Putin bracing for ‘protracted conflict’ in Ukraine, intelligence chief says
Russia’s war in Ukraine is unlikely to end even if its forces manage to take the eastern Donbas region, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Tuesday, as President Putin bets on diminishing will West to achieve objectives extending beyond the Donbass and crossing the coast. to neighboring Moldova.
“We believe that President Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine in which he still intends to achieve goals beyond Donbass,” Haines told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee during the meeting. of an annual hearing on global threats. She noted that entrenched military engagement means there is no “viable path to negotiation” for Ukraine and Russia in the immediate term.
Haines said Putin likely thinks his own country has “a greater capacity and a greater will to endure challenges” and is “probably counting on US and EU resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation and energy prices are getting worse.”
But the Russian leader’s ambitions may not match the military capabilities of his army, Haines said, raising the risk of a “more unpredictable and potentially escalating trajectory” in the conflict.
She said Russia’s ground combat forces have “significantly degraded” and could take “years” to rebuild – which could lead Putin to take asymmetric or “more drastic” measures, including “imposing martial law, redirect industrial production or potentially a military escalation”. actions” if he perceives that Russia is losing, Haines said.
A senior US defense official said on Tuesday that Russian forces were “two weeks or more” behind in the south and east, calling their progress in Donbass “very uneven and gradual”.
Haines also told the panel that Russia had likely refrained from launching major cyberattacks in Ukraine for fear of their “collateral impact”, including preventing the Kremlin from gathering intelligence.
On Tuesday, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom officially accused the Russian government of hacking into satellite telecommunications modems in Ukraine and parts of Europe on February 24, in what the governments called it a coordinated attack coinciding with the Russian invasion.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that this attack “has repercussions for other European countries”, which, in effect, “disabled very small aperture terminals in Ukraine and throughout Europe. including “tens of thousands of terminals outside Ukraine that, among other things, support wind turbines and provide Internet services to individuals.”
“This attack had an outsized impact,” Haines told lawmakers. Russia “intended to focus on Ukrainian command and control, but eventually they ended up affecting a much larger set…of terminals outside of Ukraine, including in Europe,” he said. she declared.
Haines noted that the intelligence community believes that Russia did not carry out a large-scale cyberattack against the United States as part of its invasion of Ukraine due to “long-standing concern about the potential of cyber escalation vis-à-vis the United States”. But, she added, “that doesn’t mean they won’t attack at some point.”
In Ukraine, an escalation of the conflict could also take the form of attacks on Western security aid deliveries, retaliation for sanctions or the staging of “another big nuclear exercise”, Haines said, although she said the intelligence community had not detected any “imminent problems”. potential” for Putin to use nuclear weapons.
Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers the conflict was “a bit of a stalemate here.”
“I think I would say the Russians don’t win and the Ukrainians don’t win,” he said. Russia could mobilize additional reserve forces – bringing thousands more troops into the battle – but absent a declaration of war, Berrier said: “I don’t see an escape on either side.”
The two intelligence officials said Chinese leaders were closely monitoring developments related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but current US assessments did not indicate an accelerated timeline for an attempted military takeover of Taiwan.
Ellee Watson contributed reporting.