Publications

Belarus Warning Update: Upcoming CSTO Exercise Could Support Russian Military Deployment to Belarus

November 6, 2020 - Press ISW

4:00 pm EDT: The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will conduct a rapid response exercise in Medvezhi Ozera, Moscow Oblast, November 11-12. An unspecified number of Russian, Belarusian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik personnel will participate in the exercise. Armenian forces will not participate, likely due to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Accuses Poland of Preparing Catholic Sectarian Subversion

November 2, 2020 - Press ISW

5:30 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko intensified anti-NATO rhetoric by accusing Poland of using Belarusian Catholic clergy as an anti-Belarusian fifth column. Lukashenko said Polish influence through Belarusian Catholic clergy threatens the Belarusian state on November 2. Lukashenko accused Poland of exploiting Belarus’ lack of resources to train Catholic clergy as a tool to project subversive influence into Belarus by “inviting” Belarusian Catholics to Poland. Lukashenko explicitly claimed Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Church of Belarus, received directions from Poland on how to “destroy our country.” Belarusian border guards stopped Kondrusiewicz from returning to Belarus from Poland on August 31 after he spoke out against Belarusian police brutality. ISW forecasted that Lukashenko and the Kremlin’s information operations may falsely link Belarusian Catholics to NATO-sponsored activity in late August—the last time Lukashenko mentioned religious sectarianism in a prominent manner.

Syria Situation Report: October 14 - 27, 2020

October 30, 2020 - Press ISW

Russia is militarily pressuring Turkey across northern Syria likely to force a favorable negotiated settlement. Russian forces are likely setting conditions for negotiations by seeking to establish new positions along the Turkish border in Raqqa Province, forcing Turkey to withdraw from observation posts in regime-held territory, and conducting airstrikes against Turkish proxies and infrastructure in Aleppo Province. Turkey will likely respond to Russian pressure by escalating its involvement in Syria or another theater of conflict between the two countries, such as Nagorno Karabakh.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Raises Odd Chemical Terrorism Threat

October 29, 2020 - Press ISW

4:45 EDT: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko alluded to a possible chemical terrorism threat in Belarus for the first time on October 29. Lukashenko said the ongoing strike at the Azot chemical plant – a large nitrogen compound and fertilizer plant in Grodno – could create an "explosion" and that an ensuing toxic fallout cloud could kill several thousand. Belarusian security services’ have intensified efforts to link the protests with terrorism since October 22.

Belarus Warning Update: Putin Intensifies Russian-Belarusian Military Integration

October 27, 2020 - Press ISW

3:15 pm EDT: Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved a major milestone in his pressure campaign to subordinate Belarus’ military to Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin adopted a common military doctrine and announced the completed formation of Russian-Belarusian “regional grouping of forces” on October 27. The formation of a Russian-Belarusian regional grouping of forces is a major achievement in Putin’s larger campaign to subordinate former Soviet states’ militaries to Russian-dominated structures. The Russian State Duma first ratified the agreement to create a regional grouping of forces with Belarus in 2017.

Russia-Turkey Competition Escalates across Theaters

October 27, 2020 - Press ISW

Competition between Russia and Turkey continued to escalate in 2020. The parties redoubled their commitments to opposing sides in Syria and Libya, and Turkey opened a new theater of competition in the Caucasus. Each of these conflicts is unique and discrete but must be understood within the cross-theater dynamics of Russia-Turkey competition.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Will Likely Outlast Ultimatum Protests

October 26, 2020 - Press ISW

5:30 pm EDT: Protesters failed to compel self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s resignation on October 25 – the deadline of the opposition’s ultimatum for his resignation. Over 100,000 Belarusians protested in Minsk and other major cities in line with Lithuania-based opposition leader Svitlana Tikhanouskaya’s ultimatum to Lukashenko for his resignation on October 25. Belarusian security services in Minsk cordoned off key roads, blocked cellular internet services, and closed downtown metro stations. Riot police used rubber bullets and stun grenade salvos to disperse protesters at dusk. Protesters did not regroup at midnight after the ultimatum’s deadline expired. Police detained at least 500 protesters in Belarus, including 160 in Minsk, on October 25.

Belarus Warning Update: Putin Likely Disrupts Lukashenko’s Plan for Defusing Protests

October 23, 2020 - Press ISW

October 23, 4:45 pm EDT: The Kremlin likely sent a senior intelligence director to Belarus to disrupt self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenko’s planned announcement of steps to defuse the protest crisis. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergey Naryshkin flew to Minsk on October 22. Naryshkin’s visit is the latest in an observed pattern of senior Russian intelligence officials’ visits to Minsk. Each of these visits has coincided with key developments in the Kremlin’s hybrid war in Belarus, usually also marking changes in Lukashenko’s behavior.

Russia’s Unprecedentedly Expansive Military Exercises in Fall 2020 Seek to Recreate Soviet-Style Multinational Army

October 20, 2020 - Press ISW

The Kremlin has conducted military exercises in fall 2020 on an unprecedented scale, much deeper than usual integration of Russian and foreign military units, and a pattern of modifying pre-announced activities significantly but presenting them as normal and unchanged. These exercises mark significant developments in the Kremlin’s campaigns to integrate the security forces of Former Soviet Union (FSU) states into Russian-dominated structures. Russian forces conducted simultaneous exercises on a scale nearly equivalent to that of two normal annual capstone exercises, suggesting that Russian forces may be able to mobilize and control more combat units and at higher echelons than had previously been assessed. The Kremlin covered new deployments to Belarus by branding them as “preplanned exercises” to create a false sense of normality. The Kremlin will likely exploit this kind of rebranding as an instrument of its hybrid warfare toolkit to cover actual combat deployments abroad. Moscow also announced that it would intensify efforts to gain United Nations recognition of the revivified multinational military it is trying to create in the FSU as a legitimate peacekeeping force. There are several concrete steps the United States and NATO should take to mitigate these new threats.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Attempts to De-escalate Protests Ahead of October 25 Opposition Ultimatum

October 19, 2020 - Press ISW

7:00 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is intensifying efforts to de-escalate protests and degrade protester will in the runup to October 25. Lukashenko set October 25 as the deadline for submissions “from the people” of Belarusian constitutional amendments on October 3. He likely seeks to use this amendment process to broker a pretend compromise with protesters to end the crisis without actually ceding power.

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