Both Ukraine and Russia have reduced the intensity of their fighting as both try to conserve ammunition, said Colonel Margo Grosberg, commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) intelligence center. According to Grosberg, the key to a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive will be how much training their units are able to do together beforehand.
Colonel Margo Grosberg said, at a press conference on Friday, the recent weather had provided favorable conditions for defensive operations. Low cloud cover had made aerial observation and air strike more difficult, he added. In this respect, there is likely to be little change in proceedings next week, according to Grosberg.
There has been plenty of speculation about potential start dates for the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive, with some predicting it could begin on May 9, the day Russia commemorates "Victory Day." However, Grosberg said, that while symbolic dates were important at the start of the war, particularly for the Russian leadership, the reality is, that while such dates look good on paper, implementing such plans has proved much more difficult.
"As far as May 9 is concerned, I have stressed this a lot, that Ukraine is a very diverse region, especially northeastern and southern Ukraine, where a lot depends on the weather. This week it has been raining and next week it will also rain. If it goes on like this for another three weeks, then these dates will become irrelevant," Grosberg said, adding that he would prefer not to make firm predictions as a result.
Grosberg did say however, that the Ukrainians are preparing to liberate their homeland from the occupiers. At the same time, the Russians, particularly in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts are also preparing rigorously for a possible offensive, by building defensive fortifications in several different areas.
"The intensity on both sides has been reduced as they are trying to conserve ammunition," the EDF intelligence chief explained.
According to the Grosberg, which Ukrainian units will be involved in the counter-offensive is not the most important issue. The real key is, how much these units will be able to train together before the start of an active offensive as this can make all the difference in such circumstances.
By way of example, the colonel pointed to Russia's failure to coordinate its ground troops and aerial forces. This was, in part, down to the strong performance of Ukraine's air defenses, which Russia has been unable to destroy.
"However, in all kinds of operations, especially offensive operations, the synchronization of different types of forces, both in terms of timing and location, is extremely important," he added, noting that how Ukrainian units have been training in recent months will also be crucial.
In recent weeks, Russia has been bombing less critical infrastructure than it has done for the whole of the previous year. At no point since its full-scale invasion began last February has there been such a long pause. According to Grosberg, there are several reasons for this. First, initial attempts to destroy electricity and heating infrastructure as well as efforts attempt to crush the morale of the Ukrainian people were unsuccessful. In addition, the winter weather did not prove cold enough and Russian attacks failed to hit enough of their desired targets.
"It is probably more sensible at the moment, given the calendar, the weather and so on, to hold the line until the Ukrainian units start to amass, because these weapons are designed for things like major assembly points, as well as command and control points. If you start to see things like that, they are more likely to be deployed there to ensure that the counteroffensive fails," Grosberg said, explaining the possible rationale behind the Russia's current tactics.
In recent weeks, the Russians, he said, have been using relatively cheap drones purchased from Iran, with the aim of forcing Ukraine's air defenses to use up their expensive and high quality ammunition to shoot them down.
As for Bakhmut, Grosberg said, that there were different objectives for holding the city and that doing so is was certainly part of Ukraine's plan. "They will hold it for precisely as long as they need it as part of their plan," he said.
Russian recruitment campaign targets most vulnerable groups
On April 1, Russia launched a new recruitment campaign to draft volunteers, similar to the one last summer, albeit on a smaller scale.
"At the moment, there is no overview of how many people have been successfully recruited. However, we have observed that, in addition to voluntary recruitment, coercive measures are being used to get people to sign active service contracts," Grosberg said.
The colonel added, that Russia is targeting some of the most vulnerable groups and trying to take advantage of those who may have breached certain national regulations. For example, people who do not have valid work permits may be excused by going to war in Ukraine.
Grosberg than commented on a recent law passed by the Russian State Duma, which enables men to be mobilized via the internet. While last September's mobilization campaign appeared to be relatively random, catching whoever happened to be caught, this time there have been a number of changes to law, making it more difficult to avoid the draft.
"Corruption is pretty widespread in Russia. Whereas you used to be able to make your paper file disappear for money, it is much more difficult to do something like that electronically. Like other countries, Russia learns from its mistakes," he said.
Editor: Michael Cole