Iran Update, August 25, 2023

August 25, 2023 - ISW Press

1. Syrian opposition media reported that the Bashar al Assad regime ordered all Syrian Arab Army officers and troops to refrain from taking leave until further notice.

2. The Iranian regime is continuing to take preemptive measures to deter and prevent protests ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 16.

3. Anti-regime protests occurred in at least three cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province—a slight uptick from the usual protest activity that occurs each Friday in the province.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 25, 2023

August 25, 2023 - ISW Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s August 24 remarks about Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death established the Kremlin-approved narrative on the issue, and Russian government officials, Kremlin affiliates, and the Russian information space continued to toe this line on August 25.

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 25 and reportedly advanced as Russian milbloggers expressed concern over a lack of reinforcements and troop rotations in the area.

Iran Update, August 24, 2023

August 24, 2023 - ISW Press

Anti-regime protests continued and expanded to additional provinces in Syria. The expansion of protests to Deir ez Zor Province, albeit limited, suggests that Syrian protest groups may have successfully planned and organized the demonstrations.

BRICS invited Iran to become a full member state. Iranian state media boasted that membership will help the regime undermine Western sanctions and support major infrastructure projects.

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, August 24, 2023

August 24, 2023 - ISW Press

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is facing multiple internal and external pressures, which could destabilize the SDF and create opportunities for ISIS.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 24, 2023

August 24, 2023 - ISW Press

The Wagner Group will likely no longer exist as a quasi-independent parallel military structure following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s almost certain assassination of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner founder Dmitry Utkin, and reported Wagner logistics and security head Valery Chekalov on August 23. The death of Wagner’s central leadership disrupts Wagner’s ability to reverse the effects of the Kremlin’s and the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) campaign to weaken, subsume, and destroy the organization following the June 24 armed rebellion. The Russian MoD has reportedly established private military companies (PMCs) that have been recruiting current and former Wagner personnel to assume control over Wagner’s operations abroad. Russian sources claimed that the Kremlin refused to pay the Belarusian government for Wagner’s deployment to Belarus and that financial issues were already leading to reduced payments that were causing Wagner fighters to resign. Satellite imagery from August 1 and 23 shows that Wagner had dismantled almost a third of the tents at its camp in Tsel, Asipovichy, Belarus in the previous month, suggesting that the effort to weaken Wagner may have resulted in a notable flight of Wagner personnel from the contingent in Belarus. Some milbloggers denied claims that Wagner fighters are dismantling their camp in Tsel, however. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on August 23 that an unspecified number of Wagner personnel at camps in Belarus began preparations to return to Russia following Prigozhin’s death. The central Wagner leadership had brought Wagner to the height of its independence during the offensive to capture Bakhmut and was attempting to retain some semblance of that independence in the aftermath of Wagner’s rebellion. The elimination of this central leadership likely ends any remaining means Wagner had to operate independently of the Russian MoD. It remains unclear whether the Kremlin intends for Wagner to completely dissipate or intends to reconstitute it as a much smaller organization completely subordinate to the Russian MoD. A third option—restoring Wagner as a quasi-independent organization under a new commander loyal to the Kremlin—is possible but unlikely.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 24, 2023

August 24, 2023 - ISW Press

The Kuomintang (KMT) is facing several internal disputes as the party falls further behind in the presidential election polls.

The flagship CCP journal Qiushi republished a February article by Xi Jinping on August 15 that emphasized “Chinese-style modernization.” This content of the publication and its reprinting indicates that the party aims to buttress support for spreading its political and economic governance models in formerly colonized countries.

The CCP outlet Red Flag Manuscript published an article on August 14 about the necessity of recapturing the spirit of “revolutionary patriotism” embodied by the Chinese military during the Korean War. The content of the article indicates that creating ideological alignment amongst PLA leadership is becoming increasingly necessary in order to prepare for future wars.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 23, 2023

August 23, 2023 - ISW Press

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and founder Dmitry Utkin reportedly died after Russian forces shot down an aircraft transporting senior Wagner commanders over Tver Oblast. The Russian Federal Aviation Agency (Rosaviatsiya) reported on August 23 that all the passengers – Yevgeny Prigozhin, Dmitry Utkin, Sergei Propustin, Yevgeny Makaryan, Alexander Totmin, Valery Chekalov, Nikolai Matyuseev – died in the crash along with all three crew members. Russian opposition outlet Dossier reported that Chekalov, who is under US sanctions for transferring munitions to Russia and has acted on behalf of Prigozhin, oversaw Wagner transport logistics and “civilian” projects abroad. A Russian insider source claimed that Chekalov also served as head of Wagner’s security services, though another source refuted this claim. Dossier also reported that several other passengers joined Wagner between 2015 and 2017 and fought in Syria, although their current positions are unclear. Russian sources amplified footage apparently showing a Russian missile striking an aircraft carrying Prigozhin, Utkin, and other Wagner commanders and the wreckage of the aircraft. An insider source claimed that two S-300 missiles shot down the aircraft. Flight tracking data for an Embraer Legacy 600 jet (registration number RA-02795) registered to the Wagner Group stopped after 6:11pm Moscow time while over Tver Oblast. Russian sources claimed that a second Wagner Group-owned Embraer jet (registration number RA-02748) departed Moscow but turned around and landed at Ostafyevo airport in Moscow around the time of the strike. Flight tracking data showed that this second aircraft arrived in St Petersburg at 6:27pm and flew back to Moscow 20 minutes later arriving at 8:02pm, however.

Iran Update, August 23, 2023

August 23, 2023 - ISW Press

At least 16 anti-regime protests occurred in the southern Syrian provinces of Suwayda and Daraa on August 23. The protests have gained popular support and activists are circulating calls for protests in Deir ez Zor Province on Thursday, August 24, and in all Syrian provinces on Friday, August 25.

Armed groups assassinated four pro-regime personnel, two of whom were from Iranian-backed groups, in eastern Syria between August 10 and August 22. Syrian regime forces refused to complete patrols in Mayadin City on August 23 following the assassinations.

The Supreme Leader’s office showcased the Iranian regime’s sponsorship of Palestinian resistance groups on August 22 after Israeli officials blamed Iran for kinetic activity in the West Bank.

Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari traveled to Moscow between August 20-23. Heydari’s visit to the border surveillance equipment center and comment about “terrorism” indicate that Iran seeks Russian assistance in enhancing its border security.

Iran Update, August 22, 2023

August 22, 2023 - ISW Press

At least 21 anti-regime protests occurred in the southern Syrian province of Suwayda on August 22. Local media reported higher numbers—around 35 protests—but CTP could only verify 21. These protests initially erupted on August 16 after Syrian President Bashar al Assad adjusted bus prices and cut fuel subsidies. The largest protest on August 22—consisting of several hundred people—occurred in Suwayda City. Suwayda locals furthermore have continued to strike and block roads with burning tires for the third consecutive day. The protests are explicitly anti-regime and shut down government offices and Baath party headquarters. Disaffected Syrians in other provinces, such as Homs, Latakia, and Tartous, have expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 22, 2023

August 22, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continued to make advances in and around Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast as of August 22 amid indications that Russian forces likely have a limited presence in the settlement. Geolocated footage published on August 21 and 22 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced in southeastern Robotyne and east of the settlement near Novopokrovka (13km southeast of Orikhiv). The Ukrainian 47th Mechanized Brigade published a video on August 22 showing its personnel successfully evacuating civilians from Robotyne while accompanied by Ukrainian journalists. The 47th Mechanized Brigade stated that its personnel broke through multi-echelon Russian defensive lines near Robotyne and have entered the settlement. The evacuations and the presence of Ukrainian journalists suggests that areas of Robotyne may be relatively secure due to diminished Russian positions in the settlement itself and the nearby area. Russian maximalist claims that Ukrainian forces only maintain positions on the very northern outskirts of the settlement are likely false given the footage and reporting from the 47th Brigade. Most Russian milbloggers continue to acknowledge that Ukrainian forces hold positions in much of northern Robotyne and that Russian forces likely control at most positions on the southern outskirts of the settlement at this time.