Fdd's overnight brief

March 16, 2023

In The News


China, Russia and Iran launched joint military exercises on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman in the latest sign of Beijing’s efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East. China’s Defense Ministry said the five-day exercise would deepen cooperation between the three nations, posing a growing challenge to U.S. interests in the region. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran has agreed to halt covert weapons shipments to its Houthi allies in Yemen as part of a China-brokered deal to re-establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, U.S. and Saudi officials said, a move that could inject new momentum into efforts to end one of the region’s longest-running civil wars. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian authorities arrested 110 people on suspicion of being linked to suspected poisonings at girls schools that have hospitalized hundreds of students since November. – Bloomberg

Child protesters in Iran have been subjected to “horrific acts of torture” by security forces amid a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, Amnesty International said in a statement on March 16 marking six months since the start of nationwide protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police detention. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Henry Rome and Grant Rumley write: Getting Iran and Saudi Arabia to publicly agree on a de-escalation accord is a win to be sure. But actually holding them to the agreement over the long term is an entirely different challenge—one that will reveal a great deal about China’s true influence. – Washington Institute

Annika Ganzeveld, Zachary Coles, Amin Soltani, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Frederick W. Kagan write: Iranian officials have also emphasized the importance of indoctrinating and ideologizing the population, frequently calling on educational institutions and the media to “explain the issues related to hijab and chastity.” These policies do not address Iranian grievances about the government’s inability to stabilize the Iranian economy, disregard for the rights of women and religious minorities, and crackdown on civil liberties such as freedom of speech. – Institute for the Study of War

Russia & Ukraine

Some of the most stubborn people left in Ukraine stood in the middle of Tovstoho Street, fuming over critical service outages. No gas. No water. No cell service. Electricity was spotty, and Russian artillery targeting Ukrainian positions in the town near the battle for Bakhmut produced a constant backdrop of whistles and thuds. – Washington Post

Russia struck civilian infrastructure in Ukraine’s northern city of Kharkiv on Wednesday, while Western defense officials discussed Kyiv’s military needs ahead of its expected offensive to retake territory seized by Moscow. – Wall Street Journal

A day after a Russian jet fighter collided with a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, the U.S. promised to continue flying in international airspace and denounced what senior officials described as a pattern of increasingly aggressive confrontations by Russian vessels of U.S. ships and aircraft. – Wall Street Journal

The Group of Seven advanced democracies want to keep the price cap on Russian crude at $60 a barrel, according to people familiar with the matter, thwarting hopes in some European capitals of tightening the Western sanctions this month. – Wall Street Journal

The U.K. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Ukraine can go to trial to avoid repaying $3 billion in loans it said it took under pressure from Russia in 2013 to prevent it from trying to join the European Union. – Associated Press

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that its relations with the United States were in a “lamentable state” and at their lowest level, after Washington accused Russia of downing one of its reconnaissance drones over the Black Sea. – Reuters

The loss of a US drone in the Black Sea after an alleged collision with a Russian war plane has exposed the high-risk cat-and-mouse game in European skies between NATO and Russian aircraft. The US on Tuesday accused Russia of forcing down one of its Reaper surveillance drones over the Black Sea through a collision with a Russian Sukhoi-27 war plane. – Agence France-Presse

Moscow said Wednesday it would try to retrieve the wreckage of a US military drone that crashed over the Black Sea in a confrontation Washington blamed on two Russian fighter jets. Russia also warned against “hostile” US flights as tensions simmered and Moscow denied its Su-27 military aircraft had clipped the propeller of the unmanned Reaper drone. – Agence France-Presse

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart about a US surveillance drone that crashed into the Black Sea after an encounter with a Russian fighter jet, as officials sought to keep the incident from further escalating tension already high over the invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Radio station RMF FM reported that Polish security services had broken up a spy network working for Russia. Six people were detained on suspicion of having installed secret cameras to film transport infrastructure used to deliver aid to Ukraine, it reported. – BBC

Two Ukrainian army brigades defending the city’s southern flank gave the BBC access to their positions last week as fierce fighting continued in and around Bakhmut. The men have spent months facing both regular Russian army forces, and prisoners recruited by the Wagner private military group who have swarmed their trenches in droves. – BBC

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is not an “authentic theologian,” according to a senior Republican senator who encouraged trans-Atlantic allies to sanction the cleric for blessing Russia’s war in Ukraine. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. military is rushing equipment to the battlefield and training Ukrainian forces at a rapid pace, ahead of a major offensive against Russia expected by late spring. – Politico

The International Criminal Court is opening two war crimes investigations tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that will involve several arrest warrants. – Washington Examiner

Mr DeSantis is widely expected to run for president in 2024 and made his remarks in response to questions sent to possible Republican contenders. The former congressman said continued US support of Ukraine was not among the country’s “vital national interests”. – BBC

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense mocked Russian forces over Twitter Wednesday after reports that a Soviet-era bomber was shot out of the sky near Bakhmut. Iryna Rybakova, press officer for Ukraine’s 93rd separate mechanized brigade, told Ukrainian broadcaster Hromadske that Kyiv’s forces took down a Russian Su-24 supersonic bomber near Bakhmut. – Newsweek

Russia is confiscating the passports of some officials to stop them fleeing the country, according to UK intelligence. – Business Insider

Alexei Bayer writes: Direct involvement by conventional NATO forces in Ukraine may increase that risk but by a considerably smaller margin than a long drawn-out military conflict during which events may get out of control in so many unpredictable ways. Thus, defeating Russia and ending the conflict is not only the fastest way to end the hostilities but the safest way, too – perhaps the only safe way. In any case, the leaders of the Western alliance should keep in mind that those who fear doing the right thing usually live to see their worst fears realized. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Nord Stream controversy is not just about figuring out who did it but also examining how easy it was to sabotage the pipelines. If it was easy then that means in most conflicts in the future the need to defense pipelines and strategic infrastructure has a higher premium. In addition it means that weapons like cheap kamikaze drones are now important and it is also important to add air defenses to sensitive pipelines and other energy sites.  – Jerusalem Post

John Bolton writes: The Biden administration may not intend it, but its doubt and hesitation both impede the war effort and open the door politically to those who oppose U.S. aid entirely. Hence the urgent need to state our war objectives clearly. Failure to do so exposes Ukraine’s supporters to claims they are granting Kyiv a “blank check” or that we are in another “endless war” (after 13 months and no U.S. casualties). While this is a domestic political problem, it also reflects national-security leadership failures. Mr. Biden needs to get his act together. – Wall Street Journal

Andreas Kluth writes: The truth is that resentment is one of the most powerful emotions, and often wins out over hopes and ideals. This has frightening implications. One is that Russia’s war against Ukraine and the West, as long as Putin is in power, has no discernible end. – Bloomberg

Mark N Katz writes: But if the U.S. limits or ends support to a nation that is willing to defend itself, then every government allied to the U.S. will have to consider whether the U.S. would defend it from attack despite any treaty obligations (which ultimately cannot be enforced but rely on the belief that the U.S. will honor them to be effective), or whether they need to cut their own anticipated losses by trying to make a deal with their attackers by trying to appease them. And that, as we know from the British and French agreement with Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938, may only succeed in postponing, not preventing, an attack. – Newsweek

Sam Greene and Alina Polyakova write: Faced with the certainty of defeat, Putin’s calculus would shift. For the past 12 months, Western ambiguity has emboldened Putin to prolong this war, allowing him to believe that there may perhaps come a time when the flow of support will stop, and thus that he can outlast the West and Ukraine. Replacing that ambiguity with strategic clarity—robbing Putin of any viable option other than an organized retreat—can help bring this war to an end. To borrow a phrase from Biden’s State of the Union address in February, it’s time for the West to finish the job. – Foreign Affairs

Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer write: Russians who served at U.S. diplomatic missions report being routinely approached and harassed by security services on multiple occasions over the years—going back as far as the late 1990s during a relatively bright spot in the U.S.-Russia relationship, long before current Russian President Vladimir Putin took a fully authoritarian bent. – Foreign Policy


The president of Israel presented a compromise proposal on Wednesday for softening a government plan to drastically overhaul the country’s judiciary — a plan that critics say would destroy the country’s liberal democratic system and that has sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets in recent weeks. – New York Times

Israeli protesters pressed ahead on Thursday with demonstrations against a contentious government plan to overhaul the judiciary, pushing back against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he rejected a compromise proposal that was meant to defuse the crisis. – Associated Press

Israel has signaled to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, that he is not welcome to visit following critical comments he made about Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank, Israeli officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday swiftly rejected a compromise proposal aimed at resolving a standoff over his plans to overhaul the country’s legal system, deepening the crisis over a program that has roiled the country and drawn international criticism. – Associated Press

Eleven weeks into his third stint as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to be received at the White House, signaling apparent U.S. unhappiness over the policies of his right-wing government. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday shortened a trip to Berlin scheduled for this week, according to his office, which earlier said he had held consultations “on developments in national security”. – Reuters

The German government is under pressure for hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was due to arrive in Berlin later Wednesday and facing strong criticism over planned legal reforms. – Agence France-Presse

Demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have risen sharply under Israel’s hardline new government, threatening to inflame tensions already heightened by rising violence in the occupied West Bank. – Financial Times

President Herzog is attempting to unite Israel even as its enemies, seemingly encouraged by the country’s internal turmoil, plan a new wave of terrorism. Mr. Herzog presented on Wednesday a plan for a “golden path” between supporters and opponents of legislation that for weeks has ignited rage and a protest movement against the ruling coalition’s plan to overhaul relations between the judiciary and the Knesset. – New York Sun

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have turned down a request by the Palestinian Authority to suspend their armed activities in the northern West Bank, Palestinian sources said on Wednesday. On March 11, the two Iranian-backed groups boycotted a meeting of representatives of various Palestinian factions in Jenin. Initiated by senior officials from the PA and its ruling Fatah faction, the rare meeting was held as part of an effort to devise a “joint national program” to confront Israel. – Jerusalem Post

“The problem here is that as long as we have a political entity operating in the guise of a judicial court, we have to fix this problem of imbalance between the various branches of government.” This is how attorney Yisca Bina of the Movement for Governance and Democracy sums up the crisis currently facing the country. – Arutz Sheva

Yonathan Afri writes: As Israel is facing a new wave of terrorism and Iran is on the threshold of a nuclear weapon, the solidarity of French Jews with Israel must not weaken in these times of crisis: on the contrary, it is growing in the conviction that it is in their heritage, both Jewish and democratic, that the Israelis will find a modus vivendi. – Jerusalem Post

Jamal Amiar writes: The present legal issues before the Knesset and Israeli public opinion may be a matter of domestic politics but the way they are handled through votes in the Knesset, civil disobedience, the resignation of opposition MKs or an amnesty law will deeply affect the fate of Israeli-Palestinian relations, which are already at a very low point, and the status of Israeli Arabs, which, in fact, has been improving amid firm and continuous efforts after decades of stagnation. Jerusalem Post

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: Having said that, no significant breakthroughs have been registered as of yet. No European leader has signaled real willingness to reinstall the sanctions, or make any independent moves on the issue. That’s not enough. Netanyahu wants more, and one can be rest assured he will persist with the proper efforts for the foreseeable future. – Ynet


Israeli security forces said on Wednesday that they had shot dead a man they accused of planting a bomb in northern Israel after he had probably infiltrated the country from southern Lebanon, in one of the most unusual security incidents along the border in years. – New York Times

Operatives from Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group have been harassing people in Israel by dazzling them with laser beams aimed over the border, prompting the military to counter with another assault on the senses. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iranian media these days is more interested in stories about the Iran-Saudi deal and their belief that the US and Israel are losing out in the region. In addition, Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad was in Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, as the news broke about the incident in the North. Would Iran, focused on large issues of diplomacy, want to stir up an incident with Israel involving a lone gunman with an IED? These are the questions. The overall context is that it is one of the kinds of threats Israel faces, which do not include large terror armies but rather a series of smaller groups and incidents. – Jerusalem Post


Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian leader Bashar Assad in the Kremlin on Wednesday for talks that focused on rebuilding Syria after a devastating civil war and efforts to stabilize the region. – Associated Press

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said in an interview published on Thursday that he would welcome any Russian proposals to set up new military bases and boost Russian troop numbers in Syria. – Reuters

Thousands of Syrians demonstrated in the war-ravaged country’s rebel-held northwest on Wednesday, marking 12 years since the start of pro-democracy protests and rejecting any international “normalisation” with Damascus. – Agence France-Presse


Turkey’s parliament will “highly likely” ratify Finland’s NATO accession bid before mid-April, two Turkish officials told Reuters on Wednesday, a day before Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visits the country. – Reuters

A meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria, scheduled for this week, has been postponed to an unspecified date, a source from the Turkish foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

Brandon Patterson and Dino Bozonelos write: Thus, however iniquitous they believed it to be, British leaders concluded that a relatively intact Turkish empire was vital to holding back a Russian drive toward the straits, and ultimately the Middle East. Liberalism was forced to compromise given the geopolitical realities. Britain’s defense of Turkey did not imply any degree of ideological approbation or compatibility of domestic institutions, nor did it require an alliance—the arrangement was pragmatic and conditional. The United States will be obliged to make similar calculations moving forward, wherein Turkey is neither entirely adversarial nor an ally, but something in between. – The National interest


A year after President George W. Bush launched the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, four U.S. civilian security contractors in SUVs took an ill-fated turn into the Iraqi city of Falluja. – Reuters

Michael Tucker writes: They were the army we had. They fought an enemy they couldn’t always see in a land they didn’t understand for reasons that were never entirely clear. In the midst of the pandemic, I visited the men and spoke with them about how they make sense of their role in a war that has yet to be fully reckoned with. In the short documentary above, the veterans grapple with a past that still reverberates powerfully through their lives. – New York Times

Michael Knights and Amir al-Kaabi write: This would align with what Muhandis intended, as encapsulated in Executive Order 331 on September 17, 2019 (reproduced in Annex O here), the late leader’s blueprint for consolidating the PMF as Iraq’s primary military force. This order envisaged an expanded PMF training directorate with six sub-directorates that included a PMF command and staff college and a military academy. Media reports suggest the proposed amendment, which is not yet public, may contain a directive to establish such facilities. – Washington Institute 

Peter Feaver, Christopher Gelpi, and Jason Reifler write: Iraq syndrome is undoubtedly real, but it may be felt more intensely among elites than among the public. And just as U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush found it possible to rally the public behind military interventions even in the wake of Vietnam, Biden or his successors may find the public similarly persuadable after Iraq. The more things change, the more they stay the same. – Foreign Affairs

Domènec Ruiz Devesa and Emiliano Alessandri write: As the anniversary of the 2003 U.S. military operation approaches, and with events in Ukraine providing a daily reminder of the horrors associated with military conflict, any contribution to replacing a geopolitics of confrontation with one of engagement should be welcome. Despite its recent tumultuous history — or perhaps precisely because of it — Iraq should be front and center as part of a new positive regional agenda. With the right vision and sufficient political will, the EU, together with the U.S. and relevant MENA partners, can be a lead promoter of this new approach. – Middle East Institute 

Patrick Fox and A.J. Manuzzi write: The resulting war fever can be widespread—some 76 percent of Americans backed the Iraq invasion. But when the fever broke and the delirium faded, we found ourselves standing in Iraq’s wreckage with no clear way forward. Two decades later, we’re still picking up the pieces. As a new generation rises, one with no memory of the race to war in Iraq, we must not forget the madness that preceded this terrible blunder. It happened before, and it can happen again. – The National Interest

Saudi Arabia

In a matter of days, Saudi Arabia carried out blockbuster agreements with the world’s two leading powers — China and the United States. Riyadh signed a Chinese-facilitated deal aimed at restoring diplomatic ties with its arch-nemesis Iran and then announced a massive contract to buy commercial planes from U.S. manufacturer Boeing. – Associated Press

Democratic and Republican U.S. senators introduced a resolution on Wednesday that could force President Joe Biden’s administration to prepare a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and possibly lead to a reassessment of U.S. security assistance for the kingdom. – Reuters

Editorial: Presiding over the case of the 10 judges is Awadh al-Ahmari, an MBS loyalist who previously served as a ruthless investigator for the prosecutor’s office. He was part of a Saudi delegation sent to Istanbul on Oct. 28-31, 2018, after Khashoggi’s murder, purportedly to investigate the killing it had earlier denied had even taken place. When Turkish officials pressed the Saudi delegation for information about Khashoggi’s body, planning of the murder and other details, the Saudis stonewalled, according to a United Nations report. Khashoggi’s body has never been found. The crown prince talks about flashy modernity but rules with a barbaric cruelty. – Washington Post

Kim Ghattas writes: National security adviser Jake Sullivan recently said that the cold war analogy of opposing blocs is no longer relevant: “Countries don’t want to choose, and we don’t want them to.” How Washington builds on Riyadh’s latest move will be a test of this approach. Meanwhile, the Saudi official told me the kingdom is evolving from a regional powerhouse to a global player. That may well be the ambition — but the kingdom’s balancing act will soon be put through the region’s wringer. – Financial Times 

Leon Hadar writes: Without all the drama surrounding the Iranian-Saudi handshake, it can be seen as another Machiavellian move by MBS to press Biden and his cadre of progressive Democrats to recognize that the Saudis can dance in three weddings at the same time: Riyadh can maintain its partnership with the United States while constructing one with China and trying to play nice with Iran. And that if the Americans would like to see normalization with Israel going forward, they need to provide Riyadh with more weapons and security guarantees. And, no less important, stop bashing MBS. – The National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

According to a i24NEWS report, less than a month since the Oman announced it would open its airspace to Israeli planes, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has discussed ongoing tensions with the PA in a call with his Omani counterpart. – Arutz Sheva

U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control, the watchdog told member states in a statement on Wednesday seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Emily Milliken writes: If they don’t, Jordan could soon witness a decline in its ability to serve as a counterterrorism ally. In the worst case, it could even transform from an asset into a liability, at least in security terms. That’s a situation that neither officials in Washington nor their counterparts in the kingdom should want. – American Foreign Policy Council

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arrived in Tokyo on Thursday for the first formal summit between the leaders of South Korea and Japan since 2011, with trade and intelligence sharing on the agenda. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile hours before the first summit between South Korea and Japan in more than a decade, where leaders of the two countries were expected to discuss deepening military coordination in response to the growing threat from Pyongyang. – Wall Street Journal

As South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol landed in Tokyo on Thursday his plan to patch up relations with Japan faces lingering scepticism at home. – Reuters

Japan plans to lift restrictions on exports of key semiconductor materials to South Korea, in a move toward ending a feud that has spanned several years between the two tech powerhouses. – Bloomberg

Jacob Stokes and Joshua Fitt write: Second, it maps the agenda for alliance cooperation in minilateral and multilateral forums, particularly as Seoul looks to become what Yoon has called a “global pivotal state.” And third, the paper assesses the potential for joint efforts related to technology with military and security applications, building on earlier CNAS work on cooperation on civilian technologies. It concludes with recommendations for U.S. and ROK policymakers. – Center for a New American Security


Chinese chatbots face limits similar to those for searches on China’s web. Users hit a wall each time a prompt contains politically touchy keywords, leading some internet users to collectively refer to anticipated Chinese ChatGPT-like services as “ChatCCP”—a play on the abbreviation for the Chinese Communist Party. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said China makes many promises that are unfulfilled after Honduras announced it would seek official relations with Beijing and cut them with Taiwan. – Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to soon visit Russia’s Vladimir Putin and, according to media, hold a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy weeks after China proposed a 12-point plan for peace in Ukraine. – Reuters

China blocked the United States on Wednesday from broadcasting on the internet an informal United Nations Security Council meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea, diplomats said. – Reuters

President Xi Jinping promoted China’s development approach in a speech to a gathering of political groups, highlighting his growing willingness to tout his nation’s system. – Bloomberg

Lest there be any doubt about the power of the fourth estate, it took only one innocuous survey floated by a cable television pundit to get everyone talking about Ukraine again — after a very brief lull. – New York Sun

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a close foreign policy ally of President Joe Biden, told Jewish Insider yesterday that he is “very concerned” about China’s growing engagement in the Middle East, signaled by its brokering last week of an agreement to restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. – Jewish Insider

Carol Silber writes: The latter statement came during talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif—a meeting that was spurred by concerns about the unraveling nuclear agreement. Yet while the current Iran-Saudi agreement might be regarded as an eventual culmination of these efforts, it remains to be seen whether the deal will truly break China’s track record of largely fruitless regional diplomacy. – Washington Institute

Damien Ma and Houze Song write: For China, boosting consumption has been as elusive as health-care reform in the United States: there has long been a consensus on the need for change but little to show for it. The main difference, however, is that China is still far below U.S. levels of GDP per capita, and relying on consumption is Beijing’s best bet to draw level. Whether it likes it or not, China faces a stark choice. It can either choose a pro-consumption path or risk forfeiting its goal of becoming the world’s largest economy over the next decade. – Foreign Affairs

Matthew Continetti writes: No American, then, should be under the illusion that the current spirit of fraternity is anything but transitory. That is the lesson of past generational conflicts, and indeed it would be odd if democracies refrained from robust arguments over international affairs. A bipartisan Congress is resolved to confront China—for now. Enjoy the unity while it lasts. – American Enterprise Institute 

James Crabtree writes: The issue, however, is that China has little interest in substantive mediation, despite lofty rhetoric, because the risks of losing a strategic balance in the relationship would be too high. Over various instances of escalation in the Persian Gulf, Beijing has played no major mediation role. Beijing is content to provide the space if competing parties have the will to talk, but it will not force talks or exert significant pressure to keep parties at the table. Thus, the U.S.-led security architecture will provide the West leverage over the GCC to, in some ways, set parameters over its cooperation with China. – Foreign Policy

South Asia

The world’s largest refugee encampment, home at the moment to roughly 1 million Rohingya, is set to receive less than half the funding required to support it this year amid a drastic drop in donations, according to United Nations and Bangladeshi officials. International donors, including the United States, have redirected their money to Ukraine and other crises. – Washington Post

A Pakistan high court on Thursday barred police operation for another day to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan, his aide said. – Reuters

India-based defence company BrahMos Aerospace expects to close a deal this year to sell Indonesia supersonic cruise missiles worth at least $200 million, as it looks to expand its presence in Southeast Asia, its chief executive said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India on Wednesday, ending a nearly two-year nomination fight over allegations the former Los Angeles mayor mishandled workplace harassment complaints. – Reuters


South Korea’s trade minster says Japan has agreed to lift its export controls on South Korea. Trade Minister Lee Chang-yang said Thursday that South Korea subsequently agreed to withdraw its WTO complaints over the Japanese curbs. Lee says the two countries reached the agreements during talks this week. – Associated Press

China’s coast guard entered the waters around disputed East China Sea islets on Wednesday to counter what it called the incursion of Japanese vessels into Chinese territorial waters. – Reuters

The United States, Canada, India, Japan and South Korea are staging joint anti-submarine warfare drills amid talks between Japanese and South Korean leaders aimed at strengthening their alliance with Washington against threats from China and North Korea. – Associated Press

Taiwan warned Honduras on Thursday not to be tempted by the “poison” of aid from China no matter how indebted it was and ruled out getting involved in a bidding war for diplomatic allies with its mainland rival. – Reuters

Honduras’ decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China is yet another sign of growing Chinese influence in Latin America. For decades the Asian superpower funneled billions of dollars into investment and infrastructure projects across the region. Now, as geopolitical tensions simmer between China and the Biden administration, that spending has paid off. – Associated Press

The head of the global nuclear regulatory agency pledged Wednesday to be “very demanding” in overseeing the United States’ planned transfer of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, amid complaints that the U.S. move could clear the way for bad actors to escape nuclear oversight in the future. – Associated Press

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday the city-state would work with Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, as well as partners like the United Nations, to push Myanmar’s military rulers to implement a stalled peace plan. – Reuters

Fei-fan Lin and Wen Lii write: In an era in which autocracies seek to challenge the rules-based international order, Taiwan must not distance itself from longstanding partnerships out of appeasement or cynicism. Countering harmful narratives that seek to discredit Taiwan’s relations with international partners continues to remain an issue of great importance. – The National Interest


Finnish authorities started building a 124-mile-long border fence with Russia earlier this month. The barrier, which will be 10 feet tall and covered with barbed wire, is set to be completed in 2026. Finland is the latest country to join a major effort by European nations to physically isolate Russia and Belarus through the use of border fences. – Washington Post

Hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the streets across France on Wednesday, piling pressure on President Emmanuel Macron to ditch his plans to raise the country’s retirement age as the measure heads for a crucial vote in Parliament. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union wants to step up its naval visits and possibly engage in joint military training exercises to promote freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the disputed South China Sea, an EU official said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The United Nations remains committed to helping rival Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots reach an agreement to bridge the island nation’s ethnic rift, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday. The problem has been a source of instability in the east Mediterranean for decades. – Associated Press

The European Union moved closer to ending a trade dispute with U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday following months of wrangling over the billions of America-first incentives in his clean technology plans and said it would ramp up a similar subsidy-laden effort at home. – Associated Press

Vienna police stepped up armed patrols at sensitive sites in the Austrian capital including churches on Wednesday after the country’s domestic intelligence agency received information suggesting an Islamist attack was being planned. – Reuters

France was accused of slowing down a European Union 2-billion-euro ($2.12 billion) package for purchasing weapons for Ukraine by demanding that the munitions be manufactured inside the bloc, The Telegraph reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Finland, previously one of the EU states most dependent on Russian oil, halted Urals crude imports last year while increasing purchases from Norway and sourcing barrels from the UK and the United States, Refinitiv Eikon data shows. – Reuters

The European Union is considering providing Moldova’s armed forces with a further €40 million ($42.1 million) in aid to boost its air surveillance, logistics and cyber defense.  – Bloomberg

Olga R. Chiriac writes:  Additionally, while the U.S. and its NATO allies figure out how to proceed with policymaking, some immediate, natural next steps for Washington would be to continue the deep cooperation with the Romanian Armed Forces, to encourage the Romanians to build up their capabilities, and to support the Romanian military leadership’s plans to establish leadership development programs for the officer corps. In a multipolar world, solutions will need to be first and foremost regional — and in the Black Sea region, the Romanian Naval and Special Forces are a solid anchor for European stability. – Middle East Institute 

Tina Dolbaia and Maria Snegovaya write: Yet what the recent protests have shown is that Georgia’s civil society is vibrant, undaunted, and unapologetically pro-European, giving hope that Russia will not win in Ukraine nor in a wider region, but also creating more friction between the ruling party and the society going forward. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken walked a careful line during a visit to Ethiopia on Wednesday, calling for “accountability” for atrocities during the country’s recent civil war without singling out his host, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, or his adversaries in the country’s northern Tigray region. – New York Times 

On Twitter, the Ugandan president’s son has mused about invading neighboring Kenya, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered cattle for the Italian prime minister’s hand in marriage. While many of his tweets are dismissed as laughable, the ones about succeeding his father in this East African nation are a source of concern for some. – Associated Press

The drill in Ghana’s Volta river on Saturday was carried out during the first ever maritime exercises organised by the U.S. military under its long-running Flintlock programme to bolster the skills of West African forces. – Reuters

 Tara D. Sonenshine writes: The U.S. must also support Africa’s energy transition. That means helping Africa achieve universal access to modern sustainable energy, which would lead to job growth, clean technologies and a reduction in carbon emissions. – The Hill

Latin America

Border restrictions set by the Biden administration in early January have led to a large drop in the number of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants crossing into the United States illegally this year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data released Wednesday. – Washington Post

A senior U.S. official declined on Wednesday at a Senate hearing to comment on the status in the United States of former far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, but said any such request from Brazil would be handled “expeditiously.” – Reuters

Members of Venezuela’s opposition are anxiously awaiting decisions by the United States to again allow the distribution of funds to support opposition legislators and humanitarian efforts, five sources told Reuters. – Reuters

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday said the proposal for a new fiscal framework prepared by Economy Minister Fernando Haddad will be announced before their trip to China next week. – Reuters

The U.N.’s special envoy to Haiti warned Wednesday that the ongoing training and resources the international community is providing to Haiti’s national police force is not enough to fight increasingly violent gangs. – Associated Press

Argentina and Ecuador are in a diplomatic clash after a former Ecuadorian Cabinet minister who had been convicted of corruption and taken refuge with the Argentine ambassador escaped from Ecuador’s capital of Quito to Venezuela. – Associated Press

North America

Mexico has filed an appeal in a civil lawsuit against U.S.-based gun manufacturers, it said on Wednesday, looking to crack down on the trafficking of weapons to powerful drug cartels. – Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a former governor general Wednesday as a special investigator to look into allegations of Chinese interference in Canada’s last two elections. – Associated Press

Canada will send about 8,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and a dozen air defense missiles as part of Ottawa’s latest military aide to Kyiv, the Canadian defense ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. – Reuters

United States

A civil war over US military aid to Ukraine has erupted among Republicans, pitting foreign policy “hawks” against the isolationist right and setting the stage for the most consequential debate so far in the 2024 presidential election. – Agence France-Presse

Adam Taylor writes: The Biden administration has pushed back against other international rules — including the World Trade Organization, with the United States refusing to accept that body’s rulings when they went against U.S. interests. But perhaps with the ICC, his administration may forego a policy of America First to help its ally Ukraine. – Washington Post

Edward Luce writes: Almost all of the remaining Republican field — from former vice-president Mike Pence to ex-UN ambassador Nikki Haley — are Russia hawks. Indeed, they criticise Biden for not doing enough for Ukraine. Second to the war on the ground, the battle Putin will be watching most closely is the Republican primaries. If all goes well for him, he will place his hopes on the general. – Financial Times


The Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese ownership to sell the app or face a possible ban, TikTok said on Wednesday, as the White House hardens its stance toward resolving national security concerns about the popular video service. – New York Times

A Dutch court hearing a class action lawsuit on Wednesday found that a European subsidiary of Meta (META.O), Facebook Ireland, improperly used personal data of Dutch citizens between 2010 and 2020, saying the company had “violated the law”. – Reuters

TikTok confirmed Wednesday that US officials have recommended the popular video-sharing app part ways with its Chinese parent ByteDance to avoid a national ban. Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, have been taking an increasingly tough approach to the app, citing fears that user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials. – Agence France-Presse

Microsoft Corp. warned an infamous hacking group that is tied to Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU could be gearing up for more ransomware attacks both inside and outside of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

US and German law enforcement agencies have shuttered ChipMixer, a cryptocurrency service allegedly used to launder billions of dollars in illicit proceeds, authorities said Wednesday. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon has created a new cell within its acquisition office to oversee the expansion of weapon production lines amid a growing need to replenish munition stockpiles given to Ukraine. – Defense One

The U.S. Army chief would like to see three multidomain task force units in the Pacific region, he said Wednesday at the McAleese & Associates conference. “I can see three in the Pacific and then one other one. We have one in Europe and then one probably in a contingency-type place where it can go wherever it needs. So I think that’s how those five are going to play out,” Gen. James McConville said. – Defense News

An American intelligence drone splashed into international waters this week, after Russian fighter jets intercepted, harassed and ultimately careened into it over the Black Sea near Ukraine, U.S. defense officials said. – Defense News

The Pentagon does “take seriously” House Republican plans to slash the federal budget for next year by at least $130 billion and is readying a report to detail the potential impacts on defense, the department’s comptroller said Wednesday. – Defense News

Defense officials are optimistic that billions of dollars of investments in the U.S. submarine industrial base will increase capacity to and even above the required two-a-year attack sub construction rate, allowing the U.S. to build for Australia under a new international agreement without restricting the American fleet. – Defense News

The Navy halted its pursuit of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock line because of the program’s growing costs and delays in the shipyard, the service’s top officer said Wednesday.

The pause to reassess the LPD-17 Flight II line started a year ago at the direction of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said at the annual McAleese Conference. – USNI News