Invasion threat from Belarus is low, says Ukrainian spy chief

KYIV, Ukraine – The director of Ukraine’s military intelligence service said on Friday that Russia is trying to persuade Ukraine to move troops from the war zone in the southeast with a series of military operations to the north in Belarus, dismiss this activity as a routine maneuver or decoy intended to cause confusion.

“These are all elements of disinformation campaigns,” he said.

In a wide-ranging interview on the war situation in Ukraine, the director of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, also spoke about Russia’s efforts to encourage Iran to continue supplying drones and missiles. fire for their forces, as well as Moscow’s seemingly pointless obsession with conquering the city of Bakhmut, which had little strategic value.

He made his assertions about Russian activity in Belarus and Iran, which cannot be independently verified, when the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, triumphantly returned from Washington. “I’m in my office,” Zelensky said in a video posted to his channel on the social networking app Telegram early Friday. “We are working towards victory.”

For weeks, Russia has been fortifying its military bases in Belarus with conscripts and moving troops back and forth by rail, raising fears that it may be planning a second invasion of Ukraine from North.

While the threat of a new Russian invasion from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus has not yet occurred, Budanov said, the possibility still cannot be ruled out, Mr. “It would be wrong to rule out this possibility,” he added, “but it is also wrong to say that we have any data to confirm it exists.”

Still, long-term risks remain, Budanov acknowledged, and other Ukrainian officials pointed out in a series of interviews earlier this month about the risk of escalation in the winter months. But Mr. Budanov’s comments were most specific in determining that there is currently no intelligence indicating an imminent threat from Belarus.

He said there were no Russian troops in the offensive array. Training camps for Russian soldiers are filled with newly mobilized civilians, who, upon completion of training, are sent to fight in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. He said the training sites lacked enough mechanically active armored vehicles to launch an attack.

He said the Russian military tried to alarm the Ukrainian army by putting soldiers on trains running towards the Belarusian border with Ukraine. The Soviets used similar tactics during the Second World War, sending soldiers on useless trains to mimic attacks or retreat. In Belarus, a train full of Russian troops recently stopped for half a day near the Ukrainian border, then returned with all the troops on board, Budanov said, calling it a “wheel of wood.” .

Likewise, he said, Russia’s cross-border shelling of the Sumy and Kharkiv regions in northeastern Ukraine, which has left dozens dead and wounded, is not a sign of a direct threat of a repeat invasion. Russian military units are not assembled for attack and “cannot be formed in a day”.

Budanov said that in the southeast of the Donbas region, the political ambitions of the leader of the Russian mercenary army called the Wagner Group have partly dominated the strategy of the Russian side.

Budanov said that the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin insider, carried out an operation to capture the city of Bakhmut to overcome rival commanders in Russia’s regular army. Wagner coordinated with the army but was the main force on the Bakhmut front.

Budanov said that a Russian general appointed in September as the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, had aligned himself with Prigozhin in competition with Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu.

“There is only ideology and communication here,” he said of the onslaught on Bakhmut. “That’s why the Wagner units are trying frantically to take over this town. They need to show that they are a force and that they can do what the Russian military cannot. We see and understand that.”

Although capturing Bakhmut is not considered strategically important, it will improve Russia’s position in the east by opening the way to other Donbas cities still under Ukrainian control, he said. .

Wagner runs units of prisoners promised amnesty in exchange for a tour of the front lines, videos of the recruitment efforts in prisons show. These infantry units were sent ahead in costly human wave attacks on Ukraine’s lines, Mr. Budanov said.

Budanov said the alliance of Prigozhin and General Surovikin led to the transfer of heavy weapons from the army to Wagner units, expanding the organization’s role in the war. Wagner mercenaries have previously fought in Syria and Africa. The group calls itself a private military company.

Russia’s war in Ukraine currently takes place in two largely separate arenas: the ground battle in the south and east, and the pitting of Ukraine’s air defenses against cruise missiles and aerial aircraft. Russian riders aimed at electrical infrastructure.

Budanov said that since October, Russia has fired a series of missiles and drones at Ukraine’s energy infrastructure over a period of about a week to 10 days, with an average size of about 75 missiles. fire in each wave. The drones are largely supplied by Iran, and Budanov said Russia is also counting on Tehran to replenish its missile arsenal.

Budanov said that in order to convince Iran to support the effort, Russia provided scientific know-how to Iran’s military industry, and described the geopolitical relationship between Russia and Iran that had emerged during the meeting. war in Ukraine. But it’s only gone so far, he said. So far, Iran has refused to assist Russia with the transfer of ballistic missiles, a risk that Ukrainian officials have warned of earlier.

“Iran is in no hurry to do this for understandable reasons, because as soon as Russia fires its first missiles, sanctions pressure will increase” on Iran, Mr. Budanov said. According to a contract reached in the summer, Russia purchased 1,700 Shahed-explosive drones from Iran, Mr. Budanov said. They are delivered in batches.

So far, he said, Russia has fired about 540 drones in tactical attacks along the front lines and in attacks on power plants, poles for transmission lines and substation.

Most small flying bombs, triangular wings are shot down before reaching the target. But they are also cheap.

In Iran, production costs are around $7,000 per unit, Budanov said, although it is unclear how much Iran actually charges Russia for the weapons.


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