The Kremlin will likely cite Russia’s “peacekeeping mission” in Nagorno Karabakh in its 2021 bid to legitimize the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a United Nations (UN)-recognized peacekeeping force. The CSTO stated it plans to conduct negotiations with the UN in 2021 to hold CSTO peacekeeping operations under the UN’s auspices. This stated effort aligns with the Kremlin’s assessed campaign to leverage the UN to justify Russia’s international military deployments—an important hybrid war capability the Kremlin is developing.
4:00 pm EDT: Lithuania-based opposition leader Svitlana Tikhanouskaya called on Belarusian protesters to employ force against self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for the first time on November 13, 2020. Tikhanouskaya called on Belarusians to physically capture Lukashenko, regime officials, and security forces responsible for carrying out Lukashenko’s orders so they can stand trial at an upcoming “People’s Tribunal.” Tikhanouskaya promised amnesty for protesters who help capture these targets.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s patient and precise diplomacy outmaneuvered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Kremlin produced the most significant breakthrough in the disputed zone since 1994 with a Russian-brokered agreement on Azerbaijani terms. Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will likely capitalize upon their respective victories as Erdogan fails to gain a greater Turkish footprint in the Caucasus.
4:00 pm EDT: The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will conduct a rapid response exercise in Medvezhi Ozera, Moscow Oblast, November 11-12. An unspecified number of Russian, Belarusian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik personnel will participate in the exercise. Armenian forces will not participate, likely due to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
5:30 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko intensified anti-NATO rhetoric by accusing Poland of using Belarusian Catholic clergy as an anti-Belarusian fifth column. Lukashenko said Polish influence through Belarusian Catholic clergy threatens the Belarusian state on November 2. Lukashenko accused Poland of exploiting Belarus’ lack of resources to train Catholic clergy as a tool to project subversive influence into Belarus by “inviting” Belarusian Catholics to Poland. Lukashenko explicitly claimed Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Church of Belarus, received directions from Poland on how to “destroy our country.” Belarusian border guards stopped Kondrusiewicz from returning to Belarus from Poland on August 31 after he spoke out against Belarusian police brutality. ISW forecasted that Lukashenko and the Kremlin’s information operations may falsely link Belarusian Catholics to NATO-sponsored activity in late August—the last time Lukashenko mentioned religious sectarianism in a prominent manner.
4:45 EDT: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko alluded to a possible chemical terrorism threat in Belarus for the first time on October 29. Lukashenko said the ongoing strike at the Azot chemical plant – a large nitrogen compound and fertilizer plant in Grodno – could create an "explosion" and that an ensuing toxic fallout cloud could kill several thousand. Belarusian security services’ have intensified efforts to link the protests with terrorism since October 22.
Competition between Russia and Turkey continued to escalate in 2020. The parties redoubled their commitments to opposing sides in Syria and Libya, and Turkey opened a new theater of competition in the Caucasus. Each of these conflicts is unique and discrete but must be understood within the cross-theater dynamics of Russia-Turkey competition.
5:30 pm EDT: Protesters failed to compel self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s resignation on October 25 – the deadline of the opposition’s ultimatum for his resignation. Over 100,000 Belarusians protested in Minsk and other major cities in line with Lithuania-based opposition leader Svitlana Tikhanouskaya’s ultimatum to Lukashenko for his resignation on October 25. Belarusian security services in Minsk cordoned off key roads, blocked cellular internet services, and closed downtown metro stations. Riot police used rubber bullets and stun grenade salvos to disperse protesters at dusk. Protesters did not regroup at midnight after the ultimatum’s deadline expired. Police detained at least 500 protesters in Belarus, including 160 in Minsk, on October 25.
October 23, 4:45 pm EDT: The Kremlin likely sent a senior intelligence director to Belarus to disrupt self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenko’s planned announcement of steps to defuse the protest crisis. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergey Naryshkin flew to Minsk on October 22. Naryshkin’s visit is the latest in an observed pattern of senior Russian intelligence officials’ visits to Minsk. Each of these visits has coincided with key developments in the Kremlin’s hybrid war in Belarus, usually also marking changes in Lukashenko’s behavior.
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.