The Next Few Weeks Of Fighting In Ukraine Will Be “Ugly” CIA Director Warns
U.S. intelligence officials say the Kremlin has loosened the rules of engagement in Ukraine as advances have slowed.
As the war in Ukraine nears the two-week mark, the U.S. Intelligence Community says that Russian forces have clearly adopted looser rules of engagement to try to achieve their objectives as their advances have stalled. At the same time, it remains unclear if the Kremlin will actually be able to take over the entire country or even try to install a new pro-Russian government, and Russian officials may instead find some other way to declare victory amid mounting losses and crippling international sanctions.
Before getting into the most recent news below, readers can get fully up to speed on the state of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in our previous rolling coverage here.
You can find our latest rolling coverage on Russia's war in Ukraine here.
POSTED: 12:30 PM EST—
Senior officials from the U.S. Intelligence Community gave public assessments about the war in Ukraine, among other things, at a hearing today on global threats to the United States before the House Intelligence Committee. CIA Director William Burns at one point warned that Ukraine looks set to see "an ugly next few weeks."
"We assess Moscow underestimated the strength of Ukraine's resistance and the degree of internal military challenges we are observing, which include an ill-constructed plan, morale issues, and considerable logistical issues," Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers. So, the Kremlin "has begun to loosen its rules of engagement to achieve their military objective."
However, "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 in the face of what we assess is likely to be a persistent and significant insurgency," she added. This means that what Russian President Vladimir Putin "might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time given the significant costs he is incurring."
Putin has been "stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years," CIA Director Burns said. "That personal conviction matters more than ever in the Russian system. He's created a system in which his own circle of advisers is narrow and COVID made it even narrower."
Haines and Burns both further confirmed that the U.S. government has been providing a steady steady stream of intelligence to their Ukrainian counterparts since before the invasion began and that this has been a major factor in Ukraine's performance in the conflict so far.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) says that the U.S. Intelligence Community has an assessment that Russia has lost between 2,000 and 4,000 personnel in the fighting so far, but that its confidence in that is low. Those figures are significantly lower than the casualties the Ukrainian government has claimed to inflicted on invading forces, but significantly higher than what Russia has acknowledged.
Haines also said the U.S. Intelligence Community continues to see no irregular movement on the part of Russia's nuclear forces, despite Putin's announcement that he was putting them on high alert more than a week ago.
DIA's Berrier did warn that Putin still likely sees nuclear weapons as a potential "asymmetric advantage" and that his remarks regarding their possible use should not be discounted. At a separate hearing today, Navy. Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), declined to speak publicly about how the U.S. military might respond to Russian forces employing a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. This has been a hot-button topic of discussion given discussions in recent years about whether Russia has a so-called "escalate-to-deescalate" policy. In theory, this would involve the limited use of nuclear weapons in the hope that opponents would be deterred by the fear of further escalation from continuing to fight and to create a situation where third parties would be extremely unwilling to intervene.
There were signs yesterday that Russia might be increasingly flexible over its maximalist demands for Ukraine as its forces have faced slow-going in Ukraine and as international sanctions and pushes to isolate the Kremlin politically have grown. Turkey plans to host a meeting between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia later this week, which is set to be the highest level interaction between the two countries since the invasion kicked off.
The possibility of the Kremlin's position softening in the future may be of little comfort to average Ukrainians caught up in the fighting. The loosened rules of engagement that Director of National Intelligence Haines mentioned include Russian forces subjecting multiple Ukrainian cities to increasingly more punishing air, missile, and artillery bombardments.
Ukrainian authorities have accused their Russian counterparts of continuing with those tactics even in areas where the two sides have ostensibly agreed to open humanitarian coordinators to allow civilians to evacuate to safety. Earlier today, a plan to bus civilians out of the strategic southern port city of Mariupol was scrubbed for the third time amid reports of continued Russian shelling.
Russian officials claimed that the Ukrainian side had not moved to send civilians through agreed-upon routes. This came after the Ukrainian delegation at a meeting with Russian representatives near the Belarusian border said that there had been meaningful progress ironing out the details regarding evacuations Mariupol, among other cities.
Other evacuations did continue today from areas in and around the capital Kyiv, as well as the cities of Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv, all of which have seen heavy fighting. There were still reports of fighting today in those regions as efforts were made to get civilians to safety.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has once again called for the West to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, an idea that NATO officials and others have repeatedly dismissed because of the obvious risks of provoking a broader conflict in Europe. Late yesterday, there reports that some members of Congress in the United States had been pushing for possible consideration of some kind of "non-kinetic" no-fly zone where Russian aircraft would somehow be prevented from even taking off. This is a concept that may not even be feasible and that would still be likely to provoke at least some kind of retaliation from the Kremlin.
Regardless, fighting is continuing elsewhere in the country. More pictures and video continued to emerge today showing new deliveries of foreign military aid, especially shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles and guided anti-armor weapons, as well as their distribution and use. These weapons, among others have proven to be a key factor in holding Russian advances at bay. You can read more about the launchers that Ukraine has and is set to receive here.
New pictures and video have emerged of one of the Russian military's armored trains, which you can read more about here, being employed in southern Ukraine.
Sanctions on Russia are still mounting. Today, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a complete ban on imports of Russian oil and gas, as well as steps to mitigate the impacts of that decision on the American economy.
In an interesting development, the Kremlin has now allowed Chinese journalists to embed with its units in Ukraine.
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