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US spy chief warns Putin is preparing for 'prolonged' war in Ukraine and it's likely to become 'more unpredictable and escalatory'

Business Insider logo Business Insider 5/10/2022 insider@insider.com (John Haltiwanger)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the military parade during 77th anniversary of the Victory Day in Red Square in Moscow, Russia on May 9, 2022. Sefa Karacan/Getty Images © Provided by Business Insider Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the military parade during 77th anniversary of the Victory Day in Red Square in Moscow, Russia on May 9, 2022. Sefa Karacan/Getty Images
  • DNI Avril Haines warned that Putin is "preparing for a prolonged conflict" in Ukraine.
  • "The next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory," Haines said.
  • Russia recently shifted its attention to the Donbas, but Haines said Putin still has broader goals in Ukraine.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on Tuesday told congressional lawmakers that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "preparing for a prolonged" war in Ukraine, despite the Russian military shifting its attention toward the eastern Donbas region in recent weeks after its defeat near Kyiv.

"We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas," the top US intelligence official told the Senate Armed Services Committee, stating that the US is "not confident the fight in Donbas will effectively end the war."

Haines said that at least in the short-term the US does not assess there is a viable negotiating path between Ukraine and Russia. 

"The uncertain nature of the battle, which is developing into a war of attrition, combined with the reality that Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia's current conventional military capabilities likely means the next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory," Haines said, adding, "At the very least, we believe the dichotomy will usher in a period of more ad hoc decision-making in Russia."

Putin could possibly institute martial law in Russia to boost the war effort, reorient industrial production, or take "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," Haines said.

 

Video: Putin Is Prepared for a Long War, U.S. Spies Say (Bloomberg)

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Despite concerns about the potential use of weapons of mass destruction expressed by Western officials since the war began, including CIA Director William Burns, the US spy chief told senators that the intelligence community does not currently assess there's an imminent threat Putin will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. 

"Obviously we're in a position where we're supporting Ukraine, but we also don't want to ultimately end up in World War III, and we don't want to have a situation in which actors are using nuclear weapons," Haines said. "There are a lot of things that he would do in the context of escalation before he would get to a nuclear weapon."

Haines said Putin would only resort to the use of nuclear weapons if he feels there's an existential threat to Russia. But she emphasized that if Putin believes Russia is losing the war then it could qualify as such a threat in his eyes. 

Russia is estimated to have lost up to 15,000 troops thus far in the war, which Russia launched in late February. A number of Russian generals have also been killed. The Russian military failed to take Kyiv and has struggled to make substantial gains, and experts say morale is low among Russian soldiers on the frontlines, some of whom are conscripts. 

But Haines signaled that Putin will not be deterred by these factors, and likely "judges that Russia has a greater ability and willingness to endure challenges than his adversaries."

She added that the Russian leader "is probably counting on US and EU resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation and energy prices get worse."

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