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  • Author: Igor Delanoe
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Since the late 2000s, the Russian Federation has expanded its naval footprint in the Eastern Mediterranean, and even resurrected its Mediterranean Squadron in 2013. The backbone of this operational squadron is provided by units coming from the Black Sea Fleet, complemented by vessels from other Russian naval formations (namely, the Northern, Baltic, and Pacific Fleets, as well as the Caspian Sea Flotilla) on a rotational basis. As the Russian State Armament Program for the period 2011-2020 was implemented, the Black Sea Fleet received new warships and new diesel-powered submarines. Consequently, by the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Moscow’s naval footprint in the Mediterranean had already been reconstituted. Yet, since the mid-2010s, a structural change occurred in the Mediterranean Squadron’s order of battle. The Squadron has morphed qualitatively and quantitatively, and has become more capable. Featuring fewer ex-Soviet large platforms and more modern green water units, this naval task force has been assigned mainly a defensive objective: locally counterbalance navies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and protect Russia’s southern flank from perceived instability emanating from the Mediterranean’s southern shore, in the context of the Arab Spring. Moreover, Moscow’s direct military involvement in the war in Syria has provided the Mediterranean Squadron with a new purpose while highlighting a conventional deterrence mission.
  • Topic: NATO, Armed Forces, Navy, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Anton Lavrov
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Before the start of the military intervention in Syria in 2015, even top Russian generals were uncertain what the result would be. Shortly before the start of the intervention, the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) received hundreds of new airplanes and helicopters and new “smart” precision weapons. Almost all of them had never been tested in real combat. The pilots and commanders also did not have combat experience and were trained by textbooks filled with outdated concepts and tactics. The five years of war in Syria have been the most intense period of transformation for the RuAF since the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Russian military not only gained an unprecedented amount of experience, but also made substantial improvements in tactics and strategy.
  • Topic: Military Affairs, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War, Air Force
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Charles Bartles, Lester Grau
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Syrian Civil War produces a new set of problems involving extended urban combat, intense fights for key resources (oil fields, water, and lines of communication and supply), conventional combat among irregular units, ethnic and religious cleansing, a large number of foreign combatants with varying motivations, and contending outside powers fighting a proxy engagement. The Russian Federation is not an expeditionary power, and its entry into Syria on the side of the regime has strained its logistical resources. From the beginning of the Syrian campaign, it was clear that Russian involvement was initially envisaged to be through the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). Although the Syrian government was on the verge of collapse, and the Syrian military was on its hind legs and a shell of its former self, there was a sufficient number of Syrian ground units that were mission capable. With this understanding, the VKS was to be the principal supplier of Russian combat power aimed at disruption of the command and control and leadership of the groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime through the provision of reconnaissance and target destruction. In particular, Russia’s priority was the destruction of the Western-backed, moderate opposition groups, since it saw these as the greatest immediate threat to Assad. The Islamic State (ISIS) and other Sunni extremist groups were targeted, but sat lower on Russia’s priority list. As with other such operations, «mission creep” soon resulted in Russia’s involvement quickly expanding past the provision of aerospace support to planning, and, in some cases, conducting ground operations. General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, confirmed this expansion of Russian involvement in a December 2017 interview. Russia’s ground-based contingent in the Syrian campaign involves a diverse set of forces and capabilities. Some of the key features of this expanded ground force mission included a Russian model of military advisors, integrated and modernized fires, mobility and countermobility operations, a featured role for military police, use of coastal defense, spetznaz, and private military company (PMC) forces. Russian ground forces have benefitted from the opportunity to provide combat experience to a large number of professional soldiers, conduct battlefield testing of new systems and observe the impact of different terrain on tactics. The forces opposing the Syrian government provide a different opponent than the “enemy” encountered in normal Russian peacetime training and much of the “Syrian experience” is discussed and dissected in Russian professional military journals.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Aaron Stein
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The United States dramatically increased the commitment of troops and military equipment to a string of permanent bases in the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Iraqi army after its 1991 invasion of Kuwait. In the nearly two decades since the Al Qaeda-linked attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States has deepened its military and political commitment to the region, following the decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and then to intervene militarily in Syria. The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations have sought to focus more on Asia, but have failed to disentangle the United States from conflicts in the Middle East. This report assumes that the United States will retain an overwhelming interest in ensuring close alliances and partnerships with America’s transatlantic allies (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and close partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific even if President Trump is re-elected in 2020. It also assumes that the United States will begin to focus primarily on Asia, with the Russian Federation being considered of secondary importance to the rise of the People’s Republic of China. Given these twin assumptions, the role of American forces and Washington’s policy priorities in the Middle East require new thinking about how to wind down wars that are draining American resources and to re-allocate finite, high-demand assets that could be leveraged for operations in Europe or the Indo-Pacific. This report proposes an interlinked political and military policy that would allow for the United States to retain a robust presence in the Middle East, but in a way that would de-escalate tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and alter how U.S. forces are deployed around the world.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Power Politics, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Benedict Robin-D'Cruz, Renad Mansour
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Iraq’s Sadrist movement, led by populist Shi’i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has been at the heart of Iraqi politics since 2003. The movement’s political strategies have shifted dramatically during this time, encompassing militant insurgency, sectarian violence, electoral politics, and reform-oriented street protests. Consequently, despite their prominence, the Sadrists’ shifting positions mean they remain one of the most complex and frequently misunderstood movements in Iraq. This is further compounded by the near-total absence of engagement between the Sadrists and Western, particularly American, governments. As Sadr has changed his movement’s politics again, this time toward a counter-protest stance, U.S. policymakers are once more grappling with the dilemmas posed by a movement that is both powerful and obscure.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Non State Actors, Muqtada al-Sadr
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Pishko Shamsi
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: In 2017, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq held an independence referendum, which triggered severe backlash, including the loss of control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The backlash from the independence referendum prompted the regional government (Kurdistan Regional Government) to urgently shift policy and re-engage with Baghdad. Since then, the region has recovered politically and has implemented a pragmatic strategy to revitalize the economy and internal affairs. The KRG also launched diplomatic initiatives to restore relations with Iran and Turkey, and has pursued a policy of neutrality to manage the Region’s myriad of crises. Moreover, the KRG has pursued tactical alliances with Iraqi political parties to secure short-term gains, including the resumption of budget transfers from Baghdad. The KRG’s deal-making with Baghdad, however, has fallen short of translating into a sustainable policy, and many of the gains are fragile and dependent on Baghdad’s changing political scene. Without a long-term strategy, the KRG’s new leadership is unlikely to be able to deliver much needed institutional reforms to help curb corruption, improve governance, and enhance transparency in public affairs. And while the KRG has committed to reform politically, it remains unclear if it will bring about meaningful change and address structural challenges, such as entrenched crony networks, rentier economics, and partisan control over the public sector and security forces.The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.
  • Topic: Islamic State, Autonomy, Referendum
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Samuel Ramani
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: After spending nearly three decades as a marginal player in the Horn of Africa, the Russian Federation has made significant progress towards recapturing its great power status in the region. Russia has engaged with all countries in the Horn of Africa and refused to take sides in the region’s most polarizing conflicts, so Moscow can be best described as an “engaged opportunist” on the Horn of Africa. Russia is principally focused on establishing itself as the region’s leading arms vendor, but prospectively, has one eye on constructing a Red Sea base. Russia’s resurgence in the Horn of Africa has generally dovetailed with the People’s Republic of China’s regional aspirations, but has placed it increasingly at odds with France and the United States. Looking ahead, Russia’s ability to link its Horn of Africa strategy to its aspirations in the Middle East will shape the future trajectory of its involvement in the region. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Engagement
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Eurasia, Horn of Africa
  • Author: Paul Bracken
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: This report examines the increasing ability of major powers to destroy moving targets, in particular, land-based mobile missiles. Yet, at the same time, it analyzes something much broader and more fundamental. Technology has changed the use of force in peace and war. These changes stem from the growing importance of advanced technologies like AI, cyber, drones, cloud computing, data analytics, and hypersonic missiles.[1] These are increasingly becoming foundational technologies for new mission areas and strategies. One of these in particular is the focus of this report: locating and destroying mobile targets. The hunt for mobile missiles, seen in this broader way, is an exemplar of advanced technologies used in national security.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, National Security, Nuclear Weapons, Science and Technology, Weapons , Artificial Intelligence
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Maximilian Hess, Maia Otarashvili
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Georgia has long sought to take advantage of its strategically important location and establish itself as a significant transit hub connecting Europe and Asia. This endeavor has been slowly advanced by an array of innovative economic reforms, as well as some successful, smaller infrastructure and development projects. However, it has also been marked by repeated failures in making larger-scale initiatives happen. Despite its 190-mile-long Black Sea coastline, Georgia still does not have a deep-sea port, and enjoys very limited overall maritime capacity. This shortcoming poses a major impediment on the country’s aspirations of becoming a significant hub for the Eurasian transit system.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Maritime, Port
  • Political Geography: Eurasia, Georgia
  • Author: Aaron Stein
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The United States has an interest in allowing the Russian Federation to “win” an outright victory in Syria, so long as it secures from Moscow an agreement that is favorable to the Syrian Kurds, builds in negative consequences for an external actor targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces, and establishes a “deconflict plus”-type mechanism to continue to target Islamic State- and Al Qaeda-linked individuals in Syria. A forward-looking policy that the incoming Biden administration could consider is to deprioritize the nascent threat of the Islamic State as a key factor in driving U.S. national security strategy, and instead focus more intently on long-term competition with great powers. This approach would seek to shape how Moscow spends finite defense dollars—at a time of expected global defense cuts stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic—in ways that are advantageous to the United States. It also would seek to limit the cost of the U.S. presence in Syria—to include secondary and opportunity costs not accounted for in a basic cost breakdown of the U.S. war against the Islamic State. This approach is not without risk, particularly from a nascent Islamic State insurgency in Russian-controlled territory, but seeks to match U.S. strategic priorities with action and to impose upon a long-term competitor the costs of victory for its intervention in Syria.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, War, Syrian War, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Karim Mezran, Alessia Melcangi
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: In the last days of September 2020, Libya’s oil industry seemed to be on the verge of restarting its production after Gen. Khalifa Haftar announced the reopening of the oil fields and terminals that he had occupied and closed in the course of his offensive against Tripoli. The main damage caused by Haftar’s blockade is the dramatic plummet of oil production to less than 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the previous 1.2 million. The importance of the oil and gas industry in Libya cannot be underestimated since it is the main driver of the Libyan economy and accounts for about 60% of the country’s GDP. Oil production revenues and the dividends from oil sales are one of the main causes of the conflict that has been continuously ravaging the country since the fall of Muammar Qadhafi in 2011. The announced reopening represents good news that bodes well not only for a real resumption of political talks between the warring parties, but also for a more general improvement of the economic and social condition in the country, which is now on the verge of collapse. After the January 2020 blockade, the quick shutdown of oil sales led to a budget collapse: In April 2020, oil production data showed a drop of more than 80% with a loss of more than $10 billion in oil revenues. The economic impact of this stoppage directly hit the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC), preventing the company from fulfilling contracts with international oil companies. After so many years of civil war, it has become evident that competition among various actors is principally over the country’s resources and control of its financial institutions. According to the 2015 UN-backed Libyan Political Agreement, the Tripoli government headed by Fayez Sarraj retains control of the Tripoli-based NOC and oversees the allocation of state funds deposited in the Tripoli-based Central Bank — these are the two channels through which oil revenues can flow legally and the only two institutions recognized by the UN Security Council. Haftar and the Eastern government accuse Tripoli of mismanaging hydrocarbon revenues and state funds, using them to fund militias backing the Government of National Accord (GNA), and failing to carry out reforms to stabilize the economy. For this reason, the Eastern authorities demand a change of leadership in both institutions: The Central Bank and the NOC. Indeed, the problem for Haftar has always been that he controlled oil production, but not oil revenues. After almost a year locked in a stalemate, the situation on the battlefield was reversed in April 2020. Thanks to Turkey’s military support, the GNA was able to counterattack and defeat the Haftar-controlled Libyan National Army (LNA) and push them back to the gates of the city of Sirte near the “oil crescent,” a coastal area home to most of Libya’s oil export terminals. The ceasefire proposed by the GNA at the end of August 2020 and accepted by the Tobruk parliament and its spokesman, Aguila Saleh, has restarted the political dialogue between the conflicting parties. Meanwhile, the malcontent of the population in both Tripoli and Benghazi, due to the deterioration of living conditions and lack of economic reforms, led to protests and demonstrations in both cities.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Economy, Conflict, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Libya, North Africa