US spy chief: Putin may escalate despite setbacks in Ukraine

A man walks between houses destroyed during air strikes, in the central Ukranian city of Bila Tserkva, on March 8, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - United States Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Tuesday (March 8) that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be deterred and may escalate the assault on Ukraine, despite setbacks in Ukraine and economic hardships resulting from international sanctions.

"Our analysts assess that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate," she told a House of Representatives hearing on global threats.

Russia is also likely to face “a persistent and significant insurgency” after Putin misjudged how the war against Ukraine would proceed, but the Russian leader may try to change how he defines victory, Haines said.

“We judge it will be especially challenging for the Russians to hold and control Ukrainian territory and install a sustainable pro-Russian regime in Kyiv,” Haines told the committee.

US intelligence agencies assess that Moscow underestimated the strength of Ukraine’s resistance and the degree of military challenges, while Russian forces are operating “with reckless disregard“ for civilians in Ukraine. 

Regardless, Putin remains determined to control and dominate Ukraine as he’s been “stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition,” CIA Director William Burns said during the hearing. 

Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, said he estimated with “low confidence” that Russia has lost 2,000 to 4,000 troops so far in the conflict. 

Although the war in Ukraine dominated the early testimony, the formal threat assessment presented by US intelligence agencies was prepared before Russia’s invasion.

The 31-page declassified version warns that China is developing one of the greatest nuclear weapons forces in history.

It also says Iran will continue to threaten American interests as it seeks to erode US influence in the Middle East.

At the same time, North Korea is committed to expanding its nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile development, according to the assessment. 

“In the coming year, the United States and its allies will face an increasingly complex and interconnected global security environment marked by the growing spectre of great power competition and conflict, while collective, transnational threats to all nations and actors compete for our attention and finite resources,” according to the document.

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