The slowed pace of fighting in Ukraine is set to continue over the next several months and the United States sees no evidence that Ukraine’s will to resist Russia has diminished, despite Moscow’s crippling attacks on the Ukrainian power grid, a senior US intelligence official said.
Avril Haines, director of national intelligence in the Biden administration, also said on Saturday that she believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had been surprised that his military had not achieved more in its war on Ukraine.
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“We’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict … and we expect that’s likely to be what we see in the coming months,” Haines told the annual Reagan National Defence Forum in California.
The Ukrainian and Russian militaries will attempt to refit and resupply to prepare for counteroffensives after the winter, but there was a question as to whether the Kremlin could achieve that objective, she said.
“We actually have a fair amount of scepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that. I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe,” she said.
Putin is beginning to realise the challenges his military is faced with, Haines said.
“I do think he is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia. But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture at this stage of just how challenged they are … we see shortages of ammunition, for morale, supply issues, logistics, a whole series of concerns that they’re facing,” she said.
The Atlantic Council, a US think tank, said recently that winter conditions in Ukraine may favour Russian defensive tactics and allow the Russians to bring in newly-mobilised forces to positions held east of the Dnipro River and near Crimea in the south.
“It may be Russia’s tactic to force a stalemate through the winter from more entrenched positions with the intent to begin rotating newly trained and equipped mobilization forces to the front as spring approaches,” the council said.
Haines said Putin’s political objectives in Ukraine did not appear to have changed, but US intelligence analysts thought Putin may be willing to scale back his near-term military objectives “on a temporary basis with the idea that he might then come back at this issue at a later time”.
She also said Russia appeared to be depleting its military stockpiles “quite quickly”.
“That’s why you see them going to other countries effectively to try to get ammunition … and we’ve indicated that their precision munitions are running out much faster in many respects,” she said.
“It’s really pretty extraordinary, and our own sense is that they are not capable of indigenously producing what they are expending at this stage.”
Asked about the effects of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power grid and other civilian infrastructure, Haines said Moscow’s aim was partly to undermine the will of Ukrainians to resist, adding: “I think we’re not seeing any evidence of that being undermined right now at this point.”
Russia was also looking to affect Ukraine’s capacity to prosecute conflict and Kyiv’s economy had been hit hard.
“Ukraine’s economy is suffering very badly. It’s been devastating.”
Visiting Kyiv on Saturday, US undersecretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials where she said Putin was not serious about peace talks.
“Diplomacy is obviously everyone’s objective but you have to have a willing partner,” she told reporters.
“And it’s very clear, whether it’s the energy attacks, whether it’s the rhetoric out of the Kremlin and the general attitude, that Putin is not sincere or ready for that,” she said.
Biden had said on Thursday that he was prepared to speak to Putin if the Russian leader was interested in ending the war. But the idea died quickly when the Kremlin said the West must recognise Moscow’s declared annexation of four Ukrainian regions.