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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Russia in Review: July 21 - August 3, 2021

Russian and Belarusian Forces Begin International Deployments and Final Preparations for Major Military Exercise Zapad-2021


By: Mason Clark

Russian and Belarusian forces began final preparations in late July for Zapad-2021, Russia’s capstone annual military exercise and an important indicator of Russian military capabilities. The Russian military holds an annual capstone military exercise every September, rotating between Russia’s four military districts – East, Center, South, and West. Russia’s 2021 capstone exercise, “Zapad,” will occur in the Western Military District and Belarus from September 10-16. Russia and Belarus are framing Zapad-2021 as a joint exercise.[1] Russia’s annual capstone exercises routinely involve foreign military forces but have not been framed as joint exercises prior to 2021. The units Russia and Belarus deploy in Zapad-2021 and the types of actions they practice will provide essential insight on evolving Russian and Belarusian military capabilities. ISW will monitor and provide updates on Russian and Belarusian movements before, during, and after the official period of Zapad-2021 from September 10-16.

Russian and Belarusian forces began deploying internationally in late July, nearly two months before the beginning of Zapad-2021 and far earlier than Russian forces have deployed for previous capstone exercises. Russian forces first arrived in Belarus via train on July 21 to begin final preparations for Zapad-2021.[2] As of August 3, open sources have confirmed company-sized elements of two Russian units based near Moscow, the 2nd Motor Rifle Division and 4th Tank Division, have deployed to Belarus with accompanying combat support elements.[3] The Belarusian military announced on July 30 that elements of the Belarusian 19th Mechanized Brigade will deploy to Russia as part of Zapad-2021, but the unit has not departed its home base as of August 3.[4] Russian forces only deployed to Belarus a week in advance during the previous iteration of Zapad in 2017 – compared to nearly two months in 2021.[5] Russian forces are likely deploying far in advance to set conditions for the later deployment of larger elements, and to practice establishing the joint battalion-level units Russian and Belarusian forces have constructed in several exercises since September 2020.[6]

Russian forces are additionally conducting final readiness checks in preparation for Zapad-2021. Russian forces have routinely conducted exercises in preparation for Zapad-2021 since March 2021. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the beginning of the “active phase” of preparation for Zapad-2021 on June 1, and retroactively claimed Russia’s buildup of forces around Ukraine in March and April was a readiness check for Zapad-2021.[7] Individual Russian units have carried out small-scale exercises throughout the summer. Several branches of the Russian military conducted large-scale final exercises in July, however. Over 8,000 Russian military engineers conducted preparatory exercises in the Western Military District from July 27-30.[8] Over 5,000 Russian Military Police began readiness checks on July 30 in the Western, Southern, and Central Military Districts.[9] Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov conducted a check of ongoing “special exercises” in the Western Military District on July 30.[10] Belarus additionally invited Kazakhstan to participate in Zapad-2021 during a visit by the Chief of the Kazakh General to Belarus on August 2.[11] Kazakhstan has not confirmed its participation in Zapad-2021 but previously participated in Center-2019.[12] Additional Russian units will likely conduct final readiness checks and deploy to their training grounds for Zapad-2021 throughout August.

ISW will continue monitoring Russian and Belarusian preparations for Zapad-2021. The Kremlin will likely leverage Zapad-2021 to further integrate the Belarusian military into Russian-dominated command structures. The Kremlin may take advantage of Zapad-2021 to permanently deploy Russian forces in Belarus by claiming they are in Belarus for exercises and not withdrawing them. Self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed on July 30 he has not discussed Russian bases in Belarus with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that Russian troops will only deploy to Belarus if Belarusian forces could not handle a task.[13] The Kremlin has nonetheless deployed forces to Belarus on a rotating basis since September 2020 and will likely pressure Lukashenko to accept further Russian deployments.[14]



1. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in the first US-Russia “Strategic Stability” dialogue in Geneva on July 28, 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden agreed to begin these bilateral Strategic Stability talks during their summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16. Both sides praised the tone of the talks but did not announce any formal agreements. The US State Department stated the talks, which focused on arms control and normalizing US-Russia relations, were “professional and substantive” and announced the next Strategic Stability meeting will occur in late September.[15] The Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the talks as constructive and stated Washington fulfilled unspecified obligations from the Geneva summit in June.[16] Ryabkov later caveated his praise of the talks and called for a new treaty to eliminate the deployment of short and intermediate-range missiles in Europe to replace the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, claiming US deployments “weaken European security.” The Strategic Stability dialogue may support the Biden administration’s objective of establishing regular high-level contacts with Russia. The Kremlin is unlikely to enter renewed arms control talks in good faith, however.

2. The United States dropped its opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline in a joint statement with Germany on July 21, 2021, in exchange for several joint measures unlikely to deter the Kremlin’s use of the pipeline as a political weapon.[17] Ukraine and Poland denounced the agreement in a joint statement on July 21.[18] The nonbinding US-Germany agreement will not inhibit the Kremlin’s ability to use Nord Stream 2 as a weapon against Ukraine and Germany. Germany agreed to facilitate an extension to Ukraine’s current gas transit agreement with Russia and pledged to pursue national and EU sanctions in response to future Russian aggression against Ukraine as conditions of US acceptance of the pipeline. Germany will be unlikely to help secure an extension to the Ukrainian transit agreement without making further concessions to Russia, and it is unclear what additional “Russian aggression” would prompt Germany to pursue further sanctions. Nord Stream 2 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.

3. The Kremlin successfully leveraged its 2021 International Air and Space Salon (MAKS 2021) to promote the Russian civilian and military aviation industry for foreign customers.
MAKS 2021 occurred from July 20-25 near Moscow, in partnership with the government of Kazakhstan. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Russia is taking its “rightful place” in the global aviation industry in his opening speech.[19] The director of Russia’s military import-export company Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev, stated Rosoboronexport signed 13 export contracts worth more than a billion euros during the conference.[20] The Kremlin notably sold 21 MIG-29 light fighters to India, likely facilitating deeper military ties between India and Russia.[21] Mikheev announced that Turkey is in discussions to purchase an additional batch of S-400 missile systems from Russia.[22] Russian manufacturer Sukhoi additionally announced the new Su-75 “Checkmate” tactical fighter, likely intended as an export model.[23] The Kremlin’s international arms sales mitigate the effect of Western sanctions and advance the Kremlin’s efforts to create a network of potential military partners.


4. The Kremlin is increasing its outreach to potential international partners in response to growing instability in Afghanistan. The Kremlin initiated several Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meetings in Tajikistan to consider approaches to the Afghanistan crisis throughout late July.[24] Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian President Putin engaged in at least five phone calls with their Central Asian counterparts in July in addition to these multilateral meetings.[25] Russian forces additionally continue to support military exercises by states bordering Afghanistan. Tajikistan mobilized its entire military - 100,000 servicemen and 130,000 reservists - on July 22 for the largest military exercise in Tajik history, but continues to rely on support from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan.[26] Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are holding further joint military exercises from August 5-10.[27] The Kremlin continues to call for direct negotiations with the Taliban through its Moscow Format peace negotiations.[28] The Kremlin’s increasing use of international organizations to support its Afghanistan policy is a shift from early July, the period covered by ISW’s previous Russia in Review.[29] The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage international organizations to support Russia’s military posture and diplomatic efforts in Central Asia and mitigate the possibility of other regional actors, including China, conducting unilateral responses to growing instability in Afghanistan which could challenge Russian efforts.


5. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced several senior generals and advanced key military reform items in late July, likely in preparation for a planned visit to Washington, DC, on August 30. Zelensky dismissed the head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Ruslan Khomchak on July 27, citing tensions between the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense.[30] Ukrainian Defense Minister Andreii Taran claims Khomchak refused to follow orders, while Khomchak claims Zelensky’s administration advanced legislation that impeded the military’s duties.[31] Zelensky subsequently fired Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation (JFO) Commander, Chief of the General Staff, and Commander of the Air Assault Forces on July 28.[32] Zelensky announced on July 28 that the US and Ukraine agreed on three bilateral documents related to defense that will be signed during Zelensky’s trip to Washington on August 30.[33] Zelensky additionally signed laws to establish a national resistance force and increase the size of the Ukrainian military on July 29.[34] The national resistance law will develop territorial defense and resistance units and introduce a training system for Ukrainian citizens to conduct resistance operations in the event of a Russian invasion.[35] Zelensky likely seeks to increase Ukrainian military capabilities following Russia’s large-scale deployments on the Ukrainian border in April 2021 and consolidate his direction of Ukrainian military reforms ahead of his trip to Washington.


6. The Kremlin seeks to maintain its position as the main powerbroker in the Caucasus as tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalate. Armenia and Azerbaijan have exchanged low-level fire and mutually accused each other of border violations since late May, when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijani forces of violating the Armenian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of a peace settlement and cooperation in a meeting with Azerbaijani President Aliyev Ilham on July 20.[36] Putin held a phone call with Pashinyan to discuss unblocking transport and economic channels in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on July 22.[37] Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh conducted exercises on preventing ceasefire violations on July 27.[38] Pashinyan called for a deployment of Collective Security Treaty Organization observers or Russian peacekeepers along the border on July 29.[39] The Kremlin did not publicly respond to Pashinyan’s request for additional deployments, but stated it is concerned about the escalation and will provide all necessary assistance to normalize the situation.[40] The Kremlin seeks to maintain good ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan to prevent a breakdown in the Kremlin-mediated end of the November 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and prevent further Turkish influence in the region. The Kremlin retains the option to deploy additional forces or leverage the CSTO in the Caucasus but will likely prioritize potential deployments on Afghanistan’s borders.

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[1] Andrey Arkadiev, [“Exercises "Zapad-2021" and Updating the Arsenal of Space Forces: What Shoigu talked about at the Board of the Ministry of Defense,”] TV Zvezda, June 1, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202161189-yZ75l.html.

[2] “Russian Troops Coming to Belarus Ahead of Zapad 2021 Army Exercise,” Belta, July 21, 2021, https://eng.belta dot by/society/view/russian-troops-coming-to-belarus-ahead-of-zapad-2021-army-exercise-141830-2021/.

[3] “Zapad-2021 Strategic-Operational exercise – Part 3,” Rochan Consulting, July 26, 2021, https://rochan-consulting.com/zapad-2021-strategic-operational-exercise-part-3/.

[4] [“Preparation Continues,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, July 30, 2021, https://vayar.mil dot by/news/137158/.

[5] [“Russian Troops Will Start Arriving in Belarus on August 15,”] Radio Svoboda, August 14, 2017, https://www.svaboda.org/a/28675767.html.

[6] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Russia Expands Unit Integration with Belarusian and Serbian Militaries in June Slavic Brotherhood Exercises,” Institute for the Study of War, June 25, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-expands-unit-integration-belarusian-and-serbian; George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions For Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions; George Barros with Savannah Modesitt, “Belarus Warning Update: Russia Fields New Motor Rifle Division in Kaliningrad and Conducts Joint Command Training with Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, February 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-russia-fields-new-motor-rifle-division-kaliningrad-and-conducts.

[7] Andrey Arkadiev, [“Exercises ‘Zapad-2021’ and Updating the Arsenal of Space Forces: What Shoigu talked about at the Board of the Ministry of Defense,”] TV Zvezda, June 1, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/202161189-yZ75l.html.

[8] [“In the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Special Exercises of the Engineering Troops Started,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 27, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374063@egNews.

[9] Timur Sherzad, [“The Military Police of the Western Military District are Preparing for the Upcoming Strategic Exercises ‘Zapad-2021,’”] TV Zvezda, July 30, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217301422-GHzNG.html.

[10] [“Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces Inspected Special Exercises in the Western Military District,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 30, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374694@egNews.

[11] [“Official Visit of the First Deputy Minister of Defense of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, August 2, 2021, https://www.mil dot by/ru/news/137180/; [“Belarus Invited Kazakhstan to Participate in ‘Zapad-2021’ Exercises,”] RT, August 3, 2021, https://russian.rt dot com/ussr/news/892134-belorussiya-kazahstan-ucheniya.

[12] [“Military Contingent of Seven States to Participate in Russia’s Center-2019 Drills,”] TASS, August 19, 2019, https://tass dot com/defense/1074149.

[13] “Lukashenko: Deployment of Russian Bases in Belarus has Never Been Discussed at the President Level,” Belta, July 30, 2021, https://eng.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-deployment-of-russian-bases-in-belarus-has-never-been-discussed-at-the-president-level-142093-2021/.

[14] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Will Increase Pressure on Lukashenko to Integrate Belarus in 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-will-increase-pressure-lukashenko-integrate-belarus-2021; George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions For Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions.

[15] “Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Participation in Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov,” US Department of State, July 28, 2021, https://www.state.gov/deputy-secretary-shermans-participation-in-strategic-stability-dialogue-with-russian-deputy-foreign-minister-sergey-ryabkov/.

[16] [“The Russian Foreign Ministry Urged the United States to Agree on the Non-Deployment of the INF Treaty,”] Izvestia, July 29, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1199804/2021-07-29/v-mid-rossii-prizvali-ssha-dogovoritsia-o-nerazmeshchenii-rsmd; [“Comments of the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry A.M. Bikantov in Connection with the Situation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian Border,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 30, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4832844.

[17] “Joint Statement of the United States and Germany on Support for Ukraine, European Energy Security, and our Climate Goals,” US Department of State, July 21, 2021, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-of-the-united-states-and-germany-on-support-for-ukraine-european-energy-security-and-our-climate-goals/.

[18] “Joint Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Zbigniew Rau on Nord Stream 2,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, July 21, 2021, https://mfa.gov dot ua/en/news/spilna-zayava-ministra-zakordonnih-sprav-ukrayini-dmitra-kulebi-ta-ministra-zakordonnih-sprav-polshchi-zbignyeva-rau-shchodo-pivnichnogo-potoku-2.

[19] [“Visit to the International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS-2021,”] Kremlin, July 20, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66224.

[20] Timur Sherzad, [“Foreign military Contracts Worth a Billion Euros Were Signed at MAKS-2021,”] TV Zvezda, July 22, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217221014-1NYi3.html.

[21] “Russia Hands Over Commercial Offer to India for Delivery of 21 MiG-29 Fighters,” TASS, July 21, 2021, https://tass dot com/defense/1316177.

[22] Andrey Arkadiev, [“Rosoboronexport Will Prepare a Project to Supply Turkey with an Additional Batch of S-400,”] TV Zvezda, July 20, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217201114-rwvZN.html.

[23] Alexander Bratersky, “See Russia’s New Checkmate Fighter Jet Unveiled at Defense Expo,” Defense News, July 27, 2021, https://www.defensenews.com/industry/techwatch/2021/07/27/see-russias-new-checkmate-fighter-jet-unveiled-at-defense-expo/.

[24] [“The Head of the Russian Military Department Took Part in the Meeting of the Defense Ministers of the SCO Member States,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 28, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374406@egNews; [“Results of the Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the SCO Member States,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 14, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4813312; [“Khasan Sultonov, Permanent and Plenipotentiary Representative of the Republic of Tajikistan to the CSTO, Informed the Members of the Organization's Permanent Council about the Situation on the Tajik-Afghan Border,”] Collestive Security Treaty Organization, July 7, 2021, https://en.odkb-csto dot org/news/news_odkb/postoyannyy-i-polnomochnyy-predstavitel-respubliki-tadzhikistan-pri-odkb-khasan-sultonov-proinformir/.

[25] [“Telephone Conversation Between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan A.Kh. Kamilov,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 9, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/telefonnye-razgovory-ministra/-/asset_publisher/KLX3tiYzsCLY/content/id/4811505; [“Telephone Conversation between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Sergey Mukhriddin,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 20, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/telefonnye-razgovory-ministra/-/asset_publisher/KLX3tiYzsCLY/content/id/4824947; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev,”] Kremlin, July 24, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66248/print; “Telephone Conversation with President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev,” Kremlin, July 24, 2021, http://en.kremlin dot ru/catalog/persons/593/events/66252/print; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon,”] Kremlin, July 22, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66240.

[26] “Tajikistan Holds Massive Combat-Readiness Check Amid Rising Instability In Neighboring Afghanistan,” Radio fre Europe / Radio Liberty, July 22, 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-readiness-drill-afghanistan/31371522.html; Vladislav Gordeev, [“Moscow to Strengthen Base in Tajikistan with New Infantry Fighting Vehicles Amid Afghan Crisis,”] RBK, July 21, 2021 https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/21/07/2021/60f7c3199a79474b15b181b2.

[27] [“Troops from Russia and Uzbekistan will Conduct Exercises on the Border with Afghanistan,”] Izvestia, July 20, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1195471/2021-07-20/voennye-iz-rf-i-uzbekistana-provedut-ucheniia-na-granitce-s-afganistanom.

[28] Egor Levin, [“Lavrov Called the Moscow Format the Most Effective for Discussing the Situation in Afghanistan,”] TV Zvezda, July 23, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217231151-Vdw9t.html.

[29] Mason Clark and Rachel Kenny, “Russia In Review: July 7 – July 20, 2021,” Institute For the Study of War, July 22, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-july-7-%E2%80%93-july-20-2021.

[30] “Ukrainian President Fires Head of the Armed Forces, Citing Disputes,” Reuters, July 27, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukrainian-president-fires-head-armed-forces-citing-disputes-2021-07-27/.

[31] Mark Raczkiewycz, “Citing Need for Systemic ‘Transformation,’ Zelenskyy Conducts Major Shakeup of Ukraine’s Security Service,” The Ukrainian Weekly, July 30, 2021, https://www.ukrweekly.com/uwwp/citing-need-for-systemic-transformation-zelenskyy-conducts-major-shakeup-of-ukraines-security-service/.

[32] Egor Levin, [“Lavrov Called the Moscow Format the Most Effective for Discussing the Situation in Afghanistan,”] TV Zvezda, July 23, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20217231151-Vdw9t.html.

[33] Anastasia Horbacheva, [“Ukraine and the United States Agreed to Sign Three Documents: What They Are Talking About,”] Unian, July 29, 2021, https://www.unian dot ua/politics/ukrajina-i-ssha-domovilisya-pidpisati-tri-dokumenti-pro-shcho-yde-mova-novini-ukrajina-11496778.html.

[34] Oleksii Chaharnyi, “Zelensky Increases Number of Armed Forces, Signs Laws on National Resistance,” Kyiv Post, July 29, 2021, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/zelensky-increases-the-number-of-the-armed-forces-signs-laws-on-national-resistance.html.

[35] Oleksii Chaharnyi, “Zelensky Increases Number of Armed Forces, Signs Laws on National Resistance,” Kyiv Post, July 29, 2021, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/zelensky-increases-the-number-of-the-armed-forces-signs-laws-on-national-resistance.html.

[36] “Meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev,” Kremlin, July 20, 2021, http://en dot kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66228.

[37] [“Telephone Conversation with Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan,”] Kremlin, July 22, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66241.

[38] [“Russian Peacekeepers Conducted Training on the Defense of the Observation Post in Nagorno-Karabakh Using a New Method,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, July 27, 2021, https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12374035@egNews.

[39] [“Pashinyan Called to Place Russian Military on the Border with Azerbaijan,”] RIA Novosti, July 29, 2021, https://ria dot ru/20210729/pogranichniki-1743391970.html.

[40] “Russia Contributing Towards Restoring Ceasefire Between Armenia, Azerbaijan — Kremlin,” TASS, July 29, 2021, https://tass dot com/world/1320707; [“Comments of the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry A.M. Bikantov in Connection with the Situation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian Border,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 30, 2021, https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4832844.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Turkey Will Likely Leverage Syrian Proxies for Afghanistan Mission

 By Ezgi Yazici

Key Takeaway: There are increasing reports of Turkey’s plans to recruit Syrian fighters for deployment to Afghanistan as Ankara finalizes a deal to secure the Kabul International Airport. Turkish officials may be in talks with at least six Turkish-backed Syrian factions to prepare an initial round of 2,000 Syrians as private contractors for deployment to Afghanistan. Reporting is still limited as of July 20. Ankara’s deployment of Syrian proxies to expand the Turkish footprint and offset casualty risks for the Turkish Armed Forces in Afghanistan would be consistent with recent Turkish military behavior in Libya and Azerbaijan. A long-term Turkish presence in Afghanistan with the risk of Taliban attacks may not serve Ankara’s strategic interests at home or abroad in the long term, however.

Turkey may be preparing to deploy Syrian proxies to Afghanistan in September 2021. Local Syrian sources report that Turkey is recruiting Syrian mercenaries to deploy to protect the Kabul airport, government institutions, and international forces for a relatively large monthly salary of 3,000 USD.[1]  Turkish intelligence officials reportedly asked at least five Turkish-backed Syrian National Army factions to prepare an initial batch of 2,000 troops by September during an alleged meeting in northern Syria in late June. [2]  Turkish private military company SADAT will likely lead the recruitment and transfer of Syrian mercenaries to Afghanistan in line with its past responsibilities in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.[3]  SADAT is a Turkish private security company founded by close Erdogan ally and retired Brigadier General Adnan Tanriverdi. SADAT has drawn domestic and international criticism for its reported role in training Islamist militias in Syria.[4]

Turkey and Russia may seek to move extremist groups out of Idlib to Afghanistan, according to low-confidence reporting from Russian news sources.  Russian news outlet ANNA News claimed that Turkey and Russia may be negotiating for Turkey to fulfill its promise to clear the extremist presence from Idlib in Syria by moving fighters to Afghanistan or the borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.[5] ANNA News has previously reported accurate information on Russian deployments in Syria, but the source of this report remains unverified. This reporting follows Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's (HTS) campaign to provide international legitimacy to its quasi-security institutions by offering rival and independent groups the option to either “join HTS or leave Idlib.[6] The HTS campaign could push groups with organic connections to Afghanistan to move operations and recruits to Afghanistan.[7] Both Turkish and Russian interests would benefit from an exodus of foreign fighters from the Idlib area. However, a Turkish role or Russian support in facilitating such a movement of fighters is unclear.

Turkey’s Play in Afghanistan

A successful bid in helping stabilize Afghanistan or backing the right internal leaders could demonstrate that Turkey is a necessary player in the region and an important security partner to its allies in and outside NATO. Ankara could improve US-Turkish relations and build Turkish leverage over the United States by stepping up for a key NATO-encouraged mission in Afghanistan. A Turkish military-diplomatic foothold in Afghanistan could provide additional gains for Turkey like economic access, improvements to its global security posture, and greater power projection in Central Asia.

Turkey likely seeks to leverage the NATO departure and the Taliban’s advance as an inflection point to maximize its impact in Afghanistan. Turkish officials timed Turkey’s involvement in Libya and its support for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh around similar inflection points where limited Turkish involvement had an outsized impact in shaping the military conflicts to favor Turkish interests. Both military campaigns led to mixed post-conflict diplomatic and strategic results, however. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia outmaneuvered Turkey in delivering the diplomatic victory in Azerbaijan. In Libya, Turkey’s long-term influence is in question despite its significant role on the battlefield. President Erdogan will likely attempt to position Turkey as a unique actor that could leverage its Muslim outreach for a unique stabilizer role between Afghanistan’s different stakeholders. Erdogan already stated on July 19 that Turkey is planning direct talks with the Taliban despite two statements calling for Turkish troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.[8] The details of future Turkey-Taliban talks are unknown as of July 20.

Expanding the Turkish presence with Syrian proxy support could better secure Turkish troops and maximize Turkey’s powerbroker role.  Turkey may seek to spread its political and military presence beyond the airport to add operational depth to its Afghanistan missions. Turkey also seeks to send “domestic security advisors” to the Afghan government, according to anonymous Turkish government sources. Turkey will likely support pro-Turkey and Turkey-amenable actors inside the former Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Turkish officials seek to minimize their risk of casualties and financial cost by discussing security arrangements with the United States, Iran, Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s bordering countries. However, securing the Kabul airport will remain a high-risk mission for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) amid public Taliban threats. Acquiring backroom assurances and security understandings from regional partners like Pakistan or from the Taliban will likely be a requirement for Turkey to maintain troops after the NATO withdrawal.

Turkey’s Need for Proxies

Syrian mercenaries can deliver Turkey additional power projection capabilities without further Turkish deployments. Turkey is more casualty-averse and less experienced than the other states with active interests in Central Asia. Turkey has used Syrian forces in combination with its air support and military advising abilities to achieve a military impact that rivaled states like Russia on the ground. Turkey could leverage Syrian recruits to achieve its initial operational objective of securing the Kabul Airport and key locations in Kabul at a lower cost than if it relied solely on TSK forces. Turkey’s ability to fund, command, and control proxy forces will become even more critical if Ankara seeks to support Afghan political leaders related to the former Northern Alliance more actively.

The Turkish government will likely use Syrian recruits to mitigate domestic skepticism of the mission in Afghanistan. The Turkish military role in Afghanistan lacks public support. Most Turks view Afghanistan as too far afield and not a Turkish responsibility—unlike perceived counterterrorism operations against Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq. Employing Syrian mercenaries could allow Turkey to pursue high-risk missions without suffering the domestic political cost of a major casualty attack that might damage President Erdogan’s credibility. Ankara will likely seek to avoid creating a large Turkish troop presence in Afghanistan. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated that Turkey is not planning to deploy more Turkish troops to Afghanistan beyond the existing 600. However, Turkish-backed proxies remain plagued by in-fighting, limited operational security, and weak command structures. It is also unclear how well Syrian mercenaries will interact with Turkish troops on the ground.

Implications and Risks

A Turkish deployment of Syrian mercenaries could challenge Turkish-US security negotiations in Afghanistan. NATO allies will likely seek to keep Syrian mercenaries out of another NATO ally’s mission in Afghanistan—particularly after the US condemnation of Turkey for a Turkish-backed Syrian faction’s use of child soldiers on July 1, 2021.[9] SADAT may offer official contracts to the mercenaries for the first time to “legalize” their presence, according to Syrian opposition sources.[10]  Contracting Syrian fighters could make the Turkish government's often opaque and arbitrary arrangements with Syrian recruits more binding while still posing challenges to Turkish-US cooperation in Afghanistan.

Turkey risks facing Taliban or other Salafi-Jihadi attacks in Afghanistan without the NATO safety net. Erdogan stated that Turkey will negotiate with the Taliban [CM1] A further deterioration Ankara-Taliban relations could lead to a high-casualty Taliban attack in Afghanistan or a greater Salafi-Jihadi targeting of Turkish assets across the Middle East and put significant public pressure on Turkish officials. Moreover, the potential influx of radical Islamist groups into Afghanistan could deteriorate the security environment further and increase Turkey’s dependency on outsourcing fighters from Syria.

Turkey will likely struggle to translate its military presence in Afghanistan to its strategic advantage. Turkey’s most ambitious military presence abroad poses both opportunities and risks. Turkey has struggled to translate similar military opportunities in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh into long-term strategic advantages, likely due to relative inexperience with such deployments. Ankara may be unable to stabilize Afghanistan rapidly or without higher casualty and financial costs even with the proxy presence or allies’ support.

 

 


[1] https://efrinnews24.com/?p=3329
https://www.syriahr.com/en/219053/ The London-based Syrian Observatory has often reported accurate information on Turkish-backed Syrian National Army factions due to its network of well-placed activists in northern Syria.

ISW assesses with medium-high confidence that Turkish officials are indeed describing the position as such to recruit enough Syrian fighters. Turkish officials could expand the mission description arbitrarily or in exchange for extra pay.

[2]https://www.facebook.com/furat.netkuord/posts/769312043755157

[3] https://twitter.com/UNWatch/status/1315012242866397186

https://twitter.com/Hasan__Jan/status/1317200148578111489

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/tu-sadat.htm

[4] https://www.duvarenglish.com/turkish-mafia-leader-claims-erdogans-parallel-army-sent-weapons-to-al-nusra-in-syria-news-57667

[5] https://t.me/anna_news/14120

[6] https://twitter.com/IdlibEn/status/1413108286170206213

https://twitter.com/borwjj/status/1410976382012727300?s=20

 

[7] https://twitter.com/OAjjoub/status/1415681961633345542?s=20

https://www.syria.tv/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%81%D9%83%D9%83-%D8%A3%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B6%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%AC%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9

 

[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-warn-consequences-if-turkey-runs-kabul-airport-2021-07-13/

https://twitter.com/abdbozkurt/status/1417130796033495041?s=12

[9] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-adds-turkey-list-countries-implicated-use-child-soldiers-2021-07-01/

[10] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/afghanistan-turkey-us-near-deal-kabul-airport-mission

https://www.syriahr.com/en/219053/


 [CM1]Is this the end of a sentence?

 

 

 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Iranian Proxies Increase Attacks on US Forces to Catalyze a US Withdrawal from Iraq

 By Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl

Contributor: Camille Jablonski

Key takeaway: Iran’s Iraqi proxies have likely become more willing to kill Americans and may soon do so to catalyze the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Syria. These proxies are advancing an Iran-directed campaign that has increased in frequency, accuracy, and lethality since January 2021. This campaign is expanding to include not just Iraq but also Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria. Proxies have also begun using more lethal munitions and drones that can bypass US defenses. Attacks will continue until US forces withdraw from Iraq and Syria or reestablish deterrence with both Iran and its proxy network.

The Iran-directed escalation campaign to expel US forces from Iraq and Syria has changed in five ways since the Biden administration took office in January 2021:

  1. Proxies are increasing the frequency of their attacks against US forces in Iraq. The militias have conducted 20 rocket attacks and 11 drone attacks on US personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria since President Biden took office in January 2021.[1] Six of those attacks occurred in the first week of July alone. That is a dramatic increase in tempo compared to the five proxy rocket attacks conducted in the final three months of the Trump administration. Iran and its proxies remain demonstrably undeterred. [2]
  2. Proxies are increasingly attacking US intelligence and military assets in the once-protected Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Iran’s proxies conducted their first known attack on US forces in the KRI under in September 2020, firing six rockets at Erbil International Airport from beyond the KRI borders. The small-caliber rockets caused no casualties. Proxies have attacked US facilities inside the KRI five times since then, including a 14-rocket barrage in February 2021.[3] Drone attacks targeted an alleged CIA hangar at Erbil International Airport in April, a presumed US Joint Special Operations Command headquarters at Harir airbase near the Iranian border in May, a civilian house in Erbil Province in June, and Erbil Airport again in July.[4] The June attack triggered US retaliatory airstrikes along the Iraq-Syria border.
  3. Proxies are increasing the geographic scope of their escalation to include US basing in Syria. The US retaliatory strikes struck minor Iranian proxy facilities in Iraq’s Anbar Province and Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Province on June 28.[5] Proxies fired 34 122 mm rockets at US forces stationed at a counter-ISIS forward operating base in Deir ez-Zor known as Green Village hours after the US strikes.[6]  US air defenses at Green Village prevented injury—never a guarantee with such large salvos of high-caliber munitions. [7] Proxies conducted another drone attack against the same US base on July 7, likely demonstrating their intention to continue targeting forces in Syria as well as Iraq.[8]
  4. Proxies appear increasingly willing to inflict US casualties. The June 28 attack on Green Village in Syria is one of the largest attacks against the United States in the Middle East since US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011—second only to Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Ain al-Assad airbase after the killing of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. The scale of the Green Village attack indicates that Iran and its militias intended to inflict casualties. The 122 mm rockets used are larger and more lethal than the usual 107 mm Katyushas that proxies use in harassing attacks throughout the region. Other attacks in 2021 have also demonstrated a readiness to inflict casualties, including the February 15 attack on Erbil International Airport that killed one and injured 14 and the July 7 rocket barrage on Ain al-Assad that injured two.[9]
  5. Proxies are demonstrating increasingly advanced drone capabilities to bypass US defenses. Iran-backed Iraqi militants conducted their first drone attack targeting a presumed CIA hangar in Erbil on April 14, 2021. They have since conducted nine additional drone attacks in Iraq and Syria. The drones used are coded with their targets’ GPS coordinates, often evade the US air defense systems that regularly intercept rocket attacks, and have struck multiple sensitive US assets.[10]

Iran has likely calculated that causing US casualties will motivate a US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria. Iranian leadership holds that the United States is extremely casualty-averse.[11] Tehran and its proxies likely believe that even a small number of US casualties in Iraq and Syria could convince the Biden administration to withdraw forces from those theaters—a key Iranian strategic objective. Iran and its proxies are likely emboldened by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and believe that a similar bleeding of the US political will to remain will achieve the same outcome in Iraq. The head of the Iran-backed militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Qais al-Khazali, announced in April that “dialogue and logic does not work … the Afghan method is the only way to expel [US forces from Iraq].”[12]

Iran will continue its campaign to expel US forces from Iraq and Syria regardless of the outcome of US-Iran negotiations to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s leadership has seemingly assessed that the Biden team is prioritizing the JCPOA above all else. That calculation has also emboldened them. Tehran is likely concerned that a future American president will pursue another “maximum pressure” policy similar to that of the Trump administration. The regime will therefore try to prepare itself economically and militarily to better resist coercion upon the potential return of maximum pressure during or after the Biden administration. Proxy attacks will likely continue so long as Iranian leaders see little risk and the potential for a huge reward (the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Syria).[13]

Forecast: Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria will likely continue to escalate against US forces and facilities until the United States withdraws its forces or reestablishes deterrence. Escalations will likely include simultaneous rocket and drone attacks to better evade US defenses in Iraq and Syria, the use of larger, more lethal munitions like 122 mm rockets, and the continued targeting of alleged US intelligence assets in Iraqi Kurdistan. Proxies will increasingly aim to inflict US casualties to create a politically untenable situation for the Biden administration, thereby catalyzing a US withdrawal.

 

This analysis is co-published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

 


[1] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/iraqs-drone-and-rocket-epidemic-numbers.

www dot alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A5%D8%AD%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%85%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA.

www dot alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%86%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%82%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%B6%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A9.

https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/rockets-land-in-baghdads-green-zone-near-us-embassy/2021/07/08/f24aa1aa-dfd6-11eb-a27f-8b294930e95b_story.html

www dot alaraby dot co.uk/politics/%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A3%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B0%D9%8A-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%87-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A9.

https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1406598211679272961.

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/rockets-hit-iraqi-base-housing-us-forces-no-casualties-us-coalition-2021-07-05/.

https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1412720373691469825.

[2] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/deterring-militias-iraq-what-works-and-what-doesnt

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/pauliddon/2021/02/27/why-werent-us-air-defenses-in-erbil-airport-activated-during-recent-rocket-strike/?sh=2e514f4a2178

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/world/middleeast/iran-drones-iraq.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraq-militia-drones-threat/2021/05/28/864e44d0-bc8f-11eb-922a-c40c9774bc48_story.html

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/explosive-laden-drone-hit-erbil-airport-iraq-aimed-us-base-security-sources-2021-07-06/

www dot rudaw dot net/english/kurdistan/26062021

[5] https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Releases/Release/Article/2672875/statement-by-the-department-of-defense/

[6] https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-03-12/us-troops-syria-civil-war-biden

https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1409976895425417219?s=20

[7] https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2676421/pentagon-press-secretary-john-f-kirby-holds-a-press-briefing/

[8] https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51

[9] https://apnews.com/article/syria-iraq-middle-east-d28a8cf02234a8f6c2ff431118f27c51

[10] https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/28/politics/us-airstrikes-new-iran-drone-attacks-avoid-surveillance/index.html

[11] https://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/irans-military-doctrine

[12] https://t dot me/Tura313/13542

[13] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/iran-file/iranian-presidential-election-tracker-the-coronation-of-ebrahim-raisi

 

 

 

 

Russia in Review: June 23 – July 6

  By Mason Clark

July 8, 2021

ISW has revamped its Russia in Review product to provide more-complete snapshots of Russian activity around the globe.

Russian Navy Increases Number of Aggressive Actions to Counter NATO Exercises and Freedom of Maneuver Operations in the Black Sea

NATO is currently conducting its largest-ever Black Sea naval exercises to strengthen maritime collective defense and resist Russian efforts to limit international access to the Black Sea. Sea Breeze 2021 is the largest iteration yet of NATO’s annual Sea Breeze exercises, held in the Black Sea since 1997 to strengthen interoperability between NATO and partner navies. The United States and Ukraine are cohosting the ongoing Sea Breeze 2021 exercise, which runs from June 28 to July 10, in the Black Sea.[1] NATO explicitly intends Sea Breeze 2021 to “demonstrate presence and assure allies of [NATO’s] maritime commitment to collective defense.” The exercises involve 32 states, 5,000 personnel, 32 ships, and 40 aircraft.[2] Participating warships and personnel will practice multiple types of operations, including amphibious warfare, maritime interdiction, air defense, and anti-submarine warfare.[3]

The Kremlin decries Sea Breeze 2021 as a NATO provocation and violation of Russian waters and is conducting several naval exercises in response. Five Russian warships in Russia’s Mediterranean Taskforce, including the missile cruiser and Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva, the frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, and two submarines began exercises in the Mediterranean Sea on June 25.[4] The exercises practiced repelling simulated air attacks and defending Russia’s naval base in Tartus, Syria. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in Crimea, began conducting air defense training checks on June 29 (the day after the start of Sea Breeze 2021) including several S-400 and Pantsir air defense systems and 20 aircraft.[5] The Moskva and Admiral Essen redeployed from the Mediterranean to Crimea on June 5 to replenish supplies and join these ongoing Black Sea Fleet training checks.[6] The Russian Black Sea Fleet and Mediterranean Task Force will likely continue to hold exercises parallel to Sea Breeze 2021 to demonstrate Russian capabilities and imply limits on NATO freedom of action in the Black Sea.

The Kremlin increased its aggressive responses to NATO and Ukrainian actions in international waters in June prior to Sea Breeze 2021. The Kremlin claimed its forces fired warning shots and dropped bombs near the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender while it conducted a freedom of navigation operation off the shore of occupied Crimea on June 23.[7] The United Kingdom denied Russian claims of bombing the HMS Defender and asserted the United Kingdom’s freedom of navigation rights near Crimea.[8] Russian aircraft have shadowed NATO warships in the Black Sea throughout June, and the Kremlin likely used electronic warfare to falsify the locations of several NATO warships in late June, making them appear to be violating Russia’s claimed territorial waters.[9]

Expanded NATO exercises and freedom of maneuver missions are necessary to support US partners in the Black Sea region and counter the Kremlin’s illegal efforts to limit international access to the Black Sea. The Kremlin seeks to limit Ukraine and NATO’s freedom of action in the Black Sea to cement Russian dominance over this region and pressure US allies including Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey. The Russian Navy has expanded its aggressive actions in the Black Sea in 2021 and intends to normalize Russian dominance over international waters in violation of international law.



  1. The European Union (EU) rejected a Franco-German proposal to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. France and Germany submitted a proposal to the European Council on June 23, 2021, without advance notice, calling for a summit between EU leadership and Putin to develop closer EU-Russia engagement.[10]  The European Council rejected this proposal during a private meeting on June 25, instead issuing a joint statement calling on Russia to “demonstrate a more constructive engagement” as a condition of further EU outreach.[11]  Central and Eastern European states—particularly Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania—publicly decried France and Germany’s call for closer relations with Russia as a dangerous concession in the absence of changes to Russia’s malign actions in Europe.[12]  French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated their intent to meet with Putin independently of the EU following the June 25 European Council summit.[13]  Macron directly called for a “structured dialogue” with Russia during a call with Putin on July 2.[14]  Direct engagement with the Kremlin by EU members without substantial changes in Russian malign behavior will undermine collective European policies and further embolden Putin to act without fear of repercussions.
  2. Belarus withdrew from the EU's Eastern Partnership cooperation initiative after the EU levied sectoral sanctions against Belarus. The EU approved sectoral sanctions against the Belarusian economy on June 24 in response to Belarus' grounding of Ryanair flight 4978 on May 23.[15]  Belarus suspended its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership Initiative—an EU framework to promote trade, travel agreements, and democracy between Western Europe and former Soviet states, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—in response on June 28.[16]  EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated the EU is ready to continue working with the “Belarusian people” despite the Belarusian government’s withdrawal from the Eastern Partnership, likely through communication with exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.[17]  The Kremlin will likely take advantage of Belarus’ increasing isolation from non-Russian partners to further isolate Belarus and integrate it into Russian-controlled structures.[18]
  3. Russia and China signed a five-year extension to the Sino-Russian friendship treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a five-year extension of the Sino-Russian Treaty on Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation (signed in 2001) on June 28.[19]  Putin praised the agreement for reaffirming mutual support for protecting “state unity and territorial integrity,” (referencing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea) and the rejection of the first use of nuclear weapons. Putin claimed that joint Sino-Russian economic projects and Sino-Russian cooperation have a stabilizing role in world affairs, highlighting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and Sino-Russian cooperation in the Korean Peninsula, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. President Xi Jinping praised Sino-Russian efforts to build a multipolar world order and said he appreciated that Russia and China support each other's interests on the international stage. The Kremlin continues to be threatened by rising Chinese power but will increasingly seek to selectively leverage China against US efforts to counter Russia’s aggressive foreign policy.
  4. The Russian Pacific Fleet was highly active during June 2021. The Russian Pacific Fleet conducted its largest naval exercises since the Cold War in the central Pacific Ocean and near Hawaii from June 14 to 30, practicing the simulated destruction of an enemy carrier strike group and strikes against shore facilities.[20]  Approximately 20 warships participated, including the missile cruiser Varyag (the Pacific Fleet’s flagship), two destroyers, three corvettes, a missile-tracking ship, an unspecified number of submarines and support vessels, and at least 20 aircraft. A US Navy Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson said some of the Russian vessels operated 20 to 30 nautical miles off the coast of Hawaii.[21]  The US scrambled F-22 fighters in Hawaii on June 14, likely in response to this Russian activity.[22]  The Russian MoD additionally announced on June 29 that the Russian Pacific Fleet will expand the infrastructure at its Kamchatka submarine base by the end of 2021.[23]  The Russian Navy is increasing its power projection capabilities in the Pacific to support the Kremlin’s campaign to expand its global military footprint.
  5. The Kremlin likely continued to pressure Belarus for additional concessions on Russo-Belarusian government integration. Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikita Patrushev—a senior Kremlin security official close to Vladimir Putin—and self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed Russo-Belarusian security cooperation issues “not subject to public disclosure” in Minsk on June 29.[24]  Lukashenko atypically declined to make any public statement on the meeting. The unusually sensitive nature of their conversation indicates they likely discussed Russo-Belarusian security and military integration. Senior Russian-Belarusian meetings at this level have historically precipitated significant Belarusian security integration concessions and new deals for the Kremlin.[25]  Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko held another call on July 1, discussing further security and economic cooperation.[26]  The Kremlin is continuing to advance its campaign to establish a permanent military presence in Belarus postured against NATO and Ukraine.[27] 
  6. Russian President Vladimir Putin approved an increasingly combative National Security Strategy (NSS) that removed all mention of cooperation with the West. Putin approved the new NSS on July 3, replacing the existing NSS written in 2015.[28]  The new NSS paints an increasingly alarmed picture of perceived Western threats. The NSS increases formal emphasis on protecting Russia’s “cultural sovereignty” and traditional values against perceived Western pressure, policy changes the Kremlin has prioritized since 2015. The NSS removes all references to cooperation with the United States and NATO, as well as specific arms control and nuclear non-proliferation objectives previously included in the 2015 strategy. Much of the strategy remains the same from 2015, and the Kremlin has already enacted many of the policy changes and adaptations formalized in this document.[29]  The Kremlin’s formalization of its defensive worldview and removal of all mentions of cooperation with the West indicate an increasingly combative mindset that is unlikely to respond to Western outreach or strategic dialogue in good faith.
  7. Tajikistan will mobilize military reservists to the Afghan border with Kremlin promises of support. Tajik President Emomali Ramhmon ordered the mobilization of 20,000 reservists to support ongoing military deployments to Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan on July 5 in response to Taliban advances in Afghanistan.[30]  Putin promised his counterparts from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan support from the Russian military both bilaterally and through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on July 6.[31]  The Russian Foreign Ministry further stated Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan— Russia’s only formal international military base—is equipped with “everything necessary” to support Tajikistan if required.[32]  The Kremlin will likely increase its military presence in Central Asia to counter the potential threat of a jihadist resurgence in Afghanistan. The Kremlin will also prioritize maintaining its dominant influence in Central Asia and advancing its unitary security interests; its deployments to the area are unlikely to effectively replace NATO security operations in Afghanistan.

 

 


[1] “U.S. Sixth Fleet Announces Sea Breeze 2021 Participation,” US Navy, June 21, 2021, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2664699/us-sixth-fleet-announces-sea-breeze-2021-participation/.

[2] The states participating in Sea Breeze 2021 include Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

[3] “NATO Allies and Partners Ready for Exercise Sea Breeze 2021,” Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, June 25, 2021, https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2021/nato-allies-and-partners-ready-for-exercise-sea-breeze-21.

[4] [“Ships of the Russian Navy repelled an Attack of a Mock Enemy During Exercises in the Mediterranean Sea,”] TASS, June 27, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/11765763.

[5] [“Pilots of the Naval Aviation of the Black Sea Fleet and Aviation of the Southern Military District Checked the Air Defense System of Crimea,”] Russian MoD, June 29, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12369232@egNews.

[6] [“Guards Missile Cruiser ‘Moskva’ and frigate ‘Admiral Essen’ of the Black Sea Fleet are Returning from the Mediterranean Sea,”] Russian MoD, July 5, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12370157@egNews.

[7] “Russian Border Guards to Continue Thwarting Provocations in the Black Sea – Kremlin,” TASS, June 24, 2021, https://tass dot com/politics/1306799; “Any Actions Possible in Response to Provocations Violating Russian Borders, Says Kremlin,” TASS, June 24, 2021, https://tass dot com/politics/1306821.

[8] Ben Wallace, “Exercises In the Black Sea,” UK Parliament, June 24, 2021, https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-06-24/hcws122.

[9] “Black Sea Fleet Monitor US Destroyer Entering Black Sea – Russian Defense Ministry,” TASS, June 26, 2021, https://tass dot com/defense/1307593; H I Sutton, “Positions of Two NATO Ships Were Falsified Near Russian Black Sea Naval Base,” USNI News, June 21, 2021, https://news.usni.org/2021/06/21/positions-of-two-nato-ships-were-falsified-near-russian-black-sea-naval-base.

[10] Sam Fleming, Valentina Pop, Mehreen Khan, Michael Peel, Henry Foy, and Victor Mallet, “Berlin and Paris Propose Reset for EU Relations with Moscow,” Financial Times, June 23, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/03528026-8fa1-4910-ab26-41cd26404439.

[11] European Council Conclusions on External Relations, 24 June 2021,” European Council of the European Union,  June 24, 2021, https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/06/25/european-council-conclusions-on-external-relations-24-june-2021/.

[12] “European Council Conclusions on External Relations, 24 June 2021,” European Council of the European Union,  June 24, 2021, https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/06/25/european-council-conclusions-on-external-relations-24-june-2021/; Sabine Siebold, Robin Emmott, and Gabriela Baczynska, “France and Germany Drop Russia Summit Plan after EU's East Objects,” Reuters, June 25, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/france-germany-drop-plans-russia-summit-after-eu-outcry-2021-06-25/; “Kremlin 'Regrets' EU Rejection Of Proposed Summit With Putin,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, June 25, 2021 https://www.rferl.org/a/eu-summit-brussels-putin-russia-france-germany-lithuania/31325264.html.

[13] David Herszenhorn, “Summit Exposes Stark Clash of EU Views on Russia,” Politico, June 25, 2021, https://www.politico dot eu/article/emmanuel-macron-russia-vladimir-putin-european-union/.

[14] [“Telephone Exchanges with Mr Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation,”] French Presidency, July 2, 2021, https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2021/07/02/echange-telephonique-avec-m-vladimir-poutine-president-de-la-federation-de-russie; [“Telephone Covnersation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Kremlin, July 2, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66055.

[15] “EU Imposes Sanctions on Belarusian Economy,” European Council of the European Union, June 24, 2021, https://www.consilium.europa dot eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/06/24/eu-imposes-sanctions-on-belarusian-economy/.

[16] Olga Demidova, [“Belarus Suspends Participation in Eastern Partnership,”] Deutsche Welle, June 28, 2021, https://www.dw dot com/ru/belarus-priostanovila-uchastie-v-vostochnom-partnerstve/a-58080349.

[17] Tweet. Josep Borrell Twitter Account, June 28, 2021, https://twitter.com/JosepBorrellF/status/1409594465296306179.

[18] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Forced Integration with Russia – Not the Protest Movement – is Lukashenko’s Biggest Threat,” Institute for the Study of War, February 19, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-forced-integration-russia%E2%80%94not-protest-movement%E2%80%94-lukashenko%E2%80%99s.

[19]  [“Conversation with President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping,”] Kremlin, June 28, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/65940; [“Joint statement of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Signing of the Cooperation Agreement on Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Between the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China,”] Kremlin, June 28, 2021, http://static.kremlin dot ru/media/events/files/ru/hkwONx0FSpUGgXPaRU3xUHRmkRneSXIR.pdf.

[20] The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the “main part” of the exercises concluded on June 24. The final reported exercises concluded on June 30. Anna Berestovaya, Denis Ivlev, [“In the Central Part of the Pacific Ocean, the main Part of the Operational Exercises of the Pacific Fleet has been Completed,”] TVZvezda, June 24, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/2021624254-pGRxa.html; [“The Crews of the Ships of the Pacific Fleet During the Exercise in the Far Sea Zone Worked out the Tasks of Destroying the Aircraft Carrier Strike Group of the Mock Enemy,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 21, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12367884@egNews; [“In the Central Part of the Pacific Ocean, an Operational Exercise of the Diverse Forces of the Pacific Fleet is Being Conducted,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 10, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12366072@egNews; [“A Squadron of Ships of the Pacific Fleet Conducted Rocket and Artillery Fires in the Pacific Ocean,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 30, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12369401@egNews; [“A Squadron of Ships of the Pacific Fleet Conducted Rocket and Artillery Fires in the Pacific Ocean,”] Russian Ministry of Defense, June 30, 2021, https://function.mil dot ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12369401@egNews.

[21] William Cole, “Russian Naval Exercise Ends as Spy Ship Remains in Hawaii area,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 21, 2021, https://www.staradvertiser.com/2021/06/21/breaking-news/navy-conducts-drills-near-hawaii-as-russian-spy-ship-cruises-north-of-oahu/; Brendan Cole, “Russian Navy Warships Come Within Two Dozen Miles of Hawaii,” Newsweek, June 23, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/hawaii-pacific-fleet-russian-navy-uss-vinson-coast-close-1603292.

[22] Tyler Rogoway, “Hawaii-Based F-22s Scrambled on FAA's Request But Nobody Will Say Why (Updated),” The Drive, June 14, 2021 https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/41089/hawaii-based-f-22s-scrambled-on-faas-request-but-nobody-will-say-why.

[23] Timur Sherzad, [“Kamchatka Submariners Will Receive Three Dozen New Structures by the End of the Year,”] Tv Zvezda, June 29, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20216291239-oEvxv.html.

[24] [“Lukashenko Discussed Issues with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council,”] Izvestia, June 29, 2021, https://iz dot ru/1185699/2021-06-29/lukashenko-obsudil-s-sekretarem-sovbeza-rossii-voprosy-bezopasnosti-stran.

[25] George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Belarus Confirms Plans to PurchaseAdvanced Air Defense Systems from Russia,” Institute for the Study of War, January 14, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-belarus-confirms-plans-purchase-advanced-air-defense-systems; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Intensifies Russian-Belarusian Military Integration,” Institute for the Study of War, October 27, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-putin-intensifies-russian-belarusian-military-integration.

[26] [“VIII Forum of the Regions of Russia and Belarus,”] Kremlin, July 1, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/65982.

[27] George Barros, “Russia in Review: Russia Opens Permanent Training Center in Belarus and Sets Conditions for Permanent Military Basing,” Institute for the Study of War, April 8, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-russia-opens-permanent-training-center-belarus-and-sets-conditions.

[28] [“On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation,”] Kremlin, July 3, 2021, http://static.kremlin dot ru/media/events/files/ru/QZw6hSk5z9gWq0plD1ZzmR5cER0g5tZC.pdf; [“On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation,”] Kremlin, December 31, 2015, http://static.kremlin dot ru/media/acts/files/0001201512310038.pdf. 

[29] Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/report/putins-offset-kremlin%E2%80%99s-geopolitical-adaptations-2014.

[30] [“Tajikistan Mobilizes 20,000 Personnel amid Taliban Offensive,”] RBC, July 5, 2021, https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/05/07/2021/60e3266e9a794748f0fb74fd; [“Meeting of the Security Council of the Republic of Tajikistan,”] President of the Republic of Tajikistan, July 5, 2021, http://president dot tj/ru/node/26124.

[31] [“Telephone Conversation with President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon,”] Kremlin, July 5, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66143; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev,”] Kremlin, July 5, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66144.

[32]  [“The Russian Foreign Ministry Said that the 201st Military Base is Equipped to Provide Assistance Near the Border with Afghanistan,”] TASS, July 6, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/11833209.