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Isa Soares Tonight

CNN's Clarissa Ward Witnesses Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Firsthand; New U.S. Intelligence Assessment Finds Nearly Half of Bombs Dropped on Gaza are "Dumb Bombs"; EU Leaders Agree to Open Ukraine Accession Talks. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: A very warm welcome to the show, everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, CNN goes inside Gaza and sees firsthand

the deepening humanitarian crisis. We'll have that report from a field hospital in just a moment. Plus, a new U.S. Intelligence assessment finds

nearly half of the ammunition that Israel has dropped during its war on Hamas are unguided.

We'll have more on that for you. Plus, a victory for Kyiv. The EU will open a session talks with Ukraine. We are live for you in Brussels off the back

of that surprise announcement. But first, this evening, we are getting new developments about a suspected terrorist plot on European soil. German

authorities say they have detained multiple alleged Hamas members, and they say, they were planning an attack on Jewish institutions in Europe.

Much of the region has been on edge since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, with officials warning of an increased risk of attacks by radical

Islamists. So let's go straight to CNN's Jeremy Diamond in Israel. And Jeremy, what more do we know at this hour about this plot? What are Israeli

officials telling you this hour?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears that there were two separate batches of arrests today made by both Danish authorities as well

as German and Dutch authorities as well. Four people were arrested for terrorism offenses, three of which were arrested in Denmark, one in the

Netherlands by Danish -- by Danish authorities.

And then separately, and we're told by the Danish authorities that there is no connection, no direct connection, at least, between these two sets of

arrests, that the German federal prosecutors said that four people were accused of being suspected members of Hamas. They were arrested, three of

those in Germany and one in the Netherlands.

Now, Israeli security services in relation to the Danish arrests, they say that those acted in Denmark were, quote, "acting on behalf of Hamas." The

Danish authorities have yet to actually confirm that, but what we did just hear moments ago from the Danish Prime Minister is that he did make a

reference to the war between Israel and Hamas, as he was talking about these arrests.

He said, quote, "it is completely unacceptable for someone to bring a conflict from somewhere else in the world into Danish society." So that may

give you some indication here --

SOARES: Yes --

DIAMOND: Of what arose. The four people who were arrested by German and Dutch authorities, we don't have a whole lot of information on that. But

Danish authorities did say that there was no connection, no direct connection between the two.

SOARES: Do we know at this stage here, Jeremy, the extent of the collaboration or the cooperation that Israel's played with these two


DIAMOND: Well, it was very interesting to see that the Israeli security services, both the internal service of the Shin Bet, as well as its

external Intelligence agency, the Massad, put out a joint statement talking about these arrests, linking them to Hamas. The Danish authorities did not

confirm any direct cooperation with the Israeli government around these arrests, but they did say that there was some assistance from foreign

Intelligence services as well.

And so, that may give you an indication. We do know, of course, that historically, there has been very close cooperation between Israeli

Intelligence services with American, as well as European Intelligence services. And so, that may give you some indication about how this all came


SOARES: Jeremy Diamond, I know you'll stay across it for us, I really appreciate it. Thank you, Jeremy. Now to a CNN exclusive report that could

help explain the soaring civilian death toll in Gaza. A new U.S. Intelligence assessment finds nearly half of the ammunitions that Israel

has dropped during its war on Hamas are unguided.

These so-called dumb bombs are imprecise and can have devastating consequences in densely populated areas. The U.S. has been pressing Israel,

as you know, to take greater steps to minimize civilian casualties. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israel's Defense Minister

in Tel Aviv today.

Yoav Gallant told him the war will last, quote, "more than several months." And it's hard to imagine what will still be left of Gaza or who will be

left to inhabit it. The head of the U.N. Agency for Palestinian Refugees says people are running out of time as well as options as they face

bombardment, deprivation and disease.


Philippe Lazzarini visited Gaza this week, he says humanitarian assistance available is but a crumble, compared to the immensity of the needs. Have a



PHILIPPE LAZZARINI, COMMISSIONER-GENERAL, UNRWA: People, and this is also something completely new, people are stopping at aid trucks, taking the

food and eating it right away. And this is how desperate and hungry they are. And I witnessed this firsthand.


SOARES: Well, CNN is the first western media outlet to get access into Gaza and report independently. Our chief international correspondent Clarissa

Ward witnessed for herself the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding there. Here is her report and a warning, parts of it are indeed graphic.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You don't have to search for tragedy in Gaza. It finds you on every street

strewn with trash and stagnant water, desolate and foreboding.

(on camera): So, we have just crossed the border into southern Gaza. This is the first time we've actually been able to get into Gaza since October

7th, and we are now driving to a field hospital that has been set up by the UAE.

(voice-over): Up until now, Israel and Egypt have made access for international journalists next to impossible, and you can see why.

(on camera): Since October 7th, the Israeli military says it has hit Gaza with more than 22,000 strikes. That, by far, surpasses anything we've seen

in modern warfare, in terms of intensity and ferocity, and we really, honestly, are just getting a glimpse of it here.

(voice-over): Despite Israel's heavy bombardment, there are people out on the streets. A crowd outside a bakery. Where else can they go? Nowhere is

safe in Gaza.


WARD (on camera): Right --

AL-NAQBI: A stadium.

WARD (voice-over): Arriving at the Emirate field hospital, we meet Dr. Abdullah Al-Naqbi, no sooner does our tour begin when --

AL-NAQBI: Our ambulance -- that's a real life.

WARD (on camera): And this is what you hear all the time now?

AL-NAQBI: Yes, at least, 20 times a day.

WARD: At least, 20 times a day?

AL-NAQBI: Maybe more, sometimes. But I think we've got used to it.

WARD (voice-over): One thing none of the doctors here have gotten used to is the number of children they are treating. The U.N. estimates that some

two-thirds of those killed in this round of the conflict have been women and children. Eight-year-old Janan(ph) was lucky enough to survive a strike

on her family home that crushed her femur, but spared her immediate family.


She says she's not in pain, so that's good.


WARD: Her mother, Herba(ph) was out when it happened. "I went to the hospital to look for her," she says, "and I came here, and I found her

here. The doctors told me what happened with her, and I made sure that she's OK. Thank God."

"They bombed the house in front of us and then our home," Janan(ph) tells us. "I was sitting next to my grandfather and my grandfather held me, and

my uncle was fine. So, he is the one who took us out." But Dr. Ahmed Almazrouel says it is hard not to.

AHMED ALMAZROUEL, UAE FIELD HOSPITAL: I work with all the people like Adar(ph), (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) something touching your heart.

WARD: Touches your heart and test your faith in humanity, as we leave Janan(ph), Dr. Al-Naqbi comes back with the news of casualties arriving

from the strike just ten minutes earlier.

AL-NAQBI: So just for a stable scene right now, two amputated young men from just the bombing.

WARD (on camera): From the casevac we just heard --

AL-NAQBI: Yes --

WARD: From the bomb we just heard?

AL-NAQBI: That is my understanding.


AL-NAQBI: They would arrive to our --

WARD (voice-over): A man and a 13-year-old boy are wheeled in, both missing limbs, both in a perilous state. "What's your name? What's your name?" The

doctor asks. The notes provided by the paramedics are smeared with blood, a tourniquet-improvised with a bandage. Since the field hospital opened less

than two weeks ago, it has been inundated with patients, 130 of their 150 beds are already full.


(on camera): So let me understand this, you are now basically the only hospital around that still has some beds?

AL-NAQBI: I guess so, yes. Or maybe I'm very sure of that, because they're telling me one of the hospitals with a capacity of 200, they are committing

1,000 right now, and the next two hospital, I'm not very sure, it's like 50 to 100, maybe 400 to 500 patients. So, at one location, he called me, he

said, they have a three patients in each bed. Please take any. I told him, send as many as you can.

WARD: I mean, we've been here 15 minutes, and this is already what we're seeing.

AL-NAQBI: And this is -- you hear it, you see it.

WARD (voice-over): In every bed, another got punched. Less than two years old, Amir(ph) still doesn't know that his parents and siblings were killed

in the strike that disfigured him. "Yesterday, he saw a nurse that looked like his father," his aunt Nahaya(ph) tells us, "he kept screaming, dad!"

Amir(ph) is still too young to comprehend the horror all around him.

But 20-year-old Lama(ph) understands it all too well. Ten weeks ago, she was studying engineering at university and helping to plan her sister's

wedding. Today, she is recovering from the amputation of her right leg. Her family followed Israeli military orders and fled from the north to the

south, but the house where they were seeking shelter was hit in a strike.

"The world isn't listening to us," she says. "Nobody cares about us. We have been dying for over 60 days, dying from the bombing and nobody did

anything." Words of condemnation, delivered in a thin rasp. But does anyone hear them? Like Grozny, Aleppo and Mariupol, Gaza will go down as one of

the great horrors of modern warfare.

It's getting dark. Time for us to leave. A privilege the vast majority of Gazans do not have. Our brief glimpse from a window on to hell is ending,

as a new chapter in this ugly conflict unfolds.


SOARES: And that hell is, indeed, continuing. Clarissa Ward with an incredible reporting there from inside Gaza. Later in the program, I will

be bringing you my interview with UNICEF's spokesperson, James Elder. We sat down earlier just after he returned from Gaza. That interview coming up

in around ten minutes or so. Do stay here for that.

I want to return now to that exclusive CNN report on unguided bombs that could explain some of the carnage we have been seeing, that we just showed

you there in Gaza. We're joined by Alex Marquardt in Tel Aviv and Katie Lillis in Washington. Kate though, let me get to you first. This

Intelligence assessment has found that nearly half, I believe, of all of the ammunitions that Israel has dropped during the war on Gaza are


Explain what they are, first, for our audience, and the consequences of these bombs in these densely-populated areas.

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yes, so this assessment compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that was described to my

colleague, Natasha Bertrand and I, found that 40 percent to 45 percent of the 29,000 air-to-surface ammunitions that have been dropped on Gaza since

the start of this conflict are unguided munitions, so-called gravity bombs or dumb bombs.

And experts say that dumb bombs are less precise than precision-guided ammunitions and pose a greater threat to the civilian population on the

ground, particularly, as you say, in densely-populated areas like Gaza where it's a matter of feet that can be the difference in-between life and


It's part of the reason why the United States has gradually and intentionally phased out its own use of unguided munitions over the past

decade. Now, there are ways to make dumb bombs more precise through the application of a guidance kit. But it's not clear at this point whether or

not Israel is -- has enough of those kits, is using them, and what their rules of engagement are, right?

What their threshold is for an acceptable level of potential civilian --

SOARES: Yes --

LILLIS: Casualties or collateral damage in a given strike.

SOARES: Yes, and on that, Alex, what has been the response from the Netanyahu government to this U.S. Intelligence report? Because, of course,

if our viewers remember, it does come on the heels, isn't it? Of President Biden's comments just a few days ago that Israel has been engaged in what

he called indiscriminate bombing in Gaza. And it comes as Jake Sullivan visits Israel. So, put this into context for us.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we know that one of the priorities for Jake Sullivan while here in Israel was to tell

top Israeli leadership that simply, they need to be more precise and surgical in their attacks. This is something the U.S. has been saying for a

long time now, but they really are stepping up the pressure.

Now, when Katie Bo and Natasha were doing this reporting, I took those figures to the IDF to ask them for a response. Initially, they told us, we

don't talk about the munitions that we use in Gaza. But when they saw the impact of this reporting, they came back to me with a bit more of an

explanation, certainly not denying that they are using these so-called dumb bombs, these imprecise bombs.

I heard from a spokesman for the IDF who told me that they use high quality munitions that they say are operated by skilled pilots and advanced

systems, and that when they use these variety of high quality munitions, they verify that the strikes are directed at military targets. So again, no

denial there.

Isa, I would note that tonight, after his meeting with Jake Sullivan, the prime minister said thank you to the U.S. for all of the munitions that the

U.S. has been giving to Israel. We know that there have been thousands of these imprecise dumb bombs, but really notably, you could really sense the

discomfort on the American side with how Israel is prosecuting this war.

We just learned that in the meetings with Jake Sullivan and top Israeli leadership, he made clear that he really hopes that Israel will shift from

what they're calling a high intensity phase, which is what we're seeing right now, to a low intensity phase in the coming weeks.

But a very big question remains to be seen whether that is something that Israel intends to do, whether they are getting that message. Isa?

SOARES: Indeed, Jay -- thank you very much, Alex there and Katie Bo for that. Appreciate it. And still to come tonight, UNICEF spokesperson James

Elder tells me that between Israel's continued bombardments and rapidly spreading disease, the situation in Gaza has become a perfect storm.

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is getting some good news from a summit of the European Union leaders. We are there for you, next.


SOARES: More now on the devastating humanitarian crisis unfolding inside Gaza. On Thursday, Israel called for new rounds of evacuations, telling

people to leave specific areas of Khan Yunis and move to the so-called displacement shelters. In a post on social media, IDF said the evacuation

order was to, quote, "ensure safety."


As Israel continues to expand its offensive against Hamas in the south. With limited internet access, it's unclear how many people in Gaza will see

the message, and with increasingly dire humanitarian conditions, it's also unclear just how safe those shelters will be. Earlier, I spoke with

UNICEF's spokesperson, James Elder. He's just returned from weeks spent working in Gaza. I started by asking him about these evacuation orders and

how it's impacting Palestinians.


JAMES ELDER, SPOKESPERSON, UNICEF: Yes, I don't think people know where they're going to as well, Isa. That's certainly what I found, that there's

just confusion on the ground, and there's panic now, because that critical lack of water for people is becoming one of their primary concerns along

with the bombardment.

So, there has been a constant narrative that they go to safe places. Now, a safe place has to have two things. One, not be bombed. That's obvious. The

other is, it must have essentials to life, water, sanitation and shelter. They don't have those. They're not lacking in them, they don't have them.

So, this thing that we -- UNICEF and other agencies have been saying for weeks about, we are fearing just as much of deaths from the sky as we are

from disease on the ground, this is that reality. As a doctor said to me, James, this is not a perfect storm. We are in the storm.

SOARES: And on that, what we have heard in terms of the diseases, including chicken pox. We were reporting on this, this week, meningitis, other

infections spreading. This is according to the W.H.O., health ministry and W.H.O. And it's just with an ever-shrinking space, and as temperatures

drop, as it gets colder, that's going to be a huge concern.

ELDER: And it is cold and we've seen now the floods. I mean, this is now --

SOARES: Yes --

ELDER: You now have disease flowing through. It's not a question of if, it's happening. It's -- will this now, you know, storm humanitarian

hurricane, how many children's lives will it take? So, numbers that we just have is more than a 100,000 children have diarrhea, 150,000 civilians with

severe acute respiratory illnesses.

Now, all the people I still speak to on the ground, mothers and fathers, they know hospitals are not an option for their sick children. They know --

SOARES: What do they do with them?

ELDER: Well, they say three things. We have to use what we've learnt as parents, mother nature and hope.

SOARES: And mother nature? It's not -- I mean, given it's not really an environment that's conducive.

ELDER: No, it's terrifying. I mean, I've literally spoken to dads who say, look, I'm trying to explain to my wife why we have to be realistic in our

expectations about what's going to happen to our child. We are all they've got, we need to use everything we've got, because they know that hospital

aides, it's very difficult to get to them, they're not safe, but mostly they're war zones.

You know, their children I see and saw in hospitals who were stable, but critical, meaning they had lost a limb, but they were sleeping on a floor.

Not even in a bed. They're waiting for care. So --

SOARES: Yes --

ELDER: If a child has gastro, but that is lethal. We're going --

SOARES: Yes --

ELDER: To get to that point, and that warnings have been made time and again, and this is why, I guess, the organization like UNICEF, our fear is

turning into frustration because we're going to watch as disease takes hold.

SOARES: You know, I remember clearly when you wore an -- several weeks ago where you said that this wasn't a war on Hamas, it was a war on children.

You still stand by that, from what you've seen?

ELDER: Yes, unfortunately, Isa, these aren't -- Isa, they're not -- it's not a dramatic line. It's a line because most crises, they impact children

terribly because children --

SOARES: Yes --

ELDER: Are the most vulnerable. But most have it bad. A casualty rate of children around 20 percent. This is 40. This is twice as lethal to children

as many conflicts we've seen in the last 15 or 20 years, and unfortunately, that is because of the sheer density of population --

SOARES: Yes --

ELDER: The indiscriminate nature, and when we see that there's been not even lip-service to safe zones having water and sanitation for children and

young girls. That same disregard for children has been shown in the bombardments. That's why we see 40 percent of casualties, children. That's

why it's a war on children.

SOARES: Is there a story that has stayed with you, because you were there for, what? Two weeks inside of Gaza? You went even -- went to the north. We

showed that video here. Is there a story that you've been unable to shake off?

ELDER: Yes, there's probably two. One still breaks my heart, the other I find it is almost slightly more inspiring. One is getting on a bus at Nasr

Hospital in the south, and that was full of children, just stunned, with burns, with wounds of war, with missing limbs, and they've been on it for

three days, given the complexities of getting through checkpoints.

It's 30 miles. And the smell of decomposing flesh is something that I haven't been able to rid myself of. But then, that little boy Omar(ph), the

boy who when I spoke to him, he wasn't talking about what had happened to him. His mother had been killed, his father had been killed, and his twin

brother, who is very close had been killed.

SOARES: Oh, goodness --

ELDER: And as we spoke to Omar about sport, he was clearly clever. He would just sit and for long periods just do this, and just close his eyes, and I

asked his aunt, why? And she said, he is just terrified of forgetting what his mom and dad look like. And he keeps closing them because that's the

place you can see them. So, he's so afraid that he'll lose them in his mind as much as he's lost them on earth.


And unfortunately, that story is not unique. There are thousands of Omars(ph) in Gaza.

SOARES: And it's not just the physical wounds. Also, like you clearly point out, what stays with them, right? The mental, the shock, the anxiety, the

fear that so many may be facing right now.

ELDER: No, it's a perfect point. Yesterday, there was a 14-year-old girl in Gaza city who just somehow appeared, and we got a call. She was injured,

she was alone, she was bleeding, she didn't speak. She was just shell- shocked. She just -- she was literally shell-shocked. The number of children -- and I've got children.

I'm not bad at being able to break a child's moment, the number of children I saw in hospitals that are not speaking, they're utterly stunned. They're

with wounds of war. Every other child has got some type of mental health issue right now, and Gaza is not a place for them to get better. They

simply won't. But as a doctor said, Gaza is not a place for children right now, but it's home for a million children.

SOARES: Yes --

ELDER: We have to accept that. This is why agencies like UNICEF are so forthright in our condemnation of indiscriminate attacks and of the world

still not embracing a ceasefire.

SOARES: On that point, Israel's Defense Minister told Jake Sullivan of the U.S. today that the war in Gaza -- and I'm going to quote him here, "will

last more than several months." I mean, with their healthcare system on its knees, bombardment, deprivation, disease, your biggest fear? As if this

continues for more months --

ELDER: Yes, we --

SOARES: Several more months.

ELDER: To explain exactly what the doctor said that we will see just as many children killed from the bombardment, which is --


Excuse me, 6,000, 7,000, we don't know, more, 2,000 under rubble. Disease will take hold. It's impossible now not to. Children are having like less

than a liter of water a day, sometimes to a family. That's below a survival rate. There's desperate lack of sanitation, not few toilets, no toilets.

And that's including adolescent girls. They're outside, the rains are sweeping through. This is, as that doctor said, this is the perfect storm

that we are in that storm. My hope was that we hit a week, we could start to have a proper humanitarian response. That's not possible because of the


If they are talking about -- I'm sorry, it takes me a moment to capture that. If they're talking about two or three months, then we will see tens

of thousands of children killed and those mental scars take deep root for every child who survives.


SOARES: Very dire picture there that James Elder there is painting. Our thanks to him, of course. Israel says it has completed a days-long raid in

the West Bank city of Jenin, announcing that seven of its soldiers were killed in the operation to thwart what it calls terror.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health says 12 Palestinians were killed including a minor. Doctors Without Borders said their staff on the ground

in Jenin witnessed Israeli forces shooting an unarmed teenager inside a hospital compound.

We've also seen video showing soldiers singing Jewish prayers into the loudspeakers of a mosque. The IDF says those soldiers have been removed

from service. The Palestinian authority calls the raid, quote, "a dangerous escalation."

And still to come on the show tonight, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling it a victory for Ukraine. The latest from an EU summit in Brussels

next with our Bianca Nobilo. And Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his first extended press conference since the start of his war in Ukraine. The

questions and his answers when we return.



SOARES: Welcome back, everyone.

Ukraine's bid for E.U. membership just received a huge boost. European Union leaders have decided to open a session negotiation with Ukraine and

that is despite Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban's promise to block Ukraine's path to a session.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meantime, is seeking more wartime funding from E.U. while much-needed aid packages stalled, as you know, in

U.S. Congress. All of it, amid the backdrop of attacks by Russian forces on Ukraine in the south.

One person was killed when a missile hit a residential building. Ukrainian officials said it shot down most of the 42 drones launched by Russia.

Well, European Union leaders are meeting as a summit in Brussels that could have huge implications for the war. Our Bianca Nobilo is there.

And Bianca, this latest news on the accession talks is already being celebrated by President Zelenskyy. I think we've got a tweet from him, from

X. I think he wrote, this is a victory for Ukraine, a victory for all of Europe, a victory that motivates and inspires and strengthens.

Talk to the significance of this moment because at the same time, I just saw a message from Viktor Orban saying, starting the session negotiations

with Ukraine is a bad decision. Hungary did not participate in the decision.

Put it into context for us.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is, of course, celebrating this. It was such a huge priority in an aspirational

idea for Ukraine just a few years ago to be at the second stage of a seating to the European Union.

He held as historic, as European leaders did in the building behind me, bar one. And the exception, as you mentioned, was the Hungarian prime minister,

Viktor Orban.

Now he said going into the summit that he didn't believe Ukraine was ready. Let's just take a listen to what he said this morning when he was on the

red carpet in the entrance hall behind him.


VIKTOR ORBAN, HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER: Enlargement is not a theoretical issue. Enlargement is a merit based, legally detailed process which has


We have set up seven preconditions and, even by the evaluation of the commission, three out of the seven is not fulfilled. So there is no reason

to negotiate membership of Ukraine now.


NOBILO: There was deep concern about the division that Orban represented. In fact, this morning, the start of the summit was delayed, so that last-

minute discussions could happen between Orban, Macron, Scholz and key E.U. leaders.

There was discussions from senior figures in the E.U. about the summit running through to Sunday because it was going to be so difficult to come

to some form of agreement.

Big fear, obviously, that Orban would use his veto power because it is unanimous voting. But surprisingly -- and it really was a surprise -- the

mood music here was very pessimistic and quite tense. He decided to abstain instead.


He did say afterwards that he felt this was a senseless, incorrect decision but nevertheless, it has allowed the E.U. to proceed.

I would note one thing, which is that a lot of critics within the European Parliament have said that the E.U. unfreezing 10 billion euros to Hungary,

which was being withheld, because of E.U. concerns over rule of law, is behind this.

The Belgian prime minister said Hungary can't treat the E.U. like a Hungarian bazaar. That is being denied by central figures in the E.U. and

European leaders, saying that they're different things but the timing is making some raise an eyebrow.

SOARES: It is raising an eyebrow. What a coincidence, right?

I think we can say that and I'm glad you brought it into the discussion, Bianca. We have also seen this week and our viewers will have seen this,

prime minister Zelenskyy kind of shuffling between capitals, Bianca, meeting President Biden, meeting lawmakers.

Trying, really, to convince them to a lot of $60 billion in aid. Underlining, speaking to the nervousness, right?

Right now.

What is the mood in Europe regarding the U.S. and whether Europe can go it alone?

Because this is important.

NOBILO: Well, there is a vital link between Viktor Orban and the U.S. And we know that allies of Orban, just this last week, have been speaking to

Republicans, being at the same event.

All from the same hymn sheet in terms of withholding some aid to Ukraine. Orban has long been a proponent of stopping it. He's been a thorn in the

side of the E.U., when it comes to Ukraine unity for sometime now.

He's obviously Putin's closest ally within the European Union. So there is a commonality there.

One of the next stages of the discussion, we might get a conclusion to it today or it might be tomorrow morning, it's about this 50 billion euro fund

to Ukraine for the next year to help sustain its economy.

And that's notwithstanding another lump sum of billions which would be for more lethal aid for Ukraine. Now whatever the E.U. decides to do,

individual nations are still stepping up.

Germany, for example, has reiterated its commitment to Ukraine. Second to the U.S., they donate the most to Ukraine's lethal aid and they've doubled

a new allotment of funds to Ukraine. So it's not just the E.U.

Of course, it's what domestic budgets decide to do as well. But this news today will be a huge boost for Zelenskyy, because that trip to the U.S. was

disappointing. We've had Putin doing his annual Q&A today after foregoing it last year, seeming to have a renewed sense of confidence, when it comes

to the invasion.

Whether or not that is justified is another question. So this, symbolically, at least, is a real win for Zelenskyy, an important day.

SOARES: Indeed. Bianca Nobilo there for us in Brussels, appreciate it. Thank you, Bi.

On that point that Bianca was mentioning there, Russian president Vladimir Putin held his end of year news conference for the first time since the

start of his war on Ukraine. A marathon event that saw President Putin fielding questions from invited journalists, uniformed soldiers and so-

called average citizens.

Topics included the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the Russian economy and national unity. Although most of the time, softball questions were asked,

there's a glimmer of public discontent and some text messages flash briefly in the background. We will get to those in just a moment.

Steve Hall is a CNN national security analyst and former CIA chief of Russia operations and he joins us now.

Steve, great to have you back on the show. I mean, let's start off with the fact that he, he brought it back, he brought the conference back. End of

year conference back after two years of war, engaging, as he normally does, in a four-hour marathon.

What does that tell us?

I mean, Bianca, if you heard her there, she was talking about how this shows that he's confident.

How do you see it?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, back in the battle days of the Cold War, Russia watchers, criminologists used to watch

the various Russian politicians stand on top of Lenin's Tomb.

And they would count very carefully how many there were and, you know, where they were standing in relationships. That is pretty much really, this

is the modern version of that.

We get to watch Putin. This is, of course, highly orchestrated. Very, very little of actually what comes through is actually legitimate questions. I

mean, they were all screened or preprepared.

And in that sense, it's interesting to see what those questions are because they're essentially reflective of what the Kremlin wants to talk about.

So you had some cases where you had, you know, little old ladies out in the countryside, complaining about the price of eggs, which allows Putin to

say, you know, well, I had these bad economic advisors but I have your own interests at heart. And he apologized.


HALL: When it comes to the Ukraine war, he was able to say -- go ahead.

SOARES: No, go ahead.

When it comes to the Ukraine war?

HALL: When it comes to the Ukraine war, he was able to say some things very important for him to say. For example, no, there's not going to be any

more, you know, military call-ups for young men. That's at least what he claimed. Whether or not that is going to happen, whether there are other

mechanisms is hard to say.

He clearly feels more confident, though, simply because you, know, he had this year and he decided not to do it last year.

SOARES: Yes, and even after, you know, these two years, it does seem that his strategy hasn't changed at all. He's still using the same old

justifications that we've been hearing the last few years for the war.


Denazification, right?

The demilitarization, what he calls unusual status.

How does this play at home?

Because just this week, we just remind our viewers, a classified U.S. intelligence report estimated that 315,000 Russian soldiers had been either

killed or wounded since the war began.

HALL: So this is really interesting because I think the Kremlin is having to wrestle with the new reality of how Russians get their news. Still, the

vast majority of them, especially those that are away from highly concentrated, you know, populations like Moscow and St. Petersburg, they

still watch television, largely or listen to the radio.

That's completely controlled by the Kremlin. But now you've got a lot of these Telegram channels and all these other online capabilities. So he's

got to consider both of those things.

He has to speak to both Russians or he addresses their very basic issues and he's got to address a more sophisticated audience in St. Petersburg,

Moscow and maybe places like Yekaterinburg, where he's got to talk about how the war is going. Of course, he's got to paint a very positive picture,

to keep people as under control as he possibly can.

SOARES: I think we've got video, we've got a little graphic, actually, that shows some of those kind of rogue questions that appear just as he was


And those questions, as we can see on the screen, when will Russians stop killing Russians?

When will the real Russia not differ from television Russia?

Why do we have so many poor?

I mean, these clearly do not toe the kind of Kremlin line.

But how do you interpret it?

Because like you said, Steve, the first answer, I think, these are often these conferences are often very choreographed.

HALL: Yes and, again, it's a real balance that Putin has to strike. I mean, he understands that the only way to make sure that zero questions,

that he doesn't want to talk about gets through, it really is the security services and, you know, the local television services all, of those are

under control, of course, of the security services.

They have to do amazing work to stop all of Russia from being able to weigh in. By the same token, Putin wants to appear that he, you know, is able to

field those questions because he is strong enough to do so. It's a real balancing act for him.

SOARES: That's such a good point and we have -- I'm sure our viewers have seen -- Russian state TV, I'm sure you have seen this as well, commenting

on the political gridlock that we've seen on Capitol Hill, the inability of the U.S. to unlock funds for Ukraine.

I want just to play out a little clip and we can talk after this. Have a listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What's happening in the U.S. is beneficial for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Ukraine is losing, Russia is winning. This is it. Their funding and weapons came to an end.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Well, done, Republicans, for standing firm. That is good for us. Even Mitch McConnell, well done,



SOARES: "Well, done, Gramps."

Is this political dithering playing right into Putin's hands, Steve?

HALL: Yes, it is. He will take all of those messages, all of those sound bites that his propagandists or those people we were just watching, are

looking for, coming out of both Washington and, of course, European capitals, if this plays the way Putin wants it to.

And his propagandists simply put that out there because, again, it transmits to the Russian people that, oh, look, the only reason that

Ukraine is still alive as a country is because of this external assistance that they're getting from the United States and from the Europeans.

To the extent that he can say, look, that goodwill is running out and that means the war is going to an end and we will accomplish everything we need

to. It's good news for Russia. He'll take that to the bank everyday.

SOARES: Always great to get your analysis and expertise. Thank you, Steve.

HALL: Sure.

SOARES: Still to come tonight, as the world's gaze turns back to Russia and Ukraine, one of Vladimir Putin's allies is taking a page out of his

playbook. We will have more on Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro's bid to take over part of neighboring Guyana. That is next.





SOARES: Well, the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana are meeting today as Venezuela tries to claim a piece of Guyana's territory. Disagreement over

the jungle region of Essequibo has run for decades.

But Venezuela has reasserted its claim on the region, often major oil discoveries. Guyana's president says its border is not up for discussion.

The two are meeting in the Caribbean country of St. Vincent and The Grenadines. They entered into negotiations earlier.

And we are still waiting to hear the outcome of their meeting. International arbitrators, meanwhile, said the current order between Guyana

and Venezuela and this context, is important, back in 1899.

At the time, Guyana was still part of the British empire. Since 2018, the International Court of Justice has been reviewing the dispute and will hold

the trial in the spring. CNN's Patrick Oppmann joins us now from Cuba.

Patrick, good to see you.

So what are we expecting to happen?

I saw a comment from Nicolas Maduro -- I'm going to translate it here, "We arrived with a flag of peace and a mandate of the Venezuelan people held


Doesn't seem like he has changed his tune.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, and to be a fly on the wall in this room where the talks are going on -- and remember, both sides have

basically said, these are not negotiations.

Guyana's president Irfaan Ali said that he's not giving up one tread of his territory, this is Guyana's land. And Nicolas Maduro has already annexed it

after a referendum. We are talking about the majority of the country of neighboring Guyana.

A huge part of this small country that is, of course, so rich in oil and natural gas. That is no coincidence that this part of Guyana that Nicolas

Maduro has been saying voters have given him the go-ahead to annex is sitting on top of billions of dollars in oil and gas.

So they are meeting. We understand still continuing to talk and if the diplomats who are there are leading these discussions can accomplish

lowering the temperature, some of the warlike rhetoric, then that will be a win here.

Because, of course, Nicolas Maduro is facing election next year and there's been a lot of saber rattling in his comments of the last couple of weeks.

Of course, that plays well back home.

But it is causing many people in the regime and in the United States to notice and wonder, you know, is this Nicolas Maduro just being


Or is there a real effort going forward to take back this part of Guyana that Venezuela for so long has claimed as its own?

SOARES: And what one contact said to me, one source said to me, Patrick and you can add your analysis on this because, of course, you know

Venezuela, reporting from Venezuela for so long, is that this -- he called it a dangerous distraction.

That is the fear, isn't it?

Because it is, it could be seen as given everything what has happened at home. But it is nevertheless very dangerous.

OPPMANN: It's a very dangerous game and I think a lot of people dismiss this, that Nicolas Maduro is not going to start a war that could bring in

the United States or other countries in the region. But seen throughout history, it only takes one mistake.


One group of soldiers, one crossing the border, on Venezuelan oil company beginning to look for oil in this contested reason, as Nicolas Maduro has

told them they can now do, to kick off something much, much greater. So certainly playing with fire and we'll see if the diplomats can try to lower

the temperature somewhat.

Because that is badly needed. It certainly has been keeping --


SOARES: Indeed, Patrick, great to see you. Thank you very much.

Well, U.S. House Republicans voted to formalize their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden Wednesday. Biden, for his part, called it a

baseless political stunt. It's still, just an inquiry at this point but Republicans wanted to take a step to firm up their subpoena powers.

They sought to use those subpoena powers on the president's son this week. But Hunter Biden defied their request for closed door testimony and said he

would testify publicly instead.

And the Bank of England is holding interest rates steady at 5.25 percent. That follows a similar decision, if you remember, just a day earlier from

the U.S. Federal Reserve. But the Fed is also forecasting three rate cuts next year, an announcement that sent markets soaring, as you can see.

The Dow Jones, up 0.25 percent but it did set a record high yesterday, finally passing a mark set nearly two years ago. Nasdaq practically

flatlining, let me just say that. The S&P up ever so slightly.

The green arrows, all across the border, that's how markets are standing. But clearly, overjoyed by the decision that we have seen from the Fed in

the last 24 hours. Of course, we will have much more on the markets here on CNN when "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" picks up at the top of the hour.

We are going to take a short break, we will be back on the other side.




SOARES: Well, Americans have won a unique race and one of the world's most stunning as well as brutal places. The Antarctic ice marathon, just a few

hundred kilometers from the South Pole at the Union Glacier.


Those 68 runners faced sub-zero temperatures and strong winds. The first across the finish line, American Stephanie Estridge and Michael Higgins,

from the women's and men's marathons.

Good onto them, I think they've beaten my time as well.

Well, she's "Time's" magazine's Person of the Year. She's the most played artist globally on Spotify. And now, Taylor Swift can add another notch to

her belt.

Pennsylvania, Taylor's home state, is officially in its Taylor Swift era. Lawmakers, I kid you not, passed a resolution on Wednesday, recognizing

2023 as Swift's era. While the resolution had its naysayers, it passed 103 to 100. But as Swift says, the haters can.


SOARES: You will thank me for that. You will be singing that for the rest of the day. The resolution passed on her 34th birthday.

That does it for us. Thanks very much for your company. Do stay right here. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" with Richard Quest is up next. See you.