Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 22

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Nov 22, 2022 – Press ISW

The Kremlin appears to be setting information conditions for a false-flag attack in Belgorod Oblast, Russia, likely in an effort to regain public support for the war in Ukraine. Kremlin propagandists have begun hypothesizing that Ukrainian forces seek to invade Belgorod Oblast, and other Russian sources noted that Russian forces need to regain control over Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, to minimize the threat of a Ukrainian attack. These claims have long circulated within the milblogger community, which had criticized the Russian military command for abandoning buffer positions in Vovchansk in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast following the Russian withdrawal from the region in September. Russian milbloggers have also intensified their calls for Russia to regain liberated territories in Kharkiv Oblast on November 22, stating that such preemptive measures will stop Ukrainians from carrying out assault operations in the Kupyansk and Vovchansk directions. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov also published footage showcasing the construction of the Zasechnaya Line fortifications on the Ukraine-Belgorod Oblast border. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin clarified that Wagner is building the Zasechnaya Line after having changed its name from Wagner Line because “many people in [Russia] do not like the activity of private military company Wagner.” Private military companies are illegal in Russia.

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Iran Crisis Update, November 22

Nov 22, 2022 – Press ISW

Regime officials close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have expressed openness to political reform to placate protesters, although it is unlikely that any such reform would fundamentally change the regime’s behavior or nature. Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani discussed implementing unspecified “liberalizing measures” with reformist leaders, including members of the Khomeini and Rafsanjani families, in exchange for help quelling protests in late October, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ali Reza Panahian—a cleric close to Khamenei and his son, Mojtaba—called for greater transparency and popular participation in government on November 22 as well. It is unclear to what exactly Shamkhani and Panahian were referring, but these reports suggest that at least some in Iran’s political establishment are considering some semblance of reform to address the ongoing protests. Any such change would likely be limited and would not curtail the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which reports directly to the supreme leader.

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Iran Crisis Update, November 21

Nov 21, 2022 – Press ISW

The Iranian regime has adopted what increasingly resembles a counter-insurgency approach rather than a counter-protest one to manage the ongoing unrest. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that IRGC Ground Forces are clearing some cities in West Azerbaijan Province, including Boukan, Mahabad, Oshnaviyeh, Piranshahr, and other unnamed locations, of anti-regime elements on November 21. These IRGC military units are likely using extreme force and indiscriminately killing civilians to quell protests. Security forces are conducting a brutal crackdown in Javanroud, Kermanshah Province as well. Security forces have isolated Javanroud, blocking major roads into the city, and shot live ammunition and nerve gas at protesters. The closure of these major roads will impede most travel into and out of Javanroud given the rugged terrain surrounding the city. The IRGC Ground Forces 4th Ansar ol Rasoul Operational Brigade is headquartered in Javanroud and could support the regime crackdown there and in nearby locations. This increasing regime brutality accords with CTP’s previous assessment that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has likely greenlit the security forces to intensify their crackdown.

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Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 21

Nov 21, 2022 – Press ISW

Two days of shelling caused widespread damage to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 20 and 21. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated on November 21 that there are no immediate nuclear safety and security concerns and that the integrity of all six nuclear reactors and the spent and fresh fuel storage facilities remain uncompromised despite the intense shelling. Russia and Ukraine both accused the other of conducting the artillery strikes on the ZNPP on November 20 and 21. One Russian milblogger referenced a video of the shelling taken by Chechen forces and stated that it appeared the shelling came from positions in Russian-controlled territory south of the ZNPP, not Ukrainian-controlled territory north of the ZNPP. Russian nuclear operator Rosatom Head Alexey Likhachev warned of a nuclear disaster at the ZNPP, and Russian milbloggers largely amplified his statements and called for the transfer of all Ukrainian nuclear power plants to Russian operation. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have staged false flag attacks against the ZNPP and previously reported on Russian forces’ unlawful militarization of the ZNPP. Artillery strikes themselves are unlikely to penetrate the containment units protecting each nuclear reactor and instead pose a greater threat to the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, which could leak radioactive material and cause a radiological (as opposed to nuclear) disaster if compromised. The continued conflation of radiological and nuclear accidents and the constant discussion of the threat of disaster at the ZNPP is likely part of a wider Russian information operation meant to undermine Western support for Ukraine and frame Russian control of the plant as essential to avoid nuclear catastrophe in order to consolidate further operational and administrative control of Ukrainian nuclear assets and compel elements of the international community to recognize Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory at least obliquely.

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Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 20

Nov 20, 2022 – Press ISW

ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, November 20. This report discusses the rising influence of the milblogger (military correspondent or voenkor) community in Russia despite its increasingly critical commentary on the conduct of the war. The milblogger community reportedly consists of over 500 independent authors and has emerged as an authoritative voice on the Russian war. The community maintains a heavily pro-war and Russian nationalist outlook and is intertwined with prominent Russian nationalist ideologists. Milbloggers’ close relationships with armed forces – whether Russian Armed Forces, Chechen special units, Wagner Group mercenaries, or proxy formations – have given this community an authoritative voice arguably louder in the Russian information space than the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the milbloggers from MoD attacks and protected their independence even as he increases oppression and censorship throughout Russia.

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Iran Crisis Update, November 20

Nov 20,

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Category: News View 27

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