National Intelligence Director Avril Haines told Congress on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for an “prolonged conflict” in Ukraine beyond control of the eastern Donbas region.
“We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine, during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” Haines said in her opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We assess that President Putin’s strategic goals have not changed.”
Haines said Russian forces had to regroup after facing stronger than anticipated resistance trying to capture the capital City of Kyiv, forcing them to concentrate on the separatists’ regions in the east, but even winning there “will not end the war.”
“Russia’s failure to rapidly seize Kyiv and overwhelm Ukrainian forces has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory that it had originally expected would prevent the United States and NATO from being able to provide meaningful military to Ukraine,” she said. “The Russians met with more resistance from Ukraine than they expected, and their own military’s performance revealed a significant number of internal challenges, forcing them to adjust their initial military objectives, fall back from Kyiv, and focus on the Donbas.”
She said the redirection of the invasion to the east is “only a shift to regain the initiative,” and the next couple of months will be “significant.”
“We are not confident that the fight in the Donbas will effectively end the war,” she said.
Haines said Putin is relying on the resolve of the United States and European Union countries to weaken due to the continued food shortages and rising costs of inflation and energy generated by the conflict.
“The next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory,” she said. “At the very least, we believe the dichotomy will usher in a period of more ad-hoc decision making in Russia.”
Haines said as things go on, Putin is more likely to turn to “more drastic means” to accomplish his objectives, including imposing marshal law, reorienting industrial production, or using more aggressive military actions.
She warned the greatest “flashpoints” in the short term could come from Putin trying to interdict in the flow of military aid to Ukraine from western nations, including the U.S.
“We believe Moscow continues to use nuclear rhetoric to deter the United States and the west from increasing lethal aid to Ukraine, and to respond to public comments that the U.S. and NATO allies that suggest expanded western goals in the conflict,” she said. “We otherwise continue to believe that President Putin would probably only authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state, or regime.
“But we will remain vigilant in monitoring every aspect of Russia’s nuclear forces.”
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