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.
Here's what to know about Avril Haines' remarks:
- Uncertain future: Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Haines painted a grim and uncertain picture of the next phase of Putin’s months-old invasion. She said his next move will be difficult to predict in part because “Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia’s current conventional military capabilities.”
- Escalation: Haines said the situation on the ground could "increase the likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means." That could include "including imposing martial law, reorienting industrial production, or potentially escalatory military actions."
- Nuclear weapons: She 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. Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also said specifically that the US does not anticipate Russia moving imminently to use a tactical or battlefield nuclear weapon.
- Eastern offensive: Haines' comments come as intense fighting continues in the east of Ukraine, where Russia is trying to capture territory. The intelligence community believes Putin's goals extend far beyond the eastern Donbas region, however. "Even if they are successful, we are not confident the fight in Donbas will effectively end the war," Haines said.
- In the near term: Putin, she said, 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 Russian-backed region in Moldova. 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.
- Peace talks: “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.