Fdd's overnight brief

February 3, 2021

In The News


Iran has agreed to free the 19-member crew of a seized South Korea-flagged ship, both countries said Tuesday, in what appeared to be the first significant gesture by the Iranians to de-escalate the problem since impounding the vessel a month ago. – New York Times

But now, following the suspension of then-president Donald Trump after a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, some Iranian dissidents and activists are asking: Why not Khamenei, too? – Washington Post

The U.S. State Department reacted coolly on Tuesday to an Iranian suggestion that Washington and Tehran take synchronized steps to return to the Iran nuclear deal, though a U.S. official said the stance should not be seen as a rejection. – Reuters

Iran has deepened a key breach of its 2015 nuclear deal, enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines in an underground plant as it faces off with the new U.S. administration on salvaging the accord. – Reuters

Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday it would take Iran around six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior member of the Biden administration. – Reuters

US President Joe Biden’s administration has pulled an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf in a sign of potentially easing tensions with Iran, which had soared under former president Donald Trump. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. has gone to court in an attempt to seize 2 million barrels of oil that it claims came from Iran, as Joe Biden’s administration shows little sign of taking a softer line on Tehran. – Bloomberg

A British Iranian dual national sentenced to nine years and three months in jail in Iran for co-operating with “a hostile state power” has smuggled himself out of Iran, escaping over the country’s treacherous mountainous border, and is now living in London. – The Guardian

If Iran wanted a nuclear weapon, it would have built one already, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in an interview with CNN published Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

The United States and Iran are “a long way” from a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday. – Times of Israel

Dozens of Iranian dissidents inside Iran have called on US President Joe Biden not to relieve any pressure on the Islamic Republic and support human rights in the country. – Al-Arabiya News

Karen Kramer writes: The mandate of the negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal was never about anything other than the nuclear file. And progress on nuclear nonproliferation should not be held hostage to other issues. But that does not mean other critical issues—including human rights—should not be pursued just as robustly alongside the nuclear negotiations. A comprehensive approach to security that places human rights on an equal footing with other strategic issues is ultimately the only way to begin to bring peace, stability, and political and economic development to the troubled Middle East. – Foreign Affairs

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: The Islamic Republic may be more willing to tone down some activities in Yemen and even Iraq than with this triangle. What is clear is that Zarif is desperate to break apart the Israel-Saudi alliance. And it is unclear whether the US and the Saudis will let him do so. But in the meantime, there has been some success in calling Iran’s bluffs. – Jerusalem Post

James J. Marlow writes: The Gulf States and Israel speak as one voice on this issue. But if America enters into another bad deal or is not prepared to strike Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, which are spread out across the country, Israel will be forced to act independently, to remove the imminent danger. – Times of Israel


Top advisers for Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke on the phone on Tuesday, marking the first official contact between the two countries since Biden took office nearly two weeks ago. – Reuters

Intensifying weeks of tension at a top Istanbul university, Turkey’s interior minister on Tuesday called student protesters “LGBT deviants” on Twitter, prompting the social media platform to put a rare warning on his comment. – Reuters

Turkey’s procurement and defense authorities have launched a program designed to increase the structural life of the country’s existing fleet of F-16 Block 30 jets from 8,000 flight hours to 12,000, the country’s top procurement official announced. – Defense News


With new elections planned this spring, Hamas will struggle to campaign as a scrappy underdog that is above trading its principles for material comforts. – Associated Press

Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, confirmed at a press briefing on Tuesday that “the United States does intend to restore humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.” – Jerusalem Post

The Diplomatic-Security Cabinet has not convened in over a month, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formulates his policies on the Iranian threat with a new US president who seeks to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. – Jerusalem Post

Helping the Palestinian Authority vaccinate its people against the novel coronavirus is the right thing to do, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he planned to pay a three-hour visit next week to the United Arab Emirates and perhaps to Bahrain. – Reuters

A Likud minister close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday the US will never attack Iran’s nuclear program, and Israel will have to decide whether to launch such a strike alone or come to terms with a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic. – Times of Israel

Herb Keinon writes: Biden will call sooner or later. The Jewish people, meanwhile, should stop obsessing where Israel is on his to-call list or how much he does or does not like us, or Netanyahu.

Israel’s fate depends on the decisions it makes and how it acts, not – anymore – on the whims of one world leader or another. As a nation we would do well to internalize that change. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Skylock is one of many Israeli companies that make counter-drone technology. […]This is part of the wider context of Israeli air defense that makes Israel the most well-defended airspace in the world. Israeli companies are also working on lasers and other weapons that can be used to stop drones. – Jerusalem Post

Anthony B. Kim and Daniel Kochis write: From Washington’s foreign policy perspective, continuing to encourage Kosovo to be a more secure and prosperous nation is clearly in America’s interest. Despite challenges, as noted by the International Monetary Fund, “Kosovo has been a successful example of a post-conflict country able to develop its economy by implementing important reforms.” […]More than ever, the advancement of economic freedom, opportunity, and prosperity is a worthy foreign policy goal for America’s strategic engagements in the world. – Daily Signal

Arabian Peninsula

The United Nations said Tuesday that it had indefinitely delayed an expedition to avert an ecological disaster from a crippled Yemeni tanker holding roughly 48 million gallons of oil, citing what the organization called a failure by Yemen’s Houthi insurgents to guarantee the salvage team’s safety in writing. – New York Times

Yemen’s Houthi group has advised the United Nations to pause preparations to deploy a team to assess a decaying oil tanker threatening to spill 1.1 million barrels of crude oil off the war-torn country’s coast, a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Qatar has not provided the Australian government with its report into the alleged non-consensual intimate medical examination of 18 women on a flight bound for Sydney last year. – The Guardian

President Biden will keep in place the Trump administration’s aluminum tariffs on the United Arab Emirates, after initially reversing the policy. – New York Post

Middle East & North Africa

Govrin is currently the head of Israel’s liaison office in Rabat, and is likely to become Israel’s ambassador should full diplomatic ties be established. – Times of Israel

Eight Lebanese citizens who had been detained in the United Arab Emirates returned home Tuesday after mediation efforts by a Lebanese official led to their release. – Associated Press

Kurdish forces in northern Syria ended a weekslong siege of government-held neighborhoods in two northeastern cities Tuesday, they said, as part of a deal brokered by Russia. – Associated Press

But being a barman is a dangerous trade in Iraq, where alcohol shops are frequently targeted by disapproving militias. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: To counter extremism in the region, we must no longer look at conspiracies as a laughing matter. Now that Congress recognizes how destructive conspiracies can be at home, perhaps both Democrats and Republicans can act in the same regard abroad. Liberals may be proponents of engagement with the Palestinians or the Iranians, but they should also be the first to condemn Abbas or Khamenei for their conspiracy theories or violent incitement. […]Both parties have responsibilities here. But not just at home. – Washington Examiner

Amjad Taha writes: Now is the time that we should unite together in order to thrive together and to stand together as one against one enemy. Regardless of Biden’s suggestion to take a step back to square one by re-joining the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we need to live in peace and prosperity and coexistence and have a mutual culture and religious understanding. – Times of Israel

Korean Peninsula

Torture and forced labour are rife in North Korea’s prisons, amounting to possible crimes against humanity, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday, as the Biden administration weighs fresh sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. – Reuters

A Sydney man spoke of his connection to Kim Jong-un as he allegedly worked on behalf of North Korea to export missiles in breach of UN sanctions, a New South Wales supreme court jury has been told. – The Guardian

Olivia Schieber writes: North Korea has succeeded in bullying the South Korean government into playing along. […]The United States and South Korea are favored scapegoats for North Korea’s woes. But as the Great Leader’s admission of trouble in socialist paradise at his own party congress and the ruthless crackdown on information make clear, the power Kim fears most is his people’s. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: The Biden administration should selectively apply and improve upon what worked in Trump’s love-hate relationships with Xi and Kim. […]The most practical and effective weapon in the West’s arsenal against these two dangerous adversaries is what worked to win the Cold War — the truth. Not only is it the antidote to the lies both regimes spread to their own people and the world, it also challenges their moral legitimacy and finally puts them, rather than Western democracies, on the defensive. – The Hill

Edward White writes: Ultimately, Seoul’s decision was not just a singular blow to Leonardo. While not the biggest defence industry deal, it raises questions over the strategy employed by companies that compete head-to-head for business against American rivals, particularly in countries where the US influence remains strong. […]Ultimately, the award of Seoul’s latest anti-submarine helicopters contract might have had more to do with geopolitics than the finer points of the machines’ flight physics. – Financial Times


After learning that his wife had cancer, Yang Maodong, a prominent democracy activist in China, rushed to get a visa and air ticket to join her in the United States. But Mr. Yang never landed there. – New York Times

A team of experts from the World Health Organization investigating the origins of the pandemic visited a research center in Wuhan, China, on Wednesday that has been a focus of several unfounded theories about the coronavirus. – New York Times

President Biden has stocked his China team with high-powered officials who have longstanding ties to one another but differing objectives. How they work together could determine whether the new administration has a unified China policy, or one riven with divisions that Beijing can exploit. – Wall Street Journal

This week, authorities were more blunt. Ren was stripped of his practicing license on Tuesday, after another Chinese lawyer who sought to represent the detained Hong Kongers, Lu Siwei, was similarly disbarred. – Washington Post

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered the USS Nimitz into the Indo-Pacific theater and is in talks to visit the Hawaii-based headquarters of troops in that region, a sign that countering China will be a major focus of the Biden Pentagon. – Washington Examiner

Chinese officials tried to set new rules for President Biden’s administration by drawing a “red line” around issues such as China’s human rights abuses and Taiwan, but U.S. officials aren’t having it. – Washington Examiner

When a group of Chinese warplanes simulated an attack on a US aircraft carrier last week, Beijing was delivering a warning. – Financial Times

President Joe Biden will issue an executive order requiring the government to review critical supply chains, in an effort to ensure that the US is not too reliant on other countries, including China, for technology and materials. – Financial Times

Women in China’s “re-education” camps for Uighurs have been systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured, according to detailed new accounts obtained by the BBC. – BBC

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday rejected the suggestion that it supported or gave tacit consent to Monday’s military coup in neighbouring Myanmar. – Reuters

French Hill writes: China would be gifted with more than $170 billion in direct support even as it perpetrates genocide in Xinjiang, locks up pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, and retaliates against U.S. allies like Australia for seeking an inquiry into Beijing’s responsibility for Covid-19. […]Putting billions more into Beijing’s coffers is the last thing President Biden should want to endorse, even if his allies in Congress think otherwise. – Wall Street Journal

Martin Wolf writes: The relationship of the US with China is not like that with the Soviet Union. Yes, there will be much competition, but there must also be deep co-operation. To the extent that there is a war of ideologies, the west’s freedom and democracy remain more attractive. The real challenge they face is not China, but restoring these values at home. – Financial Times

Bo Carlson writes: Biden’s team will have to live with the fact that the Chinese government’s behavior often runs contrary to U.S. interests and the welfare of its own citizens, but pushing for regime change would be unwise. The debate will continue over how to balance competition and cooperation with Beijing, and the Biden administration will likely maintain some of Trump’s tougher policies. Whatever the specifics of Biden’s approach, however, he must avoid advocating the overthrow of the Chinese government. – The National Interest

Andrew Scobell writes: The Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration should look past China’s stable present and heighten vigilance to detect harbingers of future upheaval. Priorities ought to include continuous efforts to engage with a wide array of elites. This increases the chances that Washington is attuned to emerging trends, alert to future shocks, and acquainted with China’s post-COVID-19 leadership. […]The likely persistence of bumpy bilateral ties underscores the importance of maintaining open channels of communication between the two defense establishments. – War on the Rocks


The withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be tied to progress in stuttering peace negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban, rather than “slavishly” bound to an end-of-April deadline, Germany’s foreign minister said Tuesday. – Associated Press

A prominent cleric and his driver were killed in an explosion from a bomb stuck to their car, one of a series of bombings around Kabul on Tuesday that also wounded seven people. – Associated Press

Elise Labott writes: Afghanistan’s ongoing need for billions of dollars in U.S. aid and military training and assistance will give the Biden administration continued leverage—and that can be used to at least try to maintain a limited number of U.S. troops and ensure that basic standards of human rights are protected in a future constitution. […]But the Biden administration, with whatever Afghan government it works with, must also make the Taliban accept that Afghanistan in the future cannot, and will not, return to the 1990s. – Foreign Policy

South Asia

Pop star Rihanna and environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg have drawn global attention to Indian farmers’ fight against the government’s new agriculture laws, shining a spotlight on its suspension of internet services at protest sites around New Delhi. – Bloomberg

Hundreds of Indian Twitter accounts including those belonging to news websites, activists and actors were suspended for more than 12 hours on Monday after the government said users were posting content inciting violence. – The Guardian

India on Monday allocated $18.48 billion for weapons procurement in its 2021-2022 defense budget amid an ongoing military standoff with China and financial stress on the national economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. – Defense News

Sri Lanka on Tuesday scrapped a deal to develop a major port terminal with India and Japan amid weeks-long protests by trade unions and opposition parties while India called on its neighbor to honor the agreement. – Associated Press


As the political climate in Hong Kong has rapidly changed, the councilors’ advocacy for the Chinese territory’s fragile democratic institutions has made them the latest target of Communist Party officials in Beijing. – New York Times

With its pre-dawn coup on Monday — unseating an elected government and putting its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, back under house arrest — the military, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, was once again flaunting its ultimate authority. – New York Times

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar civilian leader deposed by the military in a coup, was charged on Wednesday with an obscure infraction of having illegally imported at least 10 walkie-talkies, according to an information officer from her National League for Democracy party. – New York Times

Myanmar’s transition from military rule toward democracy that began a decade ago was trumpeted as a strategic victory for Washington in China’s backyard. Eager to blunt Beijing’s influence, Myanmar opened its doors to diplomatic and commercial ties with the West. – Wall Street Journal

Facebook Inc. banned a Myanmar military television network page following Monday’s coup, the social media giant’s latest move in a country where its platform has been connected in previous years to physical violence. – Wall Street Journal

The developments are being watched with particular alarm across the border in Bangladesh, where more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims have sought refuge since 2017 after fleeing a military-led crackdown on their communities in Myanmar. – Washington Post

A physical education teacher who live-streamed her elaborate outdoor exercise routines on Facebook has risen to fame after the footage appeared to capture Myanmar’s military staging a coup behind her and seizing control of the country. – Washington Post

Across Myanmar, a campaign of civil disobedience is swelling in response to this week’s military coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). – Washington Post

A top U.N. official urged the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar” as the 15-member body considered a possible statement condemning Monday’s coup. – Reuters

At the request of the White House, the top U.S. military officer, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried but was unable to connect to Myanmar’s military following its coup, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. – Reuters

Ethnic Armenian farmer Lenser Gabrielyan looks with sorrow at his land in the village of Taghavard, now cut off from him and his family under the terms of a peace deal which ended last year’s war in the South Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. – Reuters

Thousands of Burmese demonstrators gathered outside Japan’s foreign affairs ministry on Wednesday demanding Tokyo join its allies in taking a harder stance against the military coup in Myanmar. – Reuters

For generations, the country was called Burma, after the dominant Burman ethnic group. But in 1989, one year after the ruling junta brutally suppressed a pro-democracy uprising, military leaders suddenly changed its name to Myanmar. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s new leader said the military government installed after Monday’s coup plans an investigation into alleged fraud in last year’s elections and will also prioritize the COVID-19 outbreak and the economy, a state newspaper reported Wednesday. – Associated Press

A second Chinese lawyer who represented a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist was stripped of his license on Tuesday as Beijing attempts to crush opposition to its tighter control over the territory. – Associated Press

A record number of Hong Kong residents have relocated to Taiwan following China’s crackdown on the city’s protest movement and the implementation of a controversial new national security law. – Bloomberg

The United Nations Security Council is meeting this morning behind closed doors to debate how to respond to the military coup in Myanmar, but few diplomats expect the body to agree on a common position, amid a split between Western and Asian members of the Council. – Politico

Max Fisher writes: The collapse is in one way a harsh lesson in the grinding difficulty of managing a peaceful transition to democracy from dictatorship — a rarer and rarer phenomenon in this age of retrenching authoritarians and backsliding democracies. But it is also a case of difficult personalities and recalcitrant institutions that proved unwilling or unable to go the distance. – New York Times

Aye Min Thant writes: We are traumatized and exhausted, but by the time the 8 p.m. curfew came into effect on Tuesday, people in my neighborhood gathered on our balconies and started banging pots and pans, announcing that we won’t give up without a fight. – New York Times

Francis Wade writes: The battle over who determines the shape of democracy in Myanmar will continue — only now the military will have greater control over its outcome. Those in Washington who saw in that institution a vehicle for an open political society were fooled. A little over a decade after Myanmar emerged from the authoritarian darkness, the shadows have once again crept back in. – Washington Post

Hal Brands writes: U.S. strategy thus places a premium on maintaining the military edge that will keep deterrent threats credible — at a time when maintaining that edge will require extensive American investments, new approaches to bringing U.S. power to bear in contested environments and greater contributions from American allies and partners. […]In a turbulent Western Pacific, America’s red lines will only remain as solid as the military power that backs them up. – Bloomberg

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: Britain’s government has in recent years caused great pain by reneging on promises made or implied to once-colonized people. Hong Kong offers an opportunity to make some amends. Practical preparation will help. – Bloomberg

Nahal Toosi, Andrew Desiderio and Natasha Bertrand write: Just days into his tenure, President Joe Biden already is grappling with a foreign policy crisis — a military coup in Myanmar — that could put his administration at odds with China, the country he has identified as America’s top long-term rival. How Biden and his aides react — whether quickly, in concert with allies, or with a show of U.S. strength — could affect how the new U.S. administration is viewed on the global stage in the months ahead, especially as it is presented with the broader challenge of confronting the rise of authoritarianism in countries across the globe. – Politico

Timothy Mclaughlin writes: But there is also a sense of déjà vu, in both the U.S. and Myanmar. Once again, Washington is worried about pushing the country into the arms of China, and debating the merits of sanctions. And in Myanmar, minds are being cast back to 1990, when, after being roundly defeated by Suu Kyi’s party at the ballot box, the military tossed out the results. It would be another 25 years before free and fair elections returned. – The Atlantic

Kris Osborn writes: The U.S. Navy, Japan, Australia, India, Canada and Japan just finished up a massive, coordinated, multilateral enemy submarine hunting operational exercise intended to sharpen a collective allied ability to find, track and potentially attack Chinese submarines in the Pacific. […]This kind of integrated allied operation is quite significant, yet its success almost surely depends entirely upon the effectiveness of allied networking, as ships, submarines, aircraft and command and control nodes from all involved countries would need to sustain connectivity, share data and hand off a threat track from platform to another. – The National Interest


A Russian court sentenced Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, to more than two years in prison on Tuesday, a decision likely to send him for a lengthy term in a far-flung penal colony for the first time. – New York Times

The endorsement of Sputnik V presents a significant victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the global vaccination race, providing a vote of confidence in the capability of Russian science and medicine and helping to deflect some of the criticism Moscow encountered for its fast-tracked development of the vaccine and lack of published trial data. – Wall Street Journal

Russian police detained more than 900 people at protests in favor of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was sent to jail by a court on Tuesday for almost three years, the OVD-Info protest monitoring group said. – Reuters

European Union members Lithuania and Latvia called on the EU to impose sanctions on Russia for sentencing Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to three-and-a-half years in jail on Tuesday, their foreign ministers said. – Reuters

Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday rejected Western calls to free jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as divorced from reality and told the West not to meddle in its sovereign affairs, the RIA news agency reported. – Reuters

Russia may consider returning to an international pact allowing surveillance flights over military facilities if the United States reverses its exit, the top Russian diplomat said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Editorial: The Biden administration and European governments were quick to condemn Mr. Navalny’s imprisonment and may follow that up with more sanctions against Mr. Putin and his lieutenants. That would be well deserved. But Mr. Putin would do well to see that the fiercest challenge to his crooked rule is not from abroad, but from Russian citizens who seek and speak the truth. – New York Times

Editorial: Western governments should be doing what they can to help this unprecedented challenge to Mr. Putin’s autocracy survive and grow. […]But the Biden administration and European Union should follow up with sanctions against the Russian officials involved in the latest repression — and they should heed the pleas of Mr. Navalny for action to expose and freeze the illicit assets held by Mr. Putin and his cronies outside Russia. Mr. Putin has dedicated himself to exploiting the weaknesses in democratic systems. Now is the time to return the favor. – Washington Post

Editorial: But Mr. Putin will only be impressed if the Biden Administration can marshal a unified Western response that includes tougher sanctions, including against Kremlin cronies. NATO should also be on guard for an external provocation in case Mr. Putin wants to divert Russian attention from his domestic woes. He’s done it before, as President Biden well knows. He was Vice President at the time.  – Wall Street Journal

David Ignatius writes: It’s a grotesque irony that Russia — which is among the world’s leading saboteurs of open dialogue on the Internet — is promoting itself as the new guardian of responsible Internet security. Fortunately, the telecommunications experts gathered at last week’s ITU meeting saw through the ruse. – Washington Post

Thomas L. Friedman writes: So how best for Biden to deal with this geopolitical stalker? Answer: low-cost military deterrence and high-volume diplomacy that puts us solidly behind Navalny’s anti-corruption movement. Message to Putin: “Our last president was with you. We’re instead with your people. Have a nice day.” – New York Times

Tony Wood writes: But over the coming weeks and months, Mr. Putin faces a dilemma. Cracking down too severely would only fuel dissent, while rigging the September elections too blatantly would damage the democratic facade on which Mr. Putin’s power depends. Allow Mr. Navalny’s movement to grow, however, and the Kremlin may face an electoral challenge for which it is unprepared. There is a long way to go before Russia can turn its “imitation democracy” regime into a living, breathing one. But for the first time in a long time, Mr. Putin is not holding all the cards. – New York Times

Stephen Blank writes: Strengthening our ability to tell Russians and other audiences the truth is a long overdue remedy for some of the problems that have recently plagued us. Moreover, standing up for Navalny’s rights against Putin’s assassins and thugs and its war upon us, our interests and values is not just timely. It is also the right thing to do. […]And the world should remember that when the time came in both Minsk and Moscow where human dignity is at severe risk, we did not shirk from our responsibility to bear witness. – The Hill

Stephen Nix and Joshua Solomon write: Finally, the United States should work with its allies in Europe to ensure the Western financial system is also bolstered against the Kremlin elite. Sanctions and investigations mean nothing if oligarchs can simply move their money across the Atlantic. The Russian people are filling the streets, risking their freedom, to demand an end to kleptocracy. But kleptocracy threatens the entire world. Their fight is also our fight. – The Hill

Rep. Bill Johnson writes: But amid Biden’s complete capitulation to radical environmentalists, the Russians are restarting construction of this massive natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. It will carry Russian gas to Germany, inevitably increasing Western Europe’s dependence upon Putin and upon his good graces, and funding the economy and military that make Putin powerful. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Condemnatory words will be woefully insufficient alone and, frankly, worse than nothing at all. U.S. action must target those around Putin who enable him. One good option would be to impose sanctions on four key Putin enablers: Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov, Andrey Kostin, and Dmitry Patrushev. […]It’s time for Biden to act. Or for him to admit that all his get-tough-on-Putin rhetoric in 2020 was just for show. – Washington Examiner

Rafael Behr writes: Still, the Navalny case has stirred something. […]Previous opponents have criticised Putin for abuse of power, but that’s just another way to make him look strong. Navalny does something subtly different that is more threatening to a gangster. He makes Putin look small. – The Guardian

Ben Dubow writes: The Russian state is highly unlikely to have directly influenced DDoS-Guard’s decision to host Parler, but rather created the conditions for a company like DDoS-Guard to provide safe havens for a site like Parler. With RT and other state media outlets banging the drums about Big Tech censorship as further proof that American democracy is a sham, that a Russian site would save “freedom of speech” shows how this strategy has paid dividends. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The high-stakes negotiations to resolve Italy’s political crisis in the midst of a pandemic took a remarkable turn on Tuesday evening when the country’s president summoned Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, to begin talks to form a new government. – New York Times

The European Union needs to resolve outstanding problems with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday as post-Brexit issues affecting trade persist. – Reuters

Ireland’s prime minister on Tuesday condemned the intimidation of officials carrying out post-Brexit checks at Northern Irish ports as a “very sinister and ugly development”. – Reuters

France will not pressure Germany over its choices regarding the Nordstream gas project, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Hungary and Poland intend to take measures against social media companies to fight what they believe is bias against conservatives. – Financial Times

Serbia’s foreign minister said Tuesday the government was “not happy” with Israel’s decision to recognize Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose statehood Belgrade denies and has waged a diplomatic battle to delegitimize. – Times of Israel

A 16-year-old from Cornwall who led a neo-Nazi group has become the youngest person in the United Kingdom ever convicted of terrorism, the BBC reported Monday. – Algemeiner

The U.S. Air Force is temporarily deploying 200 personnel with an expeditionary B-1 Lancer squadron to Norway to help manage bomber training flights in the region, U.S. European Command announced Tuesday. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy’s two key advantages in the Arctic are its partners and allies and the flexibility of the forces it could bring to bear, the head of U.S. naval forces in Europe said today. – USNI News

Editorial: Britain and the EU have called for a “reset” in relations over the province. That is wise. As rancour over negotiations fades, there is a chance to compromise. […]The EU and UK need to be constantly mindful of the sensitivities of both communities in the province. But, in the meantime, it is unconscionable that hardline unionists should be allowed to dictate whether the Brexit agreement is implemented in good faith. – Financial Times

Pierre Morcos and Donatienne Ruy write: The EPF holds promise to plug the gaps in the European Union’s foreign and security policy toolkit and support its ambitions on the global stage beyond economic power. However, expectations should be right-sized: the funding allocated for the next seven years remains limited, and, importantly, there will be bumps along the implementation road in these early years, requiring political will from both EU institutions and the member states. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Peter Rough writes: Only the United States, active and engaged in coordinating regional strategy, can marshal the power of the West and bridge internal divisions. That this is in the American interest is indisputable. The US position in Europe, channeled through NATO, serves as a powerful bridgehead on the Eurasian continent. Because of its democratic character, great wealth, trading importance, and military alliance with the United States, Europe poses a formidable obstacle to any challenger of the American-built international order. Let’s hope a few election cycles don’t change that. – Hudson Institute


Three opposition parties claim at least 52,000 people died in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, after federal forces moved in to end a rebellion. – Bloomberg

A former militia leader from Uganda may become the first defendant at the international criminal court to be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity – despite being both an alleged perpetrator and victim of the same offences. – The Guardian

Opposition parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have warned of a huge “humanitarian disaster” if aid is not delivered urgently. – BBC

The Americas

The Mexican police participated in a massacre that left 19 people dead last month, according to a state prosecutor, including at least 13 victims who appear to be Guatemalan migrants on their way to the United States. – Washington Post

Detention, defamation, stigmatization and harassment of charities and rights activists in Venezuela increased 157% between 2019 and 2020, a group of non-governmental organisations said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Editorial: The JEP’s future decisions could further polarise Colombians. Underlying the peace deal, however, is the notion that only the truth can heal the country and ensure that such crimes can never again occur. So far, the JEP has risen to the challenge of uncovering it. – The Economist

United States

From an Asia pivot that barely altered Pentagon policy to an Iraq withdrawal that led to the rise of the Islamic State, defense watchers are eyeing whether President Biden will learn from Obama-era defense shortcomings as he prepares to make key national security decisions. – Washington Examiner

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday fended off questions about when President Biden will call Chinese President Xi Jinping and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – New York Post

Leading Jewish groups praised a Tuesday commitment from a US State Department official that the Biden Administration “embraces and champions” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of antisemitism. – Algemeiner

A coalition of House Republicans on Tuesday urged their Senate colleagues to place a hold on Gina Raimondo, President Biden’s nominee for Commerce secretary, arguing that she has not clarified her stance on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. – The Hill


The newly appointed chief executive of SolarWinds Corp. is still trying to unravel how his company became a primary vector for hackers in a massive attack revealed last year, but said evidence is emerging that they were lurking in the company’s Office 365 email system for months. – Wall Street Journal

Suspected Chinese hackers exploited a flaw in software made by SolarWinds Corp to help break into U.S. government computers last year, five people familiar with the matter told Reuters, marking a new twist in a sprawling cybersecurity breach that U.S. lawmakers have labeled a national security emergency. – Reuters

Key cyber-focused members of Congress and other officials on Tuesday applauded the Senate confirmation of Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), citing the need for his leadership following the hack of IT group SolarWinds. – The Hill

While largely agreeing with the Defense Department’s more proactive approach to cyberspace in the last few years, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Pentagon has key questions about the defend forward concept. – C4ISRNET

Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cyber chief Suzanne Spaulding, a key official involved in the response to Russian interference efforts in 2016, is pushing hard for more to be done to combat disinformation and promote civics education as the nation reels from the fallout of the recent election. – The Hill

Tatyana Bolton writes: The Select committee and permanent committees on cybersecurity are the only way to accomplish that aim. It is difficult to reorganize and change rules in Congress, but if you’re going to have a bipartisan discussion on how to make things work, fix cybersecurity, too, before it is too late. – The Hill

Brandon Tseng writes: Both tech firms and the DoD need to realize the mutual benefit of working together — harnessing the innovation engine of U.S. entrepreneurship and technology is the only way to win the AI race against China. In Austin’s words, the DoD must “leverage commercial technology developed by the private sector to bring advantage to the war fighter.” The stakes for DoD are enormous; the stakes for the United States are existential – C4ISRNET


The Biden administration will continue work on the U.S. Space Force, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday, following Republican backlash against her earlier dismissal of a question about the year-old military service. – The Hill

Northrop Grumman says a new investment into small startup Deepwave Digital will allow it to push data processing much closer to the point of collection, decreasing the amount of data that needs to be transported and getting products to war fighters faster. – C4ISRNET

President Joe Biden’s deputy secretary of defense nominee would establish measurements to judge how the Pentagon adopts artificial intelligence as it seeks to modernize for future battles. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon aims to field a low-collateral effects interceptor — part of its evolving and enduring solution to countering small drones — by fiscal 2022, according to the joint office in charge of the effort. – Defense News

The health of America’s defense industrial base ranks a middling “C” due to growing cyber vulnerabilities, a poor ability to surge production in a crisis, and political obstacles for defense budgeting, according to a lead defense trade group’s new study. – Defense News

The hearing, which lasted more than three hours, gave insight into how Hicks would approach a number of key issues for the Defense Department if she arrives in office. – Defense News

President Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, Kathleen Hicks, said she is “concerned” about consolidation in the defense industrial base, and that competition is needed to maintain an edge over China and Russia. – Defense News

Boeing’s first F-15EX took to the skies for its inaugural flight on Feb. 2, a milestone that will allow the company to deliver the first two planes to the U.S. Air Force by the end of March. – Defense News

The Air Force could begin to lay out its vision for a future aerial refueling tanker, previously known as KC-Z, as early as next year, the head of Air Mobility Command said Monday. – Defense News

The nominee for the number-two civilian job in the Pentagon told a Senate panel on Tuesday the Navy’s proposed long-term shipbuilding plan would “require future analysis to validate the numbers.” – USNI News

The commandant of the Marine Corps said the service needs to make some big changes in a few short years to stay ahead of China’s growing military capability, but one of the biggest hurdles he sees is a lack of trust in the new unmanned and artificial intelligence systems he wants to invest in. – USNI News

As the Biden administration continues filling key positions, its plans for the Navy should come into better focus, according to the service’s top civilian. – USNI News

The Navy is on the hunt for a helicopter to replace its MH-60 Seahawk and MQ-8 Fire Scout — and it’s looking to join the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program to find it. – Military.com

Seamus P. Daniels writes: The administration of President Joseph Biden inherits a Defense Department (DoD) that has spent the last few years attempting to reorient itself under the guidance of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). As DoD leadership changes and shapes a new strategy, its priorities in the defense budget could change as well. Below are four critical questions on the challenges and opportunities facing the Biden administration as it crafts its defense plans for the next four years. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Todd Harrison writes: Whether it wants to or not, the Biden administration will be forced to grapple with questions over how roles and missions are allocated among the military services. Rather than ignoring the issue or handling roles and missions disputes in a piecemeal manner that reacts to problems as they arise, the Department of Defense (DoD) should begin a narrowly scoped strategic review of roles and missions as part of the upcoming national defense strategy review. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

Algerian soldiers fired high-calibre rounds into a scrubby hillside of the Ain Defla mountains last week, part of an operation against the persistent threat of Islamist militants after they launched a fresh attack last month. – Reuters

A report on four terror attacks in 2017 made 103 recommendations about how officials could have better performed, the public inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing has heard. – The Guardian

Pasar Sherko writes: ISIS’s counter-espionage operations are intended to discourage anti-ISIS espionage, provide a sense of security for its members, and provide legitimacy to its violent operations, and the ISIS media highlights these operations to ensure the message is effectively delivered. […]Meanwhile, through highlighting successful intelligence operations against the Islamic State, publishing interviews with ISIS detainees and defectors, and magnifying ISIS security weaknesses, the anti-ISIS media can counter-balance and nullify ISIS counter-espionage media operations. – Washington Institute