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Hamas "Studying" Latest Truce, Hostage Proposal; Biden Decided on Drone Attack; Judge Strikes Down Musk's Massive Pay Package; Ukraine and Russia Make Major Prisoner Exchange; Boris Nadezhdin Closer to Russian Presidential Ballot; Consumers' Impact from Red Sea Attacks; Elmo, the People's Therapist. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 31, 2024 - 10:00:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD with Becky Anderson.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Welcome to what is our second hour and this hour hopes of a new hostage deal.

Are raised as the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate and regional tensions escalate. That is coming up first.

Your headlines in what is a busy day of news and there has been a major prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia. Hundreds of Ukrainian service

members and Russian military personnel were exchanged.

The incarcerated former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. That is on top of what is a 10-year

sentence that he has already received this week; just days, of course, ahead of elections, there.

And kicking off in a moment, five of the biggest tech CEOs testify in front of a U.S. Senate hearing on Capitol Hill about online child exploitation.

More on that, as we get it.


ANDERSON: Well, right now, Hamas says it is studying another new proposal for the return of Israeli hostages in exchange for a pause in the fighting

in Gaza.

But on Tuesday, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press on until Israel's original war aims were achieved, saying he will not release what

he called, quote, "thousands of terrorists" as part of any deal.

Meantime, the families of the six remaining American hostages in Gaza met with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday night.

Earlier, he met with Qatar's prime minister, who is in Washington to discuss those latest negotiation efforts.

Jeremy Diamond is in Tel Aviv for us.

We've been talking now, Jeremy, for about 24 hours about the framework of this deal, of course, it sits out present with Hamas leadership as we

speak. This latest iteration, as I understand it from a diplomatic source, who is familiar with the details of this deal, it doesn't include a

guarantee for a permanent truce or cease-fire.

Now while we shouldn't give up hope of course, it does seem unlikely at this pace, at this point, that Hamas will agree to this, doesn't it?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly when they said that they were beginning to review this broad framework, they very

much framed that review in the context of those very same demands that you are talking about in terms of ending this war altogether and seeing the

total withdrawal of Israeli forces from inside the Gaza Strip.

If Bibi Netanyahu has anything to say about that -- and he certainly does - - that is certainly not going to happen. And so it's very clear that these two sides still remain very far apart on one of the central issues of these

negotiations. And so as much as there may be a broad framework, there is still a lot of ground to overcome.

And how exactly that ground is bridged remains to be seen. As Hamas is reviewing that proposal and saying that they are doing so in the context of

ending this war, the Israeli prime minister is making very clear that he will not end this war until both objectives of the war are completed.

And that is not only the return of all of the hostages from Gaza but also the dismantlement, the destruction of Hamas inside of the Gaza Strip. He

says that he will continue the war until, quote, "total victory."

And so it remains to be seen exactly how that gap can be bridged. But we should still know that this is nonetheless significant momentum that is

behind this deal. There is clearly progress being made.

And at least Israel, Qatar, Egypt and the United States are in alignment it seems on this broad framework. And now the hard work will have to be done,

in particular by Egypt and Qatar to try and convince Hamas to reach terms here.

I think it's important to note that before that last deal was made, Hamas was also making assertions about certain things that they would not agree

to, that they ultimately did -- very similar on the Israeli side.

So part of this is posturing, part of this as negotiations but part of this, of course, is the real substance of the matter which remains to be

seen if they can actually bridge.


ANDERSON: Never say never, I think is the point here. And as I say, one can only hope. Jeremy, it's good to have you. Thank you very much indeed.

Bated breath after U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he has decided on a response to a recent drone attack that killed three U.S.

troops and injured dozens more. This happened near Jordan's border with Syria over the weekend.

And U.S. officials are blaming Iran-backed militants. Iran itself, its part, is denying any involvement. Mr. Biden hasn't yet said what the U.S.

response will be or when it might happen.

Well, meantime, the U.S. is signaled out for the most powerful Iran backed militia in Iraq. Kataeb Hezbollah is likely to have carried out that deadly

drone attack on Sunday. In what was a surprise move yesterday around this time, the group itself said it will suspend military operations against

U.S. forces in the region.

The Pentagon replied saying, quote, "Actions speak louder than words."

All of this, of course, as the U.S. and Iraq are expected to begin talks on the future of U.S. troops in the country amid public calls from the Iraqi

government for Washington to withdraw.

There's a lot to unpack here. I couldn't have a better couple of guests to do that for you. CNN senior political commentator, Adam Kinzinger, joins us

from Texas. He is a former U.S. congressman and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air National Guard, who also served in Iraq.

And a regular guest on the show, good friend of the show, Vali Nasr is a professor of international affairs and Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins

University, today in Paris.

Good to have you both.

Adam, let me start with. You. Have a listen to what President Biden has had to say about his administration's response to what we now come to call the

tower 22 (ph) attack





ANDERSON: Right. "Yes" was the answer to, "Have you decided how to respond?"

That's definitive.

What do you believe, Adam, his plan will be?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously, I don't know. I think there has to be a significant response. Let's keep in mind

this is close to the 160th attack on American troops. This is the first deadly one.

We've made it very clear we will show restraint -- I think pretty incredible restraint, to be honest with you -- up until you kill our troops

and that happened. So I think obviously a significant response against the militias in the region.

The real question will be, do they go after Iran at all?

I doubt it will be targets in Tehran. I think you may see maritime assets. You may see drone part factories That's a possibility.

But let's keep this in mind. This is not in a vacuum. This isn't the first time Iran or Iranian backed militias have attacked our troops. I was in

part of Task Force 17 in Iraq, which actually went after Iran and Iranian backed militias in Iraq.

And close to 400-500 troops, American troops, were killed by Iran. So this has been an ongoing thing. I think it'll be a significant response. But

obviously the president doesn't want to grow this war. And I guess we'll have to see.

It will be, it'll be on his plate.

ANDERSON: Vali, Iran, for its part, is denying any involvement. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief, said this, "We will not let any

threat go unanswered. We are not in pursuit of war but we are not afraid of war."

What's your perspective on what we're seeing here, what we can read into that statement and, frankly, what you what you suspect Biden's response

might be?

DR. VALI NASR, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I mean, I would say the quotation that you read very much talks to what

Congressman Kinzinger was saying.

In other words, they understand that the United States will have to respond, that it will respond. But they're warning that, if the response

crosses a certain threshold, for instance, targeting them directly, that they would react accordingly.

So the president is caught between a situation where he needs to respond assertively. But he doesn't want to expand the war. And also, it's

important to know that, yes, to all of these groups in Iraq are very closely backed by Iran, armed by Iran. But some of this decision-making is

local also. And there has been tit-for-tat.


The U.S. also killed a leader of the Shia militias a week ago after they attacked American base and so the killing of three Americans, I think was a

warning to Tehran as well. It has to rein in these groups very actively.

And I think the decision by this group to voluntarily suspend or announce that is voluntarily suspending military operations is perhaps a direct

order from Tehran to back off.

ANDERSON: There's some sense, Vali, at this point that there are proxies who are embarrassing or stepping out of line when it comes to the paymaster

or the director out of Tehran.

Do you buy that?

Your suggestion that certainly you know that there seem to be possibly some unilateral activity or some unilateral action going on by some of these


What's your sense?

NASR: I think first of all, we have to note that since the United States increased economic pressure on Iran under president Trump, these groups are

now much more financially independent of Iran. They raise a lot of money through corruption and other means locally.

Secondly, they are not actually Iranian. In other words, they're not foreign Iranian troops working in Iraq that would take direct orders from

Tehran. They do have local interests. They do have their play. They played a game in local politics. They also have their own vested interests.

So yes, they cooperate from Iran. Iran would have to push a lot to get what it wants. But it's no different than the fact that the United States

provides enormous amount of support to some allies.

Doesn't mean that all the time it can decide what those allies will do. So some of these Iraqi groups are more under Iranian control than less. And I

think the greatest lever Iran has over all of these groups is to cut off their line of military supplies, more so than directing every single action

they take.

ANDERSON: Adam and Vali, look, we -- it's very clear that President Biden faces a real dilemma here. It doesn't want to -- he has to be seen to

respond and respond robustly. This is -- we are talking about the death of three service men injured, some 40 others.

Doesn't though, want to -- he wants to ensure that this conflict, this regional conflict -- and there was evidence to suggest that there is real

spillover now -- doesn't get out of hand. Secretary Blinken had this to say about the danger of what is going on at present. Have a listen, both.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East.

I would argue that we've not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we're facing now across the region since at least 1973. And arguably even, even

before that.


ANDERSON: Adam, do you share his concerns?

KINZINGER: I do. And I think it's interesting. So what has incredible restraint by the United States, which I would argue we have shown --

probably a little too much -- but regardless, what's that gotten us,

It's gotten us increased tension. It's gotten us 160 attacks on American personnel. It really has done nothing to calm the situation somewhat.

American troops get killed.

And then we come back very strongly and say, there is certainly going to be a response.

What happens?

It doesn't inflame the area. Maybe it will but Iran is now all of a sudden in what seems like a bit of a panic because they recognize, when the United

States makes a decision to do something, it can do basically whatever it wants from a military perspective.

And so I would argue this, like, yes, it is a very dangerous moment. It's a very dangerous moment because Iran has continued -- we were attacked by an

Iranian made drone. So while these organizations may show some amount of independence, they are certainly 100 percent supplied by the Iranian

military complex.

And so that is a direct attack --


ANDERSON: Yes, are you in the camp that says -- this is what the hawks are saying on the Republican side, you've got to go in strong and you got to go

in strong on Tehran.

Are you talking about military action on Iran?

Is that what you would like to see from this administration?


KINZINGER: No. No and, at the opening, I said that's probably not what we're going to do. But I think there has to be a very significant response.

Maybe it's against Iranian assets in the periphery, some maritime assets or some drone manufacturing. But no, I'm not calling for bombing Iran in the

Middle -- because we're not at that moment. But I think that could be more likely if we don't show strength.


Because that strength is what then allows Iran to advance until they hit a barrier and they can't go further and then they stop, similar to Vladimir

Putin. We see this all the time.

ANDERSON: Vali, I mean, I'm in the Gulf. I know there's real concern and quite some frustration about the U.S. administration's sort of long term

planning or lack thereof in this region.

And at present it's perhaps one of the reasons that we haven't seen some of these bigger Gulf countries here in the UAE and Saudi, for example,

supporting U.S. coalition in the Red Sea.

There was a real concern about an escalation in a region at a time when this region was told to sort out its back yard and was making efforts to


Do you share Secretary Blinken's concerns about this being as bad as it's been since '73 or worse?

What is your perspective about what happens next?

NASR: I think he's correct and I would say they did -- the greatest danger is miscalculation by both sides, that the Iranians will miscalculate where

the U.S. stops or that the United States miscalculates.

And let's not forget that, when the United States last time really went aggressively against Iran and killed IRGC commander General Soleimani, Iran

responded with dozens of missile attacks on an American base, which was miraculous no Americans died and we didn't end up in a war at that point in


So we shouldn't overestimate the fact that Iranians will back off. Secondly, whether you look at American allies or you look at Iran and its

allies, they're all asking the same thing, that the United States ends this war, that the root reason for this escalation that we've seen is the war.

The United States cannot right now do that. It actually much rather speak about either the hostages or what happens after the war ends, rather than

how it's going to end the war.

And let's not forget, things calm down completely; when we had eight days of ceasefire, all the militia stopped fighting. The Houthis, Hezbollah, et

cetera. And if this deal happens, it will come about.

But there is a big gap between -- the way the United States looks at this, which means it wants everybody else to stay calm until Israel finishes its

war in Gaza. And the rest of the region, which wants this war ended yesterday.

And that gap cannot right now be closed by the United States for very obvious reasons. Israel is not ready to end the war. Hamas is still there.

And the region is not willing to give Israel the time and the space to do this.

So we're seeing actually that Iran and Saudi Arabia, perhaps on the same page, although in very different ways, asking basically for the same thing.

ANDERSON: And it's important to add that, as I understand it from diplomatic sources who have been briefed on the matter, this latest

iteration of the deal -- of a deal for the release of hostages in return for Palestinian prisoners and a pause in the fighting -- certainly does not

have a permanent truce or cease-fire at the back end of that.

And the intention from the Israelis, according to Netanyahu, is that the war continues until its objectives are complete, whatever you think of

those objectives.

Adam, you were critical of president Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria. Most of them -- there's something like 900 sort of left -- but

in a sort of operational capacity.

And you've said that having troops in the region is leverage.

What do you mean by that?

And I wonder, given your experience -- it's great to have you on with that- - there is -- I spoke to the Iraqi foreign minister recently when I was in Davos just a couple of weeks ago. There was a clear intention to talk about

just how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq, if at all going forward.

What's your sense?

KINZINGER: I mean, look, if -- you know what happened last time we left, I mean, this is all we have to do, is look back at last time we pulled out of

Iraq. And we're like, OK, fine. You guys could do what you want.

What do we have?

We had a massive resurgence of ISIS, which has gone nowhere, by the way; it's just kind of dormant at the moment. And next thing you know, Iraq is

begging for U.S. troops to come back. Obviously Syria, you have a lot of interest there, particularly in the civil war.

And where I thought what it was extremely important to leave a presence there was ultimately thinking that the civil war was going to have to end

the negotiation that was important for the United States to have a seat at the table for us and our allies in that.

In terms of Iraq, look, they're going to ultimately have to make their decision. The United States is not going to stay in Iraq if they don't want

us there.

But they have to understand that, if in fact we leave -- and it's fine, we're gone, you're on your own now and you have a resurgence of a group

like ISIS, the idea that we're going to come ride to the rescue again probably will not happen.


I do think it's important for the United States to strategically think about its presence in the Middle East, not to leave but to figure out what

that presence should look like.

And then ultimately to understand that, when people blame our presence for an exacerbation of the war -- look, before the United States was there,

this was a crazy region -- since we've been there, the idea that our presence is inflaming, this is just completely untrue.

It's just an excuse to attack. So yes, I think there's going to be a strategic rethinking but this is not the time, by the way, for us to be

looking at leaving because it sends the very wrong message. If Iran wants us to leave, they probably should lay off the attacks through their proxies

for a while.

ANDERSON: Let's just be quite clear. When you speak to people around this region, it is the sort of categoric support for Israel in its self-defense

post October the 7th and everything that has come off the back of that and the continuation of the assault on Gaza that people around this region have

a problem with.

And that is the reason why the ceasefire echoes have been heard around this region since the beginning of this.

Vali, It's good to have you, a regular guest on the show. I've got to close this out and take a break. But it's fantastic to have you.

Adam, wonderful to have you on the show.

And we'll have you both back. Thank you very much, indeed.

And you can follow developments out of this region on the website. Of course that is the latest "Meanwhile in the Middle East" newsletter is also

on there. You can sign up for that. It drops in your box three times, email box, three times a week.

Latest is a story on the UNRWA's tenuous future in Gaza after Israeli allegations that 13 UNRWA staffers assisted Hamas in the October 7th terror

attacks. That is at or of course, on your CNN app.



ANDERSON (voice-over): Just ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD, we are going to hold their feet to fire. Those, the words of a senator on Capitol Hill as

lawmakers grill some of the world's most powerful tech leaders. We will show you why coming up.

And one of the world's richest people loses a record pay package. What happened and what is Elon Musk likely to do about that. That is just ahead.



ANDERSON: Well, is Elon Musk still one of the world's richest people?

It's a good question since the Tesla CEO just lost a pay package worth around $51 billion. A Delaware state court judge has thrown out the 2018

pay deal. A group of Tesla shareholders brought the lawsuit against Musk, saying it was just too much money.

The decision can be appealed. Sara Fischer is a CNN media analyst and senior media reporter for Axios. She joins us now from Washington.

Musk has actually started a Twitter poll asking if he should change the state of incorporation for Tesla to Texas, where its physical HQ is.


What would that mean for shareholders and for this whole case?

Good to have you, by the way.

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Obviously great to see you. Obviously there's very different tax laws. But this company has been incorporated in

Delaware for a long time. So logistically, it would take a lot of work to move it over.

Elon Musk has moved Tesla's headquarters to Austin before, so he's familiar with Texas. But I think ultimately what this shows is that people like Elon

Musk, who have felt invincible in the court of law -- remember he's been charged with fines by the SEC. He's been criticized by lawmakers on Capitol


This is the type of guy who is so rich, he's felt in invincible for so long. But then finally when his pay package, $51 billion, gets yanked,

you're starting to see him actually feel a little bit afraid (ph).

ANDERSON: Good to have you. Keep an eye on this one. Thank you.

Well, a judge in the pay case argued that Musk was calling the shots on how much he should be paid and the board wasn't acting as a check on the Tesla

CEO. For more on the nuances, just head to CNN online or you can use the CNN app on your smartphone. Of course.

Big Tech back in the hot seat on Capitol Hill. Five of the top tech CEOs are being grilled as we speak about online child safety. This is what is

pretty sparky stuff. A U.S. Senate hearing kicked off at the top of the hour.

This is the heads of Meta, Jones Instagram and Facebook, of course, along with TikTok, a company called Discord, you may or may not -- may or may not

know that one -- Snapchat you will know and X, formerly known as Twitter, all facing growing criticism about social media's potential to harm young


That's a face that you will recognize, Mr. Mark Zuckerberg. And CNN's Clare Duffy who you will also recognize, keeping an eye on all of this, she joins

us live from Washington.

What have we heard to date?

CLARE DUFFY, CNN BUSINESS WRITER: Right, Becky. So lawmakers have spent the past two-plus years doing a lot of talking but not taking a lot of

action on these worries that social media causes real harm to young users.

And so the pressure is on today. You saw parents filing into this hearing room today, carrying pictures of young people who presumably have been

harmed by social media platforms. And so I think the pressure is on for lawmakers to do more than just talking here.

And for the social media CEOs to really explain what they're doing to keep young people safe. I think there are a number of reasons why this hearing

might be different this year than in the past years that we've heard these kinds of concerns brought to Capitol Hill.

You have a number of legislative proposals that are more serious this time around. You have the Kids Online Safety Act, which SNAP has already

endorsed. And I think you'll hear these other CEOs face pressure to endorse as well.

What senator Lindsey Graham said at the opening of this hearing, I thought was really interesting, is that this is one of the few areas where there is

bipartisan support among lawmakers to do something about this issue.

I think we're going to hear the CEOs here talking about some of the existing youth safety measures that they have, ways for parents to observe

their young people's use of social media platforms.

But the critics have said that that doesn't go far enough and that it puts too much pressure on parents and on teens to have a safe experience on

these platforms; whereas the platforms themselves need to be doing more and perhaps need to be changing their business model and not monetizing these

young users in a way that puts them at risk.

ANDERSON: It's good to have you keep an eye on that for you -- for us.

South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham has told tech CEOs -- thank you -- in his opening remarks and I quote him here.

"You have blood on your hands. You have a product that's killing people. You can't be sued. You should be."

Graham added, "It is now time to repeal section 2030," which is a federal law. Of course, it immunizes websites and social media platforms for their

content moderation decisions and from lawsuits arising from their user generated content. Do expect this to be somewhat fiery today.

And there are three CEOs there who are not used to congressional hearings and being peppered with questions from lawmakers. So it will be well worth

a watch on what is -- or certainly keeping up with it on what is such an important issue, that of online child exploitation.

Don't have to be a parent to care about that. But if you are, I'm sure you do.

Still to come, Ukraine and Russia exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war earlier today. A live report from Kyiv is up next.

And who is Russia's anti-war politician?

What it takes to oppose Vladimir Putin these days, that is just ahead.





ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Becky Anderson, half past 7 or just after here in the UAE. Your headlines this


The families of the six remaining American hostages in Gaza met with White House officials Tuesday night, who updated them on the ongoing

negotiations for the release of those hostages.

That comes as Hamas says it is studying another new proposal for a pause in fighting in Gaza in return for hostages.

Meantime, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he will press on until Israel's original war aims are achieved.

A court judge has struck down Elon Musk's massive pay package, worth around $51 billion. A group of Tesla shareholders brought the lawsuit against the

Tesla CEO, saying that the 2018 stock option deal was excessive. The decision can be appealed.

Well, this hour, a U.S. Senate committee is grilling chief executives of five Big Tech companies about the potential harm their products can cause

to teens. Meta's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is amongst those being questioned.

The executives are expected to defend their efforts to promote youth safety but critics in Congress say they are just passing off too much

responsibility onto teenagers and their parents and that they need to do more.

ANDERSON: Russia and Ukraine have swapped hundreds of prisoners of war. These are fresh images of some of the Ukrainians celebrating their release

earlier today. The Ukrainian government called it, quote, "the second major exchange after a long break."

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Kyiv.

This was a significant prisoner swap.

Who was swapped and why now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you're absolutely right, Becky. It is certainly a significant one for the

Ukrainians. It's a very large one. The Ukrainians saying 207 Ukrainian prisoners coming free from the Russian side.

Some of them from the Ukrainian military, some of from the territorial defense forces as well. And you were just alluding to some of those images

that we've been seeing, the first video of the those prisoners from the Ukrainian side being released.


And how happy some of them obviously were to finally be back on Ukrainian territory. That is something that's very important for the Ukrainians. All

this, of course, very important because it comes only a week after a Russian Il-76 cargo plane crashed in the Russian city of Belgorod.

And the Russians, of course, blaming that on the Ukrainians, saying that they shot that plane down and that there were 65 Ukrainian POWs on that


Now the Ukrainians have fired back at the Russians and said, look, there's absolutely no evidence that the Russians have presented so far to suggest

that there were really POWs on that plane. Certainly there was no images of possible bodies on the ground after the crash took place.

The Ukrainians demanding an international investigation, the Russians so far saying that that is not something that they want. However, all of this

called into question whether or not further prisoner exchanges could take place.

And now, just a week later, there is the next one, definitely very important one. The Russians also saying that almost 200 Russian prisoners

came free. But especially for the Ukrainian side, this is very important also as far as public opinion here in this country is concerned, Becky.

ANDERSON: You just spoke to one of the spy chiefs.

What did he have to say?

PLEITGEN: Yes, this is Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the military intelligence agency. He certainly is right now one of the most important

figures here in this country, especially, of course, in the past couple of days.

We've heard these rumors that possibly there could be changes to the military leadership. But here in this country, I spoke to Kyrylo Budanov

about the way that the war is going for the Ukrainians right now, the needs that the Ukrainians have but also some of the uncertainty right now for

U.S. further aid to Ukraine. Here's what he said.


KYRYLO BUDANOV, HEAD OF DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OF UKRAINE (through translator): We're confident that the United States will fulfill the

commitments it has made to our society. We really need this aid. Shells are one of the most decisive factors in this war. It's about quantity; not so

much the quality as the quantity.

Next are our assault aircraft. These are aircraft of the type that the United States has, like the A-10 Thunderbolt II and so on. This is what can

really help inflict a military defeat.

The main events of the battlefield will start happening sometime in the spring or early summer. What we have now, this situation, will not change



PLEITGEN: So essentially, what is he doing is he's acknowledging that right now the Russians are the ones who are pressing. The Russians are the

ones who have more manpower, more ammo. But he does believe that things will turn around, that Russia's offensive will fizzle, as he puts it, soon.

And then the Ukrainians will be at the ready and start attacking, as he put it, in late spring, early summer. Of course, one of the things that is a

big if in all of that is whether or not the Ukrainians are going to have more American ammo and also more American weapons with what's going on

right now in U.S. Congress, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. And we are just shy of two years of this war. Thank you.

Well, Russian politician Boris Nadezhdin says that he has handed in 105,000 signatures, more than what is required, to get on the ballot for the

presidential election, which will be held or certainly is scheduled to be held in March.

If the election commission accepts the signatures submitted, he will be on the ballot to take on president Vladimir Putin, who has already announced

his bid for reelection.

Now he is campaigning against the war with Ukraine, describing Putin's decision to invade as "a fatal mistake"

To London and CNN's Clare Sebastian, who recently spoke with President Putin's possible challenger.

Who is he?

What do we know about him?

And what did he tell you?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky, he is a 60 year-old former MP. He had a four-year term in the state duma 20 years ago. He has since

then moved in various opposition circles. He was an adviser to Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down within sight of the Kremlin in 2015.

But he has been allowed to continue to exist as an opposition figure who was a regular face on some of the pro-Kremlin talk shows that you see on

state TV. And he appears now to be trying to sort of thread this needle.

I said to him, you know, why have you not been arrested yet?

People are arrested in Russia for a lot less than what you're doing.

And he said, look, I was a normal Russian bureaucrat in the '90s just like Putin, seeming to suggest that because he's been around such a long time,

perhaps he's seen as less of a threat.

Now as to whether he's seen as a threat in this election in general, the Kremlin has told us that they don't see him as a rival. And in our exchange

last week, I put that to him, take a listen.


SEBASTIAN: The Kremlin does not see you as a rival.

What is your reaction to that?

BORIS NADEZHDIN, RUSSIAN POLITICIAN: Very good news. Very good news because it's second time, what Mr. Peskov said my name properly.


NADEZHDIN: It's a (INAUDIBLE) just I was -- when I was nominated.

SEBASTIAN: So do you think they do see you as a threat?

NADEZHDIN: I'm sure is that if I will around fill that with my job as a candidate.


I will be -- I will be more and more serious opposition for Mr. Putin.


SEBASTIAN: So he says that the support for him is real. Certainly we did see queues outside his headquarters across Russia and beyond, people trying

to put their signatures down to try to get him on the ballot. He says that support is growing and he believes that the central election commission

cannot given that realistically refuse him.

But this of course, is going to be a litmus test and it sets up a relatively delicate situation for the Kremlin.

Do they allow him to go ahead with this but potentially to allow Putin to run against an anti-war candidate, to show that the idea of being against

the war can be defeated and then risk perhaps this movement growing?

Or do they try to nip it in the bud and risk looking rattled by it?

This is why this matters. He has ignited this sort of very rare spark of dissent in a country where it's really been mostly stamped out since the

start of this war.

ANDERSON: Good to have you, Clare. Thank you.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Wherever you are watching, you're more than welcome, live from Abu Dhabi.

Still ahead this hour, fears of a step back in Venezuela after a top rival to president Maduro was banned from running against him. How the United

States is responding is just ahead.




ANDERSON: Yemen's Houthi rebels say that they fired several missiles at a U.S. warship today. Just hours earlier the U.S. said it shot down a Houthi

missile headed for the Red Sea. Now Houthis have been attacking ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since November.

Spillover, the Houthis say, from the war between Israel and Hamas.

So what does the turmoil in this area of the Red Sea mean in terms of how much you and I are paying for certain goods?

What's the impact here?

This could, of course, depend on how long these attacks go on. CNN's Paula Hancocks has more on what is at stake.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bab al-Mandab, a small bottleneck in the Red Sea, which translates as Gate of Grief. For

centuries, it was mainly the undercurrents and reefs that captains feared.

Today, it is the Houthi rebels attacks from neighboring Yemen, sparking global diversions away from the Red Sea.


Shipping research from the London Stock Exchange Group estimates that diverting a tanker from Asia to northwest Europe around the Cape of Good

Hope adds almost $1 million per voyage, while doubling the shipping time.

How much of that will be passed onto the consumer is not yet clear. But some analysts say the impact may not be he as dire as feared in the short


SIMON MACADAM, CAPITAL ECONOMICS: In terms of how this could actually be down the supply chain to the end consumer and boost the price level of

goods and services that we consume in our economies, the value of the shipping service is actually a very, very small fraction of the total value

of the good or service that you're buying.

So there is actually limited scope of that to seriously cause inflation.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): The severity of the impacts will inevitably depend on the length of the crisis.

VINCENT CLERC, CEO, MAERSK: Initially, we thought this was going to be a fairly short disruption. Now I think our base case is more going towards

month of disruptions. And that means a lot more cost.

HANCOCKS: The International Monetary Fund warned this week that attacks in the Red Sea, coupled with the ongoing war in Ukraine, risk spikes in food,

energy and transportation costs. They also warned that, if there were to be an escalation into a wider conflict in the Middle East, it would threaten

global growth.

MACADAM: It's not the shipping costs themselves as, you know, getting out of hand; it is this endangers energy supplies, bandwidths, the oil prices

rise. Then we'd see gas prices rise. And against that, that is the sort of thing that's going to spoil the party.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): China just the latest affected country to call for an end to the disruption on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Red Sea is a crucial international trade route for goods and energy. We hope to avoid tensions

in the Red Sea and call for an end to attacks on civilian vessels.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Disruption in the Red Sea follows disruption of Ukraine's wheat exports after Russia's invasion. It also follows chaos in

the shipping industry during the COVID pandemic, another reminder of just how sensitive global supply chains can be to unpredicted shock -- Paula

Hancocks, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


ANDERSON: Well, let's get you up to speed on other stories that are on our radar right now at 07:45 here in the UAE.


ANDERSON (voice-over): A Thai court has dealt a heavy blow to backers of royal reform in Thailand. In Wednesday's ruling, the election winning move

forward party must end its campaign to amend the kingdom's notoriously strict defamation law, which has seen people imprisoned for decades.

The United States and China have launched their first counter narcotics group to curb the production and sale of chemicals to make deadly fentanyl.

Those chemicals have fueled a drug crisis in the United States. They say this is a direct result of the two leaders of the two countries meeting in


Well in France, police detained 15 people earlier today as farmers tried to block a wholesale food market south of Paris, according to French media.

This comes as thousands of demonstrators take part in protests again today to put pressure on the government to ease taxes and regulations on French


You're watching CNN, I'm Becky Anderson. This is CONNECT THE WORLD, live from Abu Dhabi for you. Still to come, the U.S. Federal Reserve's first

interest rate decision of the year is just hours away. Why investors are more interested in what's going to happen after the announcement. More on

that after this.





ANDERSON: Well, investors around the world have got a keen eye on what is a key decision coming today from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Fed widely

expected to hold benchmark interest rates steady.

What could prove far more impactful to markets is what the Fed chairman Jerome Powell has to say in a news conference that follows the

announcement. Let's explain. Matt Egan joining me from New York.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Becky, the Fed is preparing to make a big shift in policy and it's a shift that really everyone is going to

feel the impact on. Remember the Fed has been hiking interest rates at the fastest pace since the early 1980s, trying to get inflation under control

by making it more expensive to borrow.

And that, of course, has lifted the cost to get a mortgage or to get a credit card loan or carry credit card debt right now.

And all this has really impacted consumers. But now inflation has cooled off enough where the Fed is preparing to finally give borrowers a little

bit of a break by lowering interest rates for first time since 2020.

And that expectation of a rate hike has helped to fuel the rally on Wall Street. U.S. stocks down today. But this is after a series of record closes

for the market.

And the question though, of course, is when, when is the Fed going to start cutting interest rates?

Now we know it's not going to be today. There's almost no chance of a rate cut at today's meeting. But during the press conference, Fed chair Jerome

Powell, he could drop some hints about a rate cut at the next meeting in March.

The market is pricing in about a 50-50 chance of a rate cut in March. Another question is whether or not there's a little bit too much optimism

on Wall Street about a rate cut.

And I think that what Jerome Powell says in the next few hours is going to go a long way in shifting the perception on Wall Street about whether or

not rate cuts are something that's going to happen this spring or if it's maybe something that we can expecting later in the year, such as the


ANDERSON: It's a tough call, this one. Nobody wants to be a central banker in this wide world that we live in because, if we get a soft landing, so be

it but it's not clear as of yet whether there's still some fears in this economy.

What sort of language should we be watching for?

EGAN: Well, I think that Powell will be asked directly whether or not he thinks that the next move is a rate hike or a rate cut. He could sort of

tip his hand there. I think he's going to get asked about what it will take in the next few weeks and months of economic data to seal the deal on a

rate cut.

But we know Powell has been through this before, right?

And he's going to be smart. He's going to leave himself some wiggle room because, to your point, Becky, this is not an easy call. This is not an

easy job for central bankers, because, if they move too quickly to start cutting interest rates, they could end up fueling inflation, right?

If you make it cheaper to get a mortgage and cheaper to borrow, to get a car, well, you're going to actually boost demand.

And could that then cause another wave of inflation?

They don't want that.

But the other risk is that they wait too long, right?

If they keep slamming the brakes on the economy, eventually that's going to slow the economy into recession and they don't want that, either. So it is

a very difficult call and they need to sort of telegraph markets when rate cuts are going to happen.

ANDERSON: And it's really important. It's not just for the U.S. market -- and we keep a really keen eye on that because so many currencies are fixed

to the U.S. exchange rate -- that anything that happens with interest rates, of course, affects places like the UAE, where we have a exchange

rate which is pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Good to have you, Matt, always a pleasure. Thank you.

EGAN: Thank you.

ANDERSON: We've got a couple of minutes left. A splashdown off the Gulf of Mexico is what I want you to see. A Carnival cruise ship rescued two men

floating in a kayak there. Carnival says team members spotted the men on Monday and quickly rescued them off the coast of an island in Mexico --

excuse me.

The men were evaluated by Carnival's medical staff and given first aid and food. They were later transferred to Mexican navy officials, who said the

men told them that they left Cuba on Sunday on a ship that sank and they used the kayak to stay afloat.

Well, in tonight's Parting Shots, we go to Sesame Street, where thousands of people sought refuge in the red furry arms of Elmo for their mental

health. The official account for Elmo on X, formerly known as Twitter, of course, posted this tweet with his sarcastic or characteristic third person



"Elmo is just checking in. How is everyone (sic)?"

That's all it took to open the floodgates.

People poured their hearts out.

"Elmo, we are tired," one said.

Another, "I'm at my lowest asking -- thanks for asking."

The tweets garnered over 170 million views as users vented about their lives. Our favorites from American poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib says,

"Elmo, each day the abyss we stare into grows a unique horror. However I did have a good grapefruit earlier. Thank you for asking."

The beloved character later tweeted this in response to the sometimes dark tweets.

"Wow, Elmo is glad he asked."

A good reminder for us all to check in on each other. Let me know how you are doing, really. I'm BeckyCNN on Instagram and Twitter.

And that is it for CONNECT THE WORLD. Stay with CNN, "STATE OF THE RACE WITH KASIE HUNT is up next.