Belarus Warning Update: Police Detain Demonstrators as Protests Escalate

October 13, 2020 - Press ISW

7:30 EDT: Belarusian authorities continued their new phase of violent escalation against protesters on October 11. Belarusian police detained at least 713 protesters on October 11, the highest single-day arrest total to date. At least one thousand protesters marched in Minsk on Monday, October 12, a higher number than most Monday protests have seen. Belarusian police cracked down on these marchers with stun grenades and tear gas, detained at least 186, and flew five to six Mi-8 transport helicopters over Minsk.

Erdogan Seeks to Upend Kremlin-Backed Status Quo in Nagorno-Karabakh

October 12, 2020 - Press ISW

Turkey and Azerbaijan may have jointly planned the Azerbaijani offensive to contest Armenia’s control of Nagorno-Karabakh that reignited that simmering conflict. Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed, Armenian-held region of Nagorno-Karabakh escalated into conventional combat on September 27. International media coverage has largely portrayed the ongoing conflict as the result of a spontaneous escalation. But Turkish-Azerbaijani military cooperation, drone sales, and force mobilization indicate Azerbaijan prepared – with Turkish support - to dispute Armenia’s presence in Nagorno-Karabakh prior to September 27.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Escalates Crackdown in Likely Response to Increased Risk of Kremlin Intervention

October 11, 2020 - Press ISW

6:00 pm EDT: Belarusian security forces violently confronted large groups of protesters for the first time since early August on October 11. Tens of thousands marched in Minsk on October 11 despite heavy rain. Belarusian security forces directly confronted concentrated protesters using water cannons, stun grenades, and firearms. Belarusian security forces have refrained from directly confronting large groups of protesters since early August. Security forces detained nearly 400 protesters and severely injured dozens. Security forces additionally detained over 40 foreign and domestic journalists. Nikolai Karpiankou, director of Belarus’s anti-corruption bureau, and Dmitry Balaba, head of Minsk’s OMON riot police, personally directed the crackdown in Minsk. Protests largely dispersed by 7pm local time, though small groups of protesters in the low hundreds re-gathered in Minsk around 10pm.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Begins Campaign For “Information Sovereignty” to De-escalate Protests in Belarus

October 9, 2020 - Press ISW

4:30 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced plans to establish his direct control over the Belarusian information space. Lukashenko said his administration should control major Belarusian media outlets to defend Belarus’ “information sovereignty” and that Belarusian authorities should wage a “more persistent” internet information campaign on October 9. Lukashenko likely seeks to consolidate control over the Belarusian information space to degrade protester will. Lukashenko likely additionally seeks to regain control of the Belarusian information space from the Kremlin as part of his ongoing efforts to resist Russian integration pressure.

Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin Will Likely Use October Military Exercises to Advance its Hybrid War in Belarus

October 8, 2020 - Press ISW

5:00 EDT: The Kremlin is orienting its Unbreakable Brotherhood 2020 military exercises on peacekeeping operations as part of its hybrid war in Belarus. The Kremlin-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) stated on October 7 that approximately 700 CSTO personnel will participate in annual Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises in Vitebsk, Belarus, from October 12-16. The CSTO stated the exercise is intended to enhance the CSTO’s capability to conduct multinational peacekeeping operations by practicing monitoring ceasefire compliance, restoring “peaceful life,” maintaining checkpoint security, and riot control. The Russian military considers deploying conventional forces under the cover of “peacekeeping” to be a key means within hybrid war. The Kremlin considers its ongoing campaign in Belarus to be a hybrid war and is likely using CSTO exercises to advance its campaign.

Belarus Warning Update: Protests in Kyrgyzstan May Fuel Intensified Kremlin Action in Belarus

October 7, 2020 - Press ISW

4:50 pm EDT: Self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenko revealed that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Kyrgyzstan in an October 7 phone call. Lukashenko offered no additional details, leaving his purpose in mentioning the conversation unclear. Putin did not provide a readout from this call as of this writing, potentially indicating Putin may not have wanted this phone call to be publicly known. The Kremlin usually promptly publishes readouts from such meetings.

Turkey Reinforces Positions in Greater Idlib to Pressure Russia into Negotiations

October 7, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Events since ISW assessed that Turkey and Russia may have reached a deal on September 16 indicate negotiations faltered. Turkish forces are reinforcing their military positions in opposition-held Idlib as means of exerting pressure on Russia in order to obtain a favorable negotiated settlement. Turkey and Russia will likely continue to escalate while avoiding direct military confrontation in an attempt to gain leverage in future negotiations.

Belarus Warning Update: Putin Seeks Belarus’ Integration with Russia via Belarusian Constitutional Amendments

October 5, 2020 - Press ISW

4:20 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is adopting tactics for passing constitutional amendments similar to those that Russian President Vladimir Putin used to pass Russian constitutional amendments in early 2020. The Lukashenko regime began soliciting constitutional amendment proposals from Belarusian citizens on October 3 with a deadline to submit all proposals by October 25. Lukashenko likely seeks to create the impression among Belarusian citizens that they possess political agency. Lukashenko, however, likely has predetermined which constitutional amendments to adopt.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia Likely Began Preparing Logistics Supply Lines to Belarus

October 5, 2020 - Press ISW

4:00 pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) is intensifying efforts likely intended to establish the logistical infrastructure necessary to sustain a near-continuous Russian conventional military presence in Belarus. ISW assesses recent WMD exercises are preparations for the upcoming Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Unbreakable Brotherhood command-staff exercises planned for October 12-16 at the Losvido training ground in Vitebsk, Belarus.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia’s Western Military District Prepares for October Exercises in Belarus

October 2, 2020 - Press ISW

5:45pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) continues to conduct command and control exercises—activities necessary for a sustained Russian deployment to Belarus. Brigade-sized (3,500 personnel) elements—including tank, motorized rifle, artillery, army aviation, and reconnaissance units—of the Moscow-based First Tank Army began exercises emphasizing unit cohesion and command and control effectiveness at the Mulino training ground in Nizhny Novgorod on September 28. An unspecified sub-battalion-sized (200 personnel) element of the First Tank Army conducted exercises to defend a command post’s communication systems against sabotage on September 29. Unspecified combat crews practiced organizing command and control systems, logistics, occupying and concealing positions, and air defense on September 29. Rocket artillery and other fire elements conducted live fire exercises with UAV support on September 30 and October 2. These exercises at Mulino will continue until October 4.