The symbolic significance in Russia of May 9 - 'Victory Day' - should not be overestimated, and is certainly not considered an end in itself in the Kremlin's reckoning on the war in Ukraine, Rainer Saks says.
Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Friday evening, Saks said that the Russian military's plan on a large-scale offensive in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine remains unchanged.
"Should the opportunity arise again to achieve these goals, then [Russia] will certainly do that," Saks said.
While Ukraine's military performance has been impressive, it is too early to talk about a swing in the course of the war in favor of Ukraine, he went on.
Russian troops have had to alter their plans, though this has not been carried out up until now due to May 9, when Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, wants to be able to declare victory to the Russian nation, Saks added, but this does not mean that the date dictates the overall course of the war.
"May 9 is not the benchmark by which Putin is making calculations," he said.
"It is a symbolic day, and it would certainly be seen as good if something could be achieved, but the war will not take place according to May 9, but according to the goals that the Russian leadership wants to achieve," Saks continued.
"It may also be the case that Ukraine will be able to tilt the course of the war in its favor earlier [than May 9], but it may also turn out that the war reaches its culmination much later. So I would not pin things on May 9."
"There are many more ways to celebrate May 9," he said, noting that the announcement of success in the Donbas or of the fall of the besieged city of Mariupol, on the Black Sea coast, would be sufficient as a message of victory.
60,000 reservists recruited unlikely to be sent to the Donbas
Saks also said that the news that 60,000 reservists in Russia are to be recruited to fight in Ukraine does not mean that these will materialize in time to be sent to the Donbas ahead of May 9.
"This is an arbitrary figure, but I have a hard time believing they can recruit 60,000 men in a few weeks.
"They need to be armed and trained," he went on.
Of the demographic of the reservists likely to be called up, Saks said: "The focus is on two groups The second group is those who are older civil servants who have left the service in the last five to seven years and are being recalled. would not fall, "said Saks.
Military personnel redeployed from northern Ukraine into Belarus have demonstrated that, while the logistical problems which have dogged Russia's invasion since it began a month-and-a-half ago are still present, some improvements have been made, Saks said.
The slower-than-expected movement of troops to eastern Ukraine may also denoted that the actual losses incurred by Russian units which fought in northern Ukraine have come as a surprise to the Russian military leadership, he went on.
"It is noticeable that paratroopers made up the first phase of the withdrawal from Kyiv and Chernivitsi, and that more combative units made up the second phase," Saks said.
"These have already been transferred to the Kharkiv region. It is clear that the losses from these forces have been more severe and that the pulling out has not been quite as that envisaged on the Russian side, and this will mean that bringing them up to combat strength will take longer than has been disseminated in public."
"The other thing to note is that the units which were extracted from northern Ukraine were not directed towards the Donbass whatsoever; They are in the Belgorod and Kursk regions [in Russia], or have entered the territory of Ukraine near Kharkiv," Saks added.
"I think that the general condition of these forces is such that they will not be allowed to fight in new places," Saks added.
The course of the war so far has also demonstrated that the Ukrainian forces have a very good awareness of the situation, and that the distribution of the forces has been planned very well.
This means that any changes in plans on the part of Russian forces and their movement will come as no surprise to the Ukrainians, Saks said. "I think that the Ukrainians have such a strong knowledge of Russian military arts and intelligence that the Russian forces will not be able to lead them by the nose."
The end of World War Two is marked in Russia as "Victory Day", on May 9.
Editor: Andrew Whyte