Russia is setting conditions to conduct military operations against Ukraine and/or in Belarus in the coming weeks or months. The Russian Federation has positioned military forces around Ukraine’s border and near the border with Belarus able to initiate offensive operations on very short notice with very little warning. Russian officials and media outlets have been setting conditions in the information space to support such operations. This document is not intended as a forecast or an assessment of the likelihood of any such Russian activities, all of which are also consistent with Russian non-military lines of effort against Ukraine, Belarus, the US, and NATO.
Turkey likely abandoned its plans for an incursion into Syria after a significant military buildup in October. Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) planned, signaled, and prepared for a Turkish military incursion into northern Syria in late October after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the military operation on October 11. The incursion would have been Turkey’s fourth into Syria and targeted the Kurdish-majority autonomous region controlled by the US-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). SDF commander Mazloum Abdi told al-Monitor on November 9 that SDF forces expected a Turkish military campaign on November 5. Turkey’s recent military mobilization was the largest in northeastern Syria since its most recent incursion in October 2019, indicating likely genuine preparations for an incursion and not simply posturing. However, the social media reports of Turkish military reinforcements and SNA statements on an “upcoming incursion” came to an end by October 31. Turkey likely abandoned plans by early November.
The Kremlin undermined a key guarantor of the Balkan peace settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, weakening dampeners on renewed conflict and empowering Russia’s Serbian allies. The Kremlin politically weakened the Office of the High Representative (OHR), a key US and EU-backed international institution devoted to maintaining the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. Russia removed all mention of the OHR’s stabilizing role from an annual United Nations Security Council resolution to renew the EU-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 3. By doing so, Russia undermined the OHR’s political authority and ability work to with peacekeeping forces, impeding its ability to mediate between the component institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Kremlin characterizes the OHR and the Dayton Accords as illegitimate agreements imposed on Bosnia by the Western dominated world order. The Kremlin often seeks to support the Bosnian Republika Srpska and key Russian ally Serbia and undermine EU and NATO efforts to preserve the Dayton Accords.
Iran likely supported and facilitated a failed attempt by its Iraqi proxy militias to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to retain Iran’s dominant influence in Iraq. Iran likely permitted the attack after Iraqi nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr began to pursue a new government without the participation of Iran’s proxies in the aftermath of Iraq’s October 10, 2021, elections. Iran and its proxies are most likely to deescalate if Sadr agrees to form a consensus government without Kadhimi as prime minister. However, Iran has demonstrably shifted its policy towards the current Iraqi government and may be willing to permit more violence to achieve its objectives: an Iranian-influenced government under a controllable prime minister who accepts Iran’s dominant position. In a less likely but most dangerous scenario, Sadr could deploy his own militias to counter Iranian threats, risking a wider civil war in Iraq.
The United States must improve its proficiency with three core strategic skills to meet a future of conflict that is already unfolding.
Russian Military Movements Unlikely Preparing for Imminent Offensive against Ukraine but Still ConcerningNovember 2, 2021 - Press ISW
Movements and activities of elements of Russia’s 41st Combined Arms Army (CAA) and 1st Guards Tank Army in late October are unlikely to be preparations for an offensive against Ukraine, but do pose longer-term challenges to Russia’s neighbors and NATO. The Washington Post reported on October 30 that a “buildup” of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border concerned US and European officials. The report suggested that the Russian deployments are similar to those carried out on Ukraine’s border in March-April 2021. Open-source reporting does not support the assessment that Russia has moved any additional forces closer to the Ukrainian border or that a Russian offensive against Ukraine is imminent, however. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated on November 1 it has not observed any transfers of Russian units, weapons, or equipment to the Ukrainian border.
The Turkish government has consistently expanded its Africa outreach as a component of enlarging and diversifying Turkey's global footprint since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s election in 2003. Ankara more recently began using defense ties to strengthen the diplomatic foundations of its outreach to African states. Growing international interest in Turkey’s domestic defense industry is speeding up this shift toward a defense-oriented approach in bilateral relations, particularly since Azerbaijan’s Turkey-enabled victory in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020.
Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP) is expanding its support zones and attack zones across Afghanistan as part of a campaign to undermine and replace the Taliban government. Most IS-KP attacks target Taliban fighters and officials in Nangarhar and Kunar Provinces. The presence of IS-KP propaganda materials indicates that IS-KP is expanding in northern and southern Afghanistan. Bombings at major Shi’a mosques in Kunduz on October 8 and Kandahar on October 15 indicate that IS-KP is attempting to incite sectarian conflict in Afghanistan. Taliban land expropriations from largely Shi’a communities to Sunni Taliban fighters are also increasing sectarian tensions. The contradictory efforts to protect these communities while redistributing their land will complicate the Taliban’s efforts to pose as a defender of Afghanistan’s Shi’a. If IS-KP continues to expand and strengthen, it could develop havens that enable it to conduct attacks outside Afghanistan.
Iran’s Iraqi proxies will likely increase their use of violence and other forms of coercion against political opponents and the Iraqi state in the coming months. The political wings of Iran’s Iraqi proxies lost two-thirds of their parliamentary seats in Iraq’s October 10, 2021, elections, which they are legally contesting due to perceived fraud. Iran’s Iraqi proxies may escalate against UN, US, Emirati, or suspected Israeli personnel or assets in retaliation for their perceived role in the proxies’ political losses in the coming months. Domestic political conflicts, Iranian decision-making, Iranian proxy attempts to enforce the December 31 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, and the potential for a new regional ISIS campaign to stir up sectarian violence could exacerbate post-electoral Iranian proxy violence in Iraq.
The Kremlin advanced two key lines of effort to increase Russian influence globally at the 2021 Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) ministerial summit—leveraging international organizations and expanding Russian cyber capabilities and influence. The CICA is an inter-governmental forum of 27 Asian and Eurasian member states founded in 1992 to enhance cooperation and promote security and stability in Asia. CICA held the 2021 iteration of its biannual conference in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on October 12.