Fdd's overnight brief

September 16, 2022

In The News


More than two years after Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people onboard, family members of the victims are asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the incident as a war crime. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that a delegation of 80 large companies will visit Iran next week, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported. – Reuters

Iran on Thursday strongly condemned what it called false accusations leveled by the United States against three of its citizens for alleged cyberattacks in the US and other countries. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the cooperation among countries sanctioned by the United States will make them “stronger.” – Agence France-Presse

The former head coach of Iran’s national Greco-Roman wrestling team and a prominent British-Iranian analyst slammed the Islamic Republic for using dirty tricks to force its wrestler to boycott his Israeli competitor on Thursday in Belgrade, Serbia. – Jerusalem Post

Negotiations to bring Iran and the US back into the nuclear deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions are in “stalemate,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday. – Arab News

Kim Ghattas writes: Iran’s regional opponents often engage in wishful thinking about how quickly its influence will subside, hoping its proxy militias will loosen their grip on Shia communities in Lebanon or Iraq, and imagining the eventual demise of the Islamic Republic. They will be waiting for a long time. But the nuclear talks faltering at the same moment as the possibility of a Russian defeat in Ukraine and a morale boost for the west, is an interesting inflection point. The opportunity is that this will further deepen Iran’s unease — the risk is that it will drive it to deploy more force. – Financial Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The overall context is also that Iran and China are holding a high-level dialogue. In addition, other states such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the states of Central Asia are all meeting at the SCO. This will cement a Russia-China attempt to upend the world order. For Iran, this can give cover to its expansive activities in the region. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The US is also angered by Iran’s cyber attacks on the West. Overall then Iran is forced to rely more on Russia and China, but Russia appears weaker after the Ukraine setbacks. Iran went to Uzbekistan this week for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting. It saw the Russian president meet China’s leader. It must be wondering whether its investment in an alliance with Russia, and economic ties with China, will pay off. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass burial site in the city of Izyum after liberating the city over the weekend, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday evening. Earlier in the day, Zelensky met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv. – Washington Post

Despite Ukrainian forces’ startling gains in the war against Russia, the Biden administration anticipates months of intense fighting with wins and losses for each side, spurring U.S. plans for an open-ended campaign with no prospect for a negotiated end in sight. – Washington Post

The United States on Thursday strictly limited the export of fentanyl and related chemicals to Russia, saying that they “may be useful” as chemical weapons to support Russia’s “military aggression.” – Washington Post

To address Russia’s shortage of soldiers to send to war in Ukraine, the Wagner mercenary group seems to be making an offer that it hopes convicted criminals can’t refuse: a get out of jail card. – Washington Post

Ukrainian authorities said Thursday that they staved off flooding caused by a Russian missile strike on the southern city of Kryviy Rih, as Moscow targeted the dam with new salvos and Ukrainian forces consolidated their positions in recently retaken areas. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s lower house of parliament will consider summoning Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to face questioning in a closed session, senior lawmaker Sergei Mironov was cited as saying by Kommersant newspaper on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that if the United States decided to supply Kyiv with longer-range missiles, it would cross a “red line” and become “a party to the conflict”. – Reuters

The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday passed a resolution demanding that Russia end its occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. – Reuters

Pope Francis on Thursday said it was morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian aggression. – Reuters

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was involved in a car accident in the capital, Kyiv, on Wednesday evening but was not seriously hurt, his spokesman said on Facebook. – Associated Press

The Biden administration announced Thursday it will send another $600 million in military aid to Ukraine, as the U.S. rushes more weapons to fuel Kyiv’s counteroffensive that has reclaimed large stretches of the embattled country and forced Russian troops to retreat. – Associated Press

The troubles in the Ukrainian city of Izyum did not leave with retreating Russian troops, in fact some residents have now accused each other of cosying up to the occupiers. – Agence France-Presse

The US announced a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia’s military intelligence and defense industry, as well as people accused of stealing Ukrainian crops, in a new push to restrict President Vladimir Putin’s ability to wage war. – Bloomberg

Surrounded by inmates in what appears to be a Russian prison yard, a man who bears a “frightful resemblance” to a sanctioned businessman linked to Russia’s most infamous mercenary group offers an early release for those who survive a six-month stint fighting at the front in Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Gallyamov isn’t the only one reading between the lines. A group of officials in St. Petersburg and Moscow have begun calling for Putin’s ouster. Some of the officials have accused Putin of high treason for invading Ukraine. Since demanding Putin step down, a court in Russia has ordered the dissolution of a municipal council that wants Putin out of office. – U.S. News & World Report

Leonid Bershidsky writes: He must, however, realize that if military defeats continue, retaining his clout will require surprising, even drastic moves. The world might yet be treated to a re-enactment of the tired cornered rat metaphor from Putin’s childhood — something to keep in mind but not to fear: All dictatorships end someday, and few go out in a blaze of glory. – Bloomberg

Javier Blas writes: Withdrawing the pilotage service in the dangerous waters of the straits is playing, ahem, Russian roulette. The last thing we need to add to the already high cost — in lives and property — of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is something like the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in the Baltic. – Bloomberg

Yulia Bychkovska writes: This is a time of grave risk. The Chernobyl accident made some areas of its hinterland uninhabitable for 20,000 years and a Zaporizhzhya release could be much worse. Such an event cannot be allowed to occur. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Jan Kallberg writes: Putin’s grip over Russia is sliding away in slow motion, a drip-drip of authority that increases with every tank turret blasted into the Ukrainian sky. For an authoritarian regime, this is a disaster, and brings nearer the day when the military loses its fear of ignoring or disobeying orders, ceases to fight, and instead trains its disillusioned eyes on the man in the Kremlin who made this mess. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Daniel Fata and Janina Staguhn write: In military terms, now is the time to undertake the prudent planning required to prepare for the next phases. It would be a disservice to the people of Ukraine for all they have fought and sacrificed for if the international community is not prepared for reconstruction when the fighting stops. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Amy Mackinnon, Robbie Gramer, and Jack Detsch write: “Their success in pushing the Russians back will help them politically,” said one senior Eastern European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly. “But seeing the Russian collapse around [Kharkiv], I’m concerned that some in the West will warn against ‘humiliating’ Putin and try to back up their resistance to give more weapons to Ukraine by fears of a Russian non-conventional response and escalation.” – Foreign Policy


A bloc of Arab parties has split ahead of Israel’s fifth elections in less than four years, a move that could dilute the minority’s political influence and aid former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power. – Associated Press

Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager on Thursday during clashes in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said, the latest in a string of deadly incidents that have stoked fears of an escalation. – Reuters

The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied reports on Friday that Russia has said they will not be able to guarantee the safety of Israeli pilgrims going to the Ukrainian city of Uman for the Rosh Hashanah holiday as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli man was shot and moderately hurt in a suspected terror attack in the southern West Bank settlement of Carmel on Thursday night, the military and medics said. – Jerusalem Post


The Taliban’s foreign affairs ministry on Thursday condemned the United States’ decision to transfer Afghan central bank reserves into a Swiss-based trust, saying it was against international norms. – Reuters

Authorities in Pakistan said they have offered the Taliban “intelligence and operational assistance” to hunt down the leader of a Pakistani militant group who is believed to be in Afghanistan. Masood Azhar, the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed organization, was designated a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council in 2019. – Bloomberg

The United Nations says it is “gravely concerned” by a video that appears to show Taliban militants executing captured members of an Afghan resistance group. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Turkey’s intelligence chief has held multiple meetings with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus over the last few weeks, a sign of Russian efforts to encourage a thaw between states on opposite sides of Syria’s war, four sources said. – Reuters

All around the world, politicians, finance ministers and central bankers are waging war against accelerating inflation. Not in Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stood idly by as consumer prices have soared to among the highest in the world. – Haaretz 

Sam Fleming, James Politi and Laura Pitel write: The pressure on Turkey comes as western capitals pivot towards tighter implementation of existing sanctions rather than the imposition of new measures. The shift acknowledges that economic sanctions imposed after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February failed to damage Russia’s economy as much as they had hoped. But they maintain closing off loopholes in the current measures will slowly squeeze the Kremlin’s financial lifelines. – Financial Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: There was a time, before 2009, when Ankara even seemed likely to mediate between Israel and Syria. Today the ruling party in Turkey has jettisoned most of these policies. It views diplomacy as a way to threaten others and try to make them appease Ankara. It’s not clear that Armenia, by appeasing Ankara, will bring itself peace, because it appears to be a victim of cynical politics that links Russia, Turkey and other countries to conflict. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that a staff mission will visit Lebanon next week to discuss ways to “speed up” implementation of agreed reforms required for an IMF loan program amid deteriorating living conditions in the country. – Reuters

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned on Thursday that Lebanon would suffer dire consequences if the Hezbollah terror group torpedoes US-mediated talks between Israel and its northern neighbor over a maritime dispute. – Times of Israel

The Israeli military has identified the withdrawal of some Iranian militia forces as well as Iranian and Hezbollah operatives withdrawing from Syria. Iran has been one of the main allies of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the decade-long war that ravaged the country, sending thousands of militia fighters and equipment in an attempt to entrench itself there. – Jerusalem Post

Israel stands with the United Arab Emirates against Iranian terror and looks forward to a burgeoning economic relationship, Prime Minister Yair Lapid told visiting UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, when the two met in Jerusalem to mark the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The signing of the Abraham Accords two years ago marked the start of a positive relationship for the benefit of all; like all relationships, there must be an effort to maintain it. More work is needed also to expand it. The past two years have shown us the way to a better future, together, in peace – cause for celebration, indeed. – Jerusalem Post

Haley Bobseine writes: Agreements will not resolve the fundamental political issues plaguing Iraq; instead, the focus will be on satisfying the demands of the political elites. What will the Iraqi people’s future be? As one Iraqi academic lamented to the author, “We are damaging everything that should be a foundation for our political system: the courts, the parliament, and the constitution.” – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has stockpiles of munitions to assist Russia’s military as the Ukraine war grinds on, but weapons experts say they are old and Kim Jong Un’s regime would face problems providing Russia with the more sophisticated weaponry it has been developing. – Wall Street Journal

China’s top legislator was set to meet South Korean leaders including new President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul on Friday, as Yoon’s push to buttress a military alliance with Washington has caused concerns that it could hamper Seoul’s ties with Beijing. – Associated Press

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, are expected to discuss a currency swap, the Yonhap news agency said on Friday, quoting a senior official of Yoon’s office. – Reuters


President Biden’s nominee to take over the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal and missile-defense operations warned on Thursday that China’s rise as a nuclear power poses historic threats and challenges requiring a reevaluation of current policies. – Washington Post

Amid the global economic uncertainty triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged Thursday to “inject stability into a turbulent world.” – Washington Post

Chinese investment in U.S. venture-capital funds is flowing, demonstrating that economic ties between Silicon Valley and China remain deep despite political and national security risks, according to investors, government officials and a new report. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he sought to address Beijing’s concerns Thursday about the Ukraine war in his first meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping since the start of the conflict, which has recently brought major battlefield setbacks for Moscow. – Wall Street Journal

Mr. Putin was also looking to China as a lifeline at a time of weakness: Russian forces have suffered significant losses on the battlefield in Ukraine, and as Western sanctions continue to inflict damage on the Russian economy, Beijing has emerged as a major buyer of Russian products. – New York Times

Chinese leader Xi Jinping stayed away from a dinner attended by 11 heads of states at a regional security summit in line with his delegation’s COVID-19 policy, a source in the Uzbek government told Reuters on Friday. – Reuters

A veteran Hong Kong opera star apologised and declared his patriotism on Thursday after his praise for Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II sparked a backlash among nationalists in China. – Agence France-Presse

China is warning that global rules prohibiting the spread of nuclear weapons are at risk because of different non-proliferation standards being applied to Iran and US allies. – Bloomberg

China’s military leaders share a potential weakness that has undermined their Russian counterparts in Ukraine and could hamper their ability to wage a similar war, according to a new report from the US National Defense University. The report identifies a lack of cross-training as a possible Achilles’ Heel within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but analysts remain wary of underestimating China’s capabilities and warn against comparisons with Russia. – CNN

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: So it’s helpful to be pictured alongside leaders like Xi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Headlines will still trumpet that China sees ties “as stable as a mountain.” The message, directed back home and at the Global South, as much as at the collective West, is that Russia is not isolated — it’s in business. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: This cuts to a basic truth: The Sino-Russian relationship is not an alliance so much as a collaboration between two leaders who want to weaken the West in order to extend their independent imperial interests. Xi’s rhetoric underlines this point, emphasizing the catch-22 that Putin’s Russia now poses for China. Xi told Putin that their two nations should “inject stability into a turbulent world … safeguard the security interests of the region, and safeguard the common interests of developing countries and emerging market countries.” – Washington Examiner

Kelly Alkhouli writes: To protect Taiwan’s sovereignty, it is imperative to not fall into Xi’s trap. Symbolic gestures, such as delegations visiting the island, are needless provocations that could endanger Taiwan and anger neighboring countries for being sidelined. The U.S. should not be seen as acting alone on this issue, which is why it is necessary to work with neighboring countries on de-escalating tensions. – The Hill

South Asia

India does not plan to provide fresh financial support to Sri Lanka on top of the nearly $4 billion it has extended this year, two sources told Reuters, as the island’s battered economy starts to stabilise after a preliminary loan agreement with the IMF. – Reuters

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russia’s Vladimir Putin and attends a summit with China’s Xi Jinping on Friday, he’ll need to avoid looking too chummy with the US’s two top adversaries. – Bloomberg

India and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will discuss energy security at the regional security bloc’s meeting in Uzbekistan, India’s foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Thursday. – Reuters

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4% in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages during the nation’s most severe financial crisis in more than seven decades. – Reuters

France is aware of and respects India’s energy and other relations with Russia, its foreign minister told the India Today news channel on Thursday during a visit to the country. – Reuters


Support for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tumbled to its lowest level since he took office, hit by growing anger over a state funeral for slain former leader Shinzo Abe and his ruling party’s ties to a controversial church, an opinion poll showed. – Reuters

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on Friday accused each other of using heavy weaponry such as tanks and mortars in an escalating border conflict that has killed at least three people and injured 27 since fighting broke out two days ago. – Reuters

Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh said on Thursday that he supports the construction of oil and gas pipelines from Russia to China via Mongolia. – Reuters

Members of the European Parliament backed a resolution on Thursday that condemned China’s live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and called for closer ties between the European Union and Taipei. – Reuters

Azerbaijan said Thursday that 71 of its troops had died in border clashes with Armenia over the last two days in the worst fighting since 2020. Yerevan said a ceasefire was holding on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, with no fresh violence reported overnight. – Agence France-Presse

Marc Champion and Anthony Halpin write: European countries were the biggest buyers of Azerbaijani gas in the period with 7.3 billion cubic meters. Turkey bought 5.4 billion cubic meters and Georgia purchased 1.7 billion cubic meters. Azerbaijan plans to double exports to Europe to 20 billion cubic meters by 2027. – Bloomberg


Hungary reacted furiously to a vote in the European Parliament today that declared that the country was no longer a “full democracy” and that the European Union needed to act. – Agence France-Presse

All European Union nations except Hungary are moving forward at the U.N.’s human rights body to hold Russia’s government accountable for a crackdown on media, arbitrary arrests, restrictions on free speech and other rights concerns after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine this year, diplomats said Thursday. – Associated Press

Germany’s foreign minister is putting pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to decide soon whether to supply Ukraine with advanced tanks as it seeks to reclaim more of its captured territory from Russia. – Associated Press

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo on Thursday described claims by the Bosnian Serb leader that his security services are eavesdropping on the American ambassador to Sarajevo as “blustering” and added that his separatist policies are “gambling” with the future of the Serb entity in the Balkan state. – Associated Press

Editorial: Predictably, Mr. Orban has dispatched envoys to Brussels who have promised a strict new anti-corruption regime. But such pledges have turned out to be trickery in the past, with little effect on Mr. Orban’s deepening autocracy. Some European officials, notwithstanding previous hoodwinking, propose giving Hungary more leeway. That would be a mistake. For Mr. Orban, time should be up. – Washington Post

Fareed Zakaria writes: The Western public is unusually united on this issue. Large majorities of Americans and Germans support Ukraine. The numbers are not so different in most European countries. The right-wing coalition likely to win in the upcoming Italian elections does include parties that have been soft on Russia, but the probable next prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has wholeheartedly backed the Western response. And to the extent that there might be some faltering, countries on Europe’s eastern flank — Poland and the Baltic states in particular — are staunchly opposed to any relaxation of efforts. – Washington Post


U.S. President Joe Biden and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are set to meet Friday at the White House for talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate issues, trade and more. Ramaphosa is among African leaders who have maintained a neutral stance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with South Africa abstaining from a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions and calling for a mediated settlement. – Associated Press

Violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo continues to rage unabated despite US legislation aimed at stopping the mineral trade from fueling conflict, the Government Accountability Office said. – Bloomberg

Nigeria’s consumer inflation surged to a 17-year high in August 2022, its statistics agency said Thursday, signalling more hardship for citizens and businesses in Africa’s largest economy. – Associated Press

African nations must help combat climate change and halt a rise in temperatures that is hitting crop yields and causing flooding and drought in the region, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told a conference in Senegal’s capital on Thursday. – Reuters

Latin America

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said Thursday he would run for re-election, despite the country’s constitution prohibiting presidents from having consecutive terms. – Reuters

Messages revealed in court appeared to show a pre-meditated plan to kill Argentina’s vice president before a failed assassination attempt earlier this month, local media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

A U.S. State Department official put pressure on Venezuela leader Nicolas Maduro in a congressional hearing on Thursday, threatening more sanctions if talks with the opposition on resolving the country’s long-running political and economic crisis are not renewed. – Reuters

Israel’s new envoy to Chile said he received an apology from the South American country after President Gabriel Boric refused to accept his credentials on Thursday, in an apparent major breach of diplomatic protocol that threatened to cloud ties between Jerusalem and Santiago. – Jerusalem Post

North America

Mexico has arrested an Army general accused of involvement in the deaths of the 43 students who disappeared on their way to a demonstration in 2014, authorities said, a crime that shocked the country but remains unsolved. – Washington Post

Mexican crime lord Jorge Costilla Sanchez was sentenced to life in prison in a U.S. federal court on Thursday for his involvement in trafficking marijuana and cocaine to the United States, the Justice Department said. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: Heritage is positioned well for success among the conservative base — while the GOP is in opposition. But when Republicans eventually return to power, Roberts and Heritage will no longer be able to straddle the fence. Will the party of Reagan really become the party of foreign policy “restraint”? For the sake of the country and the world, let’s hope not. – Washington Post


But the unsealed indictment said the men did so independently of the Iranian government, while the Treasury Department said they were linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). That called attention to how — for some of the United States’ top adversaries in cyberspace — the lines between nation-state hacker and cybercriminal, between government employee and freelance contractor, aren’t always clear. – Washington Post

The White House announced updates from YouTube, Meta and more tech companies aimed at combatting violent extremism as part of a Thursday summit. – The Hill 

Customs and Border Protection is conducting warrantless searches of the phones and other electronic devices of up to 10,000 Americans each year and uploading information from those devices to a massive government database, according to information shared by the agency with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. – CyberScoop

The White House released new guidance this week ordering federal agencies to create a full inventory of the software they use within 90 days.  – The Record

David Ignatius writes: Cyberspace might prove to be the ultimate version of forever war. But if these strategists are right, it could be less dangerous, and ultimately more stable, than the convulsive explosions we’ve known as war for millennia. – Washington Post


After more than 100 days on the job, the U.S. Department of Defense’s top artificial intelligence official said Thursday that the office’s strategy will take a down-up approach and start with data. – Defense News

With a small business innovation grant program favored by the Pentagon set to expire this month, Congress is racing to draft compromise reauthorization legislation that addresses concerns about companies abusing the awards process. – Defense News

The nominee to lead the U.S. nuclear arsenal said Thursday that supply chain snags that are pummeling the defense industrial base are also hurting Washington’s plans to modernize its aging nuclear arsenal. – Defense News

The Department of the Air Force is now offering more reenlistment bonuses to troops in cyber-related careers at a time when the service is preparing to cut incentive pay for some of its toughest non-tech jobs. – Military.com

Long War

U.S. intelligence officials predicted two years ago that the Islamic State group would likely regain much of its former strength and global influence, particularly if American and other Western forces reduced their role in countering the extremist movement, according to a newly declassified report. – Associated Press

Israel Police concluded an agreement with the European Union on Wednesday to share intelligence with the EU’s Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, more commonly known as Europol. As per the new deal, Israeli law enforcement will be able to share and receive intel with their European counterparts in real-time. The deal focuses on information in relation to serious crime and terrorism. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas and extremist Palestinian forces are trying to escalate the situation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, with the aim of having it develop into an all-out conflict with Israel, Eyal Hulata, head of the National Security Council, said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post