Fdd's overnight brief

May 16, 2023

In The News


Iran is expanding its military partnership with Russia and has already provided hundreds of drones to Russia to pursue its war in Ukraine, a senior White House official said Monday, warning of consequences if Iran continues down this path. – Wall Street Journal

The White House on Monday said Russia is looking to buy additional advanced attack drones from Iran for use in its war against Ukraine after using up most of the 400 drones it had previously purchased from Tehran. – Associated Press

The White House has declared a beefed-up naval presence near Iranian shores in response to recent seizures of oil tankers by the Islamic Republic. Separately, an Iranian proxy in Iraq was responsible for a March drone attack in Syria that killed an American contractor, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.  – New York Sun

Senior officials will brief Tuesday at the Biden administration’s first Iran-focused classified session for all senators, seven congressional staffers and U.S. officials said, coming at a time when relations with Tehran are spiraling and nuclear constraints are weakening. – Politico

The Republican Study Committee is pushing ahead with new legislation that aims to expand current U.S. sanctions on Iran and make it harder for the administration to lift them as part of any potential agreement with Iran. – Jewish Insider

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iron Dome performed as expected in the recent round of fighting, intercepting rockets fired from Gaza and protecting civilian areas as it has in the past. The use of David’s Sling was a supplement, and there is no evidence that it was used due to any kind of “defeat” of Iron Dome. Nevertheless, Iran’s media wants to push this spin, likely to give the regime a sense of accomplishment by its support of Islamic Jihad and funding its conflicts against Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

For months, Ukrainian troops in the eastern city of Bakhmut have been on the defensive, hunkering in basements and inching backward in the face of withering artillery fire and waves of infantry assaults. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky landed in the U.K. on Monday for talks with Britain’s prime minister, the latest stop on a tour of European capitals aimed at ramping up military support from allies as Ukraine prepares a counteroffensive against Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday dismissed a report in The Washington Post that the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, offered to reveal information about Russian military positions to Ukraine, calling the report, which was based on classified U.S. intelligence files, “yet another hoax.” – Washington Post

An explosion rocked the occupied eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk early Monday morning, the latest in a barrage of strikes in recent days that show Kyiv using new, longer-range weapons to hit deep inside Russian-held territory. – Washington Post

Robert Shonov, identified as a former employee of the U.S. Embassy in Russia, was arrested in the Russian city of Vladivostok and charged with conspiracy, according to the Russian state news agency Tass. The report did not identify his nationality. – New York Times

Ukraine said on Tuesday it had shot down six Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missiles in a single night, thwarting a superweapon Moscow had previously touted as all but unstoppable. – Reuters

Ukrainian anti-graft authorities said on Monday they were investigating large-scale corruption in the country’s Supreme Court system and shared a photograph of piles of dollars neatly lined up on a sofa – Reuters

Ukrainian soldiers training for a counteroffensive against Russian forces said on Monday they felt ready to launch the assault which they hope will end the war. – Reuters

Russia launched an exceptionally intense air attack on Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday. Officials said preliminary information showed air defences had destroyed most of the incoming drones and missiles. On Monday, the Ukrainian military hailed advances made in its first successful counterattack against Russian forces besieging the eastern city of Bakhmut. – Reuters

Ukraine’s military on Monday hailed recent advances around Bakhmut as its first successful counterattack in the battle against Russian forces fighting for control of the eastern city. – Reuters

Russia’s Defence Ministry said for the first time on Monday that it had downed a long-range Storm Shadow missile supplied to Ukraine by Britain, which announced last week that it was providing them. – Reuters

The U.N. aid chief said on Monday efforts will continue in coming days to extend a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, a pact Russia has threatened to quit on May 18 over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports. – Reuters

Russia spent 2 trillion roubles ($26 billion) on defence in January and February alone, a 282% jump on the same period a year ago, data on the budget portal showed, illustrating the spiralling costs for Moscow of its conflict in Ukraine. – Reuters

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin will lead a government delegation to China next week to attend a business forum along with sanctioned tycoons as Moscow leans on Beijing to help it withstand economic pressure over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. – Bloomberg

The foreign minister of Belarus began a three-day visit to Moscow as officials sought to quash speculation about the whereabouts of the country’s long-serving President Alexander Lukashenko. – Bloomberg

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged support for a coalition to help provide Ukraine with a fleet of Western-made fighter jets, although he stopped short during a surprise UK visit by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of promising actual aircraft. – Bloomberg

Russian leaders are likely concerned about how the country’s air defenses “continue to be compromised” by drone attacks, according to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense (MOD). – Newsweek

Russia is working on a new underwater intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will eventually replace the Bulava, according to a media report. – Newsweek

Rumors of a health scare for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have prompted the democratic opposition-in-exile to start work on new plans for a potentially rapid and chaotic change of power, the movement’s leader has told Newsweek. – Newsweek

Mark Hertling writes: NATO and the United States must also prepare to continue supporting Ukraine’s military indefinitely. All wars end in some type of political agreement, but Russia is unlikely to be satiated. And if the past is any guide, its commitments cannot be trusted. Even with a decimated military, Russia will attempt to rebuild, and Ukraine will remain vulnerable. – Washington Post

Robbie Gramer writes: “The Vilnius summit shouldn’t repeat the mistakes which have been made in Bucharest,” Daria Zarivna, an advisor to Zelensky, said at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit. “We can’t just regurgitate the same language from Bucharest, and there’s no way Ukraine would accept that,” said a senior official from an Eastern European country involved in the alliance debates on the matter. “There would be no bigger gift for Putin than that.” – Foreign Policy

Dmytro Kuleba writes: Ukraine will win, and it will be our shared victory. But providing F-16s will save many lives, bring victory closer more quickly, and save our partners a lot of political, military, and economic resources. Strategic moves can ensure not only a just and lasting peace in Ukraine but also the long-term stability of Europe and North America. The decision to provide Ukraine with F-16s is exactly that. Its payoff will be decades of secure and prosperous development for Ukraine, the United States, and their European partners and allies. – Foreign Policy


The United Nations for the first time on Monday officially commemorated the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the war surrounding the creation of Israel 75 years ago, drawing a sharp response from the Israeli ambassador to the world body. – New York Times

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government could pass part of its contested judicial overhaul by August if compromise talks with the opposition fail, a senior lawmaker in the ruling religious-nationalist coalition said on Monday. – Reuters

Cyprus and Israel are in talks over the construction of a pipeline linking their offshore gas fields, Cyprus’s energy minister said on Monday. – Reuters

In 1948, Intisar Muhana’s family fled al-Masmiyya village, northeast of Gaza during the war which accompanied the creation of Israel. Last week, she lost her home again when it was destroyed during Israeli airstrikes. – Reuters

Israeli forces exchanged fire with armed Palestinians in the West Bank early Tuesday morning, Arabic reports said, as tensions remained high days after Israel agreed to a ceasefire with the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad following several days of violence. – Times of Israel

Hamas provided hiding places for leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad during Israel’s five-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to a report Sunday. – Times of Israel

Lazar Berman writes: Despite the fact that it didn’t stop Islamic Jihad from attacking Israel, Hamas’s economic privileges were not rescinded, and on Sunday morning, hours after a ceasefire with Islamic Jihad came into effect, the Israel Defense Forces announced it would be reopening the border crossings into the Strip. – Times of Israel 


Turkey will hold a runoff presidential election later this month, officials said Monday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerging from this weekend’s polls with a surprise advantage over his main challenger in a vote with far-ranging domestic and geopolitical implications. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey’s pivotal elections Sunday ended without any candidate for president taking an outright majority, which means they will compete again in a presidential runoff set for May 28. The two leading candidates — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s longtime leader, and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu — will next compete for a majority of votes and the country’s highest seat of power. – Washington Post

Sinan Ogan, Turkey’s nationalist presidential candidate who finished third in Sunday’s election, said he could only support main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the runoff if he agrees to offer no concessions to a pro-Kurdish party. – Reuters

Turkey headed for a runoff vote after President Tayyip Erdogan led over his opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Sunday’s election but fell short of an outright majority to extend his 20-year rule of the NATO-member country. – Reuters

Hopes among investors of a surge in Turkish markets evaporated on Monday after long-standing President Tayyip Erdogan took a commanding position in Turkey’s elections. – Reuters

The prospect of Tayyip Erdogan winning another presidential term in Turkey would once have rung alarms around the Middle East, but after taking a more conciliatory stance in recent years his strong election showing on Sunday has caused few flutters. – Reuters

Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) showed lack of transparency in its handling of Sunday’s elections and biased state media coverage of the contest was a concern, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The rise of the authoritarian Right is not unique to Turkey, and it is happening all over the world, which means that those fighting for a historic version of the secular center face an uphill battle – the same uphill battle that the historic Center-Left is currently facing in Israel and India. It is not by chance that in Turkey, India and Israel, similar politics that blend religion and nationalism have done well in recent decades. Unseating that style of politics is not easy, and even when it happens, it has to grapple with larger societal trends. – Jerusalem Post

Soner Cagaptay writes: In the end, Turkey is both European and Middle Eastern, and I believe that it will eventually settle somewhere in between Ataturk’s and Erdogan’s visions, embracing its nonexclusive identities: European and Middle Eastern, secular and Islamic, West and East. – Washington Institute

Alexandra Sharp writes: Erdogan’s government also faces criticism for its slow response to February’s deadly earthquake in southeastern Turkey, his push to strengthen ties with Russia amid the war in Ukraine, and the AKP’s numerous financial corruption allegations. “Erdogan is unique in that he has both state control and a sizable following that does not want to see him give up power,” Reuben Silverman, a researcher of Turkish politics, argued in Foreign Policy. – Foreign Policy

Middle East & North Africa

A Tunisian judge on Monday sentenced in absentia opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, a fierce critic of President Kais Saied, to a year in prison on charges of incitement, his lawyer Monia Bouali said. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates has invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the COP28 climate summit it is hosting at the end of the year, possibly placing him in the same venue as Western leaders who have opposed and sanctioned him for years. – Reuters

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud met his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, in Jeddah on Monday, the Saudi foreign ministry wrote on Twitter. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

Hacker groups affiliated with North Korea have stolen $721 million worth of cryptocurrency assets from Japan since 2017, the Nikkei business daily reported on Monday, citing a study by U.K. blockchain analysis provider Elliptic. – Reuters

Amid the high-level efforts to deal with a raft of global emergencies, this weekend’s Group of 7 summit of rich democracies will also see an unusual diplomatic reconciliation as the leaders of Japan and South Korea look to continue mending ties that have been marked for years by animosity and bickering. – Associated Press

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will arrive in South Korea on Tuesday for a summit with President Yoon Suk Yeol as the two countries seek to boost cooperation on security and critical minerals used in batteries. – Reuters

A former civilian employee at a U.S. Army facility in South Korea has been arrested on charges of receiving $400,000 in kickbacks from military contractors, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said on Monday. – Reuters


The Chinese embassy in the Central African Republic had a stark warning for its compatriots in the landlocked nation: Do not leave the capital city of Bangui. Kidnappings of foreigners were on the rise, and any Chinese person outside of Bangui was to leave those areas immediately. – New York Times

Drawing lessons from the Ukraine crisis, a top Chinese general urged greater integration of novel capabilities, including artificial intelligence, with conventional warfare tactics ahead of any confrontation with the West. – Reuters

Russian officials on Monday denounced comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that Moscow was becoming subservient to China, saying Western countries must get used to a world underpinned by the Kremlin’s close ties with Beijing. – Reuters

The G7 summit U.S. President Joe Biden attends in Japan this week will show leaders unified behind a common approach to dealing with China based on shared values, even while recognizing each country will manage its own relationship with Beijing, a senior U.S. administration official said on Monday. – Reuters

China’s clampdown on its consultancy and due diligence sector has driven companies to review their operations after some tested the limits of the laws and Beijing’s patience to meet surging demand as China emerged from its COVID-lockdowns. – Reuters

German security authorities believe that China is still conducting police activities on German soil even though Beijing assured Berlin in February that it had ceased to do so, the German foreign and interior ministries said on Monday. –  Reuters

China will launch pilot projects in more than 20 cities to create a “new-era” marriage and childbearing culture to foster a friendly child bearing environment, the latest move by authorities to boost the country’s falling birth rate. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s leader said on Tuesday public libraries needed to ensure books don’t violate local laws, amid criticism that many books and videos related to China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown have now been removed from library shelves. – Reuters

A prominent LGBTQ+ center in China is closing down after 15 years, another sign of the tightening of space for sexual orientation-focused organizations under President Xi Jinping.  – Bloomberg

A Chinese comedian who joked about two dogs embodying the work ethic of a Xi Jinping military slogan has been suspended, after attracting the ire of strident online nationalists. – Bloomberg

A US watchdog found that $10 million in World Bank borrower funds were awarded to contractors with possible links to Huawei Technologies Co., exposing a rift between Washington’s national security priorities and the policies of the global development lender, where the US is the largest shareholder. – Bloomberg

Gideon Rachman writes: But leaders with an eye on the history books can often find that events spin out of their control. Vladimir Putin is the latest strongman leader to see his hopes for a short, glorious war go horribly wrong. Putin was leading a country that could no longer aspire to great power status based on economic might. Xi still has that economic path to national greatness open. He should take it. – Financial Times

South Asia

At least 15 people were killed and several others were wounded in an hourslong bloody clash between two tribes over the ownership rights of a coal mine in restive northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, police said Tuesday. – Associated Press

More than 20,000 supporters of Pakistan’s government converged on the country’s Supreme Court on Monday, in a rare challenge to the nation’s judiciary. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of the chief justice for ordering the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in a graft case. – Associated Press

Pakistan’s army said it will no longer show “restraint” on groups attacking its property and vowed action against those who were part of protests after Imran Khan’s arrest last week, escalating a showdown with the former premier. – Bloomberg

Over 100 people have been arrested in the western Indian state of Maharashtra after one person died and eight others were injured in communal clashes. Reports say the violence, which took place in Akola city, was triggered by a social media post on a controversial film, The Kerala Story. – BBC


Three years ago, a small upstart political party emerged as the voice of a new generation of Thailand’s progressive youth, taking on the country’s powerful military and monarchy. Few predicted it would rapidly rise to the top. – Wall Street Journal

For the second consecutive parliamentary election, Cambodia has disqualified the country’s main opposition party, eliminating the only credible challenge to the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen. – New York Times

Taiwan’s legislative speaker visited the US Capitol, where he planned to meet with members of a committee focused on competition with China as the Biden administration readies a $500 million fast-tracked weapons package for the island. – Bloomberg

Thailand’s Move Forward party announced on Monday that it had sufficient votes to form a coalition government but a military-appointed Senate, the party’s position on a royal insult law and a complaint against its leader may stand in the way. – Reuters

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said that the United States had been a “silent” security partner to his nation but that a defence cooperation pact to be signed when Joe Biden arrives Monday will see Washington “stepping out”. – Reuters

Taiwan’s main opposition party is set to nominate New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih as its candidate for next year’s presidential election, a person familiar with the situation said, as it seeks to wrest back power in a vote crucial to US-China relations. – Bloomberg

China has confirmed its detention of a South Korean footballer in relation to a bribery case. Son Jun-ho, who plays in the Chinese Super League, is in police custody in the north-eastern Liaoning province, China’s foreign ministry said. – BBC



French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with Elon Musk Monday as part of his drive to counter U.S. subsidies and tax incentives that European officials say risk luring away investment in batteries and other technologies pivotal to the energy transition. – Wall Street Journal 

European leaders will travel to Iceland on Tuesday for a two-day summit meant to show their support for Ukraine but also send a powerful message on core democratic values many feel are under threat in and outside Europe. – Reuters

Russia’s defence ministry scrambled a fighter jet on Monday after it said it detected French and German patrol aircraft flying towards Russian airspace, the ministry said in a statement. – Reuters

The European Union’s chief executive said on Monday that Kyiv’s own peace plan should serve as the starting point for any efforts to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, in comments timed to coincide with the start of China’s “political settlement” tour of Europe – Reuters

Influential countries such as India, Vietnam and South Africa balk at criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because they believe international principles are not applied equally, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a speech on Monday. – Reuters

A Belarusian state news channel on Monday published a photo of President Alexander Lukashenko at what it said was a military command centre in what would be his first public appearance in almost a week, following speculation over the health of the 68-year-old leader. – Reuters

Poland has received its first shipment of U.S.-made HIMARS rocket launchers as part of a defense upgrade amid security concerns due to the war in neighboring Ukraine. – Associated Press

Inhabitants on Denmark’s Baltic Sea island of Bornholm, the site of last year’s Nord Stream explosions, were last weekend spooked by tremors that the Nordic country’s authorities said they can’t explain. – Bloomberg

Hungary is expecting €3 billion ($3.3 billion) in new Chinese investments in the automotive sector, further boosting the central European nation as a regional center in the transition to electric mobility, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said. – Bloomberg

British Foreign Minister James Cleverly, in an interview with Fox News Digital, underscored the need for the U.K. and U.S. to remain united on key issues, including the potential nuclear threats of Russia and Iran. – Fox News

Gesnie Weber writes: This means that French diplomats, parliamentarians, and foreign policy experts will have to swallow their frustration and do even more. French representatives are less active in international conferences or think tank events than their German or British counterparts, making it difficult for France to explain its strategic approaches and positions. The strong French presence at the Munich Security Conference this year, as well as increasing visibility on the Indo-Pacific, is promising, but needs to be consolidated.. And Macron, for his part, would do well to realize that if he weren’t trying so hard to be a disruptor, France could be a true leader. – War on the Rocks


The African Development Bank (AFDB) has developed financial instruments to “fast track and front load” $3.5 billion in compensation to white farmers whose land was taken from them by Zimbabwe’s government, the bank’s president said on Monday. – Reuters

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said on Monday that its army chief, Lawrence Mbatha, was in Moscow for a bilateral meeting, where he will visit Russian military academies and hold talks with officials. – Reuters

The United States on Monday urged Mali’s transition government to pursue an “independent, impartial, efficient, exhaustive, and transparent investigation” to hold accountable those responsible for the likely execution of hundreds of people in one village. – Reuters

The United States has imposed entry restrictions on more Nigerians for undermining the democratic process during the African nation’s 2023 election cycle, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday. – Reuters

Three soldiers from Nigeria and Niger were killed and at least 12 others were injured on Sunday after attacks by Islamist fighters in northeastern Nigeria, two military sources said on Monday. – Reuters

The Sudanese army carried out air strikes in the north of the capital Khartoum on Monday, attacking its paramilitary rivals around a hospital that witnesses said was damaged in the bombardment. – Reuters

Sudan’s military chief ordered the freezing of all bank accounts belonging to a rival paramilitary force, the latest step in a fight for control of the resource-rich nation. The two sides have battled for weeks across Sudan, pushing the troubled country to the brink of all-out war. – Associated Press

The Americas

El Periódico, a crusading newspaper that exposed corruption in the Guatemalan government and other institutions, ceased publication on Monday, the latest victim of an escalating wave of repression against independent journalism in Central America. – Washington Post

A plane that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico, once described as an “insult to the people” arrived in Tajikistan on Monday, he said, completing the sale of the jet to that country’s government and delivering on a campaign promise to do away with it. – New York Times

Eric Schmidt writes: The global contest for talent is too important to hold up these reforms for the sake of an elusive bipartisan immigration grand bargain. Hard though it will be, opening up more pathways for highly skilled workers to enter the United States will be key to preserving and promoting national competitiveness and national security. Without such changes, the promise of the CHIPS and Science Act will remain unfulfilled. The power of the American dream has long allowed the United States to attract the best and the brightest. Washington’s ability to field the best team for the coming geopolitical competition rests on this advantage. The United States cannot afford to lose it. – Foreign Affairs

Latin America

A showdown between Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso and the opposition-led National Assembly could result in either side being booted from office this week as lawmakers seek to try him for embezzlement and he mulls exercising his constitutional power to dissolve the legislature. – Associated Press

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned Monday that Haiti’s “tragic situation” is threatening the security of the Caribbean region and beyond as he pressed the international community for a response. – Associated Press

Colombian rebel leader Pablo Beltran said on Monday that peace talks between his National Liberation Army and the government have been put “on pause” due to remarks made last week by President Gustavo Petro. – Associated Press

Venezuela’s political opposition – recognized by the U.S. as the country’s legitimate government – was asked by a key creditor group on Monday to back the suspension of a statute of limitations on repayments for defaulted government bonds. – Reuters


US cryptocurrency exchanges are setting up offshore venues in a hunt for overseas customers and to escape being ensnared in a regulatory blitz from US authorities. – Financial Times

Twitter on Monday defended its actions surrounding the presidential elections in Turkey over the weekend. “We were in negotiation with the Turkish Government throughout last week, who made clear to us Twitter was the only social media service not complying in full with existing court orders,” the social media platform’s Global Government Affairs (GGA) unit said in a tweet. – The Hill

Even the world’s fastest-developing technology cannot outrun the culture war. With Congress set to grapple with AI in hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the White House getting into the game as well, the people who have thought most about its risks remain divided into feuding camps, sniping at each other on Twitter and in the press. – Politico

Editorial: Certainly, the government and its peers deserve credit for what they’ve done so far to fight cybercriminals: improving global law enforcement cooperation to track down malicious actors, disrupting gangs as well as cryptocurrency exchanges that have become hotbeds for laundering stolen funds, devoting more money to defenses. To know just how much credit that is, however, the statistics have to be more than best guesses. – Washington Post


Demand for munitions to support Ukraine’s fight against Russia — and the resulting need to backfill U.S. weapons stockpiles – could put a significant strain on the industrial base as the Pentagon works to transition its first hypersonic weapons programs from development to production in the coming years. – Defense News

The Department of Defense is finally on the right track to improving the acquisition workforce. The DoD is investing in two key scholarship-for-service initiatives — the Defense Civilian Training Corps for multidisciplinary undergraduate students and the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation program for graduate students in the sciences — as well as developmental opportunities such as industry exchanges aimed at retaining and training the next generation of acquisition professionals. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is evaluating an initial launched effects prototype as it continues to experiment with requirements and capabilities for a future program. – Defense News