According to CIA Director William Burns, Russia’s attack of Ukraine has fallen far short of Vladimir Putin’s expectations, and the Russian president is likely to increase military operations.
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“I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. He’s likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,” The House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from Burns. “His military planning and assumptions were based on a quick, decisive victory.”
Several intelligence officials spoke at the committee’s annual hearing on global threats, including Burns.
Putin’s war, according to the CIA director, was based on four incorrect assumptions: Ukraine was weak, Europe was distracted and wouldn’t respond forcefully, Russia’s economy was equipped to resist sanctions, and Russia’s military had been modernised and would fight well.
“He’s been proven wrong on every count,” said Burns, who served as the United States’ ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008.
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According to the CIA director, Putin is now expected to expand military activities, while the Ukrainians will continue to fight back ferociously. According to him, the likely outcome will be “an ugly next few weeks” of battle for control of Ukraine’s cities, including Kyiv, the capital.
Putin, according to Burns, “His own military’s performance has been largely ineffective.” “Instead of seizing Kyiv within the first two days of the campaign, which is what his plan was premised upon, after nearly two full weeks they still have not been able to fully encircle the city.”
Russia has suffered heavy casualties
It’s been difficult to get accurate casualty counts. Last Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry revealed that 498 Russian soldiers had died and almost 1,600 had been injured.
Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the commander of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, said his best estimate for Russian deaths is between 2,000 and 4,000.
Meanwhile, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said Putin’s long-term ambitions for Ukraine remain unknown.
“What’s unclear at this stage is whether Russia will continue to pursue a maximalist plan to capture all or most of Ukraine, which we assess would require more resources,” Haines said. “If they pursue the maximalist plan, 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.”
Putin does not appear to have a set plan for what he would do if Russian soldiers seized control of Ukraine, according to Burns.
“The challenge he faces — and this is the biggest question that’s hung over our analysis of his planning for months now — is he has no sustainable political endgame in the face of what is going to continue to be fierce resistance from Ukrainians,” Burns added.
Before the battle began on February 24, Putin had positioned around 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders. Russia has now committed almost all of its combat units into Ukraine, according to the US Defense Department.
The Pentagon, on the other hand, said it has received no indications that Russia is sending more troops to Ukraine at this time.
To maintain a long-term occupation of Ukraine, according to US officials and analysts who follow Russia, the Russian military would need a force several times the existing one.
Putin’s announcement on nuclear weapons is seen as sending a message
Members of the House Intelligence Committee grilled Haines on how to interpret Putin’s public demand for Russia’s nuclear forces to be placed on higher alert last week.
Putin, according to Haines, appears to be delivering a message rather than acting at this time.
“Putin’s public announcement that he ordered Russia’s strategic nuclear forces to go on ‘special alert’ was extremely unusual,” Haines said. “We have not seen a public announcement by the Russians regarding a higher nuclear alert status since the 1960s.”
She further added, “We also have not observed forcewide nuclear changes that go beyond what we have seen in prior moments of heightened tensions during the last few decades. Our analysts assess that Putin’s current posturing in this arena is probably intended to deter the West from providing additional support for Ukraine.”
Many observers predicted that Russia would launch massive cyberattacks against Ukraine, but this has yet to occur on a major scale.
Nonetheless, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the National Security Agency, said his agency is keeping a careful eye on the situation.
“We’re very, very focused on ransomware actors,” Nakasone testified. He said he remains concerned about “cyberactivity that’s designed for perhaps Ukraine that spreads more broadly into other countries.”
Putin visited China last month for the Winter Olympic Games, where he met Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two nations proclaimed a friendship “without limits.”
However, according to Burns, China did not anticipate a large Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting international chaos.
“I think President Xi and the Chinese leadership are a little bit unsettled by what they’re seeing in Ukraine,” Burns said.
“I think they’re unsettled by the reputational damage that can come with their close association with President Putin. I think they’re a little unsettled about the impact on the global economy. I think they’re a little bit unsettled by the way in which Vladimir Putin has driven the Europeans and the Americans much closer together,” he said.