What Our Analysts Are Reading – February, 2023

Navanti’s data collection and analysis are based on networks of on-the-ground researchers from all walks of life: journalists, academics, and humanitarian workers, to name a few. Our analysts also keep abreast of open source reports to inform their work. Below, these analysts have summarized and contextualized the most important pieces they have read and listened to over the past month.


The authors of the Harmful Masculinities and the Threat to Force Readiness in the U.S. Military report argue that in addition to implementing the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and integrating women into combat roles, U.S. military actors must study and address the threat posed by rigid masculine norms, which contribute to high rates of substance use and suicide among male U.S. troops. They argue that excluding men and masculinity from the WPS agenda hinders programming to support personnel and readiness, as well as analysis of this programming, and ultimately causes harm for all genders in the U.S. military.


In a new article for the journal Mediterranean Politics, Abdullah Al-Jabassini and Emadeddin Badi have released the first comparative, academic study of Turkish and Russian security interventions in Syria and Libya. In addition to providing in-depth detail on how each intervention came about and was executed, the article advances the broader argument that that security assistance to different sides of an overseas conflict does not solely produce risk of confrontation, but also a space where “providers negotiate and reach agreements based on mutual recognition of border interests.” According to the authors, this dynamic feeds into Turkey and Russia’s broader geopolitical relationship of “adversarial collaboration” as seen in other areas like Central Asia.


Amid fears of pro-Russian subversion running high throughout pro-Western governments in Eastern Europe, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu made explosive allegations on 14 February 2023 that accused Russian-backed citizens from Serbia and Montenegro of plotting a coup in Chisinau. Moldovan border police barred a dozen Serbian citizens from entering the country for a soccer match, citing fears of saboteurs among the ranks of soccer fans. Serbia, Montenegro, and Russia denied the allegations as baseless, however the tensions between Chisinau and Belgrade caused the Moldovan government to temporarily prohibit travel of its citizens to Serbia.


Analysts assess that operations against Al-Shabaab (AS) in Somalia may have reached a turning point. With the support of regional actors and the United States, Somalia has managed to retake areas that AS had controlled for years. Kenya’s new president, William Ruto, has made counter-AS operations a top priority, while the drawdown of conflict in Ethiopia can give the country additional resources to focus on defeating the group. President Biden’s redeployment of troops to Somalia, after President Trump’s withdrawal, could also give operations a needed push. Nevertheless, violent attacks continue to increase in Africa, while Somalia is faced with a historic drought that threatens to cause famine. An effective counter-AS strategy, according to the articles analysts, must incorporate sociopolitical and economic policies that address the root issues of the conflict, rather than solely countering the military symptoms.

West Africa

West Africa Top diplomats from Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso agreed in February to work together to advocate for the lifting of their suspensions from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) following a series of coups. The diplomats criticized the sanctions for their impacts on the populations of the countries, who already suffer the effects of growing levels of insecurity and political instability.

However, the AU has maintained its “zero-tolerance” policy towards unconstitutional changes of governmental power, insisting that the countries must return to civilian rule. The three countries are under pressure to hold elections before their respective deadlines in order to be allowed re-entry into the AU and ECOWAS. Meanwhile, the leading juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso have requested the departure of French troops and have increasingly aligned with Russia, seeking Russian military support to fight against the growing spread of jihadism. In early February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a visit to the region, solidifying alliances and promising support to the African countries as an alternative to what he called “Western neo-colonialism.” Following Lavrov’s visit, Mali’s military government announced the expulsion of the UN’s human rights envoy to the country.


Todd Helmus wrote on War on the Rocks about how the U.S. military could learn from Ukraine’s success in using social media as a tool for warfare. The article suggests that adopting the employee advocate programs run by Adobe and other corporations could be an effective way for the military to leverage social media activity from its workforce. This could help the military with recruiting during peacetime, and with maintaining support from the international community and documenting adversary war-crimes during contingency operations and deployments. However, there are limitations to this approach, and the military needs to carefully select advocates and develop, train and enforce “rules of engagement” that dictate when and how content can be posted.


After last year’s unrest in the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic over proposed changes to Karakalpakstan’s autonomy, Uzbekistan’s constitutional reforms were forced to the legislative back-burner. However, after months of deliberation, two parliamentary committees officially convened on 24 February 2023 for new deliberations over constitutional changes. While the changes are reported to include amendments on preventing unfair taxation and poverty, limiting taxation increases, and slight expansion of state welfare, some doubt the proposed changes will accomplish anything of substance beside increasing the power of the head of state due to amendments that would change presidential term limits. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hailed the reforms following a visit to Tashkent and a meeting with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyoev, especially praising the space for growth of civil society and other personal freedoms. This stamp of approval is important for Uzbekistan, as it continues to frame itself as the forward thinking country in Central Asia in an effort to attract greater foreign direct investment.


Simon Henderson, the Baker fellow and director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at The Washington Institute, recently wrote about new signs of an emerging compromise in Yemen. He notes that the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeida received its first general cargo ship since 2016 after securing clearance from the UN, and that the Saudi-based head of Yemen’s notionally governing Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad al-Alimi, praised the latest talks between Riyadh and the Houthis in a prominent Saudi-owned newspaper. Henderson explains that talks facilitated by Oman could lead to a formal truce and inclusive political negotiations, and that the Saudis are reportedly negotiating a deal that would allow them to withdraw. However, the deal would not remove the Houthis from power or end Yemen’s internal civil war, and any imminent agreement would be an admission of defeat for Saudi Arabia, which intervened militarily in 2015. While leaving Yemen in the hands of the Houthis could be a painful outcome for the U.S., as the group’s official slogan features the phrases “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews,” it could help alleviate the humanitarian crisis and improve U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. Henderson notes that the deal may also have implications for U.S. efforts to limit Iran’s influence in the region.

Furthermore, The Cash Consortium of Yemen has released a new report on the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine on food prices and availability in Yemen, especially for Yemen’s vital staple of wheat. In the near term, the authors expect that Yemen would continue to be able to import a limited amount of Russian and Ukrainian wheat, but not find suppliers to completely replace all needed imports, leading to further increased prices and demand. At the time of the Russian invasion in February 2022, an estimated 42% of Yemen’s imported wheat and wheat products came from Russia and Ukraine. Another less likely scenario explored by the authors are the total halt of grain exports through the Black Sea if the Black Sea Grain Initiative were to totally fail potentially due to Russia’s volatile actions; Russia suspended participation in October 2022 but resumed  in November 2022. The least likely scenario for 2023 is the complete resumption of Ukrainian exports without restrictions.