Military activity is likely to intensify in Eastern Ukraine in the second half of April as Russia changes its strategy to focus on the region, head of Estonia's Foreign Intelligence Agency (Välisluureamet) Mikk Marran said on Tuesday.
"We see that it was not possible for Putin to formalize the flash war. The goals are being reformed so that there could be a victory on the table on May 9," Marran said, speaking at a news conference at the Ministry of Defense.
"Currently we are seeing a lower intensity war. In the second half of April, it will intensify again in Eastern Ukraine," he added.
Marran said the Kremlin may consider it a victory if power can be consolidated in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and a land corridor can be created linking Crimea to Russian-controlled territory.
The official said the end of the war will definitely not be celebrated on May 9, Russia's end of the Second World War anniversary.
He said the Kremlin has misjudged Ukraine's ability to fight and defend itself, western unity and the effectiveness of sanctions.
Speaking about peace negotiations, Marran said no breakthrough is expected in the near future as both sides are set on their demands. Regardless of the outcome, President Vladimir Putin will continue to destroy democratic Ukraine.
"Putin remains convinced that Ukraine is not a state. The Kremlin believes that if at the moment the Ukrainian government cannot be overthrown, the goal is to impose conditions on Zelenskyy so that he would not survive politically," Marran said.
He said Putin has not given up his demands to change the security situation in Europe, meaning NATO troops on the alliance's eastern flank. A peace agreement with Ukraine will not change those goals, Marran said.
Tõniste: redeployment of Russian troops will take more than a week
The relocation of Russian forces from Kyiv to Eastern Ukraine will take at least a week, said Lt. Col. Toomas Tõniste, deputy chief of the Analysis and Planning Department of the General Staff of the Defense Forces, at the conference.
"The pace of relocation is affected by distance, the transport capacity of the Russian Federation as well as the process of restructuring the units," said Tõniste.
He said the next operations may be focused around "north-south incursions from Kharkiv and Izjum and north of Mariupol".
Tõniste said there are reports Russia is trying to create new power structures in occupied territories, especially in Southern Ukraine.
"Such actions indicate the Russian Federation's continued plan to cut off Ukraine's access to the Azov and also the Black Sea, which would have a significant negative impact on the Ukrainian economy in the future and allow for continued pressure to be placed on the country in the future," he said.
Tõniste said Russian troops are continuing to withdraw from around Kyiv and Northern Ukraine.
He also spoke about rumors that military personnel stationed around Chernobyl have been hospitalized with signs of radiation sickness. "The exact numbers are not known, but given the units' behavior in the contaminated area, such a consequence is likely," he said.
Editor: Helen Wright