Ukraine Project

Belarus Warning Update: Russian Hybrid Intervention into Belarus is Likely Imminent

12:00 pm EDT: A Russian hybrid intervention into Belarus to support Belarussian president Lukashenko is likely imminent. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had a phone call on August 15 to discuss the situation in Belarus. Putin thanked Lukashenko for returning 32 detained Wagner personnel on August 14. The Kremlin’s readout of the call stated “all problems that have arisen will be resolved soon” and characterized the protests as “destructive forces” trying to harm the Union State. A Kremlin intervention would likely consist of Russian forces in unmarked uniforms supporting crackdowns on protesters. The Kremlin has not previously characterized the protests in Belarus as destructive. Kremlin-linked media outlets reported neutrally and slightly sympathetically towards protests in Belarus as of August 14.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia May Send "Little Green Men" to Belarus

Russia may send irregular forces into Belarus to quash growing protests against Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko. A senior Kremlin media official’s August 14 statement supporting such a move is a significant inflection in Moscow’s characterization of the protests in Belarus. It could be part of a new Russian information campaign to shape conditions for a Russian-backed intervention into Belarus under the pretext of restoring order. A Russian intervention in Belarus that resulted in the stationing of Russian ground forces in the country would dramatically increase the threat to NATO’s ability to protect the Baltic States and mark another advance in Putin’s efforts to regain Russian suzerainty over the former Soviet Union.

Russia in Review: Turmoil in Belarus Benefits the Kremlin

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will likely survive current mass protests but will emerge substantially more vulnerable to Russian pressure. Lukashenko claims to have won the August 9 election with 80 percent of the vote, sparking mass protests. Lukashenko is successfully containing the demonstrations and forced leading opposition candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya to flee to Lithuania and denounce the protests. Lukashenko’s domestic position is nevertheless weakened by these unprecedented displays of public opposition, and his ability to resist pressure from the Kremlin is reduced.

The Kremlin Leverages Cyber Cooperation Deals

The Kremlin is successfully expanding its global cyber footprint to contest the West by signing cooperation deals in the field of international information and communications technologies (ICTs). The Kremlin prioritizes these deals to set conditions to expand its access to global technical networks and infrastructure, as well as to develop its human networks and institutional links around the world. The Kremlin launched this campaign in 2014, shortly before releasing an updated information security doctrine in 2016, which continues to guide Russian cyber policy. This campaign supports the Kremlin’s strategic goal of subverting Western global influence via nontraditional means. The Kremlin will likely use these deals to increase its cyber-attack capabilities and expand influence in key regions. The Kremlin may additionally use these deals to garner support for a Kremlin-friendly resolution on ICTs in the UN to shape international norms in cyberspace.

Russia in Review: Putin Deploys New Authoritarian Controls during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Kremlin is using the COVID-19 pandemic to test an expanded societal control toolkit. The Kremlin has empowered Russian security services, deployed Russia’s national guard nationally, empowered the Ministry of Defense as a domestic actor for the first time, implemented mass digital surveillance, and further tightened control over Russia’s information space. The Kremlin seeks to expand its ability to control the Russian population in the long-term, as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly relies on authoritarian measures to preserve his regime, and suppress potential unrest in the aftermath of the national voting on Russia’s constitutional amendments on July 1. Digital surveillance technology, such as facial recognition, geolocation on smart devices, and comprehensive digital databases for all Russian citizens, will help the Kremlin circumvent the cost requirements associated with constructing and staffing a massive control infrastructure. These technologies will further erode privacy in Russia and grant the Kremlin new capabilities to discretely identify and neutralize its opponents with minimal public confrontation. Putin will increasingly rely on societal control tools and digitally targeted repression to stifle critics and preserve his regime.

Russia in Review: Russian Security Cooperation Post-2014

The COVID-19 crisis has impeded some of the Kremlin’s efforts but has not changed its objectives, one of which is expanding Russia’s power projection capabilities internationally. Russia’s military footprint and basing opportunities are expanding but remain limited. Putin is thus using coalitions and partnerships to amplify Russia’s security space - as ISW will analyze in its upcoming major report on Putin’s geopolitical thinking.

Russia in Review: Kremlin Tests Authoritarian Societal Control Measures during COVID-19 Crisis

Putin’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is focused on shaping reality to conform to his desired narrative. The Kremlin is restricting the free flow of information on COVID-19, jailing doctors, and obfuscating its public infection numbers to support Putin’s central narrative that COVID-19 will affect Russia less than much of the world. The Kremlin is additionally testing new methods of societal control as part of its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. The Kremlin will retain these improved authoritarian tools for use against future opposition.

Russia in Review: Kremlin Attempts to Exploit COVID-19 Crisis to Remove Sanctions on Russia and its Partners

The Kremlin is exploiting calls by the United Nations for limited sanctions waivers to combat COVID-19, to advance the Kremlin’s longstanding objective of removing international sanctions on Russia and its partners. The Kremlin has launched an information campaign on this issue and is leveraging its sanctioned allies around the world, alongside networks of Russia-amenable actors in Europe, to amplify the Kremlin’s message.