The statement comes at the time when Kyiv said that 144 Ukrainian soldiers have been freed in its “largest” prisoner swap with Moscow since the beginning of the war. In March, Moscow refocused its efforts on seizing Ukraine’s Donbas area after failing to take Kyiv and other cities.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that Putin still has the same goals as the ones he held at the start of the conflict.
The top intelligence officer, however, said that Russia is unlikely to achieve that goal any time soon.
She told a US Commerce Department conference: “We perceive a disconnect between Putin’s near-term military objectives in this area and his military’s capacity, a kind of mismatch between his ambitions and what the military is able to accomplish.”
Since failing to achieve its initial goal of capturing Kyiv, Russia has focused on seizing territory in the eastern Donbas region – a large, industrial area where Mr Putin falsely claims Ukraine has carried out a genocide against Russian speakers.
Russian forces have made gains there, recently taking control of the city of Severodonetsk, but progress has been slow and Ukrainian forces have put up strong resistance.
In her first public comments since May on the US intelligence assessment of the war, Ms Haines suggested Russia’s invasion would grind on “for an extended period of time” and that “the picture remains pretty grim”.
She said intelligence agencies see three scenarios of how the war could play out, the most likely being a slow moving conflict with Russia making “incremental gains, with no breakthrough”.
The other, less likely possibilities include a major Russian breakthrough, or a stabilisation of the frontlines with Ukraine achieving small gains.
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It may mean Moscow becomes more dependent on “asymmetric tools” to target its enemies; including cyber attacks, efforts to control energy resources and even nuclear weapons.
Ms Haines’ comments came on Wednesday after NATO leaders pledged to stand behind Ukraine for as long as it takes – boosting their troop presence across Europe and inviting Finland and Sweden to join the group.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called it the alliance’s biggest overhaul since the Cold War, with US President Joe Biden vowing that Nato would be “strengthened in all directions across every domain – land, air and sea”.
Responding to the possibility of the two Nordic countries becoming NATO members, Mr Putin accused the military alliance of deliberately escalating tension.
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While on a trip to Turkmenistan, Mr Putin said: “If NATO troops and infrastructure are deployed, [Russia] will be compelled to respond.”
Meanwhile, the UK Government has confirmed it will provide a further £1bn ($1.2bn) in military aid to Ukraine, a near-doubling of its support so far.
Only the US has provided more military aid to Ukraine than the UK.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country needs around $5bn (£4.12bn) a month to fund the war against Russia.