Fdd's overnight brief

April 28, 2022

In The News


The West has leveled waves of sanctions against the Russian economy. The crucial question is, are they working? Russia on Wednesday released inconsistent data that showed the economy in March was either doing fine or just treading water. Private-sector data has shown a sharp slowdown in Russia. – Wall Street Journal 

Trevor Reed, a U.S. citizen and former Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2019, was released in a prisoner swap in a move lauded by Washington at a time when relations between the countries are at a historic low. – Wall Street Journal 

For nine weeks, President Biden and the Western allies have emphasized the need to keep the war for Ukraine inside Ukraine. Now, the fear in Washington and European capitals is that the conflict may soon escalate into a wider war — spreading to neighboring states, to cyberspace and to NATO countries suddenly facing a Russian cutoff of gas. – New York Times 

Chinese drone-maker DJI, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial drones, has suspended operations in Ukraine and Russia, becoming the first major Chinese company to openly quit the markets over a war that the leadership in Beijing refuses to condemn. – Washington Post 

Satellite photos show Russia has placed trained dolphins at the entrance to a key Black Sea port, in a move that may be designed to help protect a significant Kremlin naval base there, according to a naval analyst. – Washington Post 

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a mostly symbolic bill urging President Biden to sell the frozen luxury assets of Russian oligarchs hit with sanctions and use the funds to provide additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. – New York Times 

A series of unexplained fires and explosions at strategic locations in Russia, including storage depots, a sensitive defense research site and the country’s largest chemical plant, have raised suspicions that at least some may have been caused by sabotage or Ukrainian attacks. – Washington Post 

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of lightning-fast retaliation if countries interfere in Ukraine, while U.S. President Joe Biden was set to comment on Thursday in support of Ukraine’s fight against “Russia’s brutal war”. – Reuters 

Russia’s Black Sea fleet retains the ability to strike Ukrainian and coastal targets, despite its losses of the landing ship Saratov and the cruiser Moskva, Britain’s defence ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The White House on Wednesday said Russia was essentially weaponizing energy supplies by cutting off Poland and Bulgaria from Russian gas supplies. – Reuters 

Switzerland has implemented more European Union sanctions against Russia and Belarus, the government said on Wednesday, in steps designed to reduce the countries’ ability to raise funds or expand their industrial capacity. – Reuters 

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general says the level of safety at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, currently under Russian occupation in Ukraine, is like a “red light blinking” as his organization tries in vain to get access for work including repairs. – Associated Press 

Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, using its most essential export in what was seen as a bid to punish and divide the West over its support for Ukraine. – Associated Press 

An explosives specialist from the Ukrainian military spent an hour crawling on the floor of Andriy Rhyzenko’s bedroom in search of Russian booby traps, combing through his belongings scattered wall-to-wall by occupying forces. – NBC 

Some of Europe’s largest energy companies are preparing to use a new payment system for Russian gas demanded by the Kremlin, which critics say will undercut EU sanctions, threaten the bloc’s unity and deliver billions in cash to Russia’s economy. – Financial Times 

The U.S. has credible evidence Russia executed Ukrainians who tried to surrender in the Donetsk region, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack said at a United Nations (U.N.) meeting on Wednesday. – The Hill 

Russia is planning hybrid attacks to destabilise the pro-western government of Moldova, Ukrainian and Moldovan officials have warned, as a series of explosions rocked the country’s Russian-controlled separatist enclave of Transnistria bordering Ukraine. – Financial Times 

An acting Ukrainian commander in the besieged city of Mariupol appealed Wednesday for a Dunkirk-style evacuation of troops and civilians there, referencing the dramatic World War II rescue operation in order to impart the gravity of the bloody and consequential onslaught he faces from the Russian invaders. – U.S. News & World Report 

Seth Cropsey writes: A nuclear war should never be fought. But the Kremlin seems willing to fight one, at least a limited one. If the U.S. demonstrates it is unwilling to do so, the chance that the Kremlin will use nuclear weapons becomes dangerously real. – Wall Street Journal 

Marc Thiessen writes: If Biden helps Ukrainians do so, however belatedly, he will deserve the credit. But if Russia wins in eastern Ukraine, he will deserve the blame. It is Biden’s war now. He’d better win it. – Washington Post 

Hal Brands writes: Finally, the U.S. must exploit opportunities to shift the strategic calculations of swing states. If the Ukraine war and the sanctions it has triggered cause a semi-permanent weakening of the Russian defense industry, there will be openings to help India and other countries reduce their reliance on Russian gear, which could allow them to keep a greater distance from Moscow in the future. – Bloomberg 

Andreas Kluth writes: Even if Putin nominally avoids defeat, whatever victory he’ll try to sell the Russian people will be nothing of the sort. Therein lies the tragedy: He doesn’t care how many human lives he takes with him into oblivion. – Bloomberg 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Unlike the Soviet Union in the 1930s, Russia is not at risk of a debt default. It still has plentу of money coming in from energy exports: If they continue unabated, the country stands to earn $321 billion from them this year, an increase of more than one-third from 2021. […]Russia could pay for all the imports it needs — but it’s hard put to find foreign companies willing to sell it the parts and materials it doesn’t produce. An increase in energy revenues coupled with the cessation of Western imports have produced a record current account surplus. – Bloomberg 


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi expressed Wednesday his government’s desire for closer cooperation with China in remarks made during a visit by the Chinese defense minister, state media reported. – Associated Press 

Secretary of State Tony Blinken said on Tuesday that lifting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) would require Iran to take unspecified “steps,” but also argued that, “as a practical matter, the designation does not really gain [the U.S.] much.” – Jewish Insider 

Executions in Iran rose by 25 percent in 2021, a report by two leading NGOs said Thursday, expressing alarm over a surge in the numbers executed for drug offenses and also the hanging of at least 17 women. – Agence France-Presse 

On his column in the Saudi daily ‘Okaz, journalist Muhammad Al-Sa’ad slammed the U.S. administration for considering the removal of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations as part of its efforts to renew the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran (the JCPOA). – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Farhad Rezaei writes: Iran, as always, would continue to undermine peace between Arabs and Israelis. The regime would also try to prevent the formation of the security alliance between these countries, not least because it would put Iran in its crosshair. Only with the solid support from the United States, and the firm resolves of the Arabs and Israelis can Iran’s malign activities be neutralized. – Jerusalem Post 


The Biden administration has denied roughly 85 percent of the applications it has processed from Afghans seeking to come to the U.S. through a program that allows for temporarily waiving immigration requirements. – The Hill 

Attacks targeting minorities are on the rise in Afghanistan, and an attack in Pakistan this week appeared to target Chinese residents, raising alarms about the chaos that could be unleashed if both countries continue to be unstable. Attacks in Afghanistan have targeted minority Shi’ite Muslims during Ramadan. While these attacks are clearly linked to groups like ISIS, they are also part of the wider anti-Shi’ite views that are common among extremists, including in Taliban ranks. – Jerusalem Post 

Approximately $7 billion of military equipment the US transferred to the Afghan government over the course of 16 years was left behind in Afghanistan after the US completed its withdrawal from the country in August, according to a congressionally mandated report from the US Department of Defense viewed by CNN. – CNN 


Turkish authorities ruled to release a journalist from pre-trial detention, his lawyer said on Wednesday, a week after he was formally arrested for sharing President Tayyip Erdogan’s ID card as proof that hackers had stolen Turks’ personal information. – Reuters 

But it appears that Qassem’s remarks in the interview were a response to something besides Turkey’s condemnation of the attack – a process underway for a few months now in which Turkey has deported a number of Hamas members active in its territory. – Israel Hayom 

Editorial: A historic bridge between east and west, Turkey defies easy categorisation. Though it has one of Nato’s biggest armies, it irked the military alliance when it bought a Russian air defence system. There are concerns that criticising Ankara too strongly will cause a rupture. Erdogan may ape Vladimir Putin in some strongman tactics; there are echoes of the Russian president’s neo-Tsarist ethno-nationalism in Erdogan’s march towards a 21st century sultanate – Financial Times 

Michael Rubin writes: Finally, as Turkey doubles down on denial and punishes dissent, there may be no recourse but for the United States and Europe to break another diplomatic taboo and begin to discuss the necessity for Turkish reparations to Armenia, not only to pay for the past but also the present. – Washington Examiner 

Soner Cagaptay and Rich Outzen write: Even if Turkey’s involvement in Ukraine does realign Turkish foreign policy closer to the West, there is the risk for Erdogan that Biden, and some European leaders, may be so anxious to be rid of him that they postpone any rapprochement with Ankara until after the 2023 election. […]At the same time, while the drones have given Turkey the ability to punch above its weight in global politics, should its economy experience a further meltdown—driven by a showdown with Putin or simply because markets will avoid a country in which rule of law has become a joke—Erdogan will have squandered Ankara’s newfound clout and his own political future. – Foreign Affairs 


Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, medics and a militant group said, in clashes that erupted after an arrest raid. – Reuters 

Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Bet security service, met last week in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, The Times of Israel has learned. The meeting came amid efforts to restore calm amid days of violent protests and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. – Times of Israel 

Jordanian monarch Abdullah II met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Wednesday night as the holy month of Ramadan, marked by high tensions at Jerusalem holy sites, draws to a close. – Times of Israel 

Israel, which withdrew from the UN cultural agency UNESCO with the United States over bias in 2019, has no objections to a US return, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse 

The coronavrius pandemic and Israel’s overwhelming force during the Gaza war helped fuel a worldwide spike in antisemitism last year, Israeli researchers reported on Wednesday. – Associated Press 

The Muslim celebration of Qadr Night, marking the moment the Quran supposedly came down from Heaven, was accompanied by heightened police presence and preparedness level in the Old City of Jerusalem last night. – Arutz Sheva 

A Bedouin citizen of Israel was sentenced on Wednesday to 14 years in prison for planning a terrorist attack on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. – Haaretz 

The residents of Sderot, Israel, are no strangers to conflict. The border city of roughly 25,000 has sustained thousands of incoming projectiles from nearby Gaza Strip—thwarted by the Iron Dome’s short-range interceptors with varying degrees of success—since Israeli forces withdrew from the nearby territory more than 16 years ago. – The Dispatch 

Eric R. Mandel writes: In this unending marathon to delegitimize Israel, we must go on the offensive to expose the out-of-context reporting, resorting to moral equivalence, highlighting stories that paint Israel in the harshest light, or omitting stories about Palestinians that paint them negatively. Yes, there are times not to respond, but they need to be in the minority. Thanks to Palestinian Media Watch for its work reporting on what the Western media chooses not to pay attention to. – Jerusalem Post 

Arabian Peninsula

Richard Olson, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has been criminally charged for his alleged role in an undisclosed lobbying campaign for the Qatari government, records show. – Axios 

Three and a half years after accusing Saudi Arabia’s leadership of murder and running a sham trial over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan plans a trip to the Gulf kingdom on Thursday to mend ties. – Reuters 

President Joe Biden’s pick for US ambassador to Saudi Arabia will likely be considered a disappointment or even an insult to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a former US official told Insider. – Business Insider 

Simon Henderson writes: Access to civilian nuclear technology is already one of Riyadh’s “asks” from the Biden administration. Given the reported leadership tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States, any future Saudi-Pakistan military nuclear cooperation will likely prompt a new crisis. – Washington Institute 

Bobby Ghosh writes: There is, at the end of all calculations, no real alternative to the Saudi-American relationship. Once the president and the prince recognize this, the next steps are clear enough. For a start, Biden needs to retract his “pariah” designation for MBS and reinstate the terrorist designation for the Houthis, as well as provide the Saudis more protection from rocket and missile attacks. In turn, the Saudis need to pump more crude into the world market to cool prices — and MBS needs to take Biden’s calls. The most important relationship in the Middle East depends on these two men seeing sense. – Bloomberg 

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt’s president has called for stakes in army-owned companies to be sold on the stock exchange before the end of the year, as part of efforts to address the economic fallout of the war between Russia and Ukraine. – Financial Times 

At least 130 people, mainly civilians, have been killed by landmines and other explosives left after heavy fighting in 2020 around the Libyan capital, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. – Associated Press 

More than 1,000 Syrian and Russian mercenaries deployed by the Kremlin in Libya have been moved from the north African country, western and Libyan officials said, in one of the first signs that the invasion of Ukraine is straining Moscow’s foreign deployments. – Financial Times 

Rahaf Aldoughli writes: Finally, the reconstruction of Syria can benefit from the safe return of refugee and diaspora populations and the empowerment of the younger generations. Civil groups and policy makers should also think of how to benefit from the emergence of a new generation of Syrians over the decade-long conflict. […]Therefore, the process of reconciliation and conflict reduction should begin with Syrians looking inward and assessing their country’s own civic conditions, rather than assuming that external agencies or strongmen can step in and rescue us from the destructive legacy of the war. – Middle East Institute 

Korean Peninsula

A South Korean activist said Thursday he launched a million propaganda leaflets by balloon into North Korea this week, in his first such campaign while standing trial for past leafleting under a contentious new law that criminalizes such actions. – Associated Press 

South Korea’s president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol plans to attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland in January next year, his spokesperson said on Thursday. – Reuters 

As South Korea’s new conservative president prepares to take office, North Korea is outlining an expansive, ambiguous, and potentially destabilising doctrine for using its nuclear weapons, analysts said. – Reuters 


The Biden administration criticized China’s protection of U.S. intellectual property, saying that Beijing still must make a “full range of fundamental changes” to improve protection of U.S. patents, copyrights and trade secrets. – Wall Street Journal 

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned China that failure to play by global rules would cut short its rise as a superpower, and said the West should ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. – Reuters 

China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons has been more aggressive than the United States’s, the head of the Air Force acknowledged on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner 

The Biden administration is looking into claims that Yangtze Memory Technologies Co, a Chinese semiconductor maker, has supplied Huawei with chips, in a potential violation of US export controls. – Financial Times 

Tom Rogan writes: China’s intention seems pretty clear. The CCP wants to use a very thinly veiled corporate cutout to buy Forbes and then use it as a Western media platform to advance the party’s interests. Considering that the party’s central U.S. interest rests on the expansion of political, economic, and military space for Chinese global hegemony, let’s hope Secretary Yellen heeds Waltz’s concerns. After all, do we really want Peng using Forbes to educate us about the Uyghurs? – Washington Examiner 


Visiting Asia next month for the first time since becoming U.S. president in 2021, Joe Biden will hold talks with allies in Japan and South Korea over China’s growing influence in the region and the latest threats from nuclear-armed North Korea. – Reuters 

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation on Wednesday calling on the State Department to submit a plan to help Taiwan regain its observer status at the World Health Organization, seeking to boost the island as it faces pressure from China. – Reuters 

Taiwan’s main military drills this year will draw on the experiences of the war in Ukraine, focusing on asymmetric and cognitive warfare as well as use of reserves as it practices fighting off a Chinese attack, a top officer said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Singapore authorities late on Wednesday defended a decision to execute a Malaysian drug trafficker, in response to international criticism over their use of the death penalty. – Reuters  

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was expelling eight Japanese diplomats in a retaliatory move as it criticized Japan for taking an “openly hostile anti-Russian course”. – Reuters 

Jeff M. Smith writes: In the spectrum of U.S. interests at stake with India, the Indo-Pacific, the Quad, and the China challenge outrank the country’s legacy ties with Russia. There is little merit to creating a rift with New Delhi over a war India opposes and whose outcome it is unable to affect. Rather than sanctioning India for its legacy reliance on Russian military hardware, it is better for the U.S. to show that it is a more reliable and superior alternative as India continues the important but sluggardly process of weaning itself off Russian arms. The April 2+2 was a step forward in the right direction. – Heritage Foundation 


But since Russia invaded Ukraine over two months ago, the state of this Soviet throwback has come under renewed interest. And this week, a series of unexplained explosions in Transnistria added new intrigue to a war that already has no shortage of it. – Washington Post 

As the war in Ukraine rages, an energy battle is spreading across Europe, with countries racing to replace Russian fossil fuels while Moscow cuts off gas supplies to some nations and threatens others with the same. – Wall Street Journal 

For Suleimanov and others in Ukraine’s tiny Muslim population, there’s no question that they should share in the country’s protection. Muslims here are fighting on the front lines and providing humanitarian relief, viewing their wartime efforts as both a religious duty and an assertion of Ukrainian identity in a nation that hasn’t always welcomed them. – Washington Post 

The European Union’s executive body laid down a sharp new challenge to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday, activating a tool for the first time that could see Brussels withhold large-scale EU budget payments to the country. – Wall Street Journal 

Poland’s energy czar has spent much of his adult life preparing to break the country’s dependence on Russian natural gas. The coming weeks will bring a sudden and dramatic test of his efforts. – Washington Post 

Finland and Sweden must prepare for increased Russian spy operations, cyber attacks and attempts to influence lawmakers as they consider joining NATO after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the Nordic nations’ intelligence chiefs said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Editorial: Mr. Biden is doing the opposite. Last week the Administration reaffirmed support for a leasing ban on public land and imposed new permitting rules that will make it much harder to build pipelines and LNG export terminals. This week it reversed a Trump plan to open up the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to more drilling. Mr. Putin must be smiling. Russia’s war on Ukraine has awakened Europeans from their energy illusions, but Mr. Biden is still snoozing. Time to wake up, sir. – Wall Street Journal  

Editorial: For both Germany and its current government, the lesson of this experience is clear: Russian aggression against Ukraine has created a new and different reality in Europe. This calls for definitive abandonment of the mind-set that holds that Germany’s geopolitical role is to maintain close ties with Russia and the West, so as to finesse differences between them. – Washington Post 

E.J. Dionne Jr. writes: Ukraine will need more than weapons. A senior Biden administration official said that in addition to military aid, Ukraine seeks assistance to finance its government. A nation whose economy has been shattered by war requires help in maintaining the rudiments of public services. Ukrainian authorities, the official said, estimate that for Ukraine to keep functioning, outside help might have to run as high as $5 billion a month. Military aid could represent a comparable amount. – Washington Post 


The High Authority for Communication of Mali announced Wednesday it is permanently suspending French media outlets Radio France International and France 24, two of the most listened to news outlets in the West African country. – Associated Press 

Central African Republic has legally recognized the use of cryptocurrency after the president approved a law adopted by deputies last week that has also made bitcoin an official currency alongside the West African CFA franc in the African nation. – Associated Press 

Mali’s military rulers have accused the French army of repeatedly violating a controlled airspace over the country’s centre and north to “spy” on its forces, the latest escalation of tensions between Paris and Bamako. – Reuters 

Latin America

A Colombian general and nine other military officials on Wednesday admitted to carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity in one of the darkest moments in the country’s history. – Washington Post 

Judges on Venezuela’s Supreme Justice Tribunal on Wednesday named Gladys Gutierrez – who is under sanction by the United States – as the court’s new president. – Reuters 

Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government are likely to be excluded from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas to be held in June in Los Angeles, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

North America

Canadian lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to call Russia’s attacks in Ukraine a “genocide”, with members of parliament saying there was “ample evidence of systemic and massive war crimes against humanity” being committed by Moscow. – Reuters 

The number of anti-Semitic incidents around the world dramatically increased last year, a study by Tel Aviv University has found. The report identifies the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia as among countries where there was a sharp rise. – BBC 

Editorial: “Never again” needs to be more than an empty slogan. Shame on our lawmakers for putting roadblocks in the way of remedying that horrifying ignorance. – New York Post 


For weeks after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, American officials wondered about the weapon that seemed to be missing: Russia’s mighty cyberarsenal, which most experts expected would be used in the opening hours of an invasion to bring down Ukraine’s power grid, fry its cellphone system and cut off President Volodymyr Zelensky from the world. – New York Times 

Russian government hackers carried out multiple cyber operations against Ukraine that appeared to support Moscow’s military attacks and online propaganda campaigns, Microsoft (MSFT.O) said in a report on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Several federal agencies and international organizations on Wednesday warned organizations to protect themselves against common vulnerabilities that tend to be “frequently exploited by malicious cyber actors.”  – The Hill 


“More than half” of the howitzers the United States has designated to go to Ukraine have arrived as of Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. – Washington Examiner 

The Army is pushing a new plan for a future air-defense interceptor that would replace Lockheed Martin-made Patriot missiles, after leaving the effort simmer on the back burner for several years, fiscal 2023 budget justification documents reveal. – Defense News 

The United States has shipped about a third of its existing arsenal of Stinger anti-air and Javelin anti-armor missiles to Ukraine – systems that are not quickly replaced – two experts on Pentagon buying said Tuesday. – USNI News 

Elaine McCusker and Dan Patt write: While portfolios certainly won’t resolve all the ills of a lumbering defense modernization process, Congress and the Department should cooperate on promptly starting a pilot to help inform the findings of the PPBE Commission. More importantly, we don’t have a moment to waste in the race to modernize in the face of rising threats. – Real Clear Defense