Belarus Warning Update: Belarusian Opposition Begins First Anti-Kremlin Shift after Lukashenko Promises Moscow Union State Concessions

September 3, 2020 - Press ISW

5:00 EDT: The Kremlin is leveraging the Belarusian President’s weakening position to coerce Lukashenko to advance the Union State. Lukashenko met with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Minsk on September 3. Mishustin claimed they made progress on formalizing the Union State’s “Union Cabinet of Ministers” and other “economic measures.” The Kremlin claimed Lukashenko said he would “finally dot the i's” on “very sensitive and painful” Union State agreements in his upcoming meeting with Putin in Moscow. Lukashenko thanked the Kremlin for all its support during the crisis and framed his decisions to advance the Union State as a necessity to protect Belarus and Russia from NATO aggression.

Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin Prepares to Further Integrate Belarus

September 2, 2020 - Press ISW

5:00 EDT: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow may culminate in Lukashenko ceding more of Belarus’ remaining sovereignty to Russia. The Kremlin is conducting ministerial meetings with Belarus to set conditions to exploit Lukashenko’s vulnerability at an upcoming meeting with Putin. The Kremlin confirmed Lukashenko will meet Putin in Moscow “in the coming weeks” on August 30. Lukashenko will reportedly meet Putin around September 10. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on September 2. Lavrov articulated some of the Kremlin’s likely demands by expressing support for further formalizing Russia and Belarus’ interactions in the Union State, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). All are Kremlin-dominated international organizations Moscow leverages to reconsolidate control over the former Soviet Union.

Belarus Warning Update: Kremlin-linked Belarusian Opposition Leadership Threaten to Further Fragment Opposition Unity

September 1, 2020 - Press ISW

5:30 EDT: Kremlin media is overtly discussing Russia’s absorption of Belarus. Kremlin-run wire service RIA Novosti argued Belarusians and Russians are “one people with two states” and that “two states of one people are always a temporary phenomenon” on September 1 – implying the inevitable incorporation of Belarus and Russia. The Kremlin used similar talking points to justify Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

Belarus Warning Update: Kremlin Information Operations Intensify Condition Setting for Intervention in Belarus

August 31, 2020 - Press ISW

6:00 EDT: The Belarusian opposition is developing a new weekly protest rhythm. No significant protests occurred in Belarus on August 31. The size of weekday protests has decreased over the last two weeks from regular nationwide protests with hundreds of participants to scattered protests primarily in Minsk with dozens of participants. Belarusian President Lukashenko’s renewed crackdown and detention campaign since August 26 and the inability of protesters to sustain missing work has likely deterred protesters. The opposition will likely primarily use weekdays to plan and prepare for large Sunday protests.

Warning: Militarization of Lukashenko’s Response to Belarusian Protests Increases but Without Violence; Moscow Continues to Set Conditions for Intervention

August 30, 2020 - Press ISW

5:15 pm EDT: Unprecedented Belarusian conventional military deployments and widespread detentions failed to deter mass protests in Minsk on August 30. Over 100,000 protesters marched in Minsk and demonstrated at Lukashenko’s Presidential Palace to demand his resignation on August 30. This was the fourth consecutive Sunday protest in Minsk. Lukashenko deployed a heavy police and conventional military presence in Minsk to block protester access to Independence Square, the original location of the protest, and Lukashenko’s residence. Belarusian riot police’s detained demonstrators early in the morning of August 30 but failed to deter protesters. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported Belarusian authorities detained at least 125 protesters on August 30. after refraining from detaining protesters on August 29 and the August 23 Sunday march. Protests also occurred in other major Belarusian cities including Brest, Grodno, Mogielev, and Gomel. Protesters dispersed from the barricade at Lukashenko’s residence around 6:00 pm Minsk time following heavy rain and hail. Large weekly protests on Sundays will likely continue unless some aspect of the situation changes.

Belarus Warning Update: NEXTA Strategy to Create Grassroots Organization in Belarus Likely to Provoke Kremlin Response

August 30, 2020 - Press ISW

9:00 am EDT: The NEXTA Telegram channel published its first public strategy for the protest movement on August 28. NEXTA released a “plan for victory” for the opposition on August 28 at 10:49 pm Minsk time. NEXTA stated the plan’s purpose is to implement three “popular demands”: remove Lukashenko and enable new free elections; ensure the release of all political prisoners; and conduct fair trials for security personnel who abused detainees – in line with NEXTA’s preexisting stated goals. NEXTA called for the opposition to unify behind Svetlana Tikhanouskaya and the Coordination Council, create activist networks inside Belarus, and implement six coordinated campaigns against Lukashenko. Tikhanouskaya has not commented on NEXTA’s strategy as of this writing.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko and the Kremlin Consolidate Control of Belarusian Media Space

August 29, 2020 - Press ISW

7:30 pm EDT: The Kremlin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko consolidated control over the international information space ahead of a likely crackdown. Belarusian authorities stripped accreditation from at least 17 international journalists working in Minsk and demanded they leave the country on August 29. The journalists worked for major Western news organizations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the BBC, the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence-France Presse, Germany’s ARD television, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France. Belarusian authorities arrested at least two RFE/RL journalists while they were reporting live on air in Minsk on August 29. Belarusian authorities additionally blocked Naviny and Nasha Niva – two of Belarus’ remaining independent news agencies - and arrested the operator of the KYKY Belarusian news site on August 28. Independent Belarusian media and foreign journalists are crucial for covering protests and security force responses in the absence of a free media space. Lukashenko partially blocked the internet on August 9 and Russian personnel began running Belarusian state media on August 19. Lukashenko’s coordinated effort to consolidate control over the Belarusian information space, primarily targeting international coverage, may be a prelude to a crackdown against protesters.

Iraq Situation Report: August 19-25, 2020

August 28, 2020 - Press ISW

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi led an Iraqi delegation to Washington, DC, for a productive second stage of the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue. Delegates representing Iraq and the United States agreed to a number of economic and energy deals and to the continued drawdown of US forces. They did not set a concrete timeline for the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, a key demand of the Iranian regime and its Iraqi proxies. Iran’s proxy militia network in Iraq accelerated its campaigns of targeted assassinations of activists and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on US-affiliated Iraqi contractors during Kadhimi’s Washington visit. Iran’s proxies likely intend to demonstrate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s domestic weakness and inability to control Iraqi security or protect Iraq’s allies, undermining his domestic authority and global credibility.

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Appears to Resist Kremlin Pressure to Request Russian Intervention in Belarus

August 28, 2020 - Press ISW

4:00 pm EDT: President Alexander Lukashenko asserted he was in control of the situation in Belarus and does not require Russian help on August 28. Lukashenko gave a defiant speech downplaying the need for Russian assistance during a visit to the city of Orsha in eastern Belarus on August 28. Lukashenko stated the protests in the country and his claims of NATO pressure “are my problems, and I will solve them.” Lukashenko downplayed the possibility of a Russian intervention in Belarus, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s August 27 announcement that Russia has prepared a unit of security forces to deploy to Belarus if necessary. Lukashenko stated “we [Belarusians] will defend ourselves” and stated the Kremlin only seeks to defend itself through Belarus. Lukashenko claimed the Russian forces will only deploy in the event of NATO deployments on the “western border of the Union State.” The Kremlin, however, framed the reserve unit as “law enforcement officers” – not a military force aimed at protecting Belarus’ western border against NATO.

Belarus Warning Update: Kremlin Announces Reserve Force is Prepared to Intervene in Belarus

August 27, 2020 - Press ISW

12:30 pm EDT: The Kremlin announced it has created a reserve force to intervene in Belarus if necessary. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to the state-run Russia 1 TV channel on August 27. Putin stated the Kremlin has prepared a “reserve of law enforcement officers” but will not deploy it to Belarus unless the situation “gets out of control.” The Kremlin previously pledged it would intervene in Belarus in response to foreign intervention on August 15 and has claimed foreign intervention is ongoing since August 19. Putin’s statement is the first Kremlin acknowledgment of preparations to intervene in Belarus. The Kremlin has supported Lukashenko with RT technical personnel, information support, and potentially covert security coordination since August 19. ISW has previously assessed the Kremlin is prepared to intervene in Belarus to support Lukashenko if he is unable to control protests.