Fdd's overnight brief

February 17, 2023

In The News


Iran denied U.S. claims that Al Qaeda’s leader Seif al-Adel is based in the country, foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian wrote on Twitter on Thursday, a day after Washington aligned itself with a U.N. statement locating Adel in Iran. – Reuters 

Protesters in Iran marched through the streets of multiple cities overnight in the most widespread demonstration in weeks amid the monthslong unrest that’s gripped the Islamic Republic, online videos purported to show Friday. – Associated Press

The US government and six Gulf states voiced concern about what they said was Iran’s deeper cooperation with “state and non-state actors,” an oblique reference to its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and called Tehran a growing threat to regional security. – Bloomberg 

Rudam Azad writes: In Baloch culture, women represent a high moral authority and value and if someone mistreats them it is tantamount to a violation of the Baloch code of conduct and is considered a crime and an unforgettable offense. The Iranian regime is deliberately blackmailing and threatening Baloch families by abducting, sexually abusing, and torturing their wives and daughters. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Mohammad Abu Ghazleh writes: The historical context for Iran’s missile development, its current capabilities, and the ineffective international responses to Iran’s missile program demonstrate the pressing need to find a permanent solution to this issue, despite the many challenges. Although the threat of Iranian missiles is felt most acutely by Iran’s neighbors, there is no doubt that international cooperation and coordination will be necessary to aid regional powers in preventing Iranian missile attacks and resolving the issue of Iran’s missile program in the long term. – Washington Institute

Russia & Ukraine

Nearly a year into the war in Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues to back his ally Vladimir Putin, saying that he would again let the Russian president to use Belarus to stage further attacks on Ukraine—though would only send troops of his own if Belarusian forces were attacked. – Wall Street Journal 

Smartphones are making the war in Ukraine the most intensively documented in history, changing the shape of the conflict and transforming the world’s understanding of it. Each of the millions of devices in and around Ukraine are sensors that can provide data located to place and time. Their microphones and cameras can record and transmit sounds and images that depict the facts of war or provide tools for propaganda. These records are allowing investigators to build extensive visual archives of the conflict that could eventually provide a reckoning for war crimes. – Wall Street Journal 

Ukraine is still assessing the military significance of the sudden appearance of Russian balloons in its skies this week. But the use of balloons has a long military history — and is the latest example of how low-tech devices are also being used in a war that features the most advanced weaponry in the world. – New York Times 

Moscow unleashed a new missile bombardment on cities across Ukraine before dawn on Thursday, killing a 79-year-old woman and once again targeting critical infrastructure. – New York Times 

The closest Ukrainian artillery position to the raging battle for Bakhmut is tucked into a leafless tree line about 13,000 feet from the enemy. The fighters here have been hanging on for weeks, lobbing 122mm shells at the Russians straining to encircle the city. If the Russians push even a bit closer, the Ukrainians will have to move their guns back simply to keep from firing over the enemy’s heads, the platoon leader said Tuesday. – Washington Post

Pictures of devastation in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion have sparked urgent questions over how its reconstruction can be paid for. But before they can even begin to be answered, Kyiv is seeking billions just to ride out this year. – Reuters

Hundreds of Ukrainian men charged across windswept northern England in army drills on Thursday, some of more than 10,000 sent to Britain over the last year to turn them into soldiers in the war against Russia. – Reuters

Leading politicians, military officers and diplomats from around the world gather in Munich on Friday to survey a European security landscape transformed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Reuters

Russia and Ukraine exchanged 101 prisoners of war in their latest prisoner swap on Thursday, their authorities said. “Aircraft of the military transport aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces will deliver the released servicemen to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation in medical institutions of the Russian Defence Ministry,” the Russian ministry said. – Reuters

Israel will expand existing aid to Ukraine and help rebuild the country, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Thursday during the first official Israeli visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion a year ago. – Reuters

European Union countries were “on good track” to adopt new sanctions against Moscow in time for the Feb.24 one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to diplomats in Brussels. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s future in power has become less certain in the aftermath of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, a Western official said on Thursday, but it isn’t possible to predict when any changes in the Kremlin may occur. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked Norwegian lawmakers on Thursday for approving a bilateral aid package of some $7 billion over five years, saying Russia would never overcome the unity of Ukraine and its allies. – Reuters

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, the leaders of NATO’s 30 member countries held an emergency summit to address what they described as the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades — the launch of what would become the biggest land war in Europe since 1945. – Associated Press 

The head of Russia’s mercenary outfit Wagner said it could take months to capture the embattled Ukraine city of Bakhmut and slammed Moscow’s “monstrous bureaucracy” for slowing military gains. – Agence France-Presse

Ukraine’s growing need for fresh military equipment and ammunition will dominate the conversation when world leaders gather at the Munich Security Conference, which opens Friday. EU and NATO officials have been stepping up calls for an urgent boost in arms production to address looming shortfalls. – Bloomberg 

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the government in neighboring Poland passed a law to more than double the size of its military, and went shopping for weapons. – Bloomberg 

Ukrainian drones were downed over Sevastopol, according to the governor of the city in Crimea. It comes following a report that the United States considers the peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014 a red line for Vladimir Putin. – Newsweek

Russia has been reluctant to deploy its airforce over Ukraine since it launched its full-scale invasion of the country almost a year ago, due to the danger of a strike against Russian airfields and the “continued high threat” of Ukrainian air defenses, according to British intelligence. – Newsweek

America’s top defense officials have predicted high casualties for Russian forces going on the offensive in Ukraine, suggesting the ill-equipped and poorly trained conscripts will fail to break Ukraine’s defense of devastated battlefields in the east of the country. – Newsweek

Canada is backing plans for a special tribunal to investigate war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed Thursday. – Politico 

A bipartisan group of senators is trying once again to pass a bill that would require the State Department to designate the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group, as a foreign terrorist organization. – Washington Examiner 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Like the Russian military, Russian culture is taking a beating because of its mediocrity: Surprised by a turn of events that would have been an opportunity for heroes and geniuses, it has produced in response only various flavors of whimpering. Now that may be harder for Russian society to recover from than just a military defeat. – Bloomberg 

William Courtney writes: The fate of Russia’s neighbors may hinge in great part on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. Especially if the Kremlin managed to portray the war as a success, it might be emboldened to employ force against other neighbors. This is one reason why the West has strong interests in a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine and an end to revanchist rule in Russia. The West might be bolder about asserting the latter interest. – The Hill 

Neil Baron writes: But as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned, “to avoid confrontation with Russia in the future is to help Ukraine push back the invader now … If this lesson is ignored and Ukraine is defeated, Russia will almost certainly … attack NATO member countries.” And that would mean U.S. troops on the ground, fighting Russians — somewhere. – The Hill 

Olha Reshetylova and Brian Dooley write: There are other things the U.S. government can do to support local human rights activists, including promoting their suggestion for responsible media coverage of war-related sexual violence in Ukraine. Washington also should publicly back civil society’s advocacy for the legalization of same-sex civil partnerships in Ukraine, an issue that appears to be fast gaining political momentum. – The Hill 

Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth write: For now, despite the accumulating losses, Putin continues to reinforce failure with more men and equipment in the Donbas. He seems oblivious that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gets a vote too, and that his generals probably have an eventual plan to turn Crimea, allegorically speaking, into Putin’s own Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Red Square.  – The Hill 

Tom Rogan writes: Daily rhetorical attacks from Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on Russian high command show just how discombobulated the Russian war effort has become. For another example, consider how Ramzan Kadyrov is now resorting to increasingly eccentric (even by his high standards) social media diatribes. In essence, Russia’s war effort seems more designed to achieve short-term public victories that can bolster different constituencies on the domestic evening news. A successful grand push north and west? Forget about it. – Washington Examiner

Robert T. Wagner writes: Fear is a weapon that can be employed strategically. Noting this, revisionist powers like Russia have adopted irregular strategies to fight the West. Since a radiological dispersal device plays upon mass radiophobia, it is ideal for this purpose. As such, it is not shocking that Russia claimed Ukraine was developing one, potentially in furtherance of their own false-flag event. To address this evolution of the dirty bomb into a weapon of “war by other means,” the CBRN community must prioritize public information and disaster recovery. – The National Interest

Lawrence Freedman writes: Russia seeks to create circumstances in which the Ukrainian people have had enough. Ukraine seeks to make the position for the Russian military untenable. As the war enters its next, critical phase, these strategies, and the contrasting approaches to war they represent, will face their most severe tests. – Foreign Affairs

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write: The EU visa ban for Russian tourists caused a huge reversal — from Europe to Asia. There has always been a divide between big cities and regions in terms of holiday destinations. Metropolitan Russians longed for Europe, their provincial counterparts preferred the East – Turkey, Thailand, Egypt, Bali, and the United Arab Emirates. With visa and airline bans, the route to Europe became almost completely blocked – Center for European Policy Analysis


The Biden administration on Thursday gradually escalated its public outcry over Israel’s announcement that it will legalize nine settlement outposts and advance plans for some 10,000 new homes in the West Bank while revealing that it does not support a proposed UN Security Council resolution that expresses similar condemnation. – Times of Israel 

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi reportedly reached out to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to object to the premier’s plan to hand authority over a Defense Ministry body responsible for civilian matters in the West Bank to far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. – Times of Israel 

Leading French news outlet Le Monde has been accused of displaying “uninhibited antisemitism” by the Israeli Embassy in Paris after it published an opinion piece that referred to the “lack of manners” among Sephardic Jews in Israel. – Algemeiner 

Israel’s envoy in the United States has sought to clarify his nation’s red line on Iran’s nuclear program, telling VOA that Israel will prevent its main regional foe from acquiring a capability to become a nuclear-armed state. – VOA News


Syrian government forces and rebels have clashed overnight in northwest Syria for the first time since an earthquake devastated the region on Feb. 6, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday. – Reuters 

Syria could face dangerous outbreaks of disease in the wake of last week’s devastating earthquake if hundreds of thousands of displaced people do not get permanent housing soon, the Red Cross’ global chief said Thursday, as Syrians struggle to receive humanitarian aid amid the mounting crisis. – Associated Press 

Andrew J. Tabler writes: Creating such a channel for Syria would require simultaneous decisions by like-minded governments to allow the mechanism, as well as the establishment of a sovereign clearinghouse to address transaction risk for shipments in Syria. This would help ensure that the Assad regime and designated organizations do not benefit from or manipulate assistance through the opening created by General License 23, while simultaneously helping Syrian civilians rebuild their homes and lives. – Washington Institute


The United Nations launched a $1 billion appeal Thursday to help 5.2 million survivors of the most devastating earthquake in Turkey’s modern history, two days after starting a $397 million appeal to help nearly 5 million Syrians across the border in the rebel-held northwest. – Associated Press 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Turkey this week, visiting a critical but at times vexing NATO ally as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan copes with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. – Bloomberg 

Rebuilding the vast area in Turkey ravaged by last week’s earthquake will require restoring 1mn plus buildings and cost tens of billions of dollars, according to early estimates of the “massive” reconstruction challenge. – Financial Times

Arabian Peninsula

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend the arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthi rebels and an asset freeze and travel ban on Houthi leaders and top officials until Nov. 15. – Associated Press

Kate Kizer and Scott Paul write: Nearly eight years ago, U.S. policymakers sacrificed Yemen in order to recalibrate U.S.-Saudi and U.S.-Emirati relations. Today, proponents of the Yemen War Powers Resolution risk doing the same. In seeking distance from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi now as fervently as Obama- and Trump-era officials sought their favor, advocates of more Yemen war powers resolutions would relegate the reality in Yemen to the periphery of decision-making. Distorting facts to maintain political momentum isn’t justified just because a brutal dictator is on the other side. – War on the Rocks

Bilal Y. Saab writes: Make no mistake about it, reorganizing the U.S. security cooperation presence in the kingdom is a very heavy lift that requires adroit U.S. diplomacy and strategic communication with Riyadh as well as effective interagency coordination and compromise, which is mainly why leadership in the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom have avoided this conversation for such a long time. But the time for this reorganization is now, and the Saudis finally have the willingness to reform and the right set of ideas for national defense. The United States is in a seminal period in the relationship with Saudi Arabia, but Washington is half-stepping with respect to its response. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Several dozen Lebanese protesters attacked banks in a Beirut neighbourhood on Thursday, while blocking roads protesting against informal restrictions on cash withdrawals in place for years and rapidly deteriorating economic conditions. – Reuters 

After more than a year of political deadlock, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani could face a debilitating new crisis with Kurdish leaders that risks undermining his efforts to set policy and compile a badly needed state budget. – Reuters

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel on Thursday in response to what he claimed was chaos spread by the United States.  – Ynet 

Violence in the Holy Land is once again on the rise, and many commentators are blaming Israel’s new right-wing government and controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the root cause of the violence is the ongoing refusal of Palestinian leaders to make peace with Israel, now for a whole century, and the path to peace is clear. – WORLD

Nimrod Goren writes: Finally, the United States can help Israel and Jordan put in place a crisis-management mechanism that will enable the two neighbors to deal with the consequences of any Israeli-Palestinian escalation and prevent the collapse of bilateral ties. Such a model will also be needed between Israel and Turkey, and the United States can help it happen. For these efforts to begin, and for the administration to be able to effectively follow up on last week’s meeting, the Senate must quickly confirm Yael Lempart, Biden’s recently-announced appointee, as ambassador to Jordan. – The National Interest

Mohamed Chtatou writes: By joining the Forum, the Palestinian Authority would demonstrate political maturity that will bring them important economic and social dividends. And although the tensions run deep and solutions are elusive, efforts to bring Jordanians and Palestinians on board for the next Negev meeting by Morocco and others would be an important step towards bridging the gap. Whether or not such efforts are successful, the continued advancement of cooperation on economic and security issues is a more likely outcome of March’s summit, solidifying the efforts of the previous summit in the Negev Forum. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea threatened on Friday an “unprecedentedly persistent, strong” response as South Korea and the United States gear up for annual military exercises as part of efforts to fend off the North’s growing nuclear and missile threats. – Reuters

A group of South Korean victims of Japan’s wartime forced labour accused Seoul of rushing a compensation plan with Tokyo for diplomatic and political gains, amid a prolonged legal battle over the neighbours’ chequered history. – Reuters 

South Korea will increase the number of flights into the country from China to 80 from 62 per week by the end of this month, South Korea’s Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on Friday, in Seoul’s latest step to ease curbs on travellers from China. – Reuters


The recent appearance over the U.S. of a Chinese high-altitude balloon is shedding light on the interplay between China’s entrepreneurs, universities and the People’s Liberation Army, a fusion of strengths that Washington said is the basis of a spy-balloon program. – Wall Street Journal 

In the summer of 2017, a group of more than 30 police officers from Beijing’s Public Security Bureau visited a government-backed balloon research center. They viewed the balloons stored in its warehouse, looked at ground equipment for larger aircraft and discussed how these airborne devices could help security forces at the “battlefront.” – Washington Post 

A week of protests by Chinese pensioners over health insurance changes that reduce payouts for medicine and outpatient care has underscored pressure on the Chinese Communist Party to deliver improved social care for a rapidly aging population, even after local government coffers were severely depleted by huge “zero covid” expenses. – Washington Post 

Former British prime minister Liz Truss will call on Friday for Taiwan to be given more arms and for the Group of Seven nations to agree a coordinated package of sanctions against China if there is an escalation of military tensions around the island – Reuters

President Joe Biden said on Thursday he expects to speak with China’s president, Xi Jinping, about what the United States says was a Chinese spy balloon that a U.S. fighter jet shot down early this month after it transited the United States. – Reuters

The top Republicans on U.S. congressional foreign affairs and armed services committees pressed Democratic President Joe Biden on Thursday to include $2 billion in military assistance grants for Taiwan in his upcoming budget request. – Reuters

As the war rages on in Ukraine, the United States is doing more than supporting an ally. It’s learning lessons — with an eye toward a possible future clash with China. – Associated Press 

China imposed trade and investment sanctions Thursday on Lockheed Martin and a unit of Raytheon for supplying weapons to Taiwan, stepping up efforts to isolate the island democracy claimed by the ruling Communist Party as part of its territory. – Associated Press 

China came in for a grilling Wednesday over its human rights record as a two-day hearing opened at the United Nations human rights office, with rights advocates raising issues like relocations from Tibet, COVID-19, reprisals against human rights defenders and a security law that crushed dissidents in Hong Kong. – Associated Press 

US President Joe Biden plans to talk to Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, to “get to the bottom” of the situation involving the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina two weeks ago. – Financial Times 

The Pentagon’s top China official has arrived in Taiwan, in a rare visit to the island by a senior US policymaker that comes as relations between Washington and Beijing are mired in crisis over a suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down two weeks ago. – Financial Times 

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he would talk to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in the wake of the US Air Force shooting down what Washington says was a high-tech Chinese spy balloon earlier this month. Agence France-Presse

China said it would limit the scope of a blacklist used to sanction foreign companies after deploying the tool for the first time against two US defense firms. – Bloomberg 

The World Health Organization is calling for more cooperation from China in its search for the origins of Covid-19, a topic back in the news after a scientific journal reported the agency shelved its investigation over a lack of collaboration. – Bloomberg 

Revelations of a global Chinese balloon spying program have upended fledgling attempts by President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to manage tensions that risk spiraling into confrontation and conflict. – The Hill 

Editorial: The public still knows little about China’s spy balloon, even as the Pentagon says it’s recovered significant debris. U.S. officials are leaking that the Chinese intended to send it over Guam or Hawaii, and it somehow wandered over the Aleutians and into Montana. Why not be honest about what it spied on? Mr. Biden seemed at pains to sound tough on China, but it looks to us like he wants to put the whole episode in the same memory box where we are supposed to store his tremendous victory in withdrawing from Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal 

Tom Rogan writes: Considering the corrupt immorality that defined Xi’s “Zero COVID” policy and his forced abandonment of it only under public pressure, this whitewashing of history is patently absurd. Indeed, it is the political equivalent of a sudden-death sports match in which one team adopts total-defensive tactics before suddenly rushing to the side of the pitch and allowing the opposition to score. Put another way, Australian free speech might not be the real problem here. – Washington Examiner 

Henry Rome writes: Western officials have long hypothesized about the circumstances under which China would use its considerable leverage to nudge Iran toward compromise, but if its public statements this week are any indication, that point has still not been reached. Accordingly, the United States should intensify efforts to disrupt Iranian oil exports to China. Washington and its partners should also use diplomatic channels to underscore to Beijing how an unrestrained Iranian nuclear program poses risks to Chinese interests in the region. – Washington Institute

Timothy Ash writes: China must be called to account by low-income countries and the rest of the developing world. There should be no special treatment, and Western taxpayers and pensioners cannot be asked to bail China out for its bad credit decisions in the past. If this means delaying ongoing debt restructuring, for now, that might have to be the price paid. But China should be identified, in public, as the holdout. – Center for European Policy Analysis

South Asia

The United States is concerned about debt owed to China by Pakistan and other countries, U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet said on Thursday during a visit to Islamabad as the country dealt with an economic crisis. – Reuters 

The United States brought its most advanced fighter jet, the F-35, to India for the first time this week alongside F-16s, Super Hornets and B-1B bombers as Washington looks to woo New Delhi away from its traditional military supplier, Russia. – Reuters 

A powerful explosion inside a moving passenger train killed at least one person and wounded eight others in eastern Pakistan on Thursday, police and a railway spokesman said. – Associated Press


Taiwan’s military said on Thursday it had found the remains of a probable crashed weather balloon likely from China on a remote and strategically located island near the Chinese coast, amid a dispute between China and the United States over spy balloons. – Reuters

Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Friday he was “not very certain” about a reported upcoming visit of a senior Pentagon official, a rare trip that would most likely further inflame China-U.S. relations. – Reuters 

The launch of a new flagship series H3 rocket carrying an observation satellite and an experimental infrared sensor that could detect missile launches was aborted Friday after its auxiliary booster engines failed to ignite, Japan’s space agency said. – Associated Press  

A notorious Islamic State recruiter from Tajikistan, Parviz Saidrahmonov (aka Abu Dovud), was sentenced to 21 years in prison in November on terrorism charges in Dushanbe, Tajik Supreme Court officials said on February 16. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Moldova’s Parliament approved another pro-Western prime minister Thursday as the country grapples with the economic ruptures caused by Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine and growing concerns that Moscow was also aiming to overthrow the government here. – Wall Street Journal 

Despite promises of a huge boost in defense spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany’s armed forces are in a worse place than a year ago, the country’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, told The Washington Post this week. – Washington Post

Vice President Harris touched down here Thursday in preparation for a speech to world leaders that will express enduring solidarity with Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, even as the White House has warned Kyiv it could soon see limits in support from the United States and other countries. – Washington Post

The search to fill the soon-to-be empty shoes at the apex of Scottish politics was underway Thursday following the surprise announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she was stepping down after eight years in power. – Washington Post

Over the past year, as Western governments have ramped up weapons deliveries to Ukraine and economic sanctions against Moscow, U.S. and European security services have been waging a parallel if less visible campaign to cripple Russian spy networks. – Washington Post

Britain’s counter-terrorism police chief said on Thursday his officers are increasingly dealing with threats from hostile states such as Russia, China and Iran in a shift in focus away from Islamist extremism. – Reuters

European demand for U.S. weaponry is soaring, but instead of big-ticket items like jets and tanks, shopping lists are focused on cheaper, less-sophisticated items such as shoulder-fired missiles, artillery, and drones that have proven critical to Ukraine’s war efforts. – Reuters

Russia said on Thursday it was expelling four Austrian diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after Vienna expelled four Russian diplomats in a case which appeared to be related to spying. –Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States was ready to defend the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania if required, and will keep its military presence in the region. – Reuters 

Facebook allowed an exiled Moldovan oligarch with ties to the Kremlin to run ads calling for protests and uprisings against the pro-Western government, even though he and his political party were on U.S. sanctions lists. – Associated Press 

Rishi Sunak has launched a high-stakes gamble to seal a deal with Brussels over Northern Ireland, making a surprise visit to Belfast as Tory Eurosceptics warned he was going too far to accommodate the EU. – Financial Times 

Italy is set to approve changes in how the government oversees the spending of billions of euros in European Union recovery funds, a move that risks triggering a clash between Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s administration and Brussels. – Bloomberg 

President Joe Biden will host German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House next month, according to press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. – Washington Examiner 

Russia this year will likely step up its presence in the Barents Sea and the Atlantic Ocean while lengthening its submarine deployments, according to a new Norwegian intelligence report. – Defense News 

Stephen Castle writes: Passionate, professional, and a top-notch communicator, Nicola Sturgeon was not just the dominant figure of Scottish politics, but someone whose opinion poll ratings were the envy of fellow politicians during most of her eight years as Scotland’s leader. – New York Times 

Lara Jakes writes: Camille Grand, who until last year was NATO’s chief defense investment official, said Luxembourg’s efforts were interesting as an example of how nations are quietly working the seams to continue arming Ukraine despite dwindling stockpiles, manufacturing shortages and stretched budgets. – New York Times 

Marc L. Busch writes: There’s little commerce at stake in this trade war. Lithuania sends 1 percent of its exports to China, and China sells $1.8 billion of goods and services to Lithuania. As Canada warns, Beijing’s economic coercion is about the future of “the rules-based international trading system and its institutions.” This isn’t the only trade war of outsized importance, but it’s certainly the most improbable one. – The Hill


South Africa was due to launch a joint naval exercise with Russia and China on Friday, a move it is calling routine but which has fuelled domestic criticism and fears the drills will endanger important relations with Western partners. – Reuters

When Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov returned from his latest trip to Africa, he was feted like a conquering hero. Vladimir Putin devoted a meeting to Lavrov’s trip at Russia’s Security Council  and gave the Foreign Minister the floor. “Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov was engaged in the preparation of the Russia-Africa summit and was on a mission in several friendly countries. Let’s ask him to start today with information about his mission.” – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Raphael Parens writes: Africa’s stability is at stake. The violence and jihadism seen in Mali and the Central African Republic may spread across the continent. Mercenary organizations flush with a wave of post-Ukraine war recruits will only exacerbate the problem. – War on the Rocks

The Americas

Canada will send navy vessels to Haiti for intelligence-gathering as part of efforts to quell worsening gang violence in the Caribbean nation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday. – Associated Press 

Colombia and Venezuela on Thursday signed an agreement to revive trade between the two countries during a ceremony on a border bridge at which Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro both signed. – Reuters

Venezuela’s National Assembly on Thursday approved the appointment of Carlos Eduardo Martinez, a former soldier, as the country’s new ambassador to Colombia, after Caracas’ former top diplomat to Bogota stood down in January. – Reuters

United States

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. is developing “sharper rules” to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects, following three weeks of high-stakes drama sparked by the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon transiting much of the country. – Associated Press 

A US Treasury official pushed back against speculation that Russia — confronted by a set of price caps and sanctions that seek to limit its oil revenue — could be quietly earning more than reported data suggest. – Bloomberg 

President Joe Biden’s call for the negotiation of “global norms” for balloons in sovereign airspace is unlikely to lead to “new policy,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team. “I don’t believe it’s intended to be for the discovery of new policy or anything like that,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters Thursday. – Washington Examiner 

Former Vice President Mike Pence put President Joe Biden on blast, saying that his address on the balloon given Thursday was “too little, too late.” – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: The CIA has less of an excuse. It has now made the same mistake three times at the cost of U.S. national security, thousands of lives, and freedom for millions more. If there ever were a time for Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director William Burns to ask tough questions of their subordinates, it would be now. If they will not do so, it is time for Congress to act. – Washington Examiner 

Tara D. Sonenshine writes: This China balloon story is not going away. There will be dribs and drabs of information, leaks and public disclosures about the recovery effort. Being reactive is never a great strategy in an age of social media, citizen journalism and narratives being pushed from all over the world to shape public perception. – The Hill 

Richard Li writes: The Biden administration has correctly identified the critical role semiconductors play in U.S. national security. No one should doubt the sincerity and progress in addressing this vulnerability in the last few years. However, there is still much more work to be done. The U.S. government must tackle all three of these issues with urgency to unleash the capabilities of U.S. domestic semiconductor manufacturing. – The National Interest


The websites of seven German airports were hit by a suspected cyber attack on Thursday, the ADV airport association said, a day after a major IT failure at Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) left thousands of passengers stranded. – Reuters

A top U.S. law enforcement official on Thursday unveiled a new “disruptive technology strike force” tasked with safeguarding American technology from foreign adversaries and other national security threats. – Reuters

The United States launched an initiative Thursday promoting international cooperation on the responsible use of artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons by militaries, seeking to impose order on an emerging technology that has the potential to change the way war is waged. – Associated Press 

Top state election and cybersecurity officials on Thursday warned about threats posed by Russia and other foreign adversaries ahead of the 2024 elections, noting that America’s decentralized system of thousands of local voting jurisdictions creates a particular vulnerability. – Associated Press 

Artificial intelligence systems should not control “actions critical” to the use of nuclear weapons, according to a new U.S. proposal on the military applications of the emerging technology. “States should maintain human control and involvement for all actions critical to informing and executing sovereign decisions concerning nuclear weapons employment,” the State Department declared Thursday. – Washington Examiner 

The latest analysis of Russia-backed hacking campaigns against Ukraine and its international supporters shows big increases in the number of digital attacks intended to support the Kremlin’s war on the ground. – The Record 

Ukraine’s response to Russian aggression in cyberspace largely depends on international assistance that was organized in wartime, and a report released Thursday says the “ad hoc” effort offers lessons for the future.  – The Record 

An espionage campaign targeting telecommunications providers across the Middle East hid its activities through a range of popular tools from Microsoft, Google and Dropbox, according to a report released Thursday. – The Record 

The U.S. government is stepping up its effort to combat threats from foreign technology investments, data acquisition and cyberattacks with a new collaboration between the Departments of Justice and Commerce, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Thursday. – CyberScoop

A little known hacking crew called SiegedSec posted data on what appears to be thousands of Atlassian employees and floor plans for two of the Australian software vendor’s offices. – CyberScoop

As Russian ground troops started massing along the border with Ukraine in 2021, Russian hackers began laying the foundation for their own unprecedented cyber onslaught not just against Kyiv, but the Western nations supporting the embattled Eastern European country. The digital campaign went into overdrive alongside the physical invasion — but in more recent months, Moscow seems unable to keep up the pace, at least for now. – Breaking Defense


The Alaskan Region of North American Aerospace Defense Command tracked and intercepted four Russian aircraft that were entering and operating within the Alaska Air Defense Identification on Monday and again on Tuesday.  – Washington Examiner 

A U.S. senator is begging President Joe Biden’s administration to reverse a 2021 decision to relocate U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama, saying moving the headquarters would delay operations and harm national security. – Military.com 

NATO countries will agree to a new pledge this summer to increase defense spending above their previous target, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday at NATO headquarters in Brussels. – Defense News 

More than half of NATO’s member states, along with its two current invitees, have pledged to take part in a novel initiative that would streamline the alliance’s process to gather data from space. – Defense News 

Roger Zakheim writes: It is hardly the most ambitious strategy: it does not seek military dominance everywhere at once, nor does it call for a force capable of winning two conflicts simultaneously. Rather, it is a strategy tailored to address the security needs of the dangerous world we are facing. That is the prudent approach after learning the difficult lessons of the past year. – Washington Post