The Defense Department’s intelligence arm has warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin will increasingly threaten to use nuclear bombs if his invasion of Ukraine drags on and exposes Moscow’s military weaknesses.
The Defense Intelligence Agency’s latest threat assessment report, released this week, indicates that the Kremlin is fast losing traditional military supplies as its forces become bogged down — and will struggle to replace them because of crushing sanctions levied by the West.
“Despite greater than anticipated resistance from Ukraine and relatively high losses in the initial phases of the conflict, Moscow appears determined to press forward by using more lethal capabilities until the Ukrainian government is willing to come to terms favorable to Moscow,” warned Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the DIA’s director, in the 67-page report.
“As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian conventional strength … Russia likely will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences,” he added.
Putin ordered his nuclear forces on “special combat duty” just days after green-lighting the invasion of his western neighbor Feb. 24.
According to Berrier, that move was “designed to ensure a quick transition to higher alert status should the situation call for it.”
“This order and other recent comments by Russian leaders highlighting Russia’s nuclear arsenal are likely intended to intimidate,” he wrote. “They also reflect Moscow’s doctrinal views on the use of tactical, non-strategic nuclear weapons to compel an adversary into pursuing an off-ramp or negotiations that may result in termination of the conflict on terms favorable to Russia, or deter the entry of other participants when Russian offensive progress of its conventional forces looks like it might be reversed or the conflict becomes protracted.”
A drawn-out conflict appears increasingly likely given Russia’s failure to overwhelm Ukraine’s forces in the 23-day-old invasion.
“Protracted occupation of parts of Ukrainian territory threatens to sap Russian military manpower and reduce their modernized weapons arsenal,” the report said.
The loss of materiel, coupled with a likely “prolonged economic depression” from sanctions, will hinder the Kremlin’s “ability to produce modern precision-guided munitions,” Berrier added.
The section of the report dealing with Russia concluded with a final warning that “U.S. efforts to undermine Russia’s goals in Ukraine, combined with its perception that the United States is a nation in decline, could prompt Russia to engage in more aggressive actions not only in Ukraine itself, but also more broadly in its perceived confrontation with the West.”