Putin plans to double Russia’s troops along NATO border, Estonian intelligence warns


The report is the latest warning from a Western official that Putin still harbors an appetite for conflict and represents an unpredictable threat nearly two years after the invasion of Ukraine.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to double the number of his country’s troops stationed along its border with the Baltic states and Finland as part of Moscow’s preparations for a potential military conflict with NATO within the next decade, Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service said Tuesday.

The assessment was made in an annual report released by Estonia’s foreign spying agency. Kaupo Rosin, its director-general, told reporters that “Russia has chosen a path which is a long-term confrontation.”

Rosin is the latest Western official to warn that Moscow still harbors an appetite for conflict and represents an unpredictable threat to countries on NATO’s eastern flank nearly two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, Rosin stressed that Russia is “highly unlikely” to attack a NATO country in the short term.

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“We see the Russians in their own thinking are calculating military conflict with NATO is possible in the next decade,” he said. “Russians are planning to increase the military force along the Baltic states’ border but also the Finnish border. 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 Estonian intelligence report comes as likely Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump said over the weekend that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to any NATO member country that doesn’t meet the 31-nation military organization’s defense spending guidelines − currently 2% of GDP.

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“NATO was busted until I came along,” Trump said at a rally in Conway, South Carolina.

“I said, ‘Everybody’s gonna pay.’ They said, ‘Well, if we don’t pay, are you still going to protect us?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They couldn’t believe the answer.”

Rosin said Trump’s comments weren’t “helpful,” adding, “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.”

It also comes as Ukraine is running low on weapons in its fight with Russia.

The U.S. Senate approved $95 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine and Israel on Tuesday. But the bill’s fate in the House of Representatives remains unclear and likely faces an uphill battle there with Republicans.

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Under one scenario forecast by Estonia’s intelligence service, Russia could double the 19,000 troops it has positioned near Estonia. Russia’s troop presence near Finland, with whom it shares an 830-mile border, has so far been fairly small. But that is almost certain to change, the intelligence report said, not least because Finland recently became a NATO member. The report said that the Russia’s “formation will probably be built around at least two or three maneuver units with around a dozen fire support and combat support units.”

Estonia gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. It became a NATO member in 2004.

A growing number of Western officials have been sounding the alarm over Russia’s military intentions in recent months, saying that Putin’s veiled threats to attack NATO countries could turn out to be real. Under NATO’s Article 5, an attack on one NATO member is deemed an attack on all.

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned in late January that “we hear threats from the Kremlin every day” and that “for now our experts expect a period of five to eight years in which this (an attack on a NATO country) could be possible.” Denmark’s Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen made similar comments last week.

Putin claimed in a recent interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the war in Ukraine would end if the U.S. and other Western nations stop supplying Kyiv with weapons. There’s a lot of skepticism over this claim because of Putin’s long history of spreading misinformation and taking actions that don’t match his words.

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