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Russian Intervention Central African Republic

Russian Intervention Central African Republic

This Grey Dynamics intelligence report will utilize OSINT in order to provide diagnostical and predictive analysis on Russian intervention in the CAR, with a focus on the geopolitical, military, and economic spheres.   

Key Judgements

KJ-1. It is highly likely that Russia will expand into Africa as part of their ultimate geopolitical goal of becoming a superpower on the world stage. The CAR is currently one of Russia’s close allies in the region and a location of recent military activity.  

KJ-2. It is highly likely that Russia currently has a military presence in the CAR by using the Kremlin-backed private military organization known as the Wagner Group as their proxy.

KJ-3. It is highly likely that the economic opportunity in the CAR, and the proliferation of the vast supplies of its untouched minerals and natural resources, is the primary reason for Russia’s interest in the country.   

General Overview

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the most volatile and economically challenged countries in the African continent. According to the Human Rights Watches 2019 World Report, armed groups in the CAR have “continued to commit serious human rights abuses, expanding their control to an estimated 70% of the country”. The CAR has been locked in of conflict for a few decades now, but a significant number of the human rights abuses mentioned in that report have stemmed from the symptomatic violence and unrest caused by the ongoing religious civil war between two coalitions of rebel groups: the predominantly Muslim Seleka alliance, and the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka alliance.

Decades of conflict have left the CAR in a vulnerable state and set conditions for an international humanitarian relief effort. According to the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “2.6 million people within the CAR require humanitarian assistance and protection, while 1 out of 4 citizens has had to leave their homes.” To further complicate the situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity due to the pre-existing lack of medical infrastructure, and difficulty in public education on the virus.

To date, the CAR has been provided humanitarian and military support by its peers in the UN. Likewise, France is one of the CAR’s closest allies despite its historical colonization period up to 1960 when the CAR gained its independence. Although France and the UN continue to provide support in various capacities, the ongoing religious conflict in the CAR has opened the door for foreign exploitation, as it is currently experiencing primarily with Russia.

The Russian ambition to be a world superpower has led to a fixation on African intervention, with the CAR being one of their continental focal points. Russian intervention in the CAR has included economical support, educational development, military training/advising, and the green light for the construction of regional military installations.

Geopolitical Sphere

Background

In order to examine Russia’s potential intentions in the CAR, it is beneficial to take a broader look at its current foreign policy and geopolitical goals. According to Julia Gurganus and Eugene Rumer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “At first glance, Moscow’s attempts to create a web of relationships and project influence in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and other parts of the world appear to be a new element of Russian Foreign policy.

However, that conclusion would be mistaken. Russian foreign policy has been building up to its present expansive phrase for over two decades.” Furthermore, every action Russia takes on the world stage is calculated and strategic in nature. Russia has had a long-term desire to rise above the fall of the Soviet Union in the later 1980s and become a global superpower. It has recently demonstrated that desire on a smaller scale with its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and with its direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War in support of sitting President Bashar al-Assad.

Analysis

It is highly likely that Russia will take advantage of the political and economic instability in the CAR with the intention of furthering their geopolitical goals. In October 2019, Russia took a significant step in demonstrating their interest in Africa when they hosted the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in the city of Sochi. At this summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the assembled African leaders his allegiance and aid without the political or fiscal conditions often set by his Western rivals. The CAR is one of the recipients of Russia’s allyship, as mentioned in a recent Grey Dynamics article. According to analysis within that article, it is highly likely Russia will seek economic gain and regional dominance through their bilateral relations with the incumbent CAR government.

Furthermore, it is highly likely Russia will try and succeed where other UN countries have failed in terms of mediation between the Seleka and anti-Balaka coalition groups. By doing so, Russia will be in an advantageous position over the West / UN while likely further opening opportunities to operate in an economic and militaristic capacity within the CAR. The West is not the only rival, however. The Chinese have projected their strength and resources into developing weak African nations in parallel to Moscow.

National interests are of the utmost importance to Russia and China, but both countries share a common goal of impede Western influence in Africa and superseding it on the world stage. Nonetheless, Russia will likely use its foothold in the CAR as a Chinese deterrent and strategic move in eliminating China’s looming threat of intervention.            

Military Sphere

Background

On a global scale, Russia’s most recent military operations have been conducted by both uniformed soldiers and state-sponsored private military contractors. The latter has been the primary proxy force the Kremlin uses to carry out its militaristic goals; specifically, through the Wagner Group, a private company owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. The existence and state-sponsorship of the Wagner Group is vehemently denied by the Kremlin but reports and footage of their operations in areas like Syria and Libya have shown an often brutal and unrestrained nature amongst their personnel.

Russia prefers to use the Wagner Group in order to advance their goals without having to take direct responsibility for the outcomes. Likewise, having a foreign reach without identifiable uniformed soldiers helps Russia operate outside the close monitoring of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). According to testimony recorded in front of the United States (US) Congress, the Wagner Group is reported to be operating in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Recent unconfirmed reports have claimed they have a limited presence in Venezuela in support of the regime of President Nicolás Maduro.            

 

Russian Intervention Central African Republic

Analysis

Due to a recent influx of Russian activity in the CAR, and the recent assurance from the CAR government that Russia can construct a military installation within its borders, it is highly likely that Russia will become the dominant foreign power within the CAR. According to a recent leak from a secret German Foreign Ministry report, The Kremlin has made Africa its geopolitical priority and is beginning the construction of military bases in six African countries, including the CAR.

Prior to that report, Russia already had a military presence in the CAR with both uniformed soldiers and the Wagner Group’s mercenaries. According to an article from Al Jazeera, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera is being directly advised by Valery Zakharov, a former Russian intelligence official. When confronted about the matter during an interview with an Al Jazeera reporter, Zakharov formally denied the knowledge of Wagner Group operations within the CAR. Nonetheless, it is highly likely the Wagner Group is on the ground assisting in the training of CAR military personnel as well as providing security for CAR government officials.

Once Russia completes its military base construction, it is likely they will use their positions strategically in support of peace between the Seleka and anti-Balaka groups. Successful mediation would likely bolster Russia’s image amongst the CAR population which would likely result in the CAR favouring them over other countries. If that scenario were to occur, Russia would likely be in a strategic position to carry out their geopolitical goals, as well as exploit the abundance of natural resources within the CAR. Peace between both factions is necessary for the efficient mining, production, and exporting of the CAR’s highly desirable resources (further details in section 3 of this report).         

Economic Sphere

Background

According to the Heritage Foundations 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, the CAR has an “economic freedom score” of 50.7 which makes “its economy the 159th freest in the 2020 Index.” Within the Sub-Saharan Africa region as a whole, the CAR is ranked 36th out of 47 countries on that same report.

Russian Intervention Central African Republic

     

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), in 2018, the CAR’s primary exports were Rough Wood ($58.8M), Diamonds ($16.6M), Sawn Wood ($12.1M), Raw Cotton ($2.27M), and Gold ($1.61M). Minerals in the CAR include graphite, uranium, monazite, rutile, salt, iron ore, copper, and quartz. According to that same 2018 report, the CAR exported the majority of their goods to China ($54M) followed by the United Arab Emirates ($6.72M). It is worth noting that the numerical difference between Chinese exports and UAE exports is significant and demonstrates a large Chinese presence in the CAR’s economic sphere.

Analysis

In accordance with their geopolitical strategy, it is almost certain that Russia’s interest in the CAR is primarily economic gain. It is highly likely that Russia will utilize its military strength and expansion in the region in order to further their economic goals. With China receiving the vast majority of the CAR’s exports, Russia will likely have to establish a positive rapport with the CAR government in order to outweigh the pre-existing Chinese economic foothold.

The military support and advising Russia provides the CAR government can be examined as a potential advantage to China’s strictly economic support. Likewise, the distinct agenda laid out in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit makes Russia stand out in the diplomatic realm which demonstrates a multifaceted partnership against Chinas mainly economic one.

It is highly likely that the primary economic focus of Russia in the CAR will be directed towards the CAR’s minerals and natural resources that remain highly underdeveloped and untouched. A peace agreement between the Seleka and anti-Balaka is a required first step in ramping up mining operations.     

Russia is also a notable force within the global defence trade including 16% of their arms exports between 2014-2019 going to Africa.

There is a realistic probability that Russian exports will increase in the African countries they are currently partnering with and constructing military bases, including the CAR. There is a realistic probability that the ethnic violence and unrest within the CAR creates a market for arms that Russia will exploit for their own interests.

Conclusion

It is almost certain that Russia will continue to view Africa as an upmost priority within their geopolitical goals. As they seek to evade NATO and transform into a superpower on the world stage, widespread instability in Africa sets the perfect conditions for Russian exploitation and intervention. By taking their reach a step further with the impending construction of military infrastructure in the CAR, Russia is ultimately solidifying their intentions that have already been previewed with the Wagner Groups openly secret activities within the country.   

Image: Raoul Pelegri / Coda Story (link)

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Russian Military Base in Mozambique: Intent, Impact & Impediment

Russian military base in Mozambique

This Grey Dynamics African Intelligence report analyses the potential establishment of a Russian military base in Mozambique. The geopolitical, economic, and military benefits and impact of a Russian base will be explored.

Key Judgments

KJ-1. Based on the leak from German intelligence and the existing close relationship between Russia and Mozambique, it is highly likely that Russia has been approved to establish a military base.

KJ-2. It is likely that Russia will make use of the “contractually assured” approval, to extend its sphere of influence while benefiting economically from an increased presence.

KJ-3. It is highly likely that competing with the US and China in Africa is a motivating factor in the decision to establish a base in Mozambique.

KJ-4. It is likely that a base will increase the recruitment success of the Mozambique insurgency. With only a realistic probability of significant success against the insurgents.

KJ-5. It is not clear how the Russian presence would affect the French Total LNG project in Mozambique. It is likely that Russia will be investing in Mozambique’s natural gas resources, almost certainly under favourable terms for Russian companies.

German newspaper Bild, citing a German Foreign Ministry report, shared leaked intelligence that Russia was “contractually assured” it would be able to build military bases in Mozambique, Sudan, Madagascar, Egypt, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic. Russia has reportedly placed Africa as a ‘top priority’ for foreign policy/strategy. Since 2015 Russia has established 21 military cooperation agreements with African countries. Mozambique is an ideal choice for one of these bases, due to close political ties and the potential to increase economic ties through arms sales and natural resource agreements. This also serves to counter the US and growing Chinese influence on the continent.

Russian military base in Mozambique.

Green Light

Based on the leak from German intelligence and the existing close relationship between Russia and Mozambique, it is highly likely that Russia has been approved to establish a military base. Historically, Russia and Mozambique were close Soviet allies. In 2015, the two countries signed a technical and military cooperation agreement. While Mozambique on the United Nations platform regularly supports Russian foreign policy initiatives.

The Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, which officially does not exist, has been active in Mozambique against the ongoing insurgency. The group usually comes as a ‘package deal’ with cooperation with the Russian state. This not only is limited to military aid but in countries such as Sudan has manifested in the form of political aid, albeit in manipulative forms at times such as troll farms. The ties between the countries corroborate the German leaked report, making the judgment reliable

Potential Benefits

It is likely that Russia will make use of the “contractually assured” approval, to extend its sphere of influence while benefiting economically from an increased presence. A combination of benefits accompanies a potential Russian base in Mozambique. The military footprint alone extends Russia’s sphere of influence, with a strategic launching pad to the Indian Ocean.

Which is dominated by the US and China presence in comparison. Russia is the key weapons supplier to Africa (37.6%), a military base will usually coincide with agreements for military trade, as well as other key economic opportunities. The main economic opportunity to note is the natural resource reserves of Mozambique, gas reserves are a key economic lifeline for the Russian economy, and extraction contracts will be highly desirable and highly likely with a Russian presence.

Russian military base in Mozambique.

Competition

It is highly likely that competing with the US and China in Africa is a motivating factor in the decision to establish a base in Mozambique. US AFRICOM has voiced its concern with the growing presence of Russia and China in Africa. Russia being the main supplier of arms to Africa seeks to maintain this dominance and expand to new and existing markets. By establishing a military base, Russia can counterbalance the existing US and Chinese presence in the continent.

While it can not outcompete China in economic investment, military and political expertise is an angle which it can and does market to compete with the two countries. By supporting autocratic regimes, Russia can share tactics and strategies that may likely be a major contributing factor to the success of the expansion. Mozambique is largely closer to Russia than its competitors, meaning this transition will highly likely be a smooth one.

Russia in Africa

Cabo Delgado Insurgency

It is likely that a base will increase the recruitment success of the Mozambique insurgency. With only a realistic probability of significant success against the insurgents. In the northern Mozambique region of Cabo Delgado, an IS-affiliated insurgency is challenging the government. The Wagner Group has been present in the country since at least 2019. While reports alleged that some personnel arriving is from Russian state rather than private personnel. This is a realistic possibility due to the almost certain links between the group and the state.

However, Wagner mercenaries failed to significantly impact the growth of the insurgency. Currently (20th August 2020) the government in Mozambique is struggling to regain control of the Mocimboa de Praia port from IS insurgents. Russian military contractors have failed, and it is hard to assess that more conventional warfare, which was the original Wagner approach will have a different impact. A Russian base alone will almost certainly increase the recruitment efforts of the group with likely success, under a ‘foreign invader’ narrative.

Gas Giants

It is not clear how the Russian presence would affect the French Total LNG project in Mozambique. It is likely that Russia will be investing in Mozambique’s natural gas resources, almost certainly under favourable terms for Russian companies. The French oil giant Total signed a $14.6 billion debt agreement for its liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado (Mozambique LNG). This is one of several projects, which combined are worth $60 billion.

While the COVID-19 pandemic created a hurdle for the operations, the IS insurgents are now creating a potential ditch if the momentum continues. The group have already threatened Western companies, and the current port occupation has destroyed infrastructure that will take considerable time and manpower to repair. This infrastructure is crucial for the logistical viability of these projects. With Western investment in potential jeopardy, a potential Russian base requires a closer analysis of outcomes.

The base may stabilise the insurgency by aiding the Mozambique government. While if the Western companies abandon or delay operations, Russia may intervene with highly favourable terms for Russian companies. This lucrative move would be a major gamble and depend on success against the insurgents. The South African Development Community have voiced the need for support to Mozambique, but no commitment has been made.

There is little doubt that Russia would be likely to invest in natural gas reserves, even within an unstable environment. At least 68 US companies will supply the LNG projects with equipment and services, a clear example of US companies seeking to compete with Russia and China in Africa. This intent was voiced by U.S Export-Import (EXIM) Bank, which supports the businesses supplying the equipment and services.

Intelligence Cutoff Date 01-09-2020

Image: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (link)

Confidential

Naval Expansionism: Russian Naval Base in Eritrea

Russian Naval Base Eritrea

Scenario Generation

This report examines the geopolitical context in the Red Sea and the potential implications of a Russian naval base in Eritrea. Using both diagnostic and predictive analysis, the author assesses the current situation and delivers predictive judgements regarding potential developments. The timing for prediction has been set for five years. For collection and processing, the author used OSINT and GEOINT, therefore the report is safe to be further distributed.

Key Judgements

KJ-1. Russia is competing with both China and the Western powers to spread influence on the African continent. To advance its military and economic interests, Russia uses three main leverages: weapons sales, military assistance and energy contracts. It is likely that in the next five years, Russia will establish a logistical base in Eritrea, followed by investments in infrastructure and the energy sector.

KJ-2. In the likelihood of Russia building a logistical navy base in Eritrea, there is a realist possibility that the base will benefit from similar equipment as the Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria. This would likely include missile corvettes, supply vessels, and patrol boats.

KJ-3. Petroleum exports from Russia account for the largest share (24%) of Suez southbound petroleum traffic. Russia is likely to build a naval presence in Eritrea’s waters to safeguard its shipments and to further advance its exports.

Strategic Context: Russia’s Need for Warm Water Naval Bases

To become a global power, Russia needs a strong navy with access to warm-waters. This will highly likely enable Russia to boost its trade and to establish a military presence on other continents.

Warm-water ports have long played an important role in Russian foreign policy. None of Russia’s ports allows for easy access to the Mediterranean Sea – Europe’s naval hub for commerce and, through the Suez Canal, the access point to the southern international waters. This leaves Russia with an economic and military incentive to expand toward warmer waters.

For example, Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war is due, among others, to its goal to preserve its presence in the Tartus port. The Russian naval base lacks large-scale repair facilities and a command-and-control capability, which would allow Russia to oversee operations from Tartus. However, it is able to accommodate all Russian naval vessels except for the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and offers a means of offloading arms and personnel.

Strategic Context: Increased Chinese Military Presence in Djibouti

Russia is highly likely to attempt entering a naval competition with China, France and the US in the Red Sea, to build its global power status. To do so, one of Russia’s goals is to establish a military base and naval port in Eritrea, Djibouti’s long-time rival state and neighbour. 

China’s PLA naval base in Djibouti was opened in 2017. It is aimed at enhancing China’s global influence and better protecting its security interests in Africa and the Indian Ocean. The number of PLA personnel deployed in Djibouti is uncertain, but it is likely small. While some speculate the number of personnel is 10,000, diplomatic sources indicate that it is at most 2000. This is a bit higher than the French deployment (1450) but less than half the size of the US deployment (4500). The PLA Navy anti-piracy escort taskforce makes around ten port calls per year in Djibouti, but the PLA contingent prefers to remain discreet. After initially publicising its training exercises, in 2018 it stopped doing so.

The US deployments to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti have been focusing on ensuring freedom of maritime movement from its leading role in anti-piracy patrols and keeping the 15-mile-wide chokepoint at Bab al Mandab open during the continuing civil war in Yemen.

Eritrea’s two ports, in Massawa and Assab, occupy strategic points along the Red Sea. Although the stated purpose of an agreement signed between Russia and Eritrea was to invigorate trade and business deals between the two countries, it is likely to allow the Russians to collect intelligence on shipping going through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and the Arabian Seas. This would include U.S. and Chinese warships sailing to, or from, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

How Would Eritrea Benefit from Russian Military Bases?

Russia’s initiative to build a logistical base in Eritrea is likely to be perceived by the Eritrean government as an opportunity to pursue a close relationship with Russia in order to develop the country’s economy and defence sectors.

Military cooperation is the quickest and most easily implemented sector. As the second weapons producer in the world, Russia is a major supplier of arms to Africa: according to think tank SIPRI, 13% of Russian arms are sold to African countries. The weaponry sold is mainly second-hand equipment, such as combat helicopters, aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems. For example, at the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Sergey Lavrov, began negotiations with the Eritrean government, in order to establish a logistic centre in the strategic Horn of Africa region.

The energy sector is crucial for the development of many African countries that are still suffering from inadequate infrastructure and continuous blackouts or load shedding. For instance, Russia’s national nuclear corporation, Rosatom, was one of the major actors in Sochi, signing agreements to build nuclear advanced reactors in Ethiopia for 12,000 MW and a centre for nuclear technology in Rwanda by 2024.

Eritrea has major deficiencies in energy supply, roads, telecommunications, and ports. The country ranked forty-seven out of fifty-three countries across the continent in the 2013 Africa Infrastructure Development Index, due to poor road networks, water and sanitation, energy, and ICT (information and communications technology) deficiencies.

Eritrea has failed so far to take advantage of the country’s unique geostrategic location and long coastline to advance the economy, allowing neighbouring Djibouti to monopolize all the opportunity produced by one of the world’s most important international trade routes (almost one-third of all shipping in the world passes by the two countries’ shores). Furthermore, Eritrea has one of the lowest tourist arrival figures of any non-island in the world, despite its immense tourism potential and location.

Iran?

A military naval base in the Red Sea is likely to enable Russia to adopt a stronger stance in any forthcoming negotiations regarding the nuclear deal with Iran and any conflict concerning the Persian Gulf.

On 14 August 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed an online summit with the other UN Security Council members (United States, United Kingdom, France and China), Germany and Iran, in a bid to avoid confrontation and escalation at the United Nations. The call came after the White House announced it intends to extend the arms embargo on Tehran.

Russia, Iran’s ally in the Syrian civil war, called for the leaders to discuss establishing reliable security and confidence-building measures in the Persian Gulf. Although Russia does not have a strong military presence in the Persian Gulf, the country is likely to engage in coordinating talks between the interested parties, in order to boost its influence in the region.

A Russian base in Eritrea would also be advantageously located between the rival states of Egypt and Ethiopia and therefore in the most logical role to mediate between them. The inclusion of Russia into this format could endow Moscow with the potential to balance between them and their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners.

Military Capabilities: Eritrea’s Current Naval Capabilities

In April 2018, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the country’s ambition to develop its own navy force, despite Ethiopia being a landlocked country. To do so, Ethiopia signed in 2019 a military agreement with France, who vowed to invest 2.8 billion Euros in Ethiopia’s forces. Although relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea improved considerably following the Ethiopian-Eritrean border war (1998-2000) and the peace agreement signed only in 2018, it is likely that Eritrea perceives Ethiopia’s plan to build its naval forces as a threat to its security.

As of August 2020, Eritrea’s navy forces consist of 1,400 strong-force and an air force of about 800. It is responsible for the security of the entire coastline of Eritrea, (over 1,100 km) as well as the Eritrean territorial waters. The Eritrean Navy was formed from the remnants of the Ethiopian Navy, all of which was based on the Eritrean coast. In recent years, the Eritrean Naval Force has been seriously weakened by the continuous defections of its officers to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Mismanagement and tyrannical system of the PFDJ regime is the main cause of the mass defection.

As of 2005, the navy had one missile craft, along with seven inshore patrol boats, and three amphibious vehicles of unknown serviceability. The Eritrean navy is headquartered in Massawa. Eritrea also has former Soviet bases located on islands off the coast. Naval bases include Assab (incorporating ship repair facility); Embaticalla (former marine commando training school); Massawa (traditional EPLF naval HQ); and Dahlak.

Russian Military Equipment & Weaponry Likely to be Shipped to Eritrea

In the likelihood of Russia building a logistical navy base in Eritrea, there is a realist possibility that the base will benefit from similar equipment as the Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria.

According to the Russian government, Russia tries to significantly expand its military bases in war-torn Syria. President Vladimir Putin ordered his Defense and Foreign Ministries to hold talks with Bashar Assad’s government over obtaining maritime access in Syria, as well as further military facilities and additional real estate on land and at sea. Both the Tartus and Latakia bases are set to be expanded to allow Russian armed forces higher levels of performance and functionality.

Reporters on a trip to Syria organized by the Russian Defense Ministry could see a missile corvette sailing off on patrol and a group of navy divers practising at the Tartus harbour. Captain Sergei Tronev, the chief of the Russian navy command in the area, said in addition to two submarines moored at the harbour, Tartus now also hosts two missile corvettes, three patrol boats and three supply vessels.

Tronev added that along with the ships in Tartus, the navy’s force in the eastern Mediterranean currently includes the guided-missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov, which has sailed from its Arctic base of Severomorsk, and the guided-missile frigate Admiral Makarov detached from the Black Sea Fleet.

Military Supremacy in the Red Sea

To attain the status of a super-power in the Red Sea, Russia will have to compete with the US, French and Chinese naval forces, the most well-equipped navies in the area.

Camp Lemonnier is the centrepiece of a network of US drone and surveillance bases stretching across the continent and serves as a hub for aerial operations in the Gulf. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) officially consists of around 2000 US military service members as well as personnel from allied countries. In 2017, it was reported that up to 4000 military personnel were temporarily based in Djibouti. The base has housed a broad range of US ground, air and naval units over the years. For example, in October 2011, in 2016, F-16 combat planes and air tankers were deployed to Camp Lemonnier as fighting intensified in South Sudan and Yemen.

French forces are deployed at several sites in Djibouti city, including Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport, a naval base, and Chabelley Airport outside the capital. The naval base plays an important logistical role in supporting French and allied navies in the region and is strategically important for France’s ability to send its nuclear attack submarines into the Indian Ocean. The garrison is equipped with helicopters and a squadron of Mirage combat jets, as well as heavy equipment to support infantry units.

China’s military base in Djibouti is located immediately south-west of the Doraleh Multipurpose Port and the PLAN is reported to have exclusive access to a dedicated berth in that port. Combined, these options are believed to enable China to berth multiple ships in Djibouti, including all but the largest PLAN vessels.

The base has barracks, a paved area and eight hangars for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and naval facilities. Since the base opened, expansion has continued with the construction of a 450-metre pier that can accommodate naval flotillas, including large warships.

Satellite images from May 2020 indicate that China is continuing work at the fortified Support Base in Djibouti. The images show that the pier is now substantially complete, so it should be able to accept ships in the next year.

In 2012, it was reported that Israel maintained small naval teams in the Dahlak Archipelago and Massawa and a listening post on Mount Soira (Amba Sawara) in Eritrea. Israel’s presence is intended to gather intelligence and monitor Iran’s Red Sea activities. In 2017, a spokesperson for the Houthi rebel movement accused Israel of participating in the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting in Yemen and indicated that Israeli bases in Eritrea could be the target of missile attacks.

Economic Aspects: Russian Oil Exports in the Red Sea      

Petroleum exports from Russia account for the largest share (24%) of Suez southbound petroleum traffic. Russia is likely to build a naval presence in Eritrea’s waters to safeguard its shipments and to further advance its exports.

The Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline are strategic routes for Persian Gulf crude oil, petroleum products, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments to Europe and North America. Located in Egypt, the Suez Canal connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, and it is a critical chokepoint because of the large volumes of energy commodities that flow through it. A naval base in Eritrea would enable Russia to secure the safe passage of its shipments through the Red Sea, reaching the Indian Ocean.

Russian Naval Base in Eritrea

Economic Aspects: Eritrea Economically Benefit from Russian Military Bases?

Eritrea main exports are livestock, sorghum, textiles and food. Its main export partners are Italy, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Kingdom and Egypt. Thus, Eritrea is highly interested in the security of the Red Sea, so that its shipments can safely reach the destination country.

As the Russian navy base will serve as a logistical facility, it could also ensure the Eritrean navy disposes of the necessary equipment and support to defend its commercial ships.

Intelligence Cutoff Date (ICOD) 01-09-2020

Confidential

The Great Game: Russian Influence in the Balkans

Russia Influence Balkans

The “Great Game” of power competition is once again afoot in the Balkans, where the US, NATO and the EU vie with Russia for influence. There is a good reason for this, however: recent Russian operations to gain influence or disrupt the EU have had limited successes elsewhere in Europe. Attempts to influence and threaten the Baltic nations have been limited by their whole-hearted participation in NATO, stable democratic systems, and relative lack of corruption.

In contrast, the Balkans offer richer opportunities. Governments are poorer than those in the Baltics, and countries are mired in corruption. Tensions resulting from the collapse of Yugoslavia, resulting in wars, ethnic cleansing and inter-governmental tension provide a perfect environment in which Russia can play “divide and rule”. One Russian Foreign Ministry staffer stated:

“[The Balkans are] full of opportunities for us to play everyone against each other – and frankly we don’t have to do very much.”

Putin’s Man: Nikolai Patrushev

Russian involvement in the Balkans is managed by Nikolai Patrushev (see figure 1), formerly of the Russian KGB and FSB. He is within Putin’s close circle of siloviki and was almost certainly involved in the failed Montenegro Coup attempt in October 2016. Patrushev is virulently opposed to the West, seeing the conflict between Russia and the West as something approaching a civilisational competition. For Patrushev, limiting NATO and US influence within the Balkans is the aim, which Russia is able to do with remarkably little investment and resources. Secondarily, the Kremlin’s aim of action within the Balkans is to create a network of self-interested actors with financial and political capital invested into continued relations with Russia.

Russia Influence Balkans
Figure 1: Nikolai Patrushev: Putin’s ally in charge of Russian influence in the Balkans

Vectors of Russian Influence: Why Serbia?

One of the main vectors for Russian influence in the Balkans is Serbia, which while far from alienated from the West, continues to have relatively close ties to Russia, especially in the area of military cooperation, and its energy sector. However, at the same time, Serbia is pressing for accession to the European Union and conducts military exercises with NATO forces on a regular basis: Serbia exists in a grey position, neither completely in the Western camp, nor in the Russian camp.

This may work to Russia’s advantage: some analysts claim that Serbia may act as a “trojan horse” for Russian influence if it is able to join the EU. Serbia could add to the pre-existing divisions inside the EU, further weakening the bloc’s integrity, a key Russian strategic goal. Serbia is fertile ground for Russian involvement; Russia backed Serbian claims on Kosovo following the 2008 declaration of independence. Serbian public opinion is also extremely pro-Russian; between 2009 and 2015 80% of Serbs agreed that Serbia’s interests were best served by maintaining strong relationships with Russia.

The “How”

When journalists or academics analyse Serbia, there is often a plethora of evidence explaining how Russia may influence Serbia. They cite the military ties, and Russian military exports to Serbia, or political engagement between the politicians of the two countries. They even cite pan-Slavism and the shared Orthodox Christian heritage. However, these are the publicly acknowledged indicators of Russian influence in Serbia. The shadier elements often never see the light of day, and for good reason. A pervasive culture of fear and suspicion clouds the naming of businessmen, crooked companies and criminals responsible for preserving Russian influence in Serbia.

While HUMINT sources may have a good idea of the guilty parties, the idea of going on the record and naming names is potentially dangerous and doesn’t happen publicly. One major exception to this lack of publicity is the 2016 Montenegrin coup attempt, which was organised by Russian agents from within Serbia, using numerous Serbian nationals. The coup even involved Bratislav Dikić, the former head of the Serbian Gendarmerie. That the Russian government was able to organise a coup against Montenegro within Serbia, using many Serbian nationals, shows that Serbia is thoroughly compromised by Russian influence.

Confidential

Ukrainian Anarchists Shout Echos of Makhno

The philosophy that drives left-wing factions in the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war evolves from a rich history of Ukrainian anarchists.

“The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order and in the assertion that, without Authority there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that anarchy can be instituted by a violent revolution.”

Leo Tolstoy, “On Anarchy”

Ukrainian Anarchists Resurgence

Ukrainian anarchists have found their place in the resurgence of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

This resurgence began with the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Overnight, a mysterious possibility quickly morphed into a brutal reality. The Russian troop build-up on the Ukrainian border turned out to be a real staging point for forward action, and not “a drill” as some analysts speculated.

In the past two months of the conflict, people across the globe have united to support Ukraine, including fighting on the front lines.

Ukrainian anarchists are one of the strangest yet most fascinating elements of the volunteer force to be reported on recently. Despite what one may think, their willingness to fight in war is not as counter-intuitive as it sounds. In fact, it’s in their historical DNA.

Makhnovshchina

Ukrainian anarchists are an ancient breed. The political philosophy that drives an array of left-wing factions in the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war evolves from a rich political history. One prolific example dates to the beginning of the 20th century: the revolutionary figure, Nestor Makhno.

Makhno entered the anarchist canon during the Russian Revolution of 1917-1923. Born into a peasant family, Makhno experienced the plight of income disparities and serfdom experientially. These experiences took place in the Ukrainian town of Huliaipole–an industrial sector of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (source)

Left-wing activism’s gravitational pull grasped Makhno during his teenage years. It started with the young comrade joining local political movements, yet escalated into the formation of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, or the Makhnovshchina.

Peasantry United

The Makhnovshchina, led by Makhno, had the lifeblood of peasantry coursing through its veins. Followers of Makhno shared his story and banded around his anti-state rhetoric. They were anarchists at heart, which did not fall in line with the Bolsheviks and their hierarchal structure. Because of this contrast, the Makhnovshchina found themselves wedged between the dominant factions of the Russian Revolution. (source)

In the four years, they were active (1917-1921), Makhno and his men influenced nearly 7 million Ukrainians. Contrary to the communists, anarchists had a message of liberation followed by a horizontally structured society.

The Marxist revolutionaries eventually won. Battles fought by the Makhnovshchina, including against the Germans in the First Great War, and the Russian White Army during the revolution were fruitless for the Ukrainian anarchist movement.

Makhno fled Ukraine and landed in Paris, where he would spend the rest of his days in exile; his legacy was left behind as an inspiration and source of strength for the Ukrainian anarchists who followed.

ukranian anarchists
Comrade Makhno himself with the classic revolutionary moustache (source)

Euromaidan, neo-Makhnovists, and the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine

Ukrainian anarchists ebbed and flowed between the Makhnovshchina era and the present day. They carried their presence through the decades, with minimal impact. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a pivotal event for the movement. Liberation, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, laid the groundwork for the Ukrainian anarchist groups that are active in the ongoing crisis.

The Maidan Uprising, also known as Euromaidan, took place in Kyiv between November 2013 and February 2014.

Context: the Ukrainian government was on track to sign an agreement that would bring the nation closer to the European Union (EU). That was until a sudden withdrawal by former president Viktor Yanukovych mere days before the intended signing. Yanukovych, who conveniently now lives in Russia, in exile, was a highly controversial leader. A leader favoured by Putin.

What could have been a step toward Ukrainian integration into the EU ended with Yanukovych bowing to the Kremlin. Who, as the world knows tangibly based on the events of the last two months, rejects the idea of EU expansion Eastward. What resulted was mass civil unrest and protests in the Maidan Nzalezhnosti—the “Independence Square” in Kyiv.

The overarching theme of the protest had a gravitational pull on left-wing activists, including Ukrainian anarchists, who engaged in direct action. (source) A so-called “neo-Makhnovist” fervour was present amongst the anarchists but with little impact on Euromaidan protests from a “forwarding ideology” perspective.

The course of the event brought many factions into civil conflict from both extremes of the political spectrum. With a utopian lens on, the protests could have been ample ground for a Makhnovist revolution, but that was a mere dream, as utopian ideas usually are. Ukrainian anarchists had low numbers, and poor coordination and their message were static because of interference from the surrounding noise of competing ideologies.

Kyiv is the home of the Autonomous Workers Union: an anarcho-syndicalist organization founded in 2011 with members from various elements of the left wing, some of whom took part in the Euromaidan.

In a short time following the Euromaidan – February 2014 – Russia invaded Ukraine and started the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. They came from the East, unmarked, and began the annexation of Crimea and conflict in the Donbas region.  

ukranian anarchists
Direct action during the Euromaidan, 2014 (source)

Ukrainian anarchists in the Russo-Ukrainian war

Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has ignited an international volunteer movement to support their plight. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, quickly formed the International Legion of Ukraine–a call to arms for volunteers across the world to join the war effort. (source)

Anarchists and other left-wing oriented groups have found their place in the effort with the diverse set of backgrounds and ideologies that have volunteered. It would seem counter-intuitive for such groups to join a nationalist conflict, given anarchists generally subscribe to an anti-war ethos.

This crisis is different. Russia is driven by imperialism, and anarchists, anti-fascists, and other left-wing fighters have banded around the push to drive them out. Not that they support the Ukrainian state or government or have dropped the core tenets of their central ideologies. Ukraine is their home, and if there was ever to be a hope of a stateless society, they need to have a state to begin with.

Jake Hanrahan, a prolific conflict journalist and founder of Popular Front, recently tweeted an image of an anarchist unit on the front lines, as well as a video clip of a Ukrainian volunteer proclaiming veganism and punk rock.

As noted in the tweet, the essence of Makhno is ever-present among some anarchists currently in combat. In Makhno’s own hometown, citizens have reportedly appealed to him as a source of inspiration and strength, going as far as raising up local defence groups who call themselves “Makhno’s bow”. (source)

The Resistance Committee is a known anarchist unit that is part of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. (source) In their own words:

“There are many problems inside Ukraine, but these problems are more likely to be solved without the intervention of Russia.

“Is it worth it to fight the Russian troops in the case of an invasion? We believe that the answer is yes. The options that Ukrainian anarchists are considering at the present moment include joining the armed forces of Ukraine, engaging in territorial defense, partisanship, and volunteering.”

(source)

For anarchists within the borders of Ukraine, they do not limit the mission to combat roles. Some have taken a civil volunteer stance, helping with refugees, supporting the families of fighters, medically helping other fighters, and gathering supplies. (source)

Operation Solidarity

Operation Solidarity is one instance – an “anti-authoritarian volunteer network organized during the war to jointly help all progressive forces in society to counter imperialist aggression against Ukraine.” (source)

Ukrainian anarchists don’t stand alone, with their comrades in Europe conducting their own activism. Just this past March, anarchists seized the mansion of a Russian oligarch in London, hanging banners from the balcony with statements like “This property has been liberated”, and flying the Ukrainian flag. (source)

From an ideological standpoint, all left-wing volunteers face some interesting challenges, particularly amongst their peers in the fight against Russia. Numbers aren’t entirely clear, but they are likely a tiny percentage of the overall volunteer force, compared to likely higher numbers of right-wing oriented fighters.

In one way, that shows how the beauty of comradery can shine through the fog of war. People from opposite ideological ends banded together – either directly or indirectly to resist the comically underperforming Russian war-machine.

As the conflict continues, we will probably hear more about these brave comrades, with their exploits and support for their homeland becoming engraved in the tragic historical timeline currently taking place.

Confidential

Attacks in Transnistria: A Situational Assessment

Beginning on the 25th of April a series of attacks began in the Moldovan breakaway state of Transnistria. The Transnistrian government is heavily pro-Russian and relies on them for economic aid. The attacks began when three individuals attacked the Transnistrian State Security building with rocket propelled grenades. The building was unoccupied due to it being a day off for Orthodox Easter Monday. In the following days improvised drones attacked a Russian-owned and occupied ammunition depot. Additionally, two radio towers that broadcast Russian programming were destroyed. On the 3rd of May, Transnistrian forces prevented a drone attack and on the 5th of May a drone dropped two explosives near a defunct airfield.

Key Judgement 1: The attacks in Transnistria were highly likely a Russian false flag operation to destabilize the region and create a second front in the Ukrainian conflict.

  • Senior General Rustam Minnekayev of the Russian Armed Forces stated that the task of the Russian military is to gain control of Southern Ukraine to establish a land bridge between Transnistria and Crimea. (Source, Source)

  • Russia has around 1500 soldiers stationed at the ammunition depot which contains 20,000 tons of ammunition. Since 2015, Russia has had no way to access these troops or ammunition via land routes through Ukraine. (Source, Source)

  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was in Transnistria providing training to the Transnistrian military in the weeks leading up to the attacks. (Source)

  • Russia has a history of utilizing false flag operations to advance their political goals. The Soviet precursor to the FSB, known as the KGB, perpetrated false flag operations in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, and Finland. Russian president Vladimir Putin also had a long career in the KGB prior to becoming president. (Source, Source, Source)
drone attack in Transnistria
Drone recovered by Transnistrian forces on the 3rd of May 2022. (Source)

Key Judgement 2: It is unlikely that the attacks in Transnistria were perpetrated by any official element of the Ukrainian military.

  • Ukrainian forces are currently pushing back the Russian advance in southern Ukraine. It is unlikely that Ukrainian forces are capable of diverting time and resources to provoke Transnistria. Additionally, a provocation of Transnistria offers no tactical or strategic advantage to the Ukrainians, rather it would place them in the middle of a pincer manoeuvre. (Source)

  • The timing and execution of the attacks indicate there was very little planning behind them or the intent was to do as little damage as possible. However, Ukrainian Special Operations Forces have proven to be exceptionally capable saboteurs. The perpetrators attacked the Transnistrian State Security building on Orthodox Easter Monday, a day when no one was inside the building. Ukrainian instigators would have known that the building was likely to be unoccupied on this day. The radio transmitters broadcast Russian radio programs. The attacks resulted in zero casualties and no significant damage to infrastructure. The attacks give the appearance that Russia is using Transnistria to undermine international support for Ukraine, while trying to do as little damage to their ally as possible. (Source, Source)

  • On the 3rd of May Russian state media released images of a drone downed in another attempted attack. The drone was reportedly homemade and capable of carrying a 20kg payload over 30Km. There is a realistic probability that the drone is a disinformation attempt. The drone is held together with duct tape and sustained minor damage given the circumstances in which it was recovered. (Source)
Transnistria
Transnistrian flag attached to an MT-LB. (Source)

Key Judgement 3: It is highly unlikely that these attacks will have any significant immediate impact on the conflict in Ukraine, if at all.

  • Currently, Ukrainian forces are pushing back the Russian advance in the south. It is highly unlikely that the Russians will be able to establish the land bridge they initially sought (Source).

  • Despite the president of Transnistria claiming the attacks were perpetrated by Ukraine, he has stated that Transnistria will not be pulled into the conflict. (Source)

  • In the days following the attacks, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Geoana stated that he is expecting false flags to occur, and that Moldova is in danger of being attacked. (Source)

Summary

The attacks in Transnistria are highly likely to have Russian origins with the intent of doing as little damage to their regional ally as possible. There is no evidence that the attacks have Ukrainian origin. Russia has far more to gain from pulling Transnistria into the conflict than Ukraine. However, the attacks will likely have no effect on the larger conflict since Russia can’t physically get their forces there.

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 7th May 2022

Confidential

Azov Regiment: Ukraine’s Far-Right Defenders

Introduction

The Azov Battalion, and subsequently the Azov Regiment, have been the focus of much reporting in Western and Russian media due to both their large voluntary membership and their neo-Nazi ties. However, due to the Ukraine Crisis being a highly politicised situation, divisive units such as Azov arguably lack objective reporting in the media.

Russian media, under the direction of the Kremlin, has tended to exaggerate the power and the impact of the Azov Battalion to support its disinformation campaign presenting the Ukrainian Government and military as fascistic and genocidal. On the other hand, Western media has often played down Azov’s neo-Nazi ties in an attempt to refrain from aiding Kremlin disinformation. In reality, there is a significant neo-Nazi element within Azov, but despite their offensive ideology the Azov Regiment may be one of Ukraine’s best hope’s for resisting the Russian invasion.

Founding of the Azov Battalion

The Azov Battalion was formed on May 5th, 2014, in Mariupol, in the Azov Sea coastal region, as a volunteer militia during the 2014 Ukraine Crisis.

The bulk of the Azov movement was formed around the charismatic leadership of Andriy Biletsky, a member of the Kharkiv branch of the far-right ‘Social National Party of Ukraine’ and founder of the ultranationalist organisation ‘Patriot of Ukraine’. It was members of the ‘Patriot of Ukraine’ who joined the first incarnation of the Azov Battalion, under the leadership of Biletsky and with the support of the governor of Kharkiv.

The roots of the battalion are also found in football hooliganism, with many of the groups founding members being a part of an ‘Ultras’ fan movement for the Ukrainian football club FC Metalist Kharkiv called “Sect 82”. In February 2014, Sect 82 occupied the primary regional administration in Kharkiv and took on the role as a volunteer self-defence militia, in response to the growing separatist movement in the city. Gaining recognition by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Sect 82 was transformed into the “Eastern Corps” and travelled to Donbas, taking part in the liberation of Mariupol in June 2014. By August 2015 they had officially joined the Azov Battalion.

Azov’s Combat Experience: 2014 Russian Annexation of Crimea

After the withdrawal of Government forces in Mariupol on May 9th, 2014, the Azov Battalion along with the Dnipro-1 Battalion retook the city on June 13th following heavy fighting. The battalions killed 5 separatist militants and destroyed a BRDM-2 armoured vehicle.

Following the Battle of Mariupol, the battalion was relocated to Berdiansk to engage in further recruitment and training.

By the July 16th, the Azov Battalion had 300 volunteers. They fought again in Mariupol in late August and early September 2014, following a rebel offensive attempting to retake the city. During the offensive, Azov soldiers trained citizens of the city to defend themselves as well as helped establish citizen militias. The Azov battalion fought alongside the Donbas battalion, Ukrainian Sea Guard, and ground forces, and notably captured a tank from separatist forces.

After the ceasefire in September 2014, the Azov Battalion was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine on November 11th, 2014 and received regimental status in January 2015. From this point, the Azov Regiment was given access to heavy arms, and was officially designated as a ‘Special Operations Detachment’. By March 2015 the regiment was comprised of 900 volunteers.

Azov’s Combat Experience: 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine

At the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Azov regiment was largely positioned in Mariupol. As a result, the regiment has acted as the primary defending unit against the ongoing Siege of Mariupol since February 24th 2022.

On March 10th, it was reported that members of the Azov regiment and the 72nd brigade conducted a successful ambush of Russia’s 6th Tank Regiment, inflicting significant losses and liquidating its commander Colonel A. Zakharov, in the Brovarsky district of Kyiv.

On March 16th, Russia conducted an airstrike targeting the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol killing approximately 600 civilians. Russia accused Azov of perpetrating this attack as a ‘false flag‘ operation.

The abandoned HQ of the Azov Regiment based in the northern Kalmiuskyi District of Mariupol was captured by Russian forces on March 22nd.

By April 16th, the Azov regiment alongside members of the 36th Marine Brigade and reportedly around 1000 Ukrainian civilians retreated to the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works after Russian forces successfully occupied Mariupol’s urban areas. Despite threats of storming the Azovstal facility by Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, on April 21st Putin called off the offensive, opting for a blockade instead, in order to minimise troop losses.

Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

It was reported by Ukrainian Authorities that airstrikes and ground offensives against the facility continued on April 23rd, however, these reports have not been independently verified. On April 27th and 28th, Russia conducted heavy bombing of the Azovstal plant. According to a Ukrainian official this included more than 50 airstrikes and resulted in over 430 being injured, however, these numbers have not been independently verified.

Putin called for the continuation of attacks on the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works on May 3rd, with ground assaults being launched against the defending Azov forces and the 36th Marine Brigade.

By May 7th, after Russia agreeing to sporadic openings of evacuation corridors from April 30th, Ukraine released a statement that all women, children and elderly civilians had been successfully evacuated from the industrial facility, with the support of Azov soldiers.

Video evidence released on May 15th suggests that Russian forces have been deploying white phosphorus bombs against the Iron and Steel Works plant.

Speaking from the industrial plant, Azov lieutenant Illya Samoilenko reported that Azov forces had killed approximately 2,500 Russian troops between February 24th and April 25th.

Over 260 soldiers, including 50 who were considered seriously injured, were evacuated from Azovstal and taken to areas under Russian control on May 16th.

On May 17th, the Ukrainian Government announced the end of the ‘combat mission’ in Mariupol, resulting in the surrendering of the besieged troops in the Azovstal industrial facility and the ceding of control of the port city to Russian forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the continued resistance of Azov forces and the 36th Marine Brigade was essential in slowing Russian forces, preventing the rapid seizure of the city of Zaporizhzhia.

By May 18th, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that since May 17th 959 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered from the Azovstal facility. 51 out of the 959 soldiers have been sent for medical treatment due to injuries, while the rest have been transported to a former penal colony in Olenivka, situated in the Russian-controlled territory of the Donetsk region.

The fate of the surrendering Azov troops within Azovstal is still unclear, as Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin suggested a possible ban on the prisoner exchange of Azov Regiment members. Accusing the regiment of war crimes, Volodin stated that they should be tried in Russia rather than exchanged.

Wounded Soldier in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works facility: Posted in the Azov Telegram Channel

Structure

There are no official sources confirming the structure of the Azov Regiment. The following structure was presented on several websites, but should be considered unverified.

-Regimental HQ

-1st Commando Battalion

-2nd Commando Battalion (in formation stage)

-5th Tank Battalion

-Field Artillery Battery

-Reconnaissance Company

-Security Company

-Engineer Company

-Maintenance Company

-Logistic Company

-Signal Platoon

-CBRN-defense Platoon

-4th (Training) Battalion

-Regimental Depot Kyiv

-Regimental Depot Mariupol

-Regimental Depot Berdiansk

Ideology

The Azov Battalion was founded with an explicit far-right ideological leaning. The ultranationalist organisation the ‘Social National Assembly’, founded by Azov’s creator Andriy Biletsky, has publicly stated its aims as:

  • “To prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital.”
  • “To punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man.”

Moreover, The Azov Battalion itself uses the Wolfsangel and the Black Sun within its insignia, both of which are prominent neo-Nazi symbols. However, Biletsky denied the Wolfsangel being a part of their insignia and stated that the symbol is a result of the intersection between letters that signify the slogan “Ідея Нації” (National Idea).

Furthermore, a number of soldiers within the Azov Battalion have been filmed wearing helmets with swastikas and SS runes, and reportedly several soldiers have also incorporated Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols onto their uniforms and have shown reporters tattoos of Nazi symbols.

A spokesperson for the Battalion, Andriy Diachenko, has stated to news organisations that he estimates only 10-20% of the group’s membership are Nazis in 2015. However, even if this estimate is correct, this indicates the military and government’s acceptance of a sizeable minority of explicit neo-Nazis within a National Guard unit.

Confidential

Russia’s Threat to Estonia in the Next 24 Months

Estonia-Russia relations are turbulent, due to several high profile diplomatic failures and tensions regarding Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Russian conventional military action against Estonia over the next 24 months is unlikely due to Estonian membership in multiple multilateral security agreements, and Russian dedication of military assets to its offensive actions against Ukraine. However, Estonia is still challenged with countering Russia’s hybrid warfare threats.

Key Judgement 1: In the next 24 months, Russia is highly likely to employ misinformation techniques to attempt to gain support amongst the large Russian-native population within Estonia.

  • The Kremlin views Estonia’s membership in NATO and the EU, and therefore alliance with Western States, as a threat to its security, sovereignty, and autonomy [source].

  • Estonia has a large ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking community, accounting for up to 25% of the populace. This is due to Estonia’s former Soviet occupation, which ended in 1991 [source].

  • Russia has vowed to ‘protect the interests of all Ethnic Russian people’, highlighting its vested interest in appealing to this demographic [source].

  • Russia has a history of highly successful misinformation campaigns against the Baltic States. Much of this has been done by appealing to the shared cultural and linguistic ties of the Russian diaspora in Estonia [source]. Russia does so through several means, such as through radio, television, internet broadcasting, and social media campaigns [source].

  • Considering overwhelming Western disapproval of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Estonia has denounced repeatedly, misinformation will be critical to the Kremlin to control narratives and perspectives towards Russia within Estonia.

Key Judgement 2: In the next 24 months, Russia is likely to continue cyber operations against Estonia, although Estonia maintains high resilience to such threats.

  • Russia maintains advanced cybersecurity capabilities, and consistent documented use of such means to target Estonian private and state organisations [source]. Russia has historically launched a mixture of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, website defacement, attacks against Data Name Servers (DNS), and mass email comment spam. Most commonly, these attacks target government servers and other public institutions [source].

  • These cyber-attacks occur on an immense scale, with Estonia being Russia’s main target for bot attacks [source]. The Estonian President stated that Estonia have experienced over 150 cyber-attacks per day in 2022 from Russian origins [source].

  • Estonia has high cyber operation readiness and resilience, with investment in cybersecurity increasing in recent years [source]. Similarly, Estonia takes part in multilateral cyber defence efforts, including the Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) [source].

  • In spite of this, Russia continues to launch cyber offensives against Estonia as part of its hybrid warfare strategy [source].

Key Judgement 3: In the next 24 months, Russia and Estonia are unlikely to resolve border disputes through diplomatic and political dialogue. However, conventional military action against Estonia is unlikely.

Russia's threat to Estonia
(Img; A small area of Russian land cuts across Estonian territory, Named the ‘Saatse Boot’. This area was due to be ceded to Estonia in border treaties drafted in both 2005, and then 2014, but is still yet to be ratified; via RFERL)
  • Diplomatic relations between Tallinn and Moscow are poor, with diplomatic dialogue beginning in 2021 after two years of very limited political engagement [source]. Russia and Estonia both expelled diplomats from the reciprocal countries in 2021 due to alleged classified documentation leaks, although these leaks have not been independently verified [source, source].

  • Estonia has repeatedly condemned Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea [source], and the 2022 invasion of mainland Ukraine [source]. Russia recognises Crimea and Ukraine as sovereign to Russia.

  • In spite of this, both countries have shown significant interest in ratifying the treaty concerning the countries’ shared but disputed border [source]. Therefore, both countries are likely to continue to show interest in diplomatic dialogue for strategic reasons.

  • However, Russian conventional military action against Estonia is unlikely. Russia’s military assets are currently engaged in conflict in Ukraine, with progress being much slower than analysis prior to the invasion suggested [source, source].

  • Estonia is a member of multiple multilateral security agreements, including NATO membership and military agreements with the US, Switzerland, and the Baltic States [source]. As part of these agreements, Estonia has increased its military readiness, through increased international troop presence and increased military spending [source, source]. Therefore, Estonia and its allies boast asymmetric warfare capabilities against Russia’s current military availability [source].

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 6th May 2022

Confidential

Russia’s Threat to Lithuania in the Next 24 Months

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has ushered in an unprecedented level of alarm for the European continent. Lithuania is a former Soviet bloc nation that finds itself near Ukraine, among other points of key terrain Russia could use in the event of its military campaign moving further East. Therefore, Russia’s threat to Lithuania is worth paying attention to.

Key Judgement 1: In the next 24 months, it is unlikely the Russian threat to Lithuania will take a conventional form.  

  • Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine displays a military force that is currently incapable of proficiently conducting conventional warfare against a smaller and less equipped force. 

  • The performance of Russia’s conventional military operations in Ukraine is inferior to pre-war analysis and scenario generation. Russia has suffered a catastrophic loss in both equipment and personnel since the initial invasion in late February 2022. Ukrainian resistance has shed light on the lack of military prowess and combined arms coordination coming from Russian units. Although the decision to invade Ukraine is a tactical blunder, it is unlikely the Kremlin will risk a conventional war with NATO forces that would occur if Lithuania was to be invaded. 

  • In contrast to Ukraine, Lithuania is a member of NATO. Any future military action against Lithuania will invoke the organization’s Article 5 “collective defence” doctrine. That action would bring other NATO partners into the conflict, which is unlikely to be a desirable outcome for President Putin. (source)

Russia's threat to Lithuania
Lithuanian Honor Guard Company (source)

Key Judgement 2: In the next 24 months, it is likely Lithuania will take proactive steps in bolstering the defence of the Suwalki Gap. If that action occurs, there is a realistic probability the Russian threat will increase. 

  • As determined by NATO, the Suwalki Gap is a piece of key terrain that would give Russia a strong battlefield advantage with a future European invasion. This makes it a point of friction in NATO’s regional military strategy, as well as a piece of land that requires a strong defence in the wake of Russia’s current aggression. 

  • The Suwalki Gap is a strip of land that traverses the borders of Lithuania, Poland, and connects the Russia-aligned Belarus with Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad is a Russian territory that rests between the Baltic States and the other European NATO members. The territories importance to Russia is highly strategic: it connects Russia to the Baltic Sea, and it used to house an array of Russian military forces and hardware. 

  • Although Russian military action against the Baltic States is unlikely, it is likely Lithuania will join Poland in bolstering the Suwalki Gap’s defence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine is an irrational geopolitical action that signals a need for Lithuania to prepare for seemingly unlikely future military scenarios. Preventing a Russian takeover of the Suwalki Gap is paramount to regional stability. (source)    

Russia's Threat to Lithuania
NATO forces conducting a training exercise in the Suwalki Gap (source)

Key Judgement 3: In the next 24 months, Russia will highly likely increase its use of disinformation as the Kremlin seeks to project soft power over the Baltic states, posing a persistent Russian threat to the Lithuanian population.

  • In recent years, Russia has sought to use soft power to gain influence in the Baltic States, including Lithuania. Disinformation is the primary Russian threat to Lithuania.

  • Lithuania is a prime country for Russian disinformation. Although 5.8% of its population is ethically Russian, and 8% of its population speaks the Russian language (source), the Kremlin does not forget its status as a former USSR territory, along with its strategic geographical location. Lithuania’s inclusion into the EU and NATO has resulted in a Westernization of its culture, which opposes Russia’s cold nationalism and opposition to liberal democracy.

  • Russia seeks to gain influence over the Lithuanian population using similar means to its information warfare campaign during the 2016 national elections in the United States. The string of military defeats and lack of a coherent strategy in Ukraine has resulted in an international reprimand towards Russia. Disinformation is the only tool that can help mitigate the negative attention that its activities in Ukraine have garnered. 

  • Lithuania will likely continue to be the spearhead of the Baltic State’s fight against Russian disinformation. The fragile and fractured state of Lithuania-Russia relations, along with the international backlash against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will highly likely continue to drive the Kremlin’s disinformation operations into the future, as it seeks to convert Baltic residents into sympathy for its cause. (source) Recent measures in Lithuania have included the government requesting tech companies remove a Yandex aligned ride-share application from its national store that holds the potential to give Russian security services Lithuanian data. (source)

    Intelligence cut-off date: 6th of May 2022

Confidential

Russia’s Threat to Latvia in the Next 24 Months

Latvia, a NATO member, and Russia have a tense relationship gripped by Russian meddling, since the former broke from the Soviet Union in 1991. Exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many nations that share a border with Russia are wary of their actions. Latvia is closely in support of Ukraine.

Latvia has also been on the receiving end of Russian disinformation and psychological operation campaigns, even warranting an official response by NATO in the region to combat it. Given the current climate of instability in the region, it is likely that Russian influence and operations in the Baltic state will increase in the next 24 months. 

Russian Threats to Latvia, NATO
A combination of NATO and Latvian troops in Latvia during Operation Silver Arrow. (Source)

Key Judgment 1: In the next 24 months, it is highly unlikely that Russia will launch military offensives against Latvia. 

  • Latvia is a member of NATO, and houses a complete Enhanced Force Presence and Force Integration Unit close to the capital of Riga. These units have been stationed in the Baltic states to ward off any Russian aggression after the Warsaw Summit in 2016 (Source). The Enhanced Force Presence in Latvia is a mix of infantry, mechanized, and reconnaissance units from participating NATO countries (Source).

  • In working closely militarily with neighboring Baltic countries, Latvia is part of the Baltic Joint Military Staff (source) the Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON) (source), as well as the Baltic Air Surveillance Network (BALTNET) (Source). These are linchpins to the Baltic states’ shared notion of mutual defense against Russia, and these institutions serve as  blockades to Russian attacks.

  • It is unclear what Russia’s exact motivation in Ukraine and the Baltic states, but a full-scale war with Latvia and NATO is not within reason for the Russian state within the next 24 months. Russia has faced clear setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine, primarily through Ukrainian defensive tactics and NATO countries responding with supplying Ukraine. Due to this, direct action against NATO-allied nations and NATO is highly unlikely. 

Key Judgment 2: In the next 24 months, it is highly likely that Russia will heighten their misinformation, subversion and political measures within Latvia’s social and political systems.

  • Russia has historically launched misinformation campaigns against the almost 25% Russian-speaking/of descent population in Latvia. The Baltics have been an interesting battleground of hybrid warfare, and Latvia is no exception. Over the past 4 years, Latvia has claimed election interference from the GRU (source), Russian bots flooding Latvian social media channels (source), as well as hacks on websites displaying the text: “Fellow Latvians, this concerns you. The Russian border has no limits!” (Source)

  • Disinformation measures by Russia have prompted NATO to employ “techcamp” within Latvia. Accordingly, this method actively includes recruiting members of the Russian-speaking minority to speak out against Russian propaganda on Latvian social media (Source). 

  • In early March, Latvia’s prime minister urged tech companies like Meta and Google to curb disinformation coming from Russia in light of the invasion in Ukraine (Source). This heightened the sense of panic among the Baltic states reflects the vulnerability of social media to targeted disinformation campaigns from the Russian state – and indicates a critical point that Russian entities could strike. 

Key Judgment 3: In the next 24 months, there is a realistic probability Russia may provide support for pro-Russian political parties within Latvia, such as Harmony, as well as Russian-speaking ethnic minorities in the country. 

  • The Harmony Party in Latvia has official ties to Moscow (Source). On top of this, it is also rife with corruption and scandals, down to local-level governments (Source). The party represents Latvia’s Russian speaking ethnic minority population, and advocates for closer ties with Russia. Due to Russia’s use of Latvia as a money laundering waystation, it has been dubbed the “Russian Laundromat” (Source). 

  • Harmony almost took 20% of the parliamentary vote in October of 2018, receiving the majority seat (Source). With a pro-Russian party in power, the situation in Latvia is prime for political coercion from the Kremlin and Russia’s United Way party.

  • Compounding with pressure from the situation in Ukraine, the next two years could see Latvia’s politicians, particularly those who represent Russian speaking ethnic minority populations moving closer in parity to the Kremlin. 

Intelligence cut-off date: 6th of May 2022