Norwegian intel: Russia poised to seize upper hand in Ukraine

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During a January 16 press conference, President Macron expressed his concern, stating, “We cannot allow Russia to win [in Ukraine], as this would pose a security threat to Europe and the entire Russian neighborhood.” 

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Unfortunately, according to recent developments, the situation doesn’t seem to align with the French President’s preference. This is clearly implied in the latest annual risk assessment report, “Focus 2024”, by the Norwegian military intelligence [Etterretningstjenesten, or E-tjenesten]. 

E-tjenesten’s head, Admiral Nils Andreas Stensjones, pointed out on February 12 that “Russia is better positioned in this war than it was a year ago and is steadily gaining an upper hand.” He further suggested that to level the playing field, substantial Western assistance would be needed for the Ukrainian forces to defend their turf and turn the tide of the conflict. 

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However, the provision of US military aid has hit a roadblock due to disagreements in Congress over the renewal of the $61 billion fund. This hiccup not only disrupts the supply of new weapons and ammunition but also obstructs the maintenance of existing defense equipment. 

Moreover, with dwindling force numbers and an unexpected change of leadership, from General Valery Zaluzhny to General Alexander Sirsky, the future course of Ukrainian military operations stands on shaky grounds. 

The Etterretningstjenesten report emphasizes that the outcomes of the war in Ukraine will be decisive in shaping Russian military strength in 2024 and beyond. An important component of this future development is Russia’s shift to a “war economy”. This strategy has enabled increased financial support for the country’s arms industry, ensuring the availability of enough ammunition and equipment for the war effort in 2024. 

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Due to a significant focus on the production of military equipment and a sizeable military budget, Norwegian intelligence estimates that Russia could regain its pre-2022 combat power within three to five years post-war. 

The Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen’s assessment aligns with this timeline, warning that a possible Russian attack on a NATO country could happen within the next three to five years. This echoed the preparation timeline given by Bundeswehr Chief of Staff General Carsten Breuer to his troops. 

Furthermore, E-tjenesten predicts that Russia may launch a major assault on Ukraine in 2024. Such an offensive would be feasible given the increased production of ammunition, a reorganization of Russian forces, and strong logistic support. The experience and testing of new weaponry on Ukrainian battlegrounds would prove advantageous for Russian military power in the upcoming years. 

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E-tjenesten points out, “Russia perceives this as a direct confrontation with the West, a proxy war with NATO in Ukraine. Hence, it is actively seeking to build alliances with other countries.” It is worth noting that after sanctions by the US and Europe, Russia has swiftly intensified its diplomatic, trade, and strategic alliances with China and other non-Western nations. 

Admiral Andreas Stensones summarized the assessment, stating, “We’re witnessing increased cooperation among non-democratic nations aspiring to challenge Western supremacy, or what they term as ‘Western hegemony’.” 

With this eye on a long-standing face-off with the West, Moscow is planning to strengthen its military. Their public plans suggest that they aim to increase their military personnel from one million to one and a half million soldiers by 2026, reactivate the Moscow and Leningrad military districts, and establish new divisions.

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