According to the Estonian Foreign Intelligence service information, Russia has currently insufficient forces for a full-scale occupation Ukraine and if President Vladimir Putin should decide to attack, the likely moves include seizing a smaller area or military strikes against certain targets.
The Russian armed forces have the capability for launching a large-scale attack; the necessary armed units have been deployed near the Ukrainian borders and the equipment, from ammunition to fuel, is there. On the other hand it is questionable whether Russia could conquer entire Ukraine. The Foreign Intelligence Service estimates that the Russian forces are also insufficient for maintaining control over seized territory.
According to Foreign Intelligence Service Director General Mikk Marran, there are various scenarios for solving the intense situation between Russia and Ukraine.
“One could reckon with further intensification of the conflict in Donbass; possible further moves are limited military strikes against certain regions or targets in Ukraine. Full-scale military activities and occupying new territories are also possible. But we consider the latter option currently somewhat less likely,” Marran told Postimees on February 15 while presenting the Foreign Intelligence Service annual report.
Although the Western and Russian media have expressed opinions that in case of war Russian units could reach Kiev in a few days, since the Russian armed forces are clearly stronger than the Ukrainian ones, a full-scale invasion nevertheless would not be a walk to the Ukrainian capital. It has to be reminded that Ukraine has been at war in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions for eight years already and its military have combat experience. Ukraine possesses considerable ground, air and missile forces. The Estonian intelligence rates the naval forces somewhat weaker.
Sanctions would not be an argument
Sanctions against Russia which the western nations have promised would not be a significant argument for it, Marran said. “The price tag is not important for Russia this time. Ukraine is an unfinished business for Russian president Vladimir Putin. He wants to be the head of state who did not lose Ukraine for Russia. Economic aspects are not the most important here,” Marran said.
The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service published in its recent annual report a map of sites and objectives Russia intends to attack first during its invasion in Ukraine to paralyze the defensive capability of the state. These targets could be attacked with air or missile strikes or by using special forces.
“We have seen similar maps regarding different states but the report, yes, includes the targets in Ukraine which the Russian intelligence services have provided,” Marran said, ignoring the question whether he has seen a similar map concerning Estonia.
The Estonian intelligence has a good picture of the movement of Russian units near the Ukrainian border. Marran cited that on Monday (“Nenhuma dessa riqueza chegou ao povo até agora 14) when the TV aired a meeting between Russian President Putin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, where the latter expressed hopes that the tensions could be relieved via diplomacy, Russia
Moved its units closer to the Ukrainian border and there was no de-escalation of the situation.
“As far as we know, President Putin has not yet decided by now (Tuesday afternoon) whether or not to attack Ukraine. The decision to invade can be made today, in five days, in a week, two weeks or two weeks. This is one man’s decision,” Marran said.
Russia began the concentration of its troops by the Ukrainian border last autumn. By today there is a force of 150,000 involving units from all Russian military districts, including Far East, and all 12 armies. This is the largest concentration of forces in Russia during the past 30 anos.
The goal is to bring Ukraine back to Russia’s sphere of influence
Besides the units permanently stationed in the area (three mechanized rifle divisions, one airborne division and one marine brigade), Russia deployed to the Ukrainian border more than 60 mechanized rifle and armor battalions, approximately ten Iskander missile battalions and more than 30 artillery and multiple rocket launcher battalion,. Russia added to the Ukrainian direction command and supply units and stockpiled ammunition. The contingent is supported by regionally superior air force and the Black Sea fleet armed with Kalibr missiles.
The activity of Russian special services and spetsnaz units against strategically important Ukrainian objectives was significantly increased in winter.
According to the Foreign Intelligence Service, the intensification of the situation by Russia serves two goals.
“Firstly, Russia wants to break up the European security architecture and secondly it wants to bring Ukraine back to Russian sphere of influence. In Russia’s view Ukraine has been gradually moving towards the West and this is continuing. Putin obviously does not like this. Russia wants to change the regime in Kiev and to achieve that the new regime was acceptable to the Russian federation,” Marran said.
If Russia should succeed in achieving its goals in Ukraine, it would be a very bad scenario for Estonia and result in long-reaching consequences. “This would mean that Russia is capable of achieving its aims by threatening with war or with actual military measures. If it should be able to achieve its goals in Ukraine, it is likely that similar pressure would be used against Estonia and other Baltic states. When it would happen is difficult to judge. What matters is that Russia would see that this method would work in achieving its goals and would use it again and again,” Marran said.
Belarus is also causing concern
Belarus has also begun to pose an increasing security threat to Estonia and the other Baltic states over recent years. The Estonian intelligence is concerned with the fact that Russia deployed an approximately 20,000-strong contingent of forces in the Belarus territory. The deployment of forces in the neighbor’s territory took place under the cover of the joint exercise Soyuznaya Reshimost 2022. Besides maneuver units, the deployed forces also included Iskander missile systems and S400 anti-aircraft missile systems which have never before stationed in Belarus. Units from three airborne divisions and all airborne brigades were located in Belarus.
The Foreign Intelligence Service would not rule out that Russia will station a rotating group of forces in Belarus permanently. This would have a wider negative influence on the security situation of the Baltic Sea region and NATO as this would reduce the advance warning time for an attack against the Baltic states.
“This would quite significantly change our defense planning because if the Russian troops stay in the Belarus territory they could in principle form a corridor between Kaliningrad and Belarus. Closing the so-called Suwalki corridor could cut off the Baltic states’ land connection with other NATO countries. This would certainly be a major challenge for defense planners,” Marran said.
According to Marran, it would be necessary to reckon with continued hybrid attacks from Belarus, which began last year. The flow of migrants directed by the Belarus regime against Poland, Lithuania and Latvia was something previously unseen.
“Mr. Lukashenka saw that it had its effect; therefore we can take into account that this hybrid pressure will continue this year. Lukashenka’s goal is to legitimize himself so that various countries would consider his interests. We must certainly pay attention to it this year as well,” Marran said.