Russian President Vladimir Putin likely views a long war in Ukraine as his best chance to achieve victory, said a top Biden administration spy chief on Wednesday.
More than a year after Russia’s full-scale invasion began, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that there is a “grinding attritional war in which neither side has a definitive military advantage” over the other.
“If Russia does not initiate a mandatory mobilization and identify substantial third-party ammunition supplies, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even the current level of offensive operations in the coming months, and consequently they may fully shift to holding and defending the territories they now occupy,” Haines said.
“In short, we do not see the Russia military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains,” Haines continued, speaking for the U.S. intelligence community. “But Putin most likely calculates that time works in his favor and that prolonging the war including with potential pauses in the fighting may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russian strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years.”
Russia began what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in a conflict that has led to tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people. Early on, Moscow’s forces managed to seize roughly a quarter of Ukraine, but the Ukrainians have been able to fend off their advance with the support of a coalition of countries led by the United States that has sent Ukraine billions of dollars of lethal aid and levied waves of sanctions against Russia.
Though there is bipartisan support for Ukraine, some Republicans in Congress are increasingly eager to cut the flow of aid. A group of House Republicans recently introduced a non-binding resolution calling for an immediate stoppage of U.S. financial support and a peace agreement between the warring factions.
Haines appeared before the Senate on Wednesday along with other intelligence community leaders, including CIA Director William Burns and FBI Director Christopher Wray, to testify about their new global threat assessment.
The latest version of the assessment, which is released annually, says there is “real potential for Russia’s military failures in the war to hurt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s domestic standing and thereby trigger additional escalatory actions by Russia in an effort to win back public support.”
Russian leaders have so far avoided actions that would broaden the Ukraine conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, but the “risk for escalation remains significant,” the assessment says. Russia “probably does not want a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur,” it adds.