US Intelligence Chiefs Deliver Grim Warning for Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The frozen military conflict between Ukraine and Russia is starting to thaw and will likely tilt in Moscow’s favor if the United States fails to quickly come through with additional military aid, according to top U.S. intelligence officials, in a grim assessment delivered to U.S. lawmakers.

Monday’s warning comes nearly a month after the U.S. Senate voted in favor of a stand-alone foreign aid bill that would send $60 billion in aid to Ukraine as it tries to hold on to territorial gains more than two years after Russian forces invaded.

But the lawmakers in the House of Representatives have refused to bring the bill up for a vote, leaving other Western nations scrambling to provide Ukraine with enough weapons and ammunition to hold off a renewed Russian offensive.

The $60 billion “is absolutely critical to Ukraine’s defense right now,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Ukraine’s retreat from Avdiivka and their struggle to stave off further territorial losses in the past few weeks have exposed the erosion of Ukraine’s military capabilities with the declining availability of external military aid,” she said. “Without that assistance, it is hard to imagine how Ukraine will be able to maintain the extremely hard-fought advances it has made against the Russians.”

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency told lawmakers the war is at a crossroads, and that what happens next likely hinges on the provision of U.S. aid.

“The Ukrainians are not running out of courage and tenacity. They’re running out of ammunition,” said the CIA’s William Burns. “And we’re running out of time to help them.”

Both Haines and Burns reiterated previous assessments: that up until now, Ukraine’s military has inflicted serious damage on Russia’s forces.

U.S. officials believe at least 315,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded, and that two-thirds of Russia’s prewar tank inventory has been destroyed. The Russian military, which had been undergoing a modernization program, has been set back years.

Russia’s invasion has also served to galvanize the West, with Sweden and Finland joining the NATO military alliance.

But Haines and Burns told lawmakers that none of those strategic defeats have managed to change the calculus of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin continues to judge that time is on his side,” Haines said, cautioning that the Russian leader is as entrenched as ever.

“He continues to see NATO enlargement and Western support for Ukraine as reinforcing his long-held belief that the United States and Europe seek to restrict Russian power and undermine him,” she said, telling lawmakers that Putin’s response has been to push ahead with efforts to grow the Russian military, pouring more money into ammunition production and into the purchase of military supplies from Iran and North Korea.

U.S. intelligence officials also see signs Putin is continuing to move forward with plans to modernize and fortify Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal, already thought to be the largest and most diverse in the world.

And there are signs that Russia is willing to take chances to gain an advantage.

“We remain concerned that Moscow will put at risk long-standing global norms against the use of asymmetric or strategically destabilizing weapons, including in space and in the cyber domain,” Haines said.

Some lawmakers echoed the concerns, urging colleagues to pass the legislation to get Ukraine the military supplies it needs.

“My fear is the decision thus far by the House of Representatives not to even take up legislation that would support Ukraine in the fight against Putin aggression has been one of the most short-sighted decisions on a national security issue that I can possibly imagine,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat.

“The impact and long-term consequences of us abandoning Ukraine … it’s a 50-year mistake that would haunt this country,” added independent Senator Angus King.

And U.S. intelligence officials warned of a cascading global impact if the additional aid for Ukraine fails to materialize.

“The consequence of that will not just be for Ukraine or for European security but across the Indo-Pacific,” said the CIA’s Burns. “If we’re seen to be walking away from Ukraine, not only is that going to feed doubts amongst our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, it’s going to stoke the ambitions of the Chinese leadership in contingencies ranging from Taiwan to the South China Sea.”

The intelligence officials said while China remains wary, for now, it has been emboldened by Russia.

In particular, the intelligence officials said Russia was forced to grant China some long-sought concessions in exchange for support for Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

Iran and North Korea have likewise benefited, they said, warning the impact remains to be seen.

The changing dynamics have “the potential to undermine, among other things, long-held nonproliferation norms,” Haines said.

But she added that while Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are growing closer, the prospects for a true alliance are, for now, remote.

“Parochial interests, a desire to avoid entanglements, and weariness of harm and instability from each other’s actions will likely limit their cooperation … absent direct conflict between one of these countries and the United States,” Haines said.

Israel – Gaza

The U.S. intelligence officials also addressed concerns about the ongoing conflict in Gaza, where Israeli forces continue to pursue fighters of the Hamas terror group despite warnings from the United Nations and aid groups about the devastating impact on civilians.

“We’re going to continue to work hard at this — I don’t think anybody can guarantee success,” the CIA’s Burns told lawmakers when asked about ongoing efforts to get a temporary cease-fire.

Burn recently traveled to the Middle East to meet with officials from Israel, Egypt and Qatar.

He said the deal currently under consideration would provide for the return of about 40 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas, most of them wounded or ill women or older men, in exchange for a six-week-long cease-fire that would allow the U.S. and its allies to surge in desperately needed aid.

“I understand Israel’s need, and the president [Joe Biden] has emphasized this, to respond to the brutish attack that Israelis suffered on the 7th of October [by Hamas],” Burns told Republican Senator Tom Cotton.

“But I think we all also have to be mindful of the, you know, enormous toll that this has taken on innocent civilians in Gaza,” he added.

Gaza fallout

Haines further warned lawmakers that the crisis in Gaza has “galvanized violence by a range of actors,” and that it “is likely that the Gaza conflict will have a generational impact on terrorism.”

But Haines said for now, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, appear reluctant to try to push too hard to manipulate the fighting for their benefit.

“We continue to assess that Hezbollah and Iran do not want to cause an escalation of the conflict that pulls us or them into a full-out war,” she said.

Still, Haines acknowledged other Iranian-linked groups, like the Houthis in Yemen, have become “aggressive actors,” launching dozens of attacks on international shipping.

Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

leave a reply: