Fdd's overnight brief

January 20, 2023

In The News


Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone call with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday, the Kremlin said, their second conversation in nine days. – Reuters

Iran’s armed forces general staff, which coordinates activities between its conventional army and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, warned the European Union on Thursday not to list the elite force as a terrorist entity, state media reported. – Reuters 

Iran’s confirmation that it was set to receive a batch of advanced Su-35 fighter jets from Russia has signaled the dawn of a new era in the complex relationship between Moscow and Tehran, whose burgeoning defense axis could have significant ramifications for the security interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. – Newsweek 

While Mohammad Hosseini’s execution was intended as a message from Tehran that involvement in ongoing antiestablishment protests will not be tolerated, his memory lives on as a victim of state repression. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A group of 45 Iranian lawyers and law professors has published an open letter objecting to the deprivation of fundamental rights for defendants amid a deadly government crackdown following months of unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for how she was wearing a head scarf. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A rights group says security forces have closed the roads leading to the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan in an attempt to ward off demonstrations after Friday Prayers in the city on January 20. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty   

Elad Benari writes: “The recent action of the European Parliament, besides having no precedent in international rules and regulations, will affect global as well as regional security and peace, and the European Parliament should be aware of such consequences,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces’ statement read. Protests have gripped Iran following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Amini after she was arrested by the morality police. – Arutz Sheva 

Asr e-Iran Editorial: This behavior [on the part of the regime] can be seen even regarding young people’s trips to Europe. The children of senior officials of both [the ideological and reformist] streams travel easily to America, Europe, and Canada to study and of course to live. But when the children of ordinary citizens decide to do so, the officials start to moralize, and invite the young people to [stay and] build Iran. Perhaps after this, they [the regime officials] pick up the phone and video chat with their own children [abroad] and ask them how they’re doing. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, and Frederick W. Kagan write: The Iranian regime is likely escalating against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid. Protest organizations and coordinators seemingly failed to increase protest activity on January 19. […]A Katai’b Hezbollah-affiliated group claimed that it targeted a US logistics convoy using improvised explosive devices. – Institute for the Study of War

Russia & Ukraine

Western defense chiefs are set to gather Friday for a critical meeting designed to showcase a major new arms package for Ukraine that has been overshadowed by an escalating dispute over whether Berlin should allow its allies to give Kyiv German-built battle tanks. – Wall Street Journal

CIA Director William J. Burns traveled in secret to Ukraine’s capital at the end of last week to brief President Volodymyr Zelensky on his expectations for what Russia is planning militarily in the  coming weeks and months, said a U.S. official and other people familiar with the visit. – Washington Post 

Russia’s state nuclear power conglomerate has been working to supply the Russian arms industry with components, technology and raw materials for missile fuel, documents show, aiding Moscow’s deadly onslaught on Ukraine and leading to calls for the company, Rosatom, to be put under sanctions. – Washington Post 

Berlin’s assent to allow German-made Leopard 2 tanks to be provided to Ukraine—if it comes—would provide an important signal that European political backing for Kyiv remains broad and solid. But the tanks themselves are unlikely to be a game changer on the battlefield, and certainly not in the modest numbers that would be likely to arrive soon. – Wall Street Journal

Canada is sending 200 personnel carriers. Britain will donate 600 missiles. Sweden is giving artillery systems and armored vehicles. And in one of its single largest security commitments since the start of the war, the United States said on Thursday it will ship about 100 additional fighting vehicles to help Ukraine repel Russian advances. – New York Times

A day before a critical meeting in Germany to chart the next steps in the defense of Ukraine, Kyiv’s allies made it clear on Thursday that they were prepared to furnish a major infusion of military aid to help it fend off Russian aggression. – New York Times

An ally of President Vladimir Putin warned NATO on Thursday that a defeat of Russia in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war, while the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said the world would end if the West tried to destroy Russia. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said his government was expecting “strong decisions” from defence leaders of NATO and other countries meeting on Friday to discuss boosting Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian forces with modern battle tanks. – Reuters

A group of 11 European states have pledged to deliver more arms to Ukraine in its war with Russia, saying they would send main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defence, ammunition and infantry fighting vehicles. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow would do all it could to “sober up” the European Union and NATO, which he accused of setting out to weaken and defeat Russia. – Reuters

The founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Thursday that his forces had taken the village of Klishchiivka, on the edge of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, but said that Ukrainian forces could not be forced from Bakhmut swiftly. – Reuters

The European Union’s assembly called on the member states on Thursday to back the creation of a special court to judge any war crime of aggression by Russia in Ukraine. The nonbinding resolution was approved by a 472-19 vote with 33 abstentions in the European Parliament, and underscored the EU’s willingness to make sure Moscow should be brought to justice for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Associated Press

Air defense systems have reportedly been installed on top of several buildings in the Russian capital of Moscow as the Kremlin warns that Ukraine obtaining long-range weapons could escalate the war. – Newsweek

The European Union will continue to consider new rounds of sanctions on Russia even though the bloc’s debates have gotten more challenging each time, said European Council President Charles Michel. – Bloomberg

The Kremlin warned NATO that supplying heavy and long-range weapons to Ukraine would escalate the war to a “whole new level.” – Washington Examiner

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to regain the Russian-controlled territory of Crimea as American officials begin to consider whether to assist the war-battled country in its campaign to retake the peninsula. – The Hill 

Former Russian commander Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, also known as Igor Girkin, suggested that Russia will “sink” by the end of 2023 as troops continue to fight in the war in Ukraine, which is nearing its one-year mark. Newsweek 

Gevorg Mirzayan, an associate professor of political scientist and a research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ U.S. and Canadian Studies Institute, believes that the war in Ukraine will end like the Korean War with the partition of Ukraine between Russia and the West. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Editorial: Biden’s dithering on this — as the White House has dithered on MiGs, advanced missile systems and other aid, even as it eventually goes along — is only empowering Putin. – New York Post  

Claire Parker writes: Washington prefers Berlin to be the one to step up, it would appear. The Biden administration is preparing to announce a roughly $2.5 billion military aid package likely to include new armored fighting vehicles. But U.S. defense officials say the Abrams tank is complicated and expensive, and its jet engine makes it more difficult to refuel than the Leopard, which uses diesel. “We are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others, especially the United States,” Scholz said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. – Washington Post 

Jason Willick writes: Republicans are taking a less interventionist position than they did in the Cold War, so Huntington’s conservative and liberal categories may now be reversed. The underlying dynamic remains, however, and Lippmann’s warning should weigh on American strategists as they seek to avoid the insolvency that could trigger a great-power war in the 21st century. – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: The top line is clear. Or at least it should be. The U.S. should pledge a small but symbolic commitment of Abrams tanks to Ukraine. It should then pressure Germany and other European allies to follow that commitment with their own greater armored provisions. – Washington Examiner

Douglas London writes: Regardless of what the U.S. chooses to do, perception is reality. Putin determined long ago that the U.S. was out to destroy him and would have concluded that Washington is already engaging in such activity — after all, it’s what he would do. – The Hill

Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky write: This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine. Biden can turn the tide in Kyiv’s favor by backing up his declarations of support with the delivery of tanks and long-range weaponry. He can also hasten the demise of Putin’s regime, opening up the possibility of a democratic future for Russia and demonstrating to the world the folly of military aggression. The United States cannot let its fears stand in the way of Ukraine’s hopes. – Foreign Affairs   

Tamila Tasheva writes: The Ukrainian government is working on different practical aspects of the reintegration: law, re-establishment of public governance, judicial and law enforcement systems, revitalization of economy, infrastructure, environment, cultural heritage. Those efforts will allow us to ensure peaceful transition back under Ukrainian rule. We will have to rebuild and make Crimea welcoming, diverse, and free land again. – TIME


White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed the war in Ukraine with Israel leaders during a trip to Israel and the West Bank, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hosting his first senior member of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday, said they had discussed prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Saudi Arabia. – Reuters

Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian schoolteacher and a militant during a military raid in the occupied West Bank early Thursday, Palestinian officials said, the latest deaths as Israeli-Palestinian violence continues to surge. – Associated Press

In an interview posted on the BreakThrough News YouTube channel on December 7, 2022, PFLP plane hijacker Leila Khaled told American journalist Rania Khalek that resistance and armed struggle are the “duty” of the Palestinian people and the “mainstream” means of resistance. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

David Pollock writes: The logical conclusion is that this aspect of normalization with Israel has itself become relatively “normalized” among most Arab Gulf publics—even as a slim majority in each country remains privately at least “somewhat” opposed to it. The figures are similar and steady over the past three years, regardless of formal inclusion or exclusion from the Abraham Accords, political changes in Israel, or tensions on the ground in the Palestinian arena. – Washington Institute 

Dan Perry writes: Interests are fickle and America has many contradictory ones. It is not in America’s security interests, for example, for Israel to be riling up the Arabs. Israel used to call itself America’s aircraft carrier but the fact is that America has other regional candidates for hosting military bases, such as countries that actually do. – Jerusalem Post 

Nimrod Goren writes: Dramatic realities are unfolding in Israel. How far they will go is not yet clear. The trajectory will be largely shaped by the effectiveness of domestic actors as they seek to resist democratic erosion; but the situation will also be impacted by how Israel’s friends in the world respond. A “business as usual” or “wait-and-see” approach is not helpful in this case. The new reality necessitates that support for Israel now includes a clear international commitment to help safeguard its democracy. – Middle East Institute 


Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said Thursday that he had been invited to Ankara by his Turkish counterpart, the first visit by a Swedish official to Turkey since an effigy of the Turkish president was hung from a lamppost in Stockholm, sparking tensions between the two governments. – Associated Press

The US signaled growing impatience with Turkey over its resistance to ratifying NATO’s expansion to Sweden and Finland. – Bloomberg

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wields almost unbridled power in Turkey, is seeking another term as president in elections likely to come in May. With the country facing an economic crisis, polls suggest a tight race that could threaten his 20-year rule, the longest in Turkey’s history. – Bloomberg

James Stavridis writes: NATO needs Turkey to continue being an active and positive member. It also needs to add Finland and Sweden. No one wants to have to choose between them. It’s up to Erdogan to ensure that doesn’t have to happen. – Bloomberg

Gulf States

Iraqis are blaming an unexpected culprit for a weakening currency that has caused the price of food and imported goods to rise: a little-noticed policy change by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. – Wall Street Journal

Riyadh is engaging with Russia over keeping oil prices relatively stable, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud told Bloomberg on Thursday. – Reuters 

Germany’s lower house of parliament recognised on Thursday the 2014 massacre of Yazidis by Islamic State group jihadists in Iraq as a “genocide”, and called for measures to assist the besieged minority. – Agence France-Presse

Djaouida Siaci writes: The prestige event has crowned Qatar’s economic and social accomplishments and burnished its diplomatic credentials as an internationally recognized player. More significantly, reforms instituted by Qatar in the years leading up to the tournament, if sustained, will have the potential of being rivaled by other countries in the region. – Middle East Institute  

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol dialed back recent remarks that Seoul could develop its own nuclear weapons, saying in an interview that his focus is on working closely with the U.S. on North Korean proliferation. – Wall Street Journal

Sue Mi Terry writes: North Korea’s WMD program is growing at an alarming rate. South Korea and the United States must address the situation before it becomes destabilizing and the strategic balance tilts in favor of North Korea, at which point it will be far more difficult for the West to respond. Such a robust, coordinated effort will require deepening and expanding the U.S.–South Korean alliance and bringing South Korea into closer cooperation with Japan, Washington’s other major ally in the region. – Foreign Affairs 

Ellen Kim writes: Notwithstanding, Yoon government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy reflects an expanded horizon in South Korea’s foreign policy that goes beyond the Korean peninsula, embracing that the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific is directly related to South Korea and active participation in regional affairs is vital for its own national interest. […]This will also serve as a compass that guides South Korea’s geostrategic direction and approach toward the U.S.-China competition in the Indo-Pacific. – Center for Strategic and  International Studies


Russia remained China’s second-largest source of crude oil in 2022, following repeat top supplier Saudi Arabia, as Chinese refiners snapped up low-cost Russian barrels while Western countries shunned them after the Ukraine crisis. – Reuters 

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that he was “deeply concerned” about the Chinese government’s artificial intelligence program, asserting that it was “not constrained by the rule of law.” – Associated Press

The Netherlands and Japan, home to key suppliers of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, are close to joining a Biden administration-led effort to restrict exports of the technology to China and hobble its push into the chips industry. – Bloomberg

David Ignatius writes: Finally, the past two months were a reminder that Xi is ruthlessly unpredictable — a leader who will turn on a dime to get what he wants. Is Xi’s new economic-reform tilt permanent, or simply a tactical shift? Has he learned anything from his covid mistakes? As always with Xi, the best answer is to test him. The Chinese leader is a master of going in two directions at once. – Washington Post 

Dylan Buck and Zach Ota write: Using this doctrine as a foundation, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command should then integrate these mutually-supporting capabilities through planning, common command and control procedures, and rehearsals that counter China’s most dangerous course of action. – War on the Rocks 

Paul Heer writes: Qin reportedly received little high-level attention from the Biden administration during his tenure in Washington, partly because he was perceived as little more than a mouthpiece for such Chinese rhetoric, or as one of Beijing’s arrogant and obnoxious “wolf warrior” diplomats. The announcement of his appointment as foreign minister thus generated much commentary about whether this had been a miscalculation on Washington’s part. – The National Interest

South Asia

The Pakistani Taliban on Thursday claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a police post in northern Pakistan that killed three police officers. – Reuters 

Sadanand Dhume writes: For India, the stakes are tangible. All other members of the Quad—the U.S., Japan and Australia—are democracies, and may balk if India’s democratic backsliding continues. It could hurt the economy too. […]The real question India faces isn’t whether democracy rankings are fair. It’s whether the country wants to be a liberal democracy or travel down an autocratic path. – Wall Street Journal

Mihir Sharma writes: But it’s clear that you can’t compromise with populists; they just keep pushing. When the politicians in India finally come for the judges, I wonder if tens of thousands will march in New Delhi, as they have in Tel Aviv. – Bloomberg


The Philippines is increasing cooperation with the U.S. and developing stronger mechanisms to defuse disputes with China as it walks a fine line between the two superpowers, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said. – Wall Street Journal

Australia’s Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres called for the removal of China’s “trade impediments” on Australian exports in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, his office said. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates is in early discussions with India to trade non-oil commodities in Indian rupees, Emirati Minister for Foreign Trade Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi said on Thursday. – Reuters 

China and Australia’s top trade representatives will meet for virtual talks after months of speculation and delays, the latest sign of a potential breakthrough in the economic dispute between the two countries. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Some readers may conclude the answer to all this is to let Taiwan fall, but that would end America’s status as a credible global power. U.S. allies would recalibrate their alliances, and rogues would take more risks. All the more reason to spend the money and energy on demonstrating to China that it will lose a Taiwan war. – Wall Street Journal  

Janusz Bugajski writes: The United States must extend its own influence in Russia’s Pacific and Siberian territories and work in tandem with Japan and South Korea to open up avenues for diplomatic contacts and economic cooperation with embryonic states. […]Russia’s rupture will provide America with possible new allies in the Pacific region, but it will also create new points of conflict with China. Contingency planning is essential in confronting Beijing’s territorial claims and pursuit of political dominance and economic entrapment in post-Russia regions. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Unfortunately, even as the U.S. anticipates near-term war with China over Taiwan, Ardern’s legacy is the tip of a bigger U.S. alliance iceberg. […]Still, China’s lament over Ardern’s resignation isn’t shocking but rather highly rational. Beijing is losing a loyal and trusted friend. – Washington Examiner

Ahmad Hashemi writes: The military aspect of this triangle alliance stands out. Iran, China, and Russia have held at least three joint naval exercises in recent years. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow has been growing on such a scale that, according to U.S. national security council spokesman John Kirby, Iran has become Russia’s top military backer. – The National Interest


A Swedish court convicted two Iranian-born Swedish brothers to lengthy prison sentences for spying for Russia and its GRU military intelligence service, in a verdict that ratchets up tensions between Moscow and the West, while Russia said it had begun an investigation into a U.S. national detained there on espionage allegations. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. efforts to boost green technology should not lead to the dismantling of Europe’s industry, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday after signing a new bilateral treaty with French President Emmanuel Macron in Barcelona. – Reuters 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday he still believes it is possible to resolve his country’s differences with Turkey by speaking with Turkey’s president, and stressed that the two neighbors will not go to war. – Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signed a friendship treaty in Barcelona on Thursday to strengthen relations between the European neighbors, as both leaders faced protests on their home fronts. – Associated Press

Bulgaria is not defying sanctions. Sofia has secured itself from Brussels an exemption, allowing it to take shipment of Russian oil delivered by sea. The measure had widespread support across the political spectrum in Bulgaria, with Kiril Petkov, the former prime minister of one of Bulgaria’s most pro-Western governments ever, lobbying for it. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke on Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba and accepted the latter’s invitation to visit Kyiv. Cohen would become the most senior Israeli official to visit since the war started 11 months ago, Israeli and Ukrainian officials told The Times of Israel. During the phone call, Cohen also pledged to permanently reopen Israel’s embassy in Kyiv within 60 days. – Times of Israel 

David Sheppard writes: Governments such as Germany’s have shown they can move quickly in a crisis, establishing floating LNG terminals in a matter of months to open up alternatives to Russian gas. The same urgency now needs to be applied to longer-term solutions, be that offshore wind, hydrogen or nuclear, while speeding up the long-term process of reducing the use of gas in heating. That will be the only way to decisively declare victory in the energy war. – Financial Times

Justin Casey and Daniel Nexon write: Will things get worse? Interwar fascism was a heterogeneous, evolving ideology that spread globally and adapted itself to local conditions. But the emboldening of more radical strains was not an inevitable outcome. The world stands at a moment comparable to 1930. The far right is ascendant, and it is unclear, even to reactionary populists themselves, where their success will take them. – Foreign Affairs 

Marija Golubeva writes: This has not been a happy experience for Russian opposition media or for Latvia. But it must be understood that this is a rare conflict. Despite the periodic tensions and diverging narratives, the exile experience in the Baltics has contributed to the dialogue between Baltic and Russian cultures at a time of maximum antagonism caused by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.  – Center for European Policy Analysis


South Africa’s military announced on Thursday that it plans to hold joint training exercises off its coast next month with Russia and China, a move criticized by the United States, which has been trying to rally other countries to isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine. – New York Times

Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi criticized a $6.2 billion minerals-for-infrastructure contract with China, saying the world’s largest producer of a key battery metal hasn’t benefited from the deal. – Bloomberg

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, declaring that Africa can help shape the future of the global economy, will set out why the Biden administration intends to elevate its focus on the continent over the next two years in a speech she’s slated to deliver Friday in Dakar, Senegal. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: The State Department executes policy, but Congress crafts it. He should not treat the peoples of Somalia and Somaliland as fools by erasing precedents. […]Those instincts run against U.S. national security interests. – 19FortyFive


Google (GOOGL.O) said on Friday it will cooperate with India’s competition authority after the Supreme Court upheld stringent antitrust directives forcing the U.S. firm to change how it markets its popular Android platform in a key growth market. – Reuters

Chinese social media company TikTok could face a ban in the European Union if it does not step up efforts to comply with EU legislation before September, the top official overseeing the EU’s internal market told the company’s CEO on Thursday. – Reuters 

Global bank and exchange chiefs got insight on cybersecurity and resilience from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s director during a private session in Davos this week. – Reuters 

Ireland fined WhatsApp for breaching strict European Union privacy rules in a case that has exposed divisions among EU watchdogs over how to regulate its parent company, Meta. – Associated Press

Social media sites are at risk of letting terrorist content proliferate on their platforms following job cuts across the industry, undermining years of work in counter-terrorism, a UN-backed organisation has warned. – Financial Times

Solaris, one of the leading darknet drug marketplaces, has been taken over by its rival, according to research released this week. Users who tried to access Solaris after January 13 were redirected to the recently-launched Russian language drug marketplace known as Kraken, which claimed to have successfully taken over Solaris’ infrastructure, GitLab repository and project source code, researchers from blockchain analysis firm Elliptic said. – The Record

Zero trust, but verify: That’s the strategy the Pentagon is experimenting with for its new private-sector cloud providers. Beginning this spring, red-team hackers from the National Security Agency — and possibly the armed services’ red teams as well — will launch a months-long series of attacks on zero-trust security systems on clouds run by Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft and Oracle, according to the head of the Defense Department’s zero-trust office. – Breaking Defense


The Biden administration is expected to announce another massive military aid package to Ukraine in the coming days, but long-range missiles will not be included. – Washington Examiner

The Israeli Ministry of Defense has officially requested 25 F-15 EX fighters from the US, according to industry sources, but the Israeli air force is already hoping to double the order. – Breaking Defense

Elaine McCusker writes: Rather than sending destructive, conflicting, and confusing messages to the taxpayer on one of very few issues with bipartisan support—defense spending—Congress should look at the calendar and focus on a two-year budget agreement with real increases for the nation’s security and enactment of regular appropriations bills on time. – American Enterprise Institute

Long War

Kenyan security forces have killed 10 fighters from Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group in eastern Kenya, a government official said on Thursday. – Reuters

A Pakistani man named by the United Nations as a global terrorist in connection to the Mumbai attacks released a video Thursday, denying any al-Qaida or Islamic State group links. He did not, however, make any mention of the 2008 terrorist attacks in India that killed 166 people. – Associated Press

American and Syrian Kurdish forces detained a militant from the Islamic State group following a helicopter raid in eastern Syria, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement Thursday. – Associated Press