Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus

George Barros with Frederick W. Kagan, Mason Clark, and Kateryna Stepanenko

November 24, 2021 – UPDATED NOVEMBER 26, 11:00 am

Russia is setting conditions to conduct military operations against Ukraine and/or in Belarus in the coming weeks or months. The Russian Federation has positioned military forces around Ukraine’s border and near the border with Belarus able to initiate offensive operations on very short notice with very little warning. Russian officials and media outlets have been setting conditions in the information space to support such operations. This document is not intended as a forecast or an assessment of the likelihood of any such Russian activities, all of which are also consistent with Russian non-military lines of effort against Ukraine, Belarus, the US, and NATO.

Possible Russian military actions:

1)      Overt deployment of Russian conventional military forces into Belarus on the pretext of defending against planned NATO aggression.

2)      Overt deployment of Russian conventional military forces into the Donbas region of Ukraine ostensibly to preempt and prevent a Ukrainian attack on the region.

3)      Invasion of Ukraine beyond occupied Donbas and Crimea with scenarios ranging from limited incursions (possible) to a full-scale mechanized drive on Kyiv (unlikely).

These activities can be mutually reinforcing and are in no way mutually exclusive.

  • Russian forces and information operations are postured to support overt deployments into both Donbas and Belarus simultaneously.
  • They could conduct those operations and also drive into unoccupied Ukraine simultaneously, although they would likely require more reinforcements on the Ukrainian border than have yet been observed.
  • They could alternatively first deploy into Donbas and Belarus and then invade unoccupied Ukraine as a subsequent phase.

ISW has been forecasting for some time that Russia would deploy its own ground forces into Belarus at some point. We have not forecasted that Russia would deploy its own troops into Donbas, but such a development would not be inconsistent with the general trend of our assessments. We have consistently held that an invasion of unoccupied Ukraine is highly unlikely and would not occur without a major change in the situation and a visible Russian information campaign to set conditions for such an action. We stand by that assessment.

This document is not a forecast or an assessment. It lays out the indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, noting which ones have tripped, which are partially tripped, and which have not tripped. It then presents the dominant narrative from the Kremlin for each day starting on 22 November, followed by a run-down of key activities by Ukraine and other states.

This is an interim document, which we expect to update regularly. We present this interim assessment and forecast, along with indicators, to help frame ongoing discussions about Russian actions. This is not a finished analytical product.

Military-Political Indicators:


  1. An increase of Russian command and control (C2) elements inside Donbas or in southern or western Russia near the Russian-Ukrainian border. – Possibly tripped, inferred from 8th Combined Arms Army announced command post exercise in Donbas.[1]
  2. Decreased bandwidth on Russian railways for commercial enterprises since October.[2] ­– Russian MoD is likely moving lots of hardware.
  3. Mobilization of the DNR and LNR militias. – Likely tripped given DNR/LNR reserves reportedly mobilized under 8th CAA leadership on November 22.[3]

Partially Tripped:

  1. Increased volume of video recordings capturing Russian hardware moving in western Russia towards Ukraine. – We have observed an increase in video volume in November. Threshold: We still have not seen the same quantity of video as we saw in April 2021, but we are steadily approaching that point.
  2. The Kremlin issues some form of political ultimatum to Kyiv or calls Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in for senior talks. – Arguably Fyodor Lukyanov’s November 24 article in which he almost says that if NATO does not give Putin a solid promise that Ukraine won't join NATO, there will be war similar to the Russia-Georgian war of 2008 trips this.[4] There is still no formal public Kremlin statement of an ultimatum or a call for Zelensky talks.
  3. More Russian deployments, mobilizations, or snap exercises at scale (units at the brigade/regiment/multiple battalion tactical groups from maneuver elements of the 1st Tank Army, and the 20th, 8th, and 41st CAAs).
    1. 20th CAA – Not tripped as of November 24 – We may not see this occur in the open source if / when it occurs.
    2. 1st Tank Army – Likely partially tripped. Observed T-80U tanks likely of the 4th Tank Division IVO Voronez on November 10.[5] Element echelon unclear.
    3. 8th CAA – Possibly tripped with the DNR and LNR reserve mobilization on November 22.
    4. 41st CAA – Not tripped. Elements are still at Yelnya as of November 23.[6]
  4. Mobilization of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) naval elements. – Arguably partially tripped on a small scale as of November 24. BSF naval aviation held an exercise of only 10 crews of Su-27 and Su-30 on November 24.[7] Missile ship “Shuya” of the Black Sea Fleet conducted an exercise on November 26 in response to the announcement of the USS “Arleigh Burke’s” deployment to the Black Sea.[8] Naval infantry have not mobilized as of November 26.

Not Tripped:

  1. Mobilization of artillery elements at the regiment and brigade level. – We may not see this occur in the open source if / when it occurs. Many artillery elements of the 58th CAA are likely still in Crimea after the April 2021 buildup, but we have no direct evidence of their continued presence.  
  2. Mobilization of Russia’s Airborne Forces (VDV) or Black Sea naval elements. – We may not see this occur in the open source if / when it occurs.
  3. Mobilization of Caspian Sea Fleet elements in the Black Sea near Ukraine. – We may not see this occur in the open source if / when it occurs. Caspian Sea Fleet elements may still be in the Black Sea left over from the April 2021 buildup.
  4. Most dangerous course of action (MDCOA): The Kremlin escalates the migrant crisis in Belarus – Likely in order to set conditions for deployment of Russian ground forces into Belarus.
  5. MDCOA: Activations / mobilization / heightened readiness of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (nuclear weapons). – We will very likely not see this in the open source if it occurs, but it would be an indicator that an operation is imminent or already underway. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has made public statements suggesting that the SRF are at heightened alert, however.[9]

Information Domain Indicators:


  1. Belarus claims NATO is building up military forces near Belarus. – The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) accused Poland of creating a formation that resembles “a shock group” near Belarus on November 11 and accused Lithuania and Latvia of building their own groups on November 23.[10] Threshold: Russian media has not been emphasizing this information operation yet. If the Kremlin media bolsters it, then a Russian deployment to Belarus and the MDCOA is more likely.
  2. Russian claims that weapon shipments to Ukraine destabilize the situation. – Tripped on November 22.[11]

Partially Tripped:

  1. Russian claims that Kyiv has de facto completely abandoned the Minsk Accords and Russia must therefore act to protect Donbas. – Overall, not tripped, but some memes that buttress this have been observed.
    1. Russian claims that “Zelensky cannot be reasoned with” or “Zelensky is abandoning the Minsk Accords.” – This condition has been partially tripped for a long time. Threshold: This meme has been on medium-low burner since spring 2020 after Zelensky rejected the Kremlin’s call to implement the Steinmeier formula – one of the Kremlin’s preferred interpretations of the Minsk Accords. A threshold for indicating whether this indicator moves into fully tripped would be an invigorated Kremlin media push around a centralized narrative that “Kyiv has completely disregarded the Minsk II Accords.” This push has not occurred, and this narrative has not left the backburner.
    2. Russian claims that “Germany and France are de facto allowing Kyiv to get away with ignoring the Minsk Accords.” – Tripped on November 21.[12]
  2. Sustained or intensified Kremlin information operations claiming Ukraine is attacking or preparing to attack Donbas. – Overall, not tripped, but some leading sub-indicators have been surfacing.
    1. Kremlin claims Ukraine is attacking civilians. – Not tripped as of November 24.
    2. Kremlin claims Ukraine is attacking “ethnic Russians” OR “Russian citizens.” – Not tripped as of November 24.
    3. Kremlin claims Ukrainian forces seek to use are using Turkish TB2 drones or Javelin anti-tank missiles against civilians in Donbas. – Not tripped as of November 24.
    4. Kremlin warns about a “repeat of Srebrenica.” ­– Partially tripped. The head of RT’s Russia and Former Soviet Union (FSU) desk resurfaced the Srebrenica meme on November 23, but it has not been repeated or gone mainstream as of November 24.[13] The last time the Kremlin prominently mentioned the Srebrenica meme was in December 2019, when Putin warned that failure to grant amnesty for DNR and LNR fighters would result in a second Srebrenica.[14]

Not Tripped:

  1. Intensified Kremlin information operations claiming NATO is deploying forces into Ukraine or creating "NATO bases" inside Ukraine. – Not tripped yet.
  2. Kremlin publicly defines clear red lines. – Not tripped yet. Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned “red lines” in a public session with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but his stated red lines are not clear enough to trip this indicator yet.[15]
  3. The Kremlin / Russian media stops denying a buildup around Ukraine.
  4. MDCOA: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko requests Russian forces in Belarus. – Not tripped. Truly a major red flag if this occurs.
  5. MDCOA: Titushki provocations in Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumy, or other significant Ukrainian cities. – Not tripped.

Kremlin Narratives / Memes of the Day:

November 22:

-          Russian SVR press bureau issued a statement on how Washington is spreading false information about Russian preparations for an attack against Ukraine. “The provocative policy of the United States and the European Union, which deliberately strengthens Kyiv’s sense of permissiveness and impunity, is of extreme concern. We observed a similar situation in Georgia on the eve of the 2008 events.”[16]

November 23:

-          Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “The lack of progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements is a significant irritant and trigger that leads to the level of tension in Europe as a whole,” on November 23.[17]

-          Chairman of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev stated that Ukraine might face a refugee crisis. He blamed the West for de facto establishing a protectorate in Ukraine, destroying the economy of Ukraine and stated that “any moment the situation [in Ukraine] can explode and millions of refugees will run to seek shelter in other places.”[18]

-          Shoigu stated that the US Global Thunder 22 exercises included 10 strategic nuclear bombers postured against Russia.[19] The Pentagon responded on November 24 and said, “These missions were announced publicly at the time, and closely planned with (Strategic Command), (European Command), allies and partners to ensure maximum training and integration opportunities as well as compliance with all national and international requirements and protocols.”[20]

-          Chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee Andrei Kartapolov announced the risk of a repeat of the Afghan scenario in Ukraine. Kartapolov said, “All US efforts to ‘help’ Ukraine are leading it to an abyss." Kartapolov urged people to recall "how the American adventure in Afghanistan ended."[21]


November 24:

-          Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu says Russia's nuclear capabilities and armed forces need to maintain combat readiness in light of the increased activity of NATO countries near Russia's borders.[22]

-          Peskov says that Patrushev’s narrative on November 23 about Ukraine potentially facing a migration crisis was “well-reasoned.”[23]

-          Russian Reserve Colonel Oleg Zhdanov said, “the United States is deliberately escalating tension around the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border.”[24]

-          Fyodor Lukyanov – a prominent Kremlin foreign policy thinker – published an article in which he almost says that if NATO does not give Putin a solid promise that Ukraine will not join NATO, there will be war similar to the Russia-Georgian war of 2008.[25]


November 25

-          Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) Spokesperson Maria Zakharova focused on framing Kyiv as an increasing aggressor in Donbas at a MFA briefing. She said the Ukrainian government is fueling the situation in Donbas and “pushing for military (force) resolution of the conflict inside of Ukraine,” as Ukrainian government feels it can do so unpunished.[26] Zakharova also talked about Ukraine increasingly using prohibited weapon systems in Donbas.

-          Russian representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich accused Ukraine of attacking freedom of speech in Ukraine on November 25. Lukashevich cited the recent staff firings at the Kyiv Post and Zelensky’s ban of pro-Russian opposition media outlets in February 2021.[27] This meme can support efforts to reinforce the narrative that Kyiv is targeting Russian entities.

November 26

-          Russia’s representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich accused Kyiv of conducting a disinformation operation about a Russian offensive to justify NATO’s expansion in Ukraine and near Russian borders on November 26. Lukashevich said Kyiv is spreading falsehoods about Russian aggression to “justify the current build-up of NATO's potential and activity near the Russian borders, to create the preconditions for the enhanced military development of the territory of Ukraine by the alliance, and finally to justify Kyiv's sabotage of the Minsk agreements.”[28]

Updates on Key States’ Activities:



Russia sent a “humanitarian aid” convoy to Donetsk on November 25. The convoy arrived in the DNR on November 25 and is Russia’s 104th so-called humanitarian aid convoy to Donbas to-date.[29] Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry claimed the convoy caried more than 92 tons of medicine and medical equipment.[30] This convoy likely carried weapons and ammunition given documented past Russian weapon shipments to Donbas under the guise of “humanitarian aid convoys.”

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom and Ukraine signed a 1.7-billion-pound loan agreement for the development of the Ukrainian navy on November 12. The deal stipulates that the UK will transfer two decommissioned UK Royal Navy minehunters to Ukraine, jointly produce eight missile ships, deliver and retrofit weapons systems to existing Ukrainian vessels, produce a Ukrainian frigate, and provide technical support for building Ukrainian naval infrastructure.[31]

The UK announced it established a security force assistance brigade and a NATO holding area in Germany on November 25. The brigade has tanks and drone elements.[32] UK Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse stated, “we are putting a substantial number of armored vehicles forward in order to be able to move more quickly should they be required anywhere on the continental [European] landmass.”[33] This is a reversal of the UK’s 2020 permanent force presence withdrawal from Germany in late 2020.[34] – GB: Perhaps the “why now” is connected to an overall weaker European force posture that shaped up well for the Kremlin in 2021. 


United States

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Ukrainian Defense Ministry Oleksii Reznikov in Washington on November 18. The two officials agreed to work closely together to advance the shared priorities outlined in the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework signed on August 31.[35] Austin stated interest in deepening cooperation in Black Sea security, cyber defense, and intelligence sharing.

The US imposed new sanctions against Nord Stream 2 on November 22. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Department of State submitted to Congress a list with two vessels and one Russia-linked entity involved in the pipeline to be sanctioned.[36]

The Biden Administration is reportedly considering sending military advisors and weapons to Ukraine. CNN reported on November 22 that the Biden Administration is considering sending Ukraine US military advisers and weapons (Javelins, stingers, Mi-17 helicopters, and mortars).[37]

Ukraine’s navy received two refurbished former US Coast Guard patrol boats on November 23.[38]

Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had a phone call on November 23. TASS reports that Russian Ministry of Defense stated they “discussed topical issues of international security.”[39] The Joint Chiefs of Staff readout states they discussed “several security-related issues of concern.” This was likely on Ukraine given Milley had a phone call with the Commander of Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny on November 22.[40]

US Sixth Fleet announced that the USS “Arleigh Burke” guided missile destroyer began deploying to the Black Sea “to operate with NATO allies and partners in the region” on November 25.[41] Missile ship “Shuya” of the Black Sea Fleet conducted an exercise in response to the announcement of “Arleigh Burke’s” deployment on November 26.[42]


France and Germany

French, German, and Ukrainian foreign ministers had a working meeting in Brussels on November 15. France and Germany issued a joint statement in support of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.[43] France and Germany called on Ukraine to implement the Minsk Accords and expressed regret that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has refused to meet at the ministerial level for a Normandy Format meeting.

Germany temporarily suspended Nord Stream 2’s certification on November 16. Germany's energy regulator reportedly suspended the process because a Swiss-based consortium behind Nord Stream 2 reportedly first needed to form a German subsidiary company under German law to secure an operating license.[44] German regulators stated they would not resume the approval process until the Nord Stream 2 company, which is registered in Switzerland, transfers its main assets and staffing budget to its German subsidiary.[45]

French officials issued forceful statements against a Russian offensive in Ukraine in November. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov attended the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly in Paris, France, on November 12.[46] The Russian and French ministers reiterated the necessity of compliance with the Minsk Agreements. The ministers discussed nuclear non-proliferation and arms control, prevention of an arms race in outer space, Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations, and other topics. Le Drian and Parly warned the Kremlin of “serious consequences related to any new harm to Ukraine’s territorial integrity” in a joint French ministers’ statement.[47] Le Drian gave an interview on November 21 in which he reiterated that “Any [Russian] violation of the [Ukrainian] border, any intrusion would lead to extremely grave consequences.”[48]


Ukraine Political Activity

Zelensky had a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the Russian buildup on November 25. They agreed to coordinate international community efforts on Russian threats and preserving sanctions policy.[49] They also discussed the migration crisis on the border with Belarus and Poland.

Zelensky had a telephone conversation with the President of the European Council Charles Michel on November 25. They agreed to coordinate efforts and discussed the Russian buildup.[50] Michel discussed the results of his call with Putin from November 24.[51] Michel said that de-escalation of the situation could be helped by contacts between the Ukrainian and Russian sides with the participation of the EU.

Zelensky claimed that Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov (former Party of Regions funder, Viktor Yanukovych partner, and alleged Donetsk mafia boss) of planning a coup on December 1 or 2 in a carefully orchestrated press conference on November 26. Zelensky’s quote: “we received information that on the first day there will be a coup d'etat in our state. December 1-2... This is not only intelligence information, but also sound information, or representatives of Ukraine, let's say, with representatives of Russia, let's say, are discussing Rinat Akhmetov’s participation in the coup in Ukraine, which will attract a billion dollars, etc. I believe that this is a setup, an insult for Akhmetov, he is being drawn into a war against state of Ukraine. I think that he started it, I think that it would be his big mistake, because you cannot fight against your people and the president they have elected. I believe that it is his environment that involves him in such a war period... I am very calm about this, I think he may not know about it. Or know. I invite Rinat Akhmetov to Bankova (the Ukrainian presidential administration building) to listen to information that can be shared. Or the relevant authorities…”[52] Zelensky did not present any evidence to support of these claims. Zelensky also stated that Ukraine has received assurances from allies - the United States, Canada, UK, the EU, Turkey - that they will support Ukraine in the event of an escalation.[53]

Ukrainian defense officials continue to issue contradictory statements about a Russian offensive. Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov contradicted Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Chief Kirill Budanov’s claims of a Russian offensive around mid-January on November 25.[54] Danilov stated, “Today we do not see the threats that Mr. Budanov is talking about for January 15.” Danilov characterized Russian threats against Ukraine as not new, and that Ukraine is ready to respond.


Ukrainian Force Deployments

Ukraine launched a new operation to reinforce the Ukrainian-Belarusian border on November 24. Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service announced a new special operation on the border with Belarus called “Poissya” with Ukrainian border guards, national police, national guard, Ukrainian Army, and “other reserves” to counteract illegal migrant risks on November 24.[55] Ukrainian Interior Minister Denis Monastyrskiy announced on November 11 that Ukraine would reinforce the border with Belarus with 3,000 border guards, 3,500 national guardsmen, and 2,000 national police.[56] Ukraine has not openly deployed military units to the Belarusian border or elsewhere as of November 24.

Ukraine used Javelins for the first time in training exercises in Zaporizhia. Ukraine’s General Staff Stated on November 23 that Ukraine used Javelins in training exercises at the Shiroky Lan Training Ground, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine.[57] Ukrainian forces also exercised with Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones at this exercise. Ukraine has not used the Javelin in combat operations yet.

The OSCE observed a likely Ukrainian electronic warfare system near Donbas for the first time on November 23. The OSCE reports that they spotted a “probable” Ukrainian Khortytsia-M electronic warfare (EW) system about 5 kilometers from the front line, east of Mariupol.[58] This is the first sighting of the Ukrainian EW system near the front.



Russian elements’ presence in Belarusian exercises will likely further expand in 2022. Chief of the Belarusian General Staff Viktor Gulevich stated on November 23 that the Belarusian MoD “significantly adjusted” the training process of the Belarusian Armed Forces in 2021-2022 after “taking into account the difficult military-political situation created by Western countries” in regard to the migrant crisis. Gulevich stated, “We are forced to respond to the intensification of military activity along the outer contour of the State Border of the Republic of Belarus.” Gulevich accused a “belt of unfriendly states” surrounding Belarus like an “anaconda.”

Russia and Belarus decided to increase the quantity of combined Russian-Belarusian air patrols in Belarusian airspace on November 25. The Belarusian MoD stated that it made the decision to increase joint patrols due to an increase in foreign aviation around Belarus’ border – a reference to claimed NATO flights near Belarus. A combined Russian-Belarusian tactical group of Su-30SM conducted a flight patrol along the Belarusian border on November 25.[59]

The Belarusian MoD continued to accuse Poland and Lithuania of deploying forces closer to Belarus on November 26. The Belarusian Head of the Main Directorate of Ideological Work of the Ministry of Defense on November 26 stated, “Unfortunately, we cannot note any positive steps taken by our neighbors [regarding alleged Polish and Baltic military deployments near Belarus]. Along with the previously announced unfriendly steps to deploy troops and infrastructure, which make it possible to significantly increase the combat strength and create groupings in a short time, we note the further actions of our neighbors aimed at escalating the situation.”[60] The official claimed that Lithuania concentrated approximately 4,000 troops and criticized Ukraine’s new “Poissya” border security operation. The Belarusian MoD stated it is prepared to quickly create its own force groupings if necessary.

Strategic Calendar:


November – December: Waterways near the Pinsk Marshes freeze.[61] Some bogs in Russia do not ever freeze.[62] Generally, freezing of Russian bog massifs usually begins about two weeks after the stable transition of air temperature through 0 degrees Celsius to negative values.[63] Pinsk historically gets to around this condition in late December through February.[64] Russian geographic information indicates that traversing the Pinsk Marshes, even in winter, is dangerous; the ice is thin in many spots and even experienced adventures who traverse it on foot can fall through and drown.[65] It’s unclear how traversable the marshes actually are for mechanized forces, even in best winter conditions.

December 1: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers an address to the Verkhovna Rada on the “internal and external situation in Ukraine.”[66]

December 6: Likely new German Cabinet.[67]

December 23: Tentative date for a Putin end-of-year address.[68]

January 15 – February 15: Freeze in Ukraine that Ukrainian Military Intelligence (GUR) is forecasting the Russians will plan maneuvers around. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council contradicts GUR’s claims and does not see these dates as particularly significant as of November 25.[69] 

Late March- Mid April: Rasputitsa – the Russian mud season in which dirt roads become untraversable due to spring thawing. Rasputitsa varies by region and local climate factors.



[2] Taftneft complained about difficulties in railway transit on November 22 (likely because the MoD is hogging all the rail space to move military equipment). The Russian Steel Association made similar complaints in late October.  https://www.kommersant dot ru/doc/5088497


[4] https://globalaffairs dot ru/articles/vysokoe-napryazhenie/



[7] https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13005419

[8] https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13036389

[9] https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202111241251-8fMD3.html

[10] dot by/ru/news/141918/; dot by/ru/news/141484/

[11] dot ru/smi/2021/11/ssha-provotsiruyut-obostrenie-na-vostoke-ukrainy.htm

[12] https://tass dot com/politics/1364321



[15] https://iz dot ru/1251863/2021-11-18/putin-ukazal-na-poverkhnostnoe-otnoshenie-zapada-k-preduprezhdeniiam-rf

[16] dot ru/smi/2021/11/ssha-provotsiruyut-obostrenie-na-vostoke-ukrainy.htm

[17] https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202111231239-XPL5F.html

[18] https://iz dot ru/1254040/2021-11-23/patrushev-zaiavil-o-vozmozhnosti-poiavleniia-millionov-bezhentcev-iz-ukrainy

[19] https://military.pravda dot ru/news/1662940-nuclear/ ;


[21] https://www.interfax dot ru/world/804488

[22] https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202111241251-8fMD3.html

[23] https://www.rbc dot ru/rbcfreenews/619e0e2b9a79470950345eb0

[24] https://iz dot ru/1254370/2021-11-24/na-ukraine-raskryli-lozh-ssha-o-vozmozhnom-vtorzhenii-rossii

[25] https://globalaffairs dot ru/articles/vysokoe-napryazhenie/

[26] https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4969128

[27] https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4969309

[28] https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4969908

[29] dot ua/en/news/komentar-mzs-ukrayini-u-zvyazku-z-chergovim-vchinennyam-rf-mizhnarodno-protipravnogo-diyannya-proti-suverenitetu-ukrayini

[30] https://vsednr dot ru/v-respubliku-pribyvaet-104-y-gumanitarny/

[31] ;








[39] https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13002645



[42] https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13036389

[43] https://www.auswaertiges-amt dot de/en/newsroom/news/-/2496138



[46] https://www.mid dot ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4935329; https://www.mid dot ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4935164


[48] dot za/article/2021-11-21-france-warns-of-grave-consequences-if-russia-invades-ukraine/

[49] dot ua/news/glava-derzhavi-proviv-telefonnu-rozmovu-z-kanclerom-nimechch-71697

[50] https://www.president dot

[51] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67189

[52] dot ua/rus/news/2021/11/26/7315325/

[53] dot ua/news/rosiya-namagayetsya-deaktualizuvati-normandskij-format-ale-u-71729

[54] https://www.unian dot net/politics/risk-vtorzheniya-rossii-v-ukrainu-putin-hochet-dogovoritsya-s-baydenom-snbo-novosti-ukraina-11622091.html





[59] dot by/ru/news/141967/; dot by/ru/news/141981/

[60] dot by/ru/news/141981/

[61]https://charter97 dot org/ru/news/2015/11/23/179668/

[62] https://rg dot ru/2018/06/03/vopreki-zabluzhdeniiam-bolota-neobhodimy-dlia-sohraneniia-ekosistemy.html

[63] https://infocenter.bahna dot ngo/ru/gidrologiya/kak-zamerzayut-bolota


[65] https://geosfera dot org/evropa/2802-pinskie-bolota.html

[66] https://focus dot ua/politics/498769-zelenskiy-vystupit-v-verhovnoy-rade-1-dekabrya


[68] https://riafan dot ru/1560000-itogovaya-press-konferenciya-putina-mozhet-sostoyatsya-23-dekabrya

[69] https://www.unian dot net/politics/risk-vtorzheniya-rossii-v-ukrainu-putin-hochet-dogovoritsya-s-baydenom-snbo-novosti-ukraina-11622091.html


Friday, November 19, 2021

Turkey in Review: October 29 – November 17, 2021

 Turkey Reverses Syria Incursion Plans after Russian and US Pressure

By Ezgi Yazici

Contributor: Fatih Cungurlu

Turkey likely abandoned its plans for an incursion into Syria after a significant military buildup in October. Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) planned, signaled, and prepared for a Turkish military incursion into northern Syria in late October after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the military operation on October 11.[1] The incursion would have been Turkey’s fourth into Syria and targeted the Kurdish-majority autonomous region controlled by the US-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). SDF commander Mazloum Abdi told al-Monitor on November 9 that SDF forces expected a Turkish military campaign on November 5.[2] Turkey’s recent military mobilization was the largest in northeastern Syria since its most recent incursion in October 2019, indicating likely genuine preparations for an incursion and not simply posturing.  However, the social media reports of Turkish military reinforcements and SNA statements on an “upcoming incursion” came to an end by October 31. Turkey likely abandoned plans by early November.

A combination of Russian military and US diplomatic pressure likely prevented the incursion. Turkey could conceivably launch an operation without the assent of both Russia and the United States, but this is a highly unlikely scenario. Russia could slow down or impose high casualties on a Turkish operation.[3] The United States could impose a high diplomatic and economic cost on the Turkish government.[4] Russian and Syrian regime forces held joint military exercises that Russia “coordinated with” the SDF on October 31.[5] Russia deployed rotary and fixed-wing aircraft in Qamishli and near Ayn al Arab close to areas of likely Turkish military buildup to deter a possible Turkish campaign on October 31.[6] Russia also conducted multi-day joint exercises with the Syrian regime near Tal Tamr, Hasaka Governorate, on the same day. For more information on the Russian deployment, see the first item in the “Turkey’s Activities Abroad” section. The Russian military response is a step change from past incursions where Russia was willing to greenlight Turkish incursions in exchange for territorial or political concessions from Turkey. [7] Similarly, the United States held limited patrols and reportedly built a new base between Qamishli and Tal Tamr to deter a Turkish incursion against the US-partnered SDF in late October and early November.[8] The key US influence over Turkey likely lies outside Syria, however, as Erdogan seeks to repair the withering Turkish economy and secure defense sales from the United States. US officials may have voiced opposition to a Syria incursion during numerous high-level meetings in late October, including US President Joe Biden’s October 31 meeting with President Erdogan.[9]

Russia may be growing less tolerant of further Turkish land grabs in Syria. The absence of a Russian-Turkish agreement for the October military buildup suggests that the Russian strategy in Syria may have shifted to reject any new territorial losses to Turkey. SDF commander Mazloum Abdi argued that Russia seeks to limit further Turkish territorial incursions during his November 9 interview.[10] ISW previously assessed that Russia could be amenable to a Turkish incursion if Turkey withdrew from its bases near Idlib in northwestern Syria.[11] Southern Idlib is important for pro-regime forces in northwestern Syria to gain access to the strategic M4 highway and to push the Salafi-Jihadi groups further north away from key terrain. Instead, Russia may be prioritizing its long-term objective to consolidate pro-regime control over all of Syria—an objective that Turkish military operations undermine—and not just the northwest. Moreover, the mere threat of a Turkish incursion likely motivates the Syrian Kurds and the SDF to work with Russia to deter Turkey’s military ambitions in Syria—creating opportunities for Russian outreach to the SDF in northeastern Syria.

Turkish objectives in Syria remain unfulfilled, and Ankara can still maintain destabilizing pressure on actors in northern Syria without an official military campaign. The Turkish government still seeks to remove Syrian Kurdish fighters from areas near its border and describes their continued presence as unacceptable. Russia and the United States have likely deterred this attempt but Turkey’s military and political objectives remain unfulfilled. Turkey’s expanding military and political footprint in Syria will continue to cause consistent disruption and instability as the fighting between Turkish-backed and Kurdish forces is not confined to the limits of an official operation.  Turkish-backed factions clash with Syrian Kurdish fighters regularly in a prolonged war of attrition. Humanitarian organizations have also widely documented Turkish-backed Syrian fighters’ role in cutting water supplies to Syrian Kurdish areas, conducting arbitrary detentions, and exacerbating mass displacements ahead of Turkish campaigns. These activities undermine both the US-led counter-ISIS campaign and the stability of fragile institutions and civilian areas, while also creating opportunities for Russia to expand its military presence in northeastern Syria.

  1. Russia deployed aircraft and air-defense systems and conducted military exercises to deter a Turkish incursion in northeastern Syria. The Russian military deployed additional forces to northeastern Syria, likely to deter any potential Turkish offensive operations and to improve ties with the Syrian Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Russia deployed an unknown number of fighter jets and helicopters to Russian airbases near Qamishli, Hasaka Governorate, and Ayn al Arab, Aleppo Governorate, on October 31.[12]  Russia began conducting multi-day joint exercises with the Syrian regime near Tal Tamr, Hasaka Governorate, Syria, on the same day.  Russian Defense Ministry sources claimed that Russia also held these exercises “in coordination” with the SDF. Russia likely deployed S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to its airbase in Tabaqah, Raqqa Governorate, Syria, on November 12—marking a rare example of Russian air-defense system deployments to the east of the Euphrates River. The S-300 deployment is likely a pre-planned effort to provide air defense for the fighter jet deployments from October 31. Russian deployments likely played a significant role in halting both the Turkish military buildup and calls for a new incursion so far.
  2. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Joe Biden met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, on October 31. Erdogan and Biden discussed Turkey’s new request to receive F-16 fighter jets from the United States, Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, defense cooperation between Turkey and the United States, and developments in Libya, Syria, and the eastern Mediterranean, according to the White House readout.[13] Erdogan and Biden met at the height of the Turkish military buildup for a potential incursion into Syria. Biden likely expressed opposition to Turkey’s plans. Turkish and US officials are continuing high-level talks on a wide range of issues, including a new joint working group to work on US–Turkish disagreements.[14] Ankara seeks the normalization of US-Turkey relations to secure new fighter jets for its aging fleet and to repair the crumbling Turkish economy. 
  3. Turkey attempted to position itself as a diplomatic mediator in the Bosnia and Herzegovina crisis. Bosnian Muslims have called for Turkish support in the political crisis between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska (RS) that started in late October.[15] Bosnia and Herzegovina accuses Republika Srpska and Serbian officials of violating the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement after Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik threatened to break away from Bosnian institutions and the government by the end of November 2021.[16] Turkey has historically supported Muslim communities in the Balkans as a vector of influence into Eastern Europe. However, Turkey has met with or sought meetings with officials on both sides of the crisis in an attempt to appear impartial. Turkish President Erdogan met with Dodik and Bosnian Muslim representatives in Ankara, Turkey, on November 9, and offered to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.[17] Ankara wants to ensure the conflict does not harm Turkey’s economic relations with the wider region or its already-fragile relationship with Russia.   
  4. The Turkish Foreign Minister visited Iran after likely Iran-backed militias targeted a Turkish military base in Iraq. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu traveled to Iran to meet with Iranian government officials on November 15. Cavusoglu’s visit came after the November 7 likely Iranian proxy militia attack against the Turkish military base in Bashiqa, Ninewa Province, Iraq.[18] Cavusoglu met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian to discuss Iranian–Turkish counterterrorism cooperation, investments, and regional developments in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan.[19] Turkey conducted joint military exercises with Azerbaijan near the Iranian border on October 4-6. The exercises came in response to Iranian exercises near the Iranian-Azerbaijani border on October 3. Cavusoglu’s visit is likely an attempt to reduce tensions with Iran after the Bashiqa attack and Iranian–Azerbaijani escalations.
  5. Poland and the European Union accused Turkey of fueling the Polish-Belarusian border crisis. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on November 9 accused Turkey of providing passage for migrants to fly to Belarus and of “coordinating its actions” with Belarus and Russia on the Poland-Belarus border crisis. [20] Belarusian security forces gathered thousands of Middle Eastern migrants at the Polish border beginning on November 8, a likely Kremlin-supported effort to coerce the European Union (EU) to remove sanctions on Belarus.[21] European news sources stated that the migrants might be flying to Belarus through Turkey via Turkish Airlines.[22] European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also stated on November 8 that the EU was exploring how to “sanction third-country airlines that take a part in human trafficking.”[23] The Turkish government denied the allegations and invited Polish technical teams to inspect proceedings at the Istanbul airport on November 10. On November 12, Turkey banned Syrian, Yemeni, and Iraqi citizens from flying to Belarus via Turkey.[24] The Turkish government has previously spoiled or softened NATO actions and statements against Belarus and Russia as part of its efforts to manage its relations with the Kremlin.[25] A direct Turkish government role in facilitating migrants’ travel to Belarus remains unproven, but the European sanction threat likely pressured the Turkish government to shift what was likely complicit behavior and to regulate flights.[26] Turkey also has vested interests in maintaining good relations with Poland—particularly with its recent Bayraktar TB2 armed drone sales to that country.[27]
  6. Russia brokered a ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia after the most noteworthy kinetic escalation since November 2020.  Azerbaijan likely initiated clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in at least two separate locations on the Azerbaijani–Armenian border around noon on November 16.[28] The two countries have sustained low-level fighting since the November 2020 ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories that the Azerbaijani offensive targeted and captured in 2020. However, this round of fighting marked the first clashes in Armenia instead of in Azerbaijani-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia brokered a ceasefire that entered into effect at 6:30 pm local time, according to the Armenian Defense Ministry.[29] Russia and the European Council held separate joint calls with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to de-escalate the fighting.[30] The Turkish government limited its official response to a private call between the Turkish and Azerbaijani defense ministers until after the ceasefire was announced.[31] Ankara likely did not support or have prior knowledge of the limited Azerbaijani attack into Armenia. Whether the November 16 clashes were the result of Azerbaijani planning or spontaneous escalation is unclear, but the fighting emerging in two separate locations in Armenia indicates Azerbaijani coordination and preparedness. The Azerbaijani and Armenian governments had stated before the fighting that they were willing to discuss a peace process and regional integration opportunities.





[1] The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) sent at least ten military convoys to reinforce its military positions across northern Syria between October 26-29. The bulk of these deployments reached Tal Abyad in Raqqa Province, and southern Idlib—additional reinforcements to Ras al Ayn. Turkish and Turkish-backed forces have been targeting parts of Tal Rifat, Tal Tamr, and Ain Issa


[3] Russia maintains air superiority in areas Turkey planned to target. Russia is also able to impose high costs on Turkey by increasing the tempo of its regular airstrikes against both civilians and military forces in Idlib where Turkey has a large military and humanitarian presence.

[4] The Turkish government is currently requesting to purchase F-16 fighter jets from the United States after the United States removed Turkey from the F-35 program. The Turkish government also depends on improving relations with its US and European partners to offset the electoral cost of its crashing economy and high inflation. Some Turkish officials and pro-government sources have recently advocated for improved US-Turkish relations for these reasons—marking a change from Turkey’s confrontational stance toward the US in 2020.


Pro-Kremlin Russian media outlet ANNA News reported that Russian air force and Syrian regime units began multiday exercises in northeastern Syria on October 31. A confidential Russian MoD source stated the exercises are being “coordinated” with Kurdish groups. These exercises likely intended to deter any potential Turkish operations east of the Peace Spring zone


Russia deployed twelve Su-34 bombers and five Su-35 multirole fighters to the Russian airbase at Qamishli, Hasaka Governorate, Syria, on October 31. Pro-Kremlin Russian media outlet Abkhazia Network News Agency (ANNA) reported that Russia deployed twelve Mi-8 and five Ka-52 rotary-wing aircraft to the Ain al Arab airbase, in Sarrin, west of Ayn Issa on October 31.





[11]Overwatch Episode 58: Turkish Troop Movements on Syrian Border Indicate Possible Incursion against US Partner Forces

[12] Russia deployed twelve Su-34 bombers and five Su-35 multirole fighters to the Russian airbase at Qamishli, Hasaka Governorate, Syria on October 31. Pro-Kremlin Russian media outlet Abkhazia Network News Agency (ANNA) reported that Russia deployed twelve Mi-8 and five Ka-52 rotary-wing aircraft to the Ain al Arab airbase, west of Ayn Issa on October 31.


[14] Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd James Austin discussed regional defense and security issues over phone on October 27.


Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discussed fighter jet sales and regional developments by phone on October 27. (


US and Turkey will establish a joint working group to work on disagreements, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on November 4.

[15] 2021-11-03: Bosniak organizations and Balkan NGOs in Turkey urge the Turkish government to speak out about Bosnia’s political crisis on November 3. (Twitter, BalkanInsight )

2021-11-02: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bosnian House of Peoples Collegium member Bakir Izetbegovic meet in Istanbul, Turkey, on November 2. (Reuters DNGTS: TCCB Milliyet )




2021-11-08: Turkish President Erdogan meets with the representatives of Bosnian nongovernmental with Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin organization in Istanbul on November 8. President Erdogan states Turkey’s determination to support Bosnia-Herzegovina's well-being.

2021-11-08: Turkish President Erdogan meets with the representatives of Bosnian nongovernmental with Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin organization in Istanbul on November 8. President Erdogan states Turkey’s determination to support Bosnia-Herzegovina's well-being.


[18] Likely Iranian proxy militants launched between two and eight 122mm Grad rockets targeting the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) Zlikan camp from a truck positioned outside Mosul on November 7. Two rockets impacted the camp. Likely Iranian proxy militants also targeted the Zlikan base on April 14, August 12, and September 24, 2021, with similar munitions.





EU Observer claimed that Turkish Airlines was one of the complicit airlines with its twice-a-day flights between Istanbul and Minsk




[26] Turkish Airlines is a private company, but the Turkish government controls half of Turkish Airlines shares.


[28]https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/12936753

https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/12936667