Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 20, 2024

March 20, 2024 - ISW Press

Several Russian financial, economic, and military indicators suggest that Russia is preparing for a large-scale conventional conflict with NATO, not imminently but likely on a shorter timeline than what some Western analysts have initially posited. The Russian military continues to undertake structural reforms to simultaneously support the war in Ukraine while expanding Russia’s conventional capabilities in the long term in preparation for a potential future large-scale conflict with NATO.

Iran Update, March 19, 2024

March 19, 2024 - ISW Press

Iran is likely concerned that Armenia’s deteriorating relations with Russia and outreach to the West could increase NATO’s presence along its northern border. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi discussed the security situation in the Caucasus with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on March 19. Raisi told Putin that Iran is “ready to maintain stability” and protect Iran’s strategic interests in the Caucasus. Iran’s interests in the Caucasus include keeping overland trade routes open, preventing Israel from using Azerbaijan’s territory to operate against Iran, and preempting the spread of separatist sentiments among Iran’s Azeri minority. Russian readouts of Raisi and Putin’s phone call notably did not mention that the pair discussed the Caucasus.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 19, 2024

March 19, 2024 - ISW Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin presented the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as a key guarantor of Russian security and sovereignty following his victory in the Russian presidential election, likely signaling that Russian security services and siloviki (Russian strongmen with political influence) will continue to represent his core constituency in his fifth presidential term. Putin delivered his first major address following his March 18 electoral victory speech at the FSB board meeting on March 19 and praised FSB officers for ensuring Russian security and sovereignty. Putin thanked FSB officers for successful operations in Ukraine, for suppressing attempts to interfere in Russian internal affairs, and for repelling “terrorist” attacks against Russia (in reference to limited raids by all-Russian pro-Ukrainian volunteers in Kursk and Belgorod oblasts). Putin also highlighted the FSB’s role in suppressing attempts by unnamed actors to provoke internal unrest and interethnic conflict within Russia and the FSB‘s responsibilities to ensure Russia’s economic security, combat corruption, and protect critical infrastructure.

The Leadership and Purpose of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces

March 19, 2024 - ISW Press

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is an Iraqi state security service that Iran has infiltrated and uses to wield significant influence in Iraq. Iran’s cooptation of the PMF enables Tehran to pursue its objectives in Iraq while obfuscating its actual involvement in Iraqi internal affairs. Understanding how Iranian leaders wield direct and indirect influence over this significant component of the Iraqi security sector is crucial as the United States considers how to deter Iranian-backed Iraqi militias from attacking US forces in Iraq and Syria.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 18, 2024

March 18, 2024 - ISW Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed occupied Crimea 10 years ago, setting conditions for the full conquest of Ukraine Putin still seeks. Putin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea on March 18, 2024, during which he attempted to justify his continued occupation of parts of Donbas and southern Ukraine and to set conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine. Russian occupation authorities have consistently oppressed Ukrainians on the peninsula — the same charge of which Putin accused the Ukrainian government to justify his invasion — and Russia has since militarized Crimea to support its broader territorial ambitions against Ukraine.

Iran Update, March 18, 2024

March 18, 2024 - ISW Press

Israeli forces conducted a "high-precision operation" at al Shifa Hospital on March 18 based on intelligence that Hamas was using it for militant activity. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that they had intelligence that senior Hamas officials were using the area to conduct and direct attacks in the Gaza Strip. Israeli ground forces advanced to the hospital with bulldozers and tanks and detained more than 200 Palestinians. Palestinian militias, including Hamas, engaged Israeli forces around al Shifa Hospital during the operation.

Iran Update, March 17, 2024

March 17, 2024 - ISW Press

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 162nd Division and combat engineers demolished a 2.5-kilometer-long tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip during the week of March 10. The IDF called the tunnel the “longest underground route” in the northern Gaza Strip that it has discovered during the war. The tunnel network allowed Hamas units to move between the northern and southern Gaza Strip.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 17, 2024

March 17, 2024 - ISW Press

The Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU), Special Forces (SOF), and Unmanned Systems Forces reportedly conducted a successful drone strike against a Russian oil refinery in Krasnodar Krai on the night of March 16 to 17. Sources in the SBU told Ukrainian outlet Suspilne that the Ukrainian SBU, SOF, and Unmanned Systems Forces struck the crude oil atmospheric distillation columns of the Slavyansk oil refinery in Slavyansk-on-Kuban, Krasnodar Krai, resulting in a large fire.[8] Krasnodar Krai Operational Headquarters claimed that several drones attempted to strike the Slavyansk oil refinery and that Russian forces neutralized them, though falling drones caused a fire.[9] A Russian milblogger claimed that two of 17 drones that targeted the Slavyansk oil refinery struck the facility. Suspilne reported that SBU drones have recently successfully struck 12 oil refineries in Russia.[11] A Russian milblogger claimed that the Ukrainian strike on the Slavyansk oil refinery is the ninth Ukrainian strike on a Russian oil refinery in the past week. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian strikes on oil refineries are more serious than strikes on fuel depots because international sanctions against Russia complicate Russia’s ability to repair technologically complex oil refinery facilities.

Iran Update, March 16, 2024

March 16, 2024 - ISW Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans on March 15 for a military operation into Rafah. The Prime Minister’s Office did not provide additional details. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that the Biden administration has not seen the plan and the Biden administration does not know how Israel plans to protect civilians in Rafah. The IDF said on March 13 that it plans to move civilians from Rafah to “humanitarian enclaves” in the central Gaza Strip before any Israeli offensive into Rafah. There are approximately 1.4 million displaced Palestinian civilians currently in Rafah.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 16, 2024

March 16, 2024 - ISW Press

The Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU) reportedly conducted a series of successful drone strikes against three Russian oil refineries in Samara Oblast on March 16. Sources in Ukrainian special services told Ukrainian outlet RBK-Ukraine that the SBU struck the Novokuibyshevsky, Kuibyshevsky, and Syzran Rosneft oil refineries in Samara Oblast. RBK-Ukraine reported that the three refineries process an estimated 25 million tons of oil per year, or 10 percent of Russia’s annual oil refinement output. Geolocated footage published on March 16 shows a fire at the Syzran oil refinery following the drone strikes, and Samara Oblast Governor Dmytro Azarov stated that there was also a fire at the refinery in Novokuibyshevsky.