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US intelligence warns that Russia is preparing for a long war in Ukraine

The possibility of a stalemate is fueling concerns that Ukraine may remain a deadly European battlefield and a source of continental and global instability for months, or even years, to come

FPJ Web Desk | Updated on: Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 01:23 PM IST

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, on April 26, 2022, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 8, 2022 | AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, on April 26, 2022, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 8, 2022 | AP
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Vladimir Putin is preparing for a long war in Ukraine, with even victory in the east potentially not ending the conflict, US intelligence has warned.

The warning comes as fierce fighting continues in the east, where Russia is trying to take territory.

Moscow refocused its troops on capturing the Donbas region after Ukraine resisted attempts to take its capital, Kyiv.

But despite this, its forces remain in a stalemate, US intelligence said.

Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, told a US Senate committee hearing on Tuesday that Mr Putin was still intending "to achieve goals beyond the Donbas", but that he "faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia's current conventional military capabilities".

She added that the Russian president was "probably" counting on US and EU support for Ukraine to weaken as inflation, food shortages and energy prices got worse.

However, the Russian president could turn to "more drastic means" as the war continues - although Moscow would only use nuclear weapons if Mr Putin perceived an "existential threat" to Russia.

Defence Intelligence Agency Director Scott Berrier told the same hearing that the Russians and the Ukrainians were "at a bit of a stalemate".

The possibility of a stalemate is fueling concerns that Ukraine may remain a deadly European battlefield and a source of continental and global instability for months, or even years, to come.

Energy and food security are the most immediate worries, but massive Western support for Ukraine while the world is still emerging from coronavirus pandemic and struggling to deal with the effects of climate change could deepen the toll on the global economy. And should Russia choose to escalate, the risk of a broader conflict rises.

The U.S. and its allies are pumping a steady stream of lethal weaponry into Ukraine to keep it in the fight. While most analysts say Kyiv is holding its own at the least, those infusions must continue if they are to support President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s vow to win, or at least continue to match or beat back, Moscow’s advances.

Russia has pulled together new forces from all across the country, including exposed territories such as its exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Forces previously used around Kyiv and Sumy are still in the process of regrouping and re-equipping, and may join this offensive at a later stage.

Militarily, fighting in Donbas provides advantages for Russia. Trying to advance along too many axes – Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Donbas, Kherson, Zaporizhia – at the same time has thinned out Russian forces.

On none of these fronts have they been able to achieve decisive superiority in strength and firepower. Russian supply lines became over-stretched and hard to defend against Ukrainian ambushes.

In Donbas, supply lines are shorter, the rail network is denser, and the proxy republics that Russia controls provide security for the rear. It therefore seems logical to try to wear away and defeat Ukraine’s armed forces in this part of the country rather than around Kyiv.

Recent statements issued by the Russian Ministry of Defence and General Staff describe the aim of military operations in the coming weeks, but their contents do not reflect the true political goals. And Putin himself recently vowed to carry on the invasion until the “the goals set initially are completed”, which includes destroying Ukraine as a nation.

And Russia made no reaction when European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the acceleration of Ukraine’s European Union accession process.

Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin has not signaled a willingness to intensify the invasion with either a general mobilization of troops or the use of unconventional arms, neither has he shown any sign of backing down. Nor has Zelenskyy, who is now asserting that Ukraine will not only beat back the current Russian invasion but regain control of Crimea and other areas that Russia has occupied or otherwise controlled since 2014.

“It’s very difficult to see how you could get a negotiated solution at this point,” said Ian Kelly, a retired veteran diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Georgia, another former Soviet republic on which Russia has territorial designs.

“There’s no way that Ukraine is going to step back,” Kelly said. “They think they’re gonna win.”

At the same time, Kelly said that no matter how many miscalculations Putin has made about the strength and will of Ukraine to resist or the unity and resolve of the NATO allies, Putin cannot accept defeat or anything short of a scenario that he can claim has achieved success.

“It would be political suicide for Putin to withdraw,” Kelly said. “It’s very difficult to see how you could get a negotiated solution at this point. Neither side is willing to stop fighting and probably the likeliest outcome is a war that lasts a couple of years. Ukraine would be a festering sore in the middle of Europe.”

U.S. officials, starting with President Joe Biden, seem to agree, even after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raised eyebrows by saying after a visit to Kyiv last month that Washington’s goal is not only to help Ukraine defend itself but to “weaken” Russia to the point where it does not pose a threat.

Putin “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that,” Biden said on Monday even after he signed legislation designed to reboot the World War II-era “lend-lease” program and appealed to Congress to approve a $40 billion package of military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

(with inputs from AP)

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Published on: Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 01:23 PM IST