Chief of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) intelligence center Colonel Margo Grosberg said on Friday, that there are currently no signs to suggest that a joint Belarusian-Russian attack is being prepared. According to Grosberg, the reason those mobilized by Russia are being transferred to Belarus, is to undergo training.
Grosberg said, that is now around the time when Russia usually conducts its annual nuclear testing exercise "Grom." However, this year's exercise has, so far, not taken place.
"However, we have seen various preparations for the conduction of the exercise. From today until the end of next week, airspace over at least seven different regions of the Barents Sea has been closed to air traffic. This may indicate that the shelling, which normally occurs during this exercise, could happen in the coming week, particular at the Kura testing range on the Kamchatka peninsula," Grosberg said.
"The exercise has traditionally seen the use of strategic air force units, which carry out various aerial attacks. Naval vessels and land-based units are also usually involved. However, given that most of the land-based units are currently involved in the war in Ukraine, the proportion (involved) is likely to be small," Grosberg said.
Moving to the topic of Belarus, Grosberg said that, as yet, there was no sign that a joint attack containing both Belarusian and Russia troops was being prepared. "In fact, (what is happening) is the training of those reserve troops mobilized by the Russian Federation, which will be carried out at three Belarusian facilities," he said.
"And despite the fact that the Russian Federation is supposed to be contractually deploying around 9,000 troops, 200 tanks, 200 armored vehicles and 100 indirect fire vehicles to Belarus to create this regional grouping of troops, what we are actually seeing is the opposite. That is, arms are being taken out of Belarus and mobilized men are being brought in. The purpose is for training."
According to Grosberg, Russia is doing this in order to compensate for the shortage of military instructors in Russia.
"It is likely that after this training, these units and those who have been mobilized will end up in the war in Ukraine," Grosberg said.
In this context, he added, that in his estimations, the current level of threat posed to NATO or the Baltic states remains very low.
According to Grosberg, there is a possibility that the units trained in Belarus could also be used to launch a northern offensive against Ukraine. However, the Colonel believed that, even if that were to happen, it is also unlikely to occur before the spring.
"At present, Ukraine is certainly much better prepared to repel any such attacks from Kyiv. Nonetheless, any increase in the deployment of troops will of course mean Ukrainian units, which are needed much more on the southern front, would have to be redirected to the north of Ukraine" Grosberg said.
Speaking about Vladimir Putin's decision to declare martial law in the four Ukrainian oblasts, which Russia claimed to have annexed on September 30, Grosberg said the move had been made primarily for political reasons and as part of the Kremlin's strategic communication effort, rather than for any tangible military gains. According to Grosberg, martial law also gives the Russian armed forces significantly greater power to repress and impose its restrictions on the local population in those regions.
The introduction of martial law additionally raises defense levels in those Russian oblasts bordering Ukraine and elsewhere. Grosberg explained that the reasons for this, were, "to support the armed forces of the Russian Federation in the war against Ukraine, restrict the movement of people and to facilitate communication between civilian structures and military personnel."
Grosberg said that, generally speaking, there had been no major changes on the battlefield since his last press conference, drawing particular attention to the situation in the Kherson region.
"Despite the fact that there have been no significant breakthroughs there by the Ukrainians, the Russian units are probably realizing that holding the area is becoming more and more difficult by the day," he said. This is also the reason for evacuating the civilian population, and removing collaborators and local authorities who are cooperating with the Russian Federation, to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River," Grosberg said.
"Over the next three to four weeks, we will probably see the withdrawal of Russian units from the occupied Kherson region the other side of the Dnieper," he continued.
Grosberg also spoke about Russian forces' recent mining of the Kakhovka Dam.
"The main purpose of this is to prevent Ukrainian units advancing to the point where Russian units have managed to cross the Dnieper River during their retreat. This is a tactically sound move to stop Ukrainian units gaining momentum as they advance," Grosberg said.
Grosberg: No sign of preparations for joint Russian and Belarusian attack
According to Grosberg, blowing up the dam would lead to major flooding, with estimate suggestion an increase in water levels of around one and a half meters at some points downstream. "The city of Kherson would not be significantly impacted, because, as far as we understand, its banks are protected against this. However, the lower-lying settlements on the east bank are likely to greatly affected and it would make crossing the river significantly more difficult for Ukrainian units," said Grosberg.
Grosberg also discussed Russia's plans to reconstruct the bridge across the Kerch Strait, which was damaged by explosions on October 8. "The deadline for completing the reconstruction of the Kerch bridge has been set (by Russia - ed.) for July 1, 2023," Grosberg explained.
"It will probably not be possible to restore the Kerch bridge to the condition it was in before the attack any earlier than next summer," he said.
"This would, again, make it much more important for the Russian armed forces to keep the so-called ´land bridge´ in the Melitopol and Mariupol region open and provides a better understanding of the reasons for the current withdrawal of (Russian) troops from the Kherson region. Because supplying them is going to become more and more difficult over the coming months," Grosberg explained.
Editor: Michael Cole