KYIV, Ukraine: The head of US intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”
“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the US director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defence Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
“But we actually have a fair amount of scepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”
On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defence, in its latest intelligence estimate, pointed to new signs from an independent Russian media outlet that public support in Russia for the military campaign was “falling significantly.”
Meduza said it obtained a recent confidential opinion survey conducted by the Federal Protection Service, which is in charge of guarding the Kremlin and providing security to top government officials.
The survey, commissioned by the Kremlin, found that 55 per cent of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine while 25 per cent wanted the war to go on. The report didn’t mention the margin of error.
Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster, found in a similar poll carried out in November poll that 53 per cent of respondents supported peace talks, 41 per cent spoke in favour of continuing the fight, and 6 per cent were undecided. That poll of 1,600 people had a margin of error of no more than 3.4 per cent.
The British Defence Ministry noted that “despite the Russian authorities’ efforts to enforce pervasive control of the information environment, the conflict has become increasingly tangible for many Russians since the September 2022 ‘partial mobilisation.’”
“With Russia unlikely to achieve major battlefield successes in the next several months, maintaining even tacit approval of the war amongst the population is likely to be increasingly difficult for the Kremlin,” it said.
In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.
“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.
Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colours of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.
“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.
“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.