Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 21

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Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 21

Dec 21, 2022 – Press ISW

The Kremlin intensified its information operation accusing NATO expansion of presenting a military threat to Russia. Shoigu stated that NATO’s military expansion near Russian borders, including Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership aspirations, necessitates an “appropriate” Russian response to establish a Russian force group in northwestern Russia. Senior Kremlin officials said that the accession of the Nordic states to NATO would not threaten Russia in spring 2022. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would not present an existential threat to Russia in April 2022 and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would not make “much difference” in May 2022.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 op

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