Russian leader Vladimir Putin is taking major risks in its strikes on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and on other targets, all in an effort to block Ukrainian grain exports, Estonia's Ambassador to NATO Jüri Luik says.
At the same time, Ukraine should not be forced into a time-frame for conducting any counter-attack, Luik added.
Speaking to ETV show "Ukraina stuudio" Monday, Luik, a former defense minister, said there should be no unrealistically exaggerated expectations placed on a counter-offensive, and no pace should be imposed on the Ukrainians which does not follow wartime logic.
"At the end of the day, the Russians have three major defensive lines there, vast minefields, fortified bunkers," Luik said.
"We can but imagine how difficult it would be for Ukrainian fighters to make a breakout at these points. Plus in general, it's accepted wisdom that if you go on the attack, you have to do so via the most impregnable defensive line first, and this is the most difficult and costliest to achieve."
Luik also pointed out that Ukraine still has significant reserves at its disposal but which have not yet been pressed into action.
Strikes on Odessa, a city of over a million people and Ukraine's most significant Black Sea port, represents nothing less than a terrorist bombardment, Luik went on.
One aspect of it was a raison d'etre for withdrawal from the UN grain agreement, put in place last summer which permitted Ukraine to export grain via a corridor of safe passage, an agreement which Russia has unilaterally pulled out of.
The other component of the attacks is to prevent alternatives for Ukraine, Luik added.
"Ukraine has come up with all kinds of ideas. The easiest thing that Putin has decided on, from his point of view, is to annihilate the port facilities in Odessa, but this also basically destroys old Odessa. On the other hand, Putin has started strikes even on [Danube] river ports, which are very close to the Romanian border, for example, so he is already taking some very big risks, very brutally, and very close to NATO Article 5 territory," Luik continued.
The territories which Ukraine has to defend are vast, and even with large-scale air defense systems, it is impossible to protect all corners and all areas, Luik said. "This often comes down to a matter of choices - where do you put this or that [US-made surface-to-air] Patriot missile battery, what do you defend out of necessity, where do you decide to take the risk, figuratively speaking, and so on."
As to the question how Putin will be able to explain to the Russian people that the war is reaching their backyard, Luik said that the primary sources of information in that country are the state TV channels, where conversations can only go one way, while in the absence of alternative channels, that's how it goes.
Luik added this also means that Putin can effectively lose the war under the gaze of the people yet with exactly the same face, explaining why he actually won anyway, were Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.
Luik also said it was hard to explain the arbitrariness over those who have voiced criticism – with pro-war blogger Igor Girkin taken into custody last week, even as Yevgeny Prigozhin is still allowed to criticize what is happening in Russia quite prominently, and in spite of last month's failed uprising in Southern Russia.
"The fact is that Putin has to a large extent been outsourcing this war to a variety of different companies; the regions have their own battalions, even [state energy giant] Gazprom has its own units. Prigozhin's [Wagner Group] units were undoubtedly among the most effective and well-known, but equally undoubtedly, this was not a unique outfit, and its only distinguishing feature was that it was relatively effective. So, it seems very clear that Putin is somehow trying to keep the Wagner Group together on some level," Luik concluded.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja
Source: "Ukraina stuudio", interviewer Johannes Tralla.