This week, Vladimir Putin approved a significant increase in Russia's military spending for 2024, as well as the budget plan for the next few years. According to Col. Ants Kiviselg, head of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Intelligence Center, the move indicates Russia will be able to continue its war in Ukraine to the same level of intensity as it is now. Kiviselg added that there have been major changes on the front line in Ukraine over the last week.
"Russia increased its defense spending by around 100 percent this year, meaning in 2023 the Russian Federation's defense spending budget will rise to around €100 billion, which is around a third of all government spending," Col. Kiviselg said at the Estonian Ministry of Defense's weekly Friday press conference.
"In the coming years, we can see that for 2024, Russia's defense budget will remain at about the same level, that is, €100 billion, and then in 2025-26 it will decrease slightly," he added.
Col. Kiviselg said the Russian armed forces had already exceeded the level of spending foreseen in the country's national defense budget for the whole of 2023 in the first six months of the year. This forced the adoption of an additional budget.
"In a nutshell, this will allow Russia to continue the ongoing war [in Ukraine] at the current level of intensity. However, this is being maintained at the cost a significant decline in services and welfare for Russian society," Kiviselg said.
Slight decrease in intensity of hostilities
The commander of the Estonian Defense Intelligence Center also said the situation on the Ukrainian frontline has remained largely unchanged over the past week.
"The overall intensity of the fighting has decreased somewhat compared to previous weeks, which may be due to the worsening weather conditions at the end of last week and the beginning of this one. The snowstorm that hit southern Ukraine in the second half of the week reduced the intensity of the fighting for a while. But overall it did not have a significant impact on the activities of either side," said Col. Kiviselg.
According to Kiviselg, the main focus for the Russian forces continues to be on the Avdiivka region, where the most intense fighting has been taking place.
"It can be said that around 20 percent, or even a little more of the all the fighting on the front is taking place in the Avdiivka area, which is a very significant proportion. On the most active day this week, there were over 100 points of contact along the entire front line," he said.
Kiviselg added that Ukrainian troops have been persistently resisting on the southern edge of Avdiivka, while also counter-attacking to reduce the threat from Russian forces on the flanks and continuing to secure the areas that remain under Ukrainian control.
"There have been no significant changes on the southern part of the front. Ukrainian forces have been able to hold the areas they have retaken on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, while the Russian Federation has begun further mining to discourage possible Ukrainian advances in that direction," Col. Kiviselg explained.
"It is unlikely that the Russian Federation will be able to achieve an operational breakthrough in Ukraine in the near future," the EDF colonel added. "However, Russia is likely to step up the intensity of its long-range strikes against Ukraine's critical infrastructure - electricity, transport, businesses, warehouses, telecommunications centers - in the coming weeks."
Russia's aim, Kiviselg said, is to destroy Ukrainian morale and provoke a level of social discontent that could destabilize Ukraine's political landscape or spark internal disputes in Ukrainian society. "We can also see that Russia has launched information operations in Ukraine, primarily to shift attention from external threats to the domestic situation, looking for possible points of discord, and exacerbating them," said Kiviselg.
Editor: Michael Cole