The US intelligence community has determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for a “prolonged conflict” in Ukraine, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Tuesday.
Putin’s failure to secure a rapid victory against Ukraine and seize the capital of Kyiv “has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory that it had originally expected would prevent the United States and NATO from being able to provide meaningful military aid from Ukraine,” Haines said.
“The next month or two of fighting will be significant as the Russians attempt to reinvigorate their efforts, but even if they are successful we are not confident that the fight in the Donbass will effectively end the war,” she said.
Haines was referring to eastern Ukraine where Russia has shifted its military operations after withdrawing from its neighbour’s north amid fierce resistance.
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Putin nonetheless “still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbass,” said Haines who said the Russian leader’s shift to the Donbass is an effort to “regain the initiative after the Russian military’s failure to capture Kyiv.
Russia is now immediately focused on capturing the two oblasts that constitute the region — Donetsk and Luhansk — in addition to what Haines said is a “buffer zone” for the region, and to “encircle” Ukrainian forces there.
It is also seeking to “consolidate” territories connecting the Donbass with the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014, and extend the “land bridge” to the pro-Russian breakaway Moldovan territory of Transnistria, Haines said.
“While the Russian forces may be capable of achieving most of these near-term goals in the coming months, we believe that they will not be able to extend control over a land bridge that stretches to Transnistria, and includes Odessa, without launching some form of mobilisation,” she said.
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“It is increasingly unlikely that they will be able to establish control over both oblasts and the buffer zone they desire in the coming weeks, but Putin most likely also judges that Russia has a greater ability and willingness to endure challenges than his adversaries,” added Haines.
The UN said on Tuesday that at least 3,459 civilians have been killed and 3,713 injured across Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s war on its neighbour in late February, while war the true tolls is considerably higher.
Separately, the number of people internally displaced by the war has surpassed 8 million, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).