time to time. But not the Western statements and not the threat of the support of the terrorists.

ROBERTSON: Despite unanimous U.N. Agreement to transition Assad out of power, peace talks in Geneva are failing to unseat him because he is

winning the war. His big backers, Iran and Russia, have too much to lose to let him go. Assad may bridle at the moniker dictator, but no other

world leader now in power has so much of his countrymen's blood on his hands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: A conflict that has raged today for seven long years, Nic joining us now live with more. He is currently in London. And Nic, what

is next for Bashar al-Assad and what's next for Syria?

ROBERTSON: In the immediate term it looks like more of the same. Certainly, it doesn't seem that he's about to leave power. The sort of

transition if you could call it that or the adoption or add-ons of something different in the way to run Syria as the Russians would see it,

would be some of the very weak opposition figures. Obviously, that's something that the United States, Great Britain, their allies and partners

believe is not a tangible lasting solution, in Syria. Because it would just -- if you don't have a more balanced leadership of the country that's

agreed by all parties on all sides in this war, if you don't have that, then the peace won't last, and it will all break down and the fighting will

continue. So, in the near term, more war, Assad continues to hold onto power.

[11:40:04] It's not even clear, even if Russia was to suggest to him it's time to move on, that he would do that. The expectation is he would call

on Iran to weigh in even stronger in his favor. But there really isn't a hint of it. At the moment, you get the sense that Russia wants to move the

U.N. Peace talks in Geneva on to their own territory. Manage them in the way that they'd like to manage them. We're not expecting any change in any

of this until after President Putin's reelection. That's coming up this weekend.

And beyond that, now, I think with the changing international scene towards Russia at the moment, Russia is going to be less willing and less open to

the West views on what should happen in Syria. We know that the United States is beginning to make stronger statements about the use of chemical

weapons in Syria. Absent real moves towards peace. And there aren't any. It's more war, more of the same.

ANDERSON: Well, that's a depressing picture, Nic Robertson is painting but sadly it seems a very true one. Nic Robertson is in London for you today.

Now this war is so massive that -- well, you need to go up, way up to catch it. Into space. We've got some satellite photos to show you now. This

Homs before the war. Bright colors from trees and cars, large buildings, busy streets, it looks like anywhere. A living city and then fast forward

to -- well, right now. Streets turned into gun ranges, houses into hideouts, Homs in gray scale covered in the shattered dust of its own

destruction, and it's not just in Syria. Here, an empty patch of desert in Jordan where we just were with Jomana, now the site of a sprawling refugee

camp, population some 80,000. We can find many more images like that and incredible insight tracking Syria's descent into what seems like "HELL ON

EARTH" on CNN.com. That is CNN.com.

Coming up, the chemical weapon Novichok is making headlines after the U.K. says it was used to poison an ex-Russian spy and his daughter. We'll hear

from the American reporter who broke the story of the deadly nerve agent's existence. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: You're watching CNN. This is CONNECT THE WORLD. I 'm Becky Anderson. It is about a quarter to 8:00 here in the UAE. Welcome back.

I want to get you back now to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the deadly nerve agent allegedly used in the attack. Novichok was

developed in the Soviet Union decades ago.

[11:45:00] And has been described as one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever made. Will Englund is an American reporter who broke the story of the

nerve agent's existence in the '90s after interviewing the Russian scientists who worked on what was then the secret project. Englund is now

an editor of the "Washington Post's" foreign desk and joining us now from Washington. And it was what you describe as a brave Russian scientist who

told you about Novichok, the nerve agent identified in this spy attack. Explain, if you will.

WILL ENGLUND, FOREIGN ASSIGNMENT EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: He was a man of unusual scruples. He is a man of unusual scruples, still alive. His name

is Vil Mirzayanov, and he had come to the conclusion that this secret work on this deadly chemical weapon was completely wrong, really. That

countries, including Russia, had renounced the use of chemical weapons and it disturbed him terribly that this kind of research was still going on.

So, he, and an activist scientist sought me out and came to my office. I was working for the Baltimore Sun in Moscow way back in 1992. This is like

a dark ghost from the past.

ANDERSON: A former British lawmaker speaking to R.T., the Russian state broadcaster, today describing as absurd that Russia would leave its

signature on this former Russian double agent. Your response, given what you know and what you know of the Russians, what you know of the nerve

agent and what you know of the Russians.

ENGLUND: Well, you know, the other way you can look at it is that Russia wanted to leave its signature. That if it was simply a question of

dispatching, killing Sergei Skripal, someone could've shot him. It seems to me that whoever did this wanted it to be clear that the killers were

leaving a marker, and in this case, it was a marker that traces right back to Russia.

ANDERSON: There are reports that only the Russians has this compound. Is that correct? Can you stand that up?

ENGLUND: Well, certainly it was the Russians who developed it in this Soviet era laboratory. There's no evidence that they've shared it with

anybody. You'll remember when Kim Jong-un's half-brother was killed by a chemical weapon in Malaysia last year, that was VX. That was kind of the

world standard nerve agent, if I can put it that way. This stuff is really unique to Russia.

ANDERSON: I just want to give our viewers a sense of how exactly these nerve agents kill. The substance prevents, as I understand, muscles and

glands from turning off, thereby exhausting the victim, symptoms include watery eyes, sweating, lack of breath and convulsions. These nerve agents

can kill by both breathing and touch. Is that what you understand, Will?

ENGLUND: Yes. It's a binary nerve agent. So, you have two relatively inert substances that when combined become very, very deadly. Novichok can

be absorbed through the skin or can be breathed in. It's not a gas. We tend to think of gas warfare from World War I. It's not like that. It

paralyzes the nervous system, and typically death comes from the inability to breathe. I spoke with one scientist -- this is way back in 1992 -- who

had been exposed to a very, very minute amount of this stuff when a ventilator malfunctioned. He collapsed to the floor. He said his vision

was seared by blinding colors and then he began hallucinating. His colleagues managed to get him out of the lab into an ambulance and doctors

at the local hospital were able to save his life. But it ruined his health for the rest of his life. Several months after I interviewed him, which

was five years after the accident, he died from the effects of it.

ANDERSON: If this indeed is the Russians, what's their endgame, Will?

ENGLUND: What's their end game? Well, I think there were two messages that were being delivered. One is to anyone who might consider doing what

they convicted Skripal of doing, which is becoming a turncoat and betraying Russian secrets to foreign intelligence services. But I think it was also,

perhaps, a marker delivered to the British government. A thumb in their eye saying, look, we can do this on your territory any time we want to.

[11:50:00] It was a decade ago that Litvinenko, the former KGB agent was killed when polonium was put into his tea in London. Other Russian emigres

in Britain have died. I think this was Russia showing what it's capable of.

ANDERSON: Will Englund is in Washington for you today, viewers, fascinating. Thank you so much for joining us.

ENGLUND: Thank you.

ANDERSON: We 're in Abu Dhabi. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson

Coming up --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Well, their homeland marks a bitter anniversary, these children have lost so much but not hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: A new generation of Syrians who know nothing but war and exile. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: All right, it's just after 10 to 8:00 here. I want to get you back to one of our top stories.

Battlefield Syria, dragging on for seven long years. Many of those killed are simply too young to understand they are dying, let alone why. The U.N.

reporting that last year was the deadliest so far in the war for kids. 910, that's 910 losing their lives, 910 youngsters like that should have

been serious future. Instead they've grown up with war. CNN's Ben Wedeman, who joined us earlier on the show, now takes us inside a refugee

camp in Lebanon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Ahmad is learning the days of the week in French. One of the languages of instruction in Lebanese public schools. Ahmad is 7

years old. And this week marks seven years since the outbreak of the war that drove him and his family from their native Syria into exile in

Lebanon. The children at this special learning center run by the Norwegian refugee council in the Lebanese city of Tripoli are receiving these extra

lessons to ease their way into the local school system. While the numbers don't come easy for Ahmad, he at least is lucky to be getting an education.

RACHA EL DAGOI, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: 59 percent of school age refugees, Syrian refugee children, are out of school. Which means that

we're looking at the potential of a lost generation.

WEDEMAN: Ahmad and his family come from Syria's Northwestern Idlib province, still under rebel control. They moved from village to village to

escape the fighting before coming to Lebanon five years ago. Their memories of war recounted with the innocence of childhood.

[11:55:00] The land behind my grandfather's house was hit by bombs, recalls his 11-year-old brother, Mohamed. Bullets falling from above, chimes in 8-

year-old Azel. Ahmad upstaged by his talkative older siblings listens in his mother's arms. This 10-year-old Ahmad Mahdi has plans for when he

returns home someday.

I want to grow up and open a store, he says. While their homeland marks a bitter anniversary, these children have lost so much but not hope. Ben

Wedeman, CNN, Tripoli, Lebanon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Bitter seven-year anniversary. I'm Becky Anderson. That was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you for watching.

END