The US intelligence community believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is likely to become “more unpredictable and escalatory” in the coming months, the nation’s director of national intelligence told Congress on Tuesday.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines painted a grim and uncertain picture of the next phase of Putin’s two-month-old invasion, which she told the Senate Armed Services Committee will be difficult to predict in part because “Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia’s current conventional military capabilities.”
“At the very least, we believe the dichotomy will usher in a period of more ad hoc decision-making in Russia, both with respect to the domestic adjustments required to sustain this push, as well as the military conflict with Ukraine and the West,” she said. “And the current trend increases the likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means, including imposing martial law, reorienting industrial production, or potentially escalatory military actions to free up the resources needed to achieve his objectives as the conflict drags on, or if he perceives Russia is losing in Ukraine.”
Still, Haines told lawmakers, the intelligence community does not believe Putin would turn to the use of nuclear weapons unless he felt there was an existential threat to Russia.
The intelligence community believes that Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict — and that his goals extend far beyond the eastern region of the Donbas, where his military is currently focused after being repelled from Kyiv in the early weeks of the war.
“The next month of fighting will be significant as Russian attempts to reinvigorate their efforts,” Haines said. “But even if they are successful, we are not confident the fight in Donbas will effectively end the war.”
In the near term, Putin wants to capture the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, control the city of Kherson and potentially extend a land bridge around the southern rung of the country to Transnistria, a separatist region of Moldova where Russian troops are currently stationed, Haines said.
But to reach Transnistria, the intelligence community believes that Putin would need to launch a full mobilization inside Russia, a step he has so far not taken.
“As both Russia and Ukraine believe they can continue to make progress militarily, we do not see a viable negotiating path forward, at least in the short term,” Haines said.