Fdd's overnight brief

March 1, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran rejected a European Union offer to hold direct nuclear talks with the U.S. in the coming days, risking renewed tension between Tehran and Western capitals. – Wall Street Journal

A State Department spokesman said in an email message that the terrorism designation “remains,” and as a result, IRGC members were ineligible for U.S. visas, along with anyone who provides “material support to, solicited funds for, or recruits members for the IRGC.” Asked whether the United States was considering any changes to the current policy, the spokesman said, “We do not discuss or confirm internal deliberations of our designation process.” – Washington Post

Iran has in recent months repeatedly violated the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, reducing the time it would need to produce a nuclear weapon. The violations, a response to U.S. sanctions imposed after former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact in 2018, have put at risk the survival of an agreement that helped remove sanctions on Iran and open it to business with the West. – Wall Street Journal

For decades, Iran has built and operated a network of loyal armed groups around the Middle East that seek to expand Tehran’s military footprint and gain political influence in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Senior Republican senators called on President Joe Biden to keep the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran, joining some Democrats who’ve voiced reservations about the agreement. – Bloomberg

The Biden administration said Sunday it remains open to talks with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal despite Tehran’s rejection of an EU invitation to join a meeting with the U.S. and the other original participants in the agreement. – Associated Press

Iran’s impoverished southeast has been experiencing wide disruptions of internet services, experts said, as unrest gripped the remote province after fatal border shootings. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view his decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or personnel. – Associated Press

Iran said on Monday the United States should lift sanctions first if it wants to hold talks with Tehran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that former President Donald Trump abandoned. – Reuters

Iran on Saturday condemned U.S. air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday’s strikes. – Reuters

Iran is investigating the fatal shootings of at least two Iranians this week at the border with Pakistan, and Islamabad has handed over the body of one of the victims, the Iranian foreign ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Editorial: Mr. Biden says he wants to focus less on the Middle East and more on the Indo-Pacific. The way to do that is to build on the alliances of the Trump Administration and persuade the Europeans to join a united front against Iran. Otherwise Mr. Biden is on a path to strategic disappointment and time-consuming distractions in Iraq, Syria and the Arabian peninsula. – Wall Street Journal

David Levinson writes: Iran cannot continue this practice of hostage-taking with impunity, and it is our most sincere wish that the Biden administration holds them accountable for all the lives they have destroyed. No family should suffer the way we have suffered. No family should have déjà vu that the United States government is going to do the wrong thing again. We all deserve better. – The Hill

Michael Knights writes: On the military front, the United States should temporarily provide intensified air defenses in the Erbil area in case of further attacks there. It should also be prepared for militias to direct their revenge against the closest target—the Kadhimi government—and ready itself to answer any major provocations against this partner with further warnings to Iran and strikes against proxies. Finally, it should thicken up intelligence coverage of the Nineveh Plains area, both to protect Erbil and to ensure that neither militias nor the Islamic State spring any nasty surprises when Pope Francis visits the area on March 7. – Washington Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran has been stagnated by failed railway schemes for many years, according to an article in Tasnim News. The article explores why foreign planners, particularly the British, allegedly sought for Iran to have a north-south railway network that was strategic, but not helpful for international trade. The article may reflect continued distrust of foreign and western interests and seek to blame the colonial era for the country’s problems, but it is an insight into Iranian government thinking today on this issue. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran’s regime is sophisticated but it is also ham-handed in the way it takes credit for a string of recent attacks across the region. It openly brags about how it has been striking at Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel in the last 72 hours. Iran does this through messaging via state media in English. Press TV, for instance, has numerous headlines about the attacks. If Iran wasn’t behind them the headlines would all be to obfuscate Tehran’s role. But Iran is behind them and Iran is pleased to show off. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran capitalizes on the US fear of “endless wars” in this regard. Iranian escalation in the region is trying not to move American partners to fully embrace Iran overnight, but merely to get American partners to not embrace America and hedge against it, Behnam Ben Taleblu notes. Iran exploits partisan politics in the US and other countries as well. It is a keen reader of western media and hopes its latest three-month window will get the US moving in a direction toward what Iran wants. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran is supporting its  Houthi rebel allies and proxy in Yemen to conduct an increasing war against Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-led coalition, and also against Yemen government forces in Marib. Twenty-four hours have seen an increased offensive against Marib in Yemen, a reported ballistic missile attack on Saudi Arabia on Saturday night and an attack on a ship in the Gulf of Oman. It is part of a series of tensions across the region linking Iran to conflicts in numerous places. This could be seen as a kind of “total war” that Iran is pushing across the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post


U.S. airstrikes in Syria targeted an important way station in an Iranian network used to move weapons and fighters across the Middle East, from Tehran to Beirut. – Wall Street Journal

Two Syrian children and a woman died Saturday and around 30 people were in hospital after a fire at the Al-Hol displacement camp in northeastern Syria, a local official said. – Agence France-Presse

The Biden administration briefed congressional leadership before ordering strikes on Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria on Thursday and intends to give lawmakers a full classified briefing by earlier next week, according to the White House. – The Hill

Attackers struck a gas pipeline in eastern Syria on Saturday, leaving it ablaze but causing no casualties, state news agency SANA reported, the latest incidence of sabotage against Syria’s oil and gas infrastructure. – Associated Press

Syrian air defenses were activated in the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs Sunday night to repel an Israeli missile attack, state media reported. There was no word on casualties. – Associated Press

The Pentagon’s announcement that that U.S. forces conducted deadly airstrikes in Syria sparked complaints from some of President Joe Biden’s Democratic allies that he overreached, while key Republicans applauded the move. – Associated Press

Russia is actively searching in Syria for the remains of the late Israeli spy Eli Cohen who was executed in 1965, the Arabic digital news site Rai al-Youm reported on Saturday. The report claims that this effort is part of the recent prison-swap deal between Syria and Israel. – Jerusalem Post

The Defense Department on Friday stood by its strike the night before against what officials say was an Iranian-backed militia position in Syria, despite international criticism and growing skepticism in Congress about its legality. – U.S. News & World Report

Kenneth R. Rosen writes: The Washington Institute spoke with a civilian living in regime-held western Syria who provided context into how ordinary civilians witness and are impacted by such extortion schemes which remain a mainstay in daily life. The Institute also spoke with an intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity both for security reasons and because they were not authorized to speak publicly, who was sometimes able to corroborate the pervasiveness of the scheme. – Washington Institute


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for a mysterious attack on an Israeli-owned freighter loaded with vehicles in the Gulf of Oman last week, pledging that his government would retaliate. – Washington Post

Israel will vaccinate Palestinian laborers who work in Israel and in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s military said Sunday. The move comes as Israel has faced pressure to vaccinate Palestinians who live under Israeli control. – Wall Street Journal

An Israeli-owned cargo ship that suffered a mysterious explosion in the Gulf of Oman came to Dubai’s port for repairs Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran. – Associated Press

Israel’s security establishment believes Iran will attempt more attacks like Friday’s explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman, and that Israel will have to retaliate. – Algemeiner 

An Israeli citizen has been arrested and indicted for collecting information for Hamas about the location of Iron Dome missile batteries, an Israel Security Service (Shin Bet) investigation has revealed. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently travelled secretly to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah on Iran and other issues concerning the region, Ynet has learned. – Ynet

The United Arab Emirates’ first-ever ambassador to Israel arrived in the country on Monday as the two countries continue to advance the normalization agreement they signed last year. – Times of Israel

Alex Fishman: Iran has identified Israel’s vulnerability in its maritime transportation of goods in the Persian Gulf, sending a message that Israeli vessels will be defenseless when traveling in that international body of water. […]Targeting Israeli vessels in the area will raise insurance costs, rendering travel there untenable, and harm Israel’s budding economic ties with Gulf nations. – Ynet

Oraib Al Rantawi writes: President Bashar Assad understands his continued rule in the wake of the civil war may require him to adopt different policies going forward, and peace with Israel might be one of them. […]If Assad decides to embark on such a policy change, he would face the opposition of Iran which controls much of his territory. He would also face the demands of an American administration under U.S. President Joe Biden, for democracy and human rights for the Syrian people. Russia’s chances of bringing about any Israeli-Syrian dialogue are slim but the temptation to try is there, nonetheless. – Ynet

Arabian Peninsula

The United Arab Emirates is scaling back its role in foreign conflicts, accelerating a shift from policies it pursued after the 2011 Arab Spring, with the new administration in the U.S. a key factor. – Bloomberg

Clashes between Yemeni government forces and Huthi rebels intensified Saturday in the strategic province of Marib, with military sources saying a senior loyalist commander was among dozens of fighters killed. – Agence France-Presse

A U.N. humanitarian agency on Sunday warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen would go hungry this year, with already some half a million people in the war-torn country living in famine-like conditions. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia

Democrats and a former CIA chief have criticized President Biden’s decision not to directly punish Saudi Arabia’s crown prince for his alleged role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Wall Street Journal

Seven Saudis involved in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi belonged to an elite unit charged with protecting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a declassified report on the assassination released on Friday. The New York Times has linked the group to a brutal campaign to crush dissent inside the kingdom and abroad, citing interviews with American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign. – New York Times

President Biden and his administration speak less of calculated interests in dealing with the rest of the world and more of letting values like democracy and human rights guide the way. But in the administration’s handling of the public release of an intelligence assessment last week concluding that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia had approved the operation that killed the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, American strategic interests prevailed. – New York Times

The mysterious disappearance last month of a Saudi dissident living in Montreal after visiting the kingdom’s embassy in Ottawa has sent fear rippling across Canada’s community of Saudi exiles. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it intercepted a missile attack over its capital and bomb-laden drones targeting a southern province, the latest in a series of airborne assaults it has blamed on Yemen’s rebel Houthis. – Associated Press

US President Joe Biden’s decision not to sanction Saudi Arabia’s crown prince over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has frustrated campaigners, underscoring Washington’s delicate balancing act as it seeks to avoid a diplomatic rupture. – Agence France-Presse

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines says the U.S. intelligence report implicating Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince in the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi will “obviously” challenge the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. – The Hill

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday announced visa restrictions on dozens of individuals from Saudi Arabia involved in the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and harassment of perceived political dissidents abroad. – The Hill

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, in rare public comments on Saudi Arabia, said on Friday that people were unlawfully held in the kingdom and urged it to uphold freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly. – Reuters

President Joe Biden’s administration is considering the cancellation of arms deals with Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns while limiting future military sales to “defensive” weapons, as it reassesses it relationship with the kingdom. – Reuters

President Joe Biden on Saturday said his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday, following a U.S. intelligence report that found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty is a red line, Saudi columnists said on Sunday, ramping up rhetoric in defense of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a U.S. intelligence report implicated him in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – Reuters

Pakistan has suddenly found itself in stronger standing with a Saudi-led bloc of Arab nations, having managed to mend a rift while maintaining ties with another alliance that is challenging the Saudis’ leadership of the Muslim world. – Financial Times

Editorial: The Khashoggi murder was an especially brutal assault on a political opponent, but we can think of others who could make the new “ban” list. If MBS qualifies, then how about Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin coterie and members of the Chinese State Council ultimately responsible for the arrest of democrats in Hong Kong? Or the terror sponsors in Tehran that Mr. Biden seems intent on courting (see nearby)? The Khashoggi report and sanctions send a message of U.S. disgust at an awful crime. But in a nasty and brutish world, the U.S. still needs partners like the Saudis. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Mr. Biden is nevertheless granting what amounts to a pass to a ruler who has sown instability around the Middle East in recent years while presiding over the most severe repression of dissent in modern Saudi history. It is a risky course to adopt in the absence of evidence that MBS is prepared to fundamentally alter his regime. At a minimum, the administration ought to require, as a condition for normal relations, that the architect of the Khashoggi murder and other human rights offenses — Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide of MBS named in the CIA report — be brought to justice. If the criminal apparatus MBS employed against Khashoggi is not dismantled, there will be more victims. – Washington Post

Editorial: Prince Mohammed should receive a very public cold shoulder. Sustained and meaningful pressure is needed on him to release those detained, sometimes for no more than a tweet. European powers must also re-examine their engagement with Riyadh and the crown prince. If the Biden administration is to restore the US’s moral standing it must ensure Prince Mohammed feels the consequences of his actions and knows that any further malign behaviour will be severely dealt with. – Financial Times

Iyad el-Baghdadi writes: Jamal gave his life for our right to free speech. For his sake, we must keep freedom of expression at the top of the agenda. A good future that honors his vision isn’t one where MBS is sanctioned but still oppressive. A good future is one where MBS is internally checked by free Saudis who are able to demand accountability from their government. To aim for anything less is to betray Jamal and his legacy. – Washington Post

Lahav Harkov writes: Israeli officials are concerned that increased pressure on the Saudis, as well as Egypt, will weaken the regional alliance against Iran at a time when the US is showing less willingness to confront the regime of the ayatollahs. Another concern is that Riyadh will be discouraged from strengthening or even maintaining their ties with Jerusalem if they don’t help them in Washington. […]As such, the Saudis and Israelis may continue to be thrown together by a common enemy in Iran – though that would be a small comfort compared to the letdown if Israel’s greatest ally, the US, chooses to appease the ayatollahs who seek the Jewish state’s destruction. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Since President Biden entered the White House, Iranian-backed militants across the Middle East have struck an airport in Saudi Arabia with an exploding drone, and are accused of assassinating a critic in Lebanon and of targeting American military personnel at an airport in northern Iraq, killing a Filipino contractor and wounding six others. – New York Times

Turkey and Iran called in each other’s ambassadors as Turkey threatens to attack Kurdish separatists on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar, an area used by Iranian militants to cross into Syria. – Bloomberg

Thousands of Lebanese rallied Saturday in support of the Maronite patriarch following powerful Shiite group Hezbollah’s recent criticism of the Christian leader’s positions. – Agence France-Presse

Authorities in western Libya on Saturday revealed that they had detained a local journalist, two days after he disappeared in the capital Tripoli following a news conference with the prime minister. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that his government is eager for talks with Japan to improve relations following years of bitter feuding over historical grievances, adding that those unresolved issues should not stand in the way of developing “future-oriented” ties. – Associated Press

South Korea has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis and food shortages unfolding in North Korea as leader Kim Jong Un grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. – Financial Times

Josh Rogin writes: The Biden team must not give up on denuclearizing North Korea or stopping the atrocities there, but meanwhile must do everything possible to keep the threat to Americans and allies from growing even worse. That means committing to politically sensitive, difficult, high-risk, low-reward diplomacy, to lessen the danger for all — the sooner the better. – Washington Post

Dr. Ramon Pacheco Pardo writes: As former Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha stated last September, South Korea has ‘leverage’ in the U.S.-China rivalry and can use ‘partnerships with like-minded friends and countries’ to promote its foreign policy interests. Joining an expanded Quad would add a new partnership to Seoul’s toolkit, with its leverage helping to shield it from any potential negative effects from membership. Everything considered, joining the Quad+ would be a beneficial move for South Korea. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Authorities charged dozens of the city’s most prominent opposition figures with national-security offenses after the political figures took part in unofficial primary elections, the largest use of the sweeping new law since it was imposed on the territory by Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration plans to allow a sweeping Trump-era rule aimed at combating Chinese technology threats to take effect next month, over objections from U.S. businesses, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Lawyers for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou return to court on Monday to argue against her extradition to the United States on fraud charges. But the focus will be on former president Donald Trump. – Washington Post

The charging of such a large group is the harshest and widest use of Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong to date, dramatically increasing the number of people taken under the draconian legislation. Friends and family fear they will be denied bail and instead remain in detention before trial, like the five previously detained under the law — a significant departure from Hong Kong’s common law system. – Washington Post

The US should boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday, becoming the latest Republican to join a growing furor over the Games and Beijing’s rights record. – Agence France-Presse

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants the United States to boycott the XXIV Olympic Winter Games if the International Olympic Committee does not move the 2022 games from China. – Washington Examiner

China is expected to boost its military budget this upcoming year as tensions rise between the country and the United States. – The Hill

The Biden administration is moving to put semiconductors, artificial intelligence and next-generation networks at the heart of U.S. strategy toward Asia, attempting to rally what officials are calling “techno-democracies” to stand up to China and other “techno-autocracies.” – Bloomberg

China appears to be moving faster toward a capability to launch its newer nuclear missiles from underground silos, possibly to improve its ability to respond promptly to a nuclear attack, according to an American expert who analyzed satellite images of recent construction at a missile training area. – Associated Press

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Friday that China is restricting basic civil and political freedoms in the name of national security and COVID-19 measures, adding to a wave of criticism of the country’s rights record. – Reuters

The New York Stock Exchange is to start delisting proceedings against China National Offshore Oil Corporation to comply with an executive order from Donald Trump that bans Americans from investing in companies with ties to the Chinese military. – Financial Times

US lawmakers and human rights activists are pressing Joe Biden to make a tough response to China’s repression of 1m Uighurs in Xinjiang, which Antony Blinken, secretary of state, has called “genocide”. – Financial Times

Britain on Monday scolded China for a decision to charge 47 Hong Kong politicians and activists for conspiracy to commit subversion under the National Security Law. – Reuters

Editorial: China is violating its international obligations as it tramples Hong Kong’s freedoms. So far it has paid little price, which the world may come to regret as President Xi Jinping sets his sights on Taiwan. – Wall Street Journal

Bradley A. Thayer and Lianchao Han write: History with China should make the Biden administration think twice before contemplating reopening or creating new dialogues. Instead, the U.S. must sustain the Trump administration’s policies of pressure to cause positive changes, deny Beijing more time to strengthen itself, and so prevent it from becoming even more powerful and able to damage U.S. interests and national security. – The Hill

Matthew P. Funaiole, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Brian Hart write: The U.S. government has recently launched initiatives, such as the Clean Network program, to work with selected partners to secure critical industries. A similar approach could help to connect trusted partners in the shipbuilding industry. Doing so starts with an earnest conversation among like-minded nations about the consequences of wading in the murky waters of China’s shipbuilding industry. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Such repression is part of the Taliban’s strategy of control in the territories under their rule. While the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar fitfully talk about meeting for talks, even as the idea of real peace recedes, the reality is that the insurgents already hold much of the country. An approaching U.S. withdrawal, coupled with a weak Afghan security force scarcely able to defend itself, means the group is likely to maintain this authority and its brutal ways of invoking submission. – New York Times

The United States wasted billions of dollars in war-torn Afghanistan on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed, according to a report released Monday by a U.S. government watchdog. – Associated Press

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad held discussions on Monday with a senior Afghan official in Kabul over ways to accelerate the peace process, before heading to Qatar, where negotiations with Taliban representatives are ongoing. – Reuters

Shaharzad Akbar writes: Public participation can best be guaranteed through a cease-fire. The United States and its allies should utilize their leverage with both sides and the region to continue to push for an interim and immediate cease-fire that will create an opportunity for national engagement. An immediate end to targeted killings, a cease-fire and the restoration of civic space will allow for broader inclusion in the talks, reviving hope and confidence in the process. – Washington Post

South Asia

Militant attacks are on the rise in Pakistan amid a growing religiosity that has brought greater intolerance, prompting one expert to voice concern the country could be overwhelmed by religious extremism. – Associated Press

Villagers living on both sides of the Line of Control dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir welcomed an agreement between long-time foes India and Pakistan to stop shelling from each side, but some were sceptical it would hold. – Reuters

Security forces battling a decades-long insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir are alarmed by the recent arrival in the disputed region of small, magnetic bombs that have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan. – Reuters

Human Rights Watch and Rohingya Muslim refugees in India urged the government on Monday to provide refuge to 81 Rohingya people whose boat has been drifting in the Andaman Sea for over two weeks. – Reuters


Military forces in Myanmar opened fire on crowds of peaceful demonstrators in several cities on Sunday, killing at least 18 people, the United Nations said, in a violent escalation of the junta’s efforts to suppress weeks of mass protests against its month-old coup. – New York Times

Now, a new study lends weight to the idea that those two events may well have been connected — as part of a broad Chinese cybercampaign against India’s power grid, timed to send a message that if India pressed its claims too hard, the lights could go out across the country. – New York Times

Myanmar’s month-old military regime fired the country’s ambassador to the United Nations on Saturday, a day after he gave an impassioned speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, pleading for international help in restoring democracy to his homeland. – New York Times

Bo Bo Nge’s fate, along with that of other intellectuals, lawyers and young leaders detained in the military coup that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, once again epitomizes dashed hopes for a better future in Myanmar. These reformers and technocrats, whose skills and experience helped salvage the country’s antiquated financial system in recent years, are now silenced and subject to the whims of isolationist generals. – Washington Post

The value of Chinese investment in Australia collapsed last year in the face of tougher scrutiny by Canberra, a breakdown in bilateral relations and a global downturn in foreign investment owing to the pandemic. – Financial Times

Stephen Nagy and Shin Kawashima write: It is because of these reasons that the Japanese government has not taken an assertive posture on Hong Kong. […]The public knows about the risks that China poses, but it has also likely become accustomed to living with those risks. To raise general awareness about Hong Kong, it is perhaps first necessary to demonstrate how Japan’s freedoms and democracy are threatened by China’s actions, thereby further drawing the public’s attention and concern toward China as a whole. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Emil Avdaliani writes: In the long run, Russia has caught Armenia in a cycle. To stay in power, the government would need extensive Russian economic, diplomatic, and perhaps even military support.  […]Potentially, there is a yet-greater reward for Russia – persuading Azerbaijan to allow the Russian peacekeeping mission to remain on its soil beyond the end of 2025. In which case, an openly revanchist Armenian government formed by an opposition determined to build a battle-ready military capable of offensive operations would be a useful tool for the Kremlin to justify the continued presence of its units in Karabakh. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Authorities call it “Plan Fortress” — a secretive emergency protocol to lock down Russian police stations in case of armed attack. Now it’s being used with a new goal: to keep out human rights lawyers trying to aid Russians held after mass arrests during pro-opposition demonstrations. – Washington Post

Several thousand Russians and Western diplomats paid tribute at a Moscow bridge on Saturday where opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead six years ago, as the United States said it was “deeply troubled” by the Kremlin’s growing intolerance of free speech. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden said Friday that the United States will “never” accept Russia’s annexation of part of Ukraine seven years ago. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday said the United States would stand with Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for its aggression against Crimea, according to a statement released by the White House on the anniversary of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula. – Reuters

Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny has arrived at a penal colony east of Moscow, to serve his prison sentence, a public commission that observes the treatment of detainees said on Sunday. – CNN

Russia launched its space satellite Arktika-M on Sunday on a mission to monitor the climate and environment in the Arctic amid a push by the Kremlin to expand the country’s activities in the region. – Reuters

Editorial: This is the behavior of a police state. The persecution of Ms. Baranovskaya and her fellow believers is not different from that meted out to “enemies of the people” under Stalin. Just as during the Great Terror, when there is a knock on the door, these nonviolent religious worshipers must feel a ravine open at their feet. Perhaps Mr. Putin could explain to them why, decades after Soviet communism died, its cruel practice of tormenting people for their beliefs is being repeated. – Washington Post

Paul Roderick Gregory writes: This does not prevent Russia’s “information technologists” from marshalling the power of Western wokeness. If America’s founding fathers can be declared unworthy of respect and praise, wokeness opens a wide avenue for discreditation of any political figure, domestic or foreign, by Russia’s disinformation specialists. […]As a result, Amnesty International fell victim to the Kremlin’s smear campaign — as did, perhaps, Navalny’s chances for a Nobel Peace Prize. Putin could hardly ask for anything more. – The Hill


But Britain and the European Union have also fallen out politically and diplomatically, with a speed and bitterness that has surprised even pessimists about the relationship. While these strains are less tangible to Britons than having to pay extra costs for imported coffee from Italy, they could have an equally corrosive long-term effect. – New York Times

EU leaders agreed Friday that the bloc should take more responsibility for its own security, insisting Brussels needs to be a strong partner for NATO and the United States. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: Instead, the opposition and Georgian Dream ought to return to negotiations that previously were being brokered by the United States and European Union. The government should quickly free Mr. Melia as well as Giorgi Rurua, the owner of an opposition television channel; the UNM and other opposition parties who won parliamentary seats in last fall’s elections should take them. If Georgia is to continue its progress toward becoming a Western democracy, rather than another Eurasian autocracy, its political parties must embrace compromise, tolerance and power-sharing. – Washington Post

Bruna Celic writes: Kurti and Osmani can only ignore the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue for so long. U.S. President Joe Biden was pointed on this in his letter to Osmani on the occasion of the anniversary of Kosovo’s independence. […]It is too early to predict how successful LVV will be, if at all. But the unprecedented number of voters that turned out to support his agenda should be encouraging. If Kurti can start delivering on the platform he ran on — cleaning up corruption — he will gain more leeway in pursuing foreign policy in the way he wants, both domestically and abroad. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Gunmen in Nigeria released 42 people on Saturday, including 27 schoolboys, who were kidnapped from their boarding school last week in the north-central state of Niger, the state’s governor said. – Wall Street Journal

Ethiopian officials and allied militia fighters are leading a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, the war-torn region in northern Ethiopia, according to an internal United States government report obtained by The New York Times. – New York Times

Jihadists in northeastern Nigeria have long outraged the world with mass abductions of schoolchildren but now armed gangs in search of income are using the same tactic in other parts of the country, sparking warnings that no school is safe. – Agence France-Presse

Monique Moukidje fled her home in Central African Republic’s town of Bangassou in January when rebels attacked with heavy weapons, the fighting killing more than a dozen people. – Associated Press

Amir Idris writes: The Horn of Africa still matters to the U.S. overall strategy of leading by the example of its values of democracy and human rights. The Biden administration has the opportunity to embrace a transformative strategy to enable the creative energies of a young generation, who constitute the majority of the population, for the sake of inclusive political and economic development in the region. – The Hill

The Americas

President Biden will speak by video conference on Monday with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, one of the unexpected, yet pivotal, drivers of Trump-era policies to seal the United States to migrants that Mr. Biden is trying to unwind. – New York Times

EU ambassador to Caracas, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, will leave Venezuela on Tuesday after being expelled by the government in response to new sanctions, a European diplomatic source said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

Florida Republicans and others are pushing the Biden administration to implement a last-minute order from former President Trump blocking deportations of Venezuelans. – The Hill

After tense relations at times with former President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s “great to see America re-engage” under a new administration in an interview on “Meet the Press.” – Politico 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Canada in insisting on the immediate and unconditional release of two Canadian citizens detained in China. – Reuters

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: The Biden administration also might remind Venezuela that the U.N. World Food Program is awaiting permission to enter the country. Mr. Maduro has blocked this aid because he uses food rationing to control the masses. […]This isn’t a normal government aspiring to improve the well-being of its people. It is an organized-crime cartel with monopoly power—and the singular objective of holding on to it. No negotiation can fix that. – Wall Street Journal

United States

For President Biden and his circle, a low point in America’s global standing under President Donald Trump came when he blew up a meeting of U.S. allies in 2018, accusing close partners of “robbing” the United States and hurling insults at his Canadian host. – Washington Post

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday made his international debut in an unusual setup befitting extraordinary times — with virtual “trips” made a short walk from his office via video. – Agence France-Presse

A Colorado white supremacist and self-described neo-Nazi was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for plotting to blow up a Colorado synagogue, the Justice Department announced Friday. – The Hill

More than 300 people now face federal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill and at least 280 people have been arrested, the Justice Department announced Friday. – The Hill

Hyatt Hotels Corp called symbols of hate “abhorrent” on Sunday after the design of a stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference at one of its hotels drew comparisons to a Norse rune used by Nazis during World War Two. – Reuters

Paula J. Dobriansky, Marisa Lino, and Edward Gabriel write: In the past, the American approach to public diplomacy and exchange activities has proven to be the gold standard.  With a cohesive, policy-based approach, we can upgrade to platinum. – The Hill


House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed strong support Friday for legislation to put in place national breach notification requirements in the wake of a massive foreign cyber espionage attack. – The Hill

A U.S. national security commission is recommending that American universities take steps to prevent sensitive technology from being stolen by the Chinese military, a sign of growing concerns over the security of academic research. – Reuters

Dave Weinstein writes: Anything that is connected can be manipulated. Should we rip the sensors out lest they be hacked? Of course not. Instead we must reduce vulnerability by extending security to all parts of the network, even those that seem beyond the reach of malicious actors. […]We should all be untrusting when it comes to technology, but not at the expense of its embrace. The zero-trust mind-set made all the difference for the city of Oldsmar. – Wall Street Journal


The U.S. and Canada plan to modernize a network of defense satellites and radar in the Arctic, in a bid to counter a growing military presence in the north from Russia and China. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military needs to quickly deploy more anti-ship missiles capable of targeting invading forces heading to Taiwan, and ensure American assets within range of Chinese missiles are sufficiently dispersed or hardened against a preemptive strike. At least that’s the recommendation made by Thomas Shugart, a former U.S. Navy submarine commander, during a Feb. 18 hearing held by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. – Defense News

Since September, when the U.S. Air Force disclosed that it had flown a full-scale demonstrator of its future fighter, the defense community has been hungry for more details about the Next Generation Air Dominance program. And Air Force leaders have been loathe to provide them. – Defense News

Now more than ever, American war fighters depend on space-based capabilities for their missions. In response, adversaries have developed counter space weapons meant to degrade or deny those capabilities. – C4ISRNET

The Navy this week announced a series of promotions and new assignments for flag officers, including a new head of submarine forces in the Pacific. The service on Thursday issued a list of 25 rear admirals with new upcoming assignments. – USNI News

Questions about China’s defense spending, programs and systems – and the Pentagon’s response – dominated a Wednesday House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on future U.S. defense spending trends. – USNI News

Long War

ISIS was officially in the business of using chemical weapons. And the United States, watching from afar, was just starting to think about how it should, or even could, respond. – Politico

Following last night’s airstrikes by the U.S. in eastern Syria against facilities belonging to Iran-backed militias responsible for recent attacks against American and allied personnel in Erbil, Iraq, in which U.S. service members were wounded, below are MEMRI TV clips of interviews with and statements by leaders and officials of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq from the past two years. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Today, all four churches are either damaged or destroyed after Islamic State militants occupied the city from 2014-2017, desecrated many of the buildings and used them to run its administration, including as a jail and a court. – Reuters