US intelligence chief says Russia lacks the forces to make major gains
By Julian E. Barnes
Russia lacks the ammunition and troops to make major territorial gains in Ukraine this year and could shift to a hold-and-defend strategy, dragging out the war, the top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.
The official, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said during an appearance Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee that after setbacks on the battlefield, President Vladimir Putin of Russia now understands the problems his military faces and could adjust his strategy in the short term.
“Even as the Russian offensive continues, they are experiencing high casualty rates,” Haines said. “Putin is likely better understanding the limits of what his military is capable of achieving and appears to be focused on more limited military objectives for now.”
Russia may see prolonging the war, even if it means long pauses in an offensive push, as its best chance of achieving its strategic goals, Haines said. She appeared before the Senate committee as intelligence officials released their annual threat assessment report.
Russia, she said, is making “incremental progress” in Bakhmut, the city in eastern Ukraine that has experienced the most intense fighting in recent weeks. But Haines said the city was not a “particularly strategic objective.”
In addition to troop losses, Russia faces critical morale challenges and ammunition shortages, she said. Russia will need to identify ammunition supplies from other countries and increase the size of its military if it wants to push forward in Ukraine.
“If Russia does not initiate a mandatory mobilization and identify substantial third-party ammunition supplies, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain the current level of offensive operations in the coming months,” she said. “And consequently, they may fully shift to holding and defending territories they occupy. In short, we do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains.”
The threat assessment report notes that Russia wants to avoid direct conflict with the U.S., but setbacks in Ukraine could prompt it to escalate the war.
“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,” the report said.