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Russia may double forces on NATO borders, Estonia warns

Russian forces are likely planning to double their forces on borders with members of the Western security alliance NATO, the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service said in a new report.

The report says that Russia is planning to create a new corps, which can include up to 45,000 troops, at NATO’s borders in northern Europe. As of 2022, Russia had about 19,000 troops at the northern border.

The 44th Army Corps would likely be based in the northwestern Russian city of Petrozavodsk near the border with Finland, according to the report.

The Estonian intelligence assessment said the new Russian unit would involve two or three maneuver units and around a dozen fire support and combat support units.

The report also indicates Moscow is undergoing a significant military reform overall, the ultimate outcome of which would be determined by the war in Ukraine.

“If Russia manages to implement the reform, NATO could face a Soviet-style mass army in the next decade,” they wrote.

While the Russian force would not be as technologically advanced as NATO, the buildup would pose a major concern to the alliance, the report warns.

“Defending against a possible conventional attack from such an army would require allied defense forces and defense industries to be significantly more prepared, capable and better-stocked with ammunition and materiel than they currently are,” officials warned.

After Finland was included in NATO last year, Russia warned that it would have to take unspecified measures to protect against what it views as an expanding threat on its borders.

The inclusion of Finland added 800 miles of NATO border with Russia, a major setback for Moscow, which has sought to decrease the expansion of the alliance. Sweden, which applied to the alliance at the same time as Finland after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is also set to join NATO in the near future.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago in part over concerns of encroaching NATO expansion, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly claimed the alliance is a threat, including in an interview last week with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

As part of a military buildup amid the Ukraine war, Moscow announced a plan last year to raise its military to 1.5 million soldiers by 2026, an increase of some 170,000 troops.

The Estonian intelligence report warns Russia is also working to restructure troops and create new units, with general “plans to strengthen all strategic directions.”

The Russian military base is also boosting its production capacity, with the gap expected to widen between Ukrainian and Russian artillery reserves this year, Estonian officials said.

On the battlefield, Russia “is unlikely to carry out well-led and coordinated offensive operations with major units formations,” but Moscow is “likely to persist with its extensive attrition-based warfare against Ukraine throughout” 2024.

“Ukraine’s resilience largely depends on financial and military assistance from the West,” the Estonian intelligence officials said. “If Western aid diminishes significantly in the coming years, Russia will be more likely to gradually occupy large Ukrainian territories with a massive, unskilled force, imposing unfavorable peace terms on Ukraine.”

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