Putin likely to ‘escalate’ in Ukraine: US intel chief

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Putin likely to 'escalate' in Ukraine: US intel chief

Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be deterred by his army’s setbacks so far in the invasion of Ukraine and is likely to “escalate” the conflict, the top-ranking US intelligence official told a House panel on Tuesday.​

So far, the Russian attack has been blunted by logistical and equipment issues in addition to fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces. Most notably, a 40-mile-long Russian convoy has remained stalled northwest of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, for several days.

“Our analysts assess that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate, essentially doubling down to achieve Ukrainian disarmament, neutrality [and] to prevent it from further integrating with the US and NATO if it doesn’t reach some diplomatic negotiation,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the House Intelligence Committee during a hearing about threats to America’s global security.

“We assess Putin feels aggrieved the West does not give him proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,” Haines added. “But what he might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time given the significant costs he is incurring.”

Director Avril Haines of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Haines said that Putin “probably” still has confidence that the Russian military can defeat Ukraine.
Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

Turning to what she called Putin’s “nuclear saber rattling,” Haines described the Russian leader’s order to put his country’s strategic nuclear forces on high alert days after the invasion as “extremely unusual” and noted that Washington has not seen any such public pronouncements since the height of the Cold War in the 1960s.

“But we also have not observed force-wide nuclear posture changes that go beyond what we’ve seen in prior moments of heightened tensions during the last few decades,” she went on. “Our analysts assess that Putin’s current posturing in this arena is probably intended to deter the West from providing additional general support to Ukraine as he weighs an escalation of the conflict.”

Ukraine military posting on Facebook about destroying Russian tanks in Chernihiv
The Russian attack has seen fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces.
kommander.nord/Facebook

Haines added that Putin “probably” still has confidence that the Russian military can defeat Ukraine, but is using the nuclear threat to “prevent Western support from tipping the balance and forcing a conflict with NATO.”

“Russia’s failure to rapidly seize Kyiv and overwhelm Ukrainian forces has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory that it probably had originally expected would prevent the United States and NATO from being able to provide meaningful military aid to Ukraine,” she said. 

In the face of unexpectedly strong opposition from Ukraine’s troops, Haines said it was unclear whether Putin will continue to pursue a plan to capture the entire country, which would require more military resources. Even if Russia achieves Putin’s goal of conquering Ukraine, she said, it will likely be hard-pressed to hold it. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Haines described Putin’s order to put his country’s strategic nuclear forces on high alert days after the invasion as “extremely unusual.”
Russian Presidential Press Service via AP

“We judge it will be especially challenging for the Russians to hold and control Ukrainian territory and install a sustainable pro-Russian regime in Kyiv in the face of what we assess is likely to be a persistent and significant insurgency and of course, the human toll of the conflict is already considerable and only increasing,” she said.

At the same hearing, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian forces have been killed in Ukraine during the 13-day-long attack.


Get the latest updates in the Russia-Ukraine conflict with The Post’s live coverage.


Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier told committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that the estimate was made with “low confidence” and based on “some intelligence sources, but also open-source [information].”

Ukraine’s government reports that Russia has suffered “losses” of more than 12,000 troops since the invasion began Feb. 24. The Kremlin acknowledged last week that nearly 500 of its forces had been killed and almost 1,600 had been wounded.

Ukraine Russia map

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