Friday, January 14, 2022

Russia in Review: December 1, 2021 – January 11, 2022

ISW’s Russia team is closely monitoring the ongoing situation around Ukraine, including Russian force deployments, rhetorical changes, and Western responses. Click here to view ISW’s publication “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” updated daily.

ISW’s Russia Team will additionally publish an assessment of the CSTO’s intervention in Kazakhstan the week of January 17.

  1. The Kremlin signed defense and information security agreements with Vietnam and Indonesia on December 1 and 14, respectively. Both agreements advance the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to expand Russian influence in Southeast Asia and diversify its partners in the region beyond China.[1] Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Vietnamese counterpart signed a military-technical cooperation agreement and a cooperation memorandum on military history in Moscow on December 1.[2] The Kremlin likely seeks to deepen its existing defense cooperation with Vietnam—a leading Kremlin partner in South East Asia with which the Kremlin has prioritized cooperation since at least 2019.[3] Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and the head of Indonesia's National Cybersecurity and Cryptography Agency signed an agreement on December 14 to create a joint system to combat information technology threats.[4] The Kremlin has prioritized obtaining similar bilateral international information and communications technologies (ICT) cooperation agreements since 2014. These agreements expand Russian cyber capabilities and global influence in information technologies.[5]
  2. Russian naval forces participated in two multinational naval exercises in Indonesian territorial waters and the Gulf of Alexandria in early December 2021. The Russian Pacific Fleet anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Panteleev participated in “ARNEX-2021” exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Singaporean, Bruneian, and Myanmarese ships in Indonesian territorial waters from December 1 to 3.[6] ARNEX-2021 was the first naval exercise held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and focused on joint maneuvers, communications drills, interdiction, and search and rescue tasks.[7] The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage the predominantly economically focused ASEAN bloc as an additional partner with which to expand its naval power projection capabilities and legitimacy by framing Russian actions as part of regional operations. Russian Black Sea Fleet frigate Admiral Grigorovich and patrol ship Dmitry Rogachev additionally conducted the joint “Bridge of Friendship-2021" naval exercises with four Egyptian Navy vessels in the Gulf of Alexandria from December 3 to 10.[8] Russian and Egyptian crews operated under joint leadership while practicing artillery fire at surface, air, and floating mine targets; assisting a ship in distress; escorting friendly ships; repelling surface craft attacks; and inspecting suspicious ships.[9] The Kremlin likely seeks to increase its participation in international naval exercises to increase Russian influence with partners globally.[10]
  3. Russia leveraged Belarus’ intensified economic isolation following a new round of European Union Sanctions on December 2 to increase Russian influence over Belarus through the Kremlin-dominated Union State. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s maneuvering space to resist Kremlin pressure decreased after the European Union issued a fifth package of sanctions against Belarus in response to its state-sponsored migrant trafficking campaign on December 2.[11] Belarus and Russia approved decrees on implementing the Union State Treaty for 2021-2023 and a package of Union State programs on December 2.[12] Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on December 2 that “Western actions” against Belarus (a reference to a claimed Western hybrid war against Belarus) encouraged deeper Russian-Belarusian integration.[13] Belarus issued retaliatory import bans against the EU on December 3 and new import-substitution projects to combat Western sanctions on December 8—measures that deepened Belarus’ dependency on Russian markets by increasing its economic isolation from the West.[14] Belarus’ prime minister announced Minsk’s intent to develop industrial cooperation with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in response to Western sanctions pressure on December 7.[15] The Kremlin will likely leverage Belarus’ increasing international isolation to intensify the speed of Belarus’ market, monetary, and fiscal policy integration with Russia in the Union State and the EAEU, though these processes will still likely take several years to complete. 
  4. The Kremlin leveraged energy and military cooperation with Republika Srpska—the Serbian political entity within Bosnia—and Serbia to further cement Russian influence in the Balkans on December 2 and 3. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik discussed plans for a joint extension of Russia’s TurkStream gas pipeline to Republika Srpska’s de facto capital of Banja Luka on December 2.[16] TurkStream’s expansion would increase Republika Srpska’s energy independence from Bosnia’s gas system and thereby increase Republika Srpska’s ability to push for succession from the Bosnia and Herzegovina tripartite state.[17] Serbian Interior Minister Alexander Vulin additionally met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Moscow and announced on December 2 that Serbia will purchase unspecified air defense systems and open a Russian Ministry of Defense office in Belgrade, Serbia, “in the near future.”[18] Vulin said that Serbia would not join Western security alliances during a meeting with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow on December 3.[19] The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage military influence in Serbia to maintain a strategic foothold in the Balkans and prevent Serbia from joining the European Union.[20]
  5. Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded Russian military and economic cooperation with India during a visit by a senior Kremlin delegation to New Delhi, India, on December 6.[21] Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh authorized a ten-year Russo-Indian military-technical cooperation agreement that stipulates interbranch military cooperation and weapons supply cooperation on December 6.[22] Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi additionally signed 15 agreements, including on using space technology for peaceful purposes, joint production of Russian-designed small arms, oil supplies from Russia to India, plans to open an Indian consulate in Vladivostok, and joint bank cooperation against computer attacks.[23] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with India’s foreign minister and restated that Russian S-400 air defense system sales to India will continue despite US attempts since 2018 to undermine India’s purchase of additional S-400 systems.[24] The Indian military deployed its first battery of S-400 systems in western Punjab, bordering Pakistan, on December 21, 2021.[25] The Kremlin seeks to deepen ties with India to expand Russia’s arms clientele, bilateral military partners, and partnerships in South Asia.[26]
  6. The Kremlin continued to send humanitarian aid to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in parallel with increased efforts to modernize and improve the combat capabilities of the 201st Military Base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in December 2021. Russia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 2, 2022, that the 201st Russian Military Base in Tajikistan received over 50 pieces of modernized equipment, including upgraded T-72B3M tanks and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, throughout 2021.[27] Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov stated on December 8 that Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will continue improving military infrastructure in Tajikistan.[28] The Russian MoD delivered an additional 36 tons of humanitarian aid to Kabul at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request on December 18.[29] Putin likely negotiated the humanitarian aid delivery with the Taliban to extract approximately 200 Russian, Kyrgyz, and Afghan evacuees on December 19.[30] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on December 31 that Russia will gradually move toward petitioning the United Nations Security Council to remove the Taliban from its sanction list “in solidarity with the rest of the world community” if the Taliban forms an inclusive government and counters terrorist and drug threats emanating from Afghanistan.[31] The Kremlin likely seeks to develop a coalition of states to collectively advocate for the international recognition of the Taliban over the next year but will continue to reinforce its military capabilities in Tajikistan to counter potential jihadist threats emanating from Afghanistan.[32]
  7. German Social Democrat Party (SDP) member Olaf Scholz’s succession of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor on December 8 is unlikely to shift Germany’s foreign policy toward Russia despite internal disagreement on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2) within Scholz’s government.[33] The SDP leads a tripartite governing coalition with Germany’s Green Party and Free Democrats party. SDP supports certifying NS2, but the Greens oppose the pipeline. SDP’s general secretary has criticized what he frames as linking NS2 to political issues with Russia and repeatedly stated support for immediately completing NS2 throughout early January 2022.[34] Angela Merkel's former ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—now an opposition party—similarly supports completing NS2.[35] Scholz’s government has continued Merkel-era foreign policies on Russia despite these internal disagreements.[36] The Scholz government reiterated support for the July 2021 joint US-German statement that characterized NS2 as a geopolitical project that uses energy as a weapon.[37] German Foreign Minister and Green Party member Annalena Baerbock has mellowed her anti-NS2 rhetoric since joining the Scholz government in December.[38] Scholz’s government is continuing Merkel’s policy of not supporting further arms shipments to Ukraine.[39] Scholz’s government, despite internal pressure from both the SDP and Greens, has demonstrated solidary with US-led efforts to foster unity among European Union and NATO members ahead of security negotiations with Russia in mid-January 2022.[40] The Kremlin nonetheless likely seeks to both cultivate ties with the new Scholz government and exacerbate disagreements between the tripartite collation government to fragment European solidarity against Russia’s economic and political objectives.[41]
  8. The Kremlin increased efforts to economically link Russia and its Ukrainian proxy republics in Donbas during a major forum on December 14.[42] The Kremlin organized a forum on deepening economic integration between Donbas and Russia on December 14. Representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics (DNR and LNR in Donbas), South Ossetia (one of Russia’s proxy republics in Georgia), and the Russian government participated in this forum. DNR leader Denis Pushilin stated that the DNR is preparing “necessary conditions for a significant trade volume increase with Russia” on December 14.[43]  Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that equated DNR and LNR goods to Russian goods—a measure designed to promote trade growth—in November 2021.[44] The Kremlin could leverage increased economic integration between Russia and its proxies as an additional claimed casus belli to justify military intervention to defend “Russian interests” in Donbas.[45] Increased economic integration might also increase the proxy republics’ economic viability and decrease the currently expensive administrative costs the Kremlin pays to manage and subsidize them.
  9. The Belarusian Government published a new draft constitution on December 27 that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will likely attempt to leverage to maintain his own control over Belarusian domestic affairs while ceding more military integration concessions to Russia.[46] The amendments stipulate presidential term limits of only two five-year terms after a “newly elected president” assumes office, enabling Lukashenko to run for two more terms after his current term expires in 2025. The amendments grant the president immunity from criminal prosecution, even after retirement. The amendments weaken Belarus’ parliament and elevate the role of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly (BPA)—a congress of Lukashenko loyalists that meets every five years and currently has no governing power under Belarusian law. The new constitution grants the BPA and its presidium significant powers.[47] Lukashenko likely seeks to develop the BPA into a dual power structure that he can use to control Belarus’ government if he leaves the presidency. The amendments also advance the Kremlin’s campaign to deepen Russian control over Belarus by removing the constitution’s clause about Belarus being a “neutral” state and a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Lukashenko offered to host Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus on November 30, indicating a possible Russian effort to deploy tactical or strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus as the Kremlin did during the Soviet era.[48] Belarus will likely adopt this new constitution in a controlled referendum in February 2022.
  10. Russia's Supreme Court shut down Russia’s oldest human rights group, “International Memorial,” on December 28, alleging that the West might have in the future sponsored the organization to amplify narratives about Soviet crimes against humanity and promote extremism.[49] Russia’s Supreme Court accused Memorial of distorting historic memory about the Great Patriotic War (World War II), vilifying the Soviet Union, and failing to disclose information about foreign funding on November 11.[50] International Memorial was a human rights group established in 1989 that documented and raised awareness about the Soviet government’s crimes against its own citizens. The Kremlin’s closure of International Memorial supports a longstanding Kremlin campaign to amplify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preferred historiography of World War II and the Soviet Union and suppress liberal Western thought in Russia.

Contributors: Mason Clark, George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Grace Mappes, and Julia Belov



[2] https://function dot

[3]; https://russian.rt dot com/russia/news/694913-rossiya-vetnam-ucheniya; https://en.vietnamplus dot vn/vietnam-joins-zapad-2021-military-drill-in-russia-as-observer/207985.vnp; https://www.themoscowtimes dot com/2020/01/29/vietnam-orders-350m-combat-training-jets-from-russia-vedomosti-a69074

[4] http://www.scrf dot


[6] https://function dot

[7] https://tass dot com/defense/1370545

[8] Russia and Egypt annually conduct “Bridge of Friendship” exercises since 2015. The 2020 exercise iteration took place in the Black Sea. https://function dot; https://function dot

[9] https://function dot

[10] Russia previously held joint counterterror exercises “Peaceful Mission-2021" with members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the Donguz Training Ground in Orenburg Oblast, Russia in September 2021. Russia also conducted joint airborne exercises “Defender of Friendship” with Egyptian forces in Egypt in October 2021.–-october-5-2021;

[11] https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/12/02/belarus-eu-adopts-5th-package-of-sanctions-over-continued-human-rights-abuses-and-the-instrumentalisation-of-migrants/

[12] Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin first approved the Union State programs at their meeting on November 4. https://eng.belta dot by/politics/view/supreme-state-council-decisions-hailed-as-breakthrough-for-belarus-russia-union-state-145805-2021/ 

[13] Lukashenko’s statement about “Western actions” references both a falsely claimed NATO hybrid war that Lukashenko claims the West has waged against Belarus since fall 2020 and a falsely claimed NATO buildup near Russian and Belarusian borders since fall 2021. dot by/en/events/vstrecha-s-gubernatorom-astrahanskoy-oblasti-rossii-igorem-babushkinym-1638448206; dot by/ru/events/vstrecha-s-predsedatelem-gosudarstvennoy-dumy-rossii-vyacheslavom-volodinym

[14] https://www.euractiv dot com/section/europe-s-east/news/belarus-to-ban-western-food-imports-from-january/; https://www.thefirstnews dot com/article/belarus-bans-food-imports-from-poland-from-january-26688; dot ua/news/economic/784529.html; https://reform dot by/284927-smi-belarus-perestala-postavljat-neft-v-germaniju-v-dekabre 

[15] https://iz dot ru/1260811/2021-12-07/v-belorussii-zaiavili-o-namerenii-razvivat-promkooperatciiu-s-rf-i-eaes

[16] Russian state gas company Gazprom began transporting gas to Bosnia and Herzegovina via TurkStream gas pipeline in the Black Sea on January 1, 2021. Dodik negotiated with Putin the same low price for Russian gas. Dodik also met with Russian state gas company Gazprom to discuss further energy cooperation in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on December 3. https://tass dot ru/ekonomika/13098447; https://neftegaz dot ru/news/partnership/713586-gazprom-i-bosniya-i-gertsegovina-obsuzhdayut-postavki-gaza/;; https://www.vesti dot ru/article/2647711.

[17] Republika Srpska leadership has been blocking gas and electricity nationalization bills likely to ensure Republika’s energy autonomy from Bosnia and Herzegovina in an event of a full succession. Dodik previously announced that Republika Srpska’s army, tax administration, and judicial system would full separate from Bosnia-Herzegovina's Central government by November 2021. The Kremlin would benefit from the Republika Srpska’s full succession as it would dismantle Western-brokered 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War and destabilize Western influence over Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite state.–-november-9-2021;, https://neftegaz dot ru/news/partnership/713586-gazprom-i-bosniya-i-gertsegovina-obsuzhdayut-postavki-gaza/.

[18] dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12396812@egNews

[19] https://regnum dot ru/news/polit/3440738.html


[21] http://kremlin dot ru/supplement/5746; http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67287; https://function dot;; http://kremlin dot ru/supplement/5746; https://archive dot

[22] https://function dot;; http://kremlin dot ru/supplement/5746

[23] Other agreements outlined spheres of cultural and economic cooperation. http://kremlin dot ru/supplement/5746; http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67287.

[24] Russia and India signed a S-400 deal in 2018. India deployed first Russian S-400 to Pakistan-bordering region of Punjab on December 21, 2021. https://archive dot; russia-starts-supplying-india-with-missildespite-us-sanctions-thr; https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13254003.

[25] https://tass dot com/defense/1378439


[27]; https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13119423;

[28] https://function dot

[29] https://function dot

[30] https://function dot

[31] https://www dot


[33] Scholz previously served as Germany’s finance minister and vice-chancellor under the Merkel government since 2018.

[34] https://www.reuters dot com/business/energy/german-spd-official-calls-end-nord-stream-2-dispute-2022-01-10/;


[36] German Green Party Bundestag spokesman on foreign affairs Omid Nuripur stated that stopping Nord Stream 2’s certification is likely impossible if the pipeline company forms a German subsidiary in compliance with German law on December 30. https://detv dot us/2021/12/30/habeck-wants-to-support-ukraine-nouripour-nord-stream-2-can-hardly-be-prevented/; https://newsrnd dot com/news/2021-12-30-omid-nouripour--green-leader-candidate-sees-little-scope-to-prevent-nord-stream-2.Sy-TwK1jjY.html; https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/13331987;


[38] Baerbock called on Berlin to resist Russian “blackmail” on NS2 in October 2021 but by January 5 she reiterated Scholz government’s position that Nord Stream 2’s certification is suspended because of its noncompliance with German regulations. https://www.politico dot eu/article/baerbock-against-operating-permit-for-nord-stream-2/;


[40] Germany’s federal government seemingly is taking Russian threats seriously. Scholz warned that Russia would face “a high price” for further aggression against Ukraine on December 15. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck stated he opposes linking NS2 to political issues but admitted that Germany may block Nord Stream 2 certification due to Russian threats against Ukraine on December 29. https://www.dw dot com/ru/vice-kancler-frg-habek-ne-iskljuchaet-ostanovku-severnogo-potoka-2/a-60292160;

[41] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Baerbock will met in Moscow on January 18. https://breakingthenews dot net/Article/Lavrov-Baerbock-to-meet-in-Moscow-on-January-18/57076099

[42] https://mid-dnr dot su/ru/pages/news/v-donecke-predstaviteli-4-gosudarstv-obsudili-perspektivy-dalnejshego-sotrudnichestva


[44] http://publication dot pravo dot; https://dnrsovet dot su/vladimir-bidyovka-prinyal-uchastie-v-rabochej-vstreche-po-obsuzhdeniyu-perspektiv-ekonomicheskoj-integratsii-rossii-i-donbassa/


[46] dot by/bucket/assets/uploads/documents/konstituciya-na-27-dekabrya.pdf; https://pravo dot by/pravovaya-informatsiya/normativnye-dokumenty/konstitutsiya-respubliki-belarus/

[47] The BPA can adopt strategic documents, overturn decisions of other authorities, impeach the president, and appoint the Central Election Commission and Supreme and Constitutional Court judges, among other powers. https://www.dw dot com/ru/mina-zamedlennogo-dejstvija-chto-znachit-proekt-konstitucii-dlja-lukashenko/a-60273475;

[48] Kremlin officials said they would consider Lukashenko’s previous proposal to host Russian nuclear missiles in Belarus if NATO places nuclear weapons in Poland on December 21. https://rg dot ru/2021/12/21/mid-rf-prokommentiroval-vozmozhnost-razmeshcheniia-iadernogo-oruzhiia-vbelarusi.html;

[49]; https://tvrain dot ru/news/verhovnyj_sud_postanovil_likvidirovat_mezhdunarodnyj_memorial-544904/?from=rss

[50] https://tvrain dot ru/news/verhovnyj_sud_postanovil_likvidirovat_mezhdunarodnyj_memorial-544904/?from=rss; https://vsrf dot ru/lk/practice/cases?&registerDateExact=off&considerationDateExact=off&numberExact=true&keywords=%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BB



Thursday, January 13, 2022

Intelligence Information Report: Uzbek Taliban Units Revolt in Faryab Province, Afghanistan

Uzbek Taliban units have revolted, forcibly disarmed local Pashtun Taliban units, and reportedly seized control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab Province.[1] Local Taliban leadership, including the governor and police chief, have reportedly fled the city.[2] Locals reported shots were fired during preceding protests, but it is unknown if there were any casualties.[3] This takeover was preceded by reports of armed clashes between Taliban units in Faryab Province. The revolt is reportedly in response to Taliban Deputy Defense Minister Mullah Fazel Mazloom arresting the senior-most Uzbek Taliban commander, Makhdoom Alem, in Mazar-i-Sharif on January 12, 2022.[4] One of Makhdoom Alem’s aides, Turkoglu, reportedly threatened the Taliban government, saying his forces will “permanently lower the Taliban flag in Faryab Province” if Makhdoom Alem is not released.[5] The Taliban governors of Faryab, Jowzjan, Sar-e-Pul, and Samangan provinces, as well as the commander of the Taliban 209th Corps, Attaullah Omari, are reported to have gone to Balkh Province to negotiate for the release of Makhdoom Alem.[6]

A Taliban deputy spokesperson, Bilal Karimi, acknowledged that protests took place after the arrest of an individual by the intelligence services, but said the situation was under control.[7]

Makhdoom Alem was the head of the Taliban Military Commission for Faryab Province and commanded Taliban forces in Faryab, Jowzjan, and Sar-e-Pul provinces.[8] Makhdoom Alem was briefly deputy governor of Sar-e-Pul Province after the fall of the Afghan government in August 2021.[9]

This revolt comes after prior clashes between Uzbek Taliban units commanded by Makhdoom Alem and other Taliban units in early December 2021.

Other anti-Taliban opposition forces are expressing support for the revolt.

  • Uzbek warlord Abdul Malik Pahlawan released a statement warning Uzbeks, Turkmens, and Tajiks that they would soon be arrested, like Makhdoom Alem, unless they came together and entered into talks with the Taliban and formed a decentralized government.
  • Ahmad Wali Massoud, the uncle of Ahmad Massoud, leader of the National Resistance Front, released a statement praising “our brave Uzbek compatriots” for rising up against the Taliban.
  • Abdul Latif Pedram, a Tajik politician and former member of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga, called upon Tajik and Uzbek Taliban members to rise up against Pashtun Taliban dominance.
  • These three leaders are most likely located outside of Afghanistan, and in the case of Ahmad Wali Massoud, he may be located in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. 

Longstanding ethnic grievances may be exacerbating this internal Taliban conflict. Mullah Fazl Mazloom reportedly has a personal grudge against Uzbeks due to his experience in captivity in 2001 under Abdul Rashid Dostum, a prominent Uzbek warlord.[10] Reports emerged in early December that Pashtun Taliban fighters were seizing land that belonged to local Uzbeks in Faryab Province.[11]

The revolt is the most serious incident so far in an escalating pattern of intra-Taliban conflict. ISW has previously assessed that IS-KP will try to take advantage of splits within the Taliban movement. Some of the Uzbek fighters under Makhdoom Alem’s command were already reported to have defected to IS-KP in December 2021. If the Taliban fail to deescalate this crisis, they could see a significant revolt in Faryab Province and create the possibility that revolting Uzbek fighters join IS-KP. Therefore, there is a strong possibility the Taliban will move to deescalate the crisis and release Makhdoom Alem. This action would likely pacify the revolt for the time being. Previous conflicts between Qari Salahuddin Ayoubi and Makhdoom Alem indicate the possibility that this latest incident is part of intra-Uzbek competition and that Salahuddin and Makhdoom are jockeying for power in northwestern Afghanistan.



[3] https://8am(dot)af/ps/uzbek-taliban-commander-arrested-uzbeks-protest-in-faryab/



[6] https://8am(dot)af/eyewitnesses-in-faryab-pashtun-taliban-disarmed-in-maimana/


[8] https://www(dot)etilaatroz(dot)com/134757/faryab-residents-protest-arrest-of-talibans-senior-commander/

[9] https://www(dot)etilaatroz(dot)com/134757/faryab-residents-protest-arrest-of-talibans-senior-commander/


[11] https://aamajnews24(dot)com/taliban-42/


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Turkey in Review: December 7 – December 27

Economic Volatility Undermines Turkish-backed Governance in Northern Syria

By Ezgi Yazici

Turkey’s volatile currency has worsened the humanitarian crisis in northern Syria and raised the cost of Ankara’s governance responsibilities there. The Turkish lira’s recent volatility and Turkey’s high inflation rates pose significant problems for not only those living in Turkey but also in Turkish-controlled northern Syria, where Turkey has built extensive financial networks and introduced the use of its currency. The Turkish lira lost up to 40 percent of its value over 2021 as a result of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unconventional monetary policies. The lira’s value has improved slightly and stabilized since December 20, but price hikes on basic goods will likely remain, disrupting the purchasing power of Turks and Syrians alike. These factors pose two dangers for Turkey’s objectives in Syria:

  1. The lira’s loss in value increases the cost of Ankara’s spending on northern Syria’s governance, military, and humanitarian structures.
  2. The rising cost of living in Turkish-controlled northern Syria exacerbates the humanitarian crisis there, undermining Ankara’s bid to legitimize Turkish-backed governance organizations.

Turkey’s vast financial commitment to Syria is a critical aspect of its decade-long bid to support the Syrian opposition. The Turkish government and Turkish companies fund and build critical infrastructure projects, provide aid, build governance institutions in northern Syria, and manage trade permits for Syrian exporters into Turkey.[1] Turkish-controlled northern Syria adopted the Turkish lira by June 2020, further tying the economic well-being of northern Syria to Turkey through shared currency and trade.[2] Various Turkish ministries and institutions have opened health, education, and aid offices in northern Syria since 2016.[3] Ankara has paid and trained public employees like teachers, health workers, religious officials, and police officers.[4] Turkey also funds and trains the Syrian National Army—the main military body in the area—and previously recruited its fighters for short-term deployments to Libya and Azerbaijan for additional salaries, paid in US dollars.[5]

The weakened lira disrupts Turkey’s military and political networks in Syria. Turkey is responsible for and depends on the sustainability of the political, social, and military institutions that it has invested in Syria over the years as its de-facto governor.[6] The depreciation of the lira strains Turkey’s resources and may reduce its appeal to recruits and employees, particularly among the Syrian National Army (SNA). Previously, Turkey offered around $1500 a month for Syrian fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya in 2020, according to interviews with individual fighters.[7] The Turkish lira's major slide against the US dollar almost doubled the cost of each recruit for Ankara over the past year. Local sources have reported that Ankara cut monthly salaries for deployments to Libya to $600 as early as October 2020, and Ankara’s new economic woes will likely lead to further cuts.[8] SNA recruits in Libya have occasionally protested their unpaid or delayed salaries from the Turkish government.[9] Similarly, Syrians’ salaries and revenues in Turkish lira are not keeping up with the inflation and price hikes inside northern Syria.[10] Recent reports of public protests over low salaries and growing rivalry among Syrian National Army factions over decreasing revenues are indications of the toll that Ankara’s financial decisions have had in Syria. [11] 

Ankara’s financial policies are only one of the factors that shape chronic problems of looting, theft, and extortion in the region—particularly by Turkish-backed military factions.[12] Syrians already lost important sources of income to the region’s recent drought and the COVID-19 pandemic.[13] Rising poverty and financial instability likely create recruitment opportunities for the Islamic State and other militias among the local Syrian population.

The rising cost of living exacerbates the humanitarian crisis in Turkish-controlled northern Syria. Employment through Turkish-backed institutions likely remains a good financial option for many people living in areas that depend on Turkish imports for essential goods.[14] The United Nations estimates that food prices in northwestern Syria are 128 percent higher compared to the same time last year and that 60 percent of Syria is food insecure and depends on gradually decreasing international aid.[15] Turkey’s depressed lira and inflation rate have made basic expenses like rent, energy, and produce even more expensive in Turkish-controlled northern Syria.[16] The Turkish-backed governing body, the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), even asked for additional aid from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia on December 13 at a time when Ankara is seeking better ties with the Persian Gulf states to address its own economic struggles.[17]

Turkey remains politically committed to its mission in Syria, but serious financial strains could present long-term problems. Turkey’s economic woes may force Ankara to reevaluate its financial commitments and minimize more discretionary costs. However, Turkey will likely not risk an exit or significant decrease of security and governance funding in Syria before it can guarantee its objectives for a post-war arrangement. These objectives likely include ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria with no independent Kurdish entity in the northeast, a post-war political arrangement that incorporates Turkish-backed figures and institutions in the north, and guarantees to keep the Kurdish fighters away from the Turkish-Syrian border.[18] Ankara likely recognizes that it must be prepared to maintain its presence and investments in Syria to pursue efforts that are critical for Ankara’s national security goals– even if it limits its activities in less critical sectors like education, health, and socioeconomic projects or outsources them to the Gulf States or other benefactors. Turkey’s continued presence in northern Syria will likely do little to improve underlying tensions in the local population from rising poverty, further undermining the effectiveness of Turkish-backed governance institutions and longer-term Turkish political goals in Syria.

1.    Turkey and Armenia appointed special envoys for a bilateral normalization process. Turkey and Armenia appointed former Turkish Ambassador to the United States Serdar Kilic and Armenian Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ruben Rubinyan as their respective special envoys.[19] Kilic and Rubinyan will hold their first direct meeting in Moscow, Russia, “soon” according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.[20] The normalization process will likely focus on practical issues of re-establishing direct diplomatic contact, reopening the border, starting charter flights between Yerevan and Istanbul, and opening trade. Turkish officials stated that the new “step-by-step" process does not include Armenian Genocide recognition, on which Turkish and Armenian officials disagree.[21] Turkish officials also maintain coordination with their Azerbaijani counterparts, who opposed the previous 2008 normalization attempt due to Armenia’s control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region at the time.[22] The fragile process faces many potential obstacles after decades of no diplomatic contact, mutual mistrust, and irreconcilable claims on key issues. Azerbaijan can also slow down or spoil any concrete progress if it assesses the situation to be unfavorable to its interests. However, Turkey’s appointment of a seasoned diplomat, the likely Russian mediation role, and both countries’ focus on practical progress indicate that Ankara and Yerevan are both willing to proceed with talks for now.

2.    Turkey and Azerbaijan agreed to supply natural gas to Nakhichevan through a new pipeline that would bypass Iran on December 15. Turkey and Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding to build an 85-kilometer-long gas pipeline from Igdir Province, Turkey, to Nakhichevan, the Azerbaijani exclave bordering Turkey.[23] Nakhichevan currently receives its natural gas from Azerbaijan through Iran. The proposed pipeline will bypass Iran and deliver natural gas to Nakhichevan through the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline. New energy networks that bypass Iran could further undermine Iran’s relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkey and Azerbaijan also plan to cooperate on renewable energy projects in Azerbaijan.[24]

3.    Likely Iranian proxy militias launched four rockets at the Turkish Armed Forces base in Bashiqa, Ninewa Province, Iraq. Unknown militants launched four 122 mm Iranian Arash rockets from Mosul to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) base in Bashiqa, Ninewa Province, Iraq, on December 27.[25] A Telegram channel affiliated with Iranian proxy militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq posted an image criticizing Turkish military operations in Iraq shortly after the attack.[26] Iran-backed militias likely conducted the strikes. ISW attributed similar rocket attacks against the TSK base in Bashiqa on April 14, August 12, September 24, and November 7, 2021 to Iranian proxy militias with medium-high confidence. The Turkish Defense Ministry did not issue a statement on the incident as of December 30. Increasingly frequent Iranian proxy attacks against Turkish military bases in 2021 suggest Iran may be directing its proxies in Iraq to intensify anti-TSK operations as a response to perceived Turkish military or political actions that disrupt Iranian interests. Iranian proxy media channels have condemned the Turkish presence in Iraq ahead of previous attacks, as well.[27]

4.    Turkey and Qatar proposed a joint bid to run five airports in Afghanistan, pending Taliban approval. A delegation of Turkish and Qatari officials met with the Taliban on December 23 to propose a plan for Turkish and Qatari private companies to jointly operate five airports in Afghanistan, including Kabul Airport. The Taliban Transport Ministry said the Taliban have not agreed to the Turkish-Qatari bid as of December 30. The Taliban asked for Turkey’s support to operate the Kabul Airport in September 2021, but the discussions paused after Turkey sought to bring in its own personnel for airport security. The Turkish Foreign Minister said that Turkish and Emirati officials discussed operating the Kabul airport “trilaterally” between Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE when Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan visited Turkey in November.[28] However, Turkey and Qatar have not held official discussions on the subject with the UAE yet. Emirati officials also held separate talks with the Taliban for their own bid to run Kabul Airport in November 2021, according to diplomatic sources.[29]

5.    The Turkish Armed Forces killed senior Yazidi military commander Marwan Badal with a drone strike in Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate, Iraq, on December 7. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) conducted a drone strike on a vehicle in Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate, Iraq, on December 7, killing Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) leader Marwan Badal.[30]  The YBS is comprised of Iraqi Yazidis from Sinjar and is closely linked with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey designates as a terrorist organization.[31] Turkey believes the YBS facilitates the PKK’s presence in Sinjar and movements between Iraq and Syria.  Turkey has targeted YBS commanders as part of its recent ramp-up of a longstanding campaign to fight the PKK in northern Iraq.[32] Turkey threatened to launch a military ground incursion toward Sinjar in February 2021 to end the PKK and YBS presence there.[33] Sinjar District is part of Iraq's Disputed Internal Boundaries, which are contested by the Turkey-backed Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

6.    The Tajik Border Troops commander visited a Turkish military base on the Syrian border in Hatay Province, Turkey, on December 7. Tajik Border Troops Commander Rajabali Rahmonali visited the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) Second Infantry Border Command Post in Hatay Governorate, Turkey, near the border with the Idlib Governorate, Syria, on December 7.[34] Rahmonali met with Turkish officers and observed TSK bases and activities near the Syrian border, according to images the Turkish Defense Ministry shared of the visit. Rahmonali likely visited the command post to learn how Turkish border protection efforts could be applied along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. Turkey has developed significant measures on its borders to curb smuggling, unauthorized civilian crossings, and security threats over the past decade.   

7.    Turkey hosted the third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on December 16-18. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted officials from 39 African states to strengthen defense, trade, and investment ties between Turkey and the continent.[35] Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held several one-on-one meetings with foreign officials in Istanbul.[36] Separately, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met with his counterparts from Nigeria and Ethiopia—both of whom showed interest in Turkey’s defense products in recent months, namely the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones.[37] Advancing Turkey’s ties with Africa is a long-standing foreign policy priority for President Erdogan. Since 2003, Turkish-African bilateral trade volume has grown by 500 percent, and Turkey’s foreign direct investment to the continent has increased by 6500 percent. Turkey’s low-cost and effective defense products have found significant demand among several African countries in recent months and will likely play a key part in Turkey’s outreach to the continent. 

Contributor: Fatih Cungurlu











[11] In response, a group of teachers staged a protest in al-Bab, Aleppo Province, Syria, on December 23 to demand an increase in their monthly salaries.


[13] “Since the summer 2021, Syria is facing an acute water crisis caused by the worst drought in 70 years. More than 5 million people in Syria are losing access to water, food and electricity. Furthermore, some 4.5 million people in Syria are in urgent need of assistance to prepare for the winter.”


Turkish-controlled Syria depends on imports from Turkey for essential goods like poultry, flour, and cars.


[16] For example, Idlib’s main fuel importer Watad Petroleum raised its fuel prices six times in November 2021, depleting most from a basic energy necessity.


[18] Anonymous Turkish officials listed conditions for TSK to withdraw from Syria to Turkish pro-government media on December 24







[25] The footage includes artillery rockets that are likely 122mm Arash series rockets, developed by Iran.



[27] Iranian-backed Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba threatened Turkish operations in Iraq on February 14.  The August 12 attack followed multiple threats against the Turkish "occupiers" by members of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS)





[32] TSK killed another senior YBS commander with an airstrike in Sinjar in August 2021