7:45 pm EDT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the ongoing crisis in Belarus to increase his sway over self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has long stonewalled Moscow’s persistent efforts to integrate Belarus into Russia. A sustained protest movement following Lukashenko’s overt manipulation of Belarus’ August 2020 presidential election has seriously degraded Lukashenko’s ability to resist Russian pressure to integrate Belarus into Russia – a key Kremlin campaign ISW’s Russia Team has analyzed extensively in over 70 published assessments in 2020.
Key Takeaway: The Turkish military and its proxy forces are likely preparing an offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to capture Ayn Issa. Turkey likely capitalized on the Russian withdrawal from Ayn Issa to increase its bombardment of SDF positions ahead of an intended ground assault. Escalations have continued despite the redeployment of Russian forces to Ayn Issa. Turkey appears to want to avoid direct confrontation with Russia and will likely attempt to attack SDF positions and take control of the city without firing upon nearby Russian forces. The capture of Ayn Issa would grant Turkey control of a portion of the M4 highway, interrupting SDF ground lines of communication from the areas it governs in western Syria to those in eastern Syria.
People's Warfare against COVID-19: Testing China’s Military Medical and Defense Mobilization CapabilitiesDecember 14, 2020 - Elsa Kania
The Chinese state and military’s coordinated nationwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic tested their national defense mobilization and civil-military fusion strategies. These are the capabilities China would use to move from peacetime to wartime in response to potential future crises and conflicts, including with the United States and its allies.
Key Takeaway: Pro-Western Moldovan politician Maia Sandu won the Moldovan presidential election by defeating pro-Kremlin incumbent President Igor Dodon on November 15, 2020. Sandu’s election limits the Kremlin’s opportunity to expand its influence toward the eastern Balkans and presents the United States with an opportunity to reverse the Kremlin’s recent gains. However, the Kremlin will likely exploit its control in the Moldovan Parliament to contest Sandu’s electoral mandate. The United States and its allies should support Sandu’s efforts to expand, strengthen, and intensify cooperation agreements with Western countries as well as Sandu’s stated objective to end Russia’s military presence in the breakaway region of Transnistria to limit a dangerous Kremlin position in the eastern Balkans and on Ukraine’s western border.
Key Takeaway: ISIS is reconstituting and expanding attack zones in northern and central Syria. ISIS militants may have carried out three explosive attacks in Turkish-controlled Aleppo Province and separately attacked a pro-regime outpost and oil facility in central Syria. The increasing severity and geographic area of ISIS attacks likely indicates the organization is successfully expanding its freedom of action in Syria. Continued releases of ISIS militants and family members by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will likely provide ISIS with veteran fighters and enable it to further expand its operations.
Large-scale prisoner releases and escapes will invigorate the global Salafi-jihadi movement at a time when it has ample opportunity to expand. Recent prisoner exchanges, escapes, and mass releases are returning thousands of insurgents to battlefields in West Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and will accelerate the growth of several insurgencies.
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.