US intel chiefs expect Putin to 'double down' in Ukraine with 'no sustainable end goal'

CIA director told Congress that Russian president is 'angry and frustrated' over war's pace

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, centre, said Russia underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian resistance. EPA
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In their first public comments since the war in Ukraine, US intelligence chiefs told Congress on Tuesday that Moscow is likely to “double down” its attacks in the next few weeks but without having a “sustainable end goal".

Speaking before the House Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Russian President Vladimir Putin underestimated the military strength of the Ukrainian resistance.

“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,” Ms Haines said.

While Mr Putin has repeatedly said over the past two weeks that the war is going “according to the plan”, Ms Haines described a Russian military faced with serious challenges on the battlefield.

US intelligence says Russia underestimated Ukrainian resistance

US intelligence says Russia underestimated Ukrainian resistance

“They're facing significantly more resistance from the Ukrainians than they expected and encountering serious military shortcomings.”

But even with such setbacks, the US intelligence chief did not expect Mr Putin to back down, describing the war in Ukraine as one “he cannot afford to lose".

Speaking at the same hearing, CIA Director Bill Burns said Mr Putin is “angry and frustrated".

He argued that Mr Putin’s calculus in the first two weeks of the war was based on his modernised military capturing the capital Kyiv and facing a favourable landscape in Ukraine.

What are Russia's terms for ending the conflict in Ukraine?

What are Russia's terms for ending the conflict in Ukraine?

“He’s been proven wrong,” the CIA director said.

“Instead of seizing Kyiv within the first two days of the campaign, which was what his plan was premised upon, after nearly two weeks they still have not been able to fully encircle the city.”

But similar to the Ms Haines's assessment, Mr Burns expected the Russian leadership would escalate the war in the coming weeks.

“[Mr Putin] is likely to double down and grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties.”

He added, however, that Russia “has no sustainable political end game in the face of what will continue to be fierce resistance from Ukrainians.”

The CIA director described the war as a personal matter for Mr Putin, tied to a “deep personal conviction”.

“He has been stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years".

But on the ground, Mr Burns said Russia is facing a higher number of casualties than Ukraine.

Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency Lt Gen Scott Berrier put the number of Russian dead “with low confidence, somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000".

He assessed that Moscow “had a bad plan and I think their logistics support is not what it needs to be".

Updated: March 08, 2022, 8:10 PM