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Friday, October 22, 2021

Iran’s Axis of Resistance in Review, October 10-20, 2021

  

Iranian Proxy Violence Possible in the Wake of Iraqi Elections

By Katherine Lawlor

Iran’s Iraqi proxies will likely increase their use of violence and other forms of coercion against political opponents and the Iraqi state in the coming months. The political wings of Iran’s Iraqi proxies lost two-thirds of their parliamentary seats in Iraq’s October 10, 2021, elections, which they are legally contesting due to perceived fraud. Iran’s Iraqi proxies may escalate against UN, US, Emirati, or suspected Israeli personnel or assets in retaliation for their perceived role in the proxies’ political losses in the coming months. Domestic political conflicts, Iranian decision-making, Iranian proxy attempts to enforce the December 31 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, and the potential for a new regional ISIS campaign to stir up sectarian violence could exacerbate post-electoral Iranian proxy violence in Iraq.

Political State of Play

Iran’s proxies lost ground in Iraq’s October 10, 2021, parliamentary elections while their rival, nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, made dramatic gains, setting conditions for a potential second term for Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. All Iraqi parties are now negotiating to form the “largest bloc” in Parliament, which will have the first chance to appoint a prime minister-designate. That prime minister-designate must then form a cabinet within 30 days and secure the support of at least 165 parliamentarians (out of 329) to form a government. The leading bloc is Toward Reform, the party of the notoriously mercurial Sadr, who went from controlling the largest bloc in 2018 with 54 seats to an overwhelming 73-seat plurality in 2021.[1] Sadr is most likely to nominate the politically independent current prime minister, Kadhimi, for a second term; Sadr’s other three named picks are Sadrists of whom few parliamentarians would approve.[2]

Candidates representing Iran’s proxy militias lost badly in the 2021 elections; Iran’s parliamentary proxy—the Conquest Alliance bloc that encompasses the political wings of Badr Organization and US-designated terrorist organization Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH)—secured only 16 seats, a dramatic loss from its 2018 high of 47.[3] Proxies are politically disadvantaged even when factoring in their five seats among minority quota candidates and the one seat secured by US-designated terrorist organization Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH)’s Rights Movement, KH’s first foray into parliamentary politics. Proxy militias and politicians, as well as former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have all claimed that the elections were stolen by the United Nations, the United States, Israel, or the United Arab Emirates and demanded recounts.[4]

Iranian leaders appear to be comfortable with a Sadrist-dominated government under a second-term Prime Minister Kadhimi.  Iranian officials described Sadr’s victory as a win for Shi’a Islamists and characterized Iraq’s elections as successful.[5] Tehran has historically been able to bend Sadr to its will when necessary and likely believes that a combination of Iranian pressure and Sadr’s inherent anti-US tendencies will be sufficient to advance Iran’s core strategic objectives: ousting US forces from Iraq and maintaining a non-threatening, Shi’a-led client state there. Iranian rhetoric suggests that Iran’s leadership is unwilling to dramatically destabilize Iraq over the election results alone. Tehran knows that the makeup of Iraqi governments has never been determined by electoral results alone and that its proxies will likely still have a say in the process. Separately, Iran will likely order a resumption of proxy attacks on US forces near the end of 2021 to force a complete withdrawal of all US forces, including advisors, from Iraq. US combat forces (but not advisory forces) plan to depart Iraq by December 31, 2021.

A potential new ISIS campaign could stir up sectarian conflict. ISIS’ Afghanistan affiliate, IS-KP, has called on ISIS cells around the world to attack Shi’a mosques “from Baghdad to Khorasan” to mirror the October 15 ISIS attack on a Shi’a mosque in Kandahar.[6] An ISIS attack on a Shi’a mosque or another symbolic Shi’a target in Iraq could become an opportunity for Iranian proxies to rally support among Iraq’s Shi’a population by attacking Sunni groups. Iraqi Security Forces and their Coalition advisors must remain vigilant in the coming months to prevent attacks by ISIS from igniting Iraqi tensions into broader sectarian conflict.

Below are the most likely trajectories for Iraq to follow in order of highest- to lowest-assessed probability.

Possible Trajectories:

  1. Quick Government Formation: Fast government formation would likely be a positive outcome for both Iraqi domestic stability and US interests. Sadr has set conditions for a quick government formation process if he can capitalize on his plurality without alienating other large, non-Iran-aligned blocs. Sadr will likely work with other parties—including Sunni Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi’s Progress Party (38 seats), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (33 seats), and some nominally independent members of parliament (37 total)—to ensure he retains the prerogative to appoint his prime minister of choice—Sadr prefers to be the kingmaker, not the king. Other politicians, including some Iran-backed groups, will likely attach themselves to Sadr’s coalition to retain their share of the governmental spoils if Sadr is able to quickly secure his position as the leader of the largest bloc. Iraq’s political system has historically led to the same powerful parties and leaders preserving their role regardless of electoral outcomes. In this scenario, Iran will likely tolerate a second Kadhimi government to retain stability but will allow some of its proxies, like Kata’ib Hezbollah, to directly, and sometimes violently, oppose that government. If a newly emboldened, Sadrist-led government elects to crack down on proxy militias, as Sadr threatened to do in his victory speech, the proxies will likely respond with violence against Sadrists or government officials.[7]
  2. Political Stalemate: Iran’s proxies may benefit from prolonged negotiations to form a government, which would allow them to threaten or incentivize other parties into joining their preferred coalition. Sadr’s capricious nature could also lead him to put forward a Sadrist candidate instead of a more widely accepted nominee like Kadhimi, ensuring a prolonged and possibly violent government formation process. The horse-trading required to garner sufficient votes to form a cabinet in Iraq’s fragmented political system typically takes around six months. Iran’s proxies are most likely to join a parliamentary coalition led by Shi’a former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (35 seats) and encompassing the Iranian proxy Conquest Alliance (16 seats), US-sanctioned Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar’s Determination Alliance (12 seats), proxy co-opted minority candidates (at least five seats), some of the nominally independent MPs (37 total), and others to attempt to reach the largest bloc designation. A State of Law MP claimed on October 14 that his coalition has secured a bloc of over 110 seats to nominate Maliki for a third term.[8] Iran and its proxies would support a Maliki premiership, which remains unlikely. Sadr’s supporters would likely resort to violence before allowing the return of Maliki, their political rival, to power. The longer a government formation stalemate lasts, the more likely it becomes that Iran’s proxies turn to direct threats and political violence to further their objectives.
  3. Kinetic Escalations: Iran could approve violent escalation by its proxies to secure its objectives in Iraq if it determines that a new Iraqi government is attempting to shut out Iranian influence. A shift in official Iranian rhetoric toward either condemning the election results or the government formation process would indicate that Tehran has greenlit additional proxy violence to constrain Sadr’s influence. Iran could also decide to resume proxy attacks to simultaneously discredit a new government, build leverage ahead of the resumption of the US-Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations, and attempt to enforce the December 31, 2021, deadline for the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq. Some Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated outlets already began recirculating Iraqi proxy claims of election fraud as the proxies set conditions for a “protest march” in Baghdad’s fortified international district, the Green Zone.[9] The ostentatiously unarmed protesters backed by Iran’s proxies employed English language signage to target Western media audiences and help publicize their false claims of voter fraud.[10]

Violence by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) against proxy protesters or staged violence by proxy infiltrators within the ISF could trigger a proxy escalation without Iran’s approval. Any proxy escalation against the government in Baghdad could incite Sadr, the electoral victor, to mobilize his own militias, risking a cyclical descent into intra-Shi’a conflict and possibly civil war. Potential targets of Iranian proxy violence include US forces, facilities, and personnel, the UAE embassy, and personnel affiliated with the United Nations or international electoral observation missions. A prolonged and contentious government formation process would also provide greater opportunities for ISIS to exploit political divides and trigger sectarian violence that could intersect with and exacerbate political tensions.


  1. Lebanese Hezbollah will likely attempt to deescalate violence in Lebanon related to the Beirut port explosion investigation, but miscalculations could trigger further intra-Lebanese conflict or an escalation with Israel. Militants likely affiliated with the Christian Lebanese Forces party fired on protesters affiliated with the Shi’a Lebanese Hezbollah and Amal political movements in Beirut on October 14, killing seven and sparking clashes as the Shi’a groups marched to condemn the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion.[11] Iranian officials and state media immediately blamed Israel for the violence.[12] Hezbollah blamed the Lebanese Forces party.[13] Hezbollah will likely attempt to avoid further clashes with the Lebanese Forces party; neither side is interested in an uptick in confessional violence ahead of Lebanon’s March 2022 elections. The Lebanese Forces and other political rivals will likely condemn Hezbollah’s activity but allow the group to continue its pressure campaign against the judiciary because a free investigation would likely find fault with multiple parties, causing widespread political damage. Any subsequent protests and violence in Beirut will increase the likelihood of miscalculation, which could spark widespread violence in Lebanon. Hezbollah could also attempt to divert attention from domestic tensions by horizontally escalating against Israeli forces in Southern Lebanon or Israel. A realignment of Hezbollah messaging to mirror Iranian rhetoric blaming Israel for the violence would indicate that Hezbollah may be preparing to reduce domestic pressure by provoking Israel.
  2. Iran’s Iraqi proxies are falsely accusing the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of interfering in Iraqi elections and may begin kinetic attacks against UAE targets to protest the results. Iraqi channels affiliated with proxy militias like US-designated terrorist organizations Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah circulated conspiracy theories that the UAE undermined the political wings of the militias through the UAE-based servers used by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission to process votes.[14] A media commentator affiliated with Iran’s proxies claimed that “drones, precision missiles, and ballistic missiles will be launched from the Iraqi soil towards the UAE, to send a deterrence message to the leaders of the conspiracy [to steal the elections].”[15] Proxy channels also heavily implied that nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr secretly visited Dubai aboard a private jet to coordinate with his UAE handlers.[16] Iran’s Iraqi proxies launched a drone attack against Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in January 2021 after publicly blaming the Saudi government for funding ISIS and interfering in domestic Iraqi affairs.[17] Proxy militants could conduct a similar attack into the UAE from Iraqi soil using long-range drones or launch drone or rocket attacks on UAE-affiliated targets in Iraq. Iraqi proxy groups could also coordinate with the Yemeni al-Houthi movement to attack the UAE on behalf of Iran’s Axis of Resistance as a whole. The Houthis previously claimed two attacks on Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports in 2018.[18]
  3.  Iranian proxies are increasingly threatening the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Proxy-directed protesters and media channels condemned UNAMI and its head, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, for the mission’s role in coordinating international observers and elections procedures.[19] One proxy fa├žade group, Saraya Awliya ad-Dam, threatened to attack UN convoys after it became clear that proxy political candidates had performed poorly in the elections.[20] That group previously claimed a 2020 IED attack on a UN World Food Program convoy, which the group claimed was cover for US intelligence personnel operating in Ninewa Province.[21] Intra-Shi’a violence in Iraq could increase following a proxy attack on UN personnel or facilities if Iraqi nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the most seats in the October elections, perceives that attack as a threat to his authority or international legitimacy. Sadr supported UN involvement in Iraq’s elections even as Iran’s proxies framed UNAMI as an Israeli intelligence asset.[22] A Sadrist militia mobilization to protect UNAMI facilities could further politicize the role of the UN in Iraq, risking additional violence and reducing already-low public faith in the electoral system.
  4. Likely Iranian proxy militants launched a coordinated drone and rocket attack on US forces’ living quarters in Tanf, Syria, risking US casualties and a larger regional escalation. Unidentified militants launched approximately five suicide drones and an unspecified number of indirect fire munitions (rockets or mortars) at a US base in Tanf.[23] Combined rocket and drone attacks can disrupt and bypass air-defense systems in a way that rockets or drones alone cannot. The attack reportedly targeted the living quarters of US forces around 2130 local time when those areas are likely to be occupied, indicating that the proxies intended to cause US casualties.[24] Iran likely greenlit this attack to deter US and Israeli actions against Iranian interests following recent Israeli military exercises, an October 13 Israeli attack on Iranian proxies in Palmyra that flew through Tanf’s airspace, and rhetoric from US and Israeli officials threatening Iran’s nuclear program.[25]  Iran and its proxies may increasingly be equating the threats posed by the United States and Israel and may respond more frequently to Israeli provocations with attacks on US forces. The attack is the first on US forces in Iraq and Syria since July 29, 2021, and signals a likely resumption of Iranian attacks against the United States and its partners across the region.[26] Those attacks will likely ramp up in Iraq as the December 31, 2021, deadline for the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq nears.

 

Contributors: Katherine Lawlor, Zach Coles

 


[1] “Iraqi Parliament Election 2021 – Preliminary Results: Candidates’ Votes by Electoral District, Baghdad: Independent High Electoral Commission,” Iraq Independent High Electoral Agency, 2021. app dot powerbi dot com/view?r=eyJrIjoiNmUzYjAzNTYtZTJiNS00NzhkLTg0ZWUtMzlkZDAyZGM5NmMzIiwidCI6IjNkZTVhZmM2LWZhMDItNDM3OS04MDJkLThjZjY3YjNmYzQ0ZiIsImMiOjEwfQ%3D%3D&pageName=ReportSection17cb90c44073d7b88131

[2] “Muqtada Al-Sadr Puts Four Names on the Table to Head the Next Government,” Shafaq News, October 06, 2021. Shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%87%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D8%A7%D8%B8%D9%85%D9%8A-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%AF%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AD-%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A8%D9%84%D8%A9

[3] Jessa Rose Dury Agri and Patrick Hamon, “Breaking Down Iraq’s Election Results,” Institute for the Study of War, May 24, 2018. https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/breaking-down-iraqs-election-results.

[4] ”Iraqi Elections: The Condition of Political Currents on Accepting the Election Results” Tasnim News Agency, October 14, 2021. tn dot ai/2590305

[5] “Welcoming the Successful Holding of Elections in Iraq,” Fars News, October 11, 2021.  farsnews dot ir/news/14000719000074/%D8%AE%D8%B7%DB%8C%D8%A8%E2%80%8C%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%B0%D8%A7%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AE%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%87-%D9%BE%DB%8C%DA%AF%DB%8C%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D9%85%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%AF-%D9%87%DB%8C%DA%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C

[6] Najibullah Lalzoy, “Shi’ite Muslims to be Targeted Everywhere: Warns ISIS,” Khaama Press, October 17, 2021. khaama dot com/shiite-muslims-to-be-targeted-everywhere-warns-isis-67976967/

[7] "In His Victory Speech, Al-Sadr Pledges to Exterminate All Militias," Shafaq News, October 11, 2021.  shafaq dot com/en/Iraq-News/In-his-victory-speech-al-Sadr-pledges-to-exterminate-militias-even-those-who-pretend-resistance

[8]Mashreq Risan, “Iraq: Al-Sadr’s Opponents Gather around Al-Maliki to Form the Largest Bloc,” Al-Quds, October 14, 2021. https://www.alquds.co.uk/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%AE%D8%B5%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%81%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%AD%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D9%8A-%D9%84/

[9] “Widespread Popular Protests Against the Announced Results of the Iraqi Parliamentary Elections,” Mashregh News, October 17, 2021. mashreghnews dot ir/news/1287268/%D9%85%D9%88%D8%AC-%DA%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%87-%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%B9%D9%84%DB%8C%D9%87-%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC-%D8%A7%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%B4%D8%AF%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3

[10] Sabereen News, Telegram Post. October 19, 2021, 7:59. t dot me\sabreenS1/32644

[11] Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad, “Beirut, a City Where Everyone Gets by, Revisits Sectarian Violence,” New York Times, October 16, 2021. www.nytimes.com/2021/10/16/world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-sectarian-violence.html

[12] Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatib Zadeh, Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry Twitter, https://twitter.com/IRIMFA/status/1448894599603408905?s=20

[13] “Fragile Calm in Beirut after hours of clashes and shootings / Identification of 10 rioters,”] Iranian Students’ News Agency, October 14, 2021, www (dot) isna (dot) ir/news/1400072215631/%D8%A2%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B4-%D8%B4%DA%A9%D9%86%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%AA-%D9%BE%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AA-%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D8%B1%DA%AF%DB%8C%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D9%88-%D8%AA%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%B4%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C

[14] Hamdi Malik, “The Muqawama's post elections threats against UNAMI and the UAE,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 19, 2021. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/muqawamas-post-elections-threats-against-unami-and-uae

[15] Ahmad Abdussada, “The Coordination: we reject the elections and the consensus | with Mullah Tallal” UTV, October 17, 2021.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-llXTS-DGPM

[16]Sabereen News Telegram, October 19, 2021. t dot me/sabreenS1/32777

[17] Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl, “Iraqi militant attack on Riyadh could signal a larger shift in Iran’s regional approach.” Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, January 29, 2021. https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iraqi-militant-attack-on-riyadh-could-signal-a-larger-shift-in-irans-regional-approach

[18] Jessica Kocan, “September 2020 Map Update: Al Houthi ‘Balanced Deterrence’ Campaign,” American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, September 23, 2020. https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/september-2020-map-update-al-houthi-balanced-deterrence-campaign

[19] Hamdi Malik, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 19, 2021.

[20] Sabereen News, Telegram Post. October 13, 2021, 12:16. t dot me/sabreens1/32112.

[21] “Awliya ad-Dam Brigades Adopt the Bartella Operation, and Al-Hakim’s Alliance Condemns It,” Al-Noor News, August 27, 2020. alnoornews dot net/archives/268992/%d8%b3%d8%b1%d8%a7%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%a7%d9%88%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%a1-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%af%d9%85-%d8%aa%d8%aa%d8%a8%d9%86%d9%89-%d8%b9%d9%85%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%a8%d8%b1%d8%b7%d9%84%d8%a9-%d9%88%d8%aa/?utm_sourc

[22] “Iraq: Videoconference Briefing and Consultations on UNAMI” Security Council Report, February 15, 2021. https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/whatsinblue/2021/02/iraq-videoconference-briefing-and-consultations-on-unami.php

Islamic Resistance in Iraq Saraya Awliya ad-Dam [Guardians of Blood], Telegram Post. September 20, 2021. https://twitter.com/HamdiAMalik/status/1439903078329769986

Sabereen News, Telegram Post. September 20, 2021, 13:09. t dot me/sabreenS1/30404

Sabereen News, Telegram Post. September 20, 2021, 00:04. t dot me/sabreenS1/30357

[23] Luis Martinez and Matt Seyler. “No US injuries in attack on remote American base in Syria” ABC News, October 20, 2021. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/us-injuries-attack-remote-american-base-syria/story?id=80694842

[24] “[TRANSLATION] Syria's ‘allies’ carry out their promise: the American base of al-Tanf is under fire!” Shaam Times, October 21, 2021. Shaamtimes dot net/357760/%d8%ad%d9%84%d9%81%d8%a7%d8%a1-%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d9%8a%d9%86%d9%81%d9%91%d8%b0%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%88%d8%b9%d8%af%d9%87%d9%85-%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%b9%d8%af%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%aa/

[25] “Israel said to approve $1.5 billion budget for potential strike on Iran” Times of Israel, October 19, 2021. Timesofisrael dot com/israel-said-to-approve-1-5-billion-budget-for-potential-strike-on-iran/

Anna Aronheim, “Israel, Iran holding separate large scale aerial drills” The Jerusalem Post, October 21, 2021. Jpost dot com/middle-east/israel-iran-holding-separate-large-scale-aerial-drills-682747

Rachel S. Cohen, “The Air Force is testing a new bunker-busting bomb that could counter North Korea and Iran” Air Force Times, October 12, 2021. https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2021/10/12/the-air-force-is-testing-a-new-bunker-busting-bomb-that-could-counter-north-korea-and-iran/

Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Pro-Iran militias warn of forceful response after Israeli strike on Syria's Palmyra” Reuters, October 14, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/pro-iran-militias-warn-forceful-response-after-israeli-strike-syrias-palmyra-2021-10-14/

Matthew Lee. “US, Israel say they are exploring a ‘Plan B’ for Iran” Associated Press, October 13, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-yair-lapid-antony-blinken-united-states-iran-caef029225ac28df9458e6b90cba55b5

[26] Katherine Lawlor, “Recent Iranian Proxy Attack in Iraqi Kurdistan Unlikely a Signal for New Escalation” Institute for the Study of War, September 17, 2021. https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/recent-iranian-proxy-attack-iraqi-kurdistan-unlikely-signal-new-escalation

 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Russia in Review: October 7-21, 2021

Russia Promotes Kremlin-friendly Organizations at International Conference for Asian States

By George Barros

The Kremlin advanced two key lines of effort to increase Russian influence globally at the 2021 Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) ministerial summit—leveraging international organizations and expanding Russian cyber capabilities and influence. The CICA is an inter-governmental forum of 27 Asian and Eurasian member states founded in 1992 to enhance cooperation and promote security and stability in Asia.[1] CICA held the 2021 iteration of its biannual conference in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on October 12.

Russian negotiators at CICA advanced the Kremlin’s campaign to develop a network of Russia-amenable international organizations. The Kremlin seeks to cultivate a network of coalitions and international organizations to amplify Russia’s limited power, diversify Russia’s influence and subversion tools, and expand Russian influence in strategic regions.[2] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed that the CICA join existing efforts by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Greater Eurasian Partnership during the conference.[3] The Kremlin has used the Greater Eurasian Partnership as an umbrella concept to cohere international organizations in the region since 2016.[4] Lavrov also stressed the need to integrate the efforts of Eurasian regional and sub-regional structures—such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), SOC, EAEU, ASEAN, and Eurasian elements of BRICS—with CICA members to increase cooperation across multiple policy areas.[5]

 

The Kremlin additionally advanced its campaign to expand Russian cyber capabilities and influence by leveraging international information and communications technologies (ICT) agreements. Lavrov proposed launching a new area of cooperation within the CICA platform on information security.[6] Russian success in expanding information technology influence among CICA members would advance longstanding Kremlin campaigns to expand Russian access to global technical networks and infrastructure, develop human networks and institutional links around the world, and reinforce Kremlin narratives to posture as an alternative to Western ideas in cyberspace. The Kremlin has pushed for information technology cooperation among its partners—both bilaterally and within coalitions such as the CSTO—since 2015.[7]

A successful Kremlin effort to promulgate Russian ICT agreements among the CICA would significantly increase the level of international support for Russian efforts to exploit and shape norms on cyberspace.[8] CICA’s membership is broad and many of its members do not directly intersect with Kremlin-dominated and Kremlin-amenable international organizations. The Kremlin seeks to contest the West in cyberspace by leveraging ICTs within international organizations, giving Russia opportunities to shape international norms on cyberspace to its advantage.[9] The Kremlin’s information security policy, which was updated in 2016, calls for an independent Russian information policy and the elimination of Russian dependency on foreign ICTs.[10] The Kremlin aims to pull as many countries into its orbit as possible to expand its soft power capabilities in cyberspace.

Western leaders and policymakers should remain aware of the Kremlin’s efforts to expand its international coalitions and act to counter Russian expansion in cyberspace. Western leaders and policymakers should highlight how the Kremlin leverages international coalitions and partnerships to advance subversive Kremlin interests by framing them as multilateral initiatives.[11] Western leaders should contest the Kremlin’s assertion that Russia is a trusted actor in cyberspace by drawing attention to the Kremlin’s malign cyber activities. Western leaders and diplomats should additionally call out Russian efforts to undermine other states’ sovereignty by subordinating their IT industries to Russian-dominated structures and norms.

 

1. Germany, France, and Ukraine likely seek to hold Normandy Format talks with Russia within the next six months. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a phone call on October 11 to discuss preparations for a potential future Normandy Format summit.[12] Merkel, Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a separate October 11 phone call and agreed to determine prerequisites for holding a Normandy Format summit.[13] The Normandy Format is a peace talk format on the war in Ukraine consisting of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine. Merkel, Macron, and Putin last held a similar three-way phone call in May 2019 in the lead-up to the last Normandy Format summit in December 2019.[14]

The Kremlin may use the carrot of agreeing to hold a Normandy Format meeting as a bargaining chip to pressure Germany to certify Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2) before a new German government could threaten NS2’s certification. A Normandy Format meeting cannot occur without Russian participation, and the Kremlin historically uses its consent to hold a meeting to extract concessions from the other summit participants.  NS2 is fully constructed but not yet operational due to ongoing European certification processes that will likely take until May 2022.[15] Merkel remains the German chancellor in a caretaker capacity until a coalition government forms, which could take several months.[16] The Kremlin may seek additional concessions from Ukraine or France in exchange for agreeing to a Normandy Format meeting.

2. The Kremlin-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) began annual joint operational and strategic exercises on the Tajik-Afghan border on October 18. Over 5,000 CSTO personnel are participating in the annual “Combat-Brotherhood-2021” exercises at the Momirak and Harb-Maidon training grounds in Tajikistan from October 18-23.[17] The 2021 iteration emphasizes improving command and control and interoperability among CSTO joint collective forces to increase CSTO capabilities to respond to terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan.[18] Combat Brotherhood’s 2021 iteration has three centerpiece component exercises in Tajikistan: logistics support exercise “Echelon-2021,” reconnaissance exercise “Search-2021,” and combined arms combat exercise “Interaction-2021.” All six CSTO members—Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—will additionally participate in the annual “Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021” exercise under the umbrella of Combat Brotherhood-2021 in Kazan, Russia, in November 2021.[19] The Kremlin seeks to leverage these exercises to expand Russian military influence in Central Asia and deepen cooperation with partner militaries.[20] The Kremlin additionally experienced a setback in its campaign to expand military cooperation with Uzbekistan. Uzbekistani Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov stated on October 8 that Uzbekistan will not renew its CSTO membership, Uzbekistan’s first statement on its CSTO membership since Moscow intensified outreach to Uzbekistan following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.[21] 

3. Moldovan authorities arrested Moldova’s prosecutor general, advancing pro-Western Moldovan President Maia Sandu’s pro-Western reform agenda and pushing back on pro-Russian influence. Moldovan authorities detained Moldovan Prosecutor General Alexander Stoianoglo on corruption charges on October 5.[22] Former pro-Russian Moldovan president and current opposition politician Igor Dodon appointed Stoianoglo in 2019. Dodon organized an approximately 2,000-person protest against the government in Chisinau, Moldova, on October 10 in response.[23] Dodon accused Sandu’s government of attempting a coup, echoing Kremlin characterizations of pro-Western reformers as being agents of Western-backed hybrid wars.[24]  Sandu’s government will likely continue to pursue its reform agenda and anti-corruption program. The Kremlin will likely increasingly leverage energy pressure to retain Russian influence in Moldova as Sandu’s reforms remove the Kremlin’s previous favored actors from Moldova’s government. Russian state-owned monopoly Gazprom reduced gas flow to Moldova in mid-October and will likely raise prices gas prices for Moldova when Gazprom’s current gas contract with Moldova expires at the end of October 2021.[25] Gazprom may have also reduced flows to Moldova in mid-October to retaliate against Stoianoglo’s arrest.[26]

4. The Russian Armed Forces conducted three joint military exercises in October with Egyptian, Pakistani, and Mongolian forces. A company-sized airborne element (over 100 personnel) of the Russian 108th Airborne Regiment likely formed a combined battalion with an Egyptian airborne battalion (400 personnel) at the 2021 iteration of the annual “Defender of Friendship” exercise in Egypt from October 17 to 29.[27] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated the Russian and Egyptian airborne troops would operate as a “consolidated” and “combined” unit under a unified command and control system—the same terminology the MoD has used to describe its combined airborne battalions with Belarus.[28]The Kremlin’s effort to integrate foreign troops into likely Russian-controlled battalions since 2020 is a dangerous development that will expand Russian control over the militaries of sovereign states and help the Kremlin obfuscate its military activity by framing Russian activities as multilateral.[29]

Company-sized Russian sapper and Pakistani Special Forces elements (approximately 200 personnel in total) participated in the fifth iteration of the annual joint Russo-Pakistani “Friendship-2021” counterterrorism exercise at the Molkino Training Ground, Russia, from September 28 to October 8. Russian sappers and Pakistani Special Forces conducted a joint raid against simulated terrorists in an urban environment. Russian sappers disarmed a house-borne improvised explosive device encountered in Russian operational experience in Syria.[30] Russian motorized rifle elements—likely of the 37th Motor Rifle Brigade—and Mongolian artillery elements held annual Russo-Mongolian “Selenga-2021” exercises at the Doytyn Am Training Ground, northeastern Mongolia, from September 22 to October 8. Selenga-2021 is the largest iteration of Selenga to date and exercised combined arms operations against a simulated superior enemy force. The Russian military is successfully leveraging joint exercises to increase Russian military influence globally. The Kremlin will likely continue to expand its military exercises to cultivate military influence with key partners in Central Asia and Africa. 

5. The Kremlin advanced efforts to coordinate the responses of Central Asian states to the situation in Afghanistan at meetings of senior leaders in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Minsk, Belarus, from October 13 to 15. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov encouraged close information, military, and cultural cooperation in meetings with CIS member states’ intelligence service heads, foreign ministers, and heads of state. Putin stressed the importance of constantly monitoring the Afghan border for terrorist flows and called for CIS security agencies to coordinate work.[31] Putin said the CIS should conduct joint counter-terror operations via the CIS Anti-Terrorist Center “if necessary.”[32] This rhetoric was consistent with previous Kremlin efforts to create a unified and Kremlin-dominated response to Afghanistan in the former Soviet Union. Putin also invited CIS members to discuss the Afghan situation in the Moscow format talks with the Taliban on October 20, likely to facilitate Russian control over Central Asian states’ interactions with Kabul. The Kremlin will likely continue to expand its military presence in Central Asia and seek to control a unified response to the Taliban to maintain itself as an essential actor in Central Asia. The Kremlin also used the CIS meetings to advance Russian-led mediation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the Nagorno Karabakh ceasefire.[33]

6. An active-duty Russian air-defense unit deployed the new S-500 air defense system for the first time in mid-October. Russian media outlet TASS reported on October 13 that an air-defense element of the 15th Aerospace Forces Army in Moscow received Russia’s first brigade of S-500 air defense systems for active service.[34] The S-500 is a modernized version of the S-400 air-defense system with a claimed extended range of 600 kilometers and the ability to strike more complex targets, such as low-orbit satellites and hypersonic missiles.[35] The Kremlin is unlikely to replace all of its currently deployed S-400 systems with S-500 systems for several years. Russia’s manufacturing constraints prohibit the mass production of the S-500. Russian defense planners initially planned for the S-500 to enter production in 2014—a deadline repeatedly delayed until now.[36] The manufacturer of the S-400 and S-500 systems is still working on fulfilling existing contracts to deliver three S-400 regiments to Russian units by 2023.[37] TASS reported that the Russian military will only receive its second S-500 brigade in the first half of 2022—a deadline that will likely be delayed. The deployment of the S-500 system nonetheless increases Russian air-defense capabilities, closing a gap with NATO. 

7. Protesters in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) temporarily disrupted a portion of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) in Ukraine in Donetsk. Ukraine’s military detained a Russian military officer who was caught conducting reconnaissance on Ukrainian positions near the front line in Luhansk on October 13.[38] Citizens of the Russian proxy Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) began holding protests at the SMM headquarters in Donetsk on October 15 to demand the officer’s release.[39] Protesters escalated their tactics on October 17, preventing SMM personnel from leaving the SMM headquarters and impounding SMM patrol vehicles at an SMM forward observation post.[40] The SMM in Donetsk temporarily suspended its work at the blocked headquarters on October 17 due to the heightened security threat to its personnel.[41] Kremlin media falsely claimed that the OSCE suspended its entire monitoring mission in Donbas due to the protests.[42] The OSCE SMM only suspended operations inside the blocked headquarters and never stopped operating in Luhansk.[43] The DNR released the vehicles at the forward observation post and allowed SMM personnel to leave the headquarters in Donetsk on October 18.[44] DNR personnel continued to restrict the SMM’s freedom of movement in multiple different locations in Donetsk as of October 20, despite the protests at the headquarters ending on October 18.[45] Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) residents have not launched any similar protests against the OSCE. ISW has not observed any evidence that the DNR coordinated the protests with the LNR or the Kremlin, but the Kremlin may have sought to free the detained officer or test its ability to restrict SMM activities. The Kremlin may leverage the demonstrated capability of its proxies to restrict SMM activities in the future.

Contributors: George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Mason Clark

 


[1] “Conference on Interaction & Confidence Building in Asia,” CICA, Accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.s-cica dot org/.

[2] Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Putin%27s%20Offset%20The%20Kremlin%27s%20Geopolitical%20Adaptations%20Since%202014.pdf.

[3] [“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Remarks at the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Countries Participating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Nur-Sultan, October 12, 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4900531.

[4] [“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Remarks at the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Countries Participating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Nur-Sultan, October 12, 2021,”]  Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4900531.; Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Putin%27s%20Offset%20The%20Kremlin%27s%20Geopolitical%20Adaptations%20Since%202014.pdf.

[5] [“Opening Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov During the Collective Meeting of the Heads of Delegations of the Countries Participating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) with the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan K.-Zh.K. Tokayev, Nur-Sultan, 12 October 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4900715; [“On the Meeting of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Special Representative of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan for International Affairs E.Kh. Kazykhanov,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4900788; [“Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of India Sergey Jaishankar,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4901164.

[6] [“On the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Countries Participating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4901016; [“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Remarks at the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Countries Participating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Nur-Sultan, October 12, 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 12, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4900531.

[7] Zachary Greenhouse with George Barros, “The Kremlin Leverages Cyber Cooperation Deals,” Institute for the Study of war, August 13, 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/kremlin-leverages-cyber-cooperation-deals; [“CSTO Countries Are Working on Common Rules for Cyberspace,”] Vmeste, November 12, 2020, https://vmeste-rf dot tv/news/strany-odkb-rabotayut-nad-edinymi-pravilami-tsifrovogo-prostranstva/; [“Secretaries of the Security Councils of the CSTO Countries Will Discuss Issues of Coalition Security and Military-Technical Cooperation on November 17,”] Interfax, November 12, https://interfax dot by/news/policy/vneshnyaya_politika/1286775/.

[8] Zachary Greenhouse with George Barros, “The Kremlin Leverages Cyber Cooperation Deals,” Institute for the Study of war, August 13, 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/kremlin-leverages-cyber-cooperation-deals.

[9] Zachary Greenhouse with George Barros, “The Kremlin Leverages Cyber Cooperation Deals,” Institute for the Study of war, August 13, 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/kremlin-leverages-cyber-cooperation-deals.

[10] [“On the Approval of the Doctrine of Information Security of the Russian Federation,”] Kremlin, December 5, 2016, http://kremlin dot ru/acts/bank/41460/page/2.

[11] Mason Clark and George Barros “Russia's Unprecedentedly Expansive Military Exercises in Fall 2020 Seek to Recreate Soviet-Style Multinational Army,” Institute for the Study of War, October 20, 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia%E2%80%99s-unprecedentedly-expansive-military-exercises-fall-2020-seek-recreate-soviet; George Barros, “Russia In Review: Putin’s ‘Peacekeepers’ Will Support Russian Wars,” Institute for Understanding War, November 16, 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-putins-%E2%80%9Cpeacekeepers%E2%80%9D-will-support-russian-wars; Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Putin%27s%20Offset%20The%20Kremlin%27s%20Geopolitical%20Adaptations%20Since%202014.pdf.

[12] [“The President of Ukraine Discussed with the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France the Issue of Achieving Peace in Donbas,”] Ukrainian Presidential Office, October 11, 2021, https://www.president.gov dot ua/news/prezident-ukrayini-obgovoriv-z-kanclerom-nimechchini-ta-prez-71025; [“Video Conference Between Chancellor Merkel and President Macron and President Zelensky as Well as a Phone Call Between Chancellor Merkel and President Macron and President Putin,”] Bundeskanzlerin Website, October 11, 2021, https://www.bundeskanzlerin dot de/bkin-de/aktuelles/videokonferenz-von-bundeskanzlerin-merkel-und-praesident-macron-mit-praesident-selensky-sowie-telefonat-von-bundeskanzlerin-merkel-und-praesident-macron-mit-praesident-putin-1967042.

[13] [“Telephone Conversation with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron,”] Kremlin, October 11, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66901.

[14] [“Telephone Conversation with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron,”] Kremlin, May 21, 2019, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/60558; [“The Kremlin is in Favor of a Normandy Format Summit, but against a ‘Meeting for the Sake of a Meeting,’”] TASS, May 24, 2019, https://tass dot ru/politika/6467529.

[15] German regulator BNetzA must submit a draft decision on approving Nord Stream 2’s operation to the European Commission by January 8, 2022 to make a draft decision and submit it to the European Commission. The commission will then have two months to examine BNetzA’s draft decision, but can optionally extend this period another two months. The commission has not been supportive of Nord Stream 2 and is likely to closely examine the decision. Diane Elijah, “Topic Page: Nord Stream 2,” ICIS, September 13, 2021, https://www.icis dot com/explore/resources/news/2021/09/13/10463483/topic-page-nord-stream-2; Mason Clark and George Barros “Russia In Review: September 1 – September 21, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, September 23, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-september-1-%E2%80%93-september-21-2021.

[16] One of the likely German government coalitions includes a collation between the German Green Party and Social Democrats. The Green Party opposes NS2 and made election promises to abolish the pipeline. “Germany: SPD, Greens, FDP Make Progress in Exploratory talks,” Deutsche Welle, October 12, 2021, https://www.dw dot com/en/germany-spd-greens-fdp-make-progress-in-exploratory-talks/a-59483614; “Germany: Green Party Members to Vote on Any Coalition Deal,” Deutsche Welle, October 2, 2021https://www.dw dot com/en/germany-green-party-members-to-vote-on-any-coalition-deal/a-59385137; “Germany's Greens Vow to Scrap Russian Gas Pipeline After Election,” Reuters, March 19, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-election-greens-nord-stream/germanys-greens-vow-to-scrap-russian-gas-pipeline-after-election-idUSKBN2BB0ZS.

[17] The CSTO has held Combat Brotherhood annually since 2017. [“Three Exercises of the CSTO Collective Forces Started in Tajikistan at Once,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, October 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12389175@egNews; Approximately 220 Belarusian personnel, including elements of the 103rd Airborne Brigade and 62nd Central Communications Center deployed to participate in the exercise. [“Inauguration of Joint Exercises,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, October 18, 2021, https://vayar.mil dot by/news/140995/; [“Let There be Connection!”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, October 18, 2021, https://vayar.mil dot by/news/140996/; Russia’s Central Military District deployed light armored vehicles from Samara, Russia, to Tajikistan and a flight of Russian Su-25 fighter-bombers from the Russian airbase in Kant, Kyrgyzstan to the Ayni Air Base near Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for the exercises. [“Russian Armored Vehicles ‘Tiger’ Were Transferred to Tajikistan for a Joint Exercise of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force of the CSTO,”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 15, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12388701@egNews; [“Russian Su-25 Crews Relocated from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan to Participate in the ‘Interaction-2021’ Exercise,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, October 14, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12388522@egNews.

[18] Stated goals of the exercise include responding to terrorist fighters that penetrate territory of CSTO member states in Central Asia and conducting operations to neutralize terrorist sleeper cells, camps, and disrupt terrorist ground lines of communication. [“Head of the CSTO Joint Staff Anatoly Sidorov at an Online Briefing Informed About the Readiness of the Forces and Means of the CSTO Collective Security System to Conduct a Joint Operational-Strategic Exercise ‘Combat Brotherhood-2021,’”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, October 14, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/nachalnik-obedinennogo-shtaba-odkb-anatoliy-sidorov-na-on-line-brifinge-proinformirovalo-gotovnosti-/; Timur Sherzad, [“Five Thousand People are Involved in CSTO Exercises in Tajikistan near Afghan Border,”] TV Zvezda, October 14, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202110141156-rBNil.html.

[19] [“Head of the CSTO Joint Staff Anatoly Sidorov at an Online Briefing Informed About the Readiness of the Forces and Means of the CSTO Collective Security System to Conduct a Joint Operational-Strategic Exercise ‘Combat Brotherhood-2021,’”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, October 14, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/nachalnik-obedinennogo-shtaba-odkb-anatoliy-sidorov-na-on-line-brifinge-proinformirovalo-gotovnosti-/; [“About 800 Servicemen from 6 Countries Will Participate in the Joint Exercise ‘Indestructible Brotherhood-2021’”] Russian Ministry of Defense, August 6, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12375957@egNews; [“The Commander of the Central Military District Conducted a Reconnaissance of the Training Ground near Kazan before the upcoming CSTO Exercise ‘Indestructible Brotherhood-2021,’”] Russian Ministry of Defense, August 19, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12378212@egNews.

[20] Approximately 2,700 personnel are participating in Echelon-2021. Echelon-2021 is the first time Russia has conducted Echelon exercises outside of Russia. [“For the First Time, Tajikistan Will Host a Special Training for Logistics Specialists of the Armed Forces of the CSTO Countries ‘Echelon-2021,’”] Russian Ministry of Defense, October 10, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12387443@egNews; Alexey Zakvasin and Elizaveta Komarova, [“‘Effective Interaction’: The Tasks the CSTO Troops Will Work Out at the ‘Echelon-2021’ and ‘Combat Brotherhood’ Exercises,”] RT, October 18, 2021, https://russian.rt dot com/ussr/article/918333-eshelon-odkb-uchenie-opyt-afganistan.

[21] [“Uzbek Foreign Minister Said that the Country Does not Plan to Resume Participation in the CSTO,”] TASS, October 8, 2021, https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/12611295.

[22] “Moldova’s Top Prosecutor Suspended and Detained in Corruption Case,” Reuters, October 5, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/moldovas-top-prosecutor-suspended-detained-corruption-case-2021-10-05/; Mason Clark, “Russian Hybrid Warfare,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/military-learning-and-future-war-project#russianhybridwarfare.

[23] [“A Protest Was Held in Front of the Parliament Building: ‘Let’s Say No to the Dictatorship,’”] Point, October 10, 2021, https://point dot md/ru/novosti/politika/pered-zdaniem-parlamenta-proshel-protest-skazhem-and-34-netand-34-diktature/.

[24] Olga Gorchak, [“Dodon Calls to Protes and Demands Early Presidential Elections,”] NewsMaker, October 8, 2021, https://newsmaker dot md/rus/novosti/dodon-prizval-vyyti-na-protest-i-trebovat-provedeniya-dosrochnyh-prezidentskih-vyborov

[25] “Gazprom and Moldovagaz Sign Document to Extend Gas Supply Contract,” Gazprom, September 30, 2021, https://www.gazprom dot com/press/news/2021/september/article538765/.

[26] Henry Foy, Max Seddon, and David Sheppard,” Moldova Requests EU Help After Gazprom Reduces Gas Flows,” Financial Times, October 11, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/3514c7ed-8d23-4a74-8b64-cfda624138c3.

[27] [“Russian Paratroopers Departed for Egypt to Participate in the Joint Exercise ‘Defenders of Friendship-2021,’”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12389057@egNews; [“The Arab Republic of Egypt Will Host a Joint Russian-Egyptian Tactical Exercise ‘Defenders of Friendship-2021,’”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 17, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12388940@egNews.

[28] [“Russian Paratroopers Departed for Egypt to Participate in the Joint Exercise ‘Defenders of Friendship-2021,’”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 18, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12389057@egNews; [“The Arab Republic of Egypt Will Host a Joint Russian-Egyptian Tactical Exercise ‘Defenders of Friendship-2021,’”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 17, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12388940@egNews.

[29] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Russia Expands Unit Integration with Belarusian and Serbian Militaries in June Slavic Brotherhood Exercises,” Institute for the Study of War, June 25, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-expands-unit-integration-belarusian-and-serbian.

[30] [“At the ‘Friendship-2021’ Exercise, During the Assault on the Settlement, the Engineering and Assault Divisions of the Southern Military District Were Used for the First Time,”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 5, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12386972@egNews ; [“Russian and Pakistani Special Forces Conducted the Forceful Seizure of Buildings Held by Conditional Militants in Kuban,”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 7, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12387330@egNews; [“In Kuban, Russian and Pakistani Units Stormed the Building Using the Latest OVR-3Sh Demining Kits,”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 2, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12386519@egNews.

[31] [“Meeting with the Heads of the Special Services of the CIS Countries,”] The Kremlin, October 13, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66919.

[32] Putin warned that 2,000 ISIS terrorists, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jamaat Ansarullah, and Al-Queda seek to enter CIS countries under the guise of refugee status. [“Meeting with the Heads of the Special Services of the CIS Countries,”] The Kremlin, October 13, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66919.

[33] [“On the Meetings of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan D.A. Bayramov and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia A.S. Mirzoyan in Trilateral and Bilateral Formats,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 14, 2021, https://www dot mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4904016; [“Aliyev: Azerbaijan Is Ready to Start Negotiations on a Peace Agreement with Armenia,”] Belta, October 15, 2021, https://www dot belta dot by/politics/view/aliev-azerbajdzhan-gotov-nachat-peregovory-po-mirnomu-soglasheniju-s-armeniej-464637-2021/; [“Pashinyan Visits Moscow Amid Increasing Shelling in Nagorno-Karabakh,”] Federal News Agency, October 16, 2021, https://riafan dot ru/1537906-pashinyan-posetil-moskvu-na-fone-uvelicheniya-obstrelov-v-nagornom-karabakhe.

[34] A brigade is likely sixteen S-500 launchers. TASS did not specify the exact date on which the S-500 entered service. [“Source: The First S-500 Brigade Will Protect the Moscow Skies and the Central Industrial Region of the Russian Federation,”] TASS, October 12, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/12645597.

[35] “S-500 Prometheus,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 1, 2021, https://missilethreat.csis.org/defsys/s-500-prometheus/.

[36] Mark Episkopos, “Russia’s S-500 Missile Defense to Enter Service in 2021,” The National Interest, February 5, 2021, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/russia%E2%80%99s-s-500-missile-defense-enter-service-2021-177685.

[37] “Defense contractor to deliver 3 regiments of S-400 systems to Russian troops by 2023,” TASS, June 9, 2020, https://tass dot com/defense/1165791.

[38][“A Russian Militant Was Detained in Donbas as He Was Conducting Reconnaissance Under the Guise of Demining,”] Novoye Vremya, October 13, 2021, https://nv dot ua/ukraine/events/voyna-na-donbasse-zaderzhan-rossiyskiy-boevik-podrobnosti-foto-novosti-ukrainy-50189239.html; [Dmitriy Trofimenko, “The OSCE Mission in Donetsk Was Surrounded by Protesters,”] MKRU, October 18, 2021,  https://www.mk dot ru/politics/2021/10/18/missiyu-obse-v-donecke-oblozhili-poddonami.html.

[39][“A Protest Against OSCE Inaction Takes Place in Donetsk,”] Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika Official Site, October 15, 2021, https://dnronline dot su/v-donecke-prohodit-akciya-protesta-protiv-bezdejstviya-obse/.

[40] “OSCE Mission in Eastern Ukraine Suspended Operations Amid Protests,” Reuters, October 17, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/osce-mission-eastern-ukraine-suspends-operations-amid-protests-2021-10-17/; “OSCE SMM Spot Report 20/2021: Members of the Armed Formations Prevented the SMM from Leaving Its Forward Patrol Base in Horlivka,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, October 17, 2021, https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/501232; Dasha Zubkova, [“ Militants Take OSCE SMM Observers Hostage In Horlivka, Donetsk Region – OSCE Report,”] Ukrainian News, October 18, 2021, https://ukranews dot com/en/news/807934-militants-take-osce-smm-observers-hostage-in-horlivka-donetsk-region-osce-report.

[41] “OSCE Mission in Eastern Ukraine Suspended Operations Amid Protests,” Reuters, October 17, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/osce-mission-eastern-ukraine-suspends-operations-amid-protests-2021-10-17/.

[42] [“OSCE Suspends Monitoring Mission in Donbas Over Protests,”] TV Zvezda, October 27, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202110171854-ikR26.html.

[43] [“The OSCE Mission Continues to Work in the Occupied Luhansk Region,”] Glavcom, October 18, 2021, https://glavcom dot ua/ru/news/missiya-obse-prodolzhaet-rabotu-na-okkupirovannoy-luganshchine--791700.html.

[44] [“OSCE SMM Operational Report № 22/2021 ‘Mission Resumes Patrols from Its Advanced Patrol Base in Horlivka,’”] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, October 19, 2021, https://www.osce.org/uk/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/501346.

[45] “OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) Daily Report 244/2021 Issued on 18 October 2021,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, October 19, 2021, https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/501352; “OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) Daily Report 246/2021 Issued on 20 October 2021,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, October 20, 2021, https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/501724.