Fdd's overnight brief

August 5, 2022

In The News

Russia & Ukraine

Ukrainian forces struck a railway bridge in the southern Kherson region on Thursday, the Ukrainian military said, as it seeks to cut Moscow’s supply lines in preparation for a looming counteroffensive. – Wall Street Journal

Russia is turning to Turkey and other potential new trading partners as it tries to circumvent Western sanctions that are starting to bite even deeper into its economy following its invasion of Ukraine. – Washington Post

In the early phase of the war in Ukraine, shortages of soldiers and problems with equipment forced Russia to narrow its mission, abandon its assault on Kyiv and focus its offensive on the east. – New York Times

The actions taken by Russian forces at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has likely undermined security and the safety of the plant’s normal operations, Britain said on Friday. – Reuters

When Group of Seven leaders gathered in the Bavarian Alps in June, they pledged to stand with Ukraine for the long haul. Their Group of 20 counterparts are proving less supportive. Comprising nations that account for some 85% of global economic output, the G-20 is supposed to be more reflective of the world. Yet only half its number has joined the international sanctions imposed on fellow member Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that Russia accumulating reserve troops in the south of Ukraine shows that Moscow is not interested in negotiating. – The Hill

Ukraine has called for the deal that relaxes Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea grain exports to be extended to other products such as metals after the first successful use of the route. – Financial Times

Aleksey Zhuravlyov, a Russian politician and ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on state television that it would have been “good” for Russia if China shot down the plane carrying U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because of her visit to Taiwan. – Newsweek

Heather Grabbe writes: A green Ukraine could showcase a sustainable, regenerative economy to the world, supporting the EU’s climate leadership. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, people could see what a non-communist society would be like because there already was one in western Europe. But today no climate-neutral economy exists to give everyone the courage to make the leap. With a creative approach to EU accession, Ukraine could become that vision of the future. – Financial Times

Janusz Bugajski writes: ​​Ultimately, the West needs to ensure that Russia is sufficiently blunted militarily and economically so that it will no longer be capable of waging aggressive wars against its neighbors. A rump Muscovite state under intense international sanctions and shed of its resource base in Siberia and the northern territories when the state begins to rupture will have severely reduced capabilities for any militaristic policies. – Washington Examiner

Seth Cropsey writes: Fourth, the U.S. should encourage Turkey, through positive and negative inducements, to permit a NATO or U.S. naval mission into the Black Sea. Ukrainian grain exports have resumed, though time will tell how much Russia allows to exit the country. Nevertheless, now is the time to push Russia’s naval position the hardest; absent control of the Black Sea, Russia’s position in southern Ukraine becomes untenable. This would not involve active combat operations, simply a demonstration of presence and force. As the war continues, the opacity of Russia’s weaknesses is replaced by transparency. The West should take the fullest possible advantage. – The Hill

Alexander J. Motyl writes: The only way to stop Russians’ love affair with killing Ukrainians is to deprive them of the ability to kill Ukrainians. Peace treaties and ceasefires won’t stop Putin and his narod, just as they didn’t stop Hitler and his Volk. Only a humiliating and thorough military defeat will. – The Hill


With Iran announcing this week that it now has the technical ability to produce a nuclear warhead, though denying that it plans to, negotiators from the United States and Iran arrived on Thursday in Vienna for one more — and perhaps the last — effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that limited Tehran’s nuclear program. – New York Times

Iran on Friday issued a public statement saying it is seeking the release of an Iranian national who has been held by Saudi Arabia since this year’s hajj pilgrimage, which concluded a month ago. – Associated Press

Iran says it has arrested 10 militants affiliated with the extremist Islamic State (IS) group who were planning to carry out attacks on religious processions during the Islamic month of Muharram, which started on July 30. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Salem AlKetbi writes: But no one has forced the regime’s leadership to keep talking about the fatwa that Iranian negotiators keep promoting to their Western interlocutors. Moreover, the fatwa itself is not in written form. It has not been pronounced in any of the official documents reviewed so far, especially since the regime’s behavior contradicts any narrative in this direction. The long-range multi-purpose missiles, on which Tehran is spending enormous resources, have a great impact only if they are armed with nuclear warheads. – Arutz Sheva

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Spencer Faragasso write: However, as Iran may be making IR-6 centrifuges with maraging steel parts as well, it could also be another indication that the IR-6, contrary to Iran’s statements, is not more efficient than the IR-2m and that Iran is not giving up on its earlier, more trusted model. 3 Whatever the case, Iran intends to shock with this announcement and reality may see far fewer centrifuges deployed or they do not work as well as expected, as is the case with the IR-6 centrifuge. – Institute for Science and International Security


The Taliban regime said Thursday it was not aware that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was staying in the Afghan capital, four days after President Biden announced that a U.S. drone strike killed Zawahiri early Sunday at a house he was occupying in central Kabul. – Washington Post

A group of former U.S. ambassadors has called on the United Nations to reimpose travel restrictions on Taliban leaders in response to the radical group increasingly reverting to its practices from the years when it first ruled Afghanistan. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A gunbattle in Afghanistan’s capital on August 3 left at least five people dead, including two Taliban police officers, the Taliban spokesman for the Kabul police chief said. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Taliban’s apparent sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed last weekend in a US drone strike in Kabul, dealt a blow to an already politically fraught attempt to free up $3.5 billion in frozen bank funds to alleviate poverty and famine in Afghanistan. – Bloomberg

Hamid Mir writes: These days, Zawahiri was seen more like a father figure for different militant groups hiding in Afghanistan. The Taliban made a mistake by allowing him to be there. In the end, his presence will be another factor hurting the people of Afghanistan, forcing countries that want to recognize the Taliban and establish diplomatic relations to continue to isolate the group. – Washington Post

Javid Ahmad writes: For Washington, a critical blind spot in its Taliban policy has been its negligible engagement with the Taliban’s powerful clerics, particularly in Kandahar. Because ideology is deeply entrenched in the Taliban’s actions, there is a burning need for robust religious diplomacy that creatively (and directly) engages the Taliban’s clerics. While Washington has discouraged backing organized armed opposition against the Taliban, it could instead consider cultivating an institutional counterweight within the Taliban’s governing ranks to shape their future choices and actions. – The Hill


Israel on Thursday extended its closure of Gaza crossings, further restricting the movement of people, goods and aid, over what the army said were potential retaliatory attacks following Israel’s arrest of a Palestinian militant leader. – Reuters

Editorial: Can Israel really accept a situation, then, in which the entire South can be shut down because Israel arrested one man? Is this not counterproductive to the point of dysfunction? Qatar and Egypt are trying to mediate with Hamas and PIJ in order to de-escalate the situation. But no diplomatic solution can come fast enough, and Israel is creating living conditions that are difficult and even make it impossible for citizens to keep their heads above water. […]While we must weigh the safety of our citizens above all else, we cannot at the same time be held hostage. That in itself would be a victory for the very terrorists we seek to punish. – Jerusalem Post

Shira Efron and Ghaith al-Omari write: The decision by the Biden administration to de-prioritize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is understandable. But doing away with a US initiative that has helped prevent escalation that would have otherwise drawn the United States back into the conflict, is, to say the least, ill-advised and self-defeating. Instead of downgrading the USSC, the Biden administration and its international partners should be looking for ways to strengthen it. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen’s Houthi movement continues to hold 12 current and former employees of the United States and United Nations, a U.S. official said on Thursday, calling on the group to release them in “a demonstration of good faith”. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates criticized “provocative visits” after Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei while underscoring its backing of the “One China” principle, as the major US ally in the Gulf also grows closer to Beijing. – Bloomberg

On June 27, 2022, the steering committee of the Negev Forum,  comprising  senior diplomats from the U.S., Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt, held its first meeting in Bahrain’s capital Manama. […]The participants stressed their commitment to a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “as part of efforts to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” – ​​Middle East Media Research Institute 

Editorial: Meanwhile, the administration continues to bestow favors on MBS and his allies. On Tuesday, the State Department announced a new sale of missiles to resupply U.S.-made defense systems in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Congress can veto the deal, which provides an opportunity for a correction of Mr. Biden’s failed policy. The White House’s concessions to one of the world’s most vicious dictators have yielded next to nothing; it’s time to adopt a tougher approach. – Washington Post

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: President Biden did touch upon some aspects of these challenges during his visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia. While much of this effort tended to be ignored in the media, it is clear from the briefs and fact sheets issued by the White House. Yet almost all of this official reporting consisted of strategic rhetoric rather than plans and actions that could lead to real progress. Moreover, the Biden administration has not announced clear strategies and plans for dealing with any of these major strategic challenges in the MENA region in any other open source report or forum. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

North Korea made preparations for a nuclear test during the first six months of this year, according to an excerpt of a confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Thursday U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to the heavily fortified inter-Korean border area reflects strong deterrence against North Korea, media outlet News1 reported. – Reuters

South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol is facing domestic criticism after he declined to meet Nancy Pelosi during her visit to Seoul on Thursday, in what analysts said amounted to the only snub from a leader of a host nation during the US House Speaker’s Asian tour this week. – Financial Times

On the day that China was staging its biggest, most intimidating exercises in the waters and skies around Taiwan, Speaker Pelosi chose to dramatize America’s commitment on an entirely different front: North Korea. – New York Sun


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed that China would not succeed in isolating Taiwan, as she capped off her Asia tour on Friday amid a flurry of Chinese military exercises that have sent fears of conflict in the region skyrocketing. – Washington Post

China encircled Taiwan with rocket and ballistic-missile fire while testing the democratic self-governing island’s defenses with navy ships and war planes, as Beijing protested a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. – Wall Street Journal

A pro-Beijing online propaganda campaign has used phony websites and social-media posts to try to discredit a prominent German anthropologist who has investigated China’s crackdown on Muslims, according to cybersecurity researchers. – Wall Street Journal

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in defiance of Beijing’s warnings, Chinese social media was awash with calls for strong action, some of which later curdled into discontent at the perceived meekness of Beijing’s response. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an Asian meeting of top diplomats on Friday that China’s reaction to U.S. house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was “flagrantly provocative”, a western official said. – Reuters

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Friday the island’s military has dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor the situation, as China conducts large-scale military drills in zones surrounding Taiwan. – Reuters

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday it lodged solemn representations to relevant European countries and EU envoys over statements on Taiwan issued by the foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) nations and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Reuters

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday praised Taiwan, pledged U.S. solidarity and said her trip through Asia, which led to unprecedented military drills by an angry China, was never about changing the regional status quo. – Reuters

The Biden administration postponed a long-planned test of an Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile to avoid escalating tensions with Beijing during China’s show of force near Taiwan, national security spokesperson John Kirby told a briefing on Thursday. – Reuters

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week only lasted 24 hours, but the trip will pose long-term challenges for the already tense relationship between Beijing and Washington and pose significant problems for Taipei, which looks set to suffer the worst of Beijing’s ire. – TIME

Official Russia, not unsurprisingly, harshly condemned the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan as a provocation, but senior Russian foreign policy analysts expressed hope that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was a game changer that would push China into a firm alliance with Russia where they would have each other’s back against the US and its allies. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Chinese military exercises around Taiwan are set to disrupt one of the world’s busiest shipping zones, analysts told AFP, highlighting the island’s critical position in already stretched global supply chains. – Agence France-Presse

As the People’s Liberation Army completes a dress rehearsal for a military siege of Free China, will Senator Menendez cave to White House pressure and water down a bill aimed at “restructuring” America’s relations with Taiwan? – New York Sun

Qin Gang writes: Instead, some politicians choose to damage China’s core interests, either to seek the limelight or to cement their political legacy. Their actions will only erode China-U.S. relations and subject our peoples and militaries to peril. Taiwan is one of the very few issues that might take China and the United States to conflict. Extra caution and a sense of responsibility are indispensable when it comes to Taiwan. – Washington Post

Stephen Roach writes: America’s failure to accept the permanence of China is at the core of its anxieties over a rising rival. Similarly, China’s fixation on rejuvenation — a legacy of its “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreigners — explains its fears of US containment. Two insecure superpowers are stumbling towards dangerous collision. The spectacle of Pelosi’s mission to Taiwan brings that disastrous possibility into sharper focus. – Financial Times

Hayley Channer and Bridi Rice write: Two key priorities should be responding to the climate crisis and digital development needs. The U.S. is building a strong capability in assisting countries with digital literacy, e-governance, cybersecurity, and digital development. Establishing a digital center for excellence that provides end-to-end digital transformation services would not only deliver on the Pacific islands’ development priorities but also invest in resilience to cyberattacks. Without focus, the U.S. will not be positioned to deliver on its promises, nor build a coherent narrative about what it offers the region and how that’s different from China. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: The bottom line is that China must dominate U.S. political, economic, and military strategy. Assuming that the U.S. can do everything everywhere isn’t just foolish — it’s a recipe for Chinese Communist victory in the 21st century. Finland and Sweden should be welcomed to NATO, but so also must the U.S. urgently get real about deterring China and, if necessary, defeating it in war. – Washington Examiner


The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region has simmered for decades. In 2020, the two sides fought a bloody war for territory — one that ended with a fragile Russian-brokered truce. – Washington Post

Japan’s leader on Friday called for China to stop its military exercises around Taiwan, a day after five of the Chinese missiles launched during the drills landed in waters claimed by Japan for its exclusive economic use. – New York Times

Southeast Asia’s regional bloc ASEAN is “deeply disappointed” by the limited progress made by Myanmar’s military rulers in implementing a peace agreement to end the conflict in the country, a communique issued by its foreign ministers said. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the foreign ministers of Russia and China at a meeting Friday with top diplomats from Southeast Asia at a time when the global powers are riven by tensions. – Associated Press

A Japanese video journalist detained in Myanmar while covering a brief pro-democracy march has been charged with violating a law against spreading false or alarming news, the Southeast Asian country’s military government announced Thursday. – Associated Press

Hal Brands and Michael Beckley write: The crisis over Speaker Pelosi’s visit is just the beginning. The U.S. is entering the most crucial phase of its rivalry with China, when the risk of war is highest and decisions made, or not made, will reverberate for decades. America can win a protracted competition against a formidable but faltering China, but only if it braces now for the very real possibility of a dramatic attack on Taiwan. – Wall Street Journal


Germany’s leading conservative politicians will visit one of the country’s last remaining nuclear plants on Thursday as part of a push to urge the government to abandon its planned exit from nuclear power amid growing concerns of a looming energy crisis due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. – New York Times

Three more ships filled with grain will sail from Ukraine on Friday under a UN-backed deal lifting Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea, Turkey’s defence minister said. – Agence France-Presse

The battle between Asia and Europe to lock in gas supplies is stepping up a gear, heightening the risks of a further surge in prices that would add fresh fuel to the cost of living crisis. – Financial Times

Tom Rogan writes: Nonetheless, Orban is no friend of America. Instead, he is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest partner in the EU and one of China’s closest partners in the West. Orban hypocritically sought to play down these concerns at CPAC. […]Orban is his people’s democratically elected leader. He retains support that most Western politicians can only dream of. But an American friend? Forget it. – Washington Examiner

Nathalie Tocci writes: Europe’s path through its serial crises over the past few decades—including the sovereign debt crisis, migration, Brexit, and the COVID-19 pandemic—show just that. The Ukraine war and the way it will test Europe’s defenses, economies, and energy systems, as well as the social fabric of its democratic order, may well be the hardest test of all. To pass it, Europeans will need to find their own determination and strength rather than relying on Putin to do the job. – Foreign Affairs


A United Nations Group of Experts said it has “solid evidence” that Rwandan troops have been fighting alongside the M23 rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and providing it with weapons and support. – Reuters

South Sudan’s leaders announced Thursday that the country’s post-war transitional government would remain in power two years beyond an agreed deadline, in a move foreign partners warned lacked legitimacy. – Agence France-Presse

Robbie Gramer writes: There are also still open-ended questions on how the Biden administration will put resources behind the new strategy, particularly with U.S. embassies in politically unstable countries in Africa chronically short-staffed and the Biden administration’s overall focus on broader national security challenges, including the ongoing war in Ukraine and its pivot to competing with China in the Indo-Pacific region. – Foreign Policy

Latin America

Peru’s Congress on Thursday forced President Pedro Castillo to stay in the country this week as he navigates a leadership crisis, without a prime minister and with a new Cabinet expected to be sworn in on Friday. – Reuters

Former Venezuela opposition lawmaker Juan Requesens was sentenced to eight years in prison for alleged involvement in the 2018 explosion of two drones at an event attended by President Nicolas Maduro, his lawyer said on Thursday, one of 17 people to receive sentences over the incident. – Reuters

Argentina’s new economy chief took a first step toward imposing new restraints on government expenditures, spending that has fueled one of Latin America’s highest inflation rates in a country long plagued by financial turmoil. – Reuters

Elliott Abrams writes: In the remaining months of 2022, the U.S. should firmly restate its support for the Venezuelan opposition’s plans for 2024 and make it clear that there will be no easing up on Mr. Maduro’s criminal operation. As Margaret Thatcher said to another American president, this is no time to go wobbly. – Wall Street Journal


The website of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist movement was hacked on Thursday evening. The site has since been taken down for maintenance. It is as of yet unclear who is behind the cyberattack. – Jerusalem Post

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said its network was taken offline by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) incident for about two hours following a visit to the island from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. – The Record

Cyber Front Z, a pro-Russian troll operation exposed in the days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “was clumsy and largely ineffective — definitely not ‘A team’ work,” security officials with Meta said Thursday. – CyberScoop

Hackers apparently angry over the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq’s upcoming conference in Albania carried out disruptive cyberattacks on Albanian government sites last month, researchers from the cybersecurity firm Mandiant said Thursday. – CyberScoop

A network of at least 72 bogus news sites in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia are part of a sprawling information operation pushing Chinese propaganda, researchers with the cybersecurity firm Mandiant said Thursday. – CyberScoop

Peter Altabef and Reece Kurtenbach write: A cyberattack occurs in the U.S. every 39 seconds — and the severity and cost of these attacks is only growing. Resilience to an attack is key. The time for both government and business to ensure resilience is now. – The Hill


An Air Force explosives expert has been charged in connection with a suspected insider attack that wounded four other U.S. troops at an austere outpost in Syria earlier this year, a highly unusual case of alleged betrayal in an organization that prizes fidelity above all else. – Washington Post

The Air Force’s top public affairs official has been tapped to become the next Pentagon spokesman, a decision that will see a uniformed member of the military take a job typically held by a civilian. – Breaking Defense

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office on Thursday launched its NROL-199 mission — the second of its kind in less than a month’s time. – Defense News

Janiyah Williams and William D. Hartung write: We can all agree that secret money in politics has been the norm for too long, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. It’s time for President Biden to use his executive power to pull the curtain back on hidden political spending by those who benefit from government contracts. […]Maybe then Congress will stop buying fighter planes, like the F-35 with its 800 unresolved defects and costs that are going through the roof. – The Hill

Long War

The Central Intelligence Agency’s killing of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has thrust the global terrorist group into a succession contest that will test its ties to far-flung affiliates and could give Iran a role in the outcome. – Wall Street Journal

Emily Harding writes: Rather than declare success or seek a political win, we should acknowledge that intelligence missions are hard, they get harder if there is no U.S. presence in country, and they get harder still if our allies are also blind. We should view over the horizon as a risky approach to a difficult mission, and we should be humble enough to admit if the threat is too grave for a distanced approach, even as we sleep a little easier knowing al-Zawahiri no longer poses a threat. – The Hill

Klon Kitchen writes: But no other nation exercises anything close to the restraint that we routinely show, even when hunting down one of the most notorious killers of the 21st century. Our nation is good, and that goodness is shown even in how we kill. Ayman al-Zawahiri attacked the United States and killed our people. This weekend, we held him accountable, and Americans can take pride in both our delivery of that justice and the way in which it was delivered. – The Dispatch