Fdd's overnight brief

January 24, 2023

In The News


Iran on Tuesday strongly condemned new sanctions imposed by the European Union and Britain and said it would retaliate, after the West stepped up pressure on Iran over its crackdown on protests. – Reuters 

The Biden administration’s top Iran envoy said it will increase pressure on China to cease imports of Iranian oil as the US tries to enforce nuclear sanctions. – Bloomberg

The US Treasury Department imposed fresh sanctions on an Iranian foundation it said is used as a slush fund by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in connection with efforts to quash anti-government protests. – Bloomberg

The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and organizations, including a government minister, regional governors and lawmakers, suspected in the security crackdown on protestors, but did not add Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to its terror group blacklist. – Associated Press 

Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Dana Alexander Gray, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Nicholas Carl, and Frederick W. Kagan write: Protest activity in Iran increased on January 23, particularly among current petrochemical employees and retired education and telecommunications workers, suggesting some degree of coordination among workers. […]Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas met with Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri in Tehran to discuss bilateral economic and military cooperation. – Institute for the Study of War

Russia & Ukraine

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday that Warsaw would submit a request to Germany to reexport its tanks to Ukraine, after Berlin indicated it would not block such a move. – Washington Post

Fighting intensified in Ukraine’s strategically important south, where Moscow claims it is making advances, while Kyiv waits on heavier weapons from its Western allies. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainians are taking aim at the symbols of Russian cultural dominance that Moscow spread during centuries of rule over territory that now makes up much of Ukraine. In recent months, authorities have removed monuments to writers including Maksim Gorky and scientists such as Mikhail Lomonosov. –  Wall Street Journal

Even from jail, Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, gets more done than most people. He has announced a new media platform with nearly 1.8 million YouTube subscribers, filed more than 10 lawsuits against Russian authorities, and is now the leading voice inside Russia against the war in Ukraine. – Washington Post

European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to allocate another 500 million euros ($542 million) for military aid for Ukraine, officials said, as Berlin faced more pressure over calls from Kyiv to supply it with German-made Leopard tanks. – Reuters

Ukraine has imposed sanctions on 22 Russians associated with the Russian Orthodox Church for what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said was their support of genocide under the cloak of religion. – Reuters

Russia’s new military reforms respond to possible NATO expansion and the use of Kyiv by the “collective West” to wage a hybrid war against Russia, the newly appointed general in charge of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine said. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed South Africa’s “independent and balanced” stance on the war in Ukraine while on his latest diplomatic mission to Africa to counter US and European efforts to isolate his nation. – Bloomberg

The Biden administration’s latest security aid package to Ukraine has brought the total amount of military aid provided to Kyiv since Russia invaded last February to more than $26 billion. – Washington Examiner 

Russia was willing to negotiate with Ukraine in the early months of the war, but the United States and other Western nations advised Kyiv against holding talks, Moscow’s top diplomat said Monday. – Associated Press 

Wagner Group fighters have become the disposable infantry of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, but a Ukrainian military intelligence document obtained by CNN sets out how effective they have been around the city of Bakhmut – and how difficult they are to fight against. – CNN

The capture of the Ukrainian town of Soledar on the Bakhmut front by the Wagner Private Military Company represented a Russian military success after a succession of setbacks. Wagner’s success elicited favorable press for the company including comparisons between its performance and the spotty achievements of the regular Russian army. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Italy has confirmed it is ready to supply Ukraine with its Samp-T air defense system after weeks of doubt over Rome’s readiness to hand over the costly kit. – Defense News 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he plans “further deepening of integration in all areas” with fellow members of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, an economic union which forms a single market for 184 million people across five former Soviet states. – Newsweek

Editorial: But a final decision, on approving Polish tank shipments or anything else, rests with Mr. Scholz. His party, with a pro-Russia wing that persists even after Russia’s depredations, remains divided on aid for Ukraine and Mr. Scholz is governing as if he thinks this is his biggest problem. But while he leads Germany from behind, Germany risks getting left behind by NATO allies who know Ukraine can’t wait forever for Berlin to get its act together. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: Ukraine would do far better by admitting where mistakes are made, rather than providing ammunition to Russian fables such as this one. The next time Russia commits an outrage it attempts to pin on Ukraine, Kyiv must be able to deliver its denials with absolute confidence. – Washington Examiner

Steven Pifer writes: Russian officials have not drawn clear red lines, and they have not enforced the vague threats they voiced earlier. When Moscow puts so little effort into deterring the West, the West should not let itself be deterred. Spring is coming. Send Ukraine the Leopards and ATACMS now. – The Hill  


For three weekends now, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to weaken the Supreme Court, which would allow his conservative government to strengthen the role of religion in public life. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and Israel on Monday launched what one U.S. official described as the allies’ most significant joint military exercise to date, involving thousands of forces, a dozen ships and 142 aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers. – Reuters 

On January 21, 2023, the anti-Israel organizations Samidoun and Within Our Lifetime held a “day of rage” in NYC’s Grand Central Station calling for the release of PFLP leader Ahmad Sa’adat, who is serving a 30-year sentence in Israel for orchestrating the 2001 assassination of Israeli cabinet member Rehavam Ze’evi, and of Ahmad Manasra, a Palestinian youth serving a prison sentence in Israel for attempted murder of an Israeli teen. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank next week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leadership, a Palestinian official said Monday. – Times of Israel 

Louis Fishman writes: With Turkey marking its hundredth anniversary this year, and Israel, its seventy-fifth, it is about time that the ones who are waving the flag for liberal democracy start to reassess what it really means for every one of their fellow citizens. Without embracing minority citizens, and the historical and current injustices they’ve suffered, real change, from the grassroots to the leadership of the country, will never be possible. For Israel, this is a shift whose urgency is now competing head-to-head with the pace of Netanyahu’s shock and awe campaign to change the face of Israel. – Haaretz


The United Nations’ aid chief visited Kabul on Monday and raised concerns over women’s education and work with the Taliban administration’s acting minister of foreign affairs, an Afghan ministry statement said. – Reuters 

On January 21, 2023, the Afghanistan Liberation Movement (ALM), an anti-Taliban resistance group led by retired Afghan army colonel Abdul Matin Suleimankhel, claimed that Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Hibbatullah Akhundzada has been poisoned in Kandahar on the night of January 19. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

A number of articles recently published in the Saudi press criticize the extremist model promoted by the Taliban in Afghanistan and by ISIS and the movements of political Islam. This model, they argue, does not reflect the true spirit of Islam and is based on a misguided implementation of the Islamic shari’a. – Middle East Media Research Institute  


Finland’s foreign minister said on Tuesday a time-out of a few weeks was needed in Finland and Sweden’s talks with Turkey on their application to join the NATO military alliance. – Reuters 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out supporting Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after an activist burned Islam’s holy book in Stockholm at the weekend. – Bloomberg

Can Dündar writes: For now, it is clear that Turkey’s “Wanted” list is far too long to fit on a poster nailed to a sheriff’s wall. And it will continue to grow as long as the world gives into the bullying and blackmail by Erdogan. – Washington Post

Gulf States

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani has dismissed the country’s central bank governor amid growing anger over the weakening of the local currency in recent weeks that has caused the price of food and imports to rise. – Wall Street Journal

Kuwait’s government resigned on Monday amid a power struggle with the Arab Gulf country’s assembly less than four months after parliamentary elections delivered a mandate for change. – Associated Press 

From financial aid to dollar trade, Saudi Arabia used Davos last week to deliver some important messages to its allies. The world’s largest oil exporter suggested days of unconditional aid are now behind. Going forward, the kingdom will need to see visible reforms in countries it supports. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Russia and Syria have restored the al-Jarrah military air base in Syria’s north to be jointly used, Russia’s Defence Ministry said late on Monday. – Reuters 

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni arrived Sunday in Algeria for a low-key two-day visit as the two nations look to build up a strategic partnership and Italy works to further wean itself off Russian energy with help from the gas-rich North African country. – Associated Press 

Moroccan lawmakers on Monday voted unanimously to review ties with the European Parliament, accusing it of meddling after a resolution that urged the kingdom to respect press freedom. – Agence France-Presse 

If Israel goes to war with Hezbollah, IDF artillery will hit Lebanon with “thousands of shells per day,” Lt.-Col. El-Chai Cohen told The Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post

Sabina Henneberg writes: Reducing support for civil society, she contends, need not mean abandoning Tunisians or democratization. Instead, it can involve directing limited funds with an emphasis on preserving the country’s post-2011 associations law; prioritizing anti-corruption efforts; supporting counterterrorism efforts while remaining aware of civil society’s suspicions regarding state repression; and bolstering educational opportunities for young Tunisians. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The White House on Tuesday nominated a special envoy for human rights in North Korea, moving to fill a post that has been empty since 2017 amid debate over how rights issues fit with efforts to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. – Reuters 

Two hacker groups associated with North Korea, the Lazarus Group and APT38, were responsible for the theft last June of $100 million from U.S. crypto firm Harmony’s Horizon bridge, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Monday. – Reuters 

With the North’s resumption of testing various ballistic missile programs – including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) – South Korea and the U.S. have reinvigorated their joint military drills to effectively respond to the North’s nuclear and missile threats. – The Diplomat 


The Biden administration has confronted China’s government with evidence that suggests some Chinese state-owned companies may be providing assistance for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, as it tries to ascertain if Beijing is aware of those activities, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

China invoked the US’s brinkmanship over its own debt limit as it hit back at Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s criticism of Beijing’s handling of debt issues in developing countries. – Bloomberg

Andy Langenkamp writes: This means that Beijing will be able to use the fossil energy markets — on which the world will most likely continue to depend for years to come in spite of the intensification of sustainability efforts — to gain more influence in international financial markets, consequently being able to significantly corner the West in the long term. – The Hill  

James Millward writes: After protests made it clear that China could not lock down indefinitely, the CCP lifted its controls, implicitly acknowledging that COVID-19 will not go away and that the economic and social cost of trying to contain it was simply too high. The Uyghurs are not going away, either. If the world maintains its sanctions and scrutiny, over time it can make the price of brutalizing China’s minorities unacceptable. – Foreign Affairs


Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has written to Pope Francis to say that war between Taiwan and China is not an option and only by respecting the Taiwanese people’s insistence on sovereignty and freedom can there be healthy ties with Beijing. – Reuters 

India has committed to help ease the debt burden of its crisis-stricken neighbor Sri Lanka as part of a possible International Monetary Fund-supported program, the IMF said on Monday. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday asked the president of Azerbaijan to redouble efforts to clinch a peace agreement with Armenia and called for the immediate reopening of a corridor vital to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. – Reuters 

The Pentagon is in the early stages of planning for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to travel to Taiwan later this year as House Republicans ​focus on China, according to a report on Monday. – New York Post 

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: Then there’s ASEAN, for whom Myanmar has been a litmus test. The West has been eager to shunt the problem to ASEAN, but the grouping hasn’t shone, too often wrapping itself in process. It also hasn’t done as badly as some feared, downgrading junta representation, for instance. […]Some creativity is now required, and that will include encouraging countries in the region to increase pressure on senior junta leaders themselves, especially when it comes to their continued access to elite financial, health and education services. – Bloomberg

Chad P. Bown writes: Although there is no appetite in Washington to go back to the international economic policies of 2016, the United States also cannot reach for those of 1988 or 1949. The days are long past when the United States’ near monopoly over technology and advanced manufacturing allowed it to unilaterally protect its national security. The history of export controls in the twentieth century also shows that uncoordinated efforts are futile. Protecting U.S. economic and security interests requires a more inclusive, comprehensive, and rational relationship with key allies. – Foreign Affairs 

Sameer Lalwani and Happymon Jacob write: The longstanding Indian-Russian partnership has become a transactional one steeped in uncertainty. Yes, it may continue this way for some time yet, but should Russia fail to deliver on its defense promises to India, and should India officials grow increasingly alarmed by Russia’s ties with China, expect New Delhi to only push Moscow further away. – Foreign Affairs

Mary E. Lovely writes:  Achieving even a limited set of the IPEF’s promises requires a flexible and patient approach to relationship building. By opening a consultative and wide-ranging dialogue with a diverse set of countries, the United States is offering something of value to its Indo-Pacific partners. The IPEF can pay real dividends over time for all its members, especially if the United States tempers its ambitions by recognizing the region’s policy preferences and existing alliances. – Foreign Affairs


Germany on Monday dispatched the first two out of three Patriot air defence units that will be sent to the Polish town of Zamosc close to the Ukrainian border where they will be deployed to prevent stray missile strikes. – Reuters 

The U.S. State Department on Monday said Finland and Sweden are ready to join the NATO alliance, after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Sweden should not expect Turkey’s support for its membership after a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at the weekend including the burning of a copy of the Koran. – Reuters 

Relations between Russia and the Baltic region reached a new low as tit-for-tat expulsions and staff cuts were set to leave no ambassador-level diplomats between the nations. – Bloomberg

Latvia’s top envoy criticized Germany over its indecision on whether to send Ukraine the Leopard 2 tanks, saying there are no longer any “good arguments” not to give Kyiv the heavier weapons it demands.  – Bloomberg

France and Germany committed Sunday to giving Ukraine “unwavering support” and to strengthening the European Union as they sought to overcome differences over defense, energy and economic issues on the 60th anniversary of their post-World War II friendship treaty. – Associated Press

A former high-ranking member of the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group seeking asylum in Norway is in custody on suspicion of entering the Scandinavian country illegally, authorities said Monday. – Associated Press

Hungary’s foreign minister said Monday that while his government isn’t in favor of the European Union sending funding for weapons to Ukraine, it won’t block a planned tranche of 500 million euros ($543 million) in assistance to Kyiv to use in the war with Russia. – Associated Press  

Serbia will look into a European Union plan that proposes normalizing ties with Kosovo because the country risks losing its chance to join the bloc and could see foreign investors leave if it turns it down, President Aleksandar Vucic said.  – Bloomberg

France is forging ahead to study options for a future maritime patrol aircraft platform, while presumably still partnering with neighbor Germany on a joint program with the same goal announced nearly six years ago. – Defense News 

The Italian special forces is the undisclosed European NATO member set to receive Hero-30 loitering munitions this year as an “urgent mission requirement,” according to recently published contract documents. – Defense News 

Gerard Baker writes: Whatever happens in 2023, the longer-term story is this: the U.S. is pursuing a bipartisan America-first approach to global economics; in Europe, a new Iron Curtain has descended a few hundred miles east of the old one; in Asia, a demographically challenged China looks inward and threatens outward. – Wall Street Journal

Walter Russell Mead writes: European diplomats pride themselves on bridge building and dialogue, though they sometimes seem more willing to engage with Tehran and Beijing than with Ohio and Florida. Let’s hope that 2023 will begin an era of engagement, facilitated perhaps by the WEF, between European leaders and the increasingly disgruntled American conservatives whose support they desperately need. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: The underlying principle here is that of America’s role as leader of the NATO alliance and of democratic security. Throwing the blame on Germany even while he hides behind false excuses for his own inaction, Biden isn’t just failing Ukraine, he’s neglecting his role as leader of the free world. Vladimir Putin must be loving it. – Washington Examiner 

Stephen Blank writes: Ukraine may be the crocodile’s (or bear’s) current prey but it is hard to believe he would be sated by that meal. If he succeeds, he will turn his attention to Germany and its NATO neighbors. Given Germany’s current response, it appears that it will be content to let others bear this burden while it inhabits the never-never land of political moralism, and anxiously awaits the crocodile. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


South Africa’s foreign minister on Monday deflected criticism of joint military drills planned with Russia and China, saying that hosting such exercises with “friends” was the “natural course of relations.” – Reuters 

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he was awaiting clarifications from Burkina Faso’s transitional President Ibrahim Traore about reported demands for the departure of French troops from the country. – Reuters 

Just before US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will visit South Africa as part of a renewed focus on the continent, she got a stark example of the challenges Washington faces in countering influence by its main global rivals Russia and China. – Bloomberg

Armed men opened fire on a bus station in southern Sudan on Monday, officials said, killing at least four people and prompting authorities to declare a monthlong state of emergency. – Associated Press 

Suspected Allied Democratic Forces fighters have killed at least 23 people in an attack in eastern DR Congo, local officials said Monday, in the latest violence in the turbulent region. – Agence France-Presse 

China and Russia have set out to bring their growing defense ties to Africa, in which both powers have increasingly invested their economic, political and military capital. – Newsweek

Latin America

Venezuela has decided to call off a previously arranged meeting between President Nicolas Maduro and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday, Lula’s press office said. – Reuters 

U.S. farm and trade officials raised “grave concerns” over Mexico’s agricultural biotechnology policies in meetings with their Mexican counterparts on Monday, as lingering disagreements threaten decades of booming corn trade between the neighbors. – Reuters 

Argentina and Brazil are in the preliminary stages of renewing discussions on forming a common currency for financial and commercial transactions, reviving an often-discussed plan that would face numerous political and economic hurdles. – Bloomberg

United States

The FBI’s former top spy hunter in New York was charged Monday with taking secret cash payments of more than $225,000 while overseeing highly sensitive cases, and breaking the law by trying to get Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska removed from a U.S. sanctions list — accusations that shocked the cloistered world of his fellow high-ranking intelligence officials. – Washington Post 

A senior Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence questioned several allies’ willingness to come to Taiwan’s aid if China invaded the island. – USNI News

Editorial: But none of that lets Mr. Biden off the hook. It is important that authority figures try to follow the rules and own up to their mistakes when they make them. Justice Department guidelines mean that no sitting president will be indicted. But maximum allowable transparency is vital. Mr. Biden needs to ditch the defensiveness. Acknowledging that he has grounds for regret would be a good start. – Washington Post



The war in Ukraine has exposed widespread problems in the American armaments industry that may hobble the U.S. military’s ability to fight a protracted war against China, according to a new study. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. defense industry is “not adequately prepared” for “a protracted conventional war” with an enemy such as China, according to a think tank study published Monday. – The Hill  

Epirus, a U.S. company specializing in directed energy and its defense applications, secured a $66 million prototyping contract with the U.S. Army, as the service attempts to counter a proliferating number of overhead threats. – Defense News 

The U.S. defense-industrial base is not ready for a battle over Taiwan, as it would run out of key long-range, precision-guided munitions in less than one week, according to a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. – Defense News 

Seth G. Jones writes: In his history of U.S. defense production during World War II, titled Freedom’s Forge, Arthur Herman documents the critical role of the U.S. defense industry in defeating Germany and Japan. But a revitalization of the defense indsutrial base did not happen overnight for the United States or its allies. As the stresses to the defense industrial base already highlight, it is time to prepare for the era of competition that now exists. – Center for Strategic and  International Studies 

Lawrence J. Korb writes: How Biden handles these issues will not only have a significant impact on our security and economy but will also tell us a great deal about his values. As Biden said before becoming president: “Don’t tell me about what you value. Show me your budget, and I will tell you what your values are.” – The National Interest