Salafi-Jihadi Movement Update Special Edition: Protests in Pakistan, May 9, 2023

May 10, 2023 - Press ISW

Violent protests erupted across Pakistan after the arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9. These protests targeted Pakistani military facilities and institutions across Pakistan. Protesters stormed the Pakistani Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the regional parliament building for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Peshawar. Protesters also burned the IV Corps commander’s residence inside the military cantonment in Lahore. Protests against the Pakistani military are uncommon and represent a decline in public trust in the Pakistani military and state institutions. Khan accused the United States and Pakistan military of a conspiracy to remove him from office after the Pakistani parliament voted him out of office in April 2022. Khan and his Tehrik-e-Insaf Party (PTI) led several large-scale marches across Pakistan against the government to protest the vote of no confidence in 2022. Unknown attackers attempted to assassinate Khan in November 2022, leading to three weeks of widespread protests by PTI supporters who demonstrated outside military and government sites. Protesters did not storm military and government sites during the unrest in November 2022.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 9, 2023

May 9, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian President Vladimir Putin declined to use his Victory Day address to make any significant rhetorical changes and reiterated existing narratives, preparing for a protracted war and framing Russia as successfully resisting the entire West. Putin stated in his annual address marking the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on May 9 that “a real war has been unleashed against Russia” and that Russia has repelled international terrorism and will continue to “defend” residents in Donbas. Putin has previously claimed the West is waging a global “war” against Russia.” Putin has previously referred to the Russian military campaign in Ukraine as a ”war” but this rhetoric, whether an intentional acknowledgement of the scale of the fighting or not, has not corresponded with any changes in the Kremlin’s approach to the “special military operation.” Putin similarly declined to use recent notable events such as his annual New Year’s Eve address or his February 2023 address to the Federal Assembly to offer any concrete vision on how to reverse the Russian military’s setbacks in Ukraine or reframe the war. Putin has instead used these events to reinforce long-standing rhetorical lines aimed at preparing the Russian public for a protracted war in Ukraine by evoking the memory of World War Two without calling on Russian society to support full mobilization.

Iran Update, May 8, 2023

May 8, 2023 - Press ISW

Iran is maneuvering to economically benefit from Syria’s reintegration into the region, which may enable Iran to circumvent US and international sanctions, as well as support Iranian-backed militias operating in Syria. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed 15 cooperative agreements with Syria on May 3 in a push to be the primary provider of reconstruction projects in Syria. CTP previously assessed that Iran may use the Iranian para-statal organization Khatam al Anbia or Iranian-backed proxy companies to oversee such reconstruction projects. Iranian Free Trade, Industrial, and Special Economic Zones Supreme Council Secretary Hojatollah Abdol Maleki stated on May 6 that plans to establish a free trade zone between Iran, Iraq, and Syria have entered a “technical and implementation stage.” Maleki suggested the free trade zone may extend to the Latakia port and the Al Qaim Iraq-Syria border crossing. A free trade zone through Syria, Iraq, and Iran would allow Iran to move materiel across borders without oversight that would normally enforce sanctions on trade with Syria and Iran. The Arab League voted on May 7 to readmit Syria, after which an unidentified Jordanian official claimed that the Arab League will lobby to lift Western sanctions on Syria if the Assad regime agrees to a political solution to end the crisis. The end of sanctions on Syria with the establishment of a free trade zone and Iranian reconstruction projects would enable Iran to circumvent Western sanctions on Iran.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 8, 2023

May 8, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian forces conducted another large-scale missile and drone strike against Ukraine on the night of May 7 to 8. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on May 8 that Russian forces launched 16 missiles at Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odesa oblasts, and that Ukrainian forces shot down all 35 launched Shahed drones. Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko stated that Ukrainian forces shot down 36 Russian drones targeting Kyiv out of a 60 total launched against Ukraine, however. Klitschko did not specify how many total drones Ukrainian forces shot down elsewhere in Ukraine. Klitschko’s report is more likely accurate as it was posted nearly four hours after the initial round of Ukrainian reporting on the Shahed strike. The Ukrainian Red Cross stated that one Russian missile destroyed an entire Red Cross warehouse in Odesa Oblast. Russian milbloggers celebrated claims that Russian forces intensified strikes against Kyiv, with one milblogger claiming that Russian forces conducted the largest strike campaign against Kyiv since the start of the war. Russian sources are likely overcompensating for ineffectiveness of the drone strikes by playing up the size and scale of the effort.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 7, 2023

May 7, 2023 - Press ISW

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov may have compelled the Russian theater commander in Ukraine, Army General Valery Gerasimov, to resume artillery ammunition distribution to the Wagner forces in Bakhmut despite Gerasimov’s desired de-prioritization of that effort. Prigozhin announced on May 7 that he had obtained a document from the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) that promised to supply Wagner forces with the ammunition and weapons necessary to maintain offensive operations in Bakhmut. Prigozhin has not published the official document and ISW cannot verify Prigozhin’s claims at this time. The Russian MoD likely has not fundamentally changed its intention of deprioritizing offensive operations and conserving munitions across the theater, as ISW has recently assessed. Prigozhin and Kadyrov likely effectively blackmailed the Russian MoD into allocating resources to Wagner forces in Bakhmut by threatening to pull Kadyrov’s Chechen forces from other parts of the theater to relieve Wagner forces in Bakhmut. Prigozhin also claimed that the MoD gave Wagner complete freedom of operations in Bakhmut and appointed Army General Sergey Surovikin as an intermediary between the MoD and Wagner, actions that would indicate that Gerasimov and possibly Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu lack the ability to command Prigozhin and Kadyrov as subordinates but must instead negotiate with them as peers. This assessment assumes that Prigozhin’s claims that the MoD was withholding shells but has now agreed to supply them are true—the MoD has made no official statements regarding those claims—and Ukrainian officials report that they have not observed a decline in Wagner shelling during this period (see below).

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 6, 2023

May 6, 2023 - Press ISW

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov stated their intent on May 6 for Chechen “Akhmat” troops to replace Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut on May 10. Prigozhin published a letter to Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu on May 6 declaring that Wagner will hand over its positions to Akhmat units at exactly midnight on May 10, when Prigozhin claims Wagner will have entirely run out of combat potential. Prigozhin expressed his confidence that Akhmat forces can capture the remaining 2.5 square kilometers of Bakhmut that remain under Ukrainian control. Kadyrov responded to Prigozhin by stating he has addressed a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin signaling his readiness to take Bakhmut and claimed that Chechen units are already working on a strategy with the Russian MoD for the Chechens to take over Wagner‘s positions.

Iran Update, May 5, 2023

May 5, 2023 - Press ISW

Iran Update, May 5, 2023

Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, and Kitaneh Fitzpatrick

May 5, 2023, 4:00 pm ET

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 5, 2023

May 5, 2023 - Press ISW

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to have deprioritized the Bakhmut offensive in favor of preparing to defend against an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, putting the Wagner Group and Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin in a potentially difficult position. Prigozhin released a series of videos on May 4 and 5 announcing that Wagner will withdraw from Bakhmut on May 10 unless Wagner receives necessary supplies and launched particularly acerbic and emotional attacks against Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, and the Russian MoD establishment writ large. Prigozhin’s palpable desperation in the videos, one of which shows the corpses of recently deceased Wagner fighters, marks a significant rhetorical inflection in his continued pleas for increased Russian MoD support for Wagner in Bakhmut. His visible and visceral anger suggests that the Russian MoD has likely deprioritized Bakhmut and shifted operational focus elsewhere in the theater in ways that may seriously compromise Wagner’s ability to operate effectively. Wagner has not ceased efforts to completely capture Bakhmut despite reduced access to ammunition and other necessary supplies, however. Prigozhin has shown no willingness to switch to the defensive within the city.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 5, 2023

May 5, 2023 - Press ISW

The Military Service Law reform that came into effect on May 1 may enable faster Chinese mobilization during the event of a conflict. The Military Service Law reform stated that all levels of government in conjunction with military agencies should cooperate to implement the reforms and standardize local conscription organizations. This indicates that the CCP bureaucratic apparatus aims to enhance its capability to deliver information in a timely fashion across locations such as universities and local party offices. The reformed Military Service Law also emphasized recruiting “high-quality soldiers” with pertinent technological prowess, especially college students. This portion of the reform fits within existing PLA efforts to technologically modernize the force and its personnel. The Military Service Law reform does not indicate that Xi ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare for imminent military conflict around Taiwan.

Statement on ISW Methodology

May 4, 2023 - Press ISW

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) welcomes robust and rigorous debate on the issues ISW covers and is especially grateful for the interaction with and feedback from those who engage seriously with the methodological challenges of performing intelligence from publicly available information. ISW’s entire team shares a passion for sound tradecraft and a desire to engage openly regarding our methodology, including both our analytic and forecasting successes as well as our limitations. We seek to raise the general level of discussion of national security and especially military issues and are grateful for the aid of all who contribute to that effort. This post outlines a few key takeaways regarding ISW’s approach can help inform readers about ISW’s work and establish constructive topics for engagement: