Daily Briefing: AMIDST ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS IN LEBANON, RUSSIA SEEKS STATUS QUO (August 18,2020)      

Flag of Lebanon.(Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Russia Aims to Preserve the Status Quo in Lebanon:  Anna Borshchevskaya, Washington Institute, Aug. 12, 2020

Iran-Syria Air Defense Pact Could Cause Russian-Iranian Friction: Mark N. Katz, Atlantic Council, July 30, 2020

The Emperors League: Understanding Sino-Russian Defense Cooperation:  Michael Kofman, War on the Rocks, Aug. 6, 2020

Game Over for Lukashenko: the Kremlin’s Next Move:  Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, Aug. 17, 2020

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_Russia Aims to Preserve the Status Quo in Lebanon
Anna Borshchevskaya
Washington Institute, Aug. 12, 2020A week after the massive explosion in Beirut, the Lebanese people are rightly demanding fundamental political change. In response, Russian officials and analysts have had much to say given the country’s importance to their regional interests. The Kremlin has long viewed Lebanon as both a geopolitically crucial landmark on the East Mediterranean and a country where the Christian minority can be cultivated like nowhere else in the Middle East. In recent years, its ties with Lebanon have deepened even further as an extension of its Syria policy, including on the military level.Perhaps because of all the interests at stake, official Russian responses to the Beirut disaster and its aftermath have been fairly guarded so far. President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to President Michel Aoun, along with humanitarian aid that reportedly included medical equipment and specialists. He also deployed a special team to Beirut consisting of personnel from Russia’s emergency and healthcare ministries.Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page that “the heart sinks” at the sight of images coming out of Beirut, then lamented the rapidly growing number of countries where “life is crumbling” at the hands of people rather than natural disasters. Yet much like Aoun, Moscow opposes an international investigation into the explosion, as Russian ambassador Alexander Zasypkin told an Arabic press outlet.

Kremlin-controlled press have also expressed a substantial amount of anti-American and pro-Hezbollah sentiments following the disaster. The latter take is unsurprising given that Moscow has never labeled Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. To the contrary, it hosted the group’s leaders for an official visit in late 2011 and has been leaning closer to the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria axis ever since. The group fought alongside Russian forces in the campaign to keep the Assad regime in power, to their mutual benefit—Hezbollah fighters learned much from working with professional military personnel, while senior Russian officials publicly praised the group as a “legitimate force.”

More recently, as Lebanese protestors called on Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his Hezbollah-backed government to resign, Russian state-controlled media pointedly highlighted the dangers of challenging the group’s local authority. According to Evgeny Poddubnyy, the regional bureau chief of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), “The party of Hassan Nasrallah is the only party that has real combat potential here, and [demands for resignations] can inevitably lead to a large-scale conflict in Lebanon.” He also claimed that Lebanese activists who demand Hezbollah’s disarmament are receiving money from abroad—an indirect reference to the United States and its allies. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Iran-Syria Air Defense Pact Could Cause Russian-Iranian Friction
Mark N. Katz

Atlantic Council, July 30, 2020

In their July 21 meeting in Moscow, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went to great pains to show how close the Russian-Iranian relationship has become. Zarif even declared that, “Relations between Moscow and Tehran are currently the best in the last decade.” The signing of the Iran-Syria air defense pact in Damascus on July 8, however, may portend increasing friction between Russia and Iran over Syria.

Up until now, Russia has been the primary purveyor of air defense weaponry to Damascus. Additionally, Russian forces have been able to operate their own air defense missiles at their bases in Syria. This has not, however, stopped Israeli forces from launching numerous strikes inside Syria against Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and even Iranian assets. Syrian efforts to intercept Israeli missiles or attack Israeli jet fighters in Syrian airspace, though, have largely failed, since the air defense weaponry Moscow has provided to Damascus is largely old and no match for more advanced Israeli weaponry. Moscow did recently provide some more advanced weaponry to Syria, but it reportedly remains under Russian control and is not operational. Unfortunately for Syria, Russian forces have used neither their own nor the Syrian missiles under their control to disrupt Israeli attacks inside Syria. This is because there is a Russian-Israeli deconfliction agreement with regard to Syria. It apparently stipulates that Israel shall not target Russian forces or facilities in exchange for Russian forces not interfering with Israeli attacks on Syrian, Hezbollah, or Iranian targets.

Needless to say, neither Damascus nor Tehran has been happy about Moscow’s unwillingness to enable themselves or Syria to halt Israeli attacks. The signing of the Iran-Syria air defense pact, though, may change this. Under its terms, Tehran will provide Iranian-developed air defense missiles to Damascus. While the capabilities of these missiles are uncertain—indeed, some of them may still be under development—Tehran boasts that they are as capable as the American Patriot system and even superior to a version of the Russian S-300.

Damascus and Tehran undoubtedly hope that these Iranian-supplied air defense missiles will increase Syria’s ability to stunt Israeli attacks and enable Damascus and Tehran to more readily achieve their aims, which may include increasing the transfer of more sophisticated Iranian weapons to both Syrian government forces and Hezbollah. The latter, of course, has been what Israel has long sought to prevent through its military strikes in Syria.Consequently, the Israeli government cannot be expected to passively allow Iran and Syria to carry out the terms of their air defense pact. In truth, it would not be surprising if Israel stepped up its attacks against Syrian/Hezbollah/Iranian targets in order to prevent Iranian air defense weapons from being set up or to destroy them if they are.

Up until now, Russia’s monopoly on sophisticated air defense weapons in Syria has given the latter certain advantages. Even though there is a Russian-Israeli deconfliction agreement, Israel has some incentive to exercise restraint in Syria for fear of doing something that would result in Moscow giving more sophisticated weapons, as well as more control over them, to the Bashar al-Assad regime. There is also the possibility of Russia directly targeting Israeli forces, which Israel wants to avoid. Similarly, while Damascus and Tehran may be angry with Moscow for not allowing them to do more to frustrate Israeli attacks, they have remained deeply dependent on Russian air support for their battles against Assad’s many internal opponents. Especially when the survival of the Assad regime was still in doubt, Damascus and Tehran were not in a position to remonstrate with Moscow over this issue. Indeed, while some observers view President Vladimir Putin’s past statements about withdrawing Russian forces from Syria as aimed at placating the Russian public, they may also have been aimed at securing Syrian and Iranian compliance on not provoking even stronger Israeli involvement. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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The Emperors League: Understanding Sino-Russian Defense Cooperation
Michael Kofman
War on the Rocks, Aug. 6, 2020

At a gathering in October 2019, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has been helping China develop a ballistic missile early warning system. Without offering specifics, Putin suggested that “This is a very serious endeavor that will fundamentally and radically increase the defense capability of the People’s Republic of China because only the United States and Russia have such a system at present.” Kremlin spokespersons elaborated that Russia has an advanced partnership with China, which includes the most sensitive areas “linked to military-technical cooperation, security, and defense capabilities.” Little is known about the deal, indicative of a trend in Russian-Chinese defense collaboration which increasingly involves sensitive technology and secret agreements.

Russia has sought a more institutionalized defense relationship with China with regular consultations, exchanges, exercises, and agreements codifying increased defense-technical cooperation. Hardly a recent development, this policy of rapprochement emerged from the latter days of the Soviet Union, recasting Russia’s relations with China. Building on agreements made in the 1990s, and early 2000s, to demarcate and demilitarize the border, the two powers have spent years investing in confidence-building measures, consultation mechanisms, frameworks for defense cooperation, and aligning their foreign policy outlooks. In a step-by-step process, Moscow and Beijing worked to reduce that which would lead both powers to view each other as potential threats, while gradually increasing military cooperation.

The past decade illustrates a departure from what might have been earlier construed as pragmatic deal-making with steps towards an entente or strategic alignment. Growing cooperation in the military realm is of paramount significance for U.S. strategy and policy planning. Indeed, alignments or ententes can have much greater substance behind them than formally declared alliances.

What Kind of Alignment?

Russian and Chinese elites describe their relationship as one of “strategic cooperation and comprehensive partnership.” Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have met more than 30 times in the past six years, calling each other best friends and the like. The relationship certainly has a great deal of formality in terms of contacts, pronouncements, and agreements signed, but activity is not achievement. So how should we think about it analytically? While some have proclaimed an alliance, others have dismissed this as nothing more than cosplay, no less contentious is the debate on whether this alignment will last. A cogent case can be made for why the current relationship is not simply transactional, an axis of convenience (or other similar terms of art), and at the same time unlikely to become a military alliance. It appears durable, but highly dependent on elite machinations, and there’s not much evidence that either side will reap enough benefits to seek a more formalized alliance beyond the current alignment. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Game Over for Lukashenko: The Kremlin’s Next Move
Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Moscow Center, Aug. 17, 2020

The broad pattern of what’s happening in Belarus right now was anticipated months in advance. Before the election, President Alexander Lukashenko would eliminate any serious challengers, leaving only those whom he could beat without too much trouble; the vote itself would be rigged; the proclamation of Lukashenko’s victory at the polls would lead to protests; Lukashenko would put down the protests using brute force; he would then brush off outside criticism as interference in Belarus’s internal affairs, and remain in power. In other words, a replay of the 2010 elections scenario all over again.

Yet against expectations, several elements have substantially, even crucially changed the picture. One was the Wagner incident: a bizarre operation in which the Belarusian KGB arrested thirty-three suspected Russian mercenaries eleven days before the vote and accused them of having come to Minsk to stir up trouble during the elections. The arrests allowed Lukashenko to ramp up his anti-Russian rhetoric. The Kremlin, bewildered, saw this as the Belarusian ruler’s attempt to win acquiescence in the West for his re-election on a pro-sovereignty, anti-Russian ticket. Whatever trust had remained in Lukashenko in Moscow completely evaporated.

The second element was the perseverance of protesters in Minsk and across Belarus, who did not give up after several days of protest, despite being manhandled—and in many cases, savagely beaten—by the police. The brutality that Lukashenko had hoped would, as before, nip the protests in the bud led to the opposite result of widespread indignation and anger. This in turn led to the third unanticipated result: the expansion of the protests beyond the usual crowd of young Europe-orientated urbanites to include older people, even those who a couple of days before might have actually voted for Lukashenko in the election.

The situation is developing fast, and there will be more surprises down the road. Yet a few preliminary conclusions can already be made. Lukashenko’s regime has definitely lost the country. It may yet hold on to power: the ruling group composed of bureaucrats personally handpicked and constantly rotated by Lukashenko has not developed visible cracks, and the police and security services’ loyalty has been reaffirmed by the personal responsibility of their chiefs for the post-election crackdown. The classic scenario of a color revolution will not be played out in Belarus this time.

However, the president, who—had he let the election go ahead without interference, might have even won in the first round—has now lost the people’s support. Despite the official tally of 80 percent of votes cast for Lukashenko, there was no popular pushback against the street protesters. The Belarusian people, this may suggest, had their real say not on election day, but in the days that followed. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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For Further Reference:

It’s Time to Revive the Anglosphere:  Andrew Roberts, WSJ, Aug. 8, 2020 — How will Great Britain survive Brexit and prosper in a world solidifying into the three empire blocs of the U.S., China and the European Union? One answer is to realize the concept of the “Canzuk Union,” a vital first step on the way to a fully functioning Anglosphere.

How Obama, Biden and Clinton Helped Russia’s Putin Weaponize Energy: John Solomon, JusttheNews, July 18, 2020 — The failed Russian reset engineered by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a one-sided affair.

Report: Russia-backed Militia Taking Over Syrian Golan Heights Israel Hayom, July 24, 2020 — The Russians have been steadily gaining control over the Syrian Golan Heights region in recent weeks, establishing their own strong militia in the area, Hebrew-language outlet Channel 12 News reported Friday.

A Sitting Target in Space for Russia’s Anti-Satellite Weapons? Gen David A. Deptula (Ret.), The Hill, Aug. 4, 2020 — U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) has revealed evidence that Russia conducted a space-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test on July 15.

Fighting Russia’s Disinformation Pandemic: Dr. Veronika Velch,  RealClearWorld, Aug. 10, 2020 — The Russian propaganda machine has been curating and spreading false narratives about the virus among Russian and Western audiences alike, in order to bolster the credibility of the Russian authoritarian regime and undermine the strength of Western democracies. The growing fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, its symptoms, and treatments, provide a unique opportunity for Russia to strengthen its influence both at home and abroad.