America’s current strategy for responding to the Russian threat is based on a misunderstanding of the Russian approach to war and exposes the United States and its allies to a high risk of strategic defeats. Read the latest report in ISW's Military Learning & The Future of War Series.

The Institute for the Study of War is launching a series of papers that explores the ways the United States, its competitors including Russia and China, and these and other potential adversaries are learning from ongoing geopolitical competition and military engagements.

The West has had some success in countering the Kremlin since Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has found ways to offset external pressures on Russia without relinquishing his gains and goals.

Iran has been escalating its attacks on American and allied targets since May 2019. The regime’s attacks occurred in phases and were part of an orchestrated campaign to achieve Tehran’s strategic objectives, including sanctions relief and the ouster of the U.S. from Iraq and the region.

Iran is organizing a new effort to increase political and military pressure against U.S. forces in an effort to compel an American withdrawal from Iraq. In a Warning Intelligence Update, Katherine Lawlor details the Iranian proxy campaign following Qassem Soleimani's demise.

Latest from ISW

Russia’s Unprecedentedly Expansive Military Exercises in Fall 2020 Seek to Recreate Soviet-Style Multinational Army Without Alerting NATO

The Kremlin has conducted military exercises in fall 2020 on an unprecedented scale, much deeper than usual integration of Russian and foreign military units, and a pattern of modifying pre-announced activities significantly but presenting them as normal and unchanged. These exercises mark significant developments in the Kremlin’s campaigns to integrate the security forces of Former Soviet Union (FSU) states into Russian-dominated structures. Russian forces conducted simultaneous exercises on a scale nearly equivalent to that of two normal annual capstone exercises, suggesting that Russian forces may be able to mobilize and control more combat units and at higher echelons than had previously been assessed. The Kremlin covered new deployments to Belarus by branding them as “preplanned exercises” to create a false sense of normality. The Kremlin will likely exploit this kind of rebranding as an instrument of its hybrid warfare toolkit to cover actual combat deployments abroad. Moscow also announced that it would intensify efforts to gain United Nations recognition of the revivified multinational military it is trying to create in the FSU as a legitimate peacekeeping force. There are several concrete steps the United States and NATO should take to mitigate these new threats.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Attempts to De-escalate Protests Ahead of October 25 Opposition Ultimatum

7:00 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is intensifying efforts to de-escalate protests and degrade protester will in the runup to October 25. Lukashenko set October 25 as the deadline for submissions “from the people” of Belarusian constitutional amendments on October 3. He likely seeks to use this amendment process to broker a pretend compromise with protesters to end the crisis without actually ceding power.

Russia May Deploy Conventional Forces to Syria

Russia may deploy conventional ground forces to Syria to gain leverage in negotiations with Turkey and possibly participate in a pro-Assad regime offensive. Russia and Turkey are pressing one another for concessions in negotiations concerning opposition-held Idlib Province. A Russian conventional military deployment remains unlikely, but various indicators have tripped in the past few weeks suggesting that Moscow could be preparing for one. Such a deployment would mark an inflection in Russia’s participation in Syria and an escalation in the conflict between Russia and Turkey.

Syria Situation Report: September 30 - October 13, 2020

Key Takeaway: Increasing attacks by Salafi-jihadist groups threaten to destabilize greater Idlib Province and could be exploited by pro-regime actors to conduct a ground offensive. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Syrian National Army (SNA) will likely face increased attacks from Salafi-jihadist groups in greater Idlib Province. HTS and the SNA have seemingly sought to solidify their control of the Syrian opposition by conducting various operations against HaD and ISIS from September 30 to October 10. Successive attacks in Aleppo Province and the assassination of two HTS fighters in Idlib Province likely indicate increasing fractures between anti-regime groups.

SDF Begins Mass Release of ISIS Members and Sympathizers in Syria

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has begun large-scale releases of ISIS detainees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), including ISIS sympathizers and the families of ISIS members. The SDF declared a general amnesty for detained criminals and ISIS fighters on October 15 and ISIS sympathizers in the al Hawl IDP camp on October 14. The SDF clarified that the amnesty does not apply to ISIS members found guilty of killing Syrians, an effort to mitigate public backlash. However, the SDF cannot consistently apply that standard, as it does not have the ability to investigate and prosecute all of its detainees or IDPs. The SDF does not have a process to deradicalize or reintegrate released ISIS sympathizers. The SDF released 631 detainees from Alaya Prison near Qamishli on October 15 and 289 IDPs from al Hawl on October 13. More releases will likely follow in coming days. ISIS will benefit from the injection of new fighters into its insurgency and will likely intimidate and recruit vulnerable civilian returnees.

ISIS Poised to Exploit Mass Releases of Displaced Persons from Syrian Camp

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US partner force in Syria, plans to release up to 25,000 Syrian women and children from the al Hawl internally displaced persons camp. The al Hawl camp absorbed an overwhelming wave of internally displaced persons and combatants after the SDF seized the last ISIS physical stronghold in Baghuz in March 2019. The camp’s horrendous conditions presented a humanitarian and security challenge for the SDF, the United States, and the international community. The mass release of these displaced persons risks providing new opportunities to ISIS by dispersing a vulnerable population into areas where ISIS is active. ISIS will capitalize on the mass release of Syrians to increase recruitment efforts and intimidation campaigns against these returnees, who may also face retributive violence within their own communities. The SDF is not adequately resourced to monitor or protect returnees unless the United States and the international community increase their support.