UA-69458566-1

Friday, June 14, 2019

Syria Situation Report: May 27 - June 11, 2019

By ISW's Syria Team

The following Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map summarizes significant developments in the war in Syria during the period May 27 - June 11, 2019. The SITREP highlights include the reported use of anti-aircraft missiles by al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Iran's further consolidation of power in a key town along the Syria-Iraq border, and a new recruitment opportunity for ISIS in Northeast Syria.

Click image to enlarge.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Russia in Review: May 14 - June 11, 2019 (Part 2)

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Reporting Period: May 14 - June 11, 2019 (read the previous Russia in Review here)

Part 2 of 2 (read the first part here)

Authors: Andrea Snyder with Nataliya Bugayova

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin is exploiting escalated tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Russia seeks to block the further expansion of Western structures in the Balkans region after failing to prevent the NATO ascension of Montenegro and North Macedonia, which is in the final stages of becoming a NATO member.

The tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have re-escalated. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ordered the full combat readiness of Serbian army units on May 28 in response to an internal Kosovar anti-organized crime operation. Kosovo targeted local police officers reportedly involved in smuggling in northern Kosovo’s ethnic Serb-majority municipalities. Kosovo denied Serbia’s claims that the operation was intended to intimidate ethnic Serbs.[1] Similar police operations have previously occurred as organized crime is prominent in northern Kosovo along the Serbian border.[2] The operation did result in violent clashes. Vucic warned that Serbia will “protect our people” in Kosovo if their lives are threatened.[3] Serbian military personnel with a column of at least 12 Serbian military vehicles reportedly left their base moving towards Kosovo and a Serbian pilot flying a MiG-29 fighter made a low-altitude flight near the Kosovo border on May 28.[4] Serbian military movement in coordination with rhetoric of military action is a step change. Serbia previously threatened military intervention in December 2018 after the Kosovar Parliament voted to transform the Kosovo Security Force into the Kosovo Armed Forces, but tensions defused. Vuvic has refrained from taking further action since his May 28 threat but tensions will likely rise again.

The Kremlin is likely to support Serbia if Vucic decides to act on his military threat. The Kremlin publicly supports Serbia’s claims that the Kosovo police operation was a provocation.[5] The Kosovo police also arrested two UN Mission in Kosovo staff members on May 28, including Russian citizen Mikhail Krasnoshchekov, for hampering the police operation. The Kremlin used Krasnoshchekov’s arrest to escalate its rhetoric against Kosovo, the EU, and the U.S.[6] The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Federation Duma (parliament), Konstantin Kosachev, also said the West lost control over Kosovo and that Serbia might need to clean up “the consequences of Western mistakes” potentially with Russia’s help if Serbia requests its assistance.[7] The Kremlin has been providing military support to regular and allegedly irregular forces in Serbia.[8] The Russian and Serbian Foreign Ministers stated on June 7 that they are closely coordinating on Serbia’s response to the situation with Kosovo.[9]

The Kremlin continues to exploit Kosovo-Serbia tensions to block the expansion of Western structures in the Balkans. Several Russian officials, including Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, held a series of meetings with Serbian leadership to discuss the Kosovo police operation and Krasnoshchekov’s arrest.[10] The Kremlin is likely attempting to shape conditions ahead of the next round of EU-led talks in July. The talks intend to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci expressed hope on June 7 of reaching a deal with Serbia this year despite increased tensions. Vucic also still attempts to balance between the EU and Russia.

The Kremlin might be attempting to shift Serbia’s equilibrium, however. Blocking Balkan states’ integration into the EU and NATO remains a strategic goal for the Kremlin. Russia failed to prevent Montenegro’s accession to NATO and North Macedonia’s impending entry into the NATO alliance.[11] The Kremlin maintains a stake in preventing diplomatic normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, which the U.S. has encouraged, that could enable either of them to join the EU. The Kremlin has already increased its outreach to Serbia earlier this year in an effort to orient Serbia away from Europe. The Kremlin may be succeeding in its effort as Serbia worked closely with Russia following the Kosovo police operation but continued its highly critical rhetoric against Europe. The Kremlin might decide to push Serbia to escalate militarily against Kosovo—a move that would likely end the normalization talks, fully pull Serbia into Russia’s orbit, and limit Kosovo’s integration prospects with the West.

---
[1] “KFOR Spokesman Says No Intern-Ethnic Clashes in Kosovo on Tuesday,” N1, May 30, 2019, http://rs.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a487770/KFOR-spokesman-says-no-inter-ethnic-clashes-in-Kosovo-on-Tuesday.html.
[2]Daniel McLaughlin, “Murder and Mafia Power Shake Serbs in Divided Kosovo,” Irish Times, February 10, 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/murder-and-mafia-power-shake-serbs-in-divided-kosovo-1.3386704; Benno Zogg, “How Organized Crime Inhibits Development in Kosovo,” Foraus, https://www.foraus.ch/2018/02/20/how-organized-crime-inhibits-development-in-kosovo/, accessed: June 11, 2019; [“Haziri Says: The Police Action in the North, Thaci and Vucic’s Plan!,”] Kosova Sot Online, May 30, 2019, [https://www.kosova-sot(.)info/lajme/383188/e-thote-haziri-aksioni-i-policise-ne-veri-plan-i-thacit-dhe-vuciqit/]https://www.kosova-sot(.)info/lajme/383188/e-thote-haziri-aksioni-i-policise-ne-veri-plan-i-thacit-dhe-vuciqit/.
[3] TRT World Now, “Serbian President Slams Kosovo’s Latest Action,” Youtube, May 28, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q04vUHh2ybM&feature=youtu.be; “Vucic: Army to Protect Our People if They Are Attacked,” Tanjug, May 28, 2019, [http://www.tanjug(.)rs/full-view_en.aspx?izb=483804]http://www.tanjug(.)rs/full-view_en.aspx?izb=483804.
[4] [“Kosovo Special Forces Spat on North KiM – 21 Arrested, Army of Serbia in Full Combat Readiness,”] PTC, May 28, 2019, [http://www.rts(.)rs/page/stories/ci/story/1/politika/3537038/sirene-u-mitrovici-rosu-upale-na-sever-kim-.html]http://www.rts(.)rs/page/stories/ci/story/1/politika/3537038/sirene-u-mitrovici-rosu-upale-na-sever-kim-.html; Ruptly, “Serbian Army Vehicles Spotted Driving Towards Northern Kosovo,” Twitter, May 28, 2019, https://twitter.com/Ruptly/status/1133416105937125376; [“One MIG 29 Fired Over Novi Pazar,”] Tanjug, May 28, 2019, [http://www.tanjug(.)rs/full-view.aspx?izb=483810]http://www.tanjug(.)rs/full-view.aspx?izb=483810.
[5] “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions at a joint News Conference Following Talks with Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Miro Cerar, Ljubljana, May 29, 2019,” Russian MFA, May 29, 2019, [http://www.mid(.)ru/web/guest/meropriyatiya_s_uchastiem_ministra/-/asset_publisher/xK1BhB2bUjd3/content/id/3662476?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_xK1BhB2bUjd3&_101_INSTANCE_xK1BhB2bUjd3_languageId=en_GB]http://www.mid(.)ru/web/guest/meropriyatiya_s_uchastiem_ministra/-/asset_publisher/xK1BhB2bUjd3/content/id/3662476?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_xK1BhB2bUjd3&_101_INSTANCE_xK1BhB2bUjd3_languageId=en_GB; [“Commentary of Russian MFA Official Representative M.V. Zakharova in Connection with Escalation of the Situation in Kosovo,”] Russian MFA, May 28, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3661577l; “Serbian President Thanks Russian for Denouncing Incident in Kosovo,” Tass, June 3, 2019, [http://tass(.)com/world/1061499]http://tass(.)com/world/1061499.
[6] Slovenia: Lavrov Comments on Anti-Smuggling Operation in Kosovo,” Ruptly, May 29, 2019, https(:)//vidz.today/ruptly/slovenia-lavrov-comments-on-anti-smuggling-operation-in-kosovo/
[7] Galina Mislivskaya, [“Kosachev: Russia is Ready to Help Serbia Ensure Security in the Region,”] Rossiyskaya Gazeta, May 29, 2019, https(:)//rg.ru/2019/05/29/kosachev-rossiia-gotova-pomoch-serbii-v-obespechenii-bezopasnosti-v-regione.html; Robin-Ivan Capar, “Serbia Pivots Towards Russia Yet Again — But at What Price?” Moscow Times, June 3, 2019, https://www(.)themoscowtimes.com/2019/06/03/serbia-pivots-towards-russia-yet-again-but-at-what-price-a65848.
[8] “Serbian President Lauds Military-Technical Cooperation with Russia,” TASS, January 17, 2019, http(:)//tass.com/defense/1040501.
[9] [“On the Conversation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergei Lavrov, with the First Deputy Prime Minster, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Ivica Dacic,”] Russia Foreign Ministry, June 06, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3676424; https://www.urdupoint.com/en/world/lavrov-dacic-confirm-commitment-to-coordinat-639535.html; [“Dacic: I informed Russia in Detail about What We Will Do Next,” Zeri, June 7, 2019, https://zeri(.)info/aktuale/265643/daciq-e-njoftova-ne-detaje-rusine-se-cka-do-te-bejme-tutje/.
[10] [“Vucic and Chepurin on the Events in Kosovo,”] Tanjug, May 30, 2019, http(:)//www.tanjug.rs/full-view.aspx?izb=484317#.XO_de2kVI2U.twitter; [“Vyacheslav Volodin Met with the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic,”] State Duma, June 3, 2019, http://duma.gov(.)ru/news/45202/; “Serbian President Thanks Russia for Denouncing Incident in Kosovo,” TASS, June 3, 2019, http(:)//tass.com/world/1061499; [“On the Meeting of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Alexander Grushko with the Serbian Ambassador Slavenko Terzich,”] Russia Foreign Ministry, June 3, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/web/guest/maps/rs/-/asset_publisher/GLz7aPgDnSfP/content/id/3667292.
[11] “Montenegro joins NATO as 29th Ally,” NATO, June 9, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_144647.htm.








Russia in Review: May 14 - June 11, 2019 (Part 1)

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Reporting Period: May 14 - June 11, 2019 (read the previous Russia in Review here)

Part 1 of 2 (read the second part here)

Authors: Mason Clark and Nataliya Bugayova

Key Takeaway: Russia and China signed numerous agreements to boost economic cooperation and attempt to limit dependence on the West during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s June 5-7 state visit to Russia. The Kremlin risks ceding strategic ground to China in the long term as it seeks additional sources of cash and international partnership in the short term.

Russia and China promoted their strategic partnership during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s June 5-7 state visit to Russia. Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed nearly 30 agreements during Xi’s visit to Russia, including a joint statement on Sino-Russian strategic cooperation.[1] Putin and Xi claimed relations between Russia and China have reached an unprecedented level.[2] Xi highlighted his personal ties with Putin and described Putin as his "best friend," while Putin framed the Russo-Chinese relationship as a strategic alignment.[3] Xi’s visit focused on economic cooperation with limited comments on international affairs.[4] Putin accused the U.S. of attempting to “extend its jurisdiction to the whole world” as Putin and Xi continued to frame themselves as champions of a multipolar international order in opposition to U.S. hegemony.[5] Putin and Xi discussed linking the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).[6] This idea supports Putin’s vision to create a Great Eurasian Partnership that would include the EAEU and BRI among others.[7]

Russia and China boosted cooperation in the energy, technology, and agricultural sectors. Putin and Xi designated 2020 and 2021 as years of Russian-Chinese scientific, technical, and innovation cooperation.[8] The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the state-owned China Investment Corporation agreed to invest $1 billion in the newly created Russia-China Science and Technology Innovation Fund.[9] The RDIF and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group will invest $100 million each in a joint venture involving Russian phone operator Megafon and internet company Mail.ru to expand e-commerce in Russia.[10] Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei signed a deal with Russian telecom company MTS on June 5 to develop a fifth-generation wireless technology network (5G) in Russia. Huawei also purchased the rights to use facial recognition software developed by Russian company Vocord on June 3.[11] The U.S. has recognized Huawei as a security threat and is attempting to disincentivize U.S. partners from using Huawei.[12] China is likely the driver of the 5G deal with Russia as Huawei is facing resistance in its international business development and seeks Russia as a potential market.

Putin and Xi also signed a number of energy deals. Putin and Xi agreed that Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom would build several more nuclear power units in China, including a “demonstration fast neutron reactor.”[13] The Kremlin is continuing its campaign to capture global nuclear energy markets with projects underway in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Putin and Xi also announced that the Power of Siberia gas pipeline, intended to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually to China, will become operational in December 2019. China Petrochemical Corp Sinopec has secured a 40 percent stake in Russia’s Amur Gas processing plant project.[14] Sinopoc will also help Russian gas company Novatek market Russian LNG produced in the Arctic to end-users in China. Novatek announced the sale of a 20 percent stake in its gas liquefaction project in the Arctic to Chinese CNODC, a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, in April.[15] ISW assessed that increased Russian cooperation with China in the Arctic can limit U.S. freedom of movement in the region.

China seeks to reduce its dependence on American technology – the key premise of its Made in China 2025 strategy. China likely has the manpower and industrial strength to take advantage of Russian technical knowledge. The Kremlin seeks additional forms of cash, as Western sanctions dried up foreign direct investment into Russia. The Kremlin might be using its technological cooperation as a means to secure Chinese investment in other areas, such as energy and Arctic development projects. The U.S. must consider the long-term implications of technology transfers between Russia and China, in particular from the standpoint of military capabilities and governance. China is using technology to aid its authoritarian population control policies; the Kremlin might also be heading in this direction as Putin’s value proposition to his population declines. China has already been spreading its censorship-enabling technologies. China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation (CEIEC), which develops surveillance systems for the Chinese government, exported its technology to numerous authoritarian governments in countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Angola. CEIEC lists Moscow as its only European office.[16]

China is additionally turning to Russia as an agricultural source as China curbs its food imports from the U.S. and Canada.[17] Russian and Chinese officials discussed increased Russian food exports to China and Chinese investment in agricultural development in Russia’s Far East during Xi’s visit.[18]

Putin and Xi continued to attempt to limit Russia’s and China’s dependence on the Western financial system. Both leaders pledged to grow bilateral trade, which increased to $108 billion in 2018, exceeding the $100 billion goal.[19] Putin and Xi signed an agreement pledging to promote trade in the ruble and yuan instead of the dollar. The agreement also focuses on “ensuring uninterrupted banking services for transactions in conditions of instability in global markets.” Both countries seek to insulate themselves from shocks in the Western financial system. Putin accused the U.S. of using its financial system as a weapon on June 7. The Kremlin is heavily pushing for the de-dollarization of its economy to buffer itself from future U.S. sanctions. The Central Bank of Russia has grown the share of its yuan foreign currency reserves from 2.8% to 14.2% since 2018.[20] China is also looking for ways to mitigate the effects of the ongoing trade war with the U.S. and potential future shocks. The efforts have produced limited success thus far as companies in Russia still prefer transactions in dollars.[21] Russian and Chinese efforts to build an alternative to SWIFT interbank financial telecommunication system have also been progressing slowly, with Russia’s alternative service facing multiple limitations including limited operating hours, domestic-only transactions, and a lack of connectivity to banks in the Commonwealth of Intendent States (CIS).[22] Russia and China will, however, persist in their effort to build a coalition of countries to move away from the dollar.

The Kremlin will continue to boost its ties with China in search of additional resources and international coalitions while risking ceding ground to China in the long-term. Russia and China, continue to face several points of strategic divergence and imbalance in the relationship despite new agreements and rhetoric about strategic partnership. China has the upper hand with Russia in many respects given the size of the Chinese economy and population. The technology cooperation agreement that Xi and Putin signed likely benefits China more than Russia. Russia gains additional sources of cash through Chinese investment, but also provides China with critical resources such as energy and, potentially, food in the longer term. The Kremlin is likely not content with Chinese expansion in Russia’s backyard in Central Asia and in Russia’s Far East. Increased Chinese investment in Russia is also unpopular among the Russian population. The Kremlin has recently faced protests in Russia’s Chuvashia region against reported Chinese pressure on local farmers to sell land to Chinese companies. Over a million Russians signed a petition against a Chinese-backed water bottling plant near Lake Baikal earlier this year. The Kremlin needs Chinese investment to develop the Arctic, which is one of Putin’s stated strategic goals. The Kremlin is wary, however, of facilitating a longer-term Chinese military presence in the region. And while Putin and Xi agreed to link the Russia-led EAEU and China’s BRI, it is unclear how much leverage Putin has in shaping the terms of this cooperation.[23] The Kremlin is certainly aware of the risk of a closer relationship with China, but might think it can control the ties, which may simply not be true in the long run.

---
[1] [“The Beginning of the Russian-Chinese Negotiations in a Narrow Composition,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/transcripts/60670; [“Xi Jinping Holds Talks with Russian President Putin,”] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, June 6, 2019, https://www.fmprc(.)gov.cn/web/tpxw/t1670124.shtml.
[2] [“The Beginning of the Russian-Chinese Negotiations in a Narrow Composition,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/transcripts/60670
[3] “Beijing, Moscow to Sign around 30 Deals during Xi’s Russia Tour, Says Chinese Diplomat,” TASS, May 30, 2019, http://tass(.)com/world/1060743; [“Press Statements Following Russian-Chinese Talks,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60672.
[4] [“Press Statements Following Russian-Chinese Talks,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60672.
[5] [“Press Statements Following Russian-Chinese Talks,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60672; [“Plenary Session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum,”] Kremlin, June 7, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60707.
[6] [“Plenary Session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum,”] Kremlin, June 7, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60707.
[7] “Plenary Session of St Petersburg International Economic Forum,” Kremlin, June 17, 2016, http://en.kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/52178; “Meeting of Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Russia,” Kremlin, July 19, 2018, http://en.kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/58037.
[8] [“Press Statements Following Russian-Chinese Talks,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60672.
[9] [“Russia and China will Create a $1 Billion Science and Technology Innovation Fund,”] TASS, June 5, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/ekonomika/6511955; “RDIF and CIC to Invest in Russia-China Science and Technology Innovation Fund,” Russian Direct Investment Fund, June 5, 2019, https://rdif(.)ru/Eng_fullNews/4095/.
[10] “RDIF, Alibaba Group, MegaFon and Mail.ru Group Announce Signing of Definitive Documents for Joint Venture in Russia and the CIS,” Russian Direct Investment Fund, June 5, 2019, https://rdif(.)ru/Eng_fullNews/4096/.
[11] [“Huawei Bought Face Recognition Technology from a Russian Company,”] Novaya Gazeta, June 3, 2019, https://www.novayagazeta(.)ru/news/2019/06/03/152209-huawei-kupila-u-rossiyskoy-kompanii-tehnologii-raspoznavaniya-lits.
[12] "Addition of Entity to the Entities List," Bureau of Industry and Security, May 21, 2019, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/21/2019-10616/addition-of-entities-to-the-entity-list.
[13] [“Press Statements Following Russian-Chinese Talks,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60672; “Putin: Moscow, Beijing Agree on Building Several More Russia-Designed Nuclear Power Units,” TASS, June 7, 2019, http://tass(.)com/economy/1062602.
[14] “Sinopec Signs Agreement With Russian Oil Company,” O&G Links, June 10, 2019, https://oglinks.news/sinopec/news/signs-agreement-with-russian-oil-company-1140591; Sibur, Amur GCC Project, 2019, https://www.sibur(.)ru/en/about/investments/16906/; Zheng Xin, “Sinopec Signs Agreement with Russian Oil Company,” China Daily, June 9, 2019, http://www.chinadaily(.)com.cn/a/201906/09/WS5cfc7871a31017657723015d.html; Andrey Ostroukh, Katya Golubkova, “Russia’s Sibur eyes Moscow IPO no Earlier Than 2020: CEO,” Reuters, June 7, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-forum-sibur/russias-sibur-eyes-moscow-ipo-no-earlier-than-2020-ceo-idUSKCN1T811K
[15] “NOVATEK and CNODC Sign Entrance Agreement to Arctic LNG 2,” Novatek, April 25, 2019, http://www.novatek(.)ru/en/press/releases/index.php?id_4=3173.
[16] CEIEC, Business Network, http://www.ceiec(.)com/content/business_networks.
[17] “Russia, China to Boost Energy, Agricultural Trade Due to US Trade War – Scholars,” Sputnik, June 1, 2019, https://sputniknews(.)com/analysis/201906011075519959-russia-china-us-trade/; Laura Zhou, “Russia Ready to Fill China’s Food Gap Left by US in Trade War Fallout,” South China Morning Post, June 7, 2019,
https://www.scmp(.)com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3013549/russia-ready-fill-chinas-food-gap-left-us-trade-war-fallout; Naomi Powell, “Canadian Soybean Exports to China Plunge 95% After Hitting Record High, as Diplomatic Dispute Continues,” Financial Post, May 17, 2019, https://business.financialpost.com/business/canadian-soybean-exports-to-china-plunge-95-after-hitting-record-high-as-diplomatic-dispute-continues.
[18] [“Russia Will Expand the Supply of Agricultural Products to China,”] Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, June 5, 2019, http://mcx(.)ru/press-service/news/rossiya-rasshirit-postavki-selkhozproduktsii-v-kitay/; Ekaterina Burlakova, [“A Large Chinese Holding Will Invest Almost 10 Billion Rubles in Russian Agriculture,”] Vedemosti, June 6, 2019, https://www.vedomosti(.)ru/business/articles/2019/06/06/803577-holding-vlozhit.
[19] [“Press Statements Following Russian-Chinese Talks,”] Kremlin, June 5, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60672.
[20] Irina Malkova, [“The Central Bank Transferred its Assets from the United States to China and Halved its Share of Assets in Dollars,”] The Bell, May 8, 2019, https://thebell(.)io/tsb-perevel-svoi-aktivy-iz-ssha-v-kitaj-i-vdvoe-snizil-dolyu-aktivov-v-dollarah/.
[21] [“Russia and China Prefer Settlements in Dollars and Euros, Rather Than in National Currencies,”] Reporter, May 31, 2019, https//topcor(.)ru/8996-rossija-i-kitaj-predpochitajut-raschety-v-dollarah-i-evro-a-ne-v-nacvaljutah.html.
[22] [“Stretched String: Is it Possible to Disconnect Russia From SWIFT,”] Forbes Russia, March 15, 2018, https://www.forbes(.)ru/finansy-i-investicii/358573-natyanutaya-struna-vozmozhno-li-otklyuchenie-rossii-ot-swift.
[23] [“Plenary Session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum,”] Kremlin, June 7, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60707.



Thursday, May 30, 2019

Syria Situation Report: May 14 - 29, 2019

By ISW's Syria Team

The following Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map summarizes significant developments in the war in Syria during the period May 14 - 29, 2019. This SITREP coverage includes a reported chlorine gas attack by pro-Bashar al-Assad regime forces, weaponized drone use by al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, and ISIS's targeting of U.S.-backed forces.

Click image to enlarge.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pro-Regime Air Campaign in Greater Idlib Province

By Michael Land

Key Takeaway: Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resumed an aggressive air campaign in Greater Idlib Province in late April 2019. The campaign included the use of barrel bombs against civilian targets and strikes against hospitals. Russia and Assad began a limited ground offensive enabled by this air campaign but have not expanded their strikes to the extent required to wage a larger near-term operation into Greater Idlib Province.

Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resumed their aggressive aerial bombardment of Greater Idlib Province in Northern Syria in late April 2019. The Russian Air Force resumed its air campaign in Greater Idlib Province immediately after the conclusion of the last round of Astana Talks between Russia, Turkey, and Iran on April 26. The Syrian Arab Air Force later began extensive barrel bomb attacks in Greater Idlib Province on April 30. These operations included strikes targeting hospitals and other civilian targets. 


ISW has assessed based on the pattern of these airstrikes that the pro-Assad regime coalition intended to conduct only a limited offensive in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib Provinces, potentially as part of an arrangement with Turkey. Russia and Syria largely confined their strikes to a discrete area near Kafr Nabouda and Qala’at al-Madiq in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib Provinces, likely to depopulate the region and soften defenses prior to the start of ground operations that began on May 6. Pro-Assad regime forces conducted a limited ground offensive that seized the towns of Qala’at al-Madiq and Kafr Nabouda in Northern Hama Province on May 6. Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) led a counter-offensive on May 21 that recaptured Kafr Nabouda with support from Turkish-backed rebel forces. Fighting remains ongoing at the time of publication.

Russia and Assad have not conducted wider airstrikes that would indicate a near-term intent to conduct a larger offensive into Greater Idlib Province. ISW will continue to monitor the situation in Greater Idlib Province, and provide updates and warnings as needed.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Syria Situation Report: April 27 - May 14, 2019

By ISW's Syria Team

The following Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map summarizes significant developments in the war in Syria during the period April 27 - May 14, 2019. The SITREP includes coverage of pro-Bashar al-Assad regime attacks, Iran's consolidation of control along the Syria-Iraq border, local backlash against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria establishing greater dominance over the remaining forces in Idlib Province.

Click image to enlarge.



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Russia in Review: May 9 - 13, 2019

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Reporting Period: May 9 - 13, 2019 (read the previous Russia in Review here)

Authors: Mason Clark and Nataliya Bugayova

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin is pressing an aggressive campaign to integrate Belarus with Russia despite some resistance from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The Kremlin has also boosted its campaign to extend citizenship to Ukrainians and thereby expand its leverage over Ukraine, revitalize its declining population in Russia, and establish a broader principle for other Russian-speaking populations in the former Soviet Union and beyond.

The Kremlin is pressing an aggressive campaign to integrate Belarus with Russia despite resistance from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The Kremlin intensified its efforts to bind Belarus to Russia in 2018.[1] The Kremlin dispatched Russian Ambassador to Belarus Mikhail Babich - a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin - in August 2018. Babich used his tenure to push for the accelerated implementation of the 1996 Union Treaty, which calls for a federation-type state that ensures the long-term allegiance of Belarus to Russia.[2] He lobbied business leaders and opposition politicians in Belarus to build ties with Russia.[3] He threatened to condition economic benefits from Russia upon demonstrated progress towards the Union State.[4] He even went so far as to correct statements by Lukashenko.[5] The Belarusian Foreign Ministry accused Babich of “failing to understand the difference” between an “independent government” and a “federal subject” of Russia.[6] The Kremlin supported these calls by exerting additional forms of economic pressure (such as suspended gas subsidies and bans on certain fruit imports) on Belarus.[7] The Kremlin also successfully secured an implementation roadmap for the Union Treaty in December 2018 after a series of high-level bilateral talks.

Lukashenko has attempted to withstand these threats from the Kremlin. He has become increasingly vocal over the past year against encroachment on the sovereignty of Belarus by Russia. He has called on domestic businesses to find alternative markets other than Russia. He also successfully pushed Putin to recall Babich on April 30.[8] Lukashenko may ultimately seek to disperse power across the political structures of Belarus to increase their long-term resilience to the Kremlin. He has stated his intent to revise the Belarusian Constitution to “give authority to other structures and branches of power” outside of his Office of the President.[9] The Kremlin will nonetheless sustain its campaign despite these acts of resistance. Putin replaced Babich with Dmitry Mezentsev - a close associate and the former Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Committee on Economic Policy.[10] Mezentsev will likely soften his rhetoric to avoid further alienation in Belarus but he almost certainly intends to pursue the same objectives as Babich.

The Kremlin has a strategic interest in consolidating control over Belarus and ensuring the long-term alignment of its government and its people with Russia. Putin likely fears the development of a ‘color revolution’ or other political movement to integrate Belarus with the West after Lukashenko. The Kremlin also intends to expand its military basing in Belarus to expand its threat to the borders of Ukraine and NATO. Putin could even view leadership of the Union State as a viable means to remain in power after the end of his latest term as Russian President in 2024.

The Kremlin further extended its offer of citizenship and residency status to Ukrainians in order to expand the Kremlin’s influence over Ukraine. The Kremlin proposed a bill to simplify residence permits and eliminate residency term limits for Ukrainians in Russia on May 7.[11] This measure is only the most recent step in a new campaign by the Kremlin. Putin originally signed a decree streamlining the citizenship application process for Ukrainians living in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts of Eastern Ukraine on April 24. The Kremlin opened centers to distribute passports the Donbas on April 29 - 30.[12] Putin later extended the offer to all Ukrainians without dual citizenship and former residents of the occupied Crimean Peninsula on May 1.[13] Putin claimed that the Kremlin would consider extending these benefits to all Ukrainians. The Government of Ukraine condemned the issuance of passports in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea on May 8 and announced preparations for a new list of sanctions targeting Russia.[14]

This campaign to grant benefits to broad swathes of Ukrainians supports the demographic objectives of the Kremlin. Russia likely seeks to attract Ukrainians to revitalize its aging workforce and help reverse its severe demographic crisis.[15] The Kremlin has been actively refining its migration policy to simplify residency and citizenships requirements for Russian-speaking populations since 2018.[16] The Russian Center for Strategic Research developed a migration strategy calling for expanded migration to achieve a required annual population growth of 250,000 to 500,000 in 2017.[17] The Kremlin might be also attempting to redirect the labor flow of Ukrainians from the West towards Russia. Putin could ultimately intend to extend similar benefits throughout the former Soviet Union including Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Baltics.

This campaign also strengthens the Kremlin’s leverage over Ukraine. The Kremlin continues to deny its direct military intervention in Ukraine and instead frames its actions as support to the local Russian-speaking population of Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin could use the need to protect large numbers of new Russian citizens to justify open military action in Eastern Ukraine in the future. The Kremlin is also positioning to secure further advantage ahead of possible negotiations with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the future of Eastern Ukraine. Zelensky condemned the recent citizenship offers but remains open to talks on the Donbas. The Kremlin may have chosen to act now in order to take advantage of the lame-duck period between Zelensky and outgoing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The timing limits the possible responses available to Poroshenko and places less direct pressure on Zelensky, allowing the Kremlin to preserve the opportunity of favorable long-term negotiations with the Government of Ukraine.

What to Watch

Russia and China continue to increase their economic cooperation in the Arctic. Putin announced that Russia and China are considering connecting Russia’s Northern Sea Route to China’s Maritime Silk Road on April 27. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo expressed concern regarding this potential outcome on May 6. Russian Novatek also signed a deal to sell a twenty percent stake in its second gas liquefaction project in the Arctic to Chinese CNODC at the One Belt One Road Forum on April 26.[18] The Central Bank of Russia has grown the share of its yuan foreign currency reserves from 2.8% to 14.2% since 2018.[19] ISW has previously assessed that cooperation between China and Russia may limit the future freedom of movement of the U.S. in the Arctic.

The Kremlin is laying the groundwork for a multilateral Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019. Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov and other officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry met with counterparts from Egypt on May 7 to discuss an inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.[20] The Kremlin intends to boost its ongoing campaign to expand its political and economic influence throughout Africa. The Kremlin’s talks also support its campaign to court Egypt from the U.S. and NATO.

---
[1] [“Alexander Lukashenko Spoke Between the Lines: What Does the President of Belarus Fear More Than Gas Prices,”] Kommersant, December 15, 2018, https://www.kommersant(.)ru/doc/3833073.
[2] [“Working Meeting With Mikhail Babich,”] Kremlin, August 24, 2018, http://kremlin(.)ru/catalog/persons/281/events/58363.
[3] Dennis Lavnikevich, [“Lukashenko Against Putin,”] New Times, May 6, 2019, https://newtimes(.)ru/articles/detail/180157.
[4] [“Russian Ambassador Urged Minsk to Decide on Integration Format,”] Ria Novosti, March 14, 2019, https://ria(.)ru/20190314/1551788602.html; [“Political Returnee: Russian Ambassador to Belarus, Mikhail Babich, Completes Work in Minsk,”] Kommersant, April 30, 2019, https://www.kommersant(.)ru/doc/3961164; “Russian Government Recalls Ambassador to Belarus After Minsk Officials Complained He Treated the Country Like a ‘Federal Subject’,” Meduza, May 2, 2019, https://meduza(.)io/en/feature/2019/05/02/russian-government-recalls-ambassador-to-belarus-after-misnk-officials-complained-he-treated-the-country-like-a-federal-subject; Dennis Lavnikevich, [“Lukashenko Against Putin,”] New Times, May 6, 2019, https://newtimes(.)ru/articles/detail/180157.
[5] [“Russian Ambassador Commented on Lukashenko’s Statement on the Real Cost of the Ostrovets Power Plant,”] TASS, April 19, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/ekonomika/6354766.
[6] Olga Hryniuk, “A Major Diplomatic Row Between Minsk and Moscow Explained,” Belarus Digest, March 22 2019, https://belarusdigest(.)com/story/a-major-diplomatic-row-between-minsk-and-moscow-explained/.
[7] [“Rosselkhoznador’s Statement on its Reasons for Imposing Restrictions on the Supply of Apples and Pears from Belaurs to Russia,”] Rosselkhoznadzor, April 11, 2019, http://fsvps(.)ru/fsvps/news/29996.html.
[8] [“Dmitry Mezentsev Appointed Ambassador of Russia to Belarus,”] Kremlin, April 30, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/acts/news/60428.
[9] “Lukashenko Offers to Hold Belarusian Parliamentary Election in 2019,” TASS, April 19, 2019, http://tass(.)com/world/1054649; “Belarusian Leader Speaks in Support of Updated Constitution,” TASS, April 19, 2019, http://tass(.)com/world/1054647.
[10] [“Dmitry Mezentsev Appointed Ambassador of Russia to Belarus,”] Kremlin, April 30, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/acts/news/60428.
[11] [“The Government Will Consider the Possibility of Introducing a Perpetual Residence Permit,”] Interfax, May 7, 2019, https://www.interfax(.)ru/russia/660374.
[12] [“Decree on the Definition for Humanitarian Purposes of Categories of Persons Entitled to Apply for Admission to Russian Citizenship in a Simplified Manner,”] Kremlin, April 24, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/acts/news/60358; “Kremlin Mulling Easier Rules for Granting Temporary Residence to Ukrainians in Russia,” Unian, May 7, 2019, https://www.unian(.)info/politics/10541448-kremlin-mulling-easier-rules-for-granting-temporary-residence-to-ukrainians-in-russia.html.
[13] [“A Decree Was Signed on Certain Categories of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons Who Have the Right to Apply for Admission to the Citizenship of the Russian Federation Under a Simplified Procedure,”] Kremlin, May 1, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60429.
[14] “Ukraine’s Cabinet Outlaws Russian Passports Issued in Occupied Donbas,” Unian, May 8, 2019, https://www.unian(.)info/politics/10542972-ukraine-s-cabinet-outlaws-russian-passports-issued-in-occupied-donbas.html.
[15] “Russia’s Population Declines in 2018 for First Time in a Decade,” Moscow Times, December 21, 2018, https://www.themoscowtimes(.)com/2018/12/21/russias-population-declines-2018-first-time-in-decade-a63926.
[16] [“The List of Do Outs following the Direct Line with Vladimir Putin,”] Kremlin, June 26, 2018, http://kremlin(.)ru/acts/assignments/orders/57847; [“Putin ordered the simplification of the process for foreigners to receive temporary residence permits and residence permits,”] Fergana, June 26, 2018, https://www.fergananews(.)com/news/30783.
[17] Irina Ivakhnyuk, “Proposals for Russia’s Migration Strategy Through 2035,” Russian International Affairs Council, September 26, 2017, https://russiancouncil(.)ru/en/activity/publications/proposals-for-russia-s-migration-strategy-through-2035/.
[18] “NOVATEK and CNODC Sign Entrance Agreement to Arctic LNG 2,” Novatek, April 25, 2019, http://www.novatek(.)ru/en/press/releases/index.php?id_4=3173.
[19] Irina Malkova, [“The Central Bank Transferred its Assets from the United States to China and Halved its Share of Assets in Dollars,”] The Bell, May 8, 2019, https://thebell(.)io/tsb-perevel-svoi-aktivy-iz-ssha-v-kitaj-i-vdvoe-snizil-dolyu-aktivov-v-dollarah/.
[20] [“On the Consultations of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Director of the Department of African Organizations and Associations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt H. Amara,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, May 7, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3638250.

Monday, May 13, 2019

ISIS's Opportunity in Northern Syria's Detention Facilities and Camps

By John Dunford and Jennifer Cafarella

Key Takeaway: ISIS has a unique and dangerous opportunity to exploit conditions in detention facilities and internally displaced persons’ camps across Northern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) do not have adequate resources to detain the suspected 9,000 ISIS fighters and 63,000 ISIS family members currently housed in a network of detention facilities and internally displaced persons camps. The Al-Hawl Camp alone is now over capacity by roughly 30,000 individuals and holds a combustible mix of ideologically committed ISIS family members and other civilians. Female ISIS members within the camp have attacked guards and other civilians. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assesses that ISIS is already networking within Al-Hawl. ISIS may attempt a breakout of both detained fighters and displaced persons as part of its 2019 Ramadan campaign and/or its wider resurgent campaign in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. must urgently help the SDF adequately secure these facilities and process their inhabitants.

ISIS has a unique and dangerous opportunity to exploit conditions in detention and displacement facilities across Northern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria in March 2019 after seizing the last kilometer of ISIS-held terrain in the Euphrates River Valley. ISIS’s losses did not dismantle its human network, however. The SDF does not have adequate resources to detain 11,000 alleged ISIS fighters and manage a wider network of at least 12 formal and informal displacement camps that hold tens of thousands of civilians and ISIS family members. Over 63,000 ISIS family members and other civilians surrendered to the SDF in Eastern Syria between December 2018 and April 2019. The SDF relocated all of these individuals to the now overcrowded Al-Hawl Camp in Northeastern Syria near the Syrian-Iraqi Border, creating an urgent humanitarian and security crisis. ISIS likely intends to target these camps and prisons as part of its plan to resurge in Iraq and Syria. ISIS may choose to intensify these actions now during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends on June 4, in order to leverage their propaganda value for its 2019 Ramadan campaign.



The Al-Hawl Camp is already a de facto support zone for ISIS in Northern Syria.[1] The SDF separated male ISIS fighters from the population using improved screening methods and processed them using biometric measures including fingerprinting and facial recognition. The SDF then transferred these fighters to prisons deeper in SDF-held terrain. The SDF did not apply the same level of scrutiny to the thousands of indoctrinated women and children concentrated in Al-Hawl Camp. Media reports have repeatedly noted that large numbers of women in the camp remain ideologically committed to ISIS. Some of them likely played tangible roles in security or military structures such as the ISIS Hisba Police. These networks have attacked guards and burned the tents of less committed detainees in Al-Hawl. Their activities may be part of a deliberate plan. ISIS Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly ordered female members to surrender en masse to the SDF in February 2019, potentially with the intent to infiltrate facilities such as Al-Hawl Camp. ISIS and its predecessor Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) previously exploited conditions to recruit and radicalize individuals in detention facilities such as Camp Bucca in Iraq.

The SDF lacks the capacity to control the presence of ISIS in Al-Hawl Camp. The Al-Hawl Administration is overburdened and lacks adequate housing, medical supplies, and access to clean water, according to the UN. The camp is also not secure. SDF Spokesperson Kino Gabriel noted that the SDF lacked visibility on the presence of ISIS in Al-Hawl as of April 2019. Authorities have separated foreigners into a separate area of Al-Hawl but Syrian and Iraqi ISIS family members can still mix with the wider civilian population in the camp, raising the risk of recruitment and indoctrination. ISIS could use a networked presence within Al-Hawl to support its resurgence in Northern Syria. Al-Hawl is located less than fifty kilometers from Hasakah City and Shaddadi - both major supply and logistics hubs for the SDF and U.S.-Led Anti-ISIS Coalition. ISIS could threaten operations by the SDF across Eastern Syria from Al-Hawl.

The challenges in Al-Hawl also threaten the security of Iraq. The Al-Hawl Administration announced an agreement with the Government of Iraq on April 11 to repatriate over 30,000 Iraqi women and children held at Al-Hawl. The SDF claimed that it will only repatriate individuals unconnected to ISIS but likely lacks the detailed vetting information necessary to do so. The Government of Iraq reportedly intends to house these returnees in a new detention facility that it will establish in Northern Iraq. The same challenges of indoctrination and networking faced in Al-Hawl would also apply to any such facility in Iraq.

The SDF faces a similar set of challenges maintaining its network of prisons for detained ISIS fighters. The SDF Foreign Relations Chair stated that the SDF is incapable of continuing to maintain its prisons without additional international support as of January 2019. Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) later assessed in March 2019 that the SDF could “indefinitely” run its existing detention facilities in the absence of challenges by “external actors” in Northern Syria. The SDF in particular likely assesses that it will not be able to sustain its detention operations in the event of a cross-border intervention by Turkey, which views the SDF as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The release of detainees could further disperse ISIS cells throughout Iraq and Syria. The SDF has released Syrian and Iraqi ISIS members to decrease its resource burden and gain support from local Arabs. For example, the SDF released several hundred ISIS fighters to tribal elders in Deir ez-Zour Province, Raqqa Province, Tabqa, Hasakah City, and Manbij in March 2019. These releases will likely allow ISIS members to reconnect with their prior networks and establish new cells. The SDF is under further strain due to the refusal of many states to repatriate their nationals who fought with ISIS. Thus far only a limited numbers of countries have repatriated some fighters and family members including Kazakhstan, Morocco, Macedonia, Sudan, Indonesia, Russia, Iraq, and Kosovo. The SDF has advocated for the creation of an international tribunal to try foreign fighters, but the idea has received only limited support.

The additional threat of directed prison breaks by ISIS could overwhelm the SDF. ISIS is waging a capable resurgent campaign in recaptured areas of Syria that resembles the resurgence of AQI in Iraq after 2011. Syrian Kurdish Special Forces units prevented an attempt by 400 ISIS foreign fighters to break out of the SDF’s Central Prison in Malikiyah in Northern Hasakah Province on April 5. ISIS conducted a successful prison break in the Sosa Prison in Iraqi Kurdistan around December 11. AQI conducted at least eight major prison breaks a part of its own resurgence in Iraq between July 2012 and July 2013. ISIS can use each breakout to reintroduce hardened foreign fighters and experienced operational commanders back into its ranks and reinvigorate its insurgent campaign in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. can mitigate these risks through a combination of short-term and long-term support to the SDF that does not substantially change its commitment on the ground in Syria.

Short-Term Steps:

The U.S. must take immediate humanitarian action including providing additional funding and material support to the SDF, UN, and other NGOs to help manage resources and provide desperately needed healthcare in Al-Hawl Camp. The current situation is a crisis that requires action for both humanitarian and national security reasons. The U.S. can both prevent the unnecessary loss of life in Al-Hawl Camp and prevent ISIS from leveraging its inhabitants to aid its resurgence in Iraq and Syria. These steps include:
  • The U.S. must provide additional biometric systems to camp administrators to help process the residents of the Al-Hawl Camp. The U.S. should assist in screening the camp’s population and detaining identified active members of ISIS. This step will allow the SDF to prevent ISIS from using the camp as a recruiting ground and safe haven for recruiters, support elements, and female fighters. It will also help address concerns from NGOs that assisting Al-Hawl Camp will help ISIS.
  • U.S. forces in Syria should work with the SDF to establish additional security procedures inside Al-Hawl Camp that will provide access to all of the camp’s population to the UN and other NGOs. The U.S. should consider deploying additional military enablers if necessary to achieve this goal.
  • The U.S. and its allies can directly provide the necessary humanitarian supplies including water purification systems, medicines, and building materials for shelter and medical facilities through its convoys that regularly resupply the SDF via Iraqi Kurdistan. The U.S. is currently providing material assistance to partnered NGOs to provide food, shelter, and sanitation services.
  • The U.S. can make a leading contribution and urge coalition partners to help provide the $27 million that the UN has identified as needed to maintain Al-Hawl Camp for the “next few months”.
  • The U.S. should act to make trauma counseling and other mental health resources available to the women and children in the Al-Hawl Camp.
  • The U.S. should ensure similar conditions at other such camps currently existing (or set to be established) in Iraq and Syria.
Long-Term Steps:
  • The U.S. will need to work with the U.S.-led Anti-ISIS Coalition to establish a unified policy towards ISIS foreign fighters. This could include the facilitation of an international tribunal or an agreement on repatriation. Repatriation is a complex legal issue that creates potential risks for host countries, but the lack of a uniform international policy will continue to be detrimental to the SDF.
  • The U.S. will need to help the SDF build modern prisons and detention facilities to house foreign fighters until their trial in a tribunal or their home countries. The U.S. should commit to this support as a key component of an enduring commitment to the SDF.
  • The U.S. should lead an effort to build an international fund to support detention facilities and displacement camps over the long-term in Syria and Iraq.
---
[1] ISW defines ISIS Control Zones, Attack Zones, and Support Zones as follows: a Control Zone is an area where ISIS exerts physical and/or psychological pressure to assure that individuals and groups respond as directed, an Attack Zone is an area where ISIS conducts offensive maneuvers, and a Support Zone is an area free of significant action against ISIS that permits logistics and administrative support of its forces.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Russia in Review: Balkans Campaign Update

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Authors: Michaela Walker, Andrea Snyder, Darina Regio, and Nataliya Bugayova

Key TakeawayRussia has sustained its campaigns to prevent the expansion of NATO and the EU in the Balkans. The Kremlin is expanding its outreach in Serbia even as EU-mediated negotiations fail to restart talks between Serbia and Kosovo. The Kremlin is also leveraging favorable political actors to block the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina with NATO and the EU. The Kremlin has supported secessionist powerbrokers and militarization programs that could reignite ethnic tensions in Bosnia with repercussions for the fragile stability of the wider Balkans. The Kremlin could attempt to connect its military and energy projects in Serbia and Bosnia to gain greater influence in the Balkans.

Europe is struggling to restart normalization talks between Kosovo and Serbia. Germany and France hosted a summit in Berlin on April 29 - 30 to restart negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia. The summit failed to achieve progress on key items including border demarcation, trade normalization, and Serbia’s non-recognition of Kosovo. Kosovar and Serbian delegates roundly criticized one another and their hosts but agreed to meet again in Paris in July 2019. Previous negotiations stalled in November 2018 when Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on goods from Serbia after Serbia blocked Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol. The Kosovar Parliament voted to transform the Kosovo Security Force into the Kosovo Armed Forces in December 2018, prompting Serbia to threaten military intervention.

The stalled talks are expanding friction between Kosovo, Serbia, and the EU. Kosovar President Hashim Thaci stated that the EU is “too weak” and “not united” to deliver a successful deal and called for a “leading role” for the U.S. on May 2. Thaci asserted that “Kosovo remains the most isolated country in Europe thanks to Europe.”[1] Kosovar officials also blamed EU High Representative Federica Mogherini for the challenges in Kosovo’s integration into the EU.[2] Meanwhile, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic accused France and Germany of using the talks to pressure Serbia to recognize Kosovo.[3] Dacic specifically called for a larger role for Russia.[4] Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin stressed on May 2 that Serbia will find a “way to be wanted by other big and powerful countries” if Europe “does not want” Serbia.[5] Both Serbia and Kosovo have been increasingly critical of the EU.

The Kremlin will likely act to exploit these tensions between Kosovo, Serbia, and the EU to block further expansion by the EU and NATO. Russia holds a core strategic objective to halt the expansion of the EU and NATO in the Balkans. It thus maintains a stake in preventing diplomatic normalization between Serbia and Kosovo that could enable one or both of them to join the EU. The Kremlin has also long opposed the independence of Kosovo as an “illegal unilateral action” imposed by NATO on Serbia in 1999.[6] Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has consistently asserted that the intervention by NATO in Kosovo was a blatant abuse of international law by the U.S. that disregarded the interests of Russia. The Russian Parliament recently approved a bill calling on Europe to “condemn NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia” in March 2019.[7] The Kremlin also likely fears that recognition of Kosovo would embolden similar independence claims by autonomous regions in Russia in the long term. Russia will likely continue to use diplomatic pressure to undermine progress towards normalization between Serbia and Kosovo and hinder the EU and NATO in the Balkans.

The Kremlin is increasingly prioritizing outreach to Serbia as its preferred partner in the Balkans. Putin met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during the One Belt One Road Forum on April 26.[8] Putin previously offered several major deals to Vucic during a “historic visit” to Serbia on January 17 including $1.4 billion in energy infrastructure investment and implied support for a bid by Serbia to join the TurkStream Pipeline.[9] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dacic held an extensive bilateral meeting on April 14.[10] The Kremlin will also reportedly dispatch new Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko in June 2019.[11] Putin will leverage this growing relationship to expand his influence in the Balkans and block positive momentum between Kosovo and Serbia as previously assessed by ISW.

Pro-Russian Bosnian Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik is similarly stalling the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina with the EU and NATO. Dodik asserted that he would block any steps to incorporate Bosnia into NATO on April 25. Dodik is also likely sabotaging closer ties between Bosnia and the EU. He submitted an incomplete and overdue questionnaire to the EU Commission regarding the potential accession of Bosnia to the EU in March 2019. He also presided over government deadlock that led to Bosnia’s temporary suspension from the Council of Europe in April 2019.[12] Dodik will retain his rotating position until July 2019. Bosnia remains far from achieving membership in the EU and NATO but its continued disunity will only further impede its progress towards the West to the advantage of the Kremlin.

Dodik has also intensified secessionist rhetoric that threatens to destabilize Bosnia. Dodik is a proponent (and former leader) of the Republika Srpska - the political entity for Serbs within Bosnia. He expressed disillusionment with a united Bosnia and called for the unification of all Serbs on March 24.[13] He also condemned the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords (which ended the Bosnian War) for creating a “divided society” and dysfunctional federal government unable to develop a common future for Bosnia.[14] Dodik has advocated for an independent Republika Srpska and its potential unification into a Greater Serbia - an idea also propagated by nationalist Russians linked to the Kremlin.[15]

Dodik is likely attempting to build an independent military force to support his aspirations for the Republika Srpska. The Republika Srpska National Assembly voted to add more than 1,000 reserve officers to the existing 7,000 Republika Srpska Police on April 18.[16] Republika Srpska Interior Minister Dragan Lukac justified the increase as a response to the migrant crisis in Southern Europe.[17] The move nonetheless raised fears of militarization across Bosnia. The Bosnian Muslim Party for Democratic Action stated that the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina - the second political entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina - “will be forced” to implement its own auxiliary police if the Republika Srpska did not halt its expansion of the Republika Srpska Police.[18] Neither the Federation nor the Republika Srpska can legally operate independent militaries since their integration into the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2006. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords also restrict the size and capabilities of military forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Kremlin will likely leverage its ties with Dodik to advance its strategic objectives in the Balkans. The Kremlin openly opposes the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO.[19] The Kremlin will likely maintain its support for Dodik, who advocates for continued close ties between Russia and the Republika Srpska.[20] The Kremlin will also likely support these irregular forces in the Republika Srpska. ISW has assessed that the Russian Security Services were training local “special police” units in Republika Srpska in 2018. Russia also allegedly trains military personnel from Serbia who then develop paramilitary groups in the Republika Srpska.

The Kremlin could ultimately use its footprint in Bosnia as a vector to destabilize neighboring states as well as the wider structures of the EU and NATO. The Kremlin could push for deeper interconnections between Serbia and the Republika Srpska, including military support and participation in joint energy projects such as the TurkStream Pipeline.[21] The Kremlin could also ultimately seek to undermine the 1995 Dayton Accords (which it currently claims to support) as part of its global campaign to reverse the wider international order built after the Cold War, which Putin perceives as unfair and disadvantageous to Russia.[22] ISW will continue to examine additional indicators to assess with a higher degree of confidence the Kremlin’s intent for the Dayton Accords and Greater Serbia.

---
[1] “Pristina: EU Keeps Silent About Serbia’s ‘Anti-European Behavior’,” N1, May 2, 2019, http://rs.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a480674/Pristina-accuses-Brussels-for-ignoring-Serbia-s-anti-European-behaviour.html.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Serbia’s FM: Berlin Summit Isn’t Format for Belgrade - Pristina Talks,” N1, April 30, 2019, http://rs.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a480148/Berlin-summit-not-good-format-for-Belgrade-Pristina-talks-FM-says.html.
[4] [“Speech and Answers to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov During a Joint Press Conference Following Talks with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia I. Dacic,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, April 17, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/ru/maps/rs/-/asset_publisher/GLz7aPgDnSfP/content/id/3618519?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_GLz7aPgDnSfP&_101_INSTANCE_GLz7aPgDnSfP_languageId=ru_RU.
[5] “Serbia Def Min: If Europe Doesn’t Want Us, Someone Does,” N1, May 2, 2019, http://rs.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a480770/Minister-says-if-Europe-doesn-t-want-Serbia-there-is-someone-who-does.html.
[6] [“Speech by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation A. Lukashevich at a Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the 20th Anniversary of the NATO Bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, March 30, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/web/guest/vistupleniya_rukovodstva_mid/-/asset_publisher/MCZ7HQuMdqBY/content/id/3595333.
[7] “Russia’s Upper House Calls for Condemning NATO Aggression against Yugoslavia,” TASS, March 13, 2019, http://tass(.)com/world/1048450.
[8] [“Meeting with President of Serbia Aleksandr Vucic,”] Kremlin, April 26, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/60385.
[9] “Joint News Conference with President of Serbia Aleksandr Vucic,” Kremlin, January 17, 2019, http://en.kremlin(.)ru/events/president/transcripts/59693.
[10] [“Speech and Answers to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov During a Joint Press Conference Following Talks with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia I. Dacic,”] Russian Foreign Ministry, April 17, 2019, http://www.mid(.)ru/ru/maps/rs/-/asset_publisher/GLz7aPgDnSfP/content/id/3618519?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_GLz7aPgDnSfP&_101_INSTANCE_GLz7aPgDnSfP_languageId=ru_RU.
[11] [“Russia Will Send Its New Ambassador to Serbia at the Beginning of the Summer,”] Regnum, April 15, 2019, https://regnum(.)ru/news/2612159.html.
[12] “Bosnia Temporarily Suspended from Council of Europe,” N1, April 9, 2019, http://ba.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a337048/Bosnia-temoprarily-suspended-from-Council-of-Europe.html.
[13] [“Milorad Dodik: Serbs Do Not Have a Future in Bosnia and Herzegovina,”] Regnum, February 7, 2019, https://regnum(.)ru/news/2568343.html; [“Milorad Dodik Thinks It Is Time for the Unification of Serbs Within One State,”] TASS, March 24, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/6253192.
[14] [“Dodik Threatened Reunification with Servia if Kosovo Is Accepted into the UN,”] PolitNavigator, April 16, 2019, https://www.politnavigator(.)net/glava-bosnijjskikh-serbov-prigrozil-prisoedineniem-k-serbii-esli-kosovo-primut-v-oon.html.
[15] Carstrad TV, [“Dugin Directive: Greater Serbia,”] YouTube, January 12, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf2vzDefZWo.
[16] “Bosnian Serb Region Adopts Draft Law Changes Establishing Auxiliary Police Unit,” N1, April 18, 2019, http://ba.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a338944/Bosnian-Serb-region-adopts-draft-law-changes-establishing-auxiliary-police-unit.html.
[17] “Internal Affairs Minister: Nobody Should Be Afraid of Police,” N1, April 18, 2019, http://ba.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a339070/Internal-affairs-minister-Nobody-should-be-afraid-of-police.html.
[18] “Parties in Bosnia’s Federation Entity Also Want Auxiliary Police Unit,” N1, April 19, 2019, http://ba.n1info(.)com/English/NEWS/a339275/Main-Bosniak-party-wants-auxiliary-police-unit-in-Bosnia-s-Federation-entity.html.
[19] [“Turning Towards NATO: In the United States, Calls to Help Bosnia and Herzegovina Resist the ‘Influence’ of the Russian Federation,”] RT, April 25, 2019, https://russian.rt(.)com/world/article/624774-ssha-bosniya-gercegovina-rossiya-vliyaniye; [“Lavrov: Russia Can Not Agree with the Entry of Bosnia and Herzegovina into NATO,”] TASS, January 16, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/politika/6004637.
[20] Alexander Borisov, [“Milorad Dodik: Serbs Want Friendship with Russia and Do Not Accept NATO Membership,”] Rossiyskaya Gazeta, March 8, 2019, https://rg(.)ru/2019/03/08/milorad-dodik-serby-hotiat-druzhby-s-rf-i-ne-priemliut-vstuplenie-v-nato.html.
[21] “Joint News Conference with President of Serbia Aleksandr Vucic,” Kremlin, January 17, 2019, http://en.kremlin(.)ru/events/president/transcripts/59693; “Bosnia and Herzegovina's Leader Hopes His Country Will Join TurkStream Pipeline Project,” TASS, January 18, 2019, http://tass(.)com/economy/1040591.
[22][“Matvienko: Basic Principles of Dayton Accords Must Be Preserved,”] TASS, April 23, 2018, https://tass(.)ru/politika/5151768; [“Lavrov Declared the Unacceptability of Turning the Balkans into the Subject of Strife Russia and the West,”] Interfax, September 21, 2018, https://www.interfax(.)ru/russia/630167.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Syria Situation Report: April 13 - 30, 2019

By ISW's Syria Team and Syria Direct

The following graphic marks the latest installment of the Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and Syria Direct. The map depicts significant developments in the war in Syria during the period April 13 - 30, 2019.

Click image to enlarge.