Developments in the military and political situation in 2020 and their effect on the objectives of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the context of activities associated with the Strategic command-and-staff training exercise Caucasus 2020
Alex Kashtaliar. Senior analyst and military expert at COSA
Previously, he served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, held analytical and command positions in one of the structural units of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, served as an officer of the NATO-led Multinational Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and participated in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine.
The year 2020 has brought unexpected and significant changes to the projected development of the military and political situation (hereinafter “MPS”) due to new factors that are capable of exerting considerable influence, which in the case of the Russian Federation may raise some concerns.
These factors are:
- The COVID-19 pandemic that has affected projected processes both in terms of finance and economy (recession in most countries and the resultant drop in demand and prices for petroleum commodities increasing the competition between OPEC, Russia, and the United States) and in the military and political areas (scaling down of NATO operations training exercises, military resources in most countries being used to maintain and support quarantine and epidemic response, proven ineffectiveness of established military, political, and economic alliances in solving urgent problems of individual countries such as procurement of protective gear, medicine, and medical equipment and exchange of experts, including military ones;
- The United States stepping up their efforts to strengthen their external military and economic security while disturbances continue domestically against the backdrop of preparations for the upcoming presidential election:
-The United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies (while its allies in the NATO remain part of it) and de facto from The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, which, factoring in the uncertain future of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expiring in February 2021), indicates a high probability of a future escalation of the arms race, including space arms;
-Continuation of trade and economic disputes between China, the EU, and surprisingly Great Britain, which has apparently caused the European Union’s openly negative response to the United States’ threat of additional sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and the failed attempt by the U.S. to extend its Iran sanctions, including the arms embargo;
-Practical implementation of the first measures to legitimise and meet the demands of Israel in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which affects the interests of the key EU member states France and Germany, Russia, and China and splits apart the anti-Israel coalition of the Arab states and Turkey;
-Practical implementation of the first steps in the plan to revise the established borders in the Arctic by means of purchase or seizure of Denmark’s rights to Greenland.
- Turkey’s sudden surge in activity to expand its political role in the Mediterranean by using force to take control of additional oil and gas bearing areas in the Mediterranean shelf that lie outside of its exclusive economic zone. This includes Turkey’s expanding military presence and open intervention in the ongoing armed conflict in Libya, blocking important NATO decisions related to strengthening its defence in the east, and open attacks on Christianity;
- Changes in the legislation of the Russian Federation aimed at strengthening the central government, making it impossible for any region to leave the Federation, limiting the amount of capital being transferred out of the country, which on the whole resembles the measures the country would take if it were preparing for a particularly difficult period such as a state of emergency due to internal armed conflict, tougher economic sanctions, or another recession.
The factors above and their possible consequences point towards acceleration in the development of the following MPS trends:
-the role of international institutions, including military and political blocs, in maintaining security and resolving global problems is expected to weaken as nationalistic, pragmatic, and egotistic sentiments and actions of the members of these blocs increase in strength and number;
-the fight for the control of natural resources and markets between the world’s leading economies is projected to intensify and include changing or preserving the current regimes in target countries and altering national borders and boundaries of exclusive economic zones by means of warfare (including hybrid warfare) and soft power.
The Russian Federation might be losing its biggest and most profitable target market for natural gas and oil, the European Union. As time passes, the danger becomes ever more real. If Russia loses the European market, the welfare of its population will suffer even more, which would in turn affect its military capacity and the ability of the current regime to stay in power. The situation that may result from Russia’s losing political control of Belarus (even though the possibility is low), together with the possible blocking of the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a revival of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline project, Turkey taking control of large oil deposits in the Mediterranean Sea, Libya, and Syria, and gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, would place Russia in danger of not only suffering enormous financial losses but also becoming financially and economically dependent on the concerted stance of the transit countries and buyers, without being able to redistribute the pipelines.
Given the experience the Russian Federation has had with its method of using armed forces to achieve its political and to a certain extent economic goals (Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, Syria in 2015, Libya in 2019), one cannot rule out the possibility of its resorting to the same method in order to derail independent oil and gas transportation projects, retain its position of the largest supplier of fossil fuels to Southern Europe, and remain in control of the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia.
The simplest way to execute this scenario would be for Russia to escalate the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. If this happens, the South-Caucasus (Trans-Anatolian) Pipeline, two large international oil pipelines, and (due to specific terrain features) a possible construction site of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline will be in close proximity to combat areas. Moreover, such a development may be to the benefit of Turkey, which will become the best fuel supplier for Europe thanks to shorter transit routes, if it succeeds in seizing the deposits in the Mediterranean Sea and Libya.
Thus, as distinct from the official plan of the active phase of the Strategic command-and-staff training exercise Caucasus 2020, the real objective of the entire series of actions preceding the exercise (since the early July 2020) may have been a covert creation and training of a military force on the South-West strategic approach that will be prepared to use force in order to prevent the use of the territories of Azerbaijan and Georgia to transport hydrocarbons from Central Asia to Europe.