UA-69458566-1

Friday, December 3, 2021

Russia in Review: November 10 – November 30, 2021

NOTE: ISW’s Russia team is closely monitoring the ongoing situation around Ukraine, including Russian force deployments, rhetorical changes, and Western responses. For more on the evolving situation around Ukraine, please consult ISW’s publication “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” updated daily at the following link: https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/indicators-and-thresholds-russian-military-operations-ukraine-andor-belarus

Belarus’s Campaign to Pressure the EU in November 2021 Further Isolated Belarus and Drew it Closer to the Kremlin

By Mason Clark, George Barros, and Julia Belov

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s campaign to coerce the European Union (EU) to repeal sanctions has further geopolitically isolated Belarus and expanded opportunities for Russia to deploy forces into Belarus to threaten Ukraine and NATO. Russia and Belarus set conditions throughout November to expand military cooperation on the Belarus-Ukrainian border under the guise of protecting the Kremlin-dominated Union State from claimed NATO threats. Lukashenko continues to conduct a campaign of migrant trafficking despite framing EU states as responsible for the crisis by refusing to accept migrants. US allies neighboring Belarus—including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine—have increased security measures on the Belarusian border throughout November.  

The Belarusian government is increasingly falsely blaming the migrant crisis on the West and framing Belarusian and Russian military activity inside Belarus as a response to nonexistent NATO troop buildups. Lukashenko claimed NATO amassed approximately 15,000 troops near Belarus’ border on November 11.[1] NATO forces have increased their state of alert and readiness in response to Russiand and Belarusian pressure, but have not deployed troops for possible offensive operations as claimed by Lukashenko. Minsk announced on November 25 that Belarus and Russia would increase joint air patrols in Belarusian airspace in response on November 25.[2] Russia will likely deploy ground forces to Belarus in late 2021 or early 2022. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced on November 29 that Russia and Belarus will conduct a joint military exercise on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border on an unspecified future date.[3] The Kremlin frames Russian military intervention in Belarus as vital to protecting its ally and preserving the Union State. A permanent Russian deployment to Belarus and subsequent increase in freedom of movement for the Russian military would enable new avenues of attack against Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states.[4]

Lukashenko trafficked migrants to destabilize Poland and the EU throughout November while framing Belarus as a humanitarian actor. Lukashenko ordered the establishment of refugee camps along the border with Poland on November 12 to advance the narrative that Belarus is a humanitarian actor that seeks to help migrants.[5] Lukashenko ordered the organization of a humanitarian convoy for refugees on the Belarusian border with Poland on November 13.[6] Lukashenko had previously blocked three Polish humanitarian convoys from entering Belarus since the start of the conflict.[7] Lukashenko ostentatiously visited a Belarusian state-run refugee center in Grodno on November 27 to advance the narrative that Belarus is taking good care of migrants.[8] Belarusian security forces continued to marshal migrants for border crossings against Poland throughout this period, such as by . arming migrants with stun grenades on November 16.[9]

Lukashenko deescalated—but did not end—the migrant-trafficking campaign after securing his first phone call with a Western head of state in over a year in mid-November. Lukashenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held phone calls on the migrant crisis on November 15 and 17—Lukashenko’s first calls with a Western head of state since August 2020.[10] Belarus began returning migrants to their home countries (predominantly Iraq) on November 18, and supported an additional flight on November 22.[11] Polish and Belarusian border guards confirmed that migrants vacated their makeshift camps on the border as of November 18, though small groups of migrants remain at the border as of early December.[12] Polish border guards reported on November 28 that illegal migrant crossings decreased from a peak of approximately 500 to 200 daily attempts.[13]

Lukashenko retains the option to escalate the campaign at any time, however. Lukashenko signed into law restrictions that limit media and aid organizations' access to the border on November 30.[14] The restrictions went into effect on December 1 and may last up to three months, increasing difficulty for journalists to assess migrant trafficking. Iraqi repatriation flights have eased tensions, but migrants remaining in Belarus will face harsh winter conditions with limited access to humanitarian resources or media coverage.[15] Lukashenko may use claims of migrant deaths and the heightened Polish and Lithuanian border security to intensify existing information operations alleging NATO preparations to attack Belarus and/or Russia.

Lukashenko has so far failed to coerce the EU to end sanctions against Belarus through the migrant crisis but may have successfully exacerbated divisions within the EU. The EU extended sanctions on Belarus on November 15.[16] However, Lukashenko successfully expanded his contact with EU actors through the Belarusian-created migrant crisis. Lukashenko’s phone conversations with acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on November 15 and 17 were the first form of contact between Western leaders and Lukashenko in more than a year.[17] These phone calls legitimized Lukashenko as the Belarusian President despite Germany and other EU states’ continuing refusal to recognize the fraudulent results of Belarus’s August 2020 presidential election. Lukashenko may use these phone calls to create divisions in the EU. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki condemned Merkel for reestablishing direct contact with Lukashenko on November 27.[18]

The immediate threats of the migrant crisis have compelled the EU’s easternmost members to respond forcefully, potentially exacerbating divisions between EU members. States bordering Belarus have increased security measures on Belarus’ border: Latvia began a 3,000-person military exercise near the Latvian-Belarusian border on November 15, Estonia pledged to send forces to assist Poland and Latvia on November 18, Lithuania’s armed forces established a military base on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border on November 22, and Ukraine launched a new operation to reinforce the Ukrainian-Belarusian border from migrants on November 24.[19] The EU and several of its western members have previously responded negatively to these actions, while the EU’s eastern members assert they are undersupported by the EU in the face of Russian and Belarusian pressure. These disagreements support Russian and Belarusian efforts to fracture Western responses to Russian and Belarusian malign activity.

Minsk and the Kremlin are poised to continue activity to destabilize the EU. The Kremlin seeks to expand Russia’s military presence in Belarus to increase its ability to militarily threaten NATO and Ukraine. Lukashenko will likely advance narratives of Belarus’ de-escalation on the Polish-Belarus border to falsely cast the EU states bordering Belarus as the primary perpetuators of the migrant crisis. Lukashenko will likely continue to provoke aggressive military responses from Poland and other neighbors to justify Russian militarization and undermine EU law in EU states.

 

1. The Kremlin condemned several NATO naval exercises with partner forces in the Baltic, Aegean, and Black Seas in October and November, falsely portraying them as Western provocations. Russian President Vladimir Putin said “our recent warnings”—a reference to Russian military deployments near Ukraine—are in part a response to NATO’s activity in the Black Sea on November 18.[20]  The Kremlin seeks to end US naval operations in the Black Sea and will continue to claim NATO exercises in the Black Sea justify Russian military provocations against Ukraine.[21] US, Canadian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish frigates conducted NATO interoperability exercises in the Baltic Sea while US, Italian, Turkish, German, and Romanian vessels simultaneously conducted exercises in the Aegean Sea from October 27 to 29.[22] US Sixth Fleet flagship USS Mount Whitney and the destroyer USS Porter deployed to the Black Sea on November 4 and October 30, respectively, for interoperability exercises with Bulgarian, Romanian, Turkish, and Ukrainian vessels.[23] USS Mount Whitney and USS Porter left the Black Sea on November 15 and 16, respectively.[24] The US Sixth Fleet later announced on that the USS Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer entered the Black Sea on November 25 “to operate with NATO allies and partners in the region.”[25] The Kremlin condemned these deployments. The Russian Ministry of Defense stated the Russian Black Sea Fleet tracked USS Mount Whitney as it entered the Black Sea on November 4.[26] Russian missile corvette Shuya of the Black Sea Fleet conducted an exercise in response to the announcement of USS Arleigh Burke’s deployment on November 26.[27]
 
2. Kremlin state media stopped referring to the Taliban as a terrorist organization banned in Russia, the latest indicator of a gradual Russian effort to support international recognition of the Taliban as the Afghan government. Russian state-owned news agencies began referring to the Taliban as an “organization under UN sanctions for terrorist activities” on November 8.[28] Russian media previously referred to the Taliban as a “terrorist organization banned in Russia”— the disclaimer that Russian media entities legally must use to describe Kremlin-designated terrorist organizations. The Kremlin additionally began to direct humanitarian aid deliveries to the Taliban in November. Russia delivered 108 tons of humanitarian cargo directly to Kabul, Afghanistan, on November 18, likely in exchange for the extraction of 380 Russian, Belarusian, Kyrgyz, Armenian, Ukrainian, and Afghan evacuees.[29] Russia’s Foreign Ministry and President Vladimir Putin have repeatedly promised to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan since late August but likely delayed the convoys until Russia could build a broader base of international support and to secure a stronger bargaining position with the Taliban.[30] The Kremlin will likely recognize the Taliban in early 2022.
 
3. The Kremlin-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) conducted the major annual counter-terror exercise “Unbreakable Brotherhood” in early November, further preparing CSTO forces to undertake security or peacekeeping operations in Central Asia. Approximately 1,800 personnel of the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces comprised of Russian, Armenian, Belarusian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik troops participated in the CSTO’s annual Unbreakable Brotherhood exercise in Kazan, Russia, from November 8 to 12.[31] The Russian Ministry of Defense initially stated in June 2021 that only 800 personnel would participate. [32] The Kremlin likely retooled the exercise in response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. CSTO forces practiced forming a joint military and humanitarian response to a terrorist threat.[33] CSTO and Russian readouts noted that the exercise focused on separating conflicting parties and enforcing a ceasefire—rather than the strictly kinetic focus of the majority of CSTO exercises since summer 2021—and leveraged Russian experience from Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.[34] The Kremlin has long sought to legitimize the CSTO as a United Nations-recognized peacekeeping force, and will likely seek to expand the CSTO’s peacekeeping capabilities through further major exercises.[35] CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas stated during the closing ceremony of Unbreakable Brotherhood 2021 that the CSTO seeks to integrate its joint peacekeeping force with the United Nations.[36]

The Kremlin is successfully diversifying the capabilities of the CSTO to cover both military and peacekeeping operations. These CSTO exercises expand Russian force projection capabilities and grant the Kremlin further options to respond to any future escalations or jihadist operations in and around Afghanistan. The CSTO additionally conducted the likely company-sized “Colbalt-2021” exercise in Khalton Region, Tajikistan, from November 17 to 19.[37] The CSTO has conducted four Cobalt exercises since 2010 on an uneven schedule, unlike the annual Unbreakable Brotherhood exercise.[38] The exercise emphasized special forces operations against armed combatants, unlike the peacekeeping focus of Unbreakable Brotherhood.[39] Servicemen of the Russian 201st Military Base, Tajik border troops, and unidentified CSTO internal Special Forces, including narcotics officers and elements of the CSTO Collective Rapid Response Force, participated in the exercises.[40]


4. The Kremlin increased coordination with Malian government officials in November to support a likely deployment by Wagner, a Kremlin-backed private military company (PMC), to Mali in early 2022. The Kremlin will likely deploy Wagner Group forces to Mali ahead of Malian presidential and legislative elections in February 2022.[41] This deployment would advance Kremlin efforts to deteriorate French-Malian relations, secure Russian access to Malian natural resources, and increase Russia’s military influence in West Africa.[42] Mali and Russia have reportedly held negotiations for a Wagner deployment to Mali since late September.[43] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reassured Malian Foreign Minister Abdullah Diop on November 11 that Russia would continue sending Mali military equipment after France closed three of its military bases in Mali.[44] Lavrov denied that Russian private military contractors are preparing to deploy to Mali but stated that Russia will continue to support official Malian counterterrorism efforts during a Russian-French security cooperation meeting in Paris, France, on November 12.[45] European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said on November 15 that the EU will examine Wagner-linked organizations for possible new sanctions on December 13.[46] The Kremlin reportedly shipped small arms and ammunition to Bamako, Mali,  on November 20. The Kremlin also sent four Mi-17 military transport helicopters to Mali on November 26.[47]
 
5. Germany suspended the certification process for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on November 16, significantly delaying the pipeline’s commissioning.[48] German gas regulators stated that Nord Stream 2’s Switzerland-based parent company could not begin gas transit to Germany.[49] German regulators will resume the certification process when Nord Stream 2’s parent company creates a Germany-based subsidiary and receives approval from the European Commission.[50] These requirements will likely delay Nord Stream 2’s certification beyond previous estimates of May 2022.[51] New US sanctions submitted to Congress by the State Department on November 22 covering two ships and one Russia-linked entity involved in the pipeline will likely further delay the certification process.[52] Western states likely took steps to delay Nord Stream 2’s certification due in part to Russia’s large military buildup against Ukraine in fall 2021.[53] Nord Stream 2’s launch will diversify Russia’s gas supply routes to Europe and allow the Kremlin to leverage those routes for political gain—both by increasing Germany’s reliance on Russian gas and by depriving Ukraine of gas transit fees. The United States and EU are unlikely to be able to fully halt the launch of Nord Stream 2, but any further delays in the launch of Nord Stream 2 will reduce Putin’s leverage and possibly deter Russian military action, as the Kremlin is unlikely to risk taking actions which would lead to the cancelation of Nord Stream 2.
 
6. The Kremlin negotiated a ceasefire following an Azerbaijani violation against Armenian territory on November 16 and refused an Armenian request for military support. The Kremlin brokered a ceasefire on November 16 after Azerbaijan likely initiated clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border early in the day.[54] Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan announced Armenia would invoke a Russian-Armenian 1997 treaty on mutual assistance during the conflict.[55] The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) stated it did not receive an official invocation from Armenia, however.[56] The Kremlin likely pressured Armenia to withhold an official appeal and instead worked to negotiate an Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Sochi, Russia, on November 26 to support this effort.[57] Pashinyan and Aliyev agreed to demarcate and demilitarize the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in a joint statement with Putin.[58] Russia’s likely unwillingness to support Armenia militarily under the 1997 agreement will likely prompt Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to seek additional security guarantees or expand Armenian military capabilities. However, Russia’s refusal to support Armenia militarily is unlikely to degrade Russo-Armenian relations given Armenia’s significant economic, diplomatic, and military dependence on Russia.
 
7. The Kremlin continued to pressure Moldova into concessions in November using the Kremlin-favorable gas deal Russia successfully coerced Moldova to sign in late October 2021. Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom threatened to cut off gas supplies to Moldova on November 22 and issued Moldovan state gas company Moldovagaz a 48-hour deadline to repay claimed arrears. Moldovagaz paid off the debt on November 26 after receiving a two-day extension and borrowing over $56 million from the Moldovan government.[59] Moldovagaz has long disputed Gazprom’s claimed arrears but agreed to repay them as part of Russia and Moldova’s Kremlin-preferable gas deal signed on October 29.[60] Gazprom claimed it fears future delinquent payments from Moldova, and will continue to leverage Moldova’s entrenched economic dependence on Russia beyond the October 29 gas deal.[61]
 
8. Russia signed a short-term gas deal with Serbia at discount prices, likely to bolster Russian ally President Vucic ahead of April 2022 Serbian parliamentary elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a six-month gas deal with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on November 25.[62] Putin offered Vucic Russian gas for $270 per thousand cubic meters—a quarter of the average price on the European market.[63] This preferential gas price is not a long-term deal and is likely intended to subsidize Serbia until Belgrade and Moscow broker a long-term deal when the six-month deal expires in summer 2022.[64] The Kremlin likely offered Serbia a low gas price to grant Vucic’s ruling party a political boost ahead of Serbia’s April 2022 elections and prevent Serbia from pursuing alternative energy sources or closer economic ties with European states.[65]
 
9. Russia and China signed several economic and military cooperation roadmaps in late November. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe signed a plan for joint strategic exercises and joint air and sea patrols for 2021-2025 on November 23.[66] Russia and China extended their 2009 agreement on mutual notifications of ballistic missiles and space carrier rocket numbers and deployment to strengthen mutual trust between the two militaries.[67] Shoigu claimed that Russian-Chinese military cooperation is in response to the increased number of US strategic bomber flights in the Sea of Okhotsk and along the Chinese and Russian borders.[68] Shoigu noted the proximity of US strategic aviation exercises “Global Thunder” to Russia’s eastern border, likely to encourage China to enhance joint patrols in East Asia against the West.[69] Russia and China are acting in mutual interest to limit the Western presence in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean.

Contributors: Mason Clark, George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko


[1] [“Meeting with the leadership of the Council of Ministers,”] Belarusian President Website, November 11, 2021, https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/soveshchanie-s-rukovodstvom-soveta-ministrov-1636621364; [“Lukashenko Asked Russia to Connect Strategic Aviation to Patrol the Borders of Belarus and the Union State,”] Belta, November 11, 2021, https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-poprosil-rossiju-podkljuchit-strategicheskuju-aviatsiju-k-dezhurstvu-na-granitsah-belarusi-469008-2021/.

[2] [“Increasing the Composition of the Air Defenses Duty Forces,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, November 25, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/141967/.

[3] [“Belarus Plans Exercise With Russia to Cover Southern Borders,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, November 29, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/142016/.

[4] George Barros with Frederick W. Kagan, Mason Clark, and Kateryna Stepanenko, “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine And/Or Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, November 30, 2021,

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/indicators-and-thresholds-russian-military-operations-ukraine-andor-belarus.

[5] [“Ninth Victim of the Migration crisis. Police Found a Dead Syrian on the Polish border,”] Novaya Vremia, November 13, 2021, https://nv dot ua/world/countries/migracionnyy-krizis-polskie-pogranichniki-obnaruzhili-telo-migranta-poslednie-novosti-50195740.html.

[6] [“Lukashenko Instructed to Streamline the Delivery and Distribution of Humanitarian Aid to Refugees at the Border,”] Republic of Belarus Official Website, November 13, 2021, https://www.belarus dot by/ru/press-center/news/lukashenko-poruchil-uporjadochit-dostavku-i-raspredelenie-gumanitarnoj-pomoschi-bezhentsam-na-granitse_i_0000136934.html.

[7] [“Ninth Victim of the Migration crisis. Police Found a Dead Syrian on the Polish border,”] Novaya Vremia, November 13, 2021, https://nv dot ua/world/countries/migracionnyy-krizis-polskie-pogranichniki-obnaruzhili-telo-migranta-poslednie-novosti-50195740.html.

[8] [“Meeting with Refugees at the Transport and logistics Center on the Belarusian-Polish Border,”] Belarusian President Website, November 26, 2021, https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/poseshchenie-transportno-logisticheskogo-centra-vozle-punkta-propuska-bruzgi.

[9] Polish Ministry of Defense Twitter Account, November 16, 2021, https://twitter.com/Poland_MOD/status/1460550562592833537.

[10] Michael Nienaber, “In Rare Phone Call, Merkel and Lukashenko Discuss Help for Refugees,” Reuters, November 115, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/rare-phone-call-merkel-lukashenko-discuss-help-refugees-2021-11-15/.

[11] [“A Plane with Iraqi Migrants Took Off From Minsk to Baghdad,”] Izvestia, November 18, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1251828/2021-11-18/samolet-c-irakskimi-migrantami-vyletel-iz-minska-v-bagdad; [“Lukashenko Announced the Second Export Flight from Minsk for Migrants,”] Izvestia, November 22, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1253436/2021-11-22/lukashenko-anonsiroval-vtoroi-vyvoznoi-reis-iz-minska-dlia-migrantov.

[12] “Poland Reports More Migrant Crossing Attempts from Belarus,” Euronews, November 25, 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/11/24/poland-reports-more-migrant-crossing-attempts-from-belarus; “Poland Confirms Belarus Border Camp Now Cleared as Migrants Taken to Shelter,” Euronews, November 19, 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/11/19/poland-confirms-belarus-border-camp-now-cleared-as-migrants-taken-to-shelter.

[13] Yara Abi Nader and Joanna Plucinska, “Migrants Stuck at Polish Border Feel Cheated by People Smugglers,” Reuters, November 28, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/its-all-lies-migrants-stuck-polish-border-feel-cheated-by-people-smugglers-2021-11-28/.

[14] “Polish Parliament Rejects Unlimited Media Access to Belarus Border,” US News, November 30, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-11-30/poland-limits-on-access-to-belarus-border-as-migrant-crisis-simmers.

[15] Andrew Higgins and Marc Santora, “The Main Border Crossing with Poland is Cleared of Migrants,” New York Times, November 18, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/18/world/belarus-poland-border-migrants#belarus-says-the-main-border-crossing-with-poland-will-be-cleared-by-days-end.

 

[17] [“Telephone Conversation with Acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel,”] Belarusian Presidential Website, November 17, 2021, https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/telefonnyy-razgovor-s-i-o-kanclera-germanii-angeloy-merkel-1637162583.

[18] “Polish PM Slams Merkel for Talking with Lukashenko,” Daily Sabah, November 27, 2021, https://www.dailysabah dot com/world/europe/polish-pm-slams-merkel-for-talking-with-lukashenko.

[19] “Estonia Pledges PPA Personnel to Assist on Latvia, Poland Borders,” ERR News, November 18, 2021, https://news.err dot ee/1608406784/estonia-pledges-ppa-personnel-to-assist-on-latvia-poland-borders;

[“To Strengthen Security. Lithuania Creates a Military Base Near the Border with Belarus,”] Novaya Vremia, November 20, 2021, https://nv dot ua/world/countries/migracionnyy-krizis-litva-sozdala-voennuyu-bazu-u-granicy-s-belarusyu-poslednie-novosti-50197182.html; Andrius Sytas, “Latvia Begins Military Exercise Near Belarus Border Amid Migrant Crisis,” Reuters, November 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/latvia-begins-military-exercise-near-belarus-border-amid-migrant-crisis-2021-11-15/; Ukrainian State Border Guards Service Facebook, November 23, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/DPSUkraine/posts/2066574936827577.

[20] [“Expanded meeting of the collegium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,”] Kremlin, November 18, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67123.

[21] Kremlin-sponsored publications implied that US and NATO vessels arrived to attack Donbas as a result of failed negotiations between Russian Defense Ministry and Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns in Moscow, Russia, on November 2. [“Russians Watch as the United States Prepares a Special Operation of Kyiv in Donbas,”] Tsargrad, November 9, 2021, https://tsargrad dot tv/news/russkie-nabljudajut-kak-ssha-gotovjat-specoperaciju-kieva-v-donbasse_443880.

[22] Diana Stancy Correll, “Rota-Based Destroyers Conduct Operations with NATO Allies,” Navy Times, November 1, 2021, https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2021/11/01/rota-based-destroyers-conduct-operations-with-nato-allies/; Robinson McMillan and Brinn Hefron, “Forward Deployed Naval Forces-Europe Destroyers Operate with NATO Allies at Sea,” US Navy, November 1, 2021, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2828074/forward-deployed-naval-forces-europe-destroyers-operate-with-nato-allies-at-sea/.

[23] “USS Mount Whitney Departs Istanbul, Enters Black Sea,” US Sixth Fleet Public Affairs, November 5, 2021, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2834518/uss-mount-whitney-departs-istanbul-enters-black-sea/; “USS Mount Whitney and USS Porter Arrive in Batumi, Georgia,” NATO, November 8, 2021, https://sfn.nato.int/newsroom/2021/uss-mount-whitney-and-uss-porter-arrive-in-batumi--georgia; Diana Stancy Correll, “Rota-Based Destroyers Conduct Operations with NATO Allies,” Navy Times, November 1, 2021, https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2021/11/01/rota-based-destroyers-conduct-operations-with-nato-allies/; Brinn Hefron, “USS Porter Enters the Black Sea in Support of NATO Allies and Partners,” USS Porter Public Affairs, October 30, 2021, https://www.c6f.navy.mil/Press-Room/News/News-Display/Article/2827900/uss-porter-enters-the-black-sea-in-support-of-nato-allies-and-partners/; Brinn Hefron, “USS Porter Departs Black Sea, Arrives in Istanbul,” USS Porter Public Affairs, November 16, 2021, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2844377/uss-porter-departs-black-sea-arrives-in-istanbul/; Ukrainian Naval Forces Facebook, November 13, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/navy.mil.gov.ua/posts/1972859916250602.

[24] Brinn Hefron, “USS Porter Departs Black Sea, Arrives in Istanbul,” USS Porter Public Affairs, November 16, 2021, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2844377/uss-porter-departs-black-sea-arrives-in-istanbul/; Vladimir Soldatkin, Matthias Williams, and Mark Trevelyan, “U.S. Navy Ship Tracked by Russia on Entry to Black Sea,” Reuters, November 4, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/russian-navy-tracks-us-ship-mount-whitney-black-sea-2021-11-04; Alison Bath, “US Navy Ship That Irritated Russian Leader Sets Sail Out of Black Sea,” Stars and Stripes, November 15, 2021, https://www.stripes.com/theaters/europe/2021-11-15/us-navy-comman-ship-that-drew-ire-of-putin-leaves-black-sea-3626607.html.

[25] US Sixth Fleet Twitter, November 25, 2021, https://twitter.com/USNavyEurope/status/1463770443970752512.

[26] Vladimir Soldatkin, Matthias Williams, and Mark Trevelyan, “U.S. Navy Ship Tracked by Russia on Entry to Black Sea,” Reuters, November 4, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/russian-navy-tracks-us-ship-mount-whitney-black-sea-2021-11-04; “Reuters: Russian Navy Tracks US Ship Mount Whitney in the Black Sea,” Kyiv Post, November 4, 2021, https://www.kyivpost.com/eastern-europe/reuters-russian-navy-tracks-us-ship-mount-whitney-in-black-sea.html.

[27] [“Missile Cutter ‘Shuya’ Fired in the Black Sea Against the Backdrop of the Actions of US Navy Destroyer,”] TASS, November 26, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13036389.

[28] The Kremlin did not officially remove the Taliban from the banned terrorist list. [“Russian State Media Can no Longer Call the Taliban a Banned Organization – Media,”] Krim Realii, November 9, 2021, https://ru.krymr.com/a/news-taliban-rosssmi/31551834.html; [“The Foreign Ministry announced the Visit of the US Special Representative for Afghanistan,”] RIA Novosti, November 8, 2021, https://ria dot ru/20211108/spetspredstavitel-1758108327.html; [“US Prepares to Hold New Round of Talks with Taliban,”] RT, November8, 2021, https://russian.rt dot com/world/news/925653-ssha-gotovyatsya-k-novomu-raundu.

[29] [“Russian Aerospace Forces Planes Delivered 108 tons of Humanitarian Cargo to Afghanistan,”] Izvestia, November 18, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1251647/2021-11-18/samolety-vks-rf-dostavili-v-afganistan-108-tonn-gumanitarnogo-gruza.

[30] George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko, “Russia in Review: October 20 – November 9, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, November 10, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-october-20-%E2%80%93-november-9-2021; “Eight Countries Call for Joint Efforts to Tackle Terrorism Emanating from Afghanistan,” Asia Plus, November 10, 2021, https://www.asiaplustj dot info/en/news/world/20211110/eight-countries-call-for-joint-efforts-to-tackle-terrorism-emanating-from-afghanistan.

[31] Unbreakable Brotherhood 2021 is part of the “Combat Brotherhood-2021" exercises. The CSTO has conducted Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises since 2012.  [“Peacekeeping Exercise ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021' of the CSTO Countries Began in Tatarstan,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 8, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12392675@egNews; https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tatarstane-sostoyalsya-zaklyuchitelnyy-etap-sovmestnogo-ucheniya-s-mirotvorcheskimi-silami-odkb-ne/; [“Session of the Collective Security Council on December 19, 2012,”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, December 20, 2021,https://odkb-csto dot org/session/2012/session201212/?sphrase_id=70963.

[32] [“About 800 Servicemen from 6 Countries Will Participate in the Joint Exercise ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021,'”] Russian Defense Ministry, June 8, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12375957@egNews; [“The Final Stage of the Command and Staff Exercise ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2020' with the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces Took Place in Belarus,”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, October 16, 2020,https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-respublike-belarus-sostoyalsya-zaklyuchitelnyy-etap-komandno-shtabnogo-ucheniya-s-mirotvorcheskimi/?sphrase_id=70964.

[33] CSTO Peacekeeping Forces used radio-electronic warfare, used by the Russian 15th Separate Peacekeeping Brigade in Nagorno-Karabakh, for the first time during the exercise to prevent and neutralize enemy UAV assaults.  [“Tatarstan Hosted the Final Stage of the Joint Exercise with the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021,'”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, November 12, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tatarstane-sostoyalsya-zaklyuchitelnyy-etap-sovmestnogo-ucheniya-s-mirotvorcheskimi-silami-odkb-ne/;

[“Peacekeeping Exercise ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021' of the CSTO Countries Began in Tatarstan,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 8, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12392675@egNews; [“The CSTO Peacekeeping Forces for the First Time Comprehensively Worked Out Escorting Humanitarian Convoys During the Main Part of the ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood’ Exercises,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 12, 2021. https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12393496@egNews.

[34]  [“Tatarstan Hosted the Final Stage of the Joint Exercise with the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021,'”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, December 12, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tatarstane-sostoyalsya-zaklyuchitelnyy-etap-sovmestnogo-ucheniya-s-mirotvorcheskimi-silami-odkb-ne/.

[35] George Barros, “Russia in Review: Putin’s ‘Peacekeepers’ Will Support Russian Wars,” Institute for the Study of War, November 16, 2020, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-putins-%E2%80%9Cpeacekeepers%E2%80%9D-will-support-russian-wars.

[36] [“Tatarstan Hosted the Final Stage of the Joint Exercise with the CSTO Peacekeeping Forces ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood-2021,'”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, December 12, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tatarstane-sostoyalsya-zaklyuchitelnyy-etap-sovmestnogo-ucheniya-s-mirotvorcheskimi-silami-odkb-ne/.

[37]  [“The Active Phase of the CSTO CRRF Special Forces ‘Cobalt-2021’ Exercise Took Place,”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, November 19, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tadzhikistane-proshla-aktivnaya-faza-ucheniya-sil-spetsnaznacheniya-ksor-odkb-kobalt-2021/.

[38] Colbalt 2021 was originally planned to occur in Tajikistan in 2020 as Cobalt 2020, but was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic. [“A Special Tactical Exercise ‘Cobalt-2018’ of the CSTO CRRF Special Forces Formations for Planning and Conducting Special Operation to Destroy Illegal Armed Formations Will Be Held in Kazakhstan from May 20 to 22,”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, May 17, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/training/indestructible_brotherhood/v_kazakhstane_s_20_po_22_maya_proydet_taktiko_spetsialnoe_uchenie_kobalt_2018_formirovaniy_sil_spets-12647/?sphrase_id=70966; [“Online Briefing of the CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas, February 2, 2021, TASS Agency Press Center,”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, February 2, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/on-line-brifing-generalnogo-sekretarya-odkb-stanislava-zasya/?sphrase_id=70966.

[39]  [“The Active Phase of the CSTO CRRF Special Forces ‘Cobalt-2021’ Exercise Took Place,”] Collective Security Treaty Organization, November 19, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tadzhikistane-proshla-aktivnaya-faza-ucheniya-sil-spetsnaznacheniya-ksor-odkb-kobalt-2021/.

[40] [“Subdivisions of the Central Military District Arrived to the Fakhrabad Training Ground to Participate in the Joint CSTO Exercise ‘Cobalt-2021,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 16, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12393964@egNews; [“Joint CSTO Exercise ‘Cobalt-2021’ Started at the Fakhrabad Training Ground in Tajikistan,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 17, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12394254@egNews;

“The Active Phase of the CSTO CRRF Special Forces ‘Cobalt-2021’ Exercise Took Place,” Collective Security Treaty Organization, November 19, 2021, https://odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/v-tadzhikistane-proshla-aktivnaya-faza-ucheniya-sil-spetsnaznacheniya-ksor-odkb-kobalt-2021/.

[41] “EU Eyes Sanctions in Mali, and Against Russian Mercenaries,” Associated Press, November 15, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-europe-russia-european-union-mali-256e9a932224055120c759440a726c77.

[42] 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-–-september-21-2021.

[43] George Barros, “Russia in Review: September 22 – October 5, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, October 7, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/RIR%20September%2022%20-%20October%205%202021%20formattedv3.pdf.

[44] French President Emanuel Macron announced the closure of three French out of five bases in Mali on July 14 hoping to avoid France’s active participation in a conflict. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on September 14 that France would withdraw from Mali if Russia’s Wagner Group entered the country. Sirwan Kajjo, “Malians Divided Over France’s Decision to Close Bases, Reduce Forces,” VOA, July 14, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/extremism-watch_malians-divided-over-frances-decision-close-bases-reduce-forces/6208256.html; 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-–-september-21-2021;

[“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions at a Joint News Conference with Foreign Minister of Mali A. Diop Following Talks, Moscow, November 11, 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, November 11, 2021, https://www dot mid dot ru/web/guest/meropriyatiya_s_uchastiem_ministra/-/asset_publisher/xK1BhB2bUjd3/content/id/4933902.

[45] [“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions Following a Visit to France, Paris, November 12, 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, November 13, 2021, https://www dot mid dot ru/web/guest/foreign_policy/international_safety/conflicts/-/asset_publisher/xIEMTQ3OvzcA/content/id/4935329.

[46]  “EU Eyes Sanctions in Mali, and Against Russian Mercenaries,” Associated Press, November 15, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-europe-russia-european-union-mali-256e9a932224055120c759440a726c77.

[47] [“Russia Handed Over Four Mi-171 Military Transport Helicopters to Mali,”] RT, November 29, 2021, https://russian dot rt dot com/world/news/933255-rossiya-mali-vertolyot?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=RSS.

[48] “Certification Procedure for Nord Stream 2 Suspended,” Bundesnetzagentur, November 16, 2021, https://www.bundesnetzagentur dot de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/EN/2021/20211116_NOS2.html?nn=404530.

[49] Dina Khrennikova, Vanessa Dezem, and Olga Tanas, “Nord Stream 2 Delays Send European Natural Gas Price Soaring,” Bloomberg, November 16, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-16/germany-suspends-nord-stream-2-approval-gas-prices-surge-12.

[50] “German Agency Suspends Certification for Nord Stream 2 Pipeline,” DW, November 16, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/german-agency-suspends-certification-for-nord-stream-2-pipeline/a-59833502.

[51] George Barros, “Russia in Review: October 6-19, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, October 21, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-october-6-19-2021.

[52] Anthony J. Blinken, “Imposition of Further Sanctions in Connection with Nord Stream 2,” US Department of State, November 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/imposition-of-further-sanctions-in-connection-with-nord-stream-2/.

[53] George Barros, Frederick W. Kagan, Mason Clark, and Kateryna Stepanenko, “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, November 24, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/indicators-and-thresholds-russian-military-operations-ukraine-andor-belarus; Mason Clark and George Barros, “Russian Military Movements Unlikely Preparing for Imminent Offensive Against Ukraine But Still Concerning,” Institute for the Study of War, November 2, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-military-movements-unlikely-preparing-imminent-offensive-against-ukraine-still.

[54] Ezgi Yazici, “Turkey in Review: October 29 - November 17, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, November 19, 2021, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/turkey-review-october-29-–-november-17-2021.

[55] The agreement obligates Russia to defend Armenian territorial sovereignty and provide military assistance in the event of a foreign invasion. [“Yerevan Calls on Moscow to Defend Armenia’s Sovereign Territory,”] TASS, November 16, 2021, https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/12938877; Mariam Harutyunyan and Emil Guliyev, “Armenia Announces Russia-Mediated Truce with Azerbaijan,” The Moscow Times, November 16, 2021, https://www.themoscowtimes dot com/2021/11/16/armenia-announces-russia-mediated-truce-with-azerbaijan-a75583.

[56] [“CSTO Did Not Receive Any Official Appeals From the Armenian Side,”] TASS, November 16, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/12942637.

[57] Pashinyan recognized that the Armenian-Azerbaijani border needs demarcation, however, implied that Azerbaijan still impeded upon Armenian territory. [“Meeting with Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan,”] The Kremlin, November 26, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67200; [“Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Speech at Trilateral Talks in Sochi,”] Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, November 26, 2021, https://www.primeminister dot am/ru/press-release/item/2021/11/26/Nikol-Pashinyan-meeting/; [“Meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev,”] The Kremlin, November 26, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67199.

[58] [“Statements Following Trilateral Talks Between the Leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia,”] The Kremlin, November 26, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67203.

[59] Moldovagaz said that it originally failed to pay off the debt because it purchased Russian gas for $800 per thousand cubic meters but sold it to consumers for $150. “Gazprom Agrees Not to Halt Supplies to Moldova,” TASS, November 24, 2021, https://tass dot com/economy/1365745; “Gazprom Confirms Payment of Gas Debt by Moldova, Fears Non-Payment May Repeat,” TASS, November 26, 2021, https://tass dot com/economy/1367111; [“Russian-controlled Moldovagaz Asks the Government for Money to Pay Off Gazprom’s Debt,”] Ukrainska Pravda, November 23, 2021, https://www.epravda dot com.ua/news/2021/11/23/680034/.

[60] George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko, “Russia in Review: October 20 – November 9, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, November 10, 2021, https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-october-20-%E2%80%93-november-9-2021.

[61]  “Gazprom Confirms Payment of Gas Debt by Moldova, Fears Non-Payment May Repeat,” TASS, November 26, 2021, https://tass dot com/economy/1367111.

[62] [“Talks with President of Serbia Aleksander Vucic,”] The Kremlin, November 25, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67194.

[63] Gas prices in Europe have ranged between $800 and $1,000 per thousand cubic meters in late 2021.

“Russia Will Endeavor to Find Gas Price Solution Acceptable for Serbia – Putin,” TASS, November 25, 2021, https://tass dot com/economy/1366297;

“Gas Prices in Europe Plunges to September Low on Russia Boost,” Big News Network, November 10, 2021, https://world dot einnews.com/article/555992151/seEWsg_e89QWX7I1;  “Press Review: Serbia Strikes Gas Deal with Russia and Kuzbass Tragedy to Sting Coal Sector,” TASS, November 26, 2021, https://tass dot com/pressreview/1366615.

[64] “Press Review: Serbia Strikes Gas Deal with Russia and Kuzbass Tragedy to Sting Coal Sector,” TASS, November 26, 2021, https://tass dot com/pressreview/1366615.

[65] Sasa Dragojlo, “Vuvic Announced New Elections Even Before New Government Constitution,” Balkan Insight, October 21, 2021, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/10/21/vucic-announced-new-elections-even-before-new-government-constitution/.

[66] “The Servicemen of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China Aim to Expand Cooperation Through Joint Strategic Exercises and Patrols,” Russian Defense Ministry, November 23, 2021, https://eng.mil dot ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12395229@egNews; [“The Heads of the Military Departments of Russia and China Approved a Roadmap for Cooperation for 2021-2025,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 23, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12395236@egNews.

[67] [“The Opening Ceremony of the Joint Russian-Chinese Operational-Strategic Exercise ‘Sibu/ Interaction-2021' Was Held in China,”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 8, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12376389@egNews.

[68]  [“The US Has Significantly Intensified the Activity of Its Strategic Bomber Aviation Near the Russian Borders,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 23, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12395228@egNews; Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia, China Sign Roadmaps for Closer Military Cooperation,” Military Times, November 24, 2021, https://www.militarytimes dot com/flashpoints/2021/11/24/russia-china-sign-roadmap-for-closer-military-cooperation/.

[69] [“The US Has Significantly Intensified the Activity of Its Strategic Bomber Aviation Near the Russian Borders,”] Russian Defense Ministry, November 23, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12395228@egNews.

 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Turkey in Review: October 29 – November 17, 2021

 Turkey Reverses Syria Incursion Plans after Russian and US Pressure

By Ezgi Yazici

Contributor: Fatih Cungurlu

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 


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

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/erdogan-says-latest-kurdish-ypg-attack-turkish-police-is-final-straw-2021-10-11/

https://twitter.com/bedbolukbasi/status/1453488350795554818

https://twitter.com/LindseySnell/status/1453666308856352768

https://twitter.com/OGNreports/status/1452992409839837201

[2] https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/11/syria-kurdish-commander-assured-washington-turkey-wont-invade-again

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

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

[5] https://t.me/anna_news/16972

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

[6]https://t.me/anna_news/16972

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

[7] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security/russia-turkey-reach-deal-to-remove-kurdish-ypg-from-syria-border-idUSKBN1X10ZE

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/9/17/idlib-assault-on-hold-as-russia-turkey-agree-on-buffer-zone

[8] https://twitter.com/5thSu/status/1456325928397639692?s=20

https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/3296341/us-russia-expand-military-movements-northeastern-syria

[9] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/10/31/readout-of-president-bidens-meeting-with-president-recep-tayyip-erdogan-of-turkey/

[10] https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/11/syria-kurdish-commander-assured-washington-turkey-wont-invade-again

[11]Overwatch Episode 58: Turkish Troop Movements on Syrian Border Indicate Possible Incursion against US Partner Forces https://open.spotify.com/episode/46qBKF9l7ap1QLfGAOubCj?si=YrSxxqYEQDO6KDvFFCjxvA

[12] Russia deployed twelve Su-34 bombers and five Su-35 multirole fighters to the Russian airbase at Qamishli, Hasaka Governorate, Syria on October 31. Pro-Kremlin Russian media outlet Abkhazia Network News Agency (ANNA) reported that Russia deployed twelve Mi-8 and five Ka-52 rotary-wing aircraft to the Ain al Arab airbase, west of Ayn Issa on October 31. https://t.me/anna_news/16972

[13] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/10/31/readout-of-president-bidens-meeting-with-president-recep-tayyip-erdogan-of-turkey/

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

https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/politika/milli-savunma-bakani-akar-abd-savunma-bakani-austin-ile-telefonda-gorustu/2405046

 

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discussed fighter jet sales and regional developments by phone on October 27. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/10/27/statement-by-nsc-spokesperson-emily-horne-on-national-security-advisor-jake-sullivans-meeting-with-ibrahim-kalin-spokesperson-and-chief-advisor-to-the-president-of-turkey-2/

 

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

https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkey-us-to-form-joint-working-group-on-disagreements

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

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

 

[16] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59130945

[17] https://euronews.al/en/balkans/2021/11/08/erdogan-to-meet-vucic-we-dont-want-another-conflict-in-bosnia/

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

https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkey-determined-to-support-well-being-of-bosnia-erdogan

https://euronews.al/en/balkans/2021/11/08/erdogan-to-meet-vucic-we-dont-want-another-conflict-in-bosnia/

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

https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkey-determined-to-support-well-being-of-bosnia-erdogan

 

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

https://twitter.com/CalibreObscura/status/1457421555185733632

https://twitter.com/TamerBadawi1/status/1457415212798251014

[19] https://president.ir/fa/132615

https://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_-374_-sayin-bakanimizin-15-kasim-2021-tarihinde-iran-i-ziyareti-hk.tr.mfa

https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkey-iran-to-strengthen-cooperation-in-security-fm-cavusoglu

[20] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/poland-turkey-synchronising-migration-crisis-russia

[21] https://apnews.com/article/europe-middle-east-poland-migration-warsaw-8cf4879019d24406dcca21922af48ff1

[22] https://euobserver.com/world/153468

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

[23] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_21_5867

[24] https://ahvalnews.com/turkey-belarus/turkey-bars-iraqis-syrians-and-yemenis-flying-belarus

[25] https://ahvalnews.com/thy-belarus/turkish-airlines-eu-crosshairs-facilitating-lukashenkos-hybrid-warfare-belarus-flights

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

[27] https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2021/05/24/poland-to-buy-turkish-bayraktar-tb2-drones/

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

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

[29] https://twitter.com/ArmeniaMODTeam/status/1460674778386341890?s=20

[30] https://twitter.com/eucopresident/status/1460611678782074880?s=20

https://apnews.com/article/europe-russia-moscow-sergei-shoigu-azerbaijan-b4bb5cc58f9435db7d5c287cee52de4d

[31] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/world/turkish-azerbaijani-defense-ministers-discuss-tension-at-armenia-border/2422692