EFIS chief: 2024 state budget major challenge for Russia as war continues

Kaupo Rosin.
Kaupo Rosin. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Kaupo Rosin, director of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS), told ERR in an interview that putting together the 2024 state budget will be a huge challenge for Russia if the war continues long into this year.

The 2023 EFIS yearbook makes note of Russia's ability to restore its pre-war military capacity in our region in four years. In this light, to what extent does it matter whether it wins or loses in Ukraine? They will retain their ability for new campaigns either way.

We are talking about quantitative replenishment here. They will not restore the quality of their military in that time, while that quantity will still be enough to create, shall we say, an advantage. How the Ukraine war will end is important in terms of Russia's planning of future steps and their execution.

The Russian Federation's ambition is to create a completely new security situation in Europe. Ukraine is merely one stage therein. So, a lot depends on how they'll fare in Ukraine. But we cannot hope that Russia will withdraw and refrain from considering such aggressive ambitions again, even should it lose in Ukraine.

The nature of the Russian regime will not change in neither the medium nor the long run. Even if we see new faces, it will be the same regime at heart. It would constitute a change of countenance, not its aggressive character.

The yearbook suggests Russia is trying to expand its economic and political cooperation with third countries to military cooperation. Who have supplied Russia with arms and other military support, other than Iran?

Indeed, Iran is the first country to deliver weapons from outside Russia. However, we should keep a close eye on Russia's activities or aspirations concerning China and North Korea, aimed at procuring munitions, weapons and non-lethal equipment.

What could potential aid from China entail? Would it rather be multipurpose goods that could also be used for the military or could we see China supply Russia with weapons?

As far as we can tell, we are talking about non-lethal and multipurpose goods. But these things develop gradually. Russia still wants China to supply it with lethal aid. It is possible that China will decide to comply, following its own interests or a change in their situational assessment.

What about the Russian economy in 2023? What will be different from 2022?

The Russian economy has been delivered quite a blow from sanctions and other activities. In short, our analyses suggest Russia will make do in 2023, using various levers at their disposal with which to stabilize their financial and economic situation. But putting together the 2024 state budget will be a challenge on a whole new level for them if the war continues.

The Foreign Intelligence Service touches at length on the Russian Orthodox Church as an instrument of influence and intelligence activities. Is it probable this is not being done in some former Eastern Bloc countries, such as Estonia?

The Russian Orthodox Church is a Russian influence tool. Its branches outside Russia are allowed to make critical statements about Russia if it is believed to be tactically advantageous. Their activities are quite crafty.

In other words, Estonia pressuring the local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church into saying something along the lines of "all wars are bad," changes very little in the grand scheme of things?

What happens in Estonia is the jurisdictions of the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS).

I'll ask about our neighbors in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland then. To what extent is it the role of the Russian Orthodox Church there?

They are operational. Their influence has diminished, since everyone understands who they are and it shows through. But talking about Russia's attempts or plans, the Orthodox church was and remains a propaganda tool.

The yearbook makes scant mention of attitudes among the Russian population. Does this suggest it is of little consequence and has little bearing on Russia's conduct?

The regime is largely up to speed on the people's mood. They realize the mobilization is a source of tensions. That said, it does not go as far as affecting major strategic calculations in terms of the future of the war or global ambitions.

For the moment, the Russian opposition has been skillfully outmaneuvered. To manage domestic threats, Russia has doubled its internal security budget since 2021, with it making up roughly 15 percent of the federal budget now. It is a colossal amount of money. The regime is aware and taking action not to be affected by the populace.

What does it entail? More surveillance or crackdown?

Both. The first sign of dissatisfaction must merit a swift kinetic response. All manner of protests are promptly dealt with.

We expected Russia to wield at least two so-called energy mallets this year. One would have been to lower the water level in the Narva Reservoir (which would have affected the cooling of Narva Power Plants in Estonia – ed.). The other, desynchronizing Estonia [from the Russian power grid] by force. Why did Russia refrain from doing either of those things?

These tools are kept in reserve and their use remains quite possible in the future.

Who blew up Nord Stream?

That question needs to be put to the countries conducting the relevant investigation.

How likely does EFIS hold similar operations targeting energy infrastructure or other things inside Europe in 2023?

Russia will continue to seize every opportunity and wield strategic sabotage against the West, either to sever or disrupt Western arms aid. Similar steps remain quite possible.

Does EFIS have information to suggest Russia has used this kind of strategic sabotage in Europe during the Ukraine war?

I have no such information at this time, while it's possible such steps are being mulled.

Russia getting caught after a botched operation is very much the exception. Successful attempts where they are not caught might be much more numerous.

Russia has specially trained units. organizations the main purpose of which is to engage in such activity. We have seen it in the past. That said, it also seems to me the Russian threat is taken more seriously in the West, intelligence agencies are keeping busy. It is a race and mutual action to keep things under control.

How likely do you hold President Xi Jinping attacking Taiwan during his current or next term?

The threat China poses to Taiwan will only grow and an attack is a possibility.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski

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