The director of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said Friday that Russia was trying to convince Ukraine to divert soldiers from the combat zone in the south-east with a flurry of military activity to the north in Belarus, dismissing the activity as routine maneuvers or feints intended to confuse.
“These are all elements of disinformation campaigns,” he said.
The military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, also spoke about Russian efforts to encourage Iran to continue to supply its forces with drones and missiles, as well as Moscow’s apparently senseless obsession with conquering the city of Bakhmut, which has little strategic value.
He made his assertions about Russian activity in Belarus and Iran, which could not be independently verified, as Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made a triumphant return from Washington.
“I am in my office,” Zelensky said in a video posted to his channel on the Telegram social media app early Friday. “We are working toward victory.”
For weeks, Russia has bolstered its military bases in Belarus with conscripts and moved troops by rail to and from, raising concerns that it might be planning a second invasion of Ukraine from the north.
While the threat of a renewed Russian invasion from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus is not imminent, Budanov said, it still cannot be ruled out. “It would be wrong to discount this possibility,” he added, “but also wrong to say we have any data confirming it exists.”
Yet, longer-term risks linger, Budanov acknowledged, and other Ukrainian officials had pointed out in a series of interviews earlier this month the risk of an escalation during the winter months.
But Budanov’s comments were the most concrete yet in specifying that no intelligence now points to an imminent threat from Belarus.
None of the Russian troops are arrayed in assault formations, he said. Training camps for Russian soldiers are filled with newly mobilized civilians who, after completing training, are sent to fight in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
The training sites lack sufficient armored vehicles in mechanically working order to stage an attack, he said.
Russia’s military has tried to raise alarms in the Ukrainian army by loading soldiers on trains that chug toward Belarus’ border with Ukraine, he said.
The Soviet Union employed similar tactics during World War II, sending soldiers on useless train rides to imitate attacks or retreats.
In Belarus, one train loaded with Russian soldiers stopped recently for half a day near Ukraine’s border, then returned with all the soldiers aboard, Budanov said, calling it a “carousel.”
Similarly, he said, Russia’s cross-border artillery shelling into the Sumy and Kharkiv regions of north-eastern Ukraine, which has killed and wounded dozens of people, is not a harbinger of an immediate threat of a repeat invasion.
Russian military units are not assembled for an attack and “cannot be formed in one day.”
Iran has so far declined to support Russia with transfers of ballistic missiles, a risk Ukrainian officials had raised alarms about previously.
“Iran is not hurrying to do this, for understandable reasons, because as soon as Russia fires the first missiles the sanctions pressure will grow” on Iran, Budanov said.
Under a contract reached over the summer, Russia acquired 1,700 so-called Shahed exploding drones from Iran, Budanov said. They are delivered in tranches.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES