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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Multiple Russian Military Exercises Occurring in the Western Military District, Belarus, and Moldova

September 19, 2020, 7:00 pm EDT

By George Barros

The Kremlin is conducting multiple preplanned and apparently snap exercises concurrently in multiple theaters and Russian military districts. 




Russian military activity in the Western Military District (WMD) is unexpectedly high despite the Kavkaz-2020 exercises underway in the Southern Military District (SMD). The Russian Defense Ministry holds annual strategic exercises to test the readiness of Russia’s four main military districts. Each such annual exercise occurs in a different Russian military district in a rotating order and usually precipitates a decrease in military exercises in the other military districts not undertaking the strategic exercise. This year’s “Kavkaz-2020” exercises began on September 15 in the SMD.

ISW has observed a larger-than-anticipated number of unscheduled Russian exercises in the vicinity of Belarus. The Kremlin expanded its Slavic Brotherhood exercises in Belarus, conducted at least three other separate battalion-level exercises in the WMD, only one of which could be connected to preplanned exercises, and conducted likely unscheduled Baltic coast reconnaissance missions ostensibly aimed against NATO.

The Kremlin is using the Slavic Brotherhood exercise in Brest, Belarus, to practice integrating Belarusian and Russian units to form a single combined unit – such unit integration is likely a key component of the Kremlin’s desired Union State integration. Russia’s 234th Guards Airborne Assault Regiment – a subordinate unit of Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division that fought and sustained losses in Donbas in August 2014 – has performed a series of exercises focusing on interoperability with Belarusian forces since September 17.[1] The 234th likely formed a joint Russian-Belarusian battalion-sized unit to execute these exercises.[2] This exercise can prepare Russian and Belarussian forces to form a single combined armed force after the completion of Union State integration. It could also prepare Russian forces to subsume elements of Belarusian combat units in the event of a Russian intervention against the will of the Belarusian government.

The Kremlin is misrepresenting new unplanned stages in the Russian-Belarusian Slavic Brotherhood exercises to avoid alarming NATO. The Kremlin said the Slavic Brotherhood exercises are pre-planned and should not cause any alarm on September 18.[3] This statement is inaccurate. The Kremlin extended the Slavic Brotherhood exercises from September 10-15 to September 24-25 on short notice.[4] Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko specified that the exercises would be extended further because of the ”acute situation” in Belarus.[5] The Kremlin similarly announced monthly recurring exercises with Belarus to begin in October.[6] The Kremlin will likely intensify efforts to downplay its growing and likely permanent military presence in Belarus.

The Kremlin is conducting at least three other separate battalion-level exercises in the Western Military District (WMD), only some of which are connected to preplanned exercises.

Russian forces are undertaking logistics operations in the Western Military District to support an upcoming motorized rifle battalion field exercise in Transnistria. An unspecified Russian motorized rifle battalion will conduct field exercises in Transnistria next week.[7] The Kremlin claims these exercises are preplanned.[8] 

These exercises in Transnistria may relate to Moldova’s upcoming November 1 presidential election when Kremlin ally Igor Dodon will seek re-election. The Kremlin could also use these exercises to increase military pressure against Ukraine aimed at extracting political concessions from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv’s stalled peace talks with the Kremlin’s proxies in Donbas.

Two Russian mechanized battalions held likely snap exercises in the WMD on September 19. A battalion of the Kantemir Tank Division of Russia’s First Tank Army held exercises in the Moscow region on September 19.[9] Troops drove armored combat vehicles though water obstacles and simulated operations in flooded vehicles.[10] The forces practiced using isolation gear to protect against chemical weapons.[11] There is no evidence this exercise was preplanned.

Russian forces in the WMD may be preparing to perform crowd control operations in Belarus or elsewhere. A motorized rifle battalion of the Taman Division of Russia’s First Tank Army held likely unplanned exercises in the Moscow region on September 19.[12] These exercises simulated an encirclement maneuver to compel the surrender of an unmechanized enemy infantry force without destroying said force. The intended target of these exercises may be Belarusian (or other) protesters, but there is no evidence to support that hypothesis other than the odd nature of the exercise.

The Kremlin may attempt to destabilize NATO with hybrid operations in the Baltics if the Kremlin achieves freedom of movement in Belarus. A Baltic Fleet sapper company conducted forced-entry preparation exercises on the Baltic Sea coast in Kaliningrad on September 19. The sappers performed anti-mine engineering reconnaissance on Baltic coast landing sites.[13] There is no evidence this exercise was preplanned.[14]

A Belarusian battalion-sized unit is participating in Russia’s Kavkaz-2020 exercises in the SMD.[15] Approximately 350 unspecified Belarusian personnel and approximately 30 Belarusian tanks arrived in Kapustin Yar, Astrakhan Oblast, in Russia’s SMD, on September 16 for preplanned Kavkaz 2020 exercises.[16] The Belarusian forces should return to Belarus after Kavkaz-2020 ends on September 26. The Kremlin, however, will very likely send additional Russian forces into Belarus after Kavkaz-2020 under the pretext of continuous monthly exercises.[17]

Lukashenko ostentatiously deployed armor in Grodno to intimidate Belarusian protesters there. Approximately 40 Belarusian armored combat vehicles drove though Grodno’s streets in the late night of September 18.[18] This movement was not part of any prescheduled Belarusian or Russian exercise. These units are likely from Belarus’ 6th Armored Brigade, which is based in Grodno.[19]

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1] https://structure.mil(.)ru/structure/forces/airborne/news/more.htm?id=12314645@egNews; https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12314964@egNews; https://www.fontanka(.)ru/2014/08/26/030/; https://novayagazeta(.)ru/news/2014/09/17/105597-lev-shlosberg-prosit-glavnogo-voennogo-prokurora-rassledovat-gibel-desantnikov-76-oy-pskovskoy-divizii-vdv; http://boevoe-bratstvo-onega(.)ru/novosti/161-doska-v-severoonezhske; https://informnapalm(.)org/47084-novaya-informaciya-ob-uchastii-234-go-desan/

[2] https://structure.mil(.)ru/structure/forces/airborne/news/more.htm?id=12314645@egNews; https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12314964@egNews

[3] https://iz(.)ru/1062494/2020-09-18/posol-rf-v-minske-zaiavil-o-planovom-kharaktere-rossiisko-belorusskikh-uchenii

[4] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-putin-sends.html

[5] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-russian-force.html

[6] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-and.html; http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-russian-force.html

[7] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315028@egNews

[8] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315028@egNews

[9] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315039@egNews

[10] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315039@egNews

[11] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315039@egNews

[12] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315037@egNews

[13] https://function.mil(.)ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12315043@egNews

[14] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-moscow-sets-conditions-for.html

[15] https://tvzvezda(.)ru/news/forces/content/20209191631-U8VWT.html?utm_source=tvzvezda&utm_medium=longpage&utm_campaign=longpage&utm_term=v1

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=31&v=85Wk268n3Gg&feature=emb_logo; https://russian.rt.com/russia/news/783596-belorussiya-ucheniya-kavkaz

[17] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-russian-force.html

[18] https://tsn(.)ua/ru/svit/v-belarusi-kolonna-voennoy-tehniki-poehala-v-storonu-granicy-1628842.html

[19] https://grodnonews(.)by/news/bezopasnost/v_nashey_brigade_ne_tolko_tankisty-polkovnik-vadim-surov-rasskazal-o-novykh-armeyskikh-ritualakh-tankovom-biatlone-i-rozakh.html

 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Syria Warning Update: Syrian Regime Offensive on Idlib May Be Imminent

By Isabel Ivanescu with Andrew Greco

Key Takeaway: Turkey may have agreed to cede control of territory in southern Idlib to pro-Assad forces in a meeting with Russia on September 16.  If the reports of a deal are true, a pro-Assad offensive is likely imminent. Turkish-backed opposition forces and al Qaeda linked elements may fight back against advancing Russian-backed regime forces even without Turkish support. Turkey is most likely to cede the territory south of the M4 highway, a zone in which Turkey had already agreed to allow Russian patrols in March but retained forces, including artillery units, that precluded a full regime takeover. ISW warned on March 18 that this situation was likely untenable because al Qaeda-linked forces rejected Russian presence.[1] Turkey could face backlash from al Qaeda-linked elements, local civilians, and even Turkish-backed opposition forces for negotiating away opposition-held territory.

Tripwire: Russian state-owned news outlet RIA Novosti reported that Turkey agreed to reduce troop numbers in, and withdraw some heavy artillery from, greater Idlib Province as Turkish and Russian military delegations met in Ankara on September 16 to discuss Syria.[2] Other sources, including Turkish media and the usually-credible Asharq al-Awsat, subsequently corroborated these reports.[3] A negotiated removal of Turkish forces from areas of Idlib, if it does occur, would reflect a revision to the de-escalation agreement signed by Russia and Turkey on March 5 and would indicate a renewed pro-regime offensive is imminent.

Pattern: A series of recent events indicate Russia and Turkey have been negotiating an agreement providing for a partial Turkish withdrawal from greater Idlib.

  • Turkey withdrew hundreds of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) special forces and infantry and Turkish-backed opposition fighters from southern Idlib towns in the Jabal Zawiya area (Abdita, Ahsam, Al-Magara, and Beliun) on September 8.[4] Turkey claimed the withdrawal was a redeployment related to Turkey’s ongoing maritime disputes with Greece, but Turkey may have used its dispute with Greece as cover for actions consistent with an impending deal with Russia in Idlib. Turkey has previously redeployed Syrian fighters from Idlib to Libya. Turkey’s redeployment of TSK forces from greater Idlib to another theater marks an inflection, however.
  • Turkey reduced the frequency of its military logistics convoys. Turkey typically sends convoys carrying supplies and rotating troops into its military positions in greater Idlib every 1-2 days, but reduced this activity to only three convoys in the past 13 days (two on September 10, one of September 18).[5] Turkey’s force reduction and decreased activity along ground lines of communication may have been a Turkish demonstration of good faith as negotiations with Russia were ongoing or an early move to implement a soon-to-be-finalized agreement to reduce Turkey’s presence in the area.
  • The Assad regime organized violent protests outside Turkish observation points in Morek, northern Hama Province; Sarman, southeastern Idlib Province; and potentially elsewhere on September 16. The regime attempted to keep its role in these protests secret by encouraging protesters to dress in civilian clothing.[6] These protests likely represent a regime effort to exert pressure on Turkish military positions and emphasize the unpopularity of the Turkish presence in regime-held areas of greater Idlib. The regime likely sought levy an implied threat against Turkish forces, as Russia pursued a deal for the handover of more terrain.

Two recent Russian statements signal that a resumption of the pro-regime offensive in greater Idlib may be imminent.

  • Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed confidence that Turkey and Russia would succeed in “liberating” Idlib Province from terrorists in a press conference on September 7.[7] The statement was oddly optimistic following a string of Salafi-jihadist attacks on Russian-Turkish joint patrols along the M4 highway from late July to early September.[8]
  • Russian General Alexander Greenkiewicz, who heads the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria, claimed on September 11 that al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is planning a chemical attack on Jabal Zawiya.[9] Russia has frequently accused anti-Assad forces of planning chemical attacks without evidence and has deliberately confused the information environment in the past to obscure the Assad regime’s exclusive conduct of such attacks.[10] Russia could be preparing the information environment to justify a pro-regime offensive. In a low-probability but dangerous scenario, Russia may have issued the statement to muddy attribution knowing the Assad regime is itself planning a chemical attack on Jabal Zawiya.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, denied on September 16 that negotiations with Russia had been productive and emphasized the need for a political solution in Idlib.[11] Çavuşoğlu may be trying to temporarily conceal the details of an agreement with Russia in order to preserve Turkey’s reputation among greater Idlib’s population and avoid backlash from opposition groups.

Pro-Assad forces have brought enough reinforcements to the Idlib frontlines since the March 5 de-escalation agreement between Russia and Turkey to enable an attack.[12] Low-level frontline fighting and limited Russian and regime artillery and airstrikes have all persisted despite the de-escalation agreement.[13] The operational tempo of pro-regime attacks increased in July as pro-Assad forces intensified their shelling of frontline towns and probing attacks against opposition defenses. Russian airstrikes and regime shelling of opposition positions now an almost daily occurrence.[14] This increase in operational tempo likely represents condition setting by Russia and the Assad regime. ISW assesses that resumption of a Russian-backed regime offensive against greater Idlib is only likely if Russia receives Turkey’s permission in exchange for concessions elsewhere.[15] ISW therefore does not assess a renewed pro-regime offensive to be imminent on the basis of this increased but limited battlefield activity alone.

Assessment: Pro-regime forces will resume their campaign to retake greater Idlib in coming weeks if Turkish forces do indeed withdraw from portions of Idlib Province as part of a negotiated agreement.

The most likely location for a forthcoming pro-Assad offensive is the Sahl al-Ghab and Jabal  Zawiya areas south of the M4 highway, where pro-regime forces have focused their airstrikes, shelling, and frontline attacks.[16] If Turkey did reach a deal with Russia, it likely agreed to pull its forces back to the M4 highway security corridor, effectively ceding everything south of the M4 security corridor to the Assad regime. Turkey’s September 8 withdrawal already removed some of Turkey’s forces from this area. [17] The zone south of the M4 is Turkey’s least defensible territory in northwest Syria – regime forces are heavily concentrated along this frontline, the terrain is comparatively flat, and the frontlines have evolved such that the area is vulnerable to encirclement. Reports that Turkey intends to keep its observation posts in Sahl al-Ghab and Jabal Zawiya are unsurprising and do not preclude the possibility of a deal to cede control.[18] Turkey has previously maintained observation posts even when pro-Assad forces have recaptured the surrounding territory and isolated them.[19] Turkish retention of observation posts south of the M4 security corridor as pro-Assad forces prepare to take the area would fit the pattern.  

The Assad regime is likely to attempt to collapse the opposition pocket south of the M4 highway in a double envelopment with a western prong tracking north from Jabal Shahshabo and an eastern prong tracking north from Ma’arat al-Numaan before linking up near Ariha. Seizing the territory in question will not be an easy fight for the Assad regime; however, with Russian backing, regime forces will likely overpower the forces of HTS and smaller opposition groups absent Turkish support.



It is unclear what concessions Turkey may have gained from Russia in exchange for the withdrawal. Russia might have promised to coerce the Assad regime into permitting a Turkish offensive into the jointly regime and Syrian Democratic Forces dominated Tel Rifaat area. A Syrian state-linked outlet claimed on September 17 that Russia refused the Turkish delegation’s request to hand over the major population centers of Tel Rifaat and Manbij during the September 16 meeting.[20] This source has an incentive to lie to avoid the appearance of regime weakness. Turkey shelled areas near Tel Rifaat on September 17.[21] Russia may also have made concessions pertaining to northeast Syria, Libya, defense cooperation, or other areas in which both parties have interests.

Implications: It is not assured that the Assad regime could readily advance beyond the M4 highway, particularly if Turkey is determined to defend it. However, the regime could gain significant territory by seizing Jabal Zawiya and Sahl al-Ghab and establishing a new defensible line, which would likely render its previous gains irreversible. Turkey’s willingness to make deals may create openings for further regime gains in the subsequent months or years. Further, a regime seizure of this area could enable it to use the M4 highway to link this new control zone in Ariha to regime-held Saraqib. The regime may also be able to create a vulnerable opposition salient to the west of Jabal Shahshabo, positioning itself to take difficult terrain more easily.

A Turkish withdrawal from southern Idlib would likely trigger blowback from jihadists and the local population. HTS has increasingly aligned itself with Turkey in order to retain Turkey’s support in defending Idlib and has attempted to curtail the activities of hardline Salafi-jihadist groups who seek to expel Turkish forces. A major Turkish territorial concession could cause HTS to reverse this position. Hardline groups will likely scale up attacks on Turkish forces in either case. The population’s response to the Turkish presence in greater Idlib has been mixed. The goodwill of local supporters of the Turkish presence is premised on Turkish defense of greater Idlib against the Assad regime.

Indicators: ISW will be watching for a physical withdrawal of Turkish forces and artillery from Idlib in accordance with Russia’s claimed deal as well as for any effort to create a new, defensible Turkish frontline. Intense Russian airstrikes intended to soften opposition defenses would indicate that a ground push by pro-Assad forces could follow in the coming days or weeks. The presence of key regime commanders from elite military units such as the Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army (SAA) 25th Special Tasks Division (aka. Tiger Forces) and the SAA 4th Division along the frontlines would also indicate an imminent regime offensive. The lack of an actual withdrawal of Turkish forces from southern Idlib or outright Turkish and Russian repudiation of the reports of an agreement would indicate that negotiations failed.

 

 


[1] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/turkey-commits-idlib

[2] DNGTS: https://ria.ru/20200916/siriya-1577318783.html ; DNGTS: https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkish-russian-militaries-to-hold-meeting-on-syrias-idlib

[3] https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2513046/russia-seeks-reduce-turkeys-presence-idlib ; https://npasyria.com/en/?p=46907https://hawarnews.com/en/haber/russia-seeks-to-reduce-turkeys-presence-in-idlib-taliban-aims-to-establish-an-islamic-emirate-under-us-auspices-h19284.html ; https://www.syria.tv/%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%B2-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85-%D9%8A%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%AF%D8%AB-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%B7%D9%8A%D8%B7-%D9%84%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8

[4] DNGTS: https://7al.net/2020/09/08/%d8%aa%d8%b1%d9%83%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%aa%d8%a8%d8%af%d8%a3-%d8%a8%d8%a5%d8%ac%d9%84%d8%a7%d8%a1-%d8%ac%d9%86%d9%88%d8%af%d9%87%d8%a7-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%ac%d9%86%d9%88%d8%a8%d9%8a-%d8%a5%d8%af%d9%84%d8%a8/

[5] https://www.syriahr.com/en/183382/ ; https://www.syriahr.com/en/182775/ ; https://www.syriahr.com/en/182338/  ; https://www.syriahr.com/en/181996/ ; https://www.syriahr.com/en/184542/ ; https://www.radioalkul.com/p341264/ ; https://www.baladi-news.com/ar/articles/65204/%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%B6-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A..-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%AF%D9%81%D8%B9-%D8%A8%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D8%B3%D9%83%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8

[6] https://twitter.com/tcsavunma/status/1306196200014647296 ; https://twitter.com/smmsyria/status/1306174046908932096 ; https://www.syriahr.com/en/184283/ ; DNGTS: https://www.syria.tv/%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D9%8A%D9%91%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8-%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1 ; DNGTS: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/turkey-claims-troops-were-attacked-by-protesters-directed-by-assad-regime/ ; DNGTS: https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/416791

[7] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/russia-turkey-advance-in-liberating-idlib/1965847

[8] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/syria-situation-report-july-7-21-2020 ; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/syria-situation-report-august-5-18-2020 ;

[9] https://www.radioalkul.com/p339969/ ; http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/syria-situation-report-august-19-september-1-2020

https://www.syria.tv/%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%B2-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85-%D9%8A%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%AF%D8%AB-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%B7%D9%8A%D8%B7-%D9%84%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8

[10] DNGTS: https://www.radioalkul.com/p339969/ ; DNGTS: https://www.syria.tv/%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%B2-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%85-%D9%8A%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%AF%D8%AB-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%B7%D9%8A%D8%B7-%D9%84%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8

[11] DNGTS: https://www.cnnturk.com/video/turkiye/son-dakika-haberi-disisleri-bakani-cavusoglu-cnn-turkte-sorulari-yanitladi-video?fbclid=IwAR2y4iU5WqQldjb_5_kMc7WzEV4As_q-0L8y4mmqy0UOKxa7pi-PMH8QRkE ; https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/417066

[12] DNGTS: https://www.aksalser.com/news/2020/07/30/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a3%d9%83%d8%a8%d8%b1-%d9%85%d9%86-%d9%86%d9%88%d8%b9%d9%87%d8%a7-%d9%85%d9%86%d8%b0-%d9%88%d9%82%d9%81-%d8%a5%d8%b7%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%82-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%86%d8%a7%d8%b1-%d8%aa%d8%b9/

[13] DNGTS: https://shaamtimes.net/253815/%d9%85%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%83%d9%88-%d8%aa%d8%b4%d9%86%d9%91-%d8%ad%d9%85%d9%84%d8%a9-%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%b3%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%a5%d8%af%d9%84%d8%a8/ ; https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/russian-jets-launch-biggest-attack-in-months-over-northwestern-syria/ ; https://www.radioalkul.com/p339475/

[14] https://www.syriahr.com/en/184413/ ; DNGTS: https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/397739 ; https://www.qasioun-news.com/ar/articles/228903/%D8%A7%D8%B4%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%83%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84-%D9%88%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D8%A8%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AC%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8 ; https://www.alaraby.co.uk/%D8%A5%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A8-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D8%B9%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%B9%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%86%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9 ; https://www.radioalkul.com/p332640/

[15] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/pro-regime-forces-idlib-posture-resumption-offensive

[16] http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/pro-regime-forces-idlib-posture-resumption-offensive

[18] DNGTS:  https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2513046/russia-seeks-reduce-turkeys-presence-idlib ; DNGTS: https://radiosputnik.ria.ru/20200916/idlib-1577323551.html

[19] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/03/turkeys-military-buildup-in-syrias.html

[20] https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/russia-rejects-turkeys-proposal-to-handover-syrian-cities-to-them/

[21] https://www.syria.tv/%D9%82%D8%B5%D9%81-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%B9-%D9%84%D9%80ypg-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D9%84-%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%B9%D8%AA-%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A-%D8%AD%D9%84%D8%A8

 

 

Syria Situation Report: September 2-15, 2020

 By Andrew Greco and Will Christou (Syria Direct)

Key Takeaway: ISIS is continuing to reconstitute in Syria amidst increased unrest and popular opposition to local security forces. Suspected ISIS gunmen demonstrated the group’s increased capabilities by carrying out a campaign of assassinations targeting pro-regime operatives in Daraa Province. ISIS will likely continue to rapidly reconstitute in southern Syria if fighting between pro-regime forces and armed local populations persists. Separately, ISIS is expanding its influence in eastern Syria following increased pressure on the Syrian Democratic Forces from local Arab tribes and pro-regime actors. ISIS will seek to foment additional unrest in order to further increase its freedom of action in southern and central Syria. 

Click here to download the PDF. Click the image below to expand it.



Thursday, September 17, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Russian Force Deployment to Belarus is Likely Imminent

 September 17, 2020 7:15 pm EDT

By George Barros

The Kremlin will likely deploy Russian conventional military forces into Belarus on a long-term basis under the pretext of expanding bilateral exercises.  Multiple indicators ISW had identified as presaging the stationing of Russian troops in Belarus have now tripped, including the presence of Russian troops during extended exercises and specific changes in Belarusian rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin let it be known that he had discussed Belarus at a meeting of his national security council on September 17.[1]  Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke some hours later using bellicose and pro-Russian rhetoric dramatically different from the tone of his speech on September 14.  He announced the currently underway Russian-Belarusian Slavic Brotherhood exercises will have a “second stage” in Belarus but provided no additional details.[2]  Putin likely took a decision or issued some directive relevant to Lukashenko’s speech at his national security council meeting.

Lukashenko said unspecified Polish and Lithuanian provocations could transform Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus “into a theater of military operations,” and called on Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine to prevent a “hot war.”[3] Lukashenko has accused Poland and Lithuania of foreign interference and subversion but has never so directly accused them of actively agitating for war. ISW assessed Lukashenko’s usage of intensified rhetoric about a NATO threat would indicate a Russian intervention in Belarus is likely.[4]

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko revealed he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to “rebuild the Union State’s common defense” without providing specifics on September 17.[5] Putin likely coerced Lukashenko to accept Russian anti-access/area denial weapon system deployments to Belarus during their meeting in Sochi on September 14.[6]

The Kremlin may expand its existing expeditionary force presence in Belarus. Russia and Belarus began previously-scheduled joint military exercises on September 14.[7] Putin announced on September 13th that the exercises, which were originally scheduled for September 10-15, would be rescheduled for September 14 and extended until September 25.[8]The exercises did not begin on time likely because Serbia cancelled its participation on September 9.[9] Approximately 300 Russian troops from Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division arrived in Brest, Belarus, on September 14th.[10]    The Kremlin will likely use this and future exercises to deploy more forces into Belarus and keep them there on a continuous or nearly-continuous basis. 

Lukashenko likely changed his framing of the situation in Belarus to set conditions for a Russian force deployment to Belarus. Lukashenko said Belarus is on the “precipice of a terrible catastrophe” and that the “acute situation” in Belarus necessitates the second stage of joint Russian exercises – a marked change in Lukashenko’s framing of the situation. Lukashenko previously framed the current level of protests as acceptable, saying protesters had not crossed a “red line” and that most Belarusians “live an ordinary life” on September 14.[11] There have been no significant NATO movements or protest escalations in Belarus since September 14 that would account for the change in Lukashenko’s rhetoric. It is more likely correlated with a decision taken in Moscow or made jointly between Lukashenko and Putin.

Lukashenko closed Belarus’ borders with Poland and Lithuania and strengthened positions on the Ukrainian border.[12] Belarus never closed any of its borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lukashenko is likely closing them now in response to intensified Polish and Lithuanian efforts to encourage Belarusian citizens to flee Belarus.[13]

Lukashenko denied the need for international recognition of his election results for the first time.[14] The European Parliament passed a resolution rejecting Belarus’ August 9 presidential elections results on September 17.[15] Lukashenko has repeatedly defended the elections but has never denied the need for international recognition. Lukashenko’s increased political ostracization from Europe and the threat of European Union sanctions will likely increase the Kremlin’s leverage over Lukashenko.

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1] http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/64043

[2]  https://interfax(.)by/news/policy/vneshnyaya_politika/1283529/

[3] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/; https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200917/1045705525/Lukashenko-klyanus-nikakogo-vranya-na-vyborakh-ne-bylo.html; https://grodnonews(.)by/news/glavnoe/aleksandr_lukashenko_priekhal_na_zhenskiy_forum_v_minsk_arene.html; https://news.tut(.)by/economics/700890.html; https://officelife(.)media/news/20394-lukashenko-my-zakryvaem-granitsy-s-zapadom/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZMKfzpAIWQ&ab_channel=TUT.BY.%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0

[4] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-moscow-sets-conditions-for.html

[5] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/

[6] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko-and.html

[7] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-putin-sends.html

[8] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-putin-sends.html

[9] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-putin-sends.html

[10] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-putin-sends.html; https://www.ukrinform(.)ru/rubric-world/3101658-ucenia-pod-brestom-voennye-belarusi-i-rf-proveli-artillerijskie-strelby.html

[11] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko_14.html

[12] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/; https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200917/1045705525/Lukashenko-klyanus-nikakogo-vranya-na-vyborakh-ne-bylo.html; https://grodnonews(.)by/news/glavnoe/aleksandr_lukashenko_priekhal_na_zhenskiy_forum_v_minsk_arene.html; https://news.tut(.)by/economics/700890.html; https://officelife(.)media/news/20394-lukashenko-my-zakryvaem-granitsy-s-zapadom/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZMKfzpAIWQ&ab_channel=TUT.BY.%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0

[13] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-poland/poland-offers-new-support-for-belarus-civil-society-media-idUSKCN25A0X3; https://www.thefirstnews(.)com/article/new-polish-visa-procedures-allow-easier-entry-for-belarusians-15799; https://www.barrons(.)com/news/lithuania-further-eases-visa-rules-for-belarusians-01600272605?tesla=y

[14] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-rasskazal-chto-situatsija-vynudila-vmeste-s-rossiej-otstroit-obschuju-zaschitu-sojuznogo-407231-2020/; https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200917/1045705525/Lukashenko-klyanus-nikakogo-vranya-na-vyborakh-ne-bylo.html; https://grodnonews(.)by/news/glavnoe/aleksandr_lukashenko_priekhal_na_zhenskiy_forum_v_minsk_arene.html; https://news.tut(.)by/economics/700890.html; https://officelife(.)media/news/20394-lukashenko-my-zakryvaem-granitsy-s-zapadom/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZMKfzpAIWQ&ab_channel=TUT.BY.%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0

[15] https://www.voanews.com/europe/eu-parliament-votes-stop-recognizing-belarus-president-when-his-term-expires

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko and the Kremlin Vie for Control over Future Russian Weapons in Belarus

 September 16, 2020, 5:45 pm EDT

By George Barros and Mason Clark

The Kremlin qualified Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s claim he requested Russian weapons from Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 16. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Lukashenko in Minsk on September 16, likely to implement military cooperation concessions Lukashenko made to Putin during their September 14 meeting in Sochi.[1] Lukashenko said he asked Putin for weapons to "strengthen the Union State plan" on September 16.[2] Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov qualified Lukashenko’s statement in a response to a reporter, saying Lukashenko did not ask Putin for a “weapons delivery” “in the way you [the reporter] phrased.”[3] The Kremlin rarely qualifies its denials of claims by other actors based on the language used by individual reporters. Peskov’s attention to avoiding a full denial but disputing the reporters’ question if Lukashenko requested a “weapons delivery” indicates the Kremlin is attempting to shift Lukashenko’s framing.

Lukashenko likely phrased his request for Russian weapons to suggest Belarusian forces would control Russian weapons systems sent to Belarus as a result of the agreements. Peskov likely qualified the reporters’ phrasing of Lukashenko’s statement to avoid committing the Kremlin to giving the Belarusian military new equipment – instead setting conditions for the Kremlin to retain control over weapon systems deployed to Belarus.

The Kremlin likely seeks to control anti-access/area denial weapon systems in Belarus.[4] The Belarusian Defense Ministry reportedly signed a contract for cooperation on air defense systems with the holding company for the manufacturers of the Russian S-300, S-400, and S-500 air-defense systems in August 2020.[5] Lukashenko previously rejected S-400 systems in Belarus in February 2020.[6] The Kremlin likely seeks to integrate Belarus’ currently independent air defense systems into Russia’s own national air defense system, which would give Moscow control over their employment.[7] Such integration would enhance Russian capabilities to contest NATO airspace and degrade NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics.

Lukashenko markedly changed his framing of military cooperation with Russia following his September 14 meeting with Putin. Lukashenko said Russia and Belarus must "more bravely defend” their joint interests on September 16.[8] Lukashenko has repeatedly declined the Kremlin’s multiple requests to expand strategic Russian airbases in Belarus since at least 2015.[9] Lukashenko said he would never agree to concessions that undermine Belarus’ independence in December 2019 – before the protests pushed him into crisis.[10] The Kremlin will likely continue leveraging Lukashenko’s vulnerability to the protest movement to further formalize Kremlin control over Belarus in the Union State.

Moscow will likely sustain its increased military presence and accelerate military cooperation in Belarus over the next several months. Lukashenko announced the next monthly Belarusian-Russian military exercise will occur in October 2020.[11] The elements of Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division currently in Belarus for Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercises should in principle return to their home station when the exercise ends on September 25.[12]  They could, however, remain if exercises are scheduled early in October, or other forces could replace them.   Lukashenko said Moscow and Minsk must intensify their military cooperation by the end of 2020.[13] He appears to have conceded a nearly-continuous Russian military presence in Belarus under the guise of frequent exercises.

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

 


[1] http://www.iswresearch.org/2020/09/belarus-warning-update-lukashenko_14.html

[2] https://sputnik(.)by/defense_safety/20200916/1045696519/Peskov-Lukashenko-na-vstreche-s-Putinym-ne-prosil-o-postavkakh-vooruzheniya.html; https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9473667; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/svoi-interesy-my-dolzhny-bljusti-lukashenko-predlozhil-rossii-podumat-nad-novymi-voennymi-uchenijami-407000-2020/; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/news/2020/09/16/14949241.shtml?updated; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG_b3kGVxAA

[3] Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to a press question on whether Lukashenko asked for Russian weapons, saying, “In the wording you said, no.” https://tass(.)ru/politika/9475065

[4] The Belarusian Defense Ministry reportedly signed a deal with the Kremlin-owned Almaz-Antey defense company on August 24 at the Army 2020 annual international military-technical forum in Moscow. The Belarusian defense minister reportedly signed a contract for cooperation on air defense systems until 2025. Almaz-Antey is the holding company for the manufacturers of the S-300, S-400, and S-500 Russian air-defense systems. https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-lukashenkos-security-forces.html

[5] https://www.iswresearch.org/2020/08/warning-lukashenkos-security-forces.html

[6] https://avia(.)pro/news/belorussiya-otkazalas-ot-pokupki-rossiyskih-s-400-zayaviv-ob-ih-bespoleznosti; https://bulgarianmilitary(.)com/2020/02/27/belarus-refused-to-buy-russian-s-400-missile-systems-because-they-are-useless/

[7] https://www.defenseworld(.)net/news/15992/Belarus_Receives_Fourth_Battalion_Of_S_300_PS_Air_Defense_Systems#.X2JRdmhKjcs

[8] https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/9473667; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/svoi-interesy-my-dolzhny-bljusti-lukashenko-predlozhil-rossii-podumat-nad-novymi-voennymi-uchenijami-407000-2020/; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/news/2020/09/16/14949241.shtml?updated; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG_b3kGVxAA

[9] https://www.rbc(.)ru/politics/06/10/2015/5613ebe59a794769839c9e3f; https://www.vesti(.)ru/article/1501418; https://www.gazeta(.)ru/army/2019/11/14/12811502.shtml

[10] https://gordonua(.)com/news/worldnews/belarus-ne-sobiraetsya-vhodit-v-sostav-rossii-lukashenko-1478138.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02lSOGrMsiA&feature=emb_title; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tILkwwfnos

[11] https://russian.rt(.)com/ussr/news/783962-lukashenko-rossiya-shoigu

[12] https://www.interfax(.)ru/world/726986; https://meduza(.)io/news/2020/09/15/pskovskie-desantniki-pribyli-v-belorussiyu-dlya-uchastiya-v-ucheniyah-slavyanskoe-bratstvo

[13] https://russian.rt(.)com/ussr/news/783962-lukashenko-rossiya-shoigu; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/svoi-interesy-my-dolzhny-bljusti-lukashenko-predlozhil-rossii-podumat-nad-novymi-voennymi-uchenijami-407000-2020