You are holding the eighth edition of the Foreign Intelligence Service’s annual report, the first I have the honour to present as Director General. At a time when Europe is witnessing its biggest war since 1945, the thirst for intelligence services’ situation reports and analyses has grown. We seek to fulfil our role to the best of our ability.
In last year’s report, we wrote that Russia would create the conditions and capabilities necessary to launch a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine in the second half of February 2022. Unfortunately, that is what happened.
Russia has so far failed in its war of aggression. It attacked Ukraine with a plan for a quick coup based on absurd assumptions and a manipulated intelligence picture. In the first months of the war, the Ukrainians destroyed a significant part of the best units of the Russian army, which, as the war drags on, has led to Russia’s critical need for mobilised troops, private military companies and arms from pariah states. The war strangles the Russian economy and raises the temperature in otherwise apolitical Russian society. The Russian elite is increasingly discussing whether “the First Person has gone mad”, but most of them lack the courage to take real steps towards change. Russia’s stubbornly imperialist stance towards its neighbours persists, and Russians’ fear of mobilisation surpasses their sense of responsibility for the genocide committed by their compatriots.
Despite setbacks and risks, Vladimir Putin’s goal in Ukraine has not changed by early 2023. For now, there is still enough fuel to keep the war machine going – Russia will not run out of cannon fodder, Soviet-era armaments or propaganda-induced imperialism any time soon. However, a quality leap in Russia’s war-fighting capability is very unlikely. Putin is playing for time, believing that Ukraine and the West will wear out before Russia. Putin thinks he can “bomb” Ukraine to the negotiating table.
Internally, Russia has become Soviet Union 2.0, drawing inspiration from Stalinist repression, Khrushchevian sloganeering and Brezhnevian stagnation. Paradoxically, in Russia today, Putin’s regime is simultaneously the strongest and the weakest it has ever been. But there seems to be no new Gorbachev, not to mention Yeltsin, on the horizon. The democratic world should not harbour illusions that post-Putin Russia will embrace democratic values any time soon.
This year’s report also discusses the course change in Russian foreign policy. Russian diplomats, led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, were caught off guard by the war in Ukraine. Realising that it lacks influence on strategic issues has led the Russian foreign ministry’s morale to decline. Russia has given up on the West for the foreseeable future and is seeking new friends, mainly in Africa and Asia.
Once again, we will also look at China. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who started his third term and secured absolute power, China is moving towards deepening authoritarianism and confrontation with the West. Russia plays an important role in China’s global ambitions, and the two countries agree on many points. Therefore, it would be a mistake to take Xi’s restrained support for Putin’s war in Ukraine as a sign that China is distancing itself from Russia.
The Foreign Intelligence Service celebrated its 30th anniversary a few months ago. With our domestic and international partners, we continue to work to ensure that the Estonian leadership and our allies have the best information on the security situation and sufficient advance warning. And to ensure that Ukraine wins.
Bravely onward and Sláva Ukrayíni!
Director General, Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service
Photographer Priit Mürk/ ERR
Translation by Margus Elings, Refiner Translations OÜ
Editing by Scott Abel, Tekstikoda OÜ