China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 19, 2023

May 19, 2023 - Press ISW

Complementary CCP industrial and anti-espionage policies may facilitate the long-term expansion of China’s domestic industrial base and supply chain security.

Kuomintang (KMT) presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih emphasizes the preservation of peace over clear cross-strait policy positions, possibly to create a pragmatic image in the eyes of Taiwanese voters.

Iran Update, May 18, 2023

May 18, 2023 - Press ISW

Iran is trying to expand its economic cooperation, especially energy ties, with Syria to reinforce Iranian influence over Damascus, as Assad pursues improved ties with the Arab states. Deepening Iranian economic influence in Syria will help Iranian leaders revitalize their own economy, especially if Arab states begin to send investment and reconstruction funds to Syria.

The Raisi administration issued veiled threats toward the Afghan Taliban, calling on the group to release more water from the Helmand River from Afghanistan into Iran. The Raisi administration is likely concerned that water shortages in the coming summer months could fuel protests across the country, especially in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 18, 2023

May 18, 2023 - Press ISW

Ukrainian forces have seized the tactical initiative and made tactically significant gains around Bakhmut in counter-attack operations on May 18. These operations are a continuation of the localized counter-attacks Ukrainian forces have been conducting for some days and do not reflect the start of a major new operation. Multiple Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces drove through the Russian defensive lines south and southwest of Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut) and northwest of Klishchiivka (6km southwest of Bakhmut) from the northwest. The milbloggers also claimed that Russian forces retreated from positions north of Sakko i Vantsetti (15km north of Bakhmut) to positions south of the settlement, but that Ukrainian forces have not yet entered the settlement. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Russian forces yielded 570 meters of territory north of Bakhmut, which is consistent with Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar’s statement that Ukrainian forces had advanced 500 meters north of Bakhmut and 1,000 meters south of Bakhmut. Ukrainian Eastern Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Ukrainian forces advanced up to 1,700 meters in the past day, and the Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault Brigade stated that the brigade’s counterattacks expanded the Ukrainian salient in the Bakhmut area to 2,000 meters wide by 700 meters deep.

Iran Update, May 17, 2023

May 17, 2023 - Press ISW

Iranian-backed Iraqi militias threatened to attack US forces in Iraq, likely elevating the risk of an attack on US or Coalition forces. The militias were responding to a statement from US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowsi about US plans to stay in the Middle East and invest in diplomatic, economic, and security cooperation on May 15. Iraqi proxy façade group Ashab al Kaf and suspected proxy façade group Tuthia al Shiyea posted separate calls for attacks on US forces to expel them from Iraq. Tuthia al Shiyea rejected any negotiation with the United States and threatened armed resistance. Ashab al Kaf warned that it will target US forces in addition to Iraqis working for American intelligence services, but also called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani to expel US forces from Iraq. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias gain a significant amount of their legitimacy from opposing the US presence in Iraq and responding to instances of American or Iraqi officials commenting on a continued US presence in Iraq. The militias do not always follow through with their threats to attack US forces, however.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 17, 2023

May 17, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian and Ukrainian officials acknowledged continued limited Ukrainian counterattacks near Bakhmut on May 17. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that Ukrainian forces are advancing in unspecified areas on Bakhmut’s flanks. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Ukrainian forces advanced up to 500 meters in the Bakhmut direction in the past day and continue to attack Russian flanks. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) made marginal advances but acknowledged continued Ukrainian counterattacks against Bakhmut’s flanks near Bohdanivka (5km northwest of Bakhmut) and Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut). Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin denied the MoD’s claim of territorial gains, however, and criticized the MoD for falsely portraying a retreat as capturing new positions. One prominent milblogger complained that Russian forces must now react to Ukrainian actions, implying that Russian forces are losing the initiative in the Bakhmut area despite the limited nature of Ukrainian counterattacks in the area.

Iran Update, May 16, 2023

May 16, 2023 - Press ISW

Iran is taking steps to improve operational security for convoys traveling into Syria from Iraq, likely to protect arms transfers from Israeli airstrikes. Iran also is stoking conflict between Israel and Palestinian militias, likely to enable the IRGC to transfer military equipment into Syria with less risk of Israeli interdiction.

Russia is pursuing mutually beneficial economic and military programs with Iran, very likely to ensure Iran continues to provide material support for Russian operations in Ukraine. Iran’s acquisition of Russian Su-35s through those deals may enable Tehran to more readily and independently project power in the coming years.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 16, 2023

May 16, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian forces have likely committed to reinforcing their tactical offensive effort in the Bakhmut area despite Ukraine’s apparent focus on limited and localized counterattacks. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin claimed on May 16 that Russian forces have strengthened their forces in the Bakhmut area to stabilize the situation, and a prominent Russian milblogger claimed that four unspecified Russian battalions have deployed to the flanks around Bakhmut to prevent Ukrainian breakthroughs. Russian claims about Russian reinforcements are consistent with Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar’s May 15 statement that Russian forces are deploying additional airborne (VDV) forces to defend Bakhmut’s flanks, presumably from other areas of the front. Russian forces have continued to make marginal gains within Bakhmut itself as of May 16, and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to claim that Russian forces around Bakhmut are focused on repelling Ukrainian counterattacks. The Russian MoD claimed on May 16 that elements of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Luhansk People’s Republic Army Corps) repelled 10 Ukrainian counterattacks near Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut).

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Update Special Edition: Protests in Pakistan, May 16, 2023

May 16, 2023 - Press ISW

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to incite a new wave of protests in Pakistan. Khan called on members from his Tehrik-e-Insaf Pakistan (PTI) party to protest on May 14. Khan has escalated his rhetoric against the Pakistani military since his arrest on May 9. Khan accused the Chief of the Army Staff General Asim Munir of being responsible for his arrest multiple times since the Supreme Court declared his arrest illegal on May 12. Khan has previously criticized the Pakistani political and military leadership but has not hitherto singled out the army chief. Khan also said in an address that Pakistani authorities would hold him for 10 years if he was arrested, and claimed that authorities would ban the PTI. Khan called for protests near Lahore on May 18 and said he would announce a new “plan of action” at the protests.

Iran Update, May 15, 2023

May 15, 2023 - Press ISW

Iranian leaders are stoking conflict between Israel and Palestinian militias, likely to enable the IRGC to transfer military equipment into Syria with a lower risk of Israeli interdiction. Iranian weapon shipments into Syria could trigger a new escalation cycle with Israel that risks entangling US and Coalition forces.

Ultra-hardline political factions are mounting a political campaign against pragmatic hardline Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, likely to restrain him from pursuing major political reforms. Ghalibaf has been calling for major political and economic reforms for several months.

The Iranian regime is portraying clerics as allies of the Iranian people likely to prevent further acts of violence against them. Unspecified individuals attacked clerics on five separate occasions in April and May 2023, marking a five-fold increase in attacks against religious figures compared to the first three months of 2023.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 15, 2023

May 15, 2023 - Press ISW

Leaked US intelligence accessed by The Washington Post indicates that Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin offered to disclose the locations of Russian positions to Ukrainian intelligence in exchange for Bakhmut. The Washington Post reported on May 15 that Prigozhin offered the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) information about Russian troop positions in exchange for a Ukrainian withdrawal from Bakhmut, and two Ukrainian unnamed officials confirmed that Prigozhin had spoken to GUR officials on numerous occasions. GUR officials reportedly rejected Prigozhin’s offer because they did not trust Prigozhin, and some documents indicate that Kyiv suspects that the Kremlin is aware of Prigozhin’s communication with Ukrainian intelligence. The Washington Post reported that Prigozhin urged Ukrainian officials to attack Russian forces and revealed the problems that the Russian forces are facing with morale and ammunition stocks. The Washington Post published an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on May 13 about GUR Chief Major General Kyrylo Budanov’s interactions with Prigozhin and his operatives in Africa in which Zelensky did not confirm Ukraine’s contacts with Prigozhin.