WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin has not scaled back his long-term goals in Ukraine and still seeks to control swathes of the country beyond the eastern region known as Donbass, where fighting is raging. , Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Tuesday.
The withdrawal of the Russian army to eastern and southern Ukraine after failing to quickly take kyiv is likely “just a temporary change to regain the initiative”, Ms Haines told lawmakers during the meeting. testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We believe that President Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine, in which he still intends to advance goals beyond Donbass,” she said. “We believe that President Putin’s strategic goals have not changed.”
U.S. spy agencies, she said, see a long war of attrition that is unlikely to be settled by the current fighting in eastern Ukraine, and little chance of a negotiated solution to short term.
“The current trend increases the likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means” to prosecute the war, such as imposing martial law at home, putting the Russian economy on a war footing or launching potentially escalating military action, said Ms. Haines.
“The most likely flashpoints for escalation in the coming weeks relate to increased Russian attempts to bar Western security aid (to Ukraine), retaliation for Western economic sanctions, or threats against the domestic regime,” she said. She did not elaborate on the last point.
She said Moscow could use nuclear slashes, or even nuclear drills, to try to dissuade the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from increasing lethal support for kyiv, but reiterated that Mr. Putin is unlikely to resort to nuclear weapons unless he perceives that his rule or Russia itself is in jeopardy.
Russia’s short-term military goals are to take control of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk; encircle the well-trained Ukrainian forces by defending them on the western flank; occupy the southern city of Kherson; and consolidate control of a land bridge stretching across Odessa potentially to the Transnistria region of Moldova, Ms Haines said.
US intelligence agencies, she said, believe the Russian military will not be able to advance towards Odessa or Transnistria “without launching some form of mobilization” at home.
Mr Putin appears to believe that Russia can survive Western pressure and that Western resolve to defend Ukraine will wane as food shortages, energy prices and inflation escalate in the United States and in Europe.