Military intelligence chief says Putin can’t reach Ukraine’s target

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia’s setbacks and strained resources in Ukraine show its armed forces are unable to meet President Vladimir Putin’s original goals in invading the country as things stand now, the Pentagon intelligence chief said Friday.

“We’re getting to a point where I think Putin needs to revise his goals for this operation,” Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at an intelligence and national security conference outside of Washington. Because “it’s pretty clear right now that he… won’t be able to do what he originally set out to do.”

Putin sent troops into neighboring Ukraine in February with the aim of overthrowing Ukraine’s western-leaning government, US officials say. At the start of the war, Ukrainian forces drove out Russian fighters from their positions around Ukraine’s capital. And Russia suffered another major setback last week when a Ukrainian counter-offensive pushed back its troops from much of northeastern Ukraine.

“The Russians were planning occupation, not necessarily invasion, and that set them back,” Berrier said, citing Putin’s previous reluctance to fully mobilize Russian forces to bring more manpower into combat.

President Joe Biden and other administration officials have been careful not to characterize Russia’s recent withdrawal as a Ukrainian victory or a turning point in the war, and analysts warn that it’s impossible to gauge what lies ahead.

“He comes to a decision,” Berrier said of Putin. “We don’t know what that decision will look like. But that will go a long way in determining how long this conflict will last.”

Berrier was speaking on a panel with other senior officials at the intelligence community’s Intelligence and National Security Summit at National Harbor in Maryland, just outside of Washington.

Asked about concerns that Putin could use weapons of mass destruction if he is thwarted on the battlefield by US-NATO-backed Ukrainian forces, CIA Deputy Director David Cohen said: “I don’t think we appreciate Putin’s adherence to his original… agenda was to control Ukraine. I don’t think we’ve seen any reason to think he’s moved away from that.”

Nor should the US underestimate Putin’s “risk appetite,” Cohen said. Putin and his officials made references to Russia’s nuclear arsenal and massive retaliatory measures early in the war when they warned NATO not to interfere in the conflict.

“Nevertheless, we have seen no concrete evidence of planning to use weapons of mass destruction,” Cohen said. The more likely form of Russian retaliation against the United States would be further attempts to interfere in the US political system, other security and intelligence officials have said.

Separately, at a major regional summit in Uzbekistan on Friday, Putin vowed to step up the attack on Ukraine and warned that Moscow could step up its attacks on the country’s infrastructure if Ukrainian forces attack facilities in Russia.

The conference was attended by the leaders of China, India, Turkey and several other countries.

Putin said the “liberation” of Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbass region is Russia’s top military goal and he sees no need to revise it.

“We are in no hurry,” said the Russian leader.

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