US thinks Russia will lean into nuclear threat as invasion drags on
By Jordan WilliamsMarch 18, 2022 – 05:07 PM EDT
The U.S. believes that Russia may lean into its nuclear threat to project its strength as its invasion of Ukraine drags on, according to an assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the agency, detailed the assessment in a report on worldwide threats submitted to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations submitted on Thursday.
The report, which was based on information available as of Tuesday, comes as the U.S. warns that Russia was growing more desperate as its advance into Ukraine hasn’t been moving as quickly as expected.
“As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian conventional strength, Russia likely will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences,” he wrote.
Debate on how Russian President Vladimir Putin would use nuclear weapons has ramped up since he ordered his deterrence forces on “special combat duty” in late February. At the time, he blamed his decision on the West making aggressive statements about Russia.
President Biden has said that Americans shouldn’t worry about the threat of nuclear war, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also said Putin’s threat of nuclear weapons was just a bluff.
In the report, Berrier said the order and other comments from Moscow touting its nuclear arsenal “are likely intended to intimidate.”
He added the comments reflect Russia’s view that the threat of nuclear weapons could either compel an adversary to negotiate an end to the conflict on terms favorable to Moscow, or deter other parties from entering the war as progress elsewhere stalls.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has entered its 23rd day, and the U.S. fears that it will escalate its attacks on Ukraine despite the unexpected resistance it has received.
Berrier writes that Russia is “determined to restore a sphere of influence over Ukraine and the other states of the former Soviet Union which is a key driver for Russian military aggression against Ukraine.”
Therefore, despite the unexpected resistance, Moscow “appears determined to press forward,” he said, noting the indiscriminate attacks destroying cities and increasing civilian deaths.
“The Kremlin likely calculates that a victory over Ukraine will compel most of the Soviet successor states to align themselves more closely with Moscow, but a military setback for Russia or a lengthy drawn-out campaign in Ukraine probably will have the opposite effect,” he continued.