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Russia to double military presence along Nato border, Estonia warns

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Russia intends to double the number of its troops stationed along its border with the Baltic states and Finland as it prepares for a potential military conflict with Nato within the next decade, according to Estonia’s foreign intelligence service.

Kaupo Rosin, director-general of the Estonian service, whose analysis of Russia is closely followed in western capitals, is the latest European official to warn of Moscow’s continued appetite for conflict beyond its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

While stressing that Russia is currently not “willing to conduct any military actions towards Nato”, he said, “we see that the Russians in their own thinking are calculating that military conflict with Nato is possible in the next decade”.

Russian military reforms gradually unveiled since late 2022 indicate a “substantial” increase in troops on Nato’s eastern flank, Rosin said ahead of his agency publishing its annual report on Tuesday.

“Russians are planning to increase the military force along the Baltic states’ border but also the Finnish border,” Rosin said. “We will highly likely see an increase of manpower, about doubling, perhaps. We will see an increase in armed personnel carriers, tanks, artillery systems over the coming years.”

The intelligence report said the number of troops Russia has stationed on its border with Estonia may almost double from the 19,000 that were there before the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Along the 1,340km-long border with new Nato member Finland, a new army corps would probably consist of “two or three manoeuvre units with around a dozen fire support and combat support units”, the report added.

A similar build-up of weaponry and soldiers along the Russian border with Ukraine was observed in the months leading up to February 2022, when Vladimir Putin’s troops began moving towards Kyiv.

Troels Lund Poulsen, Denmark’s defence minister, last week warned of the possibility of a Russian attack within three to five years, saying that “new information” had come to light that was previously unknown to Nato countries.

Rosin said it was up to Nato allies to deter Russia by stepping up their military spending. Estonia is planning to spend more than 3 per cent of GDP this year on defence, above Nato’s 2 per cent target, which larger European countries including France and Germany still struggle to meet.

“We can manage this from our side,” he added. “It’s not only about how Russians think. It is possible for us to influence the Russian calculation.”

Donald Trump, who is seeking to become US president again in November’s elections, said at the weekend that Russia could do “whatever they hell they want” with Nato countries that fail to meet the 2 per cent target.

Rosin said of those remarks: “Such statements are never helpful. But probably the Russians are paranoid enough not just to listen to the words which are said but they will definitely look at the actions.”

While European countries have found it difficult to spend more on defence and increase weapons production for Ukraine, Russia’s war budget is a staggering Rbs14.3tn for 2024, or 6 per cent of GDP.

Russian arms factories are working around the clock, and supplies from Iran and North Korea have enabled Putin’s army to outgun Ukraine as western aid for Kyiv begins to waver.

Russia made 3.5mn units of ammunition last year, far outstripping Ukraine’s own production and western supplies, according to the Estonian service. That figure will rise to 4.5mn in 2024 while western production remains slow, meaning the gap between Russian and Ukrainian forces will widen still, the report said.

Still, Russia has sustained heavy equipment losses, which included more than 2,600 tanks, 5,100 armoured personnel carriers and 600 self-propelled artillery units as of last month, according to the report.

In a bid to circumvent western sanctions that limit Moscow’s access to machine tools, production lines and factory equipment, Putin has ordered the modernising of armoured vehicles retrieved from storage and aggressively pursuing alternative supplies, particularly from China and Hong Kong, the report said.

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