Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for a “protracted conflict” in Ukraine and could take drastic measures if the fight doesn’t go well, according to Avril Haines, director of national intelligence .
Haynes told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday Putin invades Ukraine The impact on the geopolitical order, “the impact on the future we are just beginning to understand, but it will definitely have an impact.”
Haynes said that although Putin concentrated his power in the Donbass after his defeat in the north, the United States did not think he would be satisfied with the eastern part of the country.
“The fighting in the next month or two will be significant as the Russians try to revive their efforts. But even if they succeed, we do not believe the fighting in Donbass will be effective in ending the war,” she said. “We assess that President Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine, during which he still intends to achieve goals outside the Donbass.”
But for now, Putin’s goal is to take control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the Donbass and encircle the Ukrainian army from north and south “to crush the most capable and well-equipped Ukrainian army, which is defending the the Eastern Front,” Haynes said.
Putin also wants to “consolidate control of the land bridge established by Russia from Crimea to Donbass, occupy Kherson, and control Crimea’s water sources,” she said.
The U.S. also sees signs that his military wants to extend that land bridge to the Transnistrian River in Moldova, Haynes said.
Haynes said Russia may be able to achieve “most” of these goals in the coming months, but will need to mobilize more troops to achieve the last goal:
“We believe that without some form of mobilization, they will not be able to control the land bridge that stretches down to Transnistria and includes Odessa. And it is increasingly impossible for them to control both the state and the buffer zone that they want in the within the next few weeks,” Haynes said.
But Putin “may be counting on US and EU resolve to wane as food shortages, inflation, energy prices worsen,” she added.
Russia’s economic power is also at play, Haynes said, and Western sanctions have had a “considerable” impact on Russia.
“For example, indicators that people might look at include … we forecast inflation in Russia to be around 20%, and we expect its GDP to decline by around 10%, maybe more. Years,” she said.
The battle itself also weakened Russia’s capabilities.
“Our view is that the ground combat force has degraded considerably. It will take them years … to rebuild it,” she said.
But degraded traditional power may drive Putin to use force in other ways.
“This may ultimately mean that they have a greater impact on asymmetric tools during this period,” Haynes said. “So they’re probably going to rely more on the network, nuclear, precision, etc. It’s obviously a shift in the way they’re trying to exert influence.”
The discrepancy between Putin’s lofty ambitions and his declining regular capabilities could lead to a “more unpredictable and potentially escalating trajectory” and “a period of more ad hoc decision-making in Russia” in the coming months, Haynes said.
This may also manifest itself domestically.
“Current trends increase the likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means, including imposing martial law, reorienting industrial production or possibly escalating military operations, to free up the resources needed to achieve his goals as the conflict persists, or if he Think Russia has lost in Ukraine,” she said.
What will happen next?
“The most likely flashpoint for an escalation in the coming weeks is Russia’s increasing attempts to block Western security assistance, retaliation for Western economic sanctions or threats to domestic regimes. We believe Moscow continues to use nuclear rhetoric to deter U.S. and Western would increase lethal aid to Ukraine and respond to public comments made by the U.S. and NATO allies to expand the West’s goals in the conflict,” she said.
Putin’s next step may be to launch major nuclear exercises to win US respect
“If Putin believes the U.S. is ignoring his threats, he may signal to Washington that it supports the increased danger of Ukraine by authorizing another large-scale nuclear exercise involving a massive deployment of mobile ICBMs, heavy bombers, strategic Submarines,” Haynes said.
But so far, U.S. officials have said they do not believe Russia is preparing to actually use nuclear weapons in Ukraine or elsewhere.
“Otherwise, we still think President Putin may only authorize the use of nuclear weapons when he believes there is an existential threat to the Russian state or regime,” Haynes said.