(WASHINGTON) — Top U.S. intelligence agency officials on Tuesday offered a sobering assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives in Ukraine, and how the invasion could affect the safety and security of the United States.
“The [Intelligence Community], as you know, provided warning of President Putin’s plans, but this is a case where I think all of us wish we had been wrong,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the House Intelligence Committee at its annual hearing on worldwide threats.
Russia’s failure to rapidly seize Kiev and overwhelm Ukrainian forces has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory they probably had originally expected would prevent the United States and NATO from being able to provide meaningful military aid to Ukraine.”
Adding that the U.S. is seeing an “ill-constructed plan, morale issues and considerable logistical issues” among Russian troops, Haines said it is “unclear” whether Russia will pursue a plan to capture all of Ukraine, but that it’s already loosening its rules of engagement.
“Russian forces are at the very least operating with reckless disregard for the safety of noncombatants, as Russian units launch artillery and airstrikes into urban areas as they have done in cities across Ukraine and near critical infrastructures such as the nuclear plant, and the IC is engaged across the interagency to document and hold Russia and Russian actors accountable for their actions,” she said.
“We assess Putin feels aggrieved. The West has not given proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,” Haines said.
CIA Director William Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow who has studied Putin for years, concurred that the Russian president is “angry and frustrated” by the situation in Ukraine, and will likely step up his efforts.
“He’s likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,” Burns testified. “He has no sustainable political endgame in the face of what is going to continue to be fierce resistance from Ukrainians.”
“Putin has commented privately and publicly over the years that he doesn’t believe Ukraine’s a real country,” Burns continued. “He’s dead wrong about that — real countries fight back. And that’s what the Ukrainians have done quite heroically over the last 12 days.”
“I think he’s been unsettled by the Western reaction and allied resolve particularly some of the decisions the German government has taken. I think he’s been unsettled by the performance of his own military,” he said. “The big countries don’t get to swallow up small countries just because they can.”
He called Putin’s actions in the past two weeks “premeditated and savage.”
Asked about Putin’s mental state, Burns did not answer directly, but did say Putin’s views on Ukraine have “hardened over the years.”
“I think he’s far more insulated from other points of view and people who would challenge or question his views in but in my opinion that doesn’t make him crazy, but it makes them extremely difficult to deal with because of the hardening of his views over time and a narrowing of his inner circle,” he said.
National Security Agency Director Gen. Paukl Nakasone said the U.S. had gamed out scenarios for a Russian cyberattack.
“We have to get better , we have to harden our infrastructure and have ability to be resilient,” he said.
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