Syria Situation Report: September 16-29, 2020

October 2, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Pro-regime actors may be preparing for an offensive in Greater Idlib Province. Russia and the regime have recently increased their bombardment and infiltration attempts in the Jabal Zawiya and Sahl al-Ghab areas. Russia is diplomatically pressuring Turkey to fulfill its commitments to counterterrorism likely to justify a pro-regime offensive against areas primarily controlled by al Qaeda-aligned factions if Turkey does not conduct operations against these groups. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an al Qaeda-linked faction, is likely attempting to brand itself as moderate by conducting anti-ISIS operations to weaken the Russian narrative that terrorist organizations control Idlib Province and potentially to secure the support of Turkey in repelling a pro-regime offensive.

Iraq Warning Intelligence Update: “October Revolution” Anniversary Protests Set to Resume

September 30, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Iraq’s popular protest movement, set to recommence on October 1, may incite intra-Iraqi violence and could present a risk to US personnel and facilities in Iraq. Iraq’s popular protest movement is planning to resume mass memorial protests on the one-year anniversary of the “October Revolution” protests; these demonstrations will continue to condemn government corruption, Iranian influence, poor government services, mass unemployment, and the failure of the Iraqi government to hold security forces accountable for the mass killing of protesters in 2019. Iranian proxy militias and followers of nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are likely planning to infiltrate the anniversary protests and use them to achieve their own objectives. This co-optation of the otherwise largely peaceful protest movement may spark clashes between Sadrists, Iranian proxy militants, and Iraqi protesters. In an unlikely but most dangerous scenario, Iran’s proxies could use the chaos of mass protests as a cover for attacks on the US Embassy, on Kadhimi’s government, or on any individual or organization affiliated with the United States or the US-led Coalition.

Belarus Warning Update: All Russian Slavic Brotherhood Participants Return to Russia

September 30, 2020 - Press ISW

5:15 pm EDT: The two remaining Russian battalion tactical groups (BTG) that participated in Slavic Brotherhood exercises in Belarus departed to their home garrisons in Russia on September 29. The Russian Ministry of Defense provided visual evidence that the BTGs of the Pskov-based 76th and Tula-based 106th Airborne Assault Divisions departed Belarus via rail on September 29. The BTG of the 76th arrived in Brest on September 15 and the BTG of the 106th arrived in Grodno on September 21. The BTG of the Ivanovo-based 98th Airborne Assault Division left Belarus on September 25—the same day Slavic Brotherhood exercises ended.

Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin is Planning an October Multinational Command Staff Exercise in Belarus

September 29, 2020 - Press ISW

5:15 pm EDT: The Kremlin will conduct multinational military exercises through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Belarus on October 12-16. An unspecified number of Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik forces will conduct the CSTO’s annual “Unbreakable Brotherhood” exercises at the Losvido training ground in Vitebsk, Belarus, on October 12-16.

Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Protest Movement Likely Developing Local Organization

September 27, 2020 - Press ISW

5:00 pm EDT: Belarusians marched in Minsk for the eighth straight Sunday on September 27, despite a lack of clear directions from prominent opposition leaders. Telegram channel NEXTA called for a “peoples inauguration” of opposition leader Svetlana Tikanouskaya in response to self-proclaimed Belarusian President Lukashenko’s secret inauguration ceremony on September 23. Tikanouskaya congratulated Belarusians on the 50th consecutive day of protests on September 27 without mentioning an inauguration. NEXTA’s calls did not result in any special protester action. Tikanouskaya likely intends to maintain influence with the ongoing NEXTA-led protest movement without tying herself to specific actions outside her control. Control of the Belarusian opposition remains split between NEXTA’s focus on active protests and Tikanouskaya’s promotion of international diplomatic efforts, undermining the focus of the protest movement.

Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin May Have Used Kavkaz 2020 Exercises in Part to Prepare for a Conventional Russian Military Deployment to Belarus

September 26, 2020 - Press ISW

6:25 pm EDT - The Kremlin may have used its annual joint strategic command exercise in the Southern Military District in part to prepare for a deployment of elements of Russia’s Voronezh-based 20th Combined Arms Army (CAA) to Belarus. Regiment-sized motor rifle elements of Belarus’ Zaslonovo-based 19th Guards Mechanized Brigade and unspecified elements of the 20th CAA conducted joint combat exercises as part of the Kavkaz 2020 exercises in Kapustin Yar, Astrakhan, on September 25. Zaslonovo is located about 75 miles from Belarus’ eastern border with Russia. There is no indication of which 20th CAA units interoperated with the Belarusian elements, though they were likely tank or motorized rifle units, given the 20th CAA’s composition, the nature of the exercises in Kapustin Yar, and the Belarusian elements’ motorized rifle designation.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia and Belarus Prepare for October Exercises in Belarus

September 25, 2020 - Press ISW

5:30 pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) is likely preparing for more exercises in Belarus. Unspecified Russian signals elements of the Moscow-based First Guards Tank Army performed over 300 special command and control and warning signals transmission exercises in the WMD in late September. Signal elements practiced transmitting targeting information, deploying concealed field command posts in blackout conditions, and defending command and control infrastructure against weapons of mass destruction.

Warning: Russia’s Kavkaz-2020 Military Exercise

September 25, 2020 - Press ISW

September 27, 4:00pm EDT: ISW has updated this piece to include Kavkaz-2020 exercises conducted on September 25 after the original publication.

September 25, 3:00 pm EDT: The Russian Armed Forces are conducting large-scale annual exercises from September 21-26. The Russian Armed Forces conduct large-scale exercises each year in one of its four military districts (Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern) on a rotating basis. The Southern Military District (SMD) is hosting this year’s exercises, dubbed Kavkaz-2020. The exercise involves ground, air, naval, air defense, engineering, logistics, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) units in the Caspian and Black Seas, the Caucasus, and near Volgograd in southern Russia. Kavkaz-2020 is a multinational undertaking. Russian units are exercising together with Armenian units in Armenia. Iranian missile boats conducted joint exercises with Russian ships in the Caspian Sea. Chinese personnel were featured prominently in images of planning sessions. Belarusian and Pakistani forces are also participating. Russian forces are exercising in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories illegally seized from Georgia in the 2008 war and annexed to the Russian Federation, as well as in Crimea, illegally seized from Ukraine in 2014 and annexed to Russia.

Russian Hybrid Warfare

September 25, 2020 - Mason Clark

If the US focuses on deterring the kind of war Russia does not intend to fight, underestimating the role of military force in hybrid war, then the US will likely suffer defeats even as its strategy technically succeeds.

Read the latest paper in ISW's Military Learning & The Future of War series.

Belarus Warning Update: Putin is Setting Conditions for a Long-term Continuous Russian Military Presence in Belarus

September 24, 2020 - George Barros

Warning: Putin is Setting Conditions for a Long-term Continuous Russian Military Presence in Belarus