By Jonathan Landay and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Leaders of U.S. spy agencies said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be deterred and may intensify the assault on Ukraine despite military setbacks and economic hardships resulting from international sanctions.
“Our analysts assess that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the annual House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, where she testified with other intelligence agency leaders.
With tensions so high, there is always the potential for “unintended escalation,” Haines said.
Haines said intelligence analysts had not observed changes in Russia’s nuclear posture beyond what was detected during previous international crises.
“We also have not observed force-wide nuclear posture changes that go beyond what we’ve seen in prior moments of heightened tensions,” Haines said.
William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, echoed Haines’ assessment that Russia is unlikely to back down.
“I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. He’s likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,” Burns said.
The United States has done “intensive intelligence-sharing” with Ukraine, Burns said.
Burns said he and CIA analysts do not see how Putin can accomplish his goal of taking Kyiv and replacing President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government with a pro-Moscow or puppet leadership.
“I fail to see how he can produce that kind of an end game and where that leads, I think, is for an ugly next few weeks in which he doubles down … with scant regard for civilian casualties,” Burns told the committee.
Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said his “low confidence” assessment was that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian troops have been killed.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Doina Cgiacu; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Will Dunham)