Fdd's overnight brief

February 19, 2021

In The News


The United States took a major step on Thursday toward restoring the Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration abandoned, offering to join European nations in what would be the first substantial diplomacy with Tehran in more than four years, Biden administration officials said. – New York Times 

Top diplomats from European powers and the United States will hold talks on Thursday to see how to revive the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear drive, days ahead of a deadline set by Tehran that could hinder the efforts by limiting inspections. – Agence France-Presse

Iran will “immediately reverse” actions in respect of its nuclear programme when U.S. sanctions are lifted, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday, reiterating Tehran’s position on Washington’s offer to revive talks. – Reuters

A person with dual French and Iranian citizenship and a German national were arrested in Iran more than two weeks ago, French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on Friday. – Reuters 

The U.S. and three of its European allies on Thursday warned Iran against blocking inspections by international nuclear experts and against moves by Tehran violating the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement. – The Hill

Iran’s latest moves jeopardize a return of the United States to the nuclear deal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on Thursday. – Reuters

Iranian academic Dr. Rohollah Eslami, assistant professor at the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, wrote an article, titled “Azerbaijan Is The Head Of Iran,” criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for pursuing a “racist” and “expansionist” foreign policy, and promoting the “Idea of Iran.” – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Editorial: Iran’s leaders, for their part, should recognize that in Biden they have a willing negotiator. His moves to pause arms sales to U.S. allies in the Gulf, end the war in Yemen, and rescind the ban on visas for several Muslim-majority countries have already shown he means to play fair in the Middle East. Iran has a chance to engage in substantive diplomacy rather than continue its futile and dangerous brinkmanship. The regime should seize it. – Bloomberg

Josh Rogin writes: More urgently, after large-scale withdrawals, the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq are living under increased risk. If Iranian proxies feel they can attack U.S. troops without consequence, it won’t be long before the next and more deadly strike. That could spark the very escalation and conflict the Biden administration is rightly trying to avoid. – Washington Post

Michael Hirsh writes: Having pledged to re-embrace the 2015 pact during the presidential campaign and to launch broader diplomatic efforts with allies to achieve this end, Biden directed Secretary of State Antony Blinken and special Iran envoy Rob Malley to engage key U.S. allies such as Britain and France, as well as the Chinese and Russians, who were also party to the deal. On Thursday, Blinken discussed the issue by videoconference with the three major European parties to the pact: France, Germany, and Britain. – Foreign Policy 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran has shown sophisticated capabilities in the past, such as the drone and cruise missile swarm attack on Saudi Arabia in September 2019. However, it has also proved that in Syria the rockets it supplied to groups intended to be used against Israel – such as in the salvo in May 2018 or the four rockets fired in November 2019 – were not as sophisticated. – Jerusalem Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: It is unclear whether the US will demand rolling back the Islamic Republic’s significant progress with advanced centrifuges since 2015. For example, what if the US-EU-3 only limit Tehran’s ballistic missile program to where it already is, without pushing it back? This would keep the US and EU-3 out of range, but Iran would still be able to hit Israel and the Saudis with its existing ballistic missiles. And if the US-EU-3 still seem committed to only seeking add-ons to the 2015 deal after removing sanctions, will they still have the ability to get any long-term concessions on ballistic missiles and curb Iran’s regional behavior? Thursday night was not a bad start, but all the questions will be probed in the months ahead and the devil will be in the detail. – Jerusalem Post

Firas Maksad writes: President Biden and fellow Democrats should take the congressman’s advice and not shy away from calling Iran out, by name, for its malign activities. Perhaps then Arab liberals will be less suspicious of their American counterparts. Perhaps then Slim’s now popular slogan of “zero fear” in the fight for freedom from Iranian-sponsored militias will stand a better chance. – NPR


Stephen Rapp, who served as U.S. ambassador for war crimes issues, says if he ever goes to trial against Syrian President Bashar Assad, it would be a slam dunk. The former war crimes prosecutor says a trove of evidence has been amassed against the Syrian president is even stronger than what the Allies used to convict Nazis at Nuremberg. – CBS News  

A U.S.-born journalist who moved to northern Syria nearly a decade ago to cover the country’s civil war was released from custody by al Qaeda-linked militants on Wednesday after more than six months in detention. – The Hill

Barrett Alexander and Alham write: Vulnerable Syrians continue to bear the brunt of ongoing crises, from the outbreak of the conflict 10 years ago, to the horrible levels of death, destruction, and economic collapse today. Most often, this drastically impacts the future for innocent children. While the conflict itself has done irreparable physical damage to communities, families, and children, the economic crisis has also caused additional hardships. However, there are ways the international community and humanitarian actors can be part of the solution moving forward. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Kari Reid, Ali and Mohamad write: While a political settlement remains elusive, there are steps that can be taken to alleviate the life-threatening food security crisis. As the new administration begins its term, it should increase the effectiveness of the aid response to reduce hunger now and set the stage for long-term recovery—millions are counting on it. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Amany Qaddour and Kat Fallon write: They can lead the campaigns on the ground but require the assistance of governments to negotiate their safety and provide support. As the largest donor government to the Syria crisis response, the Biden administration has a critical opportunity to reassert the United States’ role as a global and innovative humanitarian leader by increasing flexible funding to Syrian NGOs, allowing them to adapt to an ever-changing context and meet the health needs of their communities. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Greece said on Thursday it had protested to Turkey over its deployment of a research vessel in the Aegean Sea, in what it called an “unnecessary” move as the NATO allies seek to resume talks over a long-standing maritime dispute – Reuters

Ozdag suspects the perpetrators of the attack last month had links to president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rightwing coalition partners — the Nationalist Movement party (MHP) — with whom he had verbally sparred in the days before the assault. – Financial Times

Turkey has hired a Washington-based law firm to lobby for its readmission to the U.S. F-35 fighter jet programme after it was suspended over its purchase of Russian air defences, a contract filed with the U.S. Department of Justice showed. – Reuters


Israel and Syria have fought several wars, never had diplomatic relations, and still contest the sovereignty of a tract of land, the Golan Heights, that was seized by Israel from Syria in 1967. – New York Times 

Israel is carrying out a major expansion of its Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev desert, where it has historically made the fissile material for its nuclear arsenal. – The Guardian 

Israel and the United States have begun developing the Arrow-4 missile defense system that includes next-generation interceptors and will replace the Arrow-2 over the next decades, according to a statement from Israel’s Defense Ministry. – Defense News 

The Biden administration informed Israel in advance that it planned to announce on Thursday it was ready to talk to Iran about Washington and Tehran returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. – Reuters

Numerous small defense companies in Israel petitioned to have a court force the government to make an exemption for them to attend the important regional defense exhibition called IDEX in Abu Dhabi.  – Jerusalem Post

Hamas will hold on Friday the first phase of the internal elections for the organization, in which the new leadership will be elected. – Arutz Sheva

In the recent weeks, Arab media outlets have been reporting that Russian efforts are underway to promote a normalization agreement between Syria and Israel. The reports claim that Syria and Israel have exchanged messages in this context, and some even claim that representatives of the two countries, including Syrian national security chief ‘Ali Mamlouk and former Israeli chief-of-staff Gadi Eisenkot,  met recently at the Khmeimim Russian air base on the Syrian coast. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Amos Harel writes: Despite an apparent solution, the completion of the deal was delayed, certainly not boding well for Israel’s standing in Russian eyes. […]Nonetheless, an unnecessary complication was created at the last minute. It’s strange – we would have expected that Israel would have had enough experience in such affairs by now. – Haaretz

Aviram Shaul writes: A revamp of Israel’s policy toward the Gaza Strip is a process that could take decades and our leaders have not even started it, despite the lack of success of the current way they view and deal with the enclave. […]Humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip must include a deepening of ties and trust with the residents of enclave and Hamas’ leadership, only then will any real progress be made in negotiations to bring back our boys. – Ynet


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced Thursday that the 30-member alliance will expand its security training mission in Iraq in order to prevent the war-torn country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. – CNBC 

The new U.S. administration said Tuesday a top priority in Iraq is to help the country assert its sovereignty “in the face of enemies” by preventing a resurgence of the extremist Islamic State group and addressing destabilizing activities of Iran and Iranian-backed militias. – Associated Press 

Eli Lake writes: Biden is not Trump, of course. But if he wants to calm tensions in the region, he must convince Iran and its proxies that he, too, is willing to escalate and respond to their provocations. If Iran concludes that it can obtain sanctions relief while sowing further chaos, then Biden will be returning the Middle East to a status quo of dangerous instability. – Bloomberg

David Pollock writes: Finally, to the extent that both Erbil and Baghdad still want U.S. and other Western support, they should refrain from egregious anti-democratic behavior, such as assaulting peaceful protesters or jailing journalists. That kind of provocation is not just unnecessary and embarrassing. It also undermines their international standing, leaving them both more at Iran’s mercy and inviting more attacks like the one just seen in Erbil. – Washington Institute  

Anchal Vohra writes: But despite being in government, they have failed to improve the lives of the people they claim to represent—not just the public at large, but even their own sectarian groups. It’s true that they have helped win the regional fight against the Islamic State. But daily life remains a struggle—including for Shiites, whose loyalty these groups can no longer count on. – Foreign Policy


A court in Lebanon on Thursday removed the judge appointed to investigate a huge explosion in the Beirut port last year, adding a delay to the country’s sluggish efforts to determine what happened and ensure accountability. – New York Times

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday that Hezbollah will be “fatally wounded” if Israel needs to go to war in Lebanon, after the terror group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Israel following an Israel Defense Forces exercise simulating war with the terror group. – Times of Israel

Ali Ahmed writes: The sector’s destabilizing effect on Lebanon’s macro-fiscal situation has been immense. The constant cash transfers of $1-2 billion annually to cover EDL’s losses have contributed to almost half of the government debt since the post-civil war era. In this context, decentralized power generation arguably presents the most viable model to solve the supply problems while working within the current dysfunctional political system. – Middle East Institute


The U.N. special envoy for Yemen said Thursday the latest offensive by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the oil-rich central province of Marib threatens peace prospects, but he called the new U.S. administration’s backing for international efforts to end the six-year war a new opportunity to reopen negotiations. – Associated Press 

A massive famine could wipe out a new opportunity, created by renewed U.S. engagement, to end the war in Yemen, top U.N. officials told the Security Council on Thursday. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has redeployed troops to the Marib region and increased air strikes to try to repel an advance by the Iran-aligned Houthi group, sources in the military and the internationally recognised government said. – Reuters

Sean Durns writes: Iran equipped the Houthis “in order to have them seize control of the Mandeb Strait,” enabling the regime to “be able to cripple shipping in the eastern hemisphere,” as the Strait “serves as a shipping route that runs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.” As Uskowi observed, “more than twenty thousand ships cross this twenty-mile passage annually.” To achieve this end, the IRGC provided weapons and training. – Washington Examiner 

Olfat Al-Dubai writes: Working towards an end to the war in Yemen without clear end goals and tools for implementation is likely to lead to a continuation of the war in one form or another. The U.S. special envoy should be clear about what type of end to the war the U.S. government supports and expects. Otherwise, movement on ending the conflict is unlikely. – Washington Institute 

Joel Gehrke writes: Houthi forces feel the wind at their backs with a new offensive underway to seize one of the last major cities controlled by government loyalists. “It’s a really difficult problem, and therefore, it’s a really difficult problem for the Biden administration,” said the former Trump administration official. – Washington Examiner 

Gulf States

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East says the U.S. military is looking for so-called “fallback” bases in Saudi Arabia to protect forces in the event of raised tensions with Iran. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

President Biden is shifting the U.S. approach to Saudi Arabia by turning away from the priority diplomatic access given to certain Saudi officials during the Trump administration, which gave the kingdom a prominent role in America’s Middle East policy. – The Hill

Campaigners Human Rights Watch have called for proof of life of the daughter of Dubai’s ruler and international pressure to free her after footage emerged apparently showing the royal in distress. – Agence France-Presse

Bobby Ghosh writes: The Emiratis will also count on the network advantages of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the size of the existing expat community — and the critical mass of social and cultural services catering to it — exerts a pull on foreigners looking to relocate to the region. It helps that the UAE has a well-established international image of being relatively liberal in practice, whereas Saudi Arabia has only recently begun to liberalize its laws. But it is still only early days in the economic contest between the region’s closest allies. Tougher tests of their partnership lie ahead. – Bloomberg

Rothna Begum writes: The international community should call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa, and to hold to account those responsible for abducting and forcibly confining the two women. As part of this, the Indian and the UK governments should investigate and prosecute the abductions that took place in their countries. But obtaining the freedom of two royal family members should only be the start of broader reforms to dismantle deeply entrenched discrimination against women in the UAE that prevents them exercising basic human freedoms and rights. – The Guardian

Middle East & North Africa

Libya’s newly elected interim prime minister on Thursday held talks in Cairo with the Egyptian president as part of his efforts to galvanize support from regional powers and try to unify the fractured North African nation. – Associated Press 

Which Middle Eastern countries have a quantitative edge? Data provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies as part of its Military Balance+ project compares select nations and military assets for land, naval and air domains. – Defense News 

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Thursday announced the dissolution of the lower house of parliament and called early legislative elections. – Reuters

The first official meeting between a member of Israel’s Knesset and members of the Moroccan parliament since the agreement was established; A mutual friendship group will be established. – Jerusalem Post

Samuel Ramani writes: As the Biden administration seeks to revive negotiations on a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and de-escalate tensions with Iran, Jordan could extend its position as an intermediary between the U.S. and Russia in Syria to new theaters. This role could facilitate the entry of American and Russian investment into Jordan’s struggling economy, and further Amman’s aspirations for diplomatic influence in the Arab world. – Middle East Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, has been shown by state media appearing in public for the first time in more than a year, joining her husband at a concert on one of the country’s biggest holidays. – Reuters

President Joe Biden’s review of U.S. strategy on North Korea will take into account the secretive nation’s potent cyber capabilities, according to remarks from State Department spokesperson Ned Price made shortly after three North Korean military intelligence officials were charged over a major hacking campaign. – Newsweek 

Commercial satellite imagery acquired on January 5, 2021 and February 7, 2021 indicate that the Yusang-ni missile base is operational and that minor development (i.e., construction, etc.) has continued since our last report from May 9, 2019. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Now, China is counting down to another Olympics in Beijing, this time the Winter Games next February. And it is facing mounting calls for a boycott over its rights abuses, from stripping Hong Kong of its promised democratic freedoms to the mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. – New York Times

Satellite imagery appears to indicate China has begun serial production of a tanker aircraft based on its indigenous Xi’an Y-20 airlifter, filling a notable gap in the power projection capabilities of its air force. – Defense News 

It’s time for the United States to be “crystal clear” it will not allow China to invade Taiwan and will end its longstanding “strategic ambiguity” about whether it would come to the island’s defense, said Sen. Tom Cotton, a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. – Defense News 

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless it is certified they are not produced with forced labor, and allow further sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for abuses against Muslims. – Reuters

The main opposition party in Canada on Thursday called for the House of Commons to declare that China is committing a genocide against the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region. – The Hill

Prominent Hong Kong democracy advocate and newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai was again denied bail on Thursday ahead of his April trial on charges of colluding with foreign forces. – Associated Press 

Hong Kong developer Hang Lung Properties said its $331.5 million purchase of property owned by the U.S. consulate will proceed after gaining the approval from the Chinese central government. – Reuters

Nearly 5,000 Hong Kong citizens have applied to live, work and study in the United Kingdom under a new visa scheme which opens up a path to British citizenship for people fleeing China’s crackdown in the former colony, The Times newspaper reported. – Reuters

Hong Kong authorities have ordered sweeping changes to the city’s public broadcaster, a move denounced by critics as the latest step in a crackdown on freedom of expression in the territory. – Financial Times

Editorial: China isn’t just America’s foremost geopolitical adversary. It’s also our foremost ideological competitor. Where America offers a global future centered on democracy and the rule of law, China offers a global future structured around feudal mercantilism, an order in which China offers investments in return for fealty to the Communist Party. – Washington Examiner 

Tom Rogan writes: More than 2 million Chinese Uighur Muslims have been thrown into a vast network of concentration camps. There, they have been stripped of their cultural identity, forcibly sterilized, used in rape-prostitution networks, and then deployed as slave labor. The Uighurs’ plight has rightly been identified by the U.S. government as a genocide. Beijing won’t stop, even after being discovered, but the Xi regime hasn’t quite figured out how to defend its indefensible conduct. – Washington Examiner 

Dan Blumenthal and Derek Scissors write: US-China competition has intensified during the pandemic and could intensify further this decade. China caused the COVID-19 problem, while the US can lead in solving it—a powerful contrast. The single most important area of competition is Southeast Asia. The populous countries of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam naturally face vaccination challenges. American assistance would have substantial value. – American Enterprise Institute 

Edward Lucas writes: President Biden is talking to G7 leaders, largely about China, on Friday. Transatlantic enthusiasms will also be on public view then at a virtual session of the Munich Security Conference. Another landmark: EU foreign ministers have invited US Secretary of State Tony Blinken to their China-focused meeting on Monday. Opinion in Europe is clearly shifting. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Mark Perry writes: The numbers tell the tale: China will expend nearly the same amount of money (an estimated $1 trillion) on its Belt and Road Initiative over the next several years as the United States will spend in developing and deploying advanced nuclear weapons, additional aircraft carriers, and a larger fleet of nuclear armed submarines. Put simply, China’s leaders are betting that trade and markets are more fundamental influencers than aircraft carriers and F-35s. It’s an interesting wager. For if they’re right, the United States is investing in the wrong thing. – Foreign Policy 

Red Jahncke writes: These provisions would add meaning and teeth to what is now just diplomatic talky-talk. Then the accord might actually save the world from climate change and, at the same time, serve as a soft power instrument to save the world from the traditional national security threat posed by the totalitarian Chinese Communist regime. – Washington Examiner


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to step up the pace of peace talks amid doubts over whether the military alliance will pull thousands of troops out of the country by a May deadline. – Associated Press 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed on Wednesday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani an ongoing review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, with the top American diplomat reiterating support for the peace process, the State Department said on Thursday. – Reuters

About 30 Taliban militants were killed when they detonated a bomb they were learning how to assemble, the Afghan Defense Ministry said. The blast occurred last week at a bombmaking course in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province, the statement said. – Stars and Stripes 

A Kabul University professor was killed when a bomb hit his car in Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday, police officials said, the first attack in days after a series of such incidents in recent weeks. – Reuters

Sajjan M. Gohel and Victoria Jones write: U.S. and Soviet challenges and uncertainties bear a striking resemblance on several levels: the question of how quickly foreign forces can exit Afghanistan without undercutting security, the ability and capacity of Afghan forces to protect the population, and the perseverance and functional ability of the Afghan government once the foreign troops are gone. – Foreign Policy 

Michael Rubin writes: There could be no other way to start than to invest relatively modest amounts of funding into mine clearance programs that would simultaneously facilitate decommissioning of fighters, boost the economy by making land available for agriculture or other economic purposes, and show Afghans across the political spectrum that the United States remains committed to their future. – The National Interest

South Asia

Modi won a landslide reelection victory in 2019 that made him the most powerful Indian leader since the 1970s. But the country’s independent institutions — including the judiciary and the media — have rarely appeared weaker, experts say. Researchers who study democracy around the globe recently put India among a group of nations heading toward autocracy. – Washington Post 

When the senior Chinese officer on the ground, Qi Fabao, confronted the Indian soldiers high in the Himalayas last June, he was suddenly overwhelmed in a brawl fought with pipes, clubs and stones, according to the People’s Liberation Army of China. – New York Times

The U.N. independent investigator on Myanmar said Wednesday that “hardened” troops are being deployed from a number of border areas in northern Rakhine state to some cities, raising the possibility of bloodshed and “a tragic loss of life.” – Associated Press 

A young woman protester in Myanmar who was shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd died on Friday, her brother said, the first death among opponents of a Feb. 1 coup from two weeks of demonstrations across the country. – Reuters

Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s ruling generals on Thursday for toppling the civilian-led government while Japan said it had agreed with the United States, India and Australia that democracy must be restored there quickly. – Reuters

India has criticised UN rights experts for their concerns about constitutional changes made in the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir, where militants have been fighting for independence for three decades, and said the officials lacked neutrality. – Reuters

India has begun reinforcing its defences along its north-eastern border with China as military tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours continue in the Himalayas, despite a recently agreed ‘disengagement’ of Indian and Chinese troops in the north-western Ladakh region. – Jane’s 360 

Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov plans to start making its AK-203 assault rifle in India this year and wants to attract a wider audience with a hi-tech shotgun, chief executive Dmitry Tarasov said. – Reuters

India is hosting international diplomats in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir to showcase efforts to restore normalcy over a year after it stripped the region’s special status, officials said. – Reuters

Foreign ministers of the so-called Quad grouping of countries seen as a forum to stand up to China in Asia agreed that democracy must be restored quickly in Myanmar and to strongly oppose attempts to upset the status quo by force, Japan’s foreign minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Editorial: What is happening in Myanmar is not about one woman, nor even about the myriad complex problems the country faces. It is about an election that was stolen by men in embroidered epaulets with a history of treating the country as a personal fief. The Burmese in their millions have bravely demonstrated that they do not want to be ruled by a corrupt, arbitrary, abusive and incompetent military. In this, they deserve the world’s full support. – New York Times

Mayyu Ali writes: The general has already deployed troops from the military’s light infantry divisions — the forces that carried out the genocidal violence against us — in Yangon. I fear for the terrible violence to come and worry about the fate of the 600,000 Rohingya who are still living in Myanmar. Thousands of them are confined to camps in Rakhine State. – New York Times

Husain Haqqani and Aparna Pande write: India should join the US and its allies in countering China’s expansionism in Asia, but it also needs to learn from them. As a member of the Indo-Pacific Quad, Japan is a small island nation with a modest-sized population. But Japan has been one of the more productive nations of the twentieth century and continues to be a major economic power. This was accomplished even though Japan had limited natural resources and domestic capacity. How? By adopting foreign practices that work, and then improving upon them. – Hudson Institute

Paul Donowitz writes: If Biden is able to isolate the military economically through expanded but targeted U.S. sanctions combined with international diplomacy and coordination, while also supporting civilians, it will show that Myanmar generals’ blatant attack on the will of the people will not be tolerated by the international community. It will also help demonstrate that “America is back” as a global champion of democratic values. – The Hill


Malaysia’s highest court on Friday found news portal Malaysiakini in contempt of court over comments posted by readers deemed offensive to the judiciary, in a case widely seen as a test of media freedom in the Southeast Asian nation. – Reuters

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced his resignation on Thursday, prompting celebrations from the opposition, which called for an early election. – Reuters

Human rights groups decried Cambodia’s establishment this week of a China-style internet gateway that would allow all online traffic to be controlled and monitored, saying it would be a new tool for longtime leader Hun Sen to repress any opposition. – Reuters

On February 17, 2021, Armenian Scholar Yeghia Tashjian wrote an article, titled “Turkey’s Pivot In Central Asia: A Calculated Risk?” published in the Armenian Weekly. Tashjian wrote that Turkey has been actively supporting the dissemination of Pan-Turkic ideology in Central Asia. However, he stated that Turkey has accepted Russia’s traditional sphere of influence in the region and is trying to penetrate Central Asia without antagonizing Russia, at least for now. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Kara Swisher writes: Perhaps even more problematic is the nature of Australia’s proposal. Creating a protection racket for legacy media companies does nothing innovative to help journalism’s weakened financial ecosystem, brought on in part by the rise of the internet giants. While no one likes the idea of painting the fences at Google or Facebook without pay, Australia’s proposal does not help create sustainable business models for journalism. – New York Times


Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on February 18 that it has expelled an Estonian diplomat in retaliation for a move by Tallinn to declare a Russian diplomat persona non grata. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

A Russian court handed Anastasia Shevchenko, an anti-Kremlin activist, a suspended four-year sentence on Thursday after finding her guilty of carrying out activities on behalf of an “undesirable” group, her lawyer said. – Reuters

The European Union is set to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, possibly in the run-up to an EU summit, after a meeting of envoys gave approval for punitive measures, diplomats said. – Reuters

Amy Mackinnon writes: After Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok last year, his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was thrust into the international limelight as she fought to have her husband flown to Germany for lifesaving treatment. Her poise and courage in the face of immense pressure has led to Navalnaya developing a following of her own. – Foreign Policy 

Daniel Rakov and Yochai Guisky write: The idea that engaging Russia on cyber may provide legitimacy to its behavior should be replaced with the understanding that dialogue is the best way to address and convey concerns without compromising on your values and interests, while creating the opportunity to arrive at mutually beneficial arrangements.  […]If agreements in the cyber realm are to be realized, then applying the same logic should be considered. – The National Interest


The Biden administration kicked off a round of high-level diplomacy with its European allies at a NATO meeting where it sought to soothe allies bruised by former President Donald Trump’s criticism and snap decision-making. – Wall Street Journal 

Two weeks after President Biden’s inauguration, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke publicly about the importance of dialogue with Moscow, saying that Russia is a part of Europe that cannot simply be shunned and that Europe must be strong enough to defend its own interests. – New York Times

Stepping up its attacks on social science theories that it says threaten France, the French government announced this week that it would launch an investigation into academic research that it says feeds “Islamo-leftist’’ tendencies that “corrupt society.’’ – New York Times

In a ruling that reflected the broader crackdown on dissent by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a court in Belarus on Thursday sentenced two young journalists to two years in prison for reporting from a demonstration against his rule. – New York Times

The United States says it has imposed visa restrictions on 43 Belarusians “responsible for undermining” the country’s democracy, including several high-ranking officials. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Lockheed Martin UK executives responsible for modernizing the British Army’s Warrior infantry fighting vehicle have admitted the program is at risk of being axed or reduced in size in an upcoming government review. – Defense News 

The United States on Thursday imposed visa restrictions on 43 Belarusians, including high-ranking justice officials and other government personnel, accusing them of undermining democracy in Belarus. – Reuters

The European Union’s migration commissioner Ylve Johansson urged Bosnia on Thursday to manage migration properly and share the burden of its migrant crisis equally across the country if it is to stay on course for EU membership. – Reuters

The European Commission on Thursday condemned Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s criticism of a reporter who wrote a piece suggesting that media freedom was under pressure in his country, a member of the European Union. – Reuters

The U.S. is likely to hold off sanctioning any German entities for now over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, according to four people familiar with the matter, as the Biden administration seeks to halt the project without antagonizing a close European ally. – Bloomberg

Antisemitism is increasingly becoming a political weapon of choice for extremist movements and politicians in Europe, with potentially dangerous consequences for Jewish communities on the continent, a new Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report asserted on Thursday. – Algemeiner

Poland’s nationalist government was enveloped in yet another bitter controversy over antisemitism this week, following the appointment of a former far-right activist who used the online moniker “100%Aryan” to head a regional branch of the state-run Institute for National Remembrance (IPN). – Algemeiner

Emily Schultheis writes: Still, Germany has an arsenal of constitutional tools to protect against extremist forces, even if using them generates controversy and accusations of persecution. “Defensive democracy” is working, at least in the sense that the domestic intelligence service has recognized a threat and is taking steps to eliminate it. At a time when disinformation, political polarization and far-right forces are combining to endanger democracies across the West, other countries should take note. – New York Times

Emil Avdaliani writes: Russian plans in Abkhazia should be also seen within the context of Russia’s push to solidify its presence in the South Caucasus, especially in the aftermath of events in Karabakh and Russia’s peacekeeping mission there. Economic inroads into Abkhazia also mean a further distancing of other potential players such as Tbilisi and the collective West. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

George Parker, Peter Foster and Sam Fleming write: If the EU will always seek a hard bargain, Britain’s political discourse — defined by decades of Euroscepticism — does not lend itself to measured compromise. Whether the new relationship is marked by healthy competition or destructive regional rivalry is up for grabs, although the early signs are not good. João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to London, insists both sides must rise to the challenge: “We need to move on. There’s life after Brexit.” – Financial Times


A gunbattle erupted on Friday in central Mogadishu as Somali government forces sealed off streets to prevent a protest over delayed elections, hours after fighters loyal to the government and to the political opposition exchanged gunfire. – Reuters

Suspected Islamists killed at least 18 people in attacks in northern Burkina Faso and central Mali on Wednesday and Thursday, government and security sources said. – Reuters

Nigeria’s defence minister prompted criticism on Thursday for urging Nigerians not to “be cowards” and to stand up to armed bandits, while security forces embarked on a mission to rescue 42 people kidnapped from a boarding school this week. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is withdrawing at least some of its forces from a base it established at Assab airport in Eritrea in 2015 to support operations in Yemen and the Red Sea, satellite imagery published by the Associated Press on 18 February indicates. – Jane’s 360 

The Ugandan military on Thursday sentenced seven soldiers to up 90 days in jail after they were convicted of assaulting journalists who were covering an event outside a U.N. office in the capital Kampala. – Reuters

Finnish judges began touring northern Liberia on Thursday as part of a first-of-a-kind trial of a warlord accused of committing atrocities during the country’s civil war. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

The Mexican government said on Thursday that it was working to reverse an order from Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to restrict natural gas exports, part of that state’s effort to resolve widespread power outages that have left millions of Texans without electricity in the middle of a deadly winter storm. – New York Times

When interim president Francisco Sagasti finally unveiled Peru’s first coronavirus vaccine deal last month, Peruvians wearied by nearly a year of health and economic crises compounded by the country’s recent political turmoil glimpsed a light at the end of the tunnel. – Washington Post 

Former commanders from Colombia’s demobilized FARC guerrillas on Thursday accepted accusations by a transitional justice court that they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the group’s 50-year war with the state. – Reuters

Canada’s attorney general says accusations that former U.S. President Donald Trump’s interfered in Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s extradition trial is irrelevant because he is no longer in office. – Reuters

Brazil on Thursday ditched a trade complaint against Canada over aircraft subsidies and called for wider negotiations between all aircraft producing nations to halt a slide toward aircraft trade wars, sidestepping the World Trade Organization. – Reuters

United States

The White House is throwing its support behind a global push to distribute coronavirus vaccines equitably, pledging $4 billion to a multilateral effort the Trump administration spurned. At a Group of Seven meeting of leaders of the world’s largest economies Friday, President Biden will announce an initial $2 billion in funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to be used by the Covax Facility, senior administration officials said in a briefing. – Washington Post 

U.S. President Joe Biden will attend his first meeting with Group of Seven leaders on Friday to discuss plans to defeat the coronavirus, reopen the battered world economy and counter challenges posed by China. – Reuters

Administration officials issued interim guidance Thursday to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on “significant threats,” as President Biden’s order for a 100-day pause on most deportations remains hampered by court rulings out of Texas. – LA Times

A Kashmir Solidarity Day event drew the radicalized son of a prominent jihadist — as well as a sitting member of Congress. – Algemeiner


Facebook’s decision to flip a switch Wednesday night — causing Australia’s news industry to go dark on the social network — was a remarkable flexing of power by one of the world’s mightiest companies. – Washington Post 

The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google will appear before Congress on March 25 over concerns of their platforms being used to spread false information online. The hearing, announced on Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will be focused on the spread of misinformation on social media. – Washington Examiner 

Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp said on Thursday it will go ahead with its controversial privacy policy update but will allow users to read it at “their own pace” and will also display a banner providing additional information. – Reuters

Canada vowed on Thursday to make Facebook Inc pay for news content, seeking allies in the media battle with tech giants and pledging not to back down if the social media platform shuts off the country’s news as it did in Australia. – Reuters

German publishers called for tougher regulation of Facebook on Wednesday after the social media giant’s move to block all media content in Australia. – Reuters

Facebook Inc said on Thursday it was expanding its climate science information center to several countries and adding new features like a section featuring facts that debunk common climate myths. – Reuters

A sprawling cyber-attack that compromised popular software created by Texas-based SolarWinds Corp. was executed from within the U.S., a top White House official said, though the government believes Russia was responsible. – Bloomberg

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the massive Russian breach of the federal government that has become known as the SolarWinds hack next week in one of the first major congressional hearings on the issue.  – The Hill

The Czech Republic is carrying out war-gaming exercises with companies to strengthen its critical industries against cyber attacks, supply chain disruption and ownership bids by hostile states such as China and Russia. – Financial Times

Ulbricht is a figure of great controversy, with many internet freedom activists long arguing, unsuccessfully, for his clemency or release. He was allegedly angling for a pardon in the waning days of the Trump presidency, but that effort was also unsuccessful. – The National Interest 

At least half of London’s boroughs have bought and deployed China-made surveillance systems linked to the abuse of Uighurs, according to data exclusively given to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, raising alarm among privacy advocates and lawmakers. – Reuters

Weibo Corp., China’s largest micro-blogging service, is planning a second listing in Hong Kong as soon as this year, people familiar with the matter said, joining a growing cohort of U.S.-traded Chinese firms in seeking a trading foothold in the financial hub. – Bloomberg

Jim Richberg writes: Hybrid work patterns and digital citizen services are both likely to continue to grow in importance for the foreseeable future, making them targets for increasingly innovative and sophisticated threats. The DoD must be ready to provide the full gamut of secure networking and connectivity across it IT environments to enable a secure digital frontline and sufficient access for both defense employees and the defense community at large. – C4ISRNET


Raytheon worries that Lockheed Martin could make it difficult for its competitors to buy Aerojet Rocketdyne products. Most of Raytheon’s missiles, including the Standard Missile family, the workhorse Tomahawk cruise missile, and the proposed Next-Generation Interceptor, use Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion. – Jane’s 360 

The Marine Corps’ 20-year odyssey to replace its 1970s-era amphibious vehicle has hit more than a few roadblocks, but after months of operational testing, the service says the new Amphibious Combat Vehicle program is on its way to joining the fleet in earnest. – USNI News

The Air Force could be in the market for a brand-new, advanced fourth generation fighter as it looks to replace its oldest F-16s, the service’s top general said Wednesday. – Defense News 

The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday began the process of retiring the B-1 Lancer, as the “Bone” bomber flew to the Air Force’s boneyard where divested aircraft are kept in storage. – Defense News 

The Navy began the latest round of decommissionings of its Cyclone-class patrol craft this week, with the service retiring three PCs in ceremonies at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. – USNI News 

The Space and Missile Systems Center completed three virtual tests of a new anti-jamming capability for satellite communications in the final months of 2020, the center announced Feb. 17. – C4ISRNET 

To stay ahead of rapidly moving threats in the information space, 1st Special Forces Command is building an Information Warfare Center that will specialize in “influence artillery rounds.” – C4ISRNET 

These are the approximate positions of the U.S. Navy’s deployed carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups throughout the world as of Feb. 18, 2021, based on Navy and public data. In cases where a CSG or ARG is conducting disaggregated operations, the chart reflects the location of the capital ship. – USNI News 

The Justice Department charged three employees of a Navy contractor, including the company’s president and CEO, with dumping contaminated water from U.S. Navy ships into the ocean near Japan. – The Hill

Long War

An alleged terror plotter told police that recordings where he called himself an Isis supporter and rapped about violent ways of killing non-Muslims were “parodies”, a court has heard. – Independent 

The deaths stacked up: a policeman shot dead with a pistol equipped with a silencer, a local official gunned down, his son wounded, an Iraqi man beheaded. In total, 20 men and women were killed last month in the sprawling camp in northeastern Syria housing families of the Islamic State group. – Associated Press 

Social media companies, including Twitter, played a key role in the scope and spread of Salafi-jihadist groups like the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. When Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared himself Caliph in June 2014 after the fall of Mosul, ISIS was able to spread that message far and wide on social media, even though the group had been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the State Department all the way back in 2004. – Middle East Media Research Institute