Iran Crisis Update, December 19

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Iran Crisis Update, December 19

Dec 20, 2022 – Press ISW

Some protest coordinators and organizations are trying to reclaim religion from the regime, essentially arguing that one can be devoutly religious and still oppose the Islamic Republic. The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth published a statement from “a group of Iranian Muslim and Shia youth” that accused Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of using religion to control and manipulate. The statement argued that Khamenei does not represent true Islamic values but is rather undermining religion. The framing of the group as representing “Muslims and Shia” is noteworthy and may suggest outreach to the Sunni community in Iran. The Mashhad group separately asserted that the regime has not upheld some of the founding principles in the constitution. CTP has previously reported how protesters have tried to reclaim ideas of revolution, Iranian nationalism, and secular martyrdom from the regime for their own movement. The regime has long labored to appropriate many of these ideas for its own purposes.

Target Russia’s Capability, Not Its Intent

Dec 20, 2022 – Press ISW

US policy should recognize that the Kremlin’s intent regarding Ukraine is maximalist, inflexible, and will not change in the foreseeable future. The West should stop expending resources trying to change a reality it does not control and focus on what it can shape plenty: denying Russia’s ability to wage a war against Ukraine. Negotiations, ceasefires, and peace deals are not off-ramps but rather on-ramps for the Kremlin to renew its attack on Ukraine in the future under conditions that advantage Russia. They are means to the same ends—full control of Ukraine and eradication of Ukraine’s statehood and identity. The vital US interest in preventing future Russian attacks on Ukraine can be best achieved by denying Russia the capability to carry out those attacks. The immediate requirement is preserving Ukraine’s momentum on the battlefield—accounting for a possible renewed offensive from Russia this winter—to ensure that Ukraine secures the most advantageous position possible. The West should also eliminate Russia’s ability to attack Ukraine in the future, including by denying Russia a military foothold in Ukraine from which to launch attacks, resisting “peace” deals that the Kremlin will use to buy time to reconstitute its forces, not empowering the Russian defense industrial complex with access to Western markets, and committing to building Ukraine’s defensive capabilities over the long term.

Iran Crisis Update, December 20

Dec 20, 2022 – Press ISW

Protest activity did not surge significantly outside of the Iranian capital region on December 20, despite calls from protest coordinators and organizations for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on December 19-21. CTP has observed slowly diminishing protest turnout since the regime intensified its protest crackdown in mid-November 2022. The regime issued its first death sentence on November 13 and deployed the IRGC Ground Forces in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces beginning on November 19. These escalations combined with the colder weather, mass arrests, and possible disorganization among protester coordinators may have led to the declining turnout over the past month. This reduced protest activity does not, however, indicate the end of the anti-regime movement. The regime may have been able to diminish protest activity through its use of intimidation, force, and expanding censorship. The fact that CTP recorded at least eight separate protests on December 20 despite these factors is remarkable in and of itself. The regime will struggle to sustain this level of oppression indefinitely, especially given the degree to which this crackdown has strained the security forces. Protest coordinators and organizations are contrastingly exploring ways to sustain regular acts of political defiance and have been forming the requisite networks and infrastructure for months.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 20

Dec 20, 2022 – Press ISW

Intensifying Russian pressure on Belarus is degrading Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s maneuver room to avoid making concessions to the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long game to reestablish suzerainty over Belarus is making progress separate and apart from Putin’s efforts to get Belarus more actively involved in his invasion of Ukraine. Lukashenko confirmed that Russia “gave” Belarus an unspecified number of S-400 air defense systems during his meeting with Putin in Minsk on December 19, confirming ISW’s 2021 forecast that Russian-made S-400 systems would begin operating in Belarus. Lukashenko had previously rejected S-400 systems operating in Belarus in 2020. Lukashenko is likely delaying acceding to Putin’s larger demands – such as committing Belarusian forces to join the invasion against Ukraine – by making smaller concessions that he has stonewalled for years.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 19

Dec 19, 2022 – Press ISW

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko likely deflected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to coerce Belarus into further Russian-Belarusian integration concessions during a meeting in Minsk on December 19. Putin and Lukashenko refrained from publicly discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with both leaders noting that Belarus still faces a Western threat. Putin announced that he may consider training Belarusian combat aviation crews for the use of “munitions with special warheads” due to the “escalating” situation on the Union State’s external borders. ISW has previously assessed that Lukashenko uses the rhetoric of defending Belarusian borders against the West and NATO in an effort to avoid participating in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lukashenko had also used similar hints about the possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus on February 17 in the context of claimed Western aggression. Lukashenko noted that Russia will deliver S-400 air defense complexes and Iskander complexes, while Putin stated that both leaders discussed the formation of a united defense space. ISW continues to assess that Belarus’ participation in Putin’s war against Ukraine remains unlikely. The fact that Putin appears to have accepted Lukashenko’s talking points without persuading Lukashenko to adjust them indirectly supports this assessment. Lukashenko would likely adjust his rhetoric to create some plausible explanation to his own people about why he was suddenly turning away from the fictitious NATO invasion threat he has manufactured to join Putin’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

Iran Crisis Update, December 18

Dec 18, 2022 – Press ISW

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and significant parts of his inner circle are continuing to misdiagnose the core problems driving the ongoing protests. Senior officials close to Khamenei and his inner circle emphasized the need to promote engagement and interactions between Iranian religious institutions and universities on December 18. The officials framed such cooperation as the correct response to the protests and necessary to establish an “Islamic civilization.” These officials include Alireza Arafi (a senior cleric and Guardian Council member), Ahmad Marvi (the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi), and Mohammad Mehdi Tehranchi (the president of Islamic Azad University). Either Khamenei or his inner circle have selected each of these individuals for their current positions. Their rhetoric likely reflects a predominant sentiment in the office of the supreme leader.

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