Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Begins Campaign For “Information Sovereignty” to De-escalate Protests in Belarus

October 9, 2020 - Press ISW

4:30 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced plans to establish his direct control over the Belarusian information space. Lukashenko said his administration should control major Belarusian media outlets to defend Belarus’ “information sovereignty” and that Belarusian authorities should wage a “more persistent” internet information campaign on October 9. Lukashenko likely seeks to consolidate control over the Belarusian information space to degrade protester will. Lukashenko likely additionally seeks to regain control of the Belarusian information space from the Kremlin as part of his ongoing efforts to resist Russian integration pressure.

Belarus Warning Update: The Kremlin Will Likely Use October Military Exercises to Advance its Hybrid War in Belarus

October 8, 2020 - Press ISW

5:00 EDT: The Kremlin is orienting its Unbreakable Brotherhood 2020 military exercises on peacekeeping operations as part of its hybrid war in Belarus. The Kremlin-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) stated on October 7 that approximately 700 CSTO personnel will participate in annual Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises in Vitebsk, Belarus, from October 12-16. The CSTO stated the exercise is intended to enhance the CSTO’s capability to conduct multinational peacekeeping operations by practicing monitoring ceasefire compliance, restoring “peaceful life,” maintaining checkpoint security, and riot control. The Russian military considers deploying conventional forces under the cover of “peacekeeping” to be a key means within hybrid war. The Kremlin considers its ongoing campaign in Belarus to be a hybrid war and is likely using CSTO exercises to advance its campaign.

Belarus Warning Update: Protests in Kyrgyzstan May Fuel Intensified Kremlin Action in Belarus

October 7, 2020 - Press ISW

4:50 pm EDT: Self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenko revealed that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Kyrgyzstan in an October 7 phone call. Lukashenko offered no additional details, leaving his purpose in mentioning the conversation unclear. Putin did not provide a readout from this call as of this writing, potentially indicating Putin may not have wanted this phone call to be publicly known. The Kremlin usually promptly publishes readouts from such meetings.

Turkey Reinforces Positions in Greater Idlib to Pressure Russia into Negotiations

October 7, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Events since ISW assessed that Turkey and Russia may have reached a deal on September 16 indicate negotiations faltered. Turkish forces are reinforcing their military positions in opposition-held Idlib as means of exerting pressure on Russia in order to obtain a favorable negotiated settlement. Turkey and Russia will likely continue to escalate while avoiding direct military confrontation in an attempt to gain leverage in future negotiations.

Belarus Warning Update: Putin Seeks Belarus’ Integration with Russia via Belarusian Constitutional Amendments

October 5, 2020 - Press ISW

4:20 pm EDT: Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is adopting tactics for passing constitutional amendments similar to those that Russian President Vladimir Putin used to pass Russian constitutional amendments in early 2020. The Lukashenko regime began soliciting constitutional amendment proposals from Belarusian citizens on October 3 with a deadline to submit all proposals by October 25. Lukashenko likely seeks to create the impression among Belarusian citizens that they possess political agency. Lukashenko, however, likely has predetermined which constitutional amendments to adopt.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia Likely Began Preparing Logistics Supply Lines to Belarus

October 5, 2020 - Press ISW

4:00 pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) is intensifying efforts likely intended to establish the logistical infrastructure necessary to sustain a near-continuous Russian conventional military presence in Belarus. ISW assesses recent WMD exercises are preparations for the upcoming Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Unbreakable Brotherhood command-staff exercises planned for October 12-16 at the Losvido training ground in Vitebsk, Belarus.

Belarus Warning Update: Russia’s Western Military District Prepares for October Exercises in Belarus

October 2, 2020 - Press ISW

5:45pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) continues to conduct command and control exercises—activities necessary for a sustained Russian deployment to Belarus. Brigade-sized (3,500 personnel) elements—including tank, motorized rifle, artillery, army aviation, and reconnaissance units—of the Moscow-based First Tank Army began exercises emphasizing unit cohesion and command and control effectiveness at the Mulino training ground in Nizhny Novgorod on September 28. An unspecified sub-battalion-sized (200 personnel) element of the First Tank Army conducted exercises to defend a command post’s communication systems against sabotage on September 29. Unspecified combat crews practiced organizing command and control systems, logistics, occupying and concealing positions, and air defense on September 29. Rocket artillery and other fire elements conducted live fire exercises with UAV support on September 30 and October 2. These exercises at Mulino will continue until October 4.

Syria Situation Report: September 16-29, 2020

October 2, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Pro-regime actors may be preparing for an offensive in Greater Idlib Province. Russia and the regime have recently increased their bombardment and infiltration attempts in the Jabal Zawiya and Sahl al-Ghab areas. Russia is diplomatically pressuring Turkey to fulfill its commitments to counterterrorism likely to justify a pro-regime offensive against areas primarily controlled by al Qaeda-aligned factions if Turkey does not conduct operations against these groups. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an al Qaeda-linked faction, is likely attempting to brand itself as moderate by conducting anti-ISIS operations to weaken the Russian narrative that terrorist organizations control Idlib Province and potentially to secure the support of Turkey in repelling a pro-regime offensive.

Iraq Warning Intelligence Update: “October Revolution” Anniversary Protests Set to Resume

September 30, 2020 - Press ISW

Key Takeaway: Iraq’s popular protest movement, set to recommence on October 1, may incite intra-Iraqi violence and could present a risk to US personnel and facilities in Iraq. Iraq’s popular protest movement is planning to resume mass memorial protests on the one-year anniversary of the “October Revolution” protests; these demonstrations will continue to condemn government corruption, Iranian influence, poor government services, mass unemployment, and the failure of the Iraqi government to hold security forces accountable for the mass killing of protesters in 2019. Iranian proxy militias and followers of nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are likely planning to infiltrate the anniversary protests and use them to achieve their own objectives. This co-optation of the otherwise largely peaceful protest movement may spark clashes between Sadrists, Iranian proxy militants, and Iraqi protesters. In an unlikely but most dangerous scenario, Iran’s proxies could use the chaos of mass protests as a cover for attacks on the US Embassy, on Kadhimi’s government, or on any individual or organization affiliated with the United States or the US-led Coalition.

Belarus Warning Update: All Russian Slavic Brotherhood Participants Return to Russia

September 30, 2020 - Press ISW

5:15 pm EDT: The two remaining Russian battalion tactical groups (BTG) that participated in Slavic Brotherhood exercises in Belarus departed to their home garrisons in Russia on September 29. The Russian Ministry of Defense provided visual evidence that the BTGs of the Pskov-based 76th and Tula-based 106th Airborne Assault Divisions departed Belarus via rail on September 29. The BTG of the 76th arrived in Brest on September 15 and the BTG of the 106th arrived in Grodno on September 21. The BTG of the Ivanovo-based 98th Airborne Assault Division left Belarus on September 25—the same day Slavic Brotherhood exercises ended.