Ukraine conducted countrywide local elections for the first time since 2015 on October 25, 2020. Zelensky’s Servant of the People (SoP) Party’s performed poorly—in part due to reinvigorated Kremlin military, diplomatic, and informational pressure campaigns targeting Zelensky. The Kremlin intensified these campaigns in fall 2020 after Zelensky rejected holding local elections in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin will likely exploit SoP’s poor electoral performance to impair Zelensky’s reelection campaign in 2024. Zelensky is more vulnerable to Russian pressure and subversion following the October 25 elections. Ukraine backslid on a key anti-corruption reform, a development that could undermine Ukraine’s efforts to become a liberal democracy and join Western structures. Kremlin pressure is likely compelling Ukraine to disengage from positions close to the frontline in Donbas. The Kremlin may escalate its military pressure campaign against Ukraine in the winter of 2020-2021.
The NEXTA Telegram channel likely launched a new campaign to spur the development of local opposition leadership in Belarus on November 20, 2020. NEXTA issued unprecedented directions for protesters to “build local connections” among their fellow protesters on November 20. NEXTA instructed protesters in Minsk to gather in regional groups within their local neighborhoods for Sunday protests on November 22. NEXTA called for these neighborhood-level groups to rendezvous with other local neighborhoods’ groups for larger localized marches in six larger protest areas in Minsk. These six protest areas are all smaller than the single large protest location in downtown Minsk where the protesters historically congregated.
Belarus Warning Update: Putin Pressures Lukashenko to Implement His Previous Integration ConcessionsNovember 30, 2020 - Press ISW
6:00 pm EDT: The Kremlin sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Minsk on November 26, 2020, likely to secure the implementation of Union State integration concessions that self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made on September 14. Lukashenko reaffirmed his commitments to Moscow after Lavrov reminded him about his concessions to Russian President Vladimir Putin from their September 14 meeting in Sochi. Lukashenko apparently agreed to a plan for coordinating Belarusian and Russian foreign policy and committed to the creation of a single market for natural gas.
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.
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.
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.