Fdd's overnight brief

April 6, 2023

In The News


The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran met in Beijing on Thursday, weeks after the Middle East rivals agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations in a China-brokered deal that jolted regional geopolitics. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told local leaders on Tuesday that the “Zionist regime” was disappearing faster than he had anticipated, amid internal Israeli divisions over the government’s controversial judicial overhaul. – Times of Israel

Private refiners in China, the largest crude importer, are snapping up more Iranian oil as competition for supplies from Russia rises. – Bloomberg

More Iranian women and girls are flouting the country’s Islamic dress code, including the mandatory hijab, in a direct challenge to the authorities. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Dr. Salem AlKetbi writes: These are key considerations in addressing internal dissent and stymieing the ongoing negotiations to revive the nuclear agreement, where a major sticking point is the demand to remove the Revolutionary Guard from the US’s list of terrorist organizations. Should the Iranian regime fail to reach internal consensus, it may result in non-compliance with the terms of the agreement with Saudi Arabia. – Arutz Sheva

Russia & Ukraine

Russia has limited access to parts, software and technical skills needed to carry out critical maintenance due on hundreds of commercial jets, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, raising safety concerns among industry executives and regulators. – Wall Street Journal

A Russian official accused by the International Criminal Court of overseeing the forced deportation of Ukrainian children from Russian-held territory spoke at the United Nations over the protests of more than 50 countries on Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

At Lefortovo prison, the interrogations start with the clanging of metal. Last week, The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was escorted into Lefortovo, which has held high-profile inmates including Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, several 1991 coup plotters against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. The 31-year-old is the first overseas journalist to be charged with espionage by Russia since the Cold War. – Wall Street Journal

Britain and the United States charged Wednesday that Russia is using its position as current president of the U.N. Security Council to spread disinformation and propaganda, and blocked the U.N. webcast of a Security Council meeting Moscow called to defend its removal of children from Ukraine. – Washington Post

A Wall Street Journal reporter whom Russia has accused of spying for the United States is “wrongfully detained,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, as the Kremlin’s incarceration of another American further strains the two countries’ ties. – Washington Post

Some 200 Russian journalists and activists have signed an open letter demanding the immediate release of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter detained by Moscow last week. Russia has, without evidence, accused Gershkovich of spying for the U.S. government. – Washington Post

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Mohamed Elfatih Ahmed was 18 months from achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Even when missiles started raining down on the Ukrainian port of Odesa, where Mr. Ahmed had come from Sudan to study medicine, he was determined to stay. – New York Times

Feted as a hero who is saving Europe from Russia’s maw, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on his first official visit to Poland, on Wednesday cemented a new axis of shared interests and military power that is pushing Europe’s center of geopolitical gravity eastward. – New York Times

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus arrived at the Kremlin on Wednesday, ahead of a planned meeting the following day with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, on the expanding military and economic ties between the two countries. – New York Times

More than a year into Russia’s full-scale invasion, Aleks, a translator with no prior military experience, was advancing through forest with rifle raised, training to ambush enemy forces in one of Ukraine’s newest military units. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the new U.S. and EU ambassadors in blunt language on Wednesday that their countries were responsible for a dramatic deterioration in relations since Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine last year. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Poland would help form a coalition of Western powers to supply warplanes to Kyiv, as his fighters defended their eastern bastion of Bakhmut in the face of relentless Russian assaults. – Reuters

Ukrainian troops face a really difficult situation in the eastern city of Bakhmut, but Kyiv will take the “corresponding” decisions to protect them if they risk being encircled by Russian forces, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Kyiv is willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the Financial Times. – Financial Times

A former communications officer in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s elite secretive security service has defected after deciding he could not work for a “war criminal” following the invasion of Ukraine. – Fox News

Spanish police said Wednesday that they had detained one Russian national and one Ukrainian national for their alleged smuggling of defense material to Russia in defiance of European Union sanctions. – Associated Press

The head of the U.N.’s atomic energy watchdog met with Russian officials in Kaliningrad on Wednesday for negotiations on the safety of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, currently held by Russian forces. – Associated Press

Adam Taylor writes: A decade ago, this kind of realpolitik hostage-taking would have seemed like a thing of the past. After the fall of the Soviet Union, many hoped that places like Lefortovo and all it represented would become a thing of the past, too. Putin even stepped in to pardon one U.S. businessman, who had been held there in an espionage case at the start of his first term. – Washington Post

Elisabeth Braw writes: Vladimir Putin, in contrast, has refused to sign agreements that aim to defuse geopolitical tensions and respect human rights. During the latter decades of the Cold War, Western correspondents could feel reasonably secure behind the Iron Curtain, but because Putin no longer aspires to be part of the international community, he and his government have free hands to be as capricious as they like. If they arrest a Western correspondent, the journalist’s home government won’t get far by appealing to Russian authorities’ good sense or desire for Western respect. Russia has taken its leave from the league of nations. The danger that now brings to foreign correspondents means they’ll take their leave and the West will become even more ignorant of Russian affairs. – Engelsberg Ideas

Milana Mazaeva writes: The prospects for Russia’s anti-colonial movements, and the extent of their support among minority groups themselves, are not yet clear, but one thing is evident: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given Russia’s ethnic minorities an audience for their grievances for the first time since the early days of the post-Soviet era. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Militants in Gaza fired rockets and Israel responded with airstrikes early Wednesday following violent clashes at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, raising fears of a wider conflict. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque a second time on Wednesday, witnesses said, hours after the arrest and removal of more than 350 people in a police raid at the compound and despite a U.S. appeal to ease tensions. – Reuters

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday criticised the Israeli government’s “inflamed rhetoric” and urged it to change its approach to the Palestinians amid an upsurge in violence. – Reuters

Finland has announced it will acquire the US-Israeli-made David’s Sling long-range air defense system at a cost of €316 million ($345 million), just a day after it became the newest member of NATO and amid a potential Russian buildup up on Finnish borders. – Breaking Defense

The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday criticized Israeli police officers for storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque but, in a rare condemnation, also criticized the worshipers who barricaded themselves inside the mosque, necessitating the entry of the police officers. – Arutz Sheva

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar on Tuesday said that security forces have foiled more than 200 terror attacks since the start of 2023. Speaking at a pre-Passover toast alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bar said that “only three months have passed, and this year more than 200 significant attacks have been thwarted, including about 150 shooting attacks, 20 bomb attacks, rammings, kidnappings and others.” – Times of Israel

Lazar Berman writes: While Netanyahu’s relatively weak position in his coalition has led to tensions in the Abraham Accords, they could also be an opportunity for Israel’s Arab allies to push him in a more comfortable direction. – Times of Israel

Nasser Khdour writes: In the end, it appears that the evolving security environment in the West Bank has the potential to alter the political dynamics dramatically. Hamas perceives the West Bank as a crucial battleground against Israel and a place for a geopolitical contest with the weakened PA. Simultaneously, Hamas is not hesitant to generate instability with Israel in the Gaza Strip as long as it doesn’t escalate into an open conflict. Nevertheless, if certain circumstances arise—such as the necessity to defend its accomplishments in Gaza or exceptional developments in the West Bank—an open confrontation with Israel might become inevitable as Hamas strives to uphold its strategic objectives. – Washington Institute

Dennis Ross writes: Ultimately, the problem for the prime minister is that his main foreign policy objectives on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and deepening and expanding the Abraham Accords require smart management of the Palestinian issue and a posture that does not preclude two states later on. He has coalition partners who make that difficult and seem to have a different agenda. They may also pose another problem for him: they raise the very issue of shared values which has been and will remain the essential pillar of the US-Israel relationship. – Jerusalem Strategic Tribune


The main spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban administration will move his office from the capital to the southern city of Kandahar, the information ministry said, a sign of the growing importance of the region that is home to its supreme leader. – Reuters

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres condemned on Wednesday a ban by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities on Afghan women working for the United Nations, calling it “an intolerable violation of the most basic human rights” that should be immediately revoked. – Reuters

Lynne O’Donnell writes: “By taking hostages and applying similar tactics employed by some of Afghanistan’s neighbors in the past, the Taliban hopes to coerce Western countries into engaging with them in a more diplomatic manner,” said Naab, the former deputy foreign minister. He criticized the way that Western governments and the United Nations have done little to actually curtail Taliban excesses, after enabling their takeover with the 2020 Doha peace deal and withdrawal agreement. “These developments are the outcome of dealing with terrorists and terrorist group propagators as a legitimate government, reflecting a myopic and poorly defined approach.” – Foreign Policy


Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday condemned the Israeli police raid on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, which led to clashes with worshippers, calling such acts in the mosque compound a “red line” for Turkey. – Reuters

Turkey has closed its airspace to flights to and from an airport in Kurdish-administered northern Iraq, a top Turkish official announced Wednesday, citing an alleged increase in Kurdish militant activity threatening flight safety. – Associated Press

One of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s most prominent opponents has spoken out from his prison cell to urge Turkey’s opposition to seize its best chance yet to unseat the country’s president. – Financial Times

Middle East & North Africa

While European countries want to condemn Saied’s rising authoritarianism, they also want to limit migration from Tunisia. And Tunisia’s escalating crises could send more migrants across the Mediterranean, an outcome that E.U. nations, especially Italy, hope to avoid. – New York Times

The Arab League on Wednesday strongly condemned an Israeli police raid on Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, saying it put regional stability at risk. – Reuters

Adversaries across the Middle East have been taking steps to mend relations strained by years of tension and conflict, a trend most recently demonstrated in an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reestablish diplomatic ties. – Reuters

Ibrahim Jalal writes: Tackling the regional layer of the conflict in Yemen via Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, including through direct and indirect Saudi-Houthi talks, can help but is far from sufficient to ensure sustainable peacebuilding efforts given the domestic nature of the conflict and its drivers, as well as the multi-faceted layers involved. At the tactical level, there could be a breakthrough in the form of an expanded truce followed by a potential resumption of intra-Yemeni talks. Whether such moves would lead to a durable peace remains an open question, however. For peacebuilding efforts to truly gain traction in Yemen, they must address the domestic roots of the conflict, represent the forward-looking aspirations of the Yemeni people, and have both regional and international backing. – Middle East Institute

Zakiyeh Yazdanshenas and Alam Saleh write: It remains to be seen how far China’s involvement in the Middle East will go and what implications it will have for the security architecture of the region. Nevertheless, the power vacuums resulting from de-Westernization are leading to an Asianization of the Persian Gulf. China is seeking to fill the gap with strategic precision. As the two main regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia are now aiding China in that endeavor and, consequently, helping to potentially reshape the regional order. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

When the United Nations in 2017 placed a port ban on a Chinese-owned ship that had been ferrying North Korean coal to China, that should have been a death sentence, dooming the vessel to the scrapheap or to the limbo of a “flying Dutchman” — sailing the seas forever without docking. – Washington Post

North Korea on Thursday accused the U.S. and South Korea of escalating tensions to the brink of nuclear war through their joint military drills, vowing to respond with “offensive action,” state media KCNA reported. – Reuters

Government-backed hackers allegedly connected to the North Korean military targeted people with expertise in North Korea policy issues by posing as journalists, according to a new report. – The Record


Beijing accused the United States and Taiwan of “serious wrongdoing” after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and a bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Wednesday, in a historic gathering where both sides reaffirmed their commitment to preserving freedom amid escalating tensions with China. – Washington Post

President Emmanuel Macron of France, speaking at the start of a three-day visit to China, said Wednesday that Beijing could play a “major role” in bringing peace to Ukraine, and made clear that he would urge the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to get deeply involved in this effort. – New York Times

China’s Fujian maritime safety administration launched a three-day special joint patrol and inspection operation in the central and northern parts of the Taiwan Strait that includes moves to board ships, it said on its WeChat account. – Reuters

A Chinese surveillance ship that can track rocket and spacecraft launches was docked at the eastern port of Durban this week, less than two months after South Africa drew the ire of Western nations by holding naval exercises with China and Russia. – Bloomberg

China cannot act as a peace mediator over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Beijing’s stance would rob Kyiv of its sovereignty, according to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. – Bloomberg

Geopolitical fragmentation, driven by tensions between the US and China, risks damaging the global economy, with foreign direct investment and other capital increasingly being channeled toward aligned blocs of countries, the International Monetary Fund warns. – Bloomberg

As China seeks to further whittle down the list of seven countries in the Americas that still recognize Taiwan, U.S. officials increasingly believe Paraguay may be the island’s next diplomatic ally to flip loyalties to Beijing. – Reuters

China will face “severe consequences” if it sends military aid to Russia, according to NATO’s top civilian and other Western officials. – Washington Examiner

The last three years have been terrible for China’s global image. Chinese authorities’ attempts to derail inquiries into the origins of the Covid-19 virus have fanned suspicions that they’re withholding critical information. President Xi Jinping’s embrace of Vladimir Putin in a “no limits” partnership weeks before the Russian leader sent troops into Ukraine has fueled speculation that Beijing may be planning an invasion of its own across the Taiwan Strait. Even Wall Street—once an unabashed China cheerleader—turned more skeptical after a regulatory assault on the country’s private sector left money managers wondering whether the country had become uninvestable. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Pakistani security forces killed eight insurgents in an overnight operation at a militant hideout near the Afghan border, the military said, and the shootout left one soldier dead and four wounded Wednesday. – Associated Press

Meanwhile, traders are switching en masse from the cash-based economy to a digital one, using tools such as India’s Unified Payments Interface network. […]India’s geopolitical heft has grown, too, as the country — which, with 1.4bn people, is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous this year — hosts the G20 summit in September. – Financial Times

Betsy Joles writes: How Khan fares in the cases against him in the coming weeks and months will test his conviction in the courts and his supposedly favorable position. If he avoids arrest before the general elections—currently scheduled for October—the Pakistani public will also get a chance to make their judgment known through the polls. – Foreign Policy


Attempts by some countries to interfere with New Zealand’s democracy, economy and civil society “are persistent”, according to New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s (NZSIS) annual report. – Reuters

Japan hopes for a “peaceful resolution through dialogue” on issues regarding Taiwan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday, repeating previous remarks by Japanese officials. – Reuters

Taiwan and China have engaged for years in competition for diplomatic recognition, but the pendulum has long swung decisively in Beijing’s favour. – Reuters

More than 60 self-exiled members of a Chinese Christian church who were detained in Thailand after receiving U.N. refugee status will be deported by next week, probably to a third country, officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Josh Rogin writes: By threatening war, Beijing plays into Washington’s reflex to think of Taiwan as an irritant in U.S.-China relations rather than as a proud but vulnerable democracy struggling for survival and a crucial contributor to the world economy. Beijing’s gaslighting must not distract Taiwan’s partners from the realization that the fight over Taiwan’s future is already well underway. – Washington Post


U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Ireland and Northern Ireland on April 11-14 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace accord on one side of the Irish border and visit his ancestral home on the other, the White House said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Sweden’s path to NATO membership remains blocked by Turkey and Hungary as neighbour Finland officially joined the 30-member alliance on Tuesday after its application was ratified in record time. – Reuters

Ireland’s government is to ask the public for their views on the country’s tradition of military neutrality in a consutlative forum, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, the latest sign of a possible shift in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. – Reuters

The six Leopard 2A4 tanks Spain has promised to send to Ukraine will leave the country in the second half of April, Defence Minister Margarita Robles told state broadcaster TVE on Wednesday, pushing back the estimated shipment date. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed in a telephone call ahead of a visit to Beijing by Macron to engage China to hasten the end of the war in Ukraine, the Elysee Palace said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Germany’s only deep water port, home to its largest naval base, is where energy firms now plan to spend more than $5.5 billion to help construct the clean energy infrastructure the country needs to help end its reliance on Russian gas. – Reuters

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is seeking to extend emergency rule by six months, citing the war in neighboring Ukraine. – Bloomberg

France has issued arrest warrants for three high-ranking Syrian intelligence officers accused of complicity in crimes against humanity in the deaths of a father and son who disappeared a decade ago, the French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Editorial: German chancellor Olaf Scholz appears less accommodating to China than his predecessor Angela Merkel, but commercial interests still hold sway. Macron’s conception of France as a “balancing power” in world affairs brings unhelpful ambiguity. Now more than ever the EU needs a single voice on China. – Financial Times

The Americas

A U.S. appeals court panel on Wednesday denied an appeal by former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo Manrique to stop his extradition to face charges he accepted millions of dollars in bribes as part of a mammoth corruption scandal in which four of Peru’s ex-presidents have been implicated. – Associated Press

Mexico’s president said Wednesday he opposes the criminal charges filed against former U.S. President Donald Trump, suggesting they were brought for political reasons during an electoral campaign. – Associated Press

Charles Lane writes: Chile, governed by a leftist president, Gabriel Boric, invited her to the event — an important diplomatic signal given Ortega’s political pedigree. With more solidarity, including targeted economic sanctions and other pressure, there is a chance to shorten Ortega’s rule and break the repressive cycle that has plagued Nicaragua for too long. – Washington Post

Edward Alden writes: But the administration should be lauded for trying to create some order at a border that has been chaotic for decades, while also permitting tens of thousands of new migrants the opportunity to escape persecution and pursue better lives in the United States. It has become cliché to say that the U.S. border is broken. But in the absence of congressional immigration reform, which appears more unlikely than ever, Biden’s new plans are the most serious effort yet to fix it. – Foreign Policy


International law enforcement agencies have seized a sprawling dark web marketplace popular with cybercriminals, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Wednesday, in a multinational crackdown dubbed “Operation Cookie Monster.” – Reuters

Twitter drew the anger of venerable US radio broadcaster NPR on Wednesday after the social media platform owned by Elon Musk tagged the news giant as a state-backed entity. – Agence France-Presse

The governing body for soccer in the Netherlands said Tuesday that hackers were able to steal the personal information of its employees during a cyberattack. – The Record


The top foreign and defense officials of the United States and the Philippines will meet in Washington next week, the U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday, just as the two countries have expanded their defense cooperation agreement. – Reuters

A U.S. B-52 strategic bomber joined military exercises with South Korea on Wednesday in the latest demonstration of the allies’ readiness to respond to any North Korean provocation, South Korea’s defence ministry said. – Reuters

The proliferation of cameras now in use around the world make it increasingly difficult for China and Russia to control the narrative in international disputes, according to a senior U.S. Navy intelligence official. – Defense News