According to CIA Director William Burns, the course of the war and the Ukrainian military’s current offensives in the south and east have once again made it painfully clear how Putin has underestimated the Ukrainians. According to him, the Russian leader has misjudged the courage and willingness of the Ukrainians to fight.
“It’s difficult to view the course of the war and Putin’s record as anything but a failure,” Burns, a former ambassador to Washington, told a security conference in Washington on Thursday. The CIA’s analysis of Putin’s major political and military blunders with the invasion echoes earlier damning conclusions from Western sister services, such as the British.
They create the image of a Russian leader who, despite his more than twenty years in the Kremlin, misunderstands difficult situations such as wars and does not like differing advice. “He underestimated the power of the coalition,” Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, said of the Russian leader in July. “He underestimated the economic impact of the sanctions. And he overestimated his army’s ability to secure a quick victory.”
However, according to the CIA, Putin believes he can still emerge victorious. For the past six months, he assumed, Burns said, that the longer the conflict continued, the longer the conflict would falter, the European resolve would waver and American attention wander. Burns: “Putin is betting that he is tougher than the Ukrainians, Europeans and Americans. Me and my colleagues at the CIA believe he is just as wrong about this as he was in February when he misjudged Ukraine’s will to resist.”
The US spy boss says the war will have huge consequences for Russia. Among other things, the Russians have lost the image of a great military power. Putin in recent years has boasted that the Russian army had gained enormous strength through the radical modernization that cost the country billions of dollars. But the battle in Ukraine showed that the Russian army certainly cannot compete with the American armed forces in technological terms.
For example, many high-tech missiles miss their target, and the Russians, after 198 days of fighting, are faced with a crying shortage of advanced weapons and men. Also, thousands of tanks and armored cars have been destroyed and the casualties among the soldiers are increasing every day. “Not only has the weakness of the Russian military been exposed,” Burns said, “but long-term damage will be done to the Russian economy and generations of Russians.”
Substantial number of victims
The Ukrainian army, which reports Russian losses daily, estimated on Friday that 52,000 soldiers of the invasion force had died. Also, 2,122 tanks and 4,575 armored cars were destroyed. This has not been confirmed by independent sources. The independent military blog Oryx said last week that about 1,000 Russian tanks could be confirmed to have been destroyed or disabled.
This is still a significant number. “Their ground forces are so degraded that it will take them years to return them to their previous level,” US intelligence chief Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in June. Russia has sent the majority of its 170 combat units on standby, 110, to Ukraine. These Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), each consisting of about eight hundred soldiers, have suffered heavy blows.
It is unclear how much of the 180,000-strong invasion force has been eliminated in the past six months. In July, the CIA estimated the number of casualties among Russian soldiers at 60 thousand, including 15 thousand dead. “The Russians are taking a huge number of casualties,” said Colin Kahl, a US Secretary of Defense. In August, the Pentagon estimated that 70 to 80 thousand Russians had been killed and wounded.
Compared to the Afghanistan war, the last major and prolonged military operation of the Russian army, this number is significant. It is estimated that between 10 and 15 thousand soldiers were killed during the ten-year struggle in Afghanistan, which Russia invaded in 1979. The question all Western intelligence agencies are pondering is how many Russian dead Putin is willing to accept.
Does he have a limit and does it quickly come into view? Haines said the mounting death toll could force the Russian leader to push for negotiations. “It is entirely plausible, depending on how things develop in the coming months, that he will become convinced that there is value in coming to some sort of agreement,” Haines’ analysis was.
However, so far Putin has not given any signal that he is serious about negotiating with Kyiv. “We have not started the military action,” Putin said defiantly at a conference on Wednesday. “In the longer term, it will help strengthen our country both nationally and internationally.”