Russia could turn to increasingly “unpredictable and drastic” tactics in its war on Ukraine — with the ever-present threat of nuclear war against the West, top US intelligence officials warned.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that “the next month or two of fighting will be significant,” as President Vladimir Putin deals with a “mismatch between his ambitions” and his “military capabilities.”
“The next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory,” including “a period of more ad hoc decision making” by Russia, she warned.
It increases the “likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means,” she said, especially “if he perceives Russia is losing in Ukraine.”
At the least, Moscow will likely continue to “use nuclear rhetoric to deter the United States and the West” from helping Ukraine.
“And if Putin perceives that the United States is ignoring his threats, he may try to signal to Washington the heightened danger of its support to Ukraine by authorizing another large nuclear exercise,” she said, referring to the recent test of its so-called “Satan 2” missile, which it claims is unstoppable and able to reach the US.
US spies currently believe Putin “would probably only authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state or regime,” she said.
“But we will remain vigilant in monitoring every aspect of Russia strategic nuclear forces,” Haines stressed.
“With tensions this high, there is always an enhanced potential for miscalculation, unintended escalation, which we hope our intelligence can help to mitigate,” she said.
In its annual threat assessment report, Haines’ Office of the National Intelligence stressed that “Russia will remain the largest and most capable” rival to the US when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.
“Moscow views its nuclear capabilities as necessary for maintaining deterrence and achieving its goals in a potential conflict against the United States and NATO, and it sees a credible nuclear weapons deterrent as the ultimate guarantor of the Russian Federation,” the agency noted.
“Moscow continues to develop long-range nuclear-capable missile and underwater delivery systems meant to penetrate or bypass U.S. missile defenses.
“Russia is expanding and modernizing its large, diverse, and modern set of nonstrategic systems, which are capable of delivering nuclear or conventional warheads, because Moscow believes such systems offer options to deter adversaries, control the escalation of potential hostilities, and counter U.S. and allied troops near its border.”
Western concern at the risk of nuclear war increased after Putin referred to his arsenal while launching his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
After referring to Moscow’s nuclear forces, he warned that any attempt to get in Russia’s way “will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”
Days later he put those nuclear forces on high alert, blaming a fictitious threat from NATO. His military chiefs also said they would feel justified using nukes if under the “existential threat” that Haines referenced.
Russia said last month that by autumn it will be able to deploy its newly tested Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles — dubbed Satan 2 — that is capable of mounting nuclear strikes against the US.
Putin also displayed some of his nuke-capable missiles during Monday’s Victory Day parade in Red Square, in which he yet again blamed the West for his decision to invade his neighbor, Ukraine.
With Post wires