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Biden to Address Ransomware Hacks with Putin; State TV Interview with Jailed Activist in Belarus Sparks Condemnation; Mexican Election Seen as Referendum on Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Aired 12- 12:15a ET

Aired June 5, 2021 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I am Michael Holmes. Let's get to the top story.

The U.S. government warning there is a growing epidemic of ransomware attacks that directly threaten America's vital infrastructure. One cybersecurity firm estimates there were at least 15,000 such attacks last year.

FBI director Christopher Wray saying it is time to treat hacking as a form of terrorism. He told "The Wall Street Journal," quote, "There are a lot of parallels, there's a lot of importance and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention.

"There's a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American. The scale of the problem is one that I think this country has to come to terms with."

Now the Biden administration blames hackers in Russia for most of the recent attacks. But the Russian leader laughs off the accusations. CNN's Matthew Chance with that part of the story.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Vladimir Putin sharply rejecting allegations that Russia is in any way implicated in the recent ransomware cyberattacks in the United States, describing them as nonsense, ridiculous and just hilarious.

U.S. officials say two recent attacks on a crucial U.S. fuel pipeline and on a major meatpacking company were carried out by cyber criminals based in Russia. They've called on the Kremlin to crack down.

The suggestion being that the Russian authorities are currently allowing the cyber gangs to operate with impunity. President Putin made his remarks at an interview with Russian state television on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Take a listen to what he had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): It is just ridiculous to blame Russia for this. I think that the relevant U.S. services should find out who the scammers are. Not Russia, for sure.

For us to extort money from some company.

We are not dealing with some chicken meat or beef. It is just hilarious.


CHANCE (voice-over): Strong words from the Russian leader and they come less than 2 weeks before he is scheduled to meet the U.S. President Joe Biden in a face-to-face summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

Hacking and cyber warfare just one of the fraught issues on the agenda, which is also likely to include sanctions, Russia's treatment of Kremlin critics and military threats against its neighbors.

President Putin says he's hoping the meeting will be held in a positive manner, but he doesn't expect any breakthrough in Russian- American relations -- Matthew Chance, CNN.


HOLMES: President Putin also being slammed by Russian opposition members over a new election law. It bans members of so-called extremist groups from running for office for up to 5 years.

Critics say that this is a blatant attempt to further limit political competition. The new law was signed ahead of a court ruling on whether to designate the organizations of the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as extremist groups.

The European Union imposing new sanctions against Belarus, the bloc is banning Belarusian airlines from flying over E.U. airspace or landing in its airports. This comes after the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk last month that led to the arrest of a dissident journalist.

That activist appeared on state media on Thursday, where his family and supporters say he was clearly under duress. CNN's Fred Pleitgen with the details.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) national condemnation is rolling in after that so-called interview that Roman Protasevich, the journalist and activist, who's locked up in Belarus, gave to Belarusian state TV.

The United Kingdom is calling it disturbing. The German government has been calling it disgraceful. The interview itself is quite difficult to watch. You do see that Roman Protasevich, at times, you can see that he has marks on his wrists which could obviously come from having had handcuffs on before being led into the interview room.

That interview itself, Protasevich is essentially saying he's repenting, said he pleads guilty to organizing some of those protests that took place in Belarus. He also says he doesn't want to conduct political activism anymore. In the future, he essentially says, he respects the dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Belarusian opposition, of course, is not buying any of it. In fact, the opposition leader in Warsaw called for tougher sanctions against the Belarusian regime.

There are indeed some new sanctions that have come into effect. The U.S. is sanctioning 9 state-run Belarusian companies. Minsk is reacting to that.

They're now saying they are going to limit the amount of personnel that the U.S. is allowed to have at the U.S. embassy in Minsk, that includes both technical as well as diplomatic personnel -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.



HOLMES: The United Kingdom's drug regulator has authorized the use of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID vaccine for kids as young as 12. The agency says it's carefully reviewed the data in children aged 12 to 15, concluding the vaccine is safe and the benefits outweigh any risks.

It's now up to the country's vaccine committee to give the final go- ahead. This comes as concern grows over the spread of the COVID variant first identified in India. Public Health England says it's "showing substantially increased growth" and is now dominant in the U.K.

Now the rise of the variant is at least partly responsible for the scramble to get British tourists' home before Portugal is officially off the U.K. safe travel green list. Holidaymakers who missed the Tuesday deadline will be forced to quarantine for 10 days upon their return.

In response, Portugal's president is accusing Britain of, quote, "health fundamentalism," and stresses the need for balance. CNN's Nina dos Santos with more on how this is going over with British vacationers.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: From green to amber, the traffic light system in the U.K. just hit the brakes on the travel plans of many U.K. citizens visiting Portugal.

The U.K. downgraded the popular holiday spot on Thursday, surprising many British travelers already in the country, with new restrictions, saying they must quarantine when returning to the U.K., the changes going into effect on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The change is the day we go back. So 4 hours difference. If we had come back 4 hours earlier, we wouldn't have to. And if we come back four hours later, we do have to do it. I don't see (ph) --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we have to work from home in 7-10 days.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): The U.K. just reopened some international travel about 3 weeks ago. Portugal was initially on the green list, meaning there was no need to quarantine.

But the U.K. announced it was changing this status, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases there and concerns over a mutation of the variant first detected in India. Many U.K. tourists say that decision casts a cloud over their sun-soaked beach holiday, already in progress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had tests to get here, tests to go home, tests when we get home. I just don't understand. I really don't understand why we are now on the amber list.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Many businesses in Portugal, which rely on British tourists for income, fear would-be customers will not come now with the new restrictions, a blow for Portugal's tourism sector and a disappointment for the vacationers, who are ready to spend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know a few -- a couple of weeks ago, they're opening up. They are re-employing people. They are getting the hotels open, the shops open. Again, they're going to have to step backwards.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Airlines are adding extra flights to accommodate the scramble of U.K. tourists trying to get home before the change. For some, a holiday cut short is better than being forced to stay at home -- Nina dos Santos, CNN, London.


HOLMES: The U.S. labor market is moving into a higher gear, the economy creating 559,000 new jobs in May. That is fewer than what economists expected but twice as many as the month before. Unemployment dropping to 5.8 percent, President Joe Biden saying it shows the nation is on the move again.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No other major economy in the world is going as fast as ours. No other major economy is gaining jobs as quickly as ours. And none of this success is an accident. It isn't luck.


HOLMES: Mexican voters go to the polls on Sunday to electric members of congress and local officials. This election is seen as a key test of how Mexicans think of their president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and how he is doing.

And it comes at a time when some fear he is taking steps to quash democracy. Matt Rivers with a preview from Mexico City.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, AMLO for short, a man who depending who you ask is either a demagogue or a deity.


RIVERS (voice-over): Plenty here love him. His consistently high approval ratings built on a folksy image, champion of the poor, bashing Mexico's elite and promising a redistribution of wealth. We said even before taking office that a transformation was needed to reverse Mexico's breakdown, he said.

And the way he wants to solve Mexico's myriad problems is by centralizing power in the presidency. Mexico's democratic institutions are so broken his argument goes that only he and his party can be trusted to fix things. Disagree and you're the enemy.

Among the independent institutions or groups that AMLO has attacked recently, the judiciary, independent election officials, central bank, a government transparency data base, opposition candidates, the free press, feminists and green energy supporters.

If that all sounds strikingly familiar to the playbook of a recent U.S. president, well, it is. Yet the Biden administration has stayed very quiet about AMLO's assaults on Mexican democracy.

A few hours ahead after virtual meeting last month with Vice President Kamala Harris, AMLO accused the U.S. of, quote, "promoting coup plotters" because the U.S. provides funding for a Mexican anticorruption group that's been critical of AMLO. At least in public, Harris didn't take the bait.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: This partnership I believe couldn't be more important today. Our nations face serious challenges.

RIVERS (voice-over): Challenges like migration as hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving at the U.S. border pose a big problem for the U.S. Some believe staying quiet on democratic abuses helps ensure AMLO's cooperation in one key area.

JORGE CASTANEDA, FORMER MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Keeping the central Americans out, basically doing the United States' dirty work for it. I think that was Trump's quid pro quo and, for all appearances, it's Biden's quid pro quo.

RIVERS (voice-over): At least for now, the Biden administration might be waiting to see what happens on June 6th when Mexico's mid-term elections will help decide if Morena, AMLO's political party wins super majorities in Congress. That could mean pushing through constitutional reforms that might even include extending AMLO's time in office.

CASTANEDA: This kind of power grab, this kind of concentration of power, in a country like Mexico, can only lead to economic collapse, to further violence, to further corruption.

RIVERS: All of which are things the U.S. does not want on its southern border. Now experts have told me they do expect the U.S. to raise these concerns publicly and maybe even use economic leverage to push AMLO in a more democratic direction.

The big question is, if AMLO's party does really well in these midterm elections, does that make him less willing to listen to what the U.S. has to say? -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


HOLMES: And thanks for watching. Spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. Do stick around, "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is up next. I will see you in a little while.