US intelligence estimates Russia’s plans for Ukraine
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress on Tuesday that, in the view of the US’ spy agencies, Russian President Vladimir Putin was gearing up for a “prolonged” conflict in Ukraine, and was looking to establish control of Ukraine’s southern coast, from the Donbass in the east to Transnistria in the west.
“We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbass,” Haines told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Haines explained that according to her “indications,” Putin is seeking to extend Russian control from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics – which collectively make up the Donbass region – along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast to the breakaway province of Transnistria on the Moldovan border.
Doing so would be a major strategic win for Russia, and would leave Ukraine landlocked. However, Russia’s objectives in this regard are unclear. Upon sending troops into Ukraine in February, Putin stated that Russia’s military operation was intended to “demilitarize” Ukraine, to “denazify” its leadership, and to protect the Russian-speaking population of the Donbass republics, who have lived under legal and military persecution since 2014. Putin did not state any clear territorial end goals in Ukraine.
To take land up to Transnistria, according to the US’ spy chiefs, Putin would need to declare a full mobilization and call up additional troops, something that has not happened yet. However, with fighting raging along the borders of the Donbass republics and Ukrainian territory, Haines said that Russia’s currently deployed forces would likely try to “crush the most capable and well-equipped Ukrainian forces fighting to hold the line in the east” in the “near term.”
While the US and its NATO allies have poured billions of dollars worth of weapons into Ukraine in a bid to slow this advance, Haines claimed that “Putin most likely also judges that Russia has a greater ability and willingness to endure challenges than his adversaries,” and that “he is probably counting on US and EU resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation and energy prices get worse.”
Notably, while the EU and US have been rocked by soaring inflation and record gas prices, the White House has until now insisted that Americans will not experience food shortages. Haines’ statement marks the first time that a US official has acknowledged that this may be a reality.
Haines also referred to the situation in Ukraine as Russia’s “military conflict with Ukraine and the West,” an apparent acknowledgment of the US’ role as a participant. In the eyes of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the West is already “essentially going to war with Russia through a proxy” due to its sharing of arms and intelligence with Kiev.
The Biden administration and lawmakers from both parties have resolved to continue bankrolling Kiev’s military. Congress on Monday reached a deal to send nearly $40 billion in military and other aid to Ukraine, nearly $7 billion more than Biden asked for last week, and Biden on Monday signed the Lend-Lease Act of 2022, removing legal limits on the quantity of arms Washington can send to Kiev.
Haines told the Senate that Putin would likely seek to intercept weapons shipments from the US in the “coming weeks.” Russian forces have already destroyed numerous warehouses and stockpiles of foreign-supplied arms, and Moscow has stated that these weapons, as well as convoys transporting them within Ukraine’s borders, constitute “legitimate targets.”
“Both Russia and Ukraine believe they can continue to make progress militarily,” Haines said, adding: “We do not see a viable negotiating path forward, at least in the short term.”