In an interview with ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Tuesday night, Mikk Marran, director general of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS), said that Russian troops are currently located 50 kilometers away from the Ukrainian border and there are no signs indicating that some units have started to leave the vicinity as announced by Russia's Ministry of Defense on Tuesday.
Aktuaalne kaamera: Speaking at the press conference presenting the EFIS yearbook, you said that three scenarios are currently most likely: the escalation of the situation in Donbas, precision attacks, or small new warzones and a head-on attack. Has anything become more or less likely over the past few hours?
Mikk Marran: Nothing has changed over the past few hours, for better or for worse. And I am reminded of a Ukrainian saying: don't believe what you hear, believe what you see. And right now we have not clearly seen that Russian units have started moving back away from the Ukrainian border. Rather, just as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was telling Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, "Good, let's move forward with diplomatic steps," Russian troops advanced and are currently some 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
AK: You mentioned Putin's most recent discussion with Lavrov, from which one could almost infer that diplomacy is possible. Surely that was play-acting that can't be trusted?
Marran: Absolutely. As for what is on the ground, we don't see any changes there. Yes, some units have begun to leave exercises in Belarus, but at the same time, several units are remaining in Belarus as well, and for us the major question is how many units will be remaining in Belarus for the longer term. This direction needs careful observation as well.
AK: The U.S. believes that war may break out. Is this rather likely or not?
Marran: It's difficult to say without a full connection to [what's going on inside] Putin's head, because it is President Putin who would make that decision. And it is very difficult to judge whether this decision may be made today, while we're here live in the studio, whether it may be made five days from now, two weeks from now, or a month out from now. In any case, Russia has secured itself the opportunity to move forward militarily should the political decision to do so come.
AK: How long could a situation like this last? Can we even forecast the prospects for the next month?
Marran: Not really. This kind of situation may last for weeks yet; it may continue for months as well. Russia is capable of rotating out its units there as well. We must be prepared for a longer-term crisis.
AK: What does [Tuesday's] Russian State Duma decision to task Putin with recognizing the self-declared republics in Eastern Ukraine refer to? Will this further complicate the situation or not?
Marran: I suppose it will to some extent, because this will raise doubts, and Western decision-makers may be anxious about what this means. Russia might be hoping that this will give rise to provocations on the Ukrainians' part. But I think that, broadly speaking, this isn't going to change the big picture.
AK: Finally, do you believe that Alexei Navalny will be freed from prison in the coming years?
Marran: So long as Putin's regime is at the helm, I very much doubt this will happen.
Editor: Aili Vahtla