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.
Key Takeaway: Competition between the Syrian regime and its backers is destabilizing southern Syria and enabling Russia to consolidate its influence. Regime forces and Iranian-backed militias are carrying out arrest campaigns and assassinations likely in response to repeated waves of anti-Assad and anti-Iran unrest in Daraa Province. Russia and its proxies are capitalizing on the unrest to position themselves as necessary mediators and security guarantors for the region.
Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Opposition Leader Directs Protesters to Employ Force against LukashenkoNovember 13, 2020 - Press ISW
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.
Russia is militarily pressuring Turkey across northern Syria likely to force a favorable negotiated settlement. Russian forces are likely setting conditions for negotiations by seeking to establish new positions along the Turkish border in Raqqa Province, forcing Turkey to withdraw from observation posts in regime-held territory, and conducting airstrikes against Turkish proxies and infrastructure in Aleppo Province. Turkey will likely respond to Russian pressure by escalating its involvement in Syria or another theater of conflict between the two countries, such as Nagorno Karabakh.
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.
3:15 pm EDT: Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved a major milestone in his pressure campaign to subordinate Belarus’ military to Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin adopted a common military doctrine and announced the completed formation of Russian-Belarusian “regional grouping of forces” on October 27. The formation of a Russian-Belarusian regional grouping of forces is a major achievement in Putin’s larger campaign to subordinate former Soviet states’ militaries to Russian-dominated structures. The Russian State Duma first ratified the agreement to create a regional grouping of forces with Belarus in 2017.
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.