Publications

New Moldovan President Presents Opportunity to Limit Kremlin Suzerainty in Moldova

December 10, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Pro-Western Moldovan politician Maia Sandu won the Moldovan presidential election by defeating pro-Kremlin incumbent President Igor Dodon on November 15, 2020. Sandu’s election limits the Kremlin’s opportunity to expand its influence toward the eastern Balkans and presents the United States with an opportunity to reverse the Kremlin’s recent gains. However, the Kremlin will likely exploit its control in the Moldovan Parliament to contest Sandu’s electoral mandate. The United States and its allies should support Sandu’s efforts to expand, strengthen, and intensify cooperation agreements with Western countries as well as Sandu’s stated objective to end Russia’s military presence in the breakaway region of Transnistria to limit a dangerous Kremlin position in the eastern Balkans and on Ukraine’s western border.

Syria Situation Report: November 11-December 1, 2020

December 3, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: ISIS is reconstituting and expanding attack zones in northern and central Syria. ISIS militants may have carried out three explosive attacks in Turkish-controlled Aleppo Province and separately attacked a pro-regime outpost and oil facility in central Syria. The increasing severity and geographic area of ISIS attacks likely indicates the organization is successfully expanding its freedom of action in Syria. Continued releases of ISIS militants and family members by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will likely provide ISIS with veteran fighters and enable it to further expand its operations.

Prisoner Releases will Empower Extremist Insurgencies

December 1, 2020 - Press ISW

Large-scale prisoner releases and escapes will invigorate the global Salafi-jihadi movement at a time when it has ample opportunity to expand. Recent prisoner exchanges, escapes, and mass releases are returning thousands of insurgents to battlefields in West Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and will accelerate the growth of several insurgencies.

Putin Will Likely Punish Kyiv for Not Holding Elections in Russian-controlled Eastern Ukraine

November 30, 2020 - Press ISW

Ukraine conducted countrywide local elections for the first time since 2015 on October 25, 2020. Zelensky’s Servant of the People (SoP) Party’s performed poorly—in part due to reinvigorated Kremlin military, diplomatic, and informational pressure campaigns targeting Zelensky. The Kremlin intensified these campaigns in fall 2020 after Zelensky rejected holding local elections in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin will likely exploit SoP’s poor electoral performance to impair Zelensky’s reelection campaign in 2024. Zelensky is more vulnerable to Russian pressure and subversion following the October 25 elections. Ukraine backslid on a key anti-corruption reform, a development that could undermine Ukraine’s efforts to become a liberal democracy and join Western structures. Kremlin pressure is likely compelling Ukraine to disengage from positions close to the frontline in Donbas. The Kremlin may escalate its military pressure campaign against Ukraine in the winter of 2020-2021.

Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Intensifies Campaign to Develop Local Opposition Leadership in Minsk

November 30, 2020 - Press ISW

The NEXTA Telegram channel likely launched a new campaign to spur the development of local opposition leadership in Belarus on November 20, 2020. NEXTA issued unprecedented directions for protesters to “build local connections” among their fellow protesters on November 20. NEXTA instructed protesters in Minsk to gather in regional groups within their local neighborhoods for Sunday protests on November 22. NEXTA called for these neighborhood-level groups to rendezvous with other local neighborhoods’ groups for larger localized marches in six larger protest areas in Minsk. These six protest areas are all smaller than the single large protest location in downtown Minsk where the protesters historically congregated.

Belarus Warning Update: Putin Pressures Lukashenko to Implement His Previous Integration Concessions

November 30, 2020 - Press ISW

6:00 pm EDT: The Kremlin sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Minsk on November 26, 2020, likely to secure the implementation of Union State integration concessions that self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made on September 14. Lukashenko reaffirmed his commitments to Moscow after Lavrov reminded him about his concessions to Russian President Vladimir Putin from their September 14 meeting in Sochi. Lukashenko apparently agreed to a plan for coordinating Belarusian and Russian foreign policy and committed to the creation of a single market for natural gas.

Russia in Review: Putin's “Peacekeepers” Will Support Russian Wars

November 16, 2020 - Press ISW

The Kremlin will likely cite Russia’s “peacekeeping mission” in Nagorno Karabakh in its 2021 bid to legitimize the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a United Nations (UN)-recognized peacekeeping force. The CSTO stated it plans to conduct negotiations with the UN in 2021 to hold CSTO peacekeeping operations under the UN’s auspices. This stated effort aligns with the Kremlin’s assessed campaign to leverage the UN to justify Russia’s international military deployments—an important hybrid war capability the Kremlin is developing.

Syria Situation Report: October 28 - November 10, 2020

November 13, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Competition between the Syrian regime and its backers is destabilizing southern Syria and enabling Russia to consolidate its influence. Regime forces and Iranian-backed militias are carrying out arrest campaigns and assassinations likely in response to repeated waves of anti-Assad and anti-Iran unrest in Daraa Province. Russia and its proxies are capitalizing on the unrest to position themselves as necessary mediators and security guarantors for the region.

Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Opposition Leader Directs Protesters to Employ Force against Lukashenko

November 13, 2020 - Press ISW

4:00 pm EDT: Lithuania-based opposition leader Svitlana Tikhanouskaya called on Belarusian protesters to employ force against self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for the first time on November 13, 2020. Tikhanouskaya called on Belarusians to physically capture Lukashenko, regime officials, and security forces responsible for carrying out Lukashenko’s orders so they can stand trial at an upcoming “People’s Tribunal.” Tikhanouskaya promised amnesty for protesters who help capture these targets.

Russian President Putin Wins Upset Victory in Nagorno-Karabakh

November 13, 2020 - Press ISW

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s patient and precise diplomacy outmaneuvered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Kremlin produced the most significant breakthrough in the disputed zone since 1994 with a Russian-brokered agreement on Azerbaijani terms. Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will likely capitalize upon their respective victories as Erdogan fails to gain a greater Turkish footprint in the Caucasus.

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