3 August 2023

Pakistan Is Stuck and India Is Stuck Next to It

Christopher Clary

Pakistan’s ruling coalition has announced its intent to complete its tenure in August, triggering national elections. Intra-coalitional bargaining continues over the wisdom of dissolving a few days before the government’s tenure officially ends at midnight on August 12. If the government dissolves before that date, a caretaker government has 90 days to oversee a national election. If the ruling coalition waits until its constitutional term is complete, then the caretaker government has just 60 days for the task.

Thirty days makes little difference, but the PML-N leadership appears to believe some added time will buy space for the economy to improve and perhaps for more wind to blow against the PTI loyalists left standing with former prime minister Imran Khan. Others in the coalition fear that more time might encourage the caretaker government to indulge in a constitutional pause on elections so it can caretake for longer – perhaps much longer. Bangladesh’s experience with a caretaker government in 2006, which ultimately opted (with military backing) to govern for more than two years instead of its allotted 90 days, may be on such skeptics’ minds.

The old PTI has splintered under the duress it has faced since the May 9 incident – where PTI protests nationwide devolved into property destruction including on military installations. Politicians from the PTI’s provincial base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI has governed either solely or in coalition since 2013, have defected en masse from their former captain. These are not mere back benchers but include two former PTI chief ministers of the province and at least one former provincial cabinet minister. This most recent news merely adds to the number of PTI leaders who have opted to retire, leave politics, or switch parties – with others still in detention for their alleged roles in the May 9 incident or other purported wrongdoings.

Given Khan’s charisma, the PTI could have been organised around party workers and loyalists. But Khan opted instead to rely on electable politicians – many of whom had switched parties repeatedly in their careers – to vault more quickly to national power with military support in 2018. This decision has been the original sin that has facilitated the party’s vulnerability now that it faces military ire. The extent to which Khan retains his enormous loyalty with the public is unclear. Yet whether Khan voters will have enough plausible candidates to vote for at the polls seems even further in doubt.

India’s Foreign Policy Progress in Sri Lanka is a Strategic Setback for China

Mark S. Cogan

It was only a year ago that Sri Lanka dominated international headlines, as its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years contributed to severe domestic strife, including deadly riots, and severe shortages of fuel, food and critical medicine. The crisis was created by a confluence of domestic policy blunders under the Rajapaksa clan, on whose watch Sri Lanka’s burden of foreign debt had grown to nearly insurmountable levels, a significant proportion of it owed to Chinese creditors.

Sri Lanka’s economic troubles had been known for some time, but the Rajapaksas were unwilling to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The source of the trouble came not only the inability to service debt due to limited foreign reserves, but economic mismanagement from legitimacy challenges that compelled the government to implement tax cuts to curry favor with the public. The result is that everything that could go wrong with the economy has: Sri Lanka faces budget and current account deficits, hyperinflation, a devalued currency and massive sovereign debt.

For neighboring India, Sri Lanka’s crisis prompted severe strategic anxiety. Over the past decade, Chinese influence on the island has increased, as after the long civil war drew to a close – in part due to China’s weaponry – Mahinda Rajapaksa began borrowing heavily to pay for the war. The relationship between New Delhi strained by an Indian peacekeeping mission in the late 1980s and a number of votes by India at the U.N. Human Rights Council after the war put pressure on Sri Lanka to be held accountable for its actions and to promote reconciliation with the island’s Tamil minority population. China seized the opportunity to undermine India’s sphere of influence over Sri Lanka, partially through satisfying Mahinda Rajapaksa’s penchant for vanity and pet projects.

A prime example of the Rajapaksa-era obsession with infrastructure projects was the 99-year lease of the strategically-located Hambantota Port in 2017 to the Chinese state-owned China Merchants Port Holding Company for $1.1 billion. Sri Lanka secured loans from Chinese banks to develop the port in hopes of relieving some of the shipping burden on the country’s main port in Colombo. Only the new port failed to generate the much-needed revenue. The Rajapaksa government eventually collapsed under the weight of its debt burden to both Beijing and another $25 billion in debt to private bondholders.

Why Nepal Needs to Debate the Role of Its Army

Santosh Sharma Poudel

In this May 27, 2019, photo, Nepali army men carry empty oxygen cylinders collected from Mount Everest in Namche Bajar, Solukhumbu district, Nepal.Credit: AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

Nepal is engaged in a fierce debate about rightsizing its army.

Statements by two members of parliament ignited the debate. On June 20, parliamentarian Swarnim Waglé warned that Nepal is headed to a disaster if the “difficult” decision of rightsizing the military is not taken. Citing the reduction of troops in Sri Lanka in the wake of the economic crisis, the Rashtriya Swatantra Party MP said that Nepal did not need 90,000 troops.

Ten days later, former Foreign Minister Bimala Rai Poudyal questioned the utility of a large troop force during peacetime. She argued that the risk of a physical attack on Nepal from the neighboring countries was low and pointed out that even if they did attack, the Nepali Army could not win against them.

The statements triggered a furor on social and traditional media. Following criticism from the public and senior retired military personnel, the two clarified or toned down their statements. Waglé conceded that “whatever is done should be done with the consent of the security agencies.” Similarly, Poudyal explained that she was merely “seeking an answer from the government and defense minister whether we need the current size of Nepal Army.”

Defense Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka has clarified that there is no plan to reduce the army’s size.

Who Will Solve The Water Conflict Between Iran And Afghanistan – Analysis

James Durso

In late May, shots were exchanged by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Taliban near a border post in Iran’s Southwest Nimroz province. Each side blamed the other for starting the gunfight that killed two Iranians and an Afghan.

The situation was de-escalated, but it came one day after Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, accused Afghanistan of restricting the flow of water from the Helmand River, which flows from Southwest Afghanistan to Eastern Iran. (Iran’s special representative to Afghanistan claimed Iran has only received 4% of the water it is due, and its foreign minister has proposed a joint technical team address the causes of the shortage.)

Disputes over Helmand water are long-standing and in 1951 the U.S.-sponsored Helmand River Delta Commission made recommendations that resulted in the 1973 Helmand River Treaty which is the only recognized means of allocating water between the countries, though the Treaty was never ratified.

The Treaty requires Afghanistan to release 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River basin to Iran, but is flexible and provides that in low flow years Afghanistan may reduce the flow of water to Iran in proportion to a measured deviation from a normal year. The Treaty specifies the point of delivery of water and that it must be suitable for treatment for domestic or agricultural use. Afghanistan retains all rights to the balance of the water and Iran can make “no claim to the water of the Helmand River in excess of the amounts specified in this Treaty, even if additional amounts of water may be available in the Helmand Lower Delta and may be put to a beneficial use.”

Iran and Afghanistan can monitor each other to ensure that they comply with the Treaty, but the ongoing violence in Afghanistan before the NATO evacuation may have made effective monitoring difficult. Since NATO’s departure, the Taliban government may suffer from a lack of the technical skills needed to properly manage water resources. In the event of differences, the Treaty provides for an arbitration process. The Treaty has no sunset clause so exists in perpetuity.

Whatever Happened to Al Qaeda?

 by Daniel Byman

On July 31, 2022, a U.S. drone strike killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at a Taliban guest house in Kabul. A year later, al Qaeda has still not announced Zawahiri’s successor.

On July 31, 2022, a U.S. drone strike killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at a Taliban guest house in Kabul. A year later, al Qaeda has still not announced Zawahiri’s successor.

This has made it difficult for the core group to stake a claim to the leadership of the global jihadi movement or even to remain an important player regionally or internationally. Indeed, al Qaeda, the broader set of affiliate groups it claims to lead, and the jihadi movement as a whole have all suffered repeated blows in recent years—reducing the threat to the United States and its allies.

For an organization that once struck fear into the hearts and minds of millions of Americans after Sept. 11, 2001, and sparked a so-called global war on terror that dramatically reoriented U.S. foreign policy for two decades, al Qaeda’s almost complete disappearance from both the daily news headlines and the broader foreign-policy conversation in Washington these days is remarkable.

A quick look at the number of deadly jihadi attacks in the United States since 9/11 suggests the organization’s decline in both capabilities and ideological influence. According to data from the New America Foundation, jihadis have killed 107 Americans on U.S. soil since 9/11, compared with the 130 killed by right-wing terrorists. The last significant jihadi attack was four years ago, when a Saudi Air Force trainee working with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group’s Yemen branch, killed three sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in 2019. Pensacola was the only post-9/11 attack on U.S. soil that a jihadi group abroad coordinated; the others involved jihadis who were inspired by al Qaeda or its onetime affiliate turned competitor, the Islamic State, but who had little or no contact with the groups themselves.

Pakistan’s Economic Blindspot

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

On July 12, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a bailout package worth $3 billion for Pakistan. The first half of this year brimmed over with apprehensions, and predictions of Pakistan defaulting on its debt. While the IMF deal has ensured that Pakistan avoids default, at least for the time being, it unleashed a familiar vicious cycle, one that has been repeated a couple of dozen times throughout the country’s history.

The IMF deal was immediately followed by Saudi Arabia depositing $2 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), with the UAE having already pledged $1 billion. On Thursday, China rolled over a $2.4 billion loan in addition to the $600 million deferred last week. The playbook is pretty much the same, with commitment to an IMF program functioning as the guarantee that lending states require, this time salvaging Pakistan from a record-high 38 percent inflation, and a decade-low $3 billion in foreign reserves covering hardly a month’s worth of imports.

This time around, however, the magnitude of the political variables engulfing the oft-regurgitated fiscal cycle is in stark contrast to what has transpired in the recent past. The usual five-year circle begins with a newly elected government agreeing to an IMF plan, completing it in the first three years, and then derailing it with populist measures in the lead-up to the next election. The latest IMF program, instead, will be implemented by possibly three different regimes across a period of nine months.

The current regime spearheaded by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance, led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has agreed on the IMF deal, will soon make way for a caretaker setup that will supervise the upcoming general elections that will take place sometime toward the end of 2023. The IMF negotiations this year overlapped with an electoral limbo in Pakistan as the state dillydallied over scheduled polls until a military-led crackdown against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the overwhelming favorite, reassured the ruling coalition of the army’s customary political engineering. It will be that engineered government that will see the current bailout through and, inevitably, negotiate a longer-term follow-up IMF plan.

Is Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Merging Into al-Qaida

Abdul Basit

The U.N. Sanctions Committee on al-Qaida and ISIL’s recent report has pointed to the possibility of a merger between Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaida in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS). Subsequent reporting in some sections of Pakistan’s mainstream media has interpreted this as an attempt by TTP to merge into al-Qaida. According to the report, the purpose of the merger is to create an umbrella organization where various South Asian militant groups can shelter, or even cooperate, to avoid the Taliban’s efforts to control them and maintain plausible deniability in the event of attacks.

The militant landscape in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area involves multiple actors and is complex, competitive and evolving at a rapid pace, resulting in new alliances and rivalries between different jihadist groups. Over the years, militant groups operating in this space have merged, splintered, re-merged and re-splintered with geopolitical developments. Hence, a merger of two or more groups or cooperation under an umbrella coalition is conceivable.

However, the notion of TTP’s potential merger into al-Qaida is fallacious. Conceptually, there is a fine difference between a merger and alliance-making of jihadist groups. In a merger, one group is fully subsumed into another group and ceases to exist as a separate entity. Generally, a smaller and weaker group seeks a merger into a bigger and stronger group for varying reasons. The merging group dissolves its command-and-control, organizational structure and other organs to fully integrate into the senior group. Likewise, it also forgoes its logo, ideological narrative, finances and strategic goals, and aligns itself fully with the larger outfit.

Chinese PSCs in South Asia: The Case of Pakistan

Sergey Sukhankin

Executive SummaryBeing the central pillar of Beijing`s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) strategy in South Asia, economic and investment activities in Pakistan pose a series of security risks and challenges for the People’s Republic of China. For now, in pursuit of physical security of Chinese nationals and assets in the country, the Chinese side mainly relies on local security providers. Yet, given the growing number of security incidents and frequent inability of the Pakistani side to ensure the safety of those Chinese nationals working in the country, Beijing has intensified its requests concerning the option of using its own security providers on Pakistani soil.

While several Chinese private security companies (PSCs) are known to have operated on Pakistani territory, their activities were not conducted on a permanent basis; nor were the Chinese permitted to either use force or act independently from their Pakistani counterparts.
Public perception of the prospects for Chinese PSCs’ deployment in Pakistan—acting on a permanent basis and as de-facto semi-independent agents—is viewed negatively by Pakistani experts, policymakers and politicians. In addition to growing anti-Chinese sentiments (in certain parts of the country that are particularly dependent on the BRI), the deployment of Chinese PSCs in Pakistan might lead toward a surge of Sinophobia in the country, which most likely will be used by Islamic radicals and underground militants for their own purposes.

The majority of Pakistani experts do not believe that Chinese PSCs will be deployed in Pakistan (on a permanent basis) anytime soon. Nor do they believe that they will become an effective tool in solving the grave security issues faced by Chinese nationals in the country. They believe instead that deployment of Chinese PSCs might result in both further aggravation of the security milieu in the country and lead toward a weakening of ties between Islamabad and its other strategic partner, the United States.

Despite adverse macroeconomic and political trends, China`s outbound direct investments (ODI) in 2022 experienced a sizeable increase. Data provided by the Ministry of Commerce (中华人民共和国商务部) indicates that Chinese ODI totaled 985.3 billion yuan ($146.5 billion)—a 5.2-percent year-on-year increase.[1] Despite a visible decrease between 2021 and 2022,[2] a large part of China’s ODI goes to Asia and BRI-related countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh).[3]

Blocking China’s Access to AI Chips Matters to U.S. National Security

Gregory C. Allen

In November 2017, U.S. Air Force lieutenant general Jack Shanahan gave a keynote speech on Project Maven, a pathfinding effort to accelerate artificial intelligence (AI) adoption at the Department of Defense (DOD). In the speech, he said that Maven’s early results were so exciting that the DOD “should not buy another weapons system without AI.”

Where did General Shanahan deliver this speech? At the 2017 Nvidia GPU Technology conference in Washington, D.C.

As the DOD’s AI pathfinder, one of the first challenges that Maven encountered was that the DOD’s traditional computing infrastructure was completely unsuited for processing modern AI algorithms, which require astonishing amounts of specialized computing power. Project Maven had to build its own AI-ready infrastructure from scratch.

That meant buying lots and lots of specialized GPUs, also known as AI chips.

Project Maven’s budget eventually rose to more than $250 million per year, and a significant share of that budget went toward building out and maintaining the specialized AI computing infrastructure.

Since Nvidia was and still is the global leader in producing AI chips, Project Maven was a terrific customer for Nvidia almost immediately after its founding. It is not surprising that Nvidia invited General Shanahan to keynote their conference and explain the potential for AI to revolutionize future military technology and warfare.

Experts in China have also paid close attention to the strategic importance of AI chips. A 2018 report by Tsinghua University in Beijing put it in stark terms:

China’s Oil Gambit in Africa’s Conflict Zones

Robert Bociaga

As China, the United States, and other players jockey for position in present and future energy sectors, the African continent faces a pivotal moment in its oil and gas industry. With abundant hydrocarbon discoveries and soaring prices, African countries confront a critical decision: stick with their vast oil and gas reserves or make a decisive shift by embracing renewables.

At times, the energy competition is high-risk and high-reward. Despite the challenges associated with operating in volatile regions of Uganda, South Sudan, and Nigeria, foreign companies persist in pursuing oil exploration ventures. This has raised concerns about energy ventures exacerbating existing conflicts, fueling instability, and perpetuating human rights abuses.

China’s oil exploration activities in these conflict zones have the potential to complicate regional dynamics and trigger geopolitical tensions among competing powers. As the African continent is poised to become a big player in energy markets, the decisions made by African countries will have far-reaching implications – not only for the affected regions but also for global markets.

The origins of this complex game can be traced back to the colonial era. The Europeans made the initial move, drilling for oil as part of their expansionist agenda. After gaining independence in the mid-20th century, African nations strategically forked their paths, seeking to reclaim control over their assets and resources.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, China emerged as a player, maneuvering to gain control of certain parts of the oil and gas industry on the continent. China’s strategic maneuvers involve bankrolling the ruling elites in many African countries, expected oil resources in exchange. Rather than making moves to promote peace and mediate between warring parties, China prefers to be a supplier of cash in exchange for resources.

Understanding Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s Uses of Information Technology

Daniel Byman and Emma McCaleb

Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s information technology (IT) strategies heavily reflect their roles in governance. Terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and the Islamic State eschew nationalism in favor of a broad pan-Islamist vision and focus media operations primarily on recruitment and at times operations. In contrast, Hamas and Hezbollah are nationalist as well as Islamist in orientation and favor traditional forms of communication over social media in order to legitimize their political power—a preference reinforced by the policies of technology companies and, in general, the limited capacity of these terrorist groups to use social media without considerable risk. Because Hamas and Hezbollah govern and provide goods, services, and information to their constituents, it is harder to target their IT infrastructure without risking humanitarian consequences.

Hamas and Hezbollah are among the world’s most important and multifaceted terrorist groups. In addition to conducting terrorist attacks, they run hospitals and schools and otherwise engage in social and political activities that make them important in the daily lives of many Palestinians and Lebanese, including those who do not support their ideologies. Perhaps their greatest influence, however, is through governing. Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza, and for many years Hezbollah has been part of the Lebanese government, effectively governing southern Lebanon, occupying cabinet positions directly and via its allies and often acting as a kingmaker, or at least veto player, for the country’s prime minister. These roles stand in contrast to the aims of groups like the core of al Qaeda, which has focused primarily on terrorism, or in the case of the Islamic State, war. Today al Qaeda and the Islamic State play little or no role in governing.

Governing shapes how Hamas and Hezbollah use communications technologies. Although both groups use social media and other technologies to recruit and, at times, support operations, their primary focus is using more traditional media to gain support from Arab and Muslim populations and bolster morale within their organizations, with their constituents in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon comprising their most important audiences. Counterterrorism also shapes this focus: social media–run operations are highly vulnerable, and Israeli counterterrorism can exploit this to disrupt attacks.

Central Asian Countries Come Together to Pursue Ties with the Arab World

Paul Goble

Leaders of states from two Muslim regions gathered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Central Asian countries include Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and on the other hand, the Gulf monarchies include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar (Source: TRTRussian)

Since the countries of Central Asia gained independence in 1991, the Arab world has devoted most of its attention to the region promoting the revival of Islam and thereby promoting the fundamentalist Islam characteristic of much of the Arab East. The effort has prompted the West to oppose Arab involvement in Central Asia in favor of Turkey with its supposedly more secular approach (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 19). Trade and investment between the Central Asian and Arab states over this period have remained rather small—representing less than 1 percent of the Arab world’s total foreign economic activity abroad—and all indications allude to these flows remaining relatively small in the immediate future (Kommersant, July 19).

Yet, even the influx of smaller amounts of Arab money could help the Central Asian states not only meet their needs but also serve as a counterweight to the influence of other outside powers, including Turkey, Russia, China and the West. The latter’s goals appear to be the more important as the five Central Asian countries clearly consider a common policy in this area will contribute to the formation of a regional bloc and give them leverage against outsiders, as well as a greater chance to come together on issues such as the division of water resources among themselves (Ritmeurasia.org, July 18,24; Kommersant, July 19)

All these issues were very much on public display last week when the five presidents of the Central Asian countries—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—came to Riyadh to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the first-ever summit meeting between the two regions (Kommersant; Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 19; Ritmeurasia.org, July 20; Eurasia Today, July 24). Each Central Asian president came prepared with a list of plans to expand Arab trade and investment in each of their respective countries. The Arab leaders listened politely and encouraged thinking about inter-regional cooperation; however, despite hype from some quarters, no major deals were concluded that would dramatically boost the Arab economic footprint in Central Asia, at least anytime soon. What the Arabs did talk about, and what the Central Asians were clearly interested in, was the promotion of a common Islamic world and the simultaneous countering of outside powers in geo-economic and geopolitical terms to ensure that the transit plans of these powers will benefit the entire region, rather than only one or two of its members (Trtrussian.com, July 21; Ritmeurasia.org, July 24).

How The Russian Military Mounted A Comeback In Ukraine

Daniel Davis

Conventional Western thought tends to demonize Russia and promotes storylines that expose the Russian military’s errors, mistakes, and combat losses in Ukraine.

Very often these stories are accurate in their particulars. But when the broader context is removed, it is a problem.

This brief series seeks to correctly assess Russia’s military performance since February 2022 and project its potential into the future. It seeks to correct errors in the mainstream narrative by providing a comprehensive basic assessment. It will take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Russia’s performance.

In this installment, we will look at the successful aspects of Putin’s army to date.

(Editor’s Note: You can find all parts of this series here.)

The analysis that follows will detail Russia’s opening moves, which include “the bad” we have seen from the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.

This analysis picks up in the aftermath of Russia’s first major error, the splitting of its forces into four relatively small axes that allowed Ukraine to slow and then stop all four drives. By the middle of March 2022 it was clear that Russia had penetrated as far into Ukraine as it was going to get — far short of its initial objectives.
Successful Withdrawal from Kyiv

Putin’s army at that time was positioned on three sides of Kyiv and to the north of Sumy and Kharkiv, spread over a distance of nearly 500 kilometers. Ukrainian forces had recovered from their initial shock and deployed large formations that attacked Russian armor with anti-tank guided missiles from the west, to great effect. At this moment, Moscow faced a stark choice. It could either significantly reinforce around the three major urban centers in the north, or withdraw its forces from there. Putin chose the latter, and this was Russia’s first good move.

More Bakhmut fighting may see war end – or expand


No matter what pronunciamentos may come from Washington, the Russian government is expecting greater attacks on Russian territory – especially Moscow and maybe Russian ports – to try and destabilize the Putin government.

The Pentagon says that no US weapons will be used against Russian territory, but this is an outright lie. US drones and cruise missiles such as Himars plus cluster munitions supplied by the United States are used daily by Ukraine, targeting Russian territory.

So, too, is the British-French Storm Shadow (SCALP-EG). Both the British and French heavy precision cruise missiles are made by MBDA (a Consortium of French, British and Italian companies).

Nor can the US properly explain what a Global Hawk is doing spying on Russian territory, presumably to help Ukraine target Russian assets, both military and civilian.

The US openly admits that it planned and supplied Ukraine with the semi-submersible kamikaze drones used against the Kerch Strait bridge which connects Crimea to Russia, making it an attack on Russia.

Such operations are not lost on Moscow, which openly believes that it is at war with NATO led by the United States.

Thus, no matter what is said by the Pentagon or by Washington more broadly, the Biden administration is skirting close to the edge of a wider war in Europe.

A War of Attrition

Paul Schwartz

Assessing the Impact of Equipment Shortages on Russian Military Operations in Ukraine

This report examines the impact of Russia’s growing military equipment and ammunition shortages on the Kremlin’s ability to prosecute the war in Ukraine and to carry out operations in other areas. In doing so, it focuses on availability of artillery ammunition, as well as five weapons categories of central importance for Russia’s ability to sustain operations: tanks, artillery, uncrewed aerial vehicles, electronic warfare systems, and long-range precision strike weapons. For each category, the report examines how the size and composition of Russian weapons portfolios in Ukraine are changing under the twin influences of attrition and sanctions, while taking account of Russian efforts to increase defense production and otherwise replenish its forces. It concludes by assessing the impact of Russia’s declining weapons portfolios in Ukraine on its ability to carry out future operations against Kyiv, as well as in other regions of interest such as Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Caucasus.

This publication was funded by the Russia Strategic Initiative, U.S. European Command. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States government.

Central Asia Comes Out of the Russian Shadow

Erica Marat

In Central Asia, speaking the Russian language used to be a sign of education, high culture, and a marker of the upper class. Its mastery also presented more opportunities in terms of employment. For the region’s most well-educated and prosperous, Russian remained the primary language after the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991.

Now that Russia is fighting a genocidal war in Ukraine to capture territory and impose its identity on the Ukrainian people, speaking the Russian language has turned into a symbol of lasting colonial repression of local identities. Today, more Central Asians, especially in urban areas, are asking themselves: Why do we continue to speak the language of a neighboring country that once occupied us, and not our native languages?

The region’s search for language, historic memory, cultural heritage and – above all – dignity outside of Soviet propaganda started two decades ago, but until recently lived mostly among Central Asian scholars and civil society. In politically freer Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, activists, scholars, and art communities have notably rebelled against old Soviet notions of the region. Criticism of Russian imperialism has spilled over into the mainstream.

Especially in larger cities, numerous public events have openly called for rejecting Russian colonial stereotypes about Central Asian cultures. The topics of these discussions range from recasting Soviet occupation as violent colonialism, to learning to speak regional languages, to searching for indigenous traditions in attire and cuisine.

Decolonial discussions are omnipresent – at conferences, parties, and podcasts. Families grapple with memories of who they lost in the violence under the Soviets, who among their relatives in Russia might have been drafted to fight in Ukraine today, and why some within their communities still blindly believe the Kremlin’s propaganda. Across the region, people ask: Are we, without realizing it, mankurts – mindless slaves who suffered torture in captivity, as described by the famous Kyrgyz writer Chyngyz Aitmatov?

Ukraine maps show the price of allies’ hesitation

Youyou Zhou 

Last September, Ukraine requested Western tanks from allies to push back against Russia’s invasion. At that time, Russia had not consolidated much of its hold on the territory it had taken. While allies debated whether or not they should send tanks, Russia began to dig in:

When Ukraine first requested Western tanks, satellite images show that Russia had only started to build fortifications.

By the time Ukraine finally received the tanks, half a year later, hundreds of miles of fortifications were visible from space.

Take the occupied city of Tokmak in Zaporizhzhia Oblast as an example: This is how the city looked in satellite imagery on Oct. 18, 2022.

Over the next two months, Russians set up barriers outside the major roads into the city. By Jan. 26, the entire city was surrounded by fortifications.

The pattern then repeated itself. Ukraine publicly asked for cluster munitions from the United States last winter, shortly after it had liberated the southern city of Kherson. The Biden administration delayed responding to the request. Meanwhile, this is what happened in occupied territory:

Dec. 8, 2022

When Ukraine requested U.S. cluster munitions, most of Russia’s new fortifications were concentrated near the front line.

July 6, 2023

Six months later, when Ukraine finally received the cluster munitions from the United States, Russia had fortified huge swaths of occupied eastern and southern Ukraine, along the border and throughout northern Crimea.

The Dangers of Detachment

Ali Wyne

The past three years have conclusively demonstrated the dangers of excessive dependence. No country can any longer doubt the risks of relying too heavily on another for vital commodities, especially a strategic competitor. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a widespread lack of essential medicines, even among rich countries such as the United States, and the concerning degree to which China dominates the production of basic protective equipment. Then, in 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed how much the EU had come to rely on Moscow’s gas and oil exports. These events have forced Washington and Brussels to consider various ways of reconfiguring commercial ties with Beijing and severing them with Moscow.

It was not supposed to be this way. In the quarter century after the Cold War ended, Western countries largely believed—or at least hoped—that the Soviet Union’s dissolution would inaugurate a new normal of benign relations between democracies and autocracies. Then U.S. Senator Barack Obama articulated this view in 2006, contending that “competition between the great powers” was an antiquated way of viewing international relations. Obama concluded that “the world’s most powerful nations . . . are largely committed to a common set of international rules governing trade, economic policy, and the legal and diplomatic resolution of disputes.” But that assessment no longer holds. The West increasingly, and understandably, regards interdependence not as a stabilizing factor in its relations with China and Russia but as a potential vulnerability.

Yet the West’s efforts to rapidly shift course could bring new challenges. If an earlier era of globalization led to what the political economists Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman have called “weaponized interdependence”—in which states that control key information and financial hubs coerce and punish others—the years to come could produce what might be called “weaponized detachment,” in which greater economic independence emboldens states to act more aggressively. In other words, Beijing and Moscow could become less fearful of contesting Western influence and more likely to deepen their partnership, especially if they are able to bolster ties with nonaligned powers and countries across the developing world. Western countries, then, should be careful as they adjust economic relations with their main competitors.


Putin is looking for a bigger war, not an off-ramp, in Ukraine

Alexander Gabuev

“These amendments are written for a big war and general mobilisation. And the smell of this big war can already be scented,” Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Duma’s defence committee, said this week as the Russian parliament rushed to adopt a new law. The legislation enabling the Kremlin to send hundreds of thousands more men into combat reveals a sad truth: that far from seeking an off-ramp from his disastrous war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is preparing for an even bigger war.

It is understandable that many in Ukraine and the west want to believe that Russia’s president is cornered. The Ukrainian army is gradually reconquering lands occupied by the Russians and has shown itself capable of striking deep into enemy territory — even into the Kremlin itself. The sanctions pressure on Russia is mounting.

For now, the west remains united in support of Kyiv, and streams of modern weaponry and money sustain the Ukrainian war effort. Finally, the mutiny staged by the Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and visible conflicts among senior Russian military commanders add to hopes that the Kremlin’s war machine will break down.

Things likely look very different to the Kremlin, which believes that it can afford a long war. The Russian economy is forecast to record modest growth this year, mostly thanks to military factories working around the clock. Critical components such as microchips needed for the defence industry are arriving from China and other sources.

Despite sanctions, the Kremlin’s war chest is still overflowing with cash, thanks to windfall energy profits last year and also to the adaptability of Russian commodities exporters, who have found new customers and who settle payments mostly in yuan. If budgetary pressures were to become more acute, Russia’s central bank could further devalue the rouble, making it easier to pay soldiers, defence industry workers and the internal security forces who keep the Russian elite and public repressed and largely in line with Putin’s disastrous course.

What Are the Future Implications of Russia-Ukraine Cyber Conflict for East Asia?

Brandon Valeriano and Jose M. Macias

The re-invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 is proving to be a key testing ground for modern theories of war and cybersecurity. Analysts with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region should pay careful attention to the course of the conflict to extract critical lessons. Many expected a revolution in warfare aided by advanced artificial intelligence or cyber strikes. Instead, the war has demonstrated the importance of precision strikes, a Cold War era technology. The conflict has reverted to attritional trench warfare from the last millennia. This leaves current and future “edge” technologies that use cyberspace without a significant role in impacting the conflict.

As professional pundits bang the drums of cyber war, the failure to properly evaluate the role technology plays in modern conflict is telling. Observers miss critical advances in warfare, believing in the promise of new disruptive technologies. Even analysts from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have assessed that Russia executed a “cyber thunder run,” a quick burst in attacks that paved the way for conventional forces when the war began. To evaluate these expectations, beliefs, and assess a more accurate role of cyber competition, our research team quantified attacks, targets, and methods.

In a recently released Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, we find that there is considerable evidence of an uptick in cyber conflict associated with the war, yet few significant cyber operations. Moreover, we witness little change by Russia in its targets or methods before and during the conflict. Analysts in the Asian region should focus on the critical investments that aid the defense in moderating the impact of technology on the battlefield. It will be important to redirect best practices to increase resilience to limit the ability of emergent technologies to alter the dynamics of war.

Documenting Cyber Operations in Ukraine

Collecting data on cyber operations during the Russo-Ukrainian War is clearly possible. Fixating on early media reporting is a common mistake because such information is often incomplete. For our report, we leveraged public information on operations released by Ukraine and Microsoft to document ongoing attacks during the conflict.

Inside the Wagner Group’s Armed Uprising

On May 20th, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, stood in the center of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, and recorded a video. The city once housed seventy thousand people but was now, after months of relentless shelling, nearly abandoned. Whole blocks were in ruins, charred skeletons of concrete and steel. Smoke hung over the smoldering remains like an early-morning fog. Prigozhin wore combat fatigues and waved a Russian flag. “Today, at twelve noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” he declared. Armed fighters stood behind him, holding banners with the Wagner motto: “Blood, honor, homeland, courage.”

More than anyone else in Russia, Prigozhin had used the war in Ukraine to raise his own profile. In the wake of the invasion, he transformed Wagner from a niche mercenary outfit of former professional soldiers to the country’s most prominent fighting force, a private army manned by tens of thousands of storm troopers, most of them recruited from Russian prisons. Prigozhin projected an image of himself as ruthless, efficient, practical, and uncompromising. He spoke in rough, often obscene language, and came to embody the so-called “party of war,” those inside Russia who thought that their country had been too measured in what was officially called the “special military operation.” “Stop pulling punches, bring back all our kids from abroad, and work our asses off,” Prigozhin said, the month that Bakhmut fell. “Then we’ll see some results.”

The aura of victory in Bakhmut enhanced Prigozhin’s popularity. He had an almost sixty-per-cent approval rating in a June poll conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent polling agency; nineteen per cent of those surveyed said they were ready to vote for him for President. His new status seemed to come with a special license to criticize top officials in Moscow. Prigozhin had accused his rivals in the Russian military, Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of general staff, of withholding artillery ammunition from Wagner. “That’s direct obstruction, plain and simple,” Prigozhin said. “It can be equated with high treason.” In the battle for Bakhmut, he said, “five times more guys died than should have” because of the officials’ indecisive leadership.

Ukrainian Trade Blockade: Foretaste of Russian Hegemony in Black Sea (Part Three)

Vladimir Socor

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) summit in Vilnius on July 11 and 12 upgraded the old NATO-Ukraine Commission to a NATO-Ukraine Council, which allows Ukraine to call for consultations during crisis situations (see EDM, July 13, 17, 19). Russia’s re-imposition of a total naval blockade of Ukraine, missile strikes on Ukrainian maritime and riverine ports, as well as additional mine-laying have created this crisis. The NATO-Ukraine Council met on July 26 at the ambassadorial level following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s urgent request for consultation on July 22.

The main result turned out to be a reaffirmation of moral support for Ukraine. The council “strongly condemn[ed] Russia’s … attempts to stop Ukraine’s agricultural exports,” Russian attacks on Ukrainian maritime and riverine ports and Russia’s “attempts and serious impediments to freedom of navigation,” generally Moscow’s dangerous escalatory actions. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in his own statement, pointed out that “Russia’s actions pose substantial risks to the stability of the Black Sea region, which is of strategic importance to NATO.” Responding to Russia’s actions, “NATO and Allies are stepping up surveillance and reconnaissance in the Black Sea region, including with [the use of] maritime patrol aircraft and drones” (Nato.int, July 26).

The statement downplays Russia’s total naval blockade of Ukraine (see Part One) to a level of serious impediments. An acknowledgement of the blockade would have underscored the allies’ unwillingness to undertake a freedom-of-navigation operation or a humanitarian maritime operation to unblock at least agricultural exports, as some observers have recommended (see below). The allies will respond to the current crisis merely by stepping up their remote intelligence gathering and sharing. No mention is made of Ukraine’s anguished appeals for anti-missile defense to protect its ports from Russian strikes. The acknowledgment of the Black Sea region’s strategic importance remains elliptic, as it appears in the Vilnius Summit Communiqué, which included for the first time in the history of NATO summits a paragraph dedicated to the Black Sea (see EDM, July 19).

A Spotlight On The Dark Web

Dark Web Monitoring Tool Review

In the vast expanse of the internet lies a hidden realm known as the Dark Web. It is an intriguing and often misunderstood corner of the digital landscape. In this blog post, we will delve into what the Dark Web truly is and shed light on the specific risks and challenges faced by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Dark Web can be envisioned as a portion of the internet that requires specific software and configurations to access. It operates outside the realm of traditional search engines, utilizing encrypted networks and anonymous communication channels. While the Surface Web—what we commonly navigate—represents only a fraction of the internet, the Dark Web constitutes a small portion of the much larger Deep Web, including content not indexed by search engines.

Within the Dark Web, various illicit activities occur, ranging from illegal trade to the exchange of sensitive information. This anonymous environment appeals to cybercriminals, hackers, and individuals seeking to engage in illicit behavior away from the prying eyes of law enforcement. Consequently, NGOs, with their commitment to promoting human rights, social causes, and advocacy, can become targets within this hidden realm.

The threats that NGOs face in the Dark Web are multifaceted. Malicious actors may leverage the platform to plan and coordinate cyberattacks, launch disinformation campaigns, leak or sell sensitive data breached during a cyberattack or engage in activities that aim to undermine the missions of these organizations.

Dark web monitoring is the practice of tracking activity on the dark web to identify potential threats to an organization. This may include monitoring for stolen data, compromised credentials, or any other sensitive information that may be available for sale on the dark web. The goal of dark web monitoring is to identify and mitigate potential risks before they become a problem for the organization.

AI-enabled social media tool ‘promising’ new tech for Army: Officials


The Army is testing new AI-enabled social media tech to aid decision-making. (DVIDS soldier image, Getty social media graphic)

WASHINGTON — As the military explores how it can best use artificial intelligence to enhance operations on the battlefield, the Army is testing how one specific AI-enabled social media tool can help commanders make better informed decisions.

The technology, called Data Robot, was one of 17 technologies tested during this year’s Cyber Quest, an experiment aimed at emerging technologies, at Fort Gordon, Ga. Led by the US Army Cyber Center of Excellence, soldiers tested several technologies from 11 different industry vendors spanning from electronic warfare to networking to cyber this past month.

“This is our opportunity to make sure that those new technologies will actually work when we take them out to the field,” Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton, commanding general of the US Army Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon, told reporters July 28. “And over the years I’ve noted that there’s one very distinct difference between capabilities that are designed for industry and commercial purposes, and capabilities that we require in the United States Army. And that has been our enemies are trying to see us constantly in order to kill us.

“So regardless of how sound the science is from an industry or academic or scientific perspective, it oftentimes needs to be tweaked in order to meet some of the fundamental requirements that we have in the Army,” he added.

Data Robot used open-source data to detect bots and deep-fake algorithms, Col. John Agnello, director of the Army’s program officer for information advantage, explained.

The tech could potentially help the service in the information advantage and dominance space by creating an “overlay” for a commander to see and make decisions — a capability the Army doesn’t have yet, Col. Brett Riddle, director of the Army’s cyber battle lab, added.

Five Eyes in Our Time

A few years ago, I was invited to a military meeting in Australia. When I walked into the room, I expected to see Australian officers. Instead, the room was awash in American and British uniforms, plus smaller numbers of New Zealanders, and I thought I could make out a couple of Canadians in the distance. It drove home to me that the Five Eyes was not just an agreement on intelligence sharing but a functioning military alliance without the paperwork or, more precisely, with much paperwork that taken together achieved uncertainty. The members of the Five Eyes, for different reasons, did not want to formalize what existed in practice.

The Five Eyes, without the cool name, originated in World War II. Having common enemies, the five nations created a set of alliances to defeat them – and obviously, to share intelligence. Before joining the war, the Americans supported Britain. The Australians also sent forces. In our house, we have a picture of my Australian wife’s cousin, who was shot down on a recon mission flying with the Brits over Germany. After Pearl Harbor and the British defeat in Singapore, the United States became the center of gravity of the Pacific war, with the Australians providing forces and bases in Australia, along with New Zealand. The Canadians had aligned early with Britain. Other nations were involved, but these five had the advantage of having a common language, if not quite a common culture. The American forces grew larger than the British, and many warm discussions were held between British and American commanders. Mistrust still existed, just as it does between and within all services fighting the same war.

War has its foundation in intelligence, in knowing the enemy. The British excelled at human intelligence in Europe and code-breaking. The Americans similarly broke the Japanese code, but they did not have intelligence in Japan or in the island chain they were fighting for. Australia could not provide human intelligence from Japan, but it could provide coast watchers in the Solomons and other islands, reporting on the movement of Japanese warships and Japanese landings. The Five Eyes coordinated operations, from invasions to logistics, but in many ways, the key was the intelligence that they could provide.

The relationship was not formalized. It was simply essential. It remained in place after the beginning of the Cold War based on a simple formula. Any of the five members would share intelligence, if not methods of collection, with the others.

Army Futures Command drafting next operating concept

Jen Judson

FORT LIBERTY, North Carolina — The U.S. Army four-star command tasked with modernizing the force is preparing to release this fall a warfighting concept for operations in 2040, according to the AFC commander.

The concept would closely follow last year’s release of the Army’s Multidomain Operations doctrine.

“We are working really hard on the next Army operating concept based on the big evolutions, unprecedented disruption in terms of technology,” Gen. James Rainey told Defense News during a July 27 interview on his way to the Association of the U.S. Army’s Warfighter Summit at Fort Liberty, North Carolina.

This fall, the Army will roll out its “1.0 version of the concept,” Rainey said, “on how the Army is going to fight as part of a joint force in the [20]30 to ‘40 timeframe.” In time, this concept will become doctrine.

The AFC commander previously helped shape the MDO concept as the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Combined Arms Center from 2019 to 2021. That doctrine, the Army’s first new one in 40 years, laid out how the Army operates not just on land but also across air, sea, space and cyberspace.

With MDO complete and a host of new weapons systems expected to come online from now into the early 2030s, Rainey is now thinking about what kinds of formations and capability the Army will need in the 2040 timeframe as well as the associated doctrine.

“I personally believe there’s some big changes to warfare and figuring out that starts with what’s the future operating environment, not just our enemies, but demographics, climate, the economy, urbanization. What’s the future battlefield going to look like,” Rainey said. “How do we need to operate in that to stay the best army in the world, to be able to dominate the land domain as part of the joint force?”