Estonia is preparing its own package of measures in response to Vladimir Putin's announcement of a partial mobilization in Russia, Deputy Chief of Defense major general Veiko-Vello Palm said on Wednesday. However, Palm stressed that Russia's move to partial mobilization does not pose a direct military threat to Estonia.
"This is an important enough event to talk about right now," Palm said, at the opening of a press conference convened at lunchtime on Wednesday, in the wake of Russia's decision. "Our package of measures is being developed and finalized, and will be delivered to the minister of defense shortly," Palm said.
"We certainly can't say, that we do not need to do anything. The direct military threat to Estonia has not increased. Only when we see what actions happen as a result, will we be able to respond appropriately," said Palm.
"Certainly, the importance of this step should not be underestimated. This is yet another escalation by Russia, taking the war in Ukraine to the next level. The only next step would be a full mobilization," Palm continued.
Asked what NATO's reaction might be to the Russian leadership's latest move, Palm said it was down to political leader to decide.
"In practical terms, the military has been discussing the possibility of a Russian mobilization, and how to respond to it, for months. We have different [possible] responses in military terms, first of all a demonstration of force, additional exercises, moving some units from one area to another. All of these (options) have been proposed," Palm explained.
"However, NATO is a military-political organization with an emphasis on the word 'political.' The reaction NATO takes as a whole, depends on our political leaders, not on the military," the general said,
Palm reiterated, that there is no imminent military threat to Estonia, referring to Lithuania's decision to raise the readiness of its rapid reaction forces in response to Russian mobilization in the Kaliningrad exclave.
Asked whether the Kremlin's move would also mean an increase in Western military assistance to Ukraine, Palm said, that both training and equipment are already being provided on a large scale.
"I don't see the need to increase it exponentially. In terms of training, we are already doing everything they need," he said.
Mobilization simply plugs gaps in Ukraine
Palm also outlined some of the key differences between mobilization arrangements in Russia and Estonia, which suggest that, in this case, the move has most likely been taken in order to fill gaps in Russian units that have suffered losses in Ukraine.
"Russia's mobilization system is very different from Estonia's," Palm said. "We have a reserve army made up of trained units. As a rule, they are trained during the period of military service, when we pay a lot of attention to team spirit and cohesion, in order to ensure that only a short amount of additional training time is needed, if and when we form and mobilize these units," he explained.
"The mobilization system in Russia is different - it is geographically based, depending on where a person lives. Reservists are enlisted according to their place of residence - they have never met their comrades before. It takes a lot of reservists and a lot of time to turn this type of unit into a functioning one," he explained.
"In all likelihood, they will be used to replace units that have suffered losses in the war in Ukraine," Palm said.
For example, as the Russian army is short of infantry, the newly mobilized will form divisions and groups to feed into existing units, Palm said.
This will allow Russia to rotate more of its troops around Ukraine and replace units that, in some cases, have been stationed there for a whole year. Palm also stressed, that it is worth remembering that hundreds of thousands of Russians have already been involved in the war in Ukraine.
The major general also predicted that, in all likelihood, the Russian leadership would try to concentrate its mobilization efforts in provincial areas, away from Moscow and St Petersburg.
What is interesting, he said, is that the mobilization does not include those who have criminal convictions, which differentiates it from the recent policy of recruiting new soldiers from prisons.
According to Palm, it is also noteworthy that the mobilization will not only be used replenish the ranks of the Russian army, but also additional branches of the armed forces, most probably including the National Guard, the police and others.
Restrictions on leaving Russia
The Estonian Defense Forces have already reported how bans on leaving Russia, have already, at least partially been imposed on people aged 18-65. "And that's significant!" stressed Palm.
Palm pointed out, that even before now, there has been a considerable influx of refugees from Russia on a continuous basis. "However, the truth is, that it has primarily been those from the wealthier part of the population. If you have a situation where 70 percent of the people have never been outside Russia, where do you flee to? Into the unknown?" he said.
Therefore, Palm said, it is very difficult to imagine that the current mobilization drive will be lead to a major new wave of refugees. Palm added, that the initial impact on the partial travel ban can already be observed, with some travel companies no longer selling tickets out of the country. Flights leaving Russia are now also much more expensive than those going into the country.
Editor: Michael Cole