Fdd's overnight brief

February 12, 2021

In The News


France’s foreign ministry warned Iran on Thursday against taking further measures that could breach the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers and as a result jeopardise a diplomatic window opened with the arrival of a new U.S. administration. – Reuters

Iran’s oil reserves risk becoming stranded assets unless the new U.S. administration eases sanctions that have left the country lagging rivals in output capacity and losing a race against time as the transition to low carbon energy gathers pace. – Reuters

Iran’s decision to cast its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into metal for a research reactor reduces the risk that the Islamic Republic will move swiftly to build an atomic bomb, according to Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear-weapons engineer and former senior inspections official. – Bloomberg

But despite the televised vaccinations of high-profile people, there is scepticism about Tehran’s strategy, which has been complicated by geopolitics. – Financial Times

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has called on Iran to “show restraint” after UN inspectors confirmed the country has started producing small amounts of uranium metal in the latest breach of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A resolution co-signed by more than 100 House lawmakers from both parties, and supporting a democratic, secular Iran and condemning the regime’s terror plots, was introduced Thursday. – Fox News

Iranian schoolkids are studying anti-Semitism, hatred and conspiratorial material in their textbooks, including a theory that Western media hyped up the COVID-19 pandemic to thwart large-scale attendance at last year’s celebration of the Iranian revolution, according to a comprehensive study published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Thursday. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In the end, Iran needs to stockpile a lot of highly enriched uranium or produce plutonium, and then it will need to go through the complex process of making a nuclear devise.[…] Iran has friends in North Korea who know how to do that, and it has certainly studied the Pakistani program. However, this complexity leads to the misunderstandings behind what Iran has in terms of “material,” compared with how many years away it is from a real nuclear weapon. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: If Iran is five years away from a nuclear bomb, then why is Israel getting so excited? What would be wrong with the US and the EU-3 (Germany, France, and the UK) getting back the nuclear deal as it was in 2015? There are five more years at least before anyone needs to worry. This is not the Israeli playbook, and definitely not the current Mossad’s playbook, where the emphasis is that there is enough time for the US not to have to rush back into the deal before Iran’s June election, but nowhere near five years that would take away any sense of urgency. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Iran’s satellite launch of the Zoljanah last week had nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the US.[…] As the Iran nuclear standoff evolves, the three-month versus three-year missile dilemma facing Israel and the US, respectively, may be decisive in how each side determines what mix of force, diplomacy and sanctions are needed. – Jerusalem Post

Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi write: To dismantle the threat of Shia militancy in the region, a full-scale hearts-and-minds counterinsurgency effort is necessary. This requires, among other measures, a coalition of alliances that understand the complex local dynamics through which the Iranian regime has won local allegiances. It also means sustaining a campaign to gain popular support in Iran’s sphere of influence alongside a concerted effort to disrupt the institutions through which the regime permeates societies on a day-to-day basis. – Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Omer Carmi writes: In the most immediate, practical terms, if Iran halts implementation of the Additional Protocol, it could substantially hinder the IAEA’s ability to monitor the nuclear program, investigate suspected clandestine activity, and address the many concerns raised over the years—including recent reports that traces of radioactive material were found at sites where Tehran had blocked inspections in the past. Such a move may create more damage than value for the regime, however, provoking the West and possibly alienating Russia and China. – Washington Institute

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Frank Pabian write: The construction progress to date indicates a large-scale tunnel facility, connecting a small mountain ridge with a large mountain ridge, with enough room to harbor a facility larger in size than the original centrifuge assembly facility. […]In any case, our assessment is that the most likely location for the new assembly facility is best-protected, centered underneath the large mountain, far away from tunnel entrances. The tunnel will likely host additional security structures and blast traps, but could also include additional facilities, laboratories, storage, etc. – Institute for Science and International Security


An explosion was heard late on Thursday in Syria’s Quneitra governate in the south, the state TV reported. – Reuters

Mohamad Kamal al-Labwani writes: Only greater pressure would make it possible to remove the criminal Assad regime and hand power to a transitional military council composed of patriot officers from both sides—but the status quo is the rehabilitation of a war criminal. A successful political transition is one that excludes criminals from political decisions and fosters accountability and human rights. Though the Syrian people continue to bleed and suffer, they have not yet lost hope. – Washington Institute

Diana Darke writes: Another seven years with Assad at the helm will only guarantee that the wounds in Syrian society will deepen. Without him, those wounds have a chance of healing. His departure would unblock the path to political transition, sanctions would quickly be lifted, and rebuilding investment would flow in. Millions of refugees would return, the scope for extremism would shrink, and the world would be a safer place. What possible reason can there be keep him on? The 20 years his father gave him have expired. – Middle East Institute

Itamar Rabinovich writes: But Blinken’s statement is also important in the context of the unfolding Syrian crisis. He gave Israel full backing in its campaign against Iran and Hezbollah’s effort to embed themselves militarily in Syria and indicated support for a policy seeking an end to the Asad regime and Iran’s presence in Syria. At the same time, he put a marker for a future Syrian regime indicating that in a post-Asad era, and when the Iranian threat is lifted, that regime could hope to revive the quest for a peaceful return of the Golan. He indicated that it is a remote prospect, but a prospect it is. – Times of Israel


Turkey remains adamant about keeping Russian S-400 missiles and says that a solution to the dispute involves the U.S. looking at demands and security concerns of its NATO ally with a wider strategic perspective. – Bloomberg

Turkish troops stationed in Libya will remain there as long as a bilateral military agreement between Ankara and Tripoli is active and Libya’s government requests it, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Thursday. – Reuters

Turkish opposition politician Enis Berberoglu, stripped of his parliamentary status last year after a conviction for disclosing government secrets, was restored as a member of parliament on Thursday after a constitutional court ruling. – Reuters

A staff member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul was arrested for helping the mastermind of the murder of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 in the city, Sabah newspaper reported. – Daily Sabah

Jonathan Spyer writes: The alliance between Pakistan and Turkey is coming into being in a rapidly shifting strategic landscape. The old post-Cold War US-led security architecture, and the assumptions that surrounded it can no longer be relied upon. […]The Ankara-Islamabad axis looks set to form a significant and powerful presence on the complicated geopolitical chessboard of West and South Asia. – Jerusalem Post


Since President Biden took office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi as he is known here, has been waiting for the traditional courtesy call from the Oval Office. – Washington Post

A group of more than 20 Israelis is suspected of illegally manufacturing and selling armed cruise missiles to an unidentified Asian nation, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said on Thursday. – Bloomberg

The US ambassador to Israel under president Barack Obama is not at all concerned by the fact that the leaders of the US and Israel have not spoken three weeks into Joe Biden’s term. – Times of Israel

The Hamas terrorist group ruling Gaza has replenished its arsenal since a 2014 war with Israel and now has a vast collection of rockets, guided missiles and drones, a senior Israeli military commander said Thursday. – Times of Israel

The White House said Thursday that US President Joe Biden will speak to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “soon,” as questions accumulate in the media as to why the two haven’t had their traditional first phone call since the inauguration over three weeks ago. – Times of Israel

The US on Thursday called on Israel to refrain from settlement activity and for the Palestinian Authority to halt payments to terrorists and their families. – Times of Israel

In what might be a signal toward Iran, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva was appointed on Thursday to be the next head of IDF Intelligence. – Jerusalem Post

Bishara A. Bahbah writes: These issues are weighty, yet significant, and could very well impact the course of relations between the PA and the Biden administration. But, more importantly, they could clearly be a hindrance to a fair pursuit of peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO. The Palestinians should condition reestablishing ties with the US with a commitment by the Biden administration to rescind these one-sided and spiteful acts. With good faith, most issues of contention between the US and the Palestinians can be resolved during negotiations. – Times of Israel

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: The commotion created by IDF Chief Aviv Kochavi’s warning about any renewed nuclear deal between the United States and Iran overshadowed the important message of deterrence contained in his speech – which is now gaining real significance in light of The Hague’s decision on Israel.[…]The explicit warning is there so that after the next confrontation, Israel can counter any demand to bring its military officers or politicians to trial by easily proving that the IDF warned civilians when possible – as is required by international law.  – Ynet

Herb Keinon writes: There may be many good and valid reasons why Biden has called the leaders of a dozen other countries before phoning Netanyahu.[…]All that could be true, but the non-call is creating a first impression, and it is not a good one. It gives the impression of an intentional snub, and is being widely interpreted as such both in Israel and abroad. If this is the mood music that will accompany the relationship between Netanyahu and Biden going forward, that music is decidedly downbeat. – Jerusalem Post


After a blast of historic proportions at Beirut’s port last year, Lebanon only escaped a second chemical inferno by chance, the German company clearing the dockside has said. – Agence France-Presse

Friends and family members of a slain Lebanese publisher and harsh Hezbollah critic bid him farewell on Thursday at his home in southern Beirut, at a ceremony held amid tight security and attended by Western diplomats. – Associated Press

Hassan Mneimneh writes: As such, the violence of the Tripoli protests is Lebanon’s ‘canary in the coal mine.’ The city of Tripoli has no monopoly on poverty, hunger, and despair in Lebanon, and the country as a whole can expect dark days ahead. Far from being the preferable option, abandoning Lebanon to a de facto rule by Iran will only exacerbate the likely violence ahead and its destabilizing impact on its region. – Washington Institute

Rami G. Khouri writes: This leaves Lebanon with two principal political actors: Hezbollah and the very incoherent but persistent protest movement that enjoys wide popular support. A key dynamic to watch in the coming months and years is how these two forces engage with each other and with their patrons and supporters abroad, and whether they can act in time to force the floundering governing elite to behave like adults and repair the society and economy they have almost destroyed. – Middle East Institute


The United States’ new special envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, met Yemen’s internationally-recognised president and his foreign minister in Riyadh on Thursday, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by the Biden administration aimed at ending the war. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said on Thursday it had thwarted and destroyed a ballistic missile that Yemen’s Houthis launched towards Khamis Mushait in Saudi Arabia and an explosives-laden drone that was launched towards the kingdom’s southern region, state media reported. – Reuters

Britain, France and Germany on Thursday condemned a spate of attacks on Saudi Arabia claimed by Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, saying the proliferation of drones posed a serious threat to regional stability. – Reuters

Gulf States

Oman’s foreign minister said he was optimistic all parties would return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and that his country was prepared to facilitate regional discussions with Tehran. – Bloomberg

Oman is satisfied with its current relationship with Israel, the foreign minister said on Thursday, even after two fellow Gulf Arab states normalised ties with Israel and raised U.S. hopes others would follow suit. – Reuters

The family of Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul said Thursday US President Joe Biden’s election win helped secure her release after nearly three years’ imprisonment, but cautioned she was still far from free. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: Mr. Biden promised during his campaign that those responsible for killing Khashoggi and “murdering children” in Yemen would be made to “pay the price” and become “a pariah.” He also said he believed MBS had ordered Khashoggi’s killing; Mr. Biden’s director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, promised to release a CIA report on MBS’s responsibility. The new administration should now deliver on those commitments. U.S.-Saudi relations should not be normalized until Mr. Qahtani and his boss, Mohammed bin Salman, are held accountable for their crimes. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Foreign ministers and senior officials from several Persian Gulf countries were meeting in Athens on Thursday, as Greece seeks to expand alliances to counter tension with regional rival Turkey. – Associated Press

The president of Libya’s newly elected interim government arrived Thursday in the eastern city of Benghazi, the stronghold of the divided country’s eastern factions, as part of a campaign to foster unity ahead of national elections in December. – Associated Press

David Gardner writes: Yet, under Sisi, Egypt has become less of a regional pillar of US policy. Now, the most populous Arab country has in geopolitical terms been almost eclipsed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which moved quickly to bankroll the new regime in Cairo with billions of dollars in 2013, casting Egypt almost as a client. Sisi’s ruthless monopoly of power cannot compensate for this sharply diminished influence — so very much the opposite of what seemed briefly on the cards a decade ago. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has held his first phone call with South Korea’s new foreign minister, Chung Eui-yong, both governments said, reaffirming a commitment to ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, amid stalled talks between Washington and North Korea. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has denounced his cabinet for a lack of innovation and “smart strategies” in drafting goals for a new five-year economic plan, state media reported on Friday. – Reuters

Bruce Klingner writes: Washington and Seoul should send private messages to Pyongyang urging the regime to refrain from provocations, declaring that a nuclear or missile test would undermine diplomacy and lead to a tougher policy than may otherwise have been planned. The start of a new year, notably when combined with a new administration, raises hopes for turning a new page in the lengthy North Korean nuclear story. Unfortunately, it is already a very dog eared and well worn journal. – The Hill

Ian Bowers and Henrik Hiim write: Of course, bringing South Korea’s conventional weapons into discussions about denuclearization further complicates what is already a perennial difficult problem. However, Korea-watchers should accept that it is no longer just about the nukes: Advanced conventional weapons capabilities on the Korean Peninsula will have an increasingly powerful impact on how all East Asian actors understand their future security. – War on the Rocks


China’s broadcasting regulator announced on Friday that the BBC will be banned from airing its programs in China through satellite services, accusing the British news service of biased, inaccurate reporting that has “damaged Chinese ethnic unity.” – New York Times

China was, and remains, an authoritarian country under Communist Party rule. But the nature of its authoritarianism has become much harsher under Xi Jinping, the party’s top leader since late 2012. – New York Times

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor called his country’s Beijing embassy from an airport in China’s northeast. He was being questioned by authorities after being blocked from boarding a flight out of China. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden warned that China is making advancements in transportation that give it an advantage over the U.S., as he made a pitch for Congress to pass an economic recovery package that includes infrastructure improvements. – Wall Street Journal

As the Biden administration charts its course on China policy, a coming political appointment to a key Commerce Department post could offer clues to how the White House will address security risks posed by Chinese tech companies. – Wall Street Journal

After the first call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the U.S. and Chinese governments released accounts that diverged sharply in tone and focus. – Washington Post

Starting in 2017, China carried out a sweeping crackdown in its northwest Xinjiang region under the banner of counterterrorism. China’s harsh campaign to forcibly assimilate the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority group in Xinjiang, has drawn international condemnation, with the U.S. State Department classifying it as “genocide.” – Washington Post

The United States has profound concerns over China’s “predatory” behavior when it comes to technology, the State Department spokesman said on Thursday, adding that the Biden administration will engage with China when in the interest of the United States. – Reuters

Joe Biden has created a Pentagon task force to help craft a comprehensive China policy that will examine everything from the deployment of US forces around the world to relations with the Chinese military. – Financial Times

China’s top diplomat overseeing Arctic affairs recently stressed that Beijing wants the region to remain peaceful and stable, but recognizes competition – primarily economic for now – is real on several levels. – USNI News

Zhiqun Zhu writes: Treating China as the enemy and designing policies to counter China’s every move have become a major obstacle to a normal U.S.-China relationship. As the Biden administration develops its China policy, it is well advised to follow the “harder way” — pursuing fair and smart competition with China, which is more likely to achieve America’s policy goals as well as restoring America’s global leadership. – The Hill

Tom Rogan writes: If China doesn’t like accurate reporting, then there’s no reason Western democracies should tolerate its deliberately inaccurate reporting on our soil.[…] As a bare minimum, the U.S. should join with its allies to expel CGTN’s executives. New Zealand might not join the collective effort, but the four other allies probably will. – Washington Examiner

Paul Wolfowitz writes: Of course, evidence remains inconclusive on the actual origins of COVID. But at a time when international authorities are clearly kowtowing to Beijing on a matter as consequential as the origins of COVID-19, more straight-talk is necessary. There are limits to the plausible. – American Enterprise Institute

South Asia

India and China said they would pull back their security forces along part of their disputed border in the Himalayas, a move that could help ease months-long tensions between the world’s two most populous countries. – Wall Street Journal

Indian technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned U.S. social media firms on Thursday to abide by the country’s laws, a day after a face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and Twitter over content regulation. – Reuters

Pakistan’s military on Thursday successfully test-fired a short range surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of hitting land and sea targets with “high precision” up to 490 kilometers (about 280 miles) away, the military said. – Associated Press

Mihir Sharma writes: For now, the best hope for both Facebook and Twitter to escape the wrath of the Indian state is the fact that politicians have become accustomed to seeing their fortunes in the ruling party rise based on how many followers they have. […]And the best way for the platforms to ensure that they remain indispensable to political discourse in India is to show that they’re standing up for the rights of ordinary Indians to speak and debate freely. If they’re not indispensable, it will be all-too-easy for officials to dispense with them. – Bloomberg

Aman Thakker writes: The United States and India have been on a path of increasing convergence on their strategies vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific region over the last 20 years, spanning three administrations across both political parties. […]However, as the United States and India look to open a new chapter in their bilateral cooperation in this region, they will need to grapple with serious challenges and differences of opinion that will shape not just the trajectory of this deepening partnership, but the wider region as well. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Neelima Jain writes: President Joe Biden’s approach to foreign policy is likely to strike a chord with India—provided Indian states are propelled into the mainstream U.S.-India diplomacy discourse. […]India’s complex political structure requires a grassroots approach to strengthen ties with the United States. Subnational diplomacy is a good place to start. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Jessica Seddon writes: With the Joe Biden administration in place, the United States has the opportunity to explore new possibilities in its relationship with India. […]However, in both countries, underlying democratic deficits have created climates of mistrust, which can lead the misrepresentation of new initiatives. The diplomatic challenge here will be to continue to advocate for forums that incorporate a diversity of opinions, without either government necessarily owning every single of the decisions and platforms that come out of these efforts. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Katherine B. Hadda writes: How AI will disrupt will often be different in India and the United States. In many cases, we may not agree fully on the nature of the risk or the solutions. Finding ways to bridge our bilateral divide will assist the search for global consensus, particularly as India aims to position itself as a provider of AI technological benefits to the developing world. […]The current pandemic has shone a light on AI’s potential benefits across a range of sectors. A U.S.-India partnership will enable faster development of this critical technology while mitigating its downsides. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Richard M. Rossow writes: The United States and India will certainly face bumps as they look to expand security cooperation. The most obvious is possible U.S. sanctions against India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). However, India’s increasing role as a security provider in the region, paired with quantifiable progress in bilateral ties, creates crucial gravity for continued engagement and progress. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Kriti Upadhyaya writes: When the DTTI was first set up, the initial projects were modest but portrayed as “pathfinders.” The idea was to achieve small gains and get the two sides accustomed to working together. U.S.-India trade ties need similar confidence-building measures. We need to reinvent the relationship by adopting a nonconfrontational approach to trade and a renewed commitment to deeper engagement. The exercise may be frustrating, and the gains will not be immediate. But the promise for U.S. efforts lies in a growing economy teeming with opportunities. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Raymond Vickery writes: In summary, U.S.- India relations have never been a major concern within the Congress. With the exception of the issues cited above, this is likely to be the situation with the 117th Congress. This is ironic given the wide membership of the Senate and House India caucuses, which are the largest caucuses in their respective legislative chambers. Whether this situation changes in the new Congress is dependent on circumstances and whether a few key legislators within these caucuses, including the Indian American members of Congress, see it in their political interests to expand and deepen congressional action on U.S.-India relations. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Since the Feb. 1 coup, a number of foreign governments have tried to get him to back down. On Wednesday, President Biden said the U.S. would impose fresh sanctions against the military leadership. – Wall Street Journal

Huge crowds thronged cities around Myanmar to demand the return of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday for a seventh straight day of protests, after Washington announced sanctions on the generals behind last week’s coup. – Agence France-Presse

Facebook said on Friday it would reduce the distribution of all content and profiles run by Myanmar’s military, saying they have “continued to spread misinformation” after the army seized power and detained civilian leaders in a coup on Feb. 1. – Reuters

European Union lawmakers called on Thursday for the bloc’s governments to sanction Myanmar’s military leadership following last week’s military coup, issuing a resolution urging the reinstatement of civilian rule. – Reuters

A draft resolution on Myanmar was formally submitted by Britain and the European Union on Thursday, a day ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council holding a special session on the crisis sparked by the Feb. 1 military coup. – Reuters

Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said on Thursday the country’s envoy to Myanmar had spoken with Sean Turnell, the economist and adviser to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. – Reuters

Australia’s Parliament will debate making Google and Facebook pay for news after a Senate committee on Friday recommended no changes to the world-first draft laws. – Associated Press

A growing number of governments are curbing diplomatic ties with Myanmar and increasing economic pressure on its military over the coup last week that erased the fragile democratic progress in the long-oppressed Southeast Asian nation. – Associated Press

The former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, who was placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad, has been fined just over $3,000 after pleading guilty to corruption charges. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Neither Taliban nor Turkmen officials are giving any details about their talks after a delegation from the Muslim extremist group arrived in Turkmenistan on February 6. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The new Biden administration has been reversing many of the Trump administration’s policies in areas such as immigration and energy, but when it comes to confronting China’s actions in the South China Sea, at the highest levels of power the song remains the same. – Defense News

Jonas Parello-Plesner writes: The allies in an economic Article 5 would allow companies facing authoritarian trade curbs to draw on a mutual credit facility. That would strengthen their financial position and stiffen their spine. The democratic world needs a way of dealing with authoritarian bullies from a position of strength. It’s time to tell the bullies that if they poke one of us in the eye, we’ll all poke back. – Wall Street Journal

Josh Rogin writes: The Biden administration’s return to competence is welcome, and it’s hard to disagree with its policies. But a sober assessment shows that their effects may be negligible because American influence in Myanmar has waned so much. The Biden team earns good marks for process, but its actions actually raise a more disturbing question: Does any of this matter in a world that has moved on from American leadership? – Washington Post

Matthew Smith writes: The people of Myanmar are now taking to the streets in the largest nationwide protests since 2007. They know how dangerous the military is. There is a high risk the authorities will open fire on unarmed protesters and conduct mass arrests. This is an urgent case in which the international community can have a powerful effect. The United Nations should no longer let itself be hamstrung by the generals’ authoritarian enablers. – Washington Post

Timothy Mclaughlin writes: The coup has, however, also prompted the beginning among some of Myanmar’s people of a reevaluation of the military’s acceptance in society despite its abhorrent behavior—something that a brutal campaign against the Rohingya, for which the armed forces now stand accused of genocide, notably failed to do. – The Atlantic


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow is ready to sever ties with the European Union if the bloc hits it with painful economic sanctions, according to extracts of an interview posted on the ministry’s website on Friday. – Reuters

The United States on Thursday condemned Russia’s continued crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities in the strongest possible terms, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. – Reuters

The European Union is likely to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, possibly as soon as this month, after France and Germany signalled their willingness to move ahead, three diplomats said. – Reuters

Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny will appear in court again on February 12 in a slander case involving a World War II veteran after the trial was interrupted last week. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Lyubov Sobol, a prominent lawyer for jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), has been indicted on fresh charges she labeled political “revenge” for daring to speak to an alleged security officer behind the assassination attempt against the Kremlin critic. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says Russia is violating a bilateral investment treaty by targeting the organization’s news operations within Russia under its controversial “foreign agent” law. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian security agents — including one allegedly linked to the poisoning of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny — tailed another Kremlin critic in the days and weeks before his two near-fatal poisoning illnesses, the investigative group Bellingcat said in a new report. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Thomas Kent writes:  Yet even though it is not a government agency, few observers would see a shutdown of RFE/RL in Russia as anything other than an early Russian success over the new administration and Congress. As a senator, Biden was a strong advocate for RFE/RL. Actions by him and democracy advocates on Capitol Hill will show where it ranks in their priorities now. – The Hill


Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday his country had defeated foreign attempts to overthrow his government and showed no signs of heeding the embattled opposition’s calls for him to resign. – Agence France-Presse

The U.K. and the European Union remain locked in a standoff over how to implement the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland, despite more than three hours of talks between top officials on Thursday. – Bloomberg

The European Union will step up appeals to the U.S. to align its foreign policy priorities with the bloc, arguing that a common western front would stand a better chance of forcing China to pursue fairer trade policies. – Bloomberg

U.S. President Joe Biden will address a virtual edition of the annual Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters

Mario Draghi is set to become Italy’s prime minister with an overwhelming parliamentary majority after supporters of the Five Star Movement voted in favour of joining his forthcoming national unity government. – Financial Times

Ukraine’s government has banned the registration of vaccines for COVID-19 from “aggressor states,” a designation it has applied to Russia since 2015. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Moldovan lawmakers rejected President Maia Sandu’s choice of a new government on February 11, paving the way for an early election that pro-Western Sandu has welcomed as an opportunity to consolidate her power against the Moscow-leaning Socialist party. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has opened a Soviet-style “All-Belarusian People’s Assembly” to discuss reforms and the country’s development for the next five years, including possible amendments to the constitution, in an apparent move to survive ongoing mass protests against his rule, which the authoritarian ruler has blamed on the West. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Cassation Administrative Court of the Ukrainian Supreme Court next month will hear an appeal against President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s decree to block three TV channels linked to Russia. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Yet the law’s targeting of Islamist radicalism is so contentious and some of its provisions so potentially hard to enforce that the arguments during its passage through the National Assembly this month have sometimes made headlines — even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 80,000 people in France in the past year. – Financial Times

Editorial: The EU’s real leverage stems from its policies on trade, regulation and market access. Its weakness lies in its inability to match strategic interests with economic ones. […]Borrell described his “very complicated” trip to Moscow as a turning point for relations with Russia. If one good thing can come out of this diplomatic debacle it is that it might galvanise the EU into stronger action. By humiliating Borrell, Moscow humiliated the EU. It cannot go unanswered. – Financial Times

Philip Stephens writes: The chancellor is not about to change. She is seeing out the rest of her term before standing down later this year. Quite possibly, her successor will be less mercantilist, especially if the Green party forms part of the next governing coalition. But if Biden wants a reliable European partner, he would do better to look to America’s oldest ally. – Financial Times

Ivana Karásková writes: Rather than ignoring, dispelling, or attacking the platform, the Biden administration would do well to utilize it. Having become accustomed to the collective format, the CEE countries could easily infuse 17+1 with topics and preferences they share with the United States, especially when treated by Washington as true and valuable partners. For the U.S., “New Europe” is there, once again, for the taking. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The Central African Republic’s government said Thursday that its army along with Russian and Rwandan allies had recaptured a western border town from rebels, reopening a key supply route that had been blocked since December. – Agence France-Presse

Signatories to a shaky peace deal deemed vital for ending conflict in Mali met on Thursday in the northern city of Kidal, a former rebel bastion, aiming to push forward with the implementation of the accord. – Agence France-Presse

Two camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region housing Eritrean refugees have been shut and the occupants relocated, authorities said on Thursday, after the United Nations said residents had reported attacks, including by suspected Eritrean troops. – Reuters

Somalia is opposed to Kenya’s request for a fourth delay to hearings of a maritime border dispute between the two nations at the International Court of Justice. – Bloomberg

Sudanese authorities ordered the arrest of supporters of ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir accused of fueling a wave of unrest and looting that struck at least five states in the impoverished African country. – Bloomberg

Latin America

As Cuba’s Communist government continues its piecemeal expansion of the fledgling private sector, Cubans are carefully parsing a list of the economic activities that the government proposes to keep under its control. – New York Times

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States on Thursday called for the international community to support talks between President Jovenel Moise’s government and the opposition as a constitutional crisis escalates, but rejected calls for Moise to leave office. – Reuters

Venezuela’s government and opposition are in talks with the Pan-American Health Organization to buy vaccines to inoculate 6 million people against Covid-19, according to three people with direct knowledge of the talks. – Bloomberg

A warning from the Cuban embassy in Colombia about a possible attack in Bogota by National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels is inaccurate, the guerrilla group said on Thursday, accusing the Colombian government of planning attacks on civilians. – Reuters

North America

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday had their first call since the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization (WHO). – The Hill

FBI officials tweeted photos of a man they are trying to identify for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol on Twitter Thursday as the impeachment trial of former President Trump stretched into its third day. – The Hill

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador warned Thursday that migrants should not expect easy entry to the U.S. following President Biden’s executive orders on immigration, urging them not to be deceived by traffickers. – The Hill


Twitter says it wants to be a place where the world’s heads of state and policymakers congregate to share their news and views, and where people can come to engage their leaders. – Washington Post

Microsoft on Thursday urged the U.S. government to adopt a law similar to a controversial Australian proposal that would require tech giants to pay publishers for news. – The Hill

Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) on Thursday introduced legislation intended to allow for growth of the number of internet-connected devices and the expansion of spectrum to meet the expected increased demand. – The Hill

President Biden is planning to sign an executive order to address the shortage of semiconductors, or chips, an issue that industry has begged him to take action on recently. – The Hill

The Biden administration on Thursday asked a federal court to hit pause on a case regarding former President Trump’s efforts to ban Chinese social media site WeChat. – The Hill

The Biden administration said on Wednesday that it was reviewing former president Donald Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok in the US, as the Chinese-owned video app continued negotiations over its future. – Financial Times

Reacting to senators’ criticism of a disorganized response to a massive government hack, the White House said a top cybersecurity adviser is leading the recovery. – C4ISRNET

Eric Noonan writes: We’ll never be completely safe from cybersecurity attacks, especially from foreign threats. But we can take the proper steps to implement a baseline of security and reporting requirements that allow for coordinated defense against those attacks — and then enforce those standards. With the SolarWinds attack still reverberating, the Biden administration should take this opportunity to hit the gas on stronger protections that keep our government, our businesses and our citizens safe. – C4ISRNET


The Air Force’s top leaders on Thursday announced a new assessment of extremism in the service while calling on airmen and guardians to stand against extremist views. – The Hill

Now, the U-2 Federal Laboratory is at work again on another undisclosed challenge. Tierney and Roper declined to elaborate on the task in interviews with Defense News. But Roper acknowledged, more broadly, that a future where AI copilots regularly fly with human operators was close at hand. – Defense News

The Navy is searching for solutions from industry that can fill needed gaps in cyber warfare capabilities to secure weapon systems and exploit cyberspace. – C4ISRNET

The Space Development Agency plans to launch several demonstration satellites this year, ahead of the launch of its National Defense Space Architecture in 2022. – C4ISRNET

The Marine Corps this week awarded BAE Systems $184 million for 36 additional Amphibious Combat Vehicles, the company announced today. – USNI News

Long War

On February 10, 2021, Al-Malahim Media Foundation, the media arm of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a new video titled: “America and the Painful Seizure.” The video features Khalid Batarfi, AQAP top leader, discussing several topics, including the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Unknown gunmen attacked a United Nations convoy on the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday, killing five Afghan security force members who were escorting the international agency’s vehicles, the UN and officials said. – Reuters

German and Danish authorities have arrested three Syrian men on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, prosecutors said Thursday. – Times of Israel

The U.N. counter-terrorism chief on Wednesday urged the repatriation of tens of thousands of women and children suspected of links to the Islamic State extremist group, warning that many are being radicalized in deteriorating detention camps in Syria and Iraq. – Associated Press