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CNN International: Cellular Network Disruption Hits U.S. Mobile Phone Service; Ukrainian Forces Stretched Thin As War Nears Two-Year Mark; Putin Flexes Military Might As Biden Sharpens Verbal Attacks. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 11:00   ET




RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN HOST: Good morning or good evening, depending on where you're watching. I'm Rahel Solomon in New York.

A major disruption hits cellular networks across the U.S. Still, no explanation for the outage, but authorities say that there is no indication it's malicious. Plus, Joe Biden trading insults with the Kremlin, what the President called Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. And we're just hours away from a potentially historic moment. A private company's lander could become the first American spacecraft in more than 50 years to touch down on the moon. Coming up, I will speak with one of the NASA scientists involved.

But, we want to begin this hour with that massive cellular network outage in the U.S. Tens of thousands of AT&T customers are impacted, making it difficult to call, text, even just use the internet. AT&T has encountered sporadic outages over the past few days, including in some areas a temporary 911 emergency call system failure. Now, a website that tracks self-reported customer outages show that more than 70,000 people were impacted at one time. Now, AT&T, for its part, says that it is working on restoring service though there is still no official reason why it went down in the first place. And industry source told CNN that there is apparently no indication that the outage was the result of a cyberattack or other malicious activity.

Joining us now is the U.S. Editor-in-Chief of the online publication TechRadar, Lance Ulanoff. Lance, good to have you. Can we just start with -- I know you've been following this all morning long. What's the latest from what you can tell me? What is the latest status on these outages?

LANCE ULANOFF, U.S. EDITOR IN CHIEF, TECHRADAR: Well, the good news is it appears, while they're still ongoing, they're starting to trend downward. Now, that's based on customer reporting happening on DownDetector. But, I've spoken to AT&T and Verizon. AT&T is sort of the center of this whole thing, and they acknowledged that there are wireless service interruptions, no idea like what's going on. And what's interesting is when you look at DownDetector, all the other networks appear down, but again, self-reported. And one of the things that may be happening here is when people on those other networks are trying to contact, say Verizon trying to call AT&T, it is failing. So, they assume it's their network.

So, it's not clear that this is across all the networks or if it's really just A&T, which is one of the biggest carriers in the U.S. And by the way, I've gotten reports from almost every state, like all over the place, Florida, Virgin, and lot of people in Texas, all having trouble with AT&T.

SOLOMON: Does that give you any sense, Lance, based on what we do know about what the possible explanations are, as you said, people from across states? It has been hours now. I mean, I noticed issues as early as I want to --


SOLOMON: -- say 4:30 this morning when I was talking to some of the crew of this show. I mean, any sense of what the possible explanations could be?

ULANOFF: No. Again, I've gotten no indication from anybody that there is some -- any kind of cyberattack, any sort of cybersecurity thing involved. I mean, it was concerning that it appeared to be all the networks at the same time, because they all were -- all of those reports came in at the same time in the morning. But, it -- the only other explanation that has been floated, again, not verified, is a solar flare, which can impact cellular service. There were -- NASA reported a couple of major solar flares over the last 24 hours. So, the timing would be right. But again, we really don't know. And we're waiting for AT&T and the other networks to tell us something. And I think we're not going to get much information until there is a post mortem when they've gotten everything back online.

SOLOMON: Do you think that's sufficient? I mean, I know we have been trying, as news organizations, trying to get information out of these companies. I'm curious if you feel like what we have gotten thus far this morning is adequate.

ULANOFF: I think it took a little bit too long. Yeah. What's interesting is that the carriers started responding to customers on social media before they responded to the media about what was happening. So, that was when we first realized that, yeah, they finally have to do something about this because all of the customers are freaking out and being frustrated. But, I also understand that they don't want to offer an explanation that is incorrect or half baked. So, they're really kind of -- I think they're still addressing this. And the fact that it's still ongoing means that they can't really tell us what's going on because they may not know what's going on.


SOLOMON: Yeah. But again, according to our sources, it appears at this moment that officials believe that there was nothing malicious behind this. Of course, the questions remain until we know for sure.

Lance Ulanoff, thanks so much for being here today.

ULANOFF: It's my pleasure.

SOLOMON: Now, the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces say that they hit a training ground for Russian troops. A video shared on Telegram shows an explosion followed by dozens of soldiers fleeing. No, CNN was able to geolocate the footage and the strike appears to have hit near a key bridgehead along the Dnipro River, south of the town of Krynky. Now, Russia has claimed to make advancements around Krynky, but Ukraine says that it is still holding on to its positions there.

And as the war approaches its second anniversary, Ukrainian forces are stretched thin. They've been outmanned and outgunned from the beginning. But, the longer and longer the war goes on, replenishing the ranks, well, that gets harder as well.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports now from the frontlines,


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (VOICE-OVER): Snow falls softly on new recruits for the Ukrainian Army's Third Assault Brigade. Drill sergeants push them through their paces with urgent basic training for the trenches, urban warfare and assault maneuvers. Every woman and man counts now for a battle that seems to have returned to the dire days at the start. 28-year-old Serhii came back from Lithuania to serve two weeks ago despite his health.

AMANPOUR: What's wrong with you?

SERHII, UKRAINIAN ARMY RECRUIT: It's asthma. But, right now, we need to take our best man. And no matter what, I will serve my country until the victory.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The brigade says it is training professional fighters, not cannon fodder like Russia. Their soldiers helped evacuate survivors of the battle for Avdiivka where Russia has now raised its flag, but many of their wounded were left behind. Just watch this video call between a severely injured soldier Evan (ph) and his panic-stricken sister Katarina (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATED): Everyone left, everyone retreated. They told us a car would pick us up. I have two broken legs, shrapnel in my back. I can't do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (TRANSLATED): Are you there alone or what?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Evan and his comrades never made it. Ukraine says there was a deal Russia would evacuate them and exchange prisoners. Instead, Russia released video of them dead. The brigade says they were shot.

These are desperate times in Ukraine's fight to survive. They need to replenish the ranks of the dead and injured. And even here at the Superhumans facility in the western city of Lviv, therapists and prosthetic specialists work around the clock giving these war amputees a second chance and even a return to the front lines. 25-year-old Anastasia Savka (ph) is an army sniper. She stepped on a

landmine in November near this Zaporizhzhia front, and she tells me they are scattered there like snow drops in spring, like daisies in summary. We couldn't get out for a long time because we were under very heavy fire, she tells me. To be honest, we were ready to die there. The attacks was so close, and we were thinking this was the end.

Olga Rudneva is CEO of this center, which is supported by Ukrainian businessman and the American philanthropist Howard Buffett. 80 percent of the patients are military, many of the multiple amputees, and that's because, Olga says, the wounded cannot get out of the battle zone during the so-called golden hour to save their limbs.

OLGA RUDNEVA, CEO, SUPERHUMANS: People are advocated for 10 hours by comrades very often because the Russians are shelling our medics. So, by the time they arrive at stabilization point, we have to cut them high because of the tourniquets. So, that's why we have multiple amputations.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Not only are they outmanned, they are also outgunned. The gridlock in Congress over military aid is showing up at the front. And time is not their friend.

We reached Sergeant Mykola (ph), who is also serving now on the Zaporizhzhia regional front line.

AMANPOUR: Do you have enough weapons? Do you have enough people? Do you have enough ammunition? Of course we don't, he says. There is a catastrophic shortage of people. The same with weapons. There aren't enough shells for artillery and tanks or the tanks and artillery themselves. On a brief hiatus in the rear, they've had to buy their own mortar, small caliber just for self-defense.


The problem is no ammunition.

Anastasia practices perfecting her balance, her endurance, regaining the strength to shoulder her weapons, and she wants to go back to the front. I think anything is possible, she says. But, whatever happens, we all need to fight this together because the enemy is advancing.

No one wants their children to still be fighting the war they and their parents have been fighting ever since Putin's first invasion a decade ago.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Kyiv.


SOLOMON: OK. We want to share some breaking news with you. The mother of Alexei Navalny now says that she has been shown her son's body. This is breaking news, literally just coming into us here at CNN. We continue to follow these details and bring you the very latest here just as soon as we get them. Also after a short break, Nikki Haley weighing in on a controversial

new IVF ruling. Details ahead on how the Alabama Supreme Court decision already making an impact. We will be right back.


SOLOMON: Welcome back. Just as U.S. President Joe Biden is sharpening his attacks on Vladimir Putin, using some spicy language behind closed doors, the Russian leader is flexing his military might in front of the cameras. Putin took a short flight on a modernized nuclear-capable strategic bomber today. State TV broadcast his video from a city east of Moscow. Now, the show of force comes amid deepening tensions with Washington over the war in Ukraine and the death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. President Biden slamming Mr. Putin last night at a fundraiser in San Francisco, saying "We have a crazy S.O.B. that guy, Putin, others. And we always have to be worried about a nuclear conflict." And here is how the Kremlin responded to that.


DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESPERSON (TRANSLATED): Such rude statements from the head of the U.S. state are unlikely to offend in any way the head of another country, especially President Putin. But, this is a huge disgrace for the country, I mean for the United States of America. Clearly, Mr. Biden is demonstrating behavior in the style of a Hollywood cowboy to cater to domestic political interests. He would really like that.


SOLOMON: All right. Let's bring in CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House for us. Arlette, what more do we know about how much the White House knew about these comments? They were obviously made behind closed doors at a fundraiser. Are they trying to walk it back at all?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, they really aren't, Rahel. And President Biden has tended to speak a little bit more freely, a bit more bluntly when he is at these fundraisers that are off camera, but many of the thoughts that he often shares are simply his unvarnished thoughts, offering his critiques of various political leaders, whether it's here in the United States or foreign leaders abroad.


We've seen Biden in the past refer to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a dictator in one of these fundraisers, and then last night the President taking aim at Vladimir Putin, who he called a "crazy S.O.B." But, it really comes as Biden has been calling out Putin with greater frequency over the course of the last week. Of course, the President has always been a quite bothered with Putin's approach when it came his invasion of Ukraine, something that the U.S. and its allies believe was uncalled for, and that the U.S. has continuously supported Ukraine with. But also, most recently, the President has really taken aim at Putin when it came to the death of Alexei Navalny died in a Russian prison. President Biden had raised concerns about Navalny's imprisonment since

the beginning of his presidency, even warning Putin that there would be devastating consequences were Navalny to die in prison. And we've seen the President with quite a bit of frequency over the last week continuing to call out Putin for that, including in those comments last night. But, it does come at a time when the President is also trying to draw this contrast with former President Donald Trump on the campaign trail, accusing him of cozying up to Putin, calling some of his most recent remarks shameful and un-American.

SOLOMON: All right. Arlette Saenz live for us at the White House. Arlette, thank you.

And Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is walking a tightrope as she weighs in on the controversial ruling from Alabama Supreme Court. So, the ruling found that frozen embryos, in the court's view, are, and that those who destroy the embryos can be held liable for wrongful death. Now, on Wednesday, Haley tried to clarify with CNN comments she made earlier in the day about the ruling. Here were those earlier comments.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, embryos, to me, are babies. So --


HALEY: I mean, I had artificial insemination.


HALEY: That's how I had my son. So, when you look at, one thing is to save sperm or to save eggs. But when you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that's a life. So, I do see where that's coming from when they talk about that.


SOLOMON: And the ruling is already making an impact at large institutions. Alabama's fertility clinic in Birmingham has now become the second known fertility clinic to pause some part of its IVF treatments, the first being University of Alabama at Birmingham's health system.

And to discuss all of the political threads, Kate Bedingfield, she is a CNN political commentator and former White House Communications Director for President Biden; Sarah Matthews, former Deputy Press Secretary during the Trump administration, and Leigh Ann Caldwell, co- author of The Washington Post Early 202. Welcome to you one. Welcome to you all. Good to have you.

Sarah, let me start with you and the Nikki Haley attempt at clarifying what she meant. Listen.


HALEY: I didn't say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling. What the question that I was asked is, do I believe an embryo is a baby? I do think that if you look in the definition, an embryo is considered an unborn baby. Our goal is to always do what the parents want with their embryo. It is theirs. So, any physician that is in control of those embryos, they owe it to those people to make sure they protect that embryo and that they do with that embryo what those parents want done with that embryo.


SOLOMON: Sarah, I'm curious your reaction. I mean, Nikki has had a few moments -- Nikki Haley has had a few moments where she says one thing, we can point to the Civil War and what the origins of the Civil War was, and then she comes out and says that's not what I meant. I mean, how much of an issue is this for the candidate?

SARAH MATTHEWS, FMR. DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY UNDER PRES. TRUMP: Yeah. I think her attempt to clean it up, she kind of got there. But, I still think that her comments are going to be heard far and wide when she said that embryos are considered babies. And it sounds like that's kind of an appeal to the far-right conservatives who believe that. But, Nikki Haley needs to be appealing to the moderate white female voters right now. And so, they're going to be really upset with that response from her.

And she had an opportunity to really lean into this issue and say, hey, look, my family, I conceived a child through IVF. We need to be doing everything we can to protect this. So, that way, millions of families across this country can continue to conceive children. And so, it does just feel like another stumble on the campaign trail for her at a time when she doesn't need any bad headlines.

SOLOMON: And Leigh Ann, I'm wondering more, broadly speaking, does this continue to be an issue that puts the Republicans on defense here? I mean, largely speaking, just sort of what their messaging and narrative is around reproductive rights, which continues to be, it appears a potent issue at the polls.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, THE EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely, Rahel. Republicans have not yet come up with a concise and clear stance on abortion. And now they are forced to have to answer to this -- on this issue of IVF, something that they don't want to do. They don't want to really talk about abortion either in the sense of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.


And what you've noticed is a deafening silence from Republicans since this court case in Alabama, this decision came down. You have not heard Republicans in droves come out with a position one way or another. This is not something they want to be talking about. This is an issue that has been a political liability for them ever since the Dobbs decision in 2022. SOLOMON: And Kate, I want to read for you the Biden campaign's response, the campaign saying, "Across the nation, MAGA Republicans are inserting themselves into the most personal decisions a family can make, from contraception to IVF. If Donald Trump is elected, there is no question that he will impose his extreme anti-freedom agenda on the entire country." Kate, give us a sense of just how potent at least the Dems think that this issue could be in 2024?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, & FMR. WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, extremely. I mean, we saw in 2022, we saw in 2023, that this issue of abortion, the issue of freedom of choice around reproductive decisions, was a big motivator for people to come out to the polls and to support Democrats. So, we've seen not only is the Republican position, which this latest back and forth on IVF highlights how out of touch with most mainstream Americans this position is. Not only is it out of touch with where most people are, but we also see that crucially for Democrats, it is a motivator in getting people to the polls. People feel strongly it inspires them to turn out. They tell pollsters, exit pollsters when they're walking out of the voting booth, that part of the reason they came out to vote was to protect a woman's right to reproductive freedom.

So, this latest back and forth around IVF, again, just underscores that Donald Trump is the President who put three justices on the Supreme Court who overturned Roe v. Wade. That is -- there is an opportunity for the Biden campaign and for Democrats all across the country to keep driving that, because again, particularly with suburban women, with those independent voters who are going to be critical to determining who wins the general election, the Republican position here is untenable.

SOLOMON: Sarah, what about the Republican position on immigration? Sources tell CNN that President Biden is considering using executive action to restrict asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico. I mean, some have -- some --- based on what we know, some have said that that sort of resembles Trump-era policies, is Trump, if in fact this comes to pass, Trump use this as an opportunity to say, yeah, see, I got it right. Biden was getting it wrong.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. I think that the Trump team could definitely spin it in that way. But, I also think this is a really smart move for the Biden White House. I think that they need to be leaning into immigration and saying, look, we're doing everything we can at the executive level, but Republicans in Congress need to get their act together. So, that way, we can do even more. And so, I think that this is a smart move on their part, actually, even though the Trump campaign will try to tout it and say, look, he is enacting Trump-era policies and things like that. But, I think that Democrats cannot continue to shy away from immigration, and Republicans have given them an opportunity now to take action on it and kind of own this issue and flip the narrative.

SOLOMON: Leigh Ann, do you think that we see more of the -- and Kate, I'm going to get to you in just one moment. But, Leigh Ann, I was just curious if you think that we see more of this, Democrats sort of tackling immigration head on. I mean, you can point to --


SOLOMON: -- the New York special election last week and a Democrat winning that seat, someone who was pretty head on with immigration.

CALDWELL: Yeah. Democrats are pointing to that special election as proof that if Democrats lean into the issue, that they can actually at least undercut some of the Republican strength on the issue, because most voters view Republicans as stronger on the issue of immigration. But, what the President is discussing and considering about this executive order and restricting asylum is quite predictable. We have been hearing about this with my sources, Democratic sources for several weeks now that if this bipartisan border security proposal falls apart, which it absolutely did, within minutes of it being released last month, that this is something that the President should do. He knows that this is a political issue. And Democrats are now emboldened to the fact that they can at least try to run and compete with Republicans on border security.

SOLOMON: And Kate, your view.

BEDINGFIELD: Yeah. Well, I was just going to say, I mean, I think Sarah's point is exactly right, which is that what the Biden White House and the Biden campaign, as they kind of take the political narrative here, is doing. It's not only showing that they're willing to take every step available to them to try to limit the flow of illegal immigrants into the country at the southern border, but they're also drawing this really clear contrast that it's Republicans in Congress who walked away from a more comprehensive package.


I mean, look, we know this executive order is going to be challenged in the courts. It was challenged when the Trump White House did this in 2018. So, we know that this is not as forceful and as comprehensive and is not as on -- is not on as steady, sturdy, I should say, legal ground as a law passed by Congress. So, what the Biden campaign is going to be able to do here is say, look, Joe Biden is doing everything within his power. If the Republicans were really serious about trying to solve this problem, they wouldn't have walked away from the border deal for pure politics. And that's a really potent message.

SOLOMON: Leigh Ann, no offense, but I'm going to ask the two communication pros here a question. I want them both to weigh in. I'm curious as your thoughts about these comments from Biden at the fundraiser that Putin is a "crazy S.O.B." I mean, Kate, let's stick with you. Is that a good look, the language?

BEDINGFIELD: So, I would say, yes. I think the more Joe Biden is himself, the more he is unvarnished, the more he is speaking from, as we said many times when he would talk in really stark terms about what was going on in Russia when I was in the White House, he is speaking from a place of moral clarity. And I think that that resonates with people. I think they want to see that he is forceful, that he is strong. I mean, just this week, we've seen that Putin is murdering dissidents inside his own country. I think if that person isn't an S.O.B., I'm not really sure who is. So, I think most Americans probably agree with Joe Biden, and I think it's good for him to be to be forceful and to be unvarnished.

SOLOMON: Sarah, your take.

MATTHEWS: I would agree with that take from Kate. I think that these comments, it was a purposeful leak that came out of that fundraiser and because they wanted it to be out there, and I think that it draws a stark contrast between Donald Trump who has refused to condemn Putin in the wake of the death of Navalny. And so, I think that Biden is correct to lean into this message and be a strong leader on it.

CALDWELL: And Rahel, as a reporter, we love Biden at fundraisers because that is when we get a lot more insight into what the President is thinking.

SOLOMON: Yeah. You see the real Biden sort of, and then we all hear about it in the media. Good to have you all. Kate Bedingfield, Sarah Matthews and Leigh Ann Caldwell, great conversation. Thank you.

All right. Still ahead for us, it is apparently raining money for chipmaker Nvidia. The company is smashing records for revenue and lifting markets around the world. So, what's behind it all? We'll have a live report.

Plus, we are hours away from what could be a historic moment in U.S. space exploration. Why success, though, is far from guaranteed? I'll talk to an expert from NASA, coming up.


SOLOMON: We continue to follow that breaking news out of Russia. The mother of late Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny now says that she has been shown his body.


A spokesperson said earlier this week that the family of Navalny was blocked from entering the morgue where his body was allegedly held.

Let's go straight to CNNs Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow. Matthew, what more can you share with us about how this came to be and what we know about the circumstances here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. It's a pretty big development in the sense that for some days now, since Friday, Lyudmila Navalnaya, Alexei Navalny's mother, has been trying to get access to her son's remains so she can give them a funeral. So far, she has been unable to do that. She has been refused entry to the morgue where it's believed in the far north of Russia the body has been held. She has now, within the past few minutes, announced that she has gained access to the body and has actually seen the corpse of her son Alexei Navalny. So, that's something. But, I mean, obviously, that has come with some strings attached as

well, because what Lyudmila Navalnaya is also saying is that she is being blackmailed by the Russian authorities to bury the body in a certain way. They're trying to set conditions, she is saying, on how and when and where the body should be laid to rest. What her claim is, and she has made this in a video message, is that she is being threatened that unless the burial is a secret burial, then the Russian authorities will take care of the arrangements themselves, and not allow her to have any part of it. That's the implication.

And of course, you have to remember that not only is this a terrible time and a difficult time for the family of Navalny and for his supporters, of course, but it's also a very sensitive moment for the Kremlin, because it's an intensely political decision about what happens to the body of Alexei Navalny. This is a man who in life was able to rally tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Russia, posing a massive political challenge or at least a bigger challenge to the Kremlin than any other opposition leader has managed to pose in recent decades.

And the concern in the Kremlin, I expect, is that a public funeral of Alexei Navalny could be a trigger for more kind of outpouring of protests and opposition to the government. And it seems that they desperately want to avoid that, Rahel.

SOLOMON: And Matthew, I mean, I would imagine as well, I mean, these messages from his mother, certainly we have heard from his widow, I mean, also sort of continuing to get the message out there about what they call at the very least, suspicious circumstances around his death.

CHANCE: Well -- yeah. I mean, the circumstances around his death have not been made clear yet. And it's not clear they ever will be made clear, if you know what I mean, in the sense that this is something an investigation that's being done by the Russian authorities themselves. They say they need to keep the body for at least another couple of weeks, this is what they've told the Navalny family, to carry out chemical tests, autopsies and post mortems to try and establish what the cause is.

But, this whole issue is fraught with suspicion, particularly on the Navalny support and Navalny team, Navalny family side. Alexei Navalny has been poisoned once before using a Russian nerve agent Novichok. He only barely survived that. And the Navalny team and others have accused the Russian authorities of being directly responsible for that, although the Kremlin has denied any culpability. The concern on the Navalny side now is that his body is being hid from view and not being released so that the real cause of death can also be hidden. And so, that's the sort of atmosphere of suspicion in which we're dealing with right now, Rahel.

SOLOMON: And Matthew, before I let you go, I mean, you're obviously in Moscow. Can you just give us a sense, the color of what the atmosphere may be there in terms of people on the ground? I'm not sure. I mean, obviously, we know immediately after news of his death broke, there were people who were detained for just simply laying flowers at his memorial. What more can you share with us about sort of the atmosphere on the ground?

CHANCE: Well, that's still continuing. I mean, we're now talking about large numbers of people coming out to pay their respects to Alexei Navalny at the various makeshift memorials that have been set up across the country, but that's not necessarily a sign of how small his support is. I mean, you have to remember that in Russia, all kinds of dissent and opposition are outspoken criticism of the government, including signs like paying respects to a leading opposition figure. Well, they've been pretty much stamped out. There is a high price that people pay potentially for putting their heads above the parapet in that way.

But even so, we've seen thousands of people across the country come out, pay their last respects in these makeshift memorials to Alexei Navalny. Several hundred of them, about 500, in fact, according to the latest figures on a Russian human rights monitor site that is looking at these things, have been detained just for doing that, for putting flowers at the memorial and refusing to leave, in some cases, when the police told them to do.


There has been another development on that issue as well, to give you an indication of some of the consequences, in St. Petersburg, the OVD monitoring group said -- which is this group that monitors repression in Russia or freedom of speech and expression in Russia, says that some of those people who were detained have been conscripted straight into the army and sent for training or sent to the frontline, as a result of them kind of showing their -- exposing themselves essentially to the Russian authorities, being detained and then handed their conscription notices whilst in custody.

And so, it just gives you an indication of just how stake -- how high the stakes are for many people when they come out and protest, even at the smallest things, even with the smallest gestures, like putting flowers at a memorial for Alexei Navalny. It's a very difficult situation for critics of the Kremlin here.

SOLOMON: Yeah. OK. Matthew Chance in Moscow. Matthew, thank you.

Well, nervous, excited, patiently waiting, all words to describe some of the human emotions as the Odysseus lunar lander hurdles toward the moon. Nicknamed "Odie", the spacecraft is scheduled to touch down in a few hours its so-called soft landing attempt on the moon's South Pole, also has scientists on the edge of their seats.

Joining us now from Houston, Texas, is Dr. Regina blue. She is a deputy with NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services. Doctor, good to have you today. It's so interesting just hearing some of the emotions around this event, as we just said, nervous, excited. I heard someone from Intuitive say it's really emotional. I'm curious for you how you're feeling in this moment.

REGINA BLUE, PROGRAMMATIC DEPUTY, NASA COMMERCIAL LUNAR PAYLOAD SERVICES: Oh, absolutely, all of the above. I am just in awe that I'm sitting here today and waiting, awaiting the soft landing of a spacecraft on the moon that is partnered with a commercial company. When I started at NASA, that wasn't something that was even thought about. And so, to have not only visualized or dreamed about and put in place this commercialization effort, to have it actually being executed is something that literally gives me chills. I described it last night. Last night was Christmas Eve, and this morning, today is Christmas Day. And so, it is just an outstanding, wonderful feeling to be experiencing this historic event.

SOLOMON: Yeah. So, if it is executed successfully, it would be historic. Can you share with us, why is this so difficult to do?

BLUE: So, spaceflight is difficult for a myriad of reasons. And the scientific reason is there is reduced gravity. There is a third of the atmosphere, and there is a whole lot of dust. But, not only that, we are endeavoring to go to the South Pole region. And that in and of itself has extremes. Right? And that's a place where no one has ever been before. And so, that makes it extraordinarily difficult for us to do.

SOLOMON: And if it is successful, what will we learn or what will be gained from the accomplishment?

BLUE: Absolutely. So, NASA has six payloads onboard, intuitive machines with this year's spacecraft with objectives and goals in mind. And so, we are going to learn everything from -- we are investigating, if you will, the gases that happen when the spacecraft sits down on the lunar surface. Right? And so, we want to know -- we want to explore and we want to explore responsibly. And so, we want to understand what does landing does to the lunar surface and how that interaction happens. We're also looking at space or radio astronomy and space flight weather interactions, as we soft land on the moon.

We have instrumentation on board that is going to be looking at precision, excuse me, landing. And we also have instrumentation on board that is going to be establishing a network of laser markers, if you will, to help with positioning. We have another set of instruments on board in the form of cameras that are going to be taking cameras and imaging those back down to us so that we can understand what actually happens during descent and landing. And then, finally, we have what we call an instrument called a fuel gauge. It's a game changer, right, on the spacecraft, and it has given us data as to how much propellant is being used on the spacecraft as we do this historic landing on the moon.


SOLOMON: And then, with all of those instruments, what are the implications if this is successful for putting astronauts on the lunar South Pole?

BLUE: Absolutely. The implications are immeasurable. And so, as you -- as we've talked about, we're going to the South Pole. And that was - is by design, the South Pole is where the Artemis missions are planning to go and where we are planning to put humans on board into all of the things that are talked about in terms of looking at guidance and navigation and precision landing, understanding the interaction of the gas of the spacecraft, and having markers out there to help with the positioning.

All of that enables safe spaceflight for humans. It also sets the framework for us to not only have safe human presence on the lunar surface, it sets the framework for us to have sustainable human presence on the moon, which will allow our crew to indeed explore the lunar surface and give us back answers to many science questions that are still not answered today.

SOLOMON: Yeah. It's always so interesting to me with these missions, just some of the photos and the videos and some of which we're seeing, almost look unreal. I mean, it is just really incredible. Whether you fully understand it all or not, it's just such a beauty to behold.

Let me ask before I let you go, where can we watch? So, this is supposed to happen, this landing, if it's successful, and sending out good vibes, if it happens, it's supposed to happen in, what, I want to say six hours, where can we watch? How do we watch?

BLUE: Right. So, I don't have a clock in front of me. But, I have been told that I can now tell you that the broadcast for the landing starts at 2 p.m. Central Time, and you can go to, and all of the great cool stuff is going to be happening and you can watch it with all of us and around the world as it unfolds.

SOLOMON: All right. Dr. Blue, what a pleasure to have you. Your excitement is infectious. We're certainly hoping for the best and we certainly will be watching. And I should say that CNN has special programming and coverage beginning a little later as well. Doctor, thanks so much for being here.

BLUE: Absolutely. Thank you.

SOLOMON: Well, investors might be feeling like shares of Nvidia are heading toward the moon. Nvidia shares feeling -- really feeling the benefits of our artificial intelligence. Earnings released Wednesday showed the chipmaker's profits hitting nearly $12.3 billion in the last quarter, up from, get this, $1.4 billion in the same quarter a year ago. Now, the company is riding the wave of AI investments and also posted revenue gains of 265 percent year-over-year. And early on Wall Street, Nvidia, I'm going to guess, started today pretty strong, yeah, up 15 present. Shares are currently trading at about $779 a share.

More broadly, let's take a look. It has been lifting the broader markets thus far. And green across the board. Dow, NASDAQ, especially the NASDAQ, look about, 2.5 percent. And the S&P is up about 1.7 percent.

And taking a look at the European and Asian markets, how they finished Thursday, green across the board. Look at the Nikkei, also having a historic day, lifted in part perhaps because of these Nvidia developments.

So, let's being in Anna Stewart who joins us from London with more on the Nvidia surge. So Anna, walk us through -- I mean, it seems like it was nothing but highlights for the company. ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: It felt like nothing but highlights, and

this was certainly the expectation going into the earnings. They keep beating expectations. I am actually going into this. Goldman Sachs said this is the most important stock on planet Earth. And it certainly feels like that today looking at both the increase in the share price for Nvidia but also how it really has buoyed stock markets in different sectors, literally all over the world.

Now, highlights from the earnings report, here we go. Profits up 580 percent compared to last year. Fourth quarter revenue comes in at $22.1 billion. And why? Well, that's because Nvidia accounts for 70 percent of AI chips around the world. It is the market leader, and by a country mile compared to competitors. Now, supplies simply cannot meet demand. So, they also have very much a price control here in the market. So, leading today, the only slight cloud on the sort of blue skies of the earnings report we saw is the fact that there are restrictions in terms of how much Nvidia, in terms of certain AI chips, how much they can export to China due to U.S. trade restrictions. But, apart from that, we're looking at an absolutely stellar report.

SOLOMON: Yeah. That's actually a really important distinction. We haven't really talked about that as of late.


Anna, let me ask, a moat like Nvidia has seemed to create as a moat that I think most companies would dream of. Can it maintain its dominance on the chip market, or does it seem like competitors are kind of eating into that?

STEWART: I mean, that is the -- I think it is $1.7 trillion question, because that is what this company is currently valued at, which is crazy. Like, compared to all of its competitors, this is the leader for now. But, you're right. All of these big competitors in the chip market are trying to get the edge on AI. The reason Nvidia is ahead of the game really is the fact that it's been in this space in terms of gaming, cryptocurrency, data centers, for many, many years. So, it has led the way. It's almost part and parcel of the AI wave. It is the backbone, for instance, with some of the largest language models in the world, like ChatGPT.

So, it's very much part of the AI story. Will it be forever? Well, that was a question that was actually put to the CEO of Nvidia at the World Government Summit last week. Here is what he had to say to Richard Quest.

JENSEN HUANG, NVIDIA CEO: Our technology is advancing at exponential rates. If you want to climb up an exponential curve, you better be looking ahead of you, not behind you. And so, for us, focusing on the future makes the most sense. It's something you can control. It is much, much more inspiring.


STEWART: I mean, clearly, hoping that no one can catch up if they run ahead fast enough. But, I wouldn't expect to see profit increases of 580 percent a year going forward. I think that is definitely a hope too far.

SOLOMON: Yeah. I mean, it almost feels like a typo, if I wasn't so sure that it's not. Anna, let me just ask really quick before I let you go, I mean, it was enough -- the urns were enough, it seems, like as you pointed out to sort of buoy a lot of the other indexes, just really giving you a sense of just how influential the stock has become, how influential the company has become.

STEWART: Yeah, because I think the outlook from Nvidia in terms of AI and where they see the growth is really relevant to all sorts of sectors, whether you're talking about automotive or healthcare. This is going to make many, many companies around the world more efficient, more profitable. So, news like this really does sort of feed into the wider picture.

SOLOMON: All right. Anna Stewart live for us in London. Anna, good to see you. Thank you.

STEWART: Good to see you too.

SOLOMON: All right. Still ahead, panda watch in the U.S. We will tell you which zoo will be getting new giant pandas from China. We'll be right back.


SOLOMON: Welcome back. Humanitarian groups are warning about an urgent humanitarian crisis in Sudan. The ongoing war there continues to cut off food supplies, leaving children starving, and their mothers without any options. Here is CNN's Larry Madowo.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): Sudanese Armed Forces celebrate as they advance in Omdurman, the twin city of the capital Khartoum.


The army releasing these videos last week, seeing it as a win in this war against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. In north Darfur, the agony of Sudan's children, the youngest victims of a war that has raged for 10 months. This small clinic run by the aid group "Doctors Without Borders" in the Zamzam camp is the only one for miles. A child dies every two hours here, the agency says, as the war has led to catastrophic cases of malnutrition.

CHEICK TRAORE, EMERGENCY COORDINATOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: We have over 200 patients every day waiting for treatment, and they're not coming only within the camp. They are coming also from the surrounding area, seeking -- looking for healthcare.

MADOWO (voice-over): They are overwhelmed that these mothers and the children have nowhere else to go. ASHIA ABUBAKER ADAM, DISPLACED SUDANESE MOTHER (TRANSLATED): We are out of everything, even wheat. Now, we just get insignificant amounts of food to make it through the day. I have five children apart from this one.

MADOWO (voice-over): Sudan has the world's largest displacement crisis, the UN says, as 15 percent of the population have fled their homes. Humanitarian workers say it is not getting enough funding or attention.

MARY LOUISE EAGLETON, UNICEF SUDAN DEPUTY REPRESENTATIVE: It feels like the country has really been abandoned and the children and the country's children have really been abandoned. What this means for families and children is that they're facing a lethal combination of displacement, hunger and disease outbreaks.

TONY HARWARD, U.N. DEPUTY HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR FOR SUDAN: It is arguably the biggest humanitarian crisis today. It is bigger than the other crisis. They get a lot more attention.

MADOWO (voice-over): Everything is in short supply in Sudan, and the ceasefire appears unlikely. Those caught in the middle of another war worry and wait.

Larry Madowo, CNN.


SOLOMON: Thanks to Larry for that report.

At least one person is dead after a shooting on a crowded highway in the occupied West Bank. Several more are reported wounded. Israeli police say that three gunmen opened fire near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

CNN's Nic Robertson reports from the scene.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This is the vehicle, the police say, the attackers arrived, and there were three of them. The traffic was all stopped in a traffic jam as people were coming up this main highway here into Jerusalem early in the morning. Three people, three attackers got out of this vehicle, according to the police. They dispersed into the traffic and started shooting. And if we come up here, you can just see one of the vehicles that was shot at, loaded up here and being ready to be taken away. The rear windscreen shot out. There are bullet casings on the floor over here. From where I'm standing, you can see blood on the ground where some of the victims were injured.

This main highway would have been really busy in the early hours of the day when the attack took place. At least one person killed so far, according to medical authorities, another woman seriously injured. As far as we know in the early part of the day, five people total shot, according to medical officials, and they say other people in a state of shock. Somebody else got heavy bruising as they were trying to escape the scene. But, what makes this particular attack different from some of the recent shootings we've seen is that there were three attackers arriving together and then assaulting people as they were stuck, stationary in their vehicles, trying to get to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv beyond to go to work.

Nic Robertson, CNN, in the occupied West Bank.


SOLOMON: All right. Nic, thank you. And we'll be right back.




SOLOMON: And giant pandas from China are returning to the San Diego Zoo. It's the first time that China has granted new panda loans to the U.S. in two decades. The zoo confirmed the news to CNN on Wednesday. Now, zoo officials say there is no official timeline, but everyone is excited and preparing for the arrival. China loans pandas to more than 20 countries as part of its so-called panda diplomacy program. In 2019, the San Diego Zoo returned its last set of borrowed pandas back to China. China has also announced plans to send pandas to the zoo in Madrid. I love that.

And we know your time is money. So, thank you for spending some time with me today. I'm Rahel Solomon in New York. Don't go anywhere. Stick with CNN. "One World" is coming up next.