UA-69458566-1

Monday, November 16, 2020

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

 By George Barros

November 16, 2020

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.[1] 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.[2]

The Kremlin is likely leveraging the CSTO to manage perceptions about Russia’s military deployment to Nagorno Karabakh. The Kremlin deployed 1,960 Russian “peacekeepers” to Nagorno Karabakh on November 10.[3] These Russian personnel are unspecified elements of the Roshchinsky-based 15th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, unspecified elements of the Ulyanovsk-based 31st Airborne Assault Brigade, and unspecified elements of the Kubina-based separate 45th Guards Spetsnaz Detached Brigade—a special operations unit of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV).[4] This “peacekeeping” mission is an exclusively Russian undertaking and does not include any CSTO personnel, structures, or frameworks as of this writing. The CSTO, nonetheless, is supporting this Russian military deployment in the international information space.[5] CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas said that Russia’s peacekeeping mission helped established peace in Nagorno Karabakh on November 11.[6] The CSTO’s favorable coverage of an exclusively Russian operation may seek to create a larger false impression that the CSTO is somehow involved in this operation. The successful creation of this impression will lend the operation additional connotations of legitimacy through perceived CSTO backing or could support a new, formal CSTO involvement in the operation. Russian President Vladimir Putin likely seeks to blur the lines between Russian and CSTO activities as part of a hybrid warfare technique to obfuscate Russian activities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin likely seeks to create an impression linking Russian “peacekeepers” in Nagorno Karabakh to “humanitarian assistance.” The Russian Defense Ministry began constructing an “Interdepartmental Center for Humanitarian Response” in Nagorno Karabakh’s capital of Stepanakert on November 15, 2020, as part of its operation in that region.[7] The Kremlin claims this center will coordinate Russian-led refugee resettlement and humanitarian efforts.[8] This effort helps the Kremlin frame its military personnel deployed abroad as legitimate humanitarian actors.

The Kremlin is intensifying efforts to brand CSTO peacekeepers as a legitimate humanitarian force. The CSTO announced plans to add a special medical unit to the CSTO’s peacekeeping force on November 12 and called to build further capability to counter COVID-19 on November 13.[9] The Kremlin will likely leverage the addition of a mostly symbolic CSTO medical detachment to assist its framing of CSTO peacekeepers as a humanitarian force. The Kremlin previously included CSTO personnel and International Committee of the Red Cross observers in the October 2020 Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises in Belarus to frame Russian deployments to Belarus as legitimate and internationally accepted, despite Putin’s intensified efforts to undermine Belarus’s sovereignty.[10]

Putin will likely increase Russian control over CSTO member states’ militaries on November 17. The CSTO will hold a security council secretariat committee meeting on November 17 to further formalize agreements on CSTO peacekeeping, equipping its Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), coalition security, military-technical cooperation, and counternarcotic efforts.[11] CSTO member states will likely sign two plans: one on joint training for command and control structures and joint military forces; and another on cooperation on foreign policy through the end of 2020 and the first half of 2021.[12] This will advance Putin’s larger campaign to subordinate former Soviet Union (FSU) states’ militaries to Russian-dominated structures.

The CSTO RRF conducted a rapid response exercise in Medvezhi Ozera, Moscow Oblast, November 11-12, that could support a Russian military deployment to Belarus.[13]

This exercise tested the RRF’s capabilities by using VDV signals elements as the CSTO’s command and control backbone for the first time. An unspecified number of Russian, Belarusian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik personnel participated in the exercise at the base of the 38th Separate Signals Regiment—the VDV’s only separate signals regiment.[14] The Russian Ministry of Defense did not state how many personnel participated in this exercise or provide the comprehensive readout that usually accompanies such exercises. The Kremlin likely seeks to increase the RRF’s effectiveness by leveraging the VDV’s expeditionary capabilities.[15]

The Kremlin may deploy CSTO “peacekeepers” to Belarus using the CSTO RRF. Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gave an interview on November 13 in which he praised deeper integration with Russia via the CSTO as the “main remedy” for color revolutions.[16] The Kremlin may brand a potential future conventional Russian military deployment to Belarus as a CSTO multinational “peacekeeping” mission to conceal Putin’s intent to use such a deployment to further integrate Belarus into Russia.

CSTO member states will likely begin developing information technology (IT) under a Kremlin-controlled unified security framework. CSTO member states agreed on the necessity to develop “uniform [IT] rules between states” to ensure collective security on November 12.[17] CSTO member states reportedly are developing a five-year plan to harmonize legislation on IT regulations, including the creation of a single digital signature among CSTO states.[18]

This effort to control CSTO states’ IT regulations on the Kremlin’s terms advances several larger Kremlin campaigns, including the Kremlin’s campaign to contest the West in international information and communications technologies—a campaign the Kremlin launched in 2014.[19] This effort, if successful, will likely increase Russian access to CSTO members’ IT technical networks, increasing Russia’s cyber capabilities.[20]

The United States and NATO should take several steps to mitigate these threats. The West should closely monitor Russian-led “peacekeeping missions” to challenge Putin’s assertions that these operations are humanitarian in nature when they could, in fact, support hybrid wars. The West should call out Russian efforts to undermine FSU states’ sovereignty by subordinating their militaries and IT industries to Russian-dominated structures. The West should also call out Russian efforts to manipulate the information space by characterizing its hybrid operations as “peacekeeping missions.” Western leaders should pressure the UN not to recognize the CSTO as a legitimate peacekeeping force.

 


[1] https://sputnik dot by/defense_safety/20201016/1045917923/ODKB-provedet-peregovory-s-OON-ob-uchastii-v-mirotvorcheskikh-operatsiyakh.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiuyVyRIEVg

[2] http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Hybrid%20Warfare%20ISW%20Report%202020.pdf

[3] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-president-putin-wins-upset-victory-nagorno-karabakh

[4] https://iz dot ru/1084928/izvestiia/noch-mira-kak-armeniia-i-azerbaidzhan-podelili-karabakh

[5] https://iz dot ru/1084928/izvestiia/noch-mira-kak-armeniia-i-azerbaidzhan-podelili-karabakh; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-president-putin-wins-upset-victory-nagorno-karabakh

[6] https://regnum dot ru/news/polit/3112721.html

[7] https://www.gazeta dot ru/army/news/2020/11/15/15231445.shtml

[8] https://www.gazeta dot ru/army/news/2020/11/15/15231445.shtml

[9] https://tj.sputniknews dot ru/defense_safety/20201112/1032255355/ODKB-meditsinskii-otryad-spetsnaznacheniya.html; https://regnum dot ru/news/3114827.html

[10] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet

[11] https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/107815/

[12] https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/107815/

[13] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment

[14] https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12324138@egNews; https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12324112@egNews; https://rg dot ru/2020/11/12/reg-cfo/sily-odkb-oprobovali-novuiu-sistemu-upravleniia.html; https://voinskayachast dot net/vozdushno-desantnie-voyska/vch54164 © VoinskayaChast.net; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Russian_Airborne_Forces.png

[15] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-upcoming-csto-exercise-could-support-russian-military-deployment

[16] https://www.belta dot by/president/view/splotitsja-i-vystupit-edinym-frontom-lukashenko-nazval-glavnoe-lekarstvo-ot-tsvetnyh-revoljutsij-415542-2020/

[17] https://vmeste-rf dot tv/news/strany-odkb-rabotayut-nad-edinymi-pravilami-tsifrovogo-prostranstva/; https://interfax dot by/news/policy/vneshnyaya_politika/1286775/

[18] https://vmeste-rf dot tv/news/strany-odkb-rabotayut-nad-edinymi-pravilami-tsifrovogo-prostranstva/; https://interfax dot by/news/policy/vneshnyaya_politika/1286775/

[19] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/kremlin-leverages-cyber-cooperation-deals

[20] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/kremlin-leverages-cyber-cooperation-deals

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Syria Situation Report: October 28 - November 10, 2020

 By Andrew Greco and Will Christou (SyriaDirect)

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.

Click the image below to enlarge.





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

 November 11, 2020, 4:00 pm EDT

By George Barros

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.”[1] Tikhanouskaya promised amnesty for protesters who help capture these targets.[2]

Tikhanouskaya’s call to employ force against Belarusian officials is unprecedented and a significant escalation in the opposition leadership’s efforts to direct the protests. Protesters’ tactics have been overwhelming peaceful since the protests began in August despite militarized police crackdowns. It is unclear whether protesters will act on Tikhanouskaya’s directions. Belarusian protesters have not previously demonstrated a willingness to undertake opposition leadership calls for more radical protest actions, such as creating parallel state structures, including self-protection forces, for example.[3]

Tikhanouskaya may seek to leverage a high-profile Belarusian martyr to catalyze protest escalation. Roman Bondarenko, a 31-year-old protester and military veteran, died on November 12 after plainclothes Belarusian security forces beat him into a coma near his home in Minsk.[4] Bondarenko has become a martyr for the opposition and his death is a rallying point that could trigger a significant change in protester sentiment or tactics. Tikhanouskaya may have issued directions for protesters to use force against Lukashenko on November 13 to capitalize on any possible shifts in protester sentiment following Bondarenko’s death on November 12. Protesters do not rhetorically seek to avenge Bondarenko as of this writing.

Belarusians are protesting in greater numbers than normal for weekday protests due to the Bondarenko’s killing. Several thousand Belarusians held a peaceful vigil for Bondarenko on November 12.[5] Several hundred Belarusians conducted solidarity and memorial protests across Belarus on November 13.[6] The tone of these demonstrations focuses on mourning and solidarity but could shift to target Lukashenko in line with Tikhanouskaya’s effort to capture regime officials.

The Lukashenko regime has continued to control protests. Belarusian Police preemptively disrupted the Saturday women’s march for the first time on November 7. Preemptively deployed police stymied the march by detaining a few dozen women that met to begin the march.[7] The Lukashenko regime is raiding bank accounts of Belarusians who are receiving financial aid from protester and striker solidarity funds.[8] The regime continues to detain strikers at state-owned enterprises.[9] The Belarusian parliament is considering a bill that would effectively allow the government to strip Belarusian nationals of Belarusian citizenship for participating in protests.[10] ISW previously assessed Lukashenko can likely outlast the opposition protesters barring major changes in the opposition’s strategy or tactics.[11]

Tikhanouskaya is planning the opposition’s largest protest yet for December 20. Tikhanouskaya said the opposition will conduct their largest march yet and release a tribunal statement on December 20.[12] Tikhanouskaya likely hopes that this protest will exceed 200,000 participants.

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1] https://t dot me/tsikhanouskaya/421

[2] https://t dot me/tsikhanouskaya/421

[3] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-nexta-strategy-create-grassroots-organization-belarus-likely

[4] https://belarusfeed.com/unknown-white-red-white-ribbons-beat-coma/; https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/candles-and-condemnation-as-thousands-mourn-death-of-belarus-protester/

[5] https://www.rfi dot fr/ru/%D0%B5%D0%B2%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BF%D0%B0/20201113-%D0%B2-%D0%BC%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B5-%D1%83%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%80-%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%B1%D0%B8%D1%82%D1%8B%D0%B9-%D1%82%D0%B8%D1%85%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BC-%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BD-%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BA%D0%BE-%D1%82%D1%8B%D1%81%D1%8F%D1%87%D0%B8-%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BA-%D0%B2%D1%8B%D1%88%D0%BB%D0%B8-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%B0%D0%BA%D1%86%D0%B8%D1%8E-%D0%B5%D0%B3%D0%BE-%D0%BF%D0%B0%D0%BC%D1%8F%D1%82%D0%B8-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%89%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8-%D0%BF%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD

[6] https://news.tut dot by/economics/707708.html

[7] https://gazetaby dot com/post/zaderzhaniya-na-marshe-medikov-pusk-aes-chto-prois/170595/; https://ont dot by/news/ocherednoj-zhenskij-marsh-sobytie-kotorogo-fakticheski-ne-bylo; https://people.onliner dot by/2020/11/07/chto-proisxodit-7-noyabrya

[8] https://www.dw dot com/ru/u-postradavshih-aktivistov-vlasti-belarusi-zabirajut-dengi/a-55573955

[9] https://www.ukrinform dot ru/rubric-world/3135858-v-kossovo-zaderzali-bolse-50-stackomovcev-belaruskalia.html

[10] https://www.svaboda.org/a/30946116.html

[11] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration

[12] https://t dot me/tsikhanouskaya/421

 

Russian President Putin Wins Upset Victory in Nagorno-Karabakh

 By Ezgi Yazici

November 13, 2020

Key Takeaway: 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.

Russia’s upset victory upends Turkey’s calculus in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan owes its rapid military success in Nagorno-Karabakh to Turkey’s strong backing with arms sales, Syrian proxy deployments, and diplomatic support.[1] Turkey’s patronage likely came with strings attached, despite the Turks’ friendly relations and historical kinship with Azerbaijanis. Ankara likely saw the conflict as a low-cost opportunity to solidify a Turkish foothold in the Caucasus while gaining an advantage over Moscow and potentially replacing Russia as Azerbaijan’s key patron. Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s insistence on Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh was likely the key obstacle to the previous ceasefires attempts—leading Erdogan to calculate that he was holding the reins of the conflict and could control its end. Putin seized those reins with the November 9 agreement by forcing Armenia to surrender to the Azerbaijani demands under exclusive Russian control over the implementation process.

Aliyev delivers long-awaited victory at a high price. The Russian-brokered agreement will end Armenia’s military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions of Azerbaijan by December 1—making Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev the leader to reclaim Azerbaijan’s territories lost during his father’s presidency in 1994. The agreement does not mention Baku’s key ally Ankara, despite earlier discussions of a joint Turkish-Russian peacekeeping presence in Nagorno-Karabakh.[2] Aliyev will likely enjoy domestic popularity from his Kremlin-delivered victory, but he now faces new challenges with the first Russian military presence in Azerbaijan in many years and likely damaged relations with Turkey.

Putin is the clear winner of the upset victory in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Kremlin achieved multiple crucial objectives by brokering the November 9 peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

  1. The Kremlin was able to reassert Russian preponderant influence in the Caucasus—part of Russia’s “near abroad” in which the Kremlin claims it should have a dominant voice.
  2. The Kremlin transformed Azerbaijan’s Turkey-backed military success into a Russia-delivered victory for Azerbaijan—strengthening Baku-Moscow relations and integrating Azerbaijan more deeply into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.
  3. Russia secured a military foothold in another former Soviet state, deploying a peacekeeping force of 1,960 troops along the line of contact in Azerbaijan for five years.[3]
  4. The Kremlin denied Turkey any military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh despite previous Turkish military support that tipped the scale in Azerbaijan’s advantage on the ground. The deal excludes Turkish peacekeeping troops even though deploying such troops was being discussed.[4]
  5. The agreement and the subsequent public protests in Armenia will jeopardize the political future of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who will be seen as responsible for a devastating defeat and a humiliating deal.[5] Pashinyan came to power with the support of Armenia’s popular protests in 2018 and has been perceived as relatively pro-Western. His embarrassment creates an opportunity for a much more pro-Russian leader to take power in Yerevan, to Putin’s benefit.

Putin outmaneuvered Erdogan as Turkey failed to cash in its military success for long-term gains. The Russian-brokered agreement likely shocked Ankara. Putin compelled Yerevan to accept this defeat by taking advantage of Armenia’s dependence on Russian military power to withstand the Turkish-backed Azerbaijani push. His decision to do so was a clever gambit. He sacrificed some goodwill and trust in Armenia by failing to come to its aid and then imposing this humiliation on it, but Yerevan has nowhere to go—no other power or group of states can defend Armenia from Turkey or Azerbaijan. Had Putin instead rallied around his Armenian allies, he could have stopped or reversed the Azerbaijani gains, but at the cost of driving Azerbaijan much more firmly into the Turkish camp. Erdogan likely miscalculated Putin’s willingness to sacrifice an ally temporarily to make a bigger, longer-term gain.

Erdogan is unlikely to be able to reverse this setback any time soon. He may push for a limited diplomatic role in future resolution processes, but the agreement underscores the asymmetrical nature of the Russia-Turkey relationship. Russia’s timely diplomatic maneuvering and swift negotiation reversed Turkey’s gains in courting Azerbaijan and establishing a Turkish foothold in the Caucasus. Turkey’s limited gains include a land corridor to connect Turkey to Baku over the autonomous Azerbaijani territory of Nakhichevan and a symbolic Azeri-Turkish victory that Erdogan will likely benefit from inside Turkey.[6] The success of Turkish Bayraktar drones will likely increase the demand for Turkish military exports as well. But those gains are far short of what Erdogan was likely expecting in return for the risks he courted in this conflict, and they are outweighed by the establishment of a Russian military position in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The war in Nagorno-Karabakh ended on Russia’s terms 36 years after another Russian-brokered ceasefire: Putin scored a major long-term gain for Russian strategic objectives in the Caucasus while showcasing Russia’s stronger diplomatic vigor and experience over Turkey’s. Turkey failed to influence the conflict’s end despite its significant military success in backing Azerbaijan. Putin’s upset victory in Nagorno-Karabakh will have profound effects on the future of two former Soviet states in the Caucasus and Turkey-Russia competition across multiple theaters.


[1] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/erdogan-seeks-upend-kremlin-backed-status-quo-nagorno-karabakh

[2] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nagorno-karabakh-ceasefire-deal-azerbaijan-armenia

https://ria dot ru/20201110/karabakh-1583850895.html

[3] https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more dot htm?id=12323909@egNews

[4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-armenia-azerbaijan-kremlin/no-agreement-concerning-deployment-of-turkish-peacekeepers-in-nagorno-karabakh-says-kremlin-idUSKBN27Q15H

[5] https://twitter.com/ZartonkMedia/status/1325940526919503873?s=20

[6] https://www.almasdarnews dot com/article/turkey-to-build-railway-to-link-nakhchivan-and-azerbaijan-after-karabakh-conflict/

 

 

 

Friday, November 6, 2020

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

November 6, 2020, 4:00 pm EDT

By George Barros

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.[1] Armenian forces will not participate, likely due to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

This exercise is likely the November iteration of Russia’s and Belarus’ now-monthly joint exercises. Chief of the CSTO Joint Staff Colonel-General Anatoly Sidorov—a Russian national—will lead the exercise.[2] Sidorov participated in the CSTO’s Unbreakable Brotherhood exercise in Belarus in October.[3] Russian President Vladimir Putin and self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko agreed in September 2020 to hold “almost monthly” joint military exercises in both Belarus and Russia in 2021 and have conduced large monthly joint military exercises since.[4] The Kremlin has not claimed the upcoming exercise as preplanned as of this writing.

This CSTO exercise emphasizes logistics and command and control—elements necessary to support future Russian conventional military deployments to Belarus.

The exercise will test the CSTO’s rapid response capabilities by using signals elements of Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) as the CSTO’s command and control backbone for the first time. The exercise’s main stated goal is to test using a VDV command post as the basis of the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force (RRF).[5] This exercise will occur at the base of the 38th Separate Signals Regiment—the VDV’s only separate signals regiment.[6] The RRF’s primary mission is to quickly respond to security threats against CSTO member states.[7] The RRF’s size is approximately 18,000 personnel.[8] The VDV is Russia’s principal expeditionary force. The exercise, if successful, will likely increase the RRF’s effectiveness by leveraging the VDV’s expeditionary capabilities.

The Kremlin will likely use this exercise to support its hybrid war in Belarus. The Kremlin will likely exploit the exercise’s CSTO branding to conceal that the exercise could support actual combat deployments to Belarus. The Kremlin concealed new deployments to Belarus in September and October 2020 by branding them as “preplanned exercises” with multilateral participation to create a false sense of normality.[9] Putin included CSTO participants and International Committee of the Red Cross observers in Unbreakable Brotherhood to frame Russian deployments to Belarus as legitimate and internationally accepted, despite Russia’s intensified efforts to undermine Belarus’s sovereignty.[10]

The exercise could be part of the Kremlin’s likely efforts to prepare logistics supply lines to Belarus. The exercise’s emphasis on logistics and command and control are consistent with assessed ongoing Russian efforts to create a capability to sustain a near-continuous Russian deployment to Belarus.[11] Russian and Belarusian units began conducting command and control and signal exercises—tasks necessary for a sustained Russian deployment to Belarus—in late September.[12] The Russian Ministry of Defense announced exercises to transport ammunition and fuel closer to Belarus in early October.[13]

The size of the exercise is unclear. Approximately 6,000 personnel (approximately 1,000 of which were the three Russian VDV battalion tactical groups) participated in the Slavic Brotherhood exercises in Belarus in September 2020.[14] Approximately 900 CSTO personnel (approximately 140 of which were Russian) participated in Unbreakable Brotherhood in Belarus in October 2020.[15]

Russian Western Military District (WMD) and VDV personnel will likely constitute a majority of the participants in the exercise, given the exercise’s significant VDV component, that the exercise will occur inside the WMD, that WMD forces exercised at an unusually high scale in September and October 2020, and that Russian personnel historically constitute a majority of participants in CSTO exercises.[16]  

Russian deployments to Belarus since the crisis began have overwhelmingly been VDV units. Three VDV battalion tactical groups—approximately 1,000 personnel—deployed to Belarus for the Slavic Brotherhood exercises in September.[17] ISW observed only one non-VDV conventional Russian military deployment to Belarus since the crisis began—a deployment of approximately 140 personnel, likely elements of the Samara-based Second Combined Arms Army—for the Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises in October.[18] VDV units would likely be among the first units deployed to Belarus in the event of a sustained deployment.

Putin continues to pressure Lukashenko for concessions on integration. Putin and Lukashenko reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening and fulfilling their Union State obligations during a November 4 phone call.[19]

Putin may be offering Lukashenko economic incentives to further formalizing the Union State. Lukashenko informed Putin about the completion of a Belarusian nuclear power plant that was built by Belarusian state firm Rosatom and financed by a $10 billion Russian loan.[20] Putin reportedly supported Lukashenko’s proposal to produce Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine in Belarus via a technology transfer and the acquisition of a Russian oil field.[21] They also discussed transporting Belarusian goods from the port of Ust-Luga near St. Petersburg within the sphere of military-technical cooperation.[22]

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1] https://www.belta dot by/society/view/komandno-shtabnaja-trenirovka-ksor-odkb-projdet-11-12-nojabrja-414364-2020

[2] https://rg dot ru/2020/11/06/reg-cfo/sily-odkb-11-i-12-noiabria-provedut-trenirovku-v-podmoskove.html

[3] https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/komandno-shtabnoe-uchenie-s-mirotvorcheskimi-silami-odkb-nerushimoe-bratstvo-2020-proydet-v-respubli/

[4] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-softens-his-opposition-protests-seeking-leverage; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-multiple-russian-military-exercises-occurring-western-military; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will-likely-use-october-military-exercises-advance-its; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet

[5] https://www.belta dot by/society/view/komandno-shtabnaja-trenirovka-ksor-odkb-projdet-11-12-nojabrja-414364-2020

[6] https://voinskayachast dot net/vozdushno-desantnie-voyska/vch54164 © VoinskayaChast.net; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Russian_Airborne_Forces.png

[7] https://jscsto.odkb-csto dot org/voennaya-sostavlyauschaya-odkb/ksorodkb.php

[8] https://www.belta dot by/society/view/komandno-shtabnaja-trenirovka-ksor-odkb-projdet-11-12-nojabrja-414364-2020

[9] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet

[10] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-kremlin-will.html

[11] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-likely-began-preparing-logistics-supply-lines-belarus

[12] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-setting-conditions-long-term-continuous-russian-military; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-and-belarus-prepare-october-exercises-belarus; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia%E2%80%99s-western-military-district-prepares-october-exercises

[13] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-likely-began-preparing-logistics-supply-lines-belarus

[14] https://reform dot by/165444-okolo-6000-chelovek-primut-uchastie-vo-vtorom-jetape-slavjanskogo-bratstva-2020; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/warning-kremlin-deploys-brigade-sized-force-belarus-near-polish-border; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-deploys-third-battalion-tactical-group-belarus

[15] https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12319434@egNews

[16] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet

[17] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/warning-kremlin-deploys-brigade-sized-force-belarus-near-polish-border; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-deploys-third-battalion-tactical-group-belarus

[18] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-police-detain-demonstrators-protests-escalate

[19] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/64337; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-i-putin-obsudili-situatsiju-v-mire-epidemiju-covid-19-perevalku-tovarov-neftegazovuju-414126-2020/

[20] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/64337; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-i-putin-obsudili-situatsiju-v-mire-epidemiju-covid-19-perevalku-tovarov-neftegazovuju-414126-2020/; https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-launched-nuclear-power-plant-despite-safety-issues-/30928660.html

[21] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/64337; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-i-putin-obsudili-situatsiju-v-mire-epidemiju-covid-19-perevalku-tovarov-neftegazovuju-414126-2020/

[22] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/64337; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-i-putin-obsudili-situatsiju-v-mire-epidemiju-covid-19-perevalku-tovarov-neftegazovuju-414126-2020/

 

 

Monday, November 2, 2020

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

 November 2, 2020, 5:30 pm EDT

By George Barros

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.[1] 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.[2] Lukashenko explicitly claimed Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Church of Belarus, received directions from Poland on how to “destroy our country.”[3] Belarusian border guards stopped Kondrusiewicz from returning to Belarus from Poland on August 31 after he spoke out against Belarusian police brutality.[4] 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.[5]

The NEXTA Telegram channel issued abnormal directions for November 1 protests in Minsk. NEXTA explicitly compared Lukashenko’s current repressions to Stalinist abuses and called for continued demonstrations “so that this never happens again.”[6] NEXTA called for protesters to march to a memorial to Belarusian victims of Soviet repressions approximately six miles from main protest sites in Minsk and linked this march to an annual tradition when Belarusians pay respects at their families’ graves who perished in Stalinist repressions.[7]

NEXTA’s attempt to marshal this special march was largely ineffective. An overwhelming majority of Belarusian protesters in Minsk did not participate in NEXTA’s march.[8] Large numbers of Belarusian security forces deployed to NEXTA’s specified gathering site an hour before the protesters were to gather. A few thousand protesters congregated at NEXTA’s gathering point, but security forces dispersed them quickly using rubber bullets and stun grenades.[9] Police detained at least 313 protesters on November 1.[10]

The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) likely detonated an “IED” in Minsk on November 1, likely as part of ongoing efforts to frame the opposition as terrorists. The MVD claimed protesters detonated an IED in Minsk on November 1.[11] The alleged IED, which was likely a MVD plant, was filmed in broad daylight, had a highly visible fuse, did not injure anyone, and detonated near a group of police officers who were seemingly aware of and unphased by the IED.[12] Nor was their observed behavior consistent with a team finding and defusing an IED or detonating it in place. Belarusian security services have intensified efforts to link the protests with terrorism since October 22.[13] Belarusian security services may use this or similar other incidents to justify an intensified policing campaign, though there is no evidence they seek to do so at this time.

Lukashenko banned all foreigners from entering Belarus on November 1.[14] Belarusian authorities claim this measure seeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19—an improbable justification since Belarusian authorities never closed the country’s borders during the initial lockdown in Spring 2020.[15] Belarus closed all its borders—except its border with Russia—on October 29.[16] Belarusian authorities never provided an explanation for why Russia was initially exempt from border closures. 

Lukashenko is tightening control over the information space inside Belarus. Belarusian authorities effectively banned four non-state media outlets’ print publications on October 31.[17] Lukashenko’s Kremlin-backed media campaign began suppressing print media in Belarus on August 19.[18]

Senior Lukashenko regime officials will meet representatives of Belarusian society throughout November as part of Lukashenko’s efforts to defuse protests. Senior Belarusian officials reportedly will conduct meetings with “representatives” from Belarusian society from November 4-27.[19] Lukashenko will likely use these engagements to demonstrate his willingness to talk to citizens and discuss the putative concessions he seeks to use to defuse the protests.[20]

Lukashenko is setting conditions to intensify anti-protester crackdowns in January 2021. Belarusian MPs are reportedly preparing amendments to Belarusian criminal codes to increase penalties for participating in unauthorized mass events and using opposition symbols, such as "illegal” flags.[21]  These amendments reportedly will come into effect in January 2021.[22]

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1] https://news.tut dot by/society/706267.html; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-gosudarstvo-vsegda-budet-priverzheno-mezhkonfessionalnomu-miru-v-belarusi-413689-2020/

[2] https://news.tut dot by/society/706267.html; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-gosudarstvo-vsegda-budet-priverzheno-mezhkonfessionalnomu-miru-v-belarusi-413689-2020/

[3] https://news.tut dot by/society/706267.html; https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-gosudarstvo-vsegda-budet-priverzheno-mezhkonfessionalnomu-miru-v-belarusi-413689-2020/

[4] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-kremlin-information-operations.html

[5] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-kremlin-information-operations.html

[6] https://t dot me/nexta_live/11954; https://t dot me/nexta_live/11952

[7] https://t dot me/nexta_live/11954; https://t dot me/nexta_live/11952

[8] https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-ukraine-alexander-lukashenko-belarus-elections-e7111a0303b1a6bc93380b8b80de89e2; https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/02/europe/belarus-protests-police-crackdown-intl/index.html; https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/02/europe/belarus-protests-police-crackdown-intl/index.html

[9] https://t dot me/belsat/28214; https://news.tut dot by/economics/706172.html#ua:main_news~1 ; https://t dot me/nexta_tv/8096; https://t dot me/nexta_tv/8095; https://t dot me/nexta_tv/8100; https://twitter.com/HannaLiubakova/status/1322922081609228289

[10] http://spring96 dot org/ru/news/100198

[11] https://interfax dot by/news/policy/raznoe/1286211/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1-eM4pG8w

[13] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-putin-likely.html; http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-will.html; https://sputnik dot by/incidents/20201026/1045992086/KGB-ryad-deystviy-protestuyuschikh-mozhno-kvalifitsirovat-kak-akt-terrorizma.html

[14] https://gpk.gov dot by/news/gpk/77911/

[15] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko_29.html

[16] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko_29.html

[17] https://news.tut dot by/society/706160.html

[18] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-lukashenkos-kremlin-backed.html

[19] https://www.belta dot by/society/view/rukovoditeli-gosorganov-provedut-v-nojabre-priemy-grazhdan-v-sovmine-413491-2020/

[20] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/10/belarus-warning-update-putin.html

[21] https://news.tut dot by/society/706085.html

[22] https://news.tut dot by/society/706085.html