A new U.S. intelligence assessment comes at a pivotal time for Ukraine as it rushes its most effective resources into the otherwise insignificant town of Bakhmut.
Russia does not have the manpower, the ammunition, the logistics or the will to mount a large-scale offensive in Ukraine – unless a powerful international backer comes to its aid, the top U.S. intelligence officer said Wednesday, identifying perhaps the two most critical realities that will define the war there this year and beyond.
Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, offered the assessment to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning, testifying alongside the other top U.S. civilian and military intelligence chiefs as part of a hearing to discuss her office’s latest “threat assessment,” the annual document governing America’s national security priorities around the globe.
Among the biggest factors concerning U.S. decisionmakers is whether China will ally with Russia and begin supplying it with the ammunition and other arms that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces desperately need.
“If Russia does not institute a mandatory mobilization and identify substantial third-party ammunition supplies, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even the current level of offensive operations in the coming months,” Haines said. “And, consequently, they may fully shift to holding and defending the territories they now occupy.”
Russia Invades Ukraine: A Timeline
“In short, we do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains,” she added. “But Putin most likely calculates that time works in his favor and that prolonging the war, including potential pauses in the fighting may be his best remaining pathway to eventually security Russia’s strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years.”
Haines’ observations aligned with some of the gravest concerns among Ukraine’s Western backers, particularly as they fight to maintain momentum for the war among some domestic populations that are beginning to doubt the value of supporting Kyiv – a call that is growing in the right-wing corners of the Republican Party in particular. And while President Joe Biden has pledged America’s steadfast assistance to Ukraine’s war effort, his term is half over and elections next year could bring a new leader with a different outlook.
Haines spoke at a pivotal time for Ukraine as it rushes its most effective resources into the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Ukraine region known as the Donbas, where Russia first began intervening militarily in 2014 and which has become the latest epicenter of violence as the war grinds toward a stalemate.
The Kremlin has identified the town as a key prize and, likewise, focused what remains of its most elite military forces and private mercenaries in an attempt to eke out a symbolic win as it seeks to regain momentum. NATO’s secretary general warned earlier on Wednesday that Bakhmut could fall to the Russians this week.
Putin’s hugely unpopular forced mobilization of 300,000 young men last year does not appear to have materialized into battlefield results, and any progress on the ground has been undermined by public spats among his most senior advisers.
Analysts fear that Putin may be right in his assumptions that he has enough public support and young men at his disposal to throw toward the guns until the Ukrainian military simply cannot endure.
Sen. Angus King, Maine independent, posed the question to Haines on Wednesday of the China-Russia relationship: “Is it a temporary marriage of convenience, or is it a long-term love affair?”
“It is continuing to deepen. Maybe the latter – although I hesitate to characterize it as a ‘love affair,’” Haines replied. “There are some limitations that we see on where they would go on that partnership. … We don’t see them becoming allies in the way we are allies with NATO. But nevertheless we do see it increasing across every sector.”
“We do see them providing assistance to Russia in the context of the conflict,” she concluded. “The degree of how close they get and what kind of assistance they’re providing is something we watch very carefully.”
Lisa Scholfield is a Talker, writer, Journalist and news reporter at Republik City News. My background has been in journalism my entire life, writing community news, investigative series, features, reviews and columns. I believe everyday people should pick up the tools of journalism and inform their communities about the news they need to know.