AFGHANISTAN, January 14 – ISW’s Russia team is closely monitoring the ongoing situation around Ukraine, including Russian force deployments, rhetorical changes, and Western responses. Click here to view ISW’s publication “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” updated daily.
ISW’s Russia Team will additionally publish an assessment of the CSTO’s intervention in Kazakhstan the week of January 17.
1. The Kremlin signed defense and information security agreements with Vietnam and Indonesia on December 1 and 14, respectively. Both agreements advance the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to expand Russian influence in Southeast Asia and diversify its partners in the region beyond China. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Vietnamese counterpart signed a military-technical cooperation agreement and a cooperation memorandum on military history in Moscow on December 1. The Kremlin likely seeks to deepen its existing defense cooperation with Vietnam—a leading Kremlin partner in South East Asia with which the Kremlin has prioritized cooperation since at least 2019. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and the head of Indonesia’s National Cybersecurity and Cryptography Agency signed an agreement on December 14 to create a joint system to combat information technology threats. The Kremlin has prioritized obtaining similar bilateral international information and communications technologies (ICT) cooperation agreements since 2014. These agreements expand Russian cyber capabilities and global influence in information technologies.
2. Russian naval forces participated in two multinational naval exercises in Indonesian territorial waters and the Gulf of Alexandria in early December 2021. The Russian Pacific Fleet anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Panteleev participated in “ARNEX-2021” exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Singaporean, Bruneian, and Myanmarese ships in Indonesian territorial waters from December 1 to 3. ARNEX-2021 was the first naval exercise held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and focused on joint maneuvers, communications drills, interdiction, and search and rescue tasks. The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage the predominantly economically focused ASEAN bloc as an additional partner with which to expand its naval power projection capabilities and legitimacy by framing Russian actions as part of regional operations. Russian Black Sea Fleet frigate Admiral Grigorovich and patrol ship Dmitry Rogachev additionally conducted the joint “Bridge of Friendship-2021″ naval exercises with four Egyptian Navy vessels in the Gulf of Alexandria from December 3 to 10. Russian and Egyptian crews operated under joint leadership while practicing artillery fire at surface, air, and floating mine targets; assisting a ship in distress; escorting friendly ships; repelling surface craft attacks; and inspecting suspicious ships. The Kremlin likely seeks to increase its participation in international naval exercises to increase Russian influence with partners globally.
3. Russia leveraged Belarus’ intensified economic isolation following a new round of European Union Sanctions on December 2 to increase Russian influence over Belarus through the Kremlin-dominated Union State. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s maneuvering space to resist Kremlin pressure decreased after the European Union issued a fifth package of sanctions against Belarus in response to its state-sponsored migrant trafficking campaign on December 2. Belarus and Russia approved decrees on implementing the Union State Treaty for 2021-2023 and a package of Union State programs on December 2. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on December 2 that “Western actions” against Belarus (a reference to a claimed Western hybrid war against Belarus) encouraged deeper Russian-Belarusian integration. Belarus issued retaliatory import bans against the EU on December 3 and new import-substitution projects to combat Western sanctions on December 8—measures that deepened Belarus’ dependency on Russian markets by increasing its economic isolation from the West. Belarus’ prime minister announced Minsk’s intent to develop industrial cooperation with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in response to Western sanctions pressure on December 7. The Kremlin will likely leverage Belarus’ increasing international isolation to intensify the speed of Belarus’ market, monetary, and fiscal policy integration with Russia in the Union State and the EAEU, though these processes will still likely take several years to complete.
4. The Kremlin leveraged energy and military cooperation with Republika Srpska—the Serbian political entity within Bosnia—and Serbia to further cement Russian influence in the Balkans on December 2 and 3. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik discussed plans for a joint extension of Russia’s TurkStream gas pipeline to Republika Srpska’s de facto capital of Banja Luka on December 2. TurkStream’s expansion would increase Republika Srpska’s energy independence from Bosnia’s gas system and thereby increase Republika Srpska’s ability to push for succession from the Bosnia and Herzegovina tripartite state.
Serbian Interior Minister Alexander Vulin additionally met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Moscow and announced on December 2 that Serbia will purchase unspecified air defense systems and open a Russian Ministry of Defense office in Belgrade, Serbia, “in the near future.” Vulin said that Serbia would not join Western security alliances during a meeting with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow on December 3. The Kremlin likely seeks to leverage military influence in Serbia to maintain a strategic foothold in the Balkans and prevent Serbia from joining the European Union.
5. Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded Russian military and economic cooperation with India during a visit by a senior Kremlin delegation to New Delhi, India, on December 6. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh authorized a ten-year Russo-Indian military-technical cooperation agreement that stipulates interbranch military cooperation and weapons supply cooperation on December 6. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi additionally signed 15 agreements, including on using space technology for peaceful purposes, joint production of Russian-designed small arms, oil supplies from Russia to India, plans to open an Indian consulate in Vladivostok, and joint bank cooperation against computer attacks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with India’s foreign minister and restated that Russian S-400 air defense system sales to India will continue despite US attempts since 2018 to undermine India’s purchase of additional S-400 systems. The Indian military deployed its first battery of S-400 systems in western Punjab, bordering Pakistan, on December 21, 2021. The Kremlin seeks to deepen ties with India to expand Russia’s arms clientele, bilateral military partners, and partnerships in South Asia.
6. The Kremlin continued to send humanitarian aid to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in parallel with increased efforts to modernize and improve the combat capabilities of the 201st Military Base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in December 2021. Russia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 2, 2022, that the 201st Russian Military Base in Tajikistan received over 50 pieces of modernized equipment, including upgraded T-72B3M tanks and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, throughout 2021. Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov stated on December 8 that Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will continue improving military infrastructure in Tajikistan. The Russian MoD delivered an additional 36 tons of humanitarian aid to Kabul at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request on December 18. Putin likely negotiated the humanitarian aid delivery with the Taliban to extract approximately 200 Russian, Kyrgyz, and Afghan evacuees on December 19. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on December 31 that Russia will gradually move toward petitioning the United Nations Security Council to remove the Taliban from its sanction list “in solidarity with the rest of the world community” if the Taliban forms an inclusive government and counters terrorist and drug threats emanating from Afghanistan. The Kremlin likely seeks to develop a coalition of states to collectively advocate for the international recognition of the Taliban over the next year but will continue to reinforce its military capabilities in Tajikistan to counter potential jihadist threats emanating from Afghanistan.
7. German Social Democrat Party (SDP) member Olaf Scholz’s succession of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor on December 8 is unlikely to shift Germany’s foreign policy toward Russia despite internal disagreement on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2) within Scholz’s government. The SDP leads a tripartite governing coalition with Germany’s Green Party and Free Democrats party. SDP supports certifying NS2, but the Greens oppose the pipeline. SDP’s general secretary has criticized what he frames as linking NS2 to political issues with Russia and repeatedly stated support for immediately completing NS2 throughout early January 2022. Angela Merkel’s former ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—now an opposition party—similarly supports completing NS2.
Scholz’s government has continued Merkel-era foreign policies on Russia despite these internal disagreements. The Scholz government reiterated support for the July 2021 joint US-German statement that characterized NS2 as a geopolitical project that uses energy as a weapon. German Foreign Minister and Green Party member Annalena Baerbock has mellowed her anti-NS2 rhetoric since joining the Scholz government in December. Scholz’s government is continuing Merkel’s policy of not supporting further arms shipments to Ukraine. Scholz’s government, despite internal pressure from both the SDP and Greens, has demonstrated solidary with US-led efforts to foster unity among European Union and NATO members ahead of security negotiations with Russia in mid-January 2022. The Kremlin nonetheless likely seeks to both cultivate ties with the new Scholz government and exacerbate disagreements between the tripartite collation government to fragment European solidarity against Russia’s economic and political objectives.
8. The Kremlin increased efforts to economically link Russia and its Ukrainian proxy republics in Donbas during a major forum on December 14. The Kremlin organized a forum on deepening economic integration between Donbas and Russia on December 14. Representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics (DNR and LNR in Donbas), South Ossetia (one of Russia’s proxy republics in Georgia), and the Russian government participated in this forum. DNR leader Denis Pushilin stated that the DNR is preparing “necessary conditions for a significant trade volume increase with Russia” on December 14. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that equated DNR and LNR goods to Russian goods—a measure designed to promote trade growth—in November 2021. The Kremlin could leverage increased economic integration between Russia and its proxies as an additional claimed casus belli to justify military intervention to defend “Russian interests” in Donbas. Increased economic integration might also increase the proxy republics’ economic viability and decrease the currently expensive administrative costs the Kremlin pays to manage and subsidize them.
9. The Belarusian Government published a new draft constitution on December 27 that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will likely attempt to leverage to maintain his own control over Belarusian domestic affairs while ceding more military integration concessions to Russia. The amendments stipulate presidential term limits of only two five-year terms after a “newly elected president” assumes office, enabling Lukashenko to run for two more terms after his current term expires in 2025. The amendments grant the president immunity from criminal prosecution, even after retirement. The amendments weaken Belarus’ parliament and elevate the role of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (BPA)—a congress of Lukashenko loyalists that meets every five years and currently has no governing power under Belarusian law. The new constitution grants the BPA and its presidium significant powers. Lukashenko likely seeks to develop the BPA into a dual power structure that he can use to control Belarus’ government if he leaves the presidency. The amendments also advance the Kremlin’s campaign to deepen Russian control over Belarus by removing the constitution’s clause about Belarus being a “neutral” state and a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Lukashenko offered to host Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus on November 30, indicating a possible Russian effort to deploy tactical or strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus as the Kremlin did during the Soviet era. Belarus will likely adopt this new constitution in a controlled referendum in February 2022.
10. Russia’s Supreme Court shut down Russia’s oldest human rights group, “International Memorial,” on December 28, alleging that the West might have in the future sponsored the organization to amplify narratives about Soviet crimes against humanity and promote extremism. Russia’s Supreme Court accused Memorial of distorting historic memory about the Great Patriotic War (World War II), vilifying the Soviet Union, and failing to disclose information about foreign funding on November 11. International Memorial was a human rights group established in 1989 that documented and raised awareness about the Soviet government’s crimes against its own citizens. The Kremlin’s closure of International Memorial supports a longstanding Kremlin campaign to amplify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preferred historiography of World War II and the Soviet Union and suppress liberal Western thought in Russia.
Contributors: Mason Clark, George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Grace Mappes, and Julia Belov
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 Russia and Egypt annually conduct “Bridge of Friendship” exercises since 2015. The 2020 exercise iteration took place in the Black Sea. https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12396776@egNews; https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12397418@egNews
 https://function dot mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12397418@egNews
 Russia previously held joint counterterror exercises “Peaceful Mission-2021″ with members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the Donguz Training Ground in Orenburg Oblast, Russia in September 2021. Russia also conducted joint airborne exercises “Defender of Friendship” with Egyptian forces in Egypt in October 2021. https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-september-22-–-october-5-2021; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-october-6-19….
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 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin first approved the Union State programs at their meeting on November 4. https://eng.belta dot by/politics/view/supreme-state-council-decisions-hailed-as-breakthrough-for-belarus-russia-union-state-145805-2021/
 Lukashenko’s statement about “Western actions” references both a falsely claimed NATO hybrid war that Lukashenko claims the West has waged against Belarus since fall 2020 and a falsely claimed NATO buildup near Russian and Belarusian borders since fall 2021. https://president.gov dot by/en/events/vstrecha-s-gubernatorom-astrahanskoy-oblasti-rossii-igorem-babushkinym-1638448206; https://president.gov dot by/ru/events/vstrecha-s-predsedatelem-gosudarstvennoy-dumy-rossii-vyacheslavom-volodinym
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 Russian state gas company Gazprom began transporting gas to Bosnia and Herzegovina via TurkStream gas pipeline in the Black Sea on January 1, 2021. Dodik negotiated with Putin the same low price for Russian gas. Dodik also met with Russian state gas company Gazprom to discuss further energy cooperation in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on December 3. https://tass dot ru/ekonomika/13098447; https://neftegaz dot ru/news/partnership/713586-gazprom-i-bosniya-i-gertsegovina-obsuzhdayut-postavki-gaza/;
https://www.rferl.org/a/bosnia-russia-dodik-putin/31591167.html; https://www.vesti dot ru/article/2647711.
 Republika Srpska leadership has been blocking gas and electricity nationalization bills likely to ensure Republika’s energy autonomy from Bosnia and Herzegovina in an event of a full succession. Dodik previously announced that Republika Srpska’s army, tax administration, and judicial system would full separate from Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Central government by November 2021. The Kremlin would benefit from the Republika Srpska’s full succession as it would dismantle Western-brokered 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War and destabilize Western influence over Bosnia-Herzegovina’s tripartite state. https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-october-20-–-november-9-2021; https://www.rferl.org/a/bosnia-russia-dodik-putin/31591167.html, https://neftegaz dot ru/news/partnership/713586-gazprom-i-bosniya-i-gertsegovina-obsuzhdayut-postavki-gaza/.
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 Other agreements outlined spheres of cultural and economic cooperation. http://kremlin dot ru/supplement/5746; http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/67287.
 Russia and India signed a S-400 deal in 2018. India deployed first Russian S-400 to Pakistan-bordering region of Punjab on December 21, 2021. https://archive dot mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4986233; russia-starts-supplying-india-with-missildespite-us-sanctions-thr; https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/13254003.
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 Scholz previously served as Germany’s finance minister and vice-chancellor under the Merkel government since 2018.
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 German Green Party Bundestag spokesman on foreign affairs Omid Nuripur stated that stopping Nord Stream 2’s certification is likely impossible if the pipeline company forms a German subsidiary in compliance with German law on December 30. https://detv dot us/2021/12/30/habeck-wants-to-support-ukraine-nouripour-nord-stream-2-can-hardly-be-prevented/; https://newsrnd dot com/news/2021-12-30-omid-nouripour–green-leader-candidate-sees-little-scope-to-prevent-nord-stream-2.Sy-TwK1jjY.html; https://tass dot ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/13331987; https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-01-08/german-spd-officia…
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 Baerbock called on Berlin to resist Russian “blackmail” on NS2 in October 2021 but by January 5 she reiterated Scholz government’s position that Nord Stream 2’s certification is suspended because of its noncompliance with German regulations. https://www.politico dot eu/article/baerbock-against-operating-permit-for-nord-stream-2/; https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-german-foreign-mini…
 Germany’s federal government seemingly is taking Russian threats seriously. Scholz warned that Russia would face “a high price” for further aggression against Ukraine on December 15. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck stated he opposes linking NS2 to political issues but admitted that Germany may block Nord Stream 2 certification due to Russian threats against Ukraine on December 29. https://www.dw dot com/ru/vice-kancler-frg-habek-ne-iskljuchaet-ostanovku-severnogo-potoka-2/a-60292160; https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-business-health-angela-m…
 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Baerbock will met in Moscow on January 18. https://breakingthenews dot net/Article/Lavrov-Baerbock-to-meet-in-Moscow-on-January-18/57076099
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 The BPA can adopt strategic documents, overturn decisions of other authorities, impeach the president, and appoint the Central Election Commission and Supreme and Constitutional Court judges, among other powers. https://www.dw dot com/ru/mina-zamedlennogo-dejstvija-chto-znachit-proekt-konstitucii-dlja-lukashenko/a-60273475; https://www.forbes.ru/society/451377-sobranie-vernyh-kak-aleksandr-lukas…
 Kremlin officials said they would consider Lukashenko’s previous proposal to host Russian nuclear missiles in Belarus if NATO places nuclear weapons in Poland on December 21. https://rg dot ru/2021/12/21/mid-rf-prokommentiroval-vozmozhnost-razmeshcheniia-iadernogo-oruzhiia-vbelarusi.html; https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-germany-migration-europe-ab1ef…
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