Wednesday, November 24, 2021

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

UPDATED January 4, 12:00 pm

Click here to read the latest report.

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

Friday, November 19, 2021

Turkey in Review: October 29 – November 17, 2021

 Turkey Reverses Syria Incursion Plans after Russian and US Pressure

By Ezgi Yazici

Contributor: Fatih Cungurlu

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

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

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

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

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





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


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

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


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


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





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

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


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


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


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

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

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




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

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


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





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




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


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

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





Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Russia in Review: October 20 – November 9, 2021

Russia Undermines Key Component of 1995 Balkans Peace Deal at the United Nations Security Council

By George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko

The Kremlin undermined a key guarantor of the Balkan peace settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, weakening dampeners on renewed conflict and empowering Russia’s Serbian allies. The Kremlin politically weakened the Office of the High Representative (OHR), a key US and EU-backed international institution devoted to maintaining the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.[1] Russia removed all mention of the OHR’s stabilizing role from an annual United Nations Security Council resolution to renew the EU-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 3.[2] By doing so, Russia undermined the OHR’s political authority and ability work to with peacekeeping forces, impeding its ability to mediate between the component institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Kremlin characterizes the OHR and the Dayton Accords as illegitimate agreements imposed on Bosnia by the Western dominated world order. The Kremlin often seeks to support the Bosnian Republika Srpska and key Russian ally Serbia and undermine EU and NATO efforts to preserve the Dayton Accords.  

Russia has long sought to undermine the Office of the High Representative. Russia exploited the first appointment of a new high representative in 12 years in summer 2021 to advance this effort. The steering board of the OHR nominated German politician Christian Schmidt as High Representative in accordance with the Dayton Accords on May 28.[3] The Kremlin petitioned the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to permanently close the OHR on July 31, a day before Schmidt’s first day in office on August 1.[4] The Kremlin unsuccessfully argued that Schmidt’s appointment was illegitimate since it was made without consulting the UN Security Council, though the UN has no legal authority over OHR appointments.[5]

A wave of secession threats from Milorad Dodik—the Serbian member of the Bosnian Tripartite Presidency—in July and October of 2021 enabled the Kremlin to target the OHR’s legitimacy. Dodik represents Republika Srpska, the Serb-majority component government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dodik reiterated Republika Srpska’s desire to succeed from Bosnia-Herzegovina after Schmidt’s predecessor passed a law on July 23 allowing prison terms for denying the Serbian-perpetrated 1995 genocide.[6] The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) backed Dodik and claimed the OHR’s law undermined Bosnia-Herzegovina’s sovereignty.[7] Dodik claimed on October 8 that Republika Srpska’s army, tax administration, and judicial system would fully separate from Bosnia-Herzegovina’s central government by the end of November 2021.[8] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)condemned international criticism of Dodik’s secession statements as “demonization of the Serbian people.”[9] The Kremlin used Dodik’s response to the ban on genocide denial as a justification to decouple the OHR from peacekeeping operations during the annual UN debate on OHR’s role in the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. [10] Russia also procedurally blocked Schmidt from presenting a key report to the UN Security Council on the importance of maintaining the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 3.[11]

The Kremlin’s actions are unlikely to enable a near-term resumption of conflict in the Balkans, but will likely destabilize Bosnia-Herzegovina ahead of a planned October 2022 Bosnian general election. Dodik has repeatedly threatened to secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina in the past and is unlikely to break from Bosnia-Herzegovina despite his rhetoric. Dodik likely seeks (with Russian support) to coerce the EU into further weakening the OHR and reversing the previously announced law against denying Serbian-perpetrated genocide but likely does not want a renewed physical conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Kremlin seeks to end the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, expel NATO’s headquarters in Sarajevo, and increase Russian influence in the Balkans. The Kremlin’s successful decoupling of the OHR from EU peacekeeping operations undermines OHR’s legitimacy and weakens a key US and EU-backed lever of stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Kremlin is unlikely to seek to restart conflict in Bosnia and seeks to further weaken stabilizing Western structures in the Balkans and grant Republika Srpska greater influence, but retains the option to rhetorically escalate the crisis further.

1. The Kremlin secured a new gas deal and promises of further economic integration at a Russia-Armenia Interregional Forum on October 19.[12] The Kremlin seeks to integrate Armenia into bilateral and regional organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and economic agreements to cement its influence in the Caucasus. The Kremlin will likely increase its economic leverage over Armenia by increasing Russian infrastructure investment in Armenia over the next several years. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called for increased Armenian-Russian economic integration both bilaterally and through the EAEU during the forum.[13] Armenia and Russia agreed on an unspecified new price for Russian natural gas supplied to Armenia, though several issues (including powerplant maintenance) remain unresolved in continuing negotiations on Russian energy supplies to Armenia.[14] Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov stated Russian companies are ready to invest $1 billion in the Armenian economy in coming years.[15]

2. Russia and Belarus finalized three military cooperation agreements in Moscow on October 20.  These three agreements build on Russian efforts in 2021 to expand Russia’s growing military presence in Belarus and set conditions for a likely permanent Russian deployment to Belarus.[16] Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin renewed the agreement for Russia’s two existing radar bases in Belarus until 2046, agreed on a new Union State military doctrine (later formally approved during a November 4 meeting between Putin and Lukashenko), and approved a bilateral military cooperation plan for 2022. The Union State military doctrine and cooperation plan are not publicly available. The new Union State military doctrine likely formalizes operational concepts for the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces and new joint Russian-Belarusian air patrols. The military cooperation plan for 2022 will likely increase the pace and scale of Russian-Belarusian joint exercises carried out throughout 2020 and 2021. Both the new Union State military doctrine and 2022 cooperation plan will support Russian and Belarusian preparations for the planned “Union Shield” joint exercise in 2023.

3. Russian President Vladimir Putin articulated key aspects of the Kremlin’s campaign to expand Russian influence in major international organizations in his annual speech to the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, on October 22. The Valdai Discussion Club is a Kremlin-sponsored think tank that hosts an annual conference involving Putin and senior Russian thinkers and policymakers.[17] Putin welcomed the rise of multipolarity, individual states’ emerging self-interests, and “unprecedented change” in the Western world order as the world transitions away from a unipolar world order. Putin accused the United States of causing the current situation in Afghanistan and abandoning Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states to deal with the fallout of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Putin claimed that Russia desires further international cooperation on COVID-19, climate change, and “evolving crises” and blamed the West for attempting to impose its values on the rest of the world. Putin concluded his speech by praising the United Nations—particularly the UN Security Council—as a necessary organization to “normalize” the chaotic transition of the current world order. The Kremlin opposes changes that reduce Russian power within the UN and uses its influence in the organization as a key foreign policy tool, such as in its ongoing efforts to limit Western influence in the Balkans and normalize relations with the Taliban.[18]  

4. The Kremlin successfully leveraged Moldova’s energy dependency on Russia to limit the new Western-leaning Moldovan government’s European Union (EU) integration agenda and coerced Moldova into signing a new five-year gas supply deal with Russia on October 29. Russia renewed a gas supply contract to Moldova on October 29 that would have expired on October 31.[19] The Kremlin raised gas prices for Moldova in October and threatened to cut off gas supplies by December 1. The Kremlin then offered to reduce gas prices if Moldova amended its free trade agreement with the EU, postponed gas market liberalization reforms that are a requirement for further EU integration, and paid disputed arrears to Russian gas company Gazprom. [20] The Kremlin coupled the energy pressure campaign with an information campaign seeking to undermine public trust in pro-Western President Maia Sandu, who took office in December 2020.[21] Sandu’s government had no alternative to Gazprom’s pressure and will struggle to break Moldova’s entrenched economic dependence on Russia.

5. The Kremlin reshaped its strategy on international responses to Afghanistan in October to increasingly emphasize the need for United Nations aid to Afghanistan, likely as a stepping stone to recognizing the Taliban as the Afghan government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended a series of meetings in late October to marshal support for UN aid to Afghanistan and neighboring states. Lavrov met Chinese and Pakistani representatives on October 19 to discuss emergency humanitarian and financial aid for Afghanistan.[22] Lavrov hosted Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and representatives from China, Pakistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in Moscow on October 20.[23] All participants called for prompt UN humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan.[24] Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan’s foreign ministers ratified another joint statement on October 27 calling for the international community to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to Pakistan, Iran, and other neighboring countries hosting Afghan refugees.[25] The statement called on countries bordering Afghanistan to prevent the United States and NATO from establishing a military presence in Central Asia. Lavrov stated that Russia plans to send Afghanistan unspecified amounts of humanitarian aid consisting of food, medicine, and basic goods on an unspecified future date.[26]

The Kremlin is likely reshaping its ongoing effort to coordinate the responses of regional states to Afghanistan by increasingly focusing on UN initiatives—a shift from its approach in July-September that centered on bilateral and regional initiatives, particularly including the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This effort fits a pattern of Kremlin attempts to leverage the UN—particularly Russia and China’s vetoes in the Security Council—to legitimize its favored policies.[27] The Kremlin may additionally be setting conditions to recognize the Taliban through the UN, possibly under the rhetoric of alleviating a humanitarian disaster. The Kremlin reportedly instructed Russian state media personnel to stop referring to the Taliban as a “banned terrorist organization in Russia,” and instead refer to it as an “organization under UN sanctions for terrorist activity,” on November 8.[28] The Kremlin will likely remove the Taliban from its list of terrorist organizations and recognize the Taliban by early 2022.

6. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ratified a package of 28 integration roadmaps and a new joint military doctrine on November 4, a milestone in the Kremlin’s campaign to integrate Belarus under the Kremlin-dominated Union State.[29] The ratified roadmaps primarily create regulations and measures to unify Russian-Belarusian monetary and fiscal policies under the Union State, a Kremlin-dominated supranational organization between Russia and Belarus.[30] Lukashenko and Putin previously approved the content of the roadmaps on September 9 but waited to ratify them.[31] The new Union State military doctrine likely formalizes operational concepts for the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces and new joint Russian-Belarusian air patrols. Lukashenko’s acceptance of the Union State roadmaps is a major concession to the Kremlin. Russia and Belarus negotiated the 28 roadmaps for much 2021, and Lukashenko previously refused to sign any roadmaps until all 28 were finalized as a delaying tactic.[32] The Kremlin likely secured Lukashenko’s acceptance by intensifying Russian military pressure on Belarus and promising economic support to counteract Western sanctions.[33] The Kremlin will likely intensify pressure against Lukashenko to formalize more integration concessions when Lukashenko holds a planned national referendum on a new Belarusian constitution in February 2022.[34]

7. CIA director Bill Burns visited Moscow on November 2-3 to warn the Kremlin of US attention to Russian troop movements around Ukraine. Burns traveled to Moscow on November 2 and met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.[35] US sources and Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov later confirmed on November 8 that Burns spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone during his trip to Moscow.[36] The Russian military began conducting several anomalous troop movements near the Ukrainian and Belarusian border in late October 2021.[37] ISW does not assess from available sources that recent Russian movements are in preparation for an imminent offensive action against Ukraine. However, these movements are part of a wider change in Russian force posture to shift additional forces westward and may support preparations for offensive operations against Ukraine in spring 2022. ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.  

8. Belarus attempted to force thousands of Middle Eastern migrants across the Polish border on November 8, a major escalation in its Kremlin-backed effort to pressure the EU with migrant trafficking. Belarusian security personnel directed roughly 2,000 migrants to cross the Ku┼║nica-Bruzgi border crossing in Poland on November 8, providing them with directions and tools to destroy fences.[38] Belarusian personnel began facilitating the travel of migrants into Poland and the Baltic states in June 2021, but previous single-day crossing numbers remained in the low hundreds.[39] Thousands of migrants remain on the border in makeshift camps as of November 10 and several smaller groups have made crossing attempts since November 8.[40] Polish authorities deployed more than 12,000 soldiers to the border with Belarus and raised the readiness level of its territorial force in response.[41] EU Foreign Ministers will meet on November 15 to discuss responses to the crisis and possible new sanctions against Belarus.[42]

The Kremlin is enabling, if not directly controlling, Belarus’ escalation against Poland to pressure the EU and support misinformation claiming a NATO campaign to destroy Belarus. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov demanded the EU provide financial assistance to Belarus to encourage it to stop migrants entering the EU, claiming the EU should financially support Belarus the way it supported Turkey with Syrian migrants in 2016.[43] This is a false equivalency, as Belarus is directly transporting migrants from Iraq to Belarus and across neighboring borders. The Kremlin is additionally exploiting the manufactured crisis to falsely accuse NATO of aggression against Belarus—an ongoing information operation that the Kremlin launched in fall 2020.[44] Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko held a phone call on November 9 to discuss Poland and voiced concern about Polish troops gathering at the border.[45] The Kremlin will likely continue to support Belarusian migrant trafficking to pressure the EU into reducing sanctions on Belarus. The Kremlin is unlikely to use its manufactured crisis as a justification to conduct kinetic operations against Poland but retains the ability to do so in the future.



Mason Clark

George Barros

Kateryna Stepanenko

Celine Alon


[1] OHR has veto and legislative powers over Bosnian domestic political institutions to ensure a balance of power in an inclusive government to avoid a resurgence of ethnic violence in BiH. "General Information,” Office of the High Representative, 2015,

[2] “Bosnian Peace Deal ‘At Risk of Unravelling’ Unless International Community Acts,” RFE/RL, November 3, 2021,; “Security Council Extends Mandate of European Union-Led Stabilization Frce in Bosnia and Herzegovina for One Year, Adopting Resolution 2604 (2021),” United Nations, November 3, 2021,; Michelle Nichols, “U.N. Extends EU-Force in Bosnia After Russia, China Appeased,” Reuters, November 3, 2021,

[3] The choice of a new representative was made by the steering board of the Peace Implementation Council, which is comprised of ambassadors from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, the United States, the European Union, the European Commission, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, represented by Turkey. “Former German Minister Chosen As New International Envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina,” RFE/RL, May 28, 2021,

[4] “Russia Calls for UN Vote to Scrap Bosnia Peace Envoy Job,” VOA, July 20, 2021,

[5] Michelle Nichols, “Russia, China Fail at U.N. in Bid to Shut Down Bosnia Peace Envoy,” Reuters, July 22, 2021,

[6] “Bosnia’s Peace Envoy Imposes Jail Terms for Genocide Denial,” Reuters, July 23, 2021,

[7] [“Commentary by the Spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry M.V.Zakharova in Connection With the Illegal Actions of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, July 23, 2021," https://www dot

[8] “Bosnia’s Political Crisis: What You Should Know, In 600 Words,” Al Jazeera, October 21, 2021,

[9] [“Commentary on the Situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina From Spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry M.V.Zakharova,] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 25, 2021, https://www dot

[10] [“Commentary on the Situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina From Spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry M.V.Zakharova,] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 25, 2021, https://www dot

[11] Ivana Saric, “Crisis Brews in Bosnia As U.S., EU Stand By,” Axios, November 9, 2021,; “60th Report of the High Representative for Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,” Office of the High Representative, November 5, 2021,; Julian Borger, “Bosnia Is in Danger of Breaking Up Warns Top International Official,” The Guardian, November 2, 2021,

[12] [“Plenary Session of the Russian-Armenian Forum to be Held in Yerevan,”] TASS, October 18, 2021, https://tass dot ru/ekonomika/12696557.

[13] [“Pashinyan Calls for Economic Integration with Russia,”] RIA Novosti, October 19, 2021, https://ria dot ru/20211019/integratsiya-1755154645.html.

[14] [“Armenia and Russia Agreed on the Price of Gas,”] TASS, October 19, 2021, https://tass dot ru/ekonomika/12700847.

[15] [“Russia May Invest $ 1 Billion in the Armenian Economy in the Near Future,”] TASS, October 19, 2021, https://tass dot ru/ekonomika/12699049.

[16] [A Meeting of the Joint Collegium of the Militaries of Russia and Belarus Was Held in Moscow,”] Russian Defense Ministry, October 20, 2021, https://function dot; [“Within the Framework of International Military Cooperation,”] Belarusian Defense Ministry, October 20, 2021, dot by/ru/news/141042/; [Timur Sherzad, ”Shoigu Announced 139 Russia-Belarus Military Cooperation Events in 2022,”] TV Zvezda, October 20, 2021, https://tvzvezda dot ru/news/20211020146-TeJnh.html; [“Deployment of Two Russian Military Facilities in Belarus Extended by 25 Years,”] Interfax, November 8, 2021, https://www.interfax dot ru/world/801806.

[17] [Vladimir Putin, “Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club,”] The Kremlin, October 21, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/66975.

[18] Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2020, pg. 56,'s%20Offset%20The%20Kremlin's%20Geopolitical%20Adaptations%20Since%202014.pdf.

[19] Henry Foy, “Moldova Strikes Deal with Gazprom to End Gas Supply Squeeze,” Financial Times, October 29, 2021,

[20] Gazprom reduced gas flows to Moldova in mid-October and Moldova consequently declared a state of emergency due to a gas shortage on October 22. Gazprom threatened to cut off Moldova’s gas supply unless Moldova pays an outstanding debt to Gazprom on October 23. Moldova attempted to mitigate against Russian gas pressure and signed a gas deal with Poland on October 25 – the first time Moldova has received gas from another state that is not Russia. Moldovan authorities prepared contingency plans for gas shortages in the winter heating season if Moscow cut gas supply to Moldova. Alexander Tanas, “UPDATE 1-Moldova Buys Gas from Poland in Trial Purchase as Russia Talks Falter,” Reuters, October 25, 2021,;; Alexander Tanas and Vladimir Soldatkin, “Gazprom May Cut Off Gas to Moldova if Contract Not Signed by December,” Reuters, October 23, 2021,; Tony Wesolowsky, “The Kremlin Is Threatening To Turn Off Moldova's Gas. Pro-Russia Separatists Are Blamed For Running Up The Energy Bill,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, October 28, 2021,; “Moldovan Request for More Russian Gas 'Not Satisfied' as State of Alert Issued,” S&P Global, October 15, 2021,; Igor Krudu, [“What Russian Experts Say: Moldova May Be Left Without Gas in a Week,”] Komsomolskaya Pravda, October 25, 2021, dot md/daily/28347/4494701/; https://aif dot md/shkoly-mogut-otpravit-na-udaljonku-iz-za-situacii-s-gazom/; [“Moldova Turned on ‘Alarm Mode,’”] Gazeta, October 14, 2021, https://www.gazeta dot ru/politics/2021/10/14_a_14093965.shtml; Henry Foy, Max Seddon, and James Shotter, “Gazprom Offered Moldova New Gas Deal in Exchange for Weaker EU Ties,” Financial Times, October 26, 2021,

[21] [“Where is Maia Sandu? Dragancha Criticized the Authorities for the Crisis in the Energy Sector and ‘Pensions from Loans,”] Gagauzinfo, October 25, 2021, https://gagauzinfo dot md/top2/62774-gde-mayya-sandu-dragancha-raskritikoval-vlasti-za-krizis-v-energetike-i-pensii-iz-kreditov.html; [“Gas Crisis in Moldova: Why Sandu Isolated Herself in Resolving this Issue,”] Sputnik Moldova, October 27, 2021, https://ru.sputnik dot md/20211027/gazovyy-krizis-moldova-sandu-45957978.html; Vladimir Bukarsky, [“‘Let’s Not Kneel Before Russia!’ Sandu Regime Prepares a Cut of the State Budger – Under the Guise of a Gas Crisis,”] Polit Navigator, October 22, 2021, https://www.politnavigator dot net/ne-vstanem-na-koleni-pered-rossiejj-rezhim-sandu-gotovit-raspil-gosbyudzheta-pod-prikrytiem-gazovogo-krizisa.html; Savannah Modesitt and Paisley Turner, “New Moldovan President Presents Opportunity to Limit Kremlin Suzerainty in Moldova,” Institute for the Study of War, December 10, 2020,

[22] [“Meeting of the Expanded Trio on Afghanistan,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 19, 2021, https://www dot

[23] The Taliban and other Afghan groups previously attended the Moscow Format alongside the internationally recognized Afghan-government, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan since the format's inception in 2017. Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia Hosts Afghan Talks, Calls for an Inclusive Government,” ABC News, October 20, 2021,

[24] [Joint Statement by the Participants of the Moscow Format on Consultations on Afghanistan, Moscow, October 20, 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 20, 2021, https://www dot

[25]  Lavrov stated that the Kremlin will mobilize resources form the United Nations, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Collective Security Treaty Organization to combat terrorist, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration threats emanating from Afghanistan. [“Lavov: Russia Calls on Afghanistan’s Neighbors to Prevent NATO Presence on Their Territory,”] TASS, October 27, 2021, https://tass dot ru/politika/12775891; ”Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s Neighbors Adopt a Joint Statement,” Asia-Plus, October 28, 2021, https://www.asiaplustj dot info/en/news/world/20211028/foreign-ministers-of-afghanistans-neighbors-adopt-a-joint-statement.

[26] Belarus sent 40 tons of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan via Tajikistan likely under the Kremlin’s guidance on October 24. [“Military Pilots Will Deliver Humanitarian Aid to Tajikistan,”] Belarusian Ministry of Defense, October 24, 2021, dot by/ru/news/141096/; [“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks at a Ministerial Meeting with Afghanistan’s Neighboring Countries (Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), Tehran, October 27, 2021,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, October 27, 2021,  https://www dot

[27] Nataliya Bugayova, “Putin’s Offset: The Kremlin’s Geopolitical Adaptations Since 2014,” Page 56, Institute for the Study of War, September 2020,

[28] Ostorozhno Novosti Telegram, November 8, 2021, https://t dot me/ostorozhno_novosti/3062.

[29] [“Meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State,”] The Kremlin, November 4, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67066.

[30] Belarus’ Presidential Office reported that Lukashenko had only signed to approve the 28th integration roadmaps on November 4, indicating that the Belarusian President only “agreed to sign” rather than actually ratify the roadmaps on September 9. [“Participation in the Meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State,”] President of the Republic of Belarus, November 4, 2021, https://president dot; Mason Clark and George Barros, ”Russia in Review: September 1 - September 21, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, September 23, 2021,

[31] Mason Clark and George Barros, “Russia in Review: September 1 - September 21, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, September 23, 2021,

[32]  George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin Prepares to Further Integrate Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2, 2020,

[33] Mason Clark and George Barros, “Russia’s Zapad-2021 Exercise,” Institute for the Study of War, September 17, 2021,; George Barros, “Russia in Review August 18 – August 31, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War,

[34] [“Meeting with the Working Group to Finalize the Constitution Draft,”] President of the Republic of Belarus, November 4, 2021, dot by/ru/events/vstrecha-s-rabochey-gruppoy-po-dorabotke-proekta-konstitucii; “Lukashenka Says Belarus Plans Constitutional Referendum by February 2021,” RFE/RL, September 28, 2021,; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin Pressures Lukashenko to Implement His Previous Integration Concessions,” Institute for the Study of War, November 30, 2020,

[35] [“Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev Met in Moscow with Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency William Burns,”] Russian Security Council, November 2, 2021, dot ru/news/allnews/3108/.

[36] Jim Sciutto and Natasha Bertrand, “CIA Director Had Rare Conversation with Putin While in Moscow Last Week,” CNN, November 8, 2021,

[37] Jim Sciutto and Natasha Bertrand, “CIA Director Had Rare Conversation with Putin While in Moscow Last Week,” CNN, November 8, 2021,

[38] Alan Charlish and Felix Hoske, “EU Accuses Belarus of 'Gangster' Methods as Migrants Shiver at Polish Border,” Reuters, November 9, 2021,

[39] Lukashenko has sent Middle Eastern migrants into Poland and Lithuania for several months to retaliate against European Union sanctions against Belarus. Belarusian authorities began amassing thousands of predominately Middle Eastern migrants on the Belarusian-Poland border on November 5. Tadeusz Giczan Twitter, November 8, 2021,; Polish Defense Ministry Twitter, November 5, 2021,; Alex Kokcharov Twitter, November 5, 2021,; NEXTA Twitter, November 6, 2021,; Franak Viacorka Twitter, November 5, 2021,; Tadeusz Giczan Twitter, November 6, 2021,; Sameul Petrequin, “EU to Keep Fighting Belarus’s ‘Weaponization’ of Migrants,” Associated Press, October 22, 2021,

[40] Alan Charlish and Felix Hoske, “EU Accuses Belarus of 'Gangster' Methods as Migrants Shiver at Polish Border,” Reuters, November 9, 2021,

[41] Polish Territorial Forces Twitter, November 8, 2021,; Mariusz Blaszczak Twitter, November 8, 2021,; Matthias Williams and Joanna Plucinska, “Poland Warns of Further Large Migrant Clashes on Belarus Border,” Reuters, November 9, 2021,

[42] [“EU to Discuss on November 15 Sanctions Against Belarus and Countries Sending Migrants There,”] TASS, November 10, 2021, https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/12884243.

[43] Andrew Osborn and Dmitry Antonov, “Russia Floats Idea of EU Paying Belarus to Stop Migrant Flows,” Reuters, November 9, 2021,

[44] Minsk will likely intensify the migrant trafficking campaign over the next several months. Belarusian authorities reportedly seek to increase the number of flights from Middle Eastern emigration countries to Minsk until March 2022. [“New Flights From Middle East Planned: Lukashenka Continues to Escalate Conflict with EU,”] News, Latest Headlines and Videos, November 7, 2021, https://ru.detv dot us/2021/11/07/%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8B-%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%8B%D0%B5-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%82%D1%8B-%D1%81-%D0%B1%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B6%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%B3/; “Syria, Belarus to boost relations, confront Western Coercive Measures,” Syrian Arab News Agency, November 3, 2021, http://sana dot sy/en/?p=253368; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Putin is Setting Conditions for a Long-Term Continuous Russian Military Presence in Belarus,” Institute for the Study of War, September 24, 2020,

[45] Andrew Osborn and Dmitry Antonov, “Russia Floats Idea of EU Paying Belarus to Stop Migrant Flows,” Reuters, November 9, 2021,; [“Telephone Conversation with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko,”] Kremlin, November 9, 2021, http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67080.