The crimes carried out by the Russian army in Ukraine did not come as a surprise because the forces are poorly trained, have low morale and are confused about their goals, Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm said on Wednesday.
Palm said the current lull in Russia's activity in Ukraine is deceptive because, with every passing moment, civilians are being killed and war crimes committed.
"The war crimes being carried out by the Russian side did not come as a surprise to anyone because it has badly trained units with low morale and confused goals. One of the reasons for committing war crimes is fear. When soldiers are cut off from their chain of command, they are left alone then they start to fire indiscriminately," said Palm, deputy commander of the Estonian Defense Forces.
But if the violence did not come as a surprise, then the scale of the crimes did.
"Images from the recaptured areas of Ukraine are breathtaking. It shows a sense of impunity. The extent of the violence was also surprising: everywhere a Russian soldier stepped, a war crime has been committed. In fact, this methodological destruction is similar to the former USSR's actions," he told a press conference.
Palm said Estonia is currently well protected and there is no likelihood of a direct military attack on the country. The situation could change, but everything will be fine in the coming weeks and months.
"This is so because the Russians are all at war in Ukraine, the military towns of the Russian Federation behind our border are empty," he said.
It is not thought that Russia will abandon its goal of destroying Ukrainian independence, although the military's "poor performance" has forced it to reevaluate and move towards focusing on the east.
Palm believes a big offensive will start at the end of this week or the beginning of the next.
"They're in a hurry: they're not reorganizing their forces properly, they're doing it on the move. There's no rest, no proper training and no maintenance," he said.
Supplementary budget raises defense budget to 3.5 percent
Palm said the Ukrainian people and the army will be able to withstand Russia's advances but it will quickly get tired and western countries must continue to provide military aid.
"Estonia understands the situation in Ukraine, so we were also among the first supporters to provide military aid," he said, adding the country is the third biggest donor of lethal aid.
Palm said it is "excellent" that Estonia's defense budget will rise to 3.5 percent of GDP this year after the supplementary budget is passed.
He said Estonia's defense attitude needs to change from a tripwire principle to a forward defense principle. "We do not have the opportunity to discuss, even as a theoretical possibility, that we will give up part of Estonia's territory and then try to recapture it. It can be seen from Ukraine's experience that it is not a wise thing to do," he said
This means being able to disable enemy targets.
"We must be able to find the enemy's armored units and destroy them. Repel the enemy on land and in the air. It's known in the military language as "division". We must raise our own level of leadership. It should be a combination of our own national and permanent allied troops and rapidly deployable Allied units," he said.
Currently, there is also political support for strengthening Estonia's defense, Palm added. Estonian officials are calling for permanent allied NATO units in the Baltic states and additional troops and equipment.
Editor: Helen Wright