Russian forces are unlikely to be able to mount a significant offensive operation this year — even if the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive is not fully successful, the country's top intelligence official told lawmakers Thursday.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the Russian military had gained less territory in April than in any of the prior three months, and was facing "significant shortfalls" in munitions and personnel constraints.
"In fact, if Russia does not initiate a mandatory mobilization and secure substantial third-party ammunition supplies beyond existing deliveries from Iran and others, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even modest offensive operations," Haines said.
She added that the conflict remains a "brutally grinding war of attrition," with day-to-day fighting taking place in eastern Ukraine over "hundreds of meters," and neither side demonstrating a definitive advantage.
According to U.S. assessments, Haines said, Russian president Vladimir Putin "probably has scaled back his immediate ambitions" to consolidate control of already-occupied territory in the east and south of the country, and to ensure Ukraine does not join the NATO alliance.
To the extent the Russian leader would consider a negotiated pause in fighting, it would likely be based on his assessment that a pause would provide a "respite" for Russian forces, which would rebuild and resume offensive operations "at some point in the future," Haines said, potentially amid waning Western interest in the conflict.
But, the intelligence chief said, the prospect for Russian concessions in any negotiations this year "will be low, unless domestic political vulnerabilities alter [Putin's] thinking."
Both Haines and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, who also testified at the hearing, said Russian ground forces had been significantly degraded and, according to some estimates, could take between five to ten years to rebuild.
"I think they've had a setback in the ground forces," Berrier said, but are still "very, very capable in their strategic forces."
Russia's loss of conventional military strength may make it more reliant on cyber, space and nuclear capabilities, as well as on support from China, Haines said. Both witnesses acknowledged a steadily deepening relationship between.
Despite recentby Moscow that Ukraine, with support from the United States, attempted to assassinate Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin – a claim U.S. and Ukrainian officials immediately and strongly denied – Haines said it was the intelligence community's current assessment that it was "very unlikely" Putin would resort to the use of nuclear weapons.
She said the U.S. was still investigating the drone incident. "At this stage we don't have information that would allow us to provide an independent assessment" of the Kremlin's claims, she told the committee.