Fdd's overnight brief

March 4, 2022

In The News


Russian forces seized a massive Ukrainian nuclear power plant on Friday after their shelling had set the complex on fire, raising fears across the continent of a nuclear disaster. – Washington Post

Ukraine and Russia say they have agreed to temporary local cease-fires to create “humanitarian corridors” for the evacuation of civilians and delivery of vital supplies, as Russian forces encircled major port cities and advanced toward other population centers. – Washington Post

Machine-gun fire tore past Anatoliy Kharchenko and cut down several fellow Ukrainian paratroopers as they fought their way through the darkness toward Hostomel Airport. The crack Ukrainian unit was trying to thwart Vladimir Putin’s plan for a rapid takeover of Kyiv some 20 miles away. But their mission was going badly. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and its European allies promised to meet Russia’s military assault on Ukraine with economic penalties—and are following through with harsh actions. Punitive measures rolled out so far target Russia’s financial sector, major companies, President Vladimir Putin and other government officials, members of Russia’s elite and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. The U.S. and European governments say more are forthcoming. – Wall Street Journal

Russia has decided to stop supplying rocket engines to the United States in retaliation for its sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the state space agency Roscosmos, said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has deployed thermobaric weapons systems in Ukraine and London is worried about how broadly they could be used, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia’s top independent radio station was closed Thursday and a leading independent TV station has suspended its operations as Russian authorities moved forcefully to stifle criticism of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. – Associated Press

An influx of thousands of Western volunteers to fight against the Russian invasion of Ukraine has heartened Ukrainian officials while simultaneously spurring the Kremlin to issue a dire threat against the members of this growing force. – Washington Examiner

Peter H. Schuck writes: The strategy should be used only on a case-by-case basis. In the area of foreign policy the force of precedent is at its weakest. Each foreign-policy crisis is unique and can readily be distinguished from others when there are good reasons to do so. Using the relative attractiveness of life in the NATO states to weaken Mr. Putin’s ability to wage war would create a propaganda coup and a battlefield advantage. – Wall Street Journal  

Michael Doyle, Dorothea Koehn, and Janine Prantl write: Seizure of assets should be conducted respecting principles of international law. There would need to be a review process so oligarchs listed for sanctions could appeal their status. Before actual seizure, provision should be made for a swift hearing in case intelligence agencies might have misestimated an oligarch’s role as a Putin enabler. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: The United States and its European partners are debating sanctions and issuing diplomatic condemnation of Putin. But all that will matter little if Kharkiv falls. The international community must not allow these 1.5 million innocent people to suffer under Russia’s military occupation for who knows how long. We must hear their cries for help and answer the call. – Washington Post

Jason Willick writes: Western technological prowess and financial wizardry are building a virtual blockade around the Kremlin without the direct threat of military force. But the real world is ultimately the strategic backdrop for this and every armed conflict, and the tools of the information revolution can’t increase nuclear deterrence. Putin knows this. To deflate the Kremlin’s threats, the United States will need the weapons necessary to make Putin worry that even on a “limited” nuclear battlefield, he’d lose. – Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: However this conflict proceeds in the next few weeks, Zelensky will remain a hero in the world’s eyes and Putin a villain. The Russian leader needs to de-escalate this war before sanctions destroy his economy. In the battle ahead, Putin may need a truce more than the grievously wounded but still battling people of Ukraine. – Washington Post

David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt, and Julian E. Barnes write: There are larger worries, involving potential nuclear threats. Last Sunday, as the fighting accelerated, Belarus passed a referendum that amended its constitution to allow for nuclear weapons to be based, once again, on its territory. American officials are expecting that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko may well ask Mr. Putin to place tactical weapons in his country, where they would be closer to European capitals. And Mr. Putin has shown, twice this week, that he is ready to remind the world of the powers of his arsenal. – New York Times   

Clive Crook writes: If an off-ramp had been offered and taken before Putin chose war, these lessons — all of which work to the advantage of the U.S., Europe and Ukraine — would not have been learned. Putin might plausibly have pocketed the concessions and started planning his next move. If a climbdown is offered and accepted now, that’s much less likely. Putin might not admit it, but he’d be chastened. And Russians would know it. – Bloomberg

Andreas Kluth writes: By all appearances, Putin is nowadays isolated and in his own mental world. Unlike his Soviet predecessors, he has no politburo around him or other credible checks and balances; he decides alone. And like other current and former tyrants — Saddam Hussein springs to mind — he has reason to worry that his own political failure is less likely to end in a tedious but placid retirement than in something rather more violent and abrupt. Viewed from the rat’s perspective, therefore, there are lots of dead-end hallways around. – Bloomberg

Joseph Bosco writes: If Putin is not held to account and brought to justice, he will be free — as Adolph Hitler was — to continue his marauding of the European order and Western civilization. That would mean that “never again” indeed has happened again. – The Hill

Dennis Ross and Norm Eisen write: But if the Ukrainians can resist and hold out long enough, we suspect the war over the coming weeks and its associated agonies — human, economic, political and social — may well push both sides to additional negotiations. If that happens, neither side will get everything it wants. The morality is black and white here, but diplomacy seldom is. – CNN

Mason Clark, George Barros, and Kateryna Stepanenko write: Russian forces will likely attempt to encircle Kharkiv in the next 24-48 hours. […]The Russian air, artillery, and missile barrage may be intended to generate panic and reduce the morale of Ukrainian defenders in Kharkiv and elsewhere. It is not likely to achieve that effect. It is too early to evaluate the likelihood that a renewed Russian ground offensive will succeed in taking the city. – Institute for the Study of War 


Iran sharply raised stocks of highly-enriched uranium and continued to stonewall inspectors, the global atomic watchdog said, as its chief prepares to fly to Tehran for talks that might help revive the 2015 pact that had reined in the country’s nuclear program. – Bloomberg

Oil-rich Iran says it is ready to step up its crude exports once US sanctions are lifted if talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal succeed, official media reported Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

The Iranian regime is closing in on the nuclear threshold, and the options available to the United States to stop Tehran from going nuclear are quickly narrowing, according to a new report released Thursday. – Fox News

Bobby Ghosh writes: For its part, Tehran may find that the war in Ukraine is not quite the ace up its sleeve. President Vladimir Putin has no interest in having another nuclear-armed near-neighbor, and the Russian president knows that a nuclear deal that opens the spigots of Iranian oil and gas would undermine his ability to blackmail the West into letting him have his way. – Bloomberg

Joe Lieberman and Mark D. Wallace write: A better course would be for the Biden administration to walk away from the negotiations in Vienna and tighten the economic pressures on Iran’s struggling economy until the Iranian regime is willing to return to direct negotiations with us and our allies, including those most impacted by Iran’s behavior in the region, to resolve the full scope of its malign behavior. Iran’s nuclear enrichment, long-range missile development, and support of terrorism must end. In return, Iran can expect an end to economic sanctions against it and to return to the lawful global economy. – Fox News 


August’s adrenaline may have worn off but the harrowing memories have not faded. It’s been six months since the Taliban took Kabul, the country’s then president and his cabinet fled and thousands of people flooded the airport in panic, so desperate for a way out that several men tried to hold on to a departing plane and fell to their deaths. – The Guardian

A group of MPs say they are “ashamed” at the support offered to aid workers in Afghanistan, following the UK’s withdrawal from the country last year. – BBC

Phil Klay writes: More to the point, it’s dishonorable. Does our president think Americans will simply forget that we finally lost a 20-year war this past August? Does he think we should just walk away? Does he think U.S. veterans can ignore the suffering of those who trusted us? – Washington Post 


Ukraine needs Israeli weapons far more than it needs sympathetic statements from Jerusalem, a top official in western Ukraine said Thursday, joining the country’s leadership in urging Jerusalem to help arm their embattled military. – Times of Israel

Yaakov Katz writes: These might be important interests, but a coalition also needs to stand for ideals. Therefore, it is no surprise that when it comes to Ukraine, this government came up short. There is little doubt that Israel stands for freedom and democracy, and is against ruthless and merciless dictators. It is time that everyone hears that loud and clear. – Jerusalem Post

Lahav Harkov writes: Yet the public narrative has seems to have slipped out of Israel’s control – a frequent problem for Israel – with prominent figures like those mentioned in the media or even pro-Israel US Senator Lindsey Graham expressing disappointment at Israeli inaction. Calls for Israel to send an Iron Dome battery have grown – even though Ukraine hasn’t asked for one, since it was developed for the cruder rockets used in Gaza and not Russian missiles. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday, buttressing a crucial geopolitical alliance as Western sanctions batter Russia’s economy. – Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler said he sees Israel as a potential ally with shared interests, not an enemy, but that it must solve its conflict with the Palestinians first. – Bloomberg

Graeme Wood writes: MBS has completed about three-quarters of the transition from tribal king with theocratic characteristics to plain old secular-nationalist autocrat. The rest of that transition need not be as ruthless as the beginning, but MBS shows no sign of letting up. The United States can, and should, make the case that Saudi Arabia’s security and development will demand different tools going forward. It might even suggest what those tools should be. But it probably cannot make MBS use them. – The Atlantic

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey’s drone shipments to Ukraine are not military aid but rather private sales, a deputy Turkish foreign minister was quoted as saying on Thursday, underscoring Ankara’s effort to avoid offending Moscow amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Reuters

The Shin Bet security agency said Friday it had reached an agreement with authorities in the United Arab Emirates over security arrangements at Dubai airport that had threatened to halt Israeli flights to the region. – Times of Israel

European Union lawmakers are urging the European Commission to consider reducing funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if it continues refusing to purge its K-12 curriculum of materials that “incite schoolchildren to hate Jews and emulate terrorists.” – Algemeiner

In response to the war launched by Russia in Ukraine, Arab journalists slammed the U.S. and Europe for “abandoning this country to its fate” instead of coming to its aid. This conduct, they said, proves that the U.S. and Europe cannot be counted upon to defend their allies with military force in their hour of need. Many of the writers also expressed contempt for the West’s decision to impose sanctions on Russia, stating that this measure has already proved to be ineffective. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Walter Russell Mead writes: Today, most of the Gulf states are strategically aligned with Israel. Thanks to Russian assertiveness in Ukraine, Syria and the Caucasus, Turkey seems open to a new kind of relationship with Washington, Jerusalem and Riyadh. Properly managed, a powerful alliance network in the Middle East will reinforce America’s global peace strategy at a reasonable cost. – Wall Street Journal

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The West’s reaction to Russia’s invasion has been swift and strong, and at the UN there has been condemnation by most countries of the world. This may show that Russia has miscalculated, thinking it could do as it did in Syria, while in fact its actions are being perceived internationally more like Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. – Jerusalem Post


In the months leading up to Xi Jinping making common cause with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Chinese leader was focused on one country, and it wasn’t Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

Hours after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Chinese Communist Party tabloid, Global Times, posted a video saying that a large number of Ukrainian soldiers had laid down their arms. Its source: the Russian state-controlled television network, RT. – New York Times 

As the West condemns Russia, President Vladimir Putin has vocal supporters in China, where the ruling Communist Party tells its people they are fellow targets of U.S.-led harassment. – Associated Press

Editorial: It’s common outside of China to assume that the Communist Party regime plays multidimensional chess while the rest of the world plays checkers. Perhaps not this time, where what was supposed to be a major strategic friendship is hurting Mr. Xi’s interests barely a month after the ink dried. – Wall Street Journal

Bradley A. Thayer writes: In China’s cold calculus, Russia is a useful tool; after all, Russia needs China more than the reverse. Xi wants a compliant leader in Russia, one who will depend on China and work to further Beijing’s interests against the West. This seemed to be Putin before he invaded Ukraine. But now, Xi must wonder whether he can limit the damage caused by the Russian strategic blunderbuss — at least until he can find China’s Yeltsin. – The Hill

South Asia

In the week since Putin unleashed his assault on Ukraine, one closely watched geopolitical subplot has been the enduring relationship between Russia and India, which has repeatedly abstained from criticizing Russia at the United Nations despite mounting American pressure. – Washington Post

At least 30 people were killed and 50 wounded in an attack on a Shiite mosque in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, according a local hospital spokesman, Muhammad Asim. – Washington Post

The Biden administration is weighing whether to impose sanctions against India over its stockpile of and reliance on Russian military equipment as part of the wide-ranging consequences the West is seeking to impose on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. – The Hill

Sadanand Dhume writes: If a new Cold War develops, New Delhi likely won’t help Washington or its democratic allies wage a battle of ideas against Beijing and Moscow. But India remains the world’s second most populous nation and one of the few in Asia unwilling to kowtow to Chinese might. The U.S. should not allow anger with India’s weak stand on Ukraine to cloud its judgment on the longer-term challenge of countering Chinese hegemony in Asia. – Wall Street Journal


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of tough sanctions on Moscow has put landlocked Mongolia in a tight spot economically and diplomatically, and experts warn that its delicate balancing act between East and West could be upset. – Reuters

Leaders of the Quad grouping of countries – the United States, India, Australia and Japan – agreed on Thursday that what is happening to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific, the prime ministers of Japan and Australia said. – Reuters

The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said it will suspend business related to Russia and Belarus, which have been hit with massive international sanctions over the Ukraine war. – Agence France-Presse 

The U.S. should immediately move toward recognizing Taiwan as a country, former U.S. Secretary of State and potential presidential candidate Mike Pompeo said in Taipei, comments that are likely to spark an angry response from Beijing. – Bloomberg 

Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev writes: The West possesses a huge transformative power in Kazakhstan and in the Central Asian region in general. Western nations may do quite a lot in directing Kazakhstan on its way forward and move away from Russia’s “sphere of influence.” […]The West, I would reiterate, should not waste this chance. Democracy and a decent market economy will not emerge in Kazakhstan overnight – but in six to ten years, if the West will engage in facilitating the process, as happened in many other Asian countries, they may well become a reality. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Michael Mazza writes: There is clearly a diversity of opinion in Taiwan on these questions. Even so, the views and arguments shared here reflect the thinking of influential national security elites and elements of the Tsai administration, who see their country’s fate tied, in important ways, to Ukraine’s, though not for the reasons many American commentators have asserted. There are certainly concerns that a diversion of U.S. attention to Europe in the coming months might provide China with an opportunity to more aggressively squeeze Taiwan via coercive displays of military might, disinformation campaigns, employment of economic leverage, and other so-called “gray zone” tactics. – The Bulwark


For decades, Russian money, energy and military strength held Europe in thrall. But as the rockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin rain down on Ukrainian cities, a clarion call is echoing through the halls of power, boardrooms and cultural spheres of a continent: No more. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will highlight Western unity in confronting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during a tour of Europe this week, as the Biden administration seeks to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from widening his military assault. – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed just ahead of the deadline that he plans to run for re-election next month, officially kicking off a campaign that the war in Ukraine has overshadowed. – Wall Street Journal 

OneWeb, a satellite internet company partly owned by the British government, has canceled an upcoming satellite launch using a Russian rocket and suspended all future launches that relied on Russia, the company announced on Thursday after a tense public standoff with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. – New York Times

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday asked former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to resign from his posts at Russian state-owned companies. – Associated Press

While busloads of Ukrainian refugees streamed across the border Thursday into Poland, small groups of determined-looking men were heading in the opposite direction to fight the Russians. – NBC

More than a half-dozen countries have provided Ukraine with anti-tank missiles that have become an important component of fighting off a complete Russian takeover. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: As Mr. Putin assembles his Greater Russia empire, he envisions a democratic Ukraine becoming another Belarus run by a submissive autocrat who’ll do his ugly bidding. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: China’s envoy Zhang Jun said the resolution did not undergo “full consultations with the whole membership” of the assembly. “Nor does it take full consideration of the history and complexity of the current crisis. It does not highlight the importance of the principle of indivisible security, or the urgency of promoting political settlement and stepping up diplomatic efforts,” he said. Translation: China is siding with Russia but wants to hedge for the benefit of its European business partners. What a crowd. – Wall Street Journal

Aaron Rhodes writes: This war is different. It is driven by a dictator seeking to stir up ethnic divisions and the specter of Nazism where they hardly existed. It is a war of conquest by a statist regime against a society seeking democracy and peace. Mr. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is emblematic of a world-wide conflict between democratic and hegemonic powers. It thus offers an opportunity for moral clarity, which will be crucial in the years and decades ahead. – Wall Street Journal  

Emil Avdaliani writes: By attempting a nuanced approach, Georgia may be running a risk. In an age of near-unified sentiment against Russia, neutrality could be harmful to a country that made its formal application for European Union (EU) membership on March 3. The war in Ukraine also indicates the status quo ante is no longer feasible. The EU is now emerging as a geopolitical player following its actions against Russia in the last week and the European Parliament has backed Ukrainian membership. Moldova too has applied. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Krista Viksnins writes: Despite huge strides over the last few decades, the little Baltic states have good reason to be concerned. For now, Russia is busy with Ukraine. That may change and NATO should consider greatly expended measures to deter. – Center for European Policy Analysis

John R. Deni writes: Quickly improving militarily-relevant infrastructure in the Suwalki region, substantially and permanently bolstering allied force posture in northeastern Europe, and clearly laying the blame for the complete upending of European security at Putin’s feet are necessary steps. – Foreign Policy


At the United Nations on Wednesday, South Africa was among 24 African countries that declined to join the resounding vote denouncing Russian aggression: 16 African countries abstained, seven didn’t vote at all and one — Eritrea — voted against it, keeping company only with Russia, Belarus, Syria and North Korea. – New York Times

West African leaders have cancelled a planned trip to Burkina Faso to meet coup leader Paul-Henri Damiba, instead sending a team of ministers in the coming days, the region’s main political bloc said in a statement on Thursday. – Reuters

Sweden will pull its force of about 220 soldiers out of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali in June 2023, a year earlier than planned, its military said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The United Nations voiced concern on Thursday over reports that a vote in Libya’s parliament to install a new government, which risks triggering new fighting or a return to territorial division, “fell short of the expected standards”. – Reuters

At least 200 gunmen were killed in the past three days in Nigeria’s central-northern state of Niger during a security operation to clear armed gangs from the area, a state commissioner said on Thursday. – Reuters

Cobus van Staden writes: Uncertainty over the future of the U.S. military in Africa continues under the Biden administration. […]Who knows? A Chinese Equatorial Guinea base may still happen. But the fact that the story keeps resurfacing without much more than a hint of evidence seems to reveal more about Washington’s priorities than Beijing’s. – Foreign Policy


With energy prices soaring because of war in Ukraine, Wall Street firms and other U.S. investors are seeing an opening to press the Biden administration to lift sanctions against a potentially major Western Hemisphere producer of crude, Venezuela. – Wall Street Journal

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas granted temporary protection Thursday to tens of thousands of Ukrainian nationals already living in the United States, saying the “full-scale Russian military invasion” has caused a “humanitarian crisis” that has made it unsafe for them to return. – Washington Post

Republicans and Democrats in Congress are pushing President Biden to ban Russian energy imports as they search for new ways to punish Moscow for its bloody invasion of Ukraine, even as the White House resists the idea, which it argues would drive up the price of gasoline and other energy costs for Americans. – New York Times

Thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down antigovernment protests in 2018. Ortega says the protests were actually an attempted coup with foreign backing, and many of those on trial have been accused of working with foreign powers for his overthrow or encouraging foreign nations to apply sanctions on members of his family and government. – Associated Press

A leading US Senator Lindsey Graham called for “somebody in Russia” to assassinate President Vladimir Putin after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a televised interview Thursday evening. – Agence France-Presse

Two men who were arrested near Ukraine’s embassy in Washington Thursday for carrying firearms reportedly told police they wanted to help fight off Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: As welcome as Europe’s realization about Russia is, there is much change to be made in U.S. policy as well. For starters, President Joe Biden needs to get serious about defense spending. The Air Force is far too old and the Navy far too small. On the other hand, the United States maintains an advantage in space and must lean into that wholeheartedly. Russia’s aggression is also a reminder that the U.S. must recommit to expanding energy production on all fronts. There may be a place for renewable energy, too, but reliable energy such as fossil fuels and nuclear power must be paramount. – Washington Examiner

Damir Marusic writes: But a stronger America no longer means a globally predominant America. As noted above, China is likely to emerge an even more formidable challenger in the coming years. […]After Ukraine, the United States’s antagonists, China chief among them, will have a much better sense of the limits of American power. Expect a lot more jostling, testing, and brinkmanship in the years to come. The competition will not be peaceful. – Washington Examiner

Daniel F. Runde writes: The United States should also increase its engagement in the OAS and consider a capital increase for the Inter-American Development Bank. The crisis will also impact how the United States uses the Summit of the Americas that it is hosting in June in Los Angeles. […]It should raise the costs of aligning with Russia after last week. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine should put Russia’s activities in the Western Hemisphere in a more menacing light. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Russian invasion of Ukraine should show American military and congressional leaders the importance of arming Taiwan before conflict erupts, one lawmaker contended in a March 3 hearing. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy has a carefully balanced plan to dig out of a fighter shortfall and stave off another in the 2030s — but several pieces must come together exactly as planned. – Defense News 

The U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is poised to cost billions of dollars, with the Biden administration asking Congress for more Pentagon funding immediately and talk already starting of beefing up next year’s defense budget. – Military.com

Long War

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the “state secrets” doctrine prevents a Guantánamo Bay detainee from questioning two former CIA contractors about the abusive treatment he received at what has been widely acknowledged as a “black site” facility in Poland. – Washington Post 

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan meets with the new commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz of Spain. Erdan “expressed concern about the growing number of recent incidents of UNIFIL forces being attacked by Hezbollah operatives and Hezbollah’s continued infringement on the freedom of movement of the Lebanese people and UNIFIL soldiers,” the Israeli readout says. – Times of Israel

Australia on Friday listed the entire Palestinian Islamist group Hamas as a terrorist organisation, calling the move a deterrent to political and religious violence and bringing Australia in line with the United States, the European Union and Britain. – Reuters

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: If the West delays on these issues, it risks undermining the progress made so far in establishing a sustainable and professional counterterrorism infrastructure in Tunisia. That would in turn make the local fight against jihadists much more difficult, especially if they regain some semblance of organization and support via the people’s legitimate grievances over economic mismanagement. So long as the coup fallout is not resolved, any reform efforts related to the government’s counterterrorism infrastructure will likely stall or backslide. – Washington Institute