Fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months, the head of US intelligence has said.
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 on Saturday at the Reagan National Defence Forum in Simi Valley, California, in the US.
Looking ahead, Ms 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.”
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), in its latest intelligence estimate on Sunday, 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 had 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% of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine, while 25% wanted the war to go on.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 04 December 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/wgwjroo1ys
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— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) December 4, 2022
Levada Centre, Russia’s top independent pollster, found in a similar survey carried out in November that 53% of respondents supported peace talks, 41% spoke in favour of continuing the fight, and 6% were undecided.
The MoD 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 Mr Putin ordered a “partial mobilisation” of reservists in September to bolster his forces in Ukraine.
“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,” the ministry 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, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an eight-month Russian occupation.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attacked Western efforts to hit Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Mr Putin’s war machine, saying their 60 dollars-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,” Mr Zelensky said, referring to Russia.
He said the 60 dollars per barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in 100 billion dollars (£81 billion) in revenues per year.
“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organisations. This money will be used for further destabilisation of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Mr Zelensky said.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the EU agreed on Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at 60 dollars per barrel. The limit is set to take effect on Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.
Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened on Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.
The EU agreement on an oil price cap, coordinated with G7 and others, will reduce Russia’s revenues significantly.
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— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 2, 2022
“We will sell oil and oil products to those countries, which will work with us on market conditions, even if we have to somewhat cut production,” deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine, 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.
She assembled dolls out of wool 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,” Ms 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.