US intel chiefs warn Putin is expanding his nuclear weapons arsenal as war in Ukraine rages on

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia April 19, 2022.

Vyacheslav Prokofiev | Sputnik | Reuters

WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to further develop the Kremlin’s arsenal of long-range missiles capable of deterring Kyiv and its powerful Western allies, U.S. officials warned Wednesday.

The warning from the country’s top spies comes as Russia steps up its year-long war in Ukraine and as Putin threatens to withdraw from a key nuclear arms deal.

“Throughout its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has continued to demonstrate that it views its nuclear capabilities as necessary to maintain deterrence and achieve its goals in a potential conflict to oppose the US and NATO and sees its nuclear weapons arsenal as Russia’s ultimate guarantor. Alliance,” the country’s leading intelligence agency wrote in its annual threat report.

The 35-page unclassified intelligence assessment adds that Moscow will become more dependent on nuclear weapons after heavy losses on the battlefield and punishing rounds of sanctions that have crippled the Kremlin’s ability to to finance their war machine.

“Heavy losses to its ground forces and the heavy expenditure of precision-guided munitions during the conflict have eroded Moscow’s current land- and air-based capabilities and reliance on nuclear weapons rise,” wrote the intelligence community.

Putin, whose country has the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world, has been waving the nuclear saber on the heels of Ukrainian advances on the battlefield.

The West, meanwhile, has described Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons as “reckless” and an attempt to reassert Russia’s leadership in the region.

Last month, Putin upped the ante by announcing that he would suspend participation in the New START treaty, a crucial nuclear arms reduction agreement. The agreement is the only arms control treaty in place between Washington and Moscow after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Putin’s decision “very unfortunate” and said the Biden administration remains ready to negotiate “at any time with Russia, regardless of what is going on in the world “

In addition, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, told lawmakers on Wednesday that Russia’s military is unlikely to make “significant territorial gains” this year, which could open up additional nuclear threats.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Paul Nakasone, center, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, testify at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats in the Hart Building on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

Tom Williams | Call Cq-roll, Inc | Getty Images

“Putin may be calculating that time is working in his favor and that prolonging the war, including a pause in the fighting, may be his best course of action to secure Russia’s strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” said Haines, who heads America’s 18 intelligence agencies, before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The intelligence chiefs, who had previously warned last year that Russia would double down on Ukraine amid unstoppable progress, wrote that Putin’s attack had not produced the results he had hoped for and that it had “increased the ability of the Armed Forces of the Miscalculating Ukraine.”

The spymasters also said that the Russian military will continue to face personnel shortages, supply problems as well as morale challenges.

Haines, who spoke with CIA Director William Burns, FBI Director Christopher Wray, NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and DIA Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, that the intelligence community continues to monitor Russian nuclear threats.

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