Major Russian offensive will end by April and will not be successful ISW
Ukrainska Pravda – February 2, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have overestimated the Russian military’s own capabilities again, and therefore its major offensive in the east of Ukraine will end prematurely in the spring rainy season and will not be effective, analysts of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) are convinced.
Details: Andrii Cherniak, Representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post on 1 February in an interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the Russian military to capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by March 2023. Cherniak also stated that Russian forces are redeploying additional unspecified assault groups, units, weapons, and military equipment to unspecified areas in the east of Ukraine.
“Putin may have overestimated the Russian military’s own capabilities again. ISW has not observed any evidence that Russian forces have restored sufficient combat power to defeat Ukraine’s forces in east of Ukraine and capture over 11,300 square kilometres of unoccupied Donetsk Oblast (over 42 percent of Donetsk Oblast’s total area) before March as Putin reportedly ordered,” ISW emphasised.
According to the ISW’s preliminary assessments, a major Russian offensive before April 2023 would likely prematurely culminate during the April spring rain season before achieving operationally significant effects.
“Russian forces’ culmination could then generate favourable conditions for Ukrainian forces to exploit in their own late spring or summer 2023 counteroffensive after incorporating Western tank deliveries,” a report of ISW said.
Oleksii Reznikov, Minister of Defence of Ukraine, said that Russia may launch an offensive on two fronts on the anniversary of the 2022 invasion.
According to Bloomberg, despite enormous losses, Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning a new offensive in Ukraine, while at the same time preparing his country for years of confrontation with the US and its allies.
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Russia’s Shadow Army Accused in Mysterious Teen Abductions
Philip Obaji Jr. – February 2, 2023
KENZOU, Cameroon—It was the middle of the night when armed men from the local wing of Russia’s Wagner Group, commonly referred to as “Black Russians,” allegedly arrived at Ali’s home.
“They looked straight into my eyes and said, ‘If you don’t come back to us, you and your family will be killed,’” Ali, who had spent close to a year working closely with the Wagner Group, told The Daily Beast. “They left without saying anything else.”
Ali’s wife, his three adolescent daughters and three adult brothers were allegedly at their three-bedroom home in the outskirts of Berbérati—a city in the southwest of the Central African Republic (CAR)—when the men arrived armed with machine guns. “As they stepped out of the house, one of them looked at me and said ‘Tell your husband to do what is right or else all of you will suffer,’” Fatou*, Ali’s wife, told The Daily Beast.
Minutes later, the armed men allegedly stormed the nearby home of Hassan* and issued him a similar warning, but with a more severe punishment for allegedly masterminding the exit of several Black Russians from the Wagner Group.
“They said if I don’t return to the [Black Russians] group they’ll seize me and my family and torture us for days before they eventually kill us,” Hassan, a former Black Russian who was living in a two-bedroom home with his mother and two teenage sons when the armed men arrived, told The Daily Beast. “They believe I have been the one encouraging other members to leave the group because I was among the first to quit.”
The Wagner Group, which showed up in the war-torn Central African Republic around 2018, has relied heavily on local recruits since last year, after hundreds of its Russian mercenaries were pulled from Central Africa and sent to Ukraine to fight Vladimir Putin’s war. But poor welfare for Black Russians—and fear that they could be deployed to fight overseas without compensation or insurance—has forced many to abandon the group.
The threats to their families weren’t enough to force Ali and Hassan back to the group. Both men subsequently stayed away from their homes to avoid being captured and killed—the kind of punishment the Wagner Group is known to hand out to fighters who disobey orders or desert the organization.
“We didn’t take their threat of harming our families seriously because that is not how they [Wagner mercenaries and local recruits] are known to act,” said Ali, who—along with Hassan—had to squat in a faraway unfinished building, where construction work had long been abandoned, to hide from their former colleagues. “Throughout the time we worked with them, no one targeted anyone’s family. When you commit an offense, you face the consequences on your own.”
Ali and Hassan would later realize that they misjudged the group they had been part of—and that their refusal to rejoin the Black Russians could prove costly.
According to Hassan’s family, the same men who visited the previous week returned to his home and seized his two sons, who are 15 and 13 years old, vowing not to release them until their father returns to the Wagner unit to face discipline. Hassan and his mother, who was the only one at home with the boys when they were taken away, fled to Cameroon the following day as they feared their lives were in danger.
“They dragged my grandsons from the house and threw them into a [pickup] truck and then drove them away,” Hassan’s mother Bintou* told The Daily Beast in the Cameroonian border town of Kenzou, where she and her son live in a single-room mud house. “We don’t even know whether he is dead or alive.”
On the same day Hassan’s sons were seized, Ali’s three younger brothers, who are 27, 24, and 23 years old, left home in the morning to attend a music festival at a playground just outside Berbérati. But they never returned home and no one has seen them since then, according to family members who believe the Wagner Group is responsible for their disappearances.
“It must be the same people who came to our home to threaten us that kidnapped them,” said Ali, who also fled Berbérati to Kenzou along with his wife and daughters. “They want me to meet face to face with them, that’s why they are holding my brothers.”
Three years ago, Ali and Hassan joined the Union for Peace (UPC), a Central African rebel group fighting for control of the Ouaka central province, located at the border between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. Their involvement with the UPC, whose leader Ali Darassa was sanctioned over a year ago by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) “for serious human rights abuses”, lasted only a few months. It was cut short by an enticing offer from Wagner Group, run by Putin’s close friend and ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Ali and Hassan were among hundreds of UPC rebels who surrendered to the CAR military in December 2021 after both men said they were promised a chance to work with the Wagner Group and earn a monthly pay of about $1,000.
But when Wagner stopped paying some Black Russians after a few months, and many local recruits mysteriously disappeared towards the end of 2022, both Ali and Hassan decided to leave the group and move away from their base in the capital Bangui to Berbérati.
“The main reason some of us left the [Black Russians] group is because we feared they could send us to war in Ukraine without giving us the chance to inform our families,” said Ali, who has been in touch with some of his colleagues deployed to Ukraine in the early months of Russia’s invasion and allegedly abandoned thereafter. “If we die on the battlefield, no one would know anything about it.”
Ali and Hassan believe the Wagner Group’s decision to not reveal the whereabouts of Black Russians deployed to Ukraine’s Donbas region is based on financial reasoning.
“They don’t want to pay the death benefit they promised they will pay to families of fighters who died while in active service,” said Hassan. “If families don’t know their sons are fighting in Ukraine, they won’t also know when they are killed in combat and can’t demand death benefit as a result.”
For years, and especially since a brutal civil war broke out in CAR in 2013, the Cameroonian border town of Kenzou has welcomed thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict in their country. Now, the commercial town has a new type of guests: ex-Wagner recruits running away from imminent attacks from their former employers.
“We know for sure that there are former CAR rebels now living in this town with us,” Vincent Olembe, a local chief in Kenzou, told The Daily Beast. “Luckily, they’ve assured us that they aren’t here for trouble but were forced from their country because their lives were in danger.”
The CAR government and Prigozhin did not respond to a series of requests for comment on the allegations made by Ali and Hassan. The Daily Beast sent emails to the spokesperson of the CAR government and to Concord Management, a company majority-owned by Prigozhin, but did not receive a reply.
In Kenzou, Ali and Hassan are confident that their family members wouldn’t be hurt by the Wagner Group or those working closely with them. They believe the Russians will use them as leverage.
“If they [the seized family members] were women, I would have been worried,” said Hassan, who—like Ali—turns 40 this year. “But from the way I know them to operate, anyone who is arrested or captured is offered a chance to join the Black Russians and be forgiven or punished if he refuses.”
One day, said Hassan, “I’ll reunite with my boys.”
*The names of these sources have been changed for fear of retribution.
Details: In April 2022, Yefremov’s unit guarded their “rear HQ” in Kamianka village in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine. The colonel was in charge of questioning Ukrainian captives there.
Quote from Yefremov: “Three Ukrainian military captives were brought there one day. One of them confessed he was a sniper. And the colonel’s eyes lit up when he heard it. He beat him up, pulled down his pants and asked if he was married. He [the captive] answered yes. The colonel told [us] to bring a mop: ‘We will make you a girl now and send the video to your wife.’
The colonel asked a captive once to name all nationalists that he knew in his regiment, his platoon. And the guy did not understand the question, he said: ‘We are marines of the Armed Forces of Ukraine’. The Colonel beat him up and knocked out a few teeth.
He put a gun to a guy’s head as he was blindfolded and told him: ‘I am counting to three, and then I will shoot you in the head.’ He counted, then shot close to the head. He shoots close to one ear and then keeps asking questions.”
Details: The officer has stated that these questioning and tortures “had been going on for a week – every day, or night, sometimes twice a day”.
He has also recollected that the captives were held in a garage. The Colonel forbade feeding them with normal food and only allowed us to give them water and rusks.
Moreover, according to Yefremov, the Colonel shot through the captive’s arm keeping the bone bone intact, and shot his right leg, breaking a bone, once during the questioning.
The BBC has pointed out that it cannot confirm Yefremov’s detailed statements, but it highlights that those statements correspond with other comments about torturing Ukrainian captives.
Photo: Russian BBC News
Background: Senior Lieutenant Yefremov was a commander in a mine clearance platoon of the 42nd Guards Motor Rifle Division, with its headquarters in Chechnya. Yefremov has said that he arrived in Dzhankoi, Crimea, on 10 February 2022, before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Yefremov has assured the press that even officers did not believe that there would be a war and thought they were going to military exercises.
He has claimed that he realised on the first day of the war that he did not want to fight and tried to abandon service. At first, the command refused, calling him a coward and a traitor, and threatened with prison for desertion, but they finally dismissed Yefremov, and he left Russia.
Yefremov has said that for the last three years, he was clearing mines in Chechnya that survived two wars – until the Russian war against Ukraine began; he loved his job and believed he was helpful.
“I am apologizing to the Ukrainian people that I came to their home armed and as an unwelcome guest. And I thank God that no one suffered from my hands, that I did not take anyone’s life on that land. And thank God I was not hurt. I do not even have a moral right to ask Ukrainians to forgive me,” Yefremov summed up.
War’s longest battle exacts high price in ‘heart of Ukraine’
Hanna Arhirova – February 1, 2023
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Visitors used to browse through Bakhmut’s late 19th century buildings, enjoy walks in its rose-lined lakeside park and revel in the sparkling wines produced in historic underground caves. That was when the city in eastern Ukraine was a popular tourist destination.
But their scorched-earth tactics have made it impossible for civilians to have any semblance of a life there.
“It’s hell on earth right now; I can’t find enough words to describe it,” said Ukrainian soldier Petro Voloschenko, who is known on the battlefield as Stone, his voice rising with emotion and resentment.
Voloschenko, who is originally from Kyiv, arrived in the area in August when the Russian assault started and has since celebrated his birthday, Christmas and New Year’s there.
The 44-year-old saw the city, located around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Russia’s border, gradually turned into a wasteland of ruins. Most of the houses are crushed, without roofs, ceilings, windows or doors, making them uninhabitable, he said.
Out of a prewar population of 80,000, a few thousand residents remain. They rarely see daylight because they spend most of their time in basements sheltering from the ferocious fighting around and above them. The city constantly shudders with the muffled sound of explosions, the whizzing of mortars and a constant soundtrack of artillery. Anywhere is a potential target.
Bakhmut lies in Donetsk province, one of four that Russia illegally annexed in the fall — but Moscow only controls about half of it. To take the remaining half, Russian forces have no choice but to go through Bakhmut, which offers the only approach to bigger Ukrainian-held cities since Ukrainian troops took back Izium in Kharkiv province in September, according to Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Without seizure of these cities, the Russian army won’t be able to accomplish the political task it was given,” Bielieskov said.
The deterioration in Bakhmut started during the summer after Russia took the last major city in neighboring Luhansk province. It then poured troops and equipment into capturing Bakhmut, and Ukraine did the same to defend it. For Russia, the city was one stepping stone toward its goal of seizing the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Donetsk.
From trenches outside the city, the two sides dug in for what turned into an exhausting standoff as Ukraine clawed back territory to the north and south and Russian airstrikes across the country targeted power plants and other infrastructure.
The months of battle exhausted both armies. In the fall, Russia changed tactics and sent in foot soldiers instead of probing the front line mainly with artillery, according to Voloschenko.
Bielieskov, the research fellow, said the least-trained Russians go first to force the Ukrainians to open fire and expose the strengths and weaknesses of their defense.
Bielieskov said that Ukraine compensates for its lack of heavy equipment with people who are ready to stand to the last.
“Lightly armed, without sufficient artillery support, which they cannot always be provided, they stand and hold off attacks as long as possible,” he said.
The result is that the battle is believed to have produced horrific troop losses for both Ukraine and Russia. Quite how deadly isn’t known: Neither side is saying.
“Manpower is less of a Russian problem and, in some ways, more of a Ukrainian problem, not only because the casualties are painful, but they’re often … Ukraine’s best troops,” said Lawrence Freedman, a professor emeritus of war studies at King’s College London.
The Institute for the Study of War recently reported that Wagner forces have seen more than 4,100 die and 10,000 wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut. The numbers are impossible to verify.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a recent address, described the situation in Bakhmut as “very tough.”
“These are constant Russian assaults. Constant attempts to break through our defenses” he said,
Like Mariupol — the port city in the same province that Russia eventually captured after an 82-day siege that eventually came down to a mammoth steel mill where determined Ukrainian fighters held out along with civilians — Bakhmut has taken on almost mythic importance to its defenders.
“Bakhmut has already become a symbol of Ukrainian invincibility,” Voloschenko said. “Bakhmut is the heart of Ukraine, and the future peace of those cities that are no longer under occupation depends on the rhythm with which it beats.”
For now, Bakhmut remains completely under the control of the Ukrainian army, albeit more as a fortress than a place where people would visit, work or play. In January, the Russians seized the town of Soledar, located less than 20 kilometers (some 12 miles) away, but their advance is very slow, according to military analysts.
“These are rates of advancement that do not allow us to talk about serious offensive actions. It’s a slow pushing out at a very high price,” Bielieskov said.
Along the front line on the Ukrainian side, emergency medical units provide urgent care to battlefield casualties. From 50 to 170 wounded Ukrainian soldiers pass daily through just one of the several stabilization points along the Donetsk front line, according to Tetiana Ivanchenko, who has volunteered in eastern Ukraine since a Russia-backed separatist conflict started there in 2014.
After its setbacks in Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson province in the south, the Kremlin is hungry for any success, even if it is just seizing a town or two that have been pounded into rubble. Freedman, the King’s College London professor emeritus, said the loss of Bakhmut would be a blow for Ukraine and offer tactical advantages to Russian forces, but wouldn’t prove decisive to the outcome of the war.
There would have been more value for Russia if it could have captured a populated and intact Bakhmut early on in the war, but now the capture would just give its forces options on how to seize more of Donetsk, said Freedman.
A 22-year-old Ukrainian soldier who is known as Desiatyi, or Tenth, joined the army on the day that Russia started the full-scale war in Ukraine. After months spent defending the Bakhmut area, losing many comrades, he said he has no regrets.
“It is not about comparing the price and losses on both sides. It’s about the fact that, yes, Ukrainians are dying, but they are dying because of a specific goal,” said Desiatyi, who did not give his real name for security reasons.
“Ukraine has no choice but to defend every inch of its land. The country must defend itself, especially now, so zealously, so firmly, and desperately. This is what will help us liberate our occupied territories in the future.”
A captured member of the infamous Wagner Group said he is more ‘afraid of Putin’ than dying in battle, Ukrainian soldier reveals
Rebecca Cohen – February 1, 2023
A captured Russian soldier said he is more afraid of Vladimir Putin than he is of dying in battle.
“We’re afraid of Putin,” a Ukrainian solder recalled the man saying.
The Ukrainian solder said the man joined Russia’s Wagner Group to expunge his criminal record.
A captured fighter from Russia’s Wagner Group told his Ukrainian captors he is more afraid of Russian President Vladimir Putin than he is of dying on the battlefield, a Ukrainian soldier revealed to CNN.
In an audio recording reviewed by CNN of the Ukrainian soldier questioning the Russian prisoner, Andriy told the man: “Obviously, you know that you will be killed [in battle.] But you’re afraid to fight for your freedom in your country.”
“Yes, this is true,” the Ukrainian soldier named Andriy recalled the man replying. “We’re afraid of Putin.”
The Wagner fighter was an engineer, CNN reported, citing the audio recording. According to CNN, he had started selling drugs in Russia to make more money on the side, and he joined Wagner in hopes of expunging his criminal record so his daughter, who wants to be a lawyer, would run into fewer roadblocks in her future.
In the recording reviewed by CNN, Andriy asked the man when he realized he was “just meat,” to which he replied: “At the first combat mission. They brought us to the frontline on December 28. They sent us forward last night.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is “desperate for a victory of any kind” ahead of the one-year anniversary of his invasion into Ukraine, and he’s sending his troops into some of Ukraine’s most heavily defended areas to try to get it, a former Australian general said earlier this month.
To achieve this, Russia has been sending prisoners recruited by the Wagner Group and freshly mobilized troops to the front lines to clear the way for its better-trained forces, who step in later, a US official said, Insider previously reported.
Wagner — a private military contractor with close ties to the Kremlin — was designated as a “significant transnational criminal organization” by the US government last week and its global network was targeted by a slew of sanctions. The White House said in January that the group had about 10,000 mercenaries and 40,000 former prisoners deployed across Ukraine, where it has joined in Moscow’s war efforts.
Fighting ramps up in eastern Ukraine in ‘devastating WWI-like environment’
Tom Soufi Burridge – February 1, 2023
Russia has escalated its attacks on Ukrainian positions in eastern Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses for gains on the battlefield ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war towards the end of this month.
Ukrainian and Russian forces remain locked in a brutal battle in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian army said its positions in that area had been shelled 151 times during the previous 24 hours. Russian claims that its forces had surrounded the city were denied by Ukrainian officials.
As Russia attempts to push forward, it has recently enjoyed some “tactical successes” in eastern Ukraine, according to Western officials.
However, the officials claimed there is still broad “parity” between Ukrainian and Russia forces in the battle zone and argued that Russia still does not have the means to commit significant additional resources into the fight to tip the balance.
That said, Ukraine and its Western allies are in a race against time.
The U.S. and its NATO partners are working to get new weaponry, including advanced Western tanks into Ukraine.
More than a hundred German-made Leopard 2 tanks and British Challenger 2 tanks could take “months” to reach the battlefield, say officials.
Ukrainian forces are also potentially more vulnerable to Russian attacks now because some of its best soldiers are resting and training on new Western weaponry ahead of a likely Ukrainian offensive in the coming weeks or months.
The Russians are also preparing for an “imminent offensive” said the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in one of its recent reports, stating that its assessment came from “western, Ukrainian and Russian sources.”
However, the uptick in Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine did not mean a major Russian offensive was already underway, Western officials told journalists.
If Russia wants to launch a successful offensive, it will need to mobilize more soldiers, via a fresh draft, the officials claimed.
“The Russians’ ability to supply their troops and provide appropriate logistics to their forces in the battle zone limits their ability to change the course of the conflict,” they told reporters on Tuesday.
Wagner chief says he’s turning Russian convict fighters destined for Ukraine into ‘cannibals’
Caitlin McFall – January 31, 2023
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin championed the training efforts of his newest recruits swept from Russia’s penal system and slotted for deployment on Ukraine’s front lines and said they “will make real cannibals.”
The term is not meant as a literal interpretation, explained Russia expert and former Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer for Russian Doctrine & Strategy Rebekah Koffler.
In a video shared by the Daily Mail Tuesday, Prigozhin spoke as Wagner forces trained behind him and said, “This is a supplementary training base for our fighters.”
“The primary training is in Molkino and here experienced fighters are given additional training in their specialties,” he said in reference to where Wagner’s main base in Russia is located. “Here they make real cannibals.”
Wagner began offering Russian convicts a chance to fight in Ukraine and in exchange secure their release from prison — no matter the charge.
So long as a convict can survive on the front lines for a six-month stint, they can return home without fulfilling their full prison term.
Though Wagner forces receive ammunitions and equipment from the Russian defense ministry they do not work with or function as a part of the Russian military forces.
Prigozhin, a Putin ally, has concentrated his forces in the most harshly fought over regions in Ukraine like Donetsk and claimed recent victories for Russia were down to his forces, not Russia’s military.
Though the Russian military has sought to distance itself from the brutal mercenary group it claimed earlier this month that Russian military units and Wagner Forces worked as in a “heterogeneous” effort to secure the fiercely contested town of Soledar.
The U.S. estimates that there are some 50,000 hired soldiers in Ukraine, roughly 10,000 are believed to be professional contractors while 40,000 are convicts recruited to backfill flagging numbers on the ground.
Russia plans to receive Iranian ballistic missiles against which Ukraine’s air defense is powerless
Ukrainska Pravda – January 30, 2023
There remains a threat of Russia receiving Iranian ballistic missiles, against which Ukrainian air defence in its current form is powerless.
Source: Colonel Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force, on air of the national joint 24/7 newscast
Details: Ihnat reminded that Ukraine’s air defence forces cannot counter the hostile ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft missiles flying along a ballistic trajectory. He emphasised the importance of providing our country with the Patriot PAC-3 and SAMP-T systems.
Quote: “The main threat that hangs in the air and can still be implemented is, of course, Iranian-made missiles. Russia has not abandoned its intentions to receive kamikaze drones from Iran and, in a certain way, the missiles that were announced earlier: Fateh and Zolfaghar models.
This is ballistics, we have no means against ballistics today. We understand that Russia also has ballistics in the form of the same Kinzhal missiles. This is basically a system, but air-based, which hits on a ballistic trajectory. Similarly, Kh-22 missiles… and S-300, S-400 missiles are anti-aircraft missiles that hit on a ballistic trajectory.
These are the challenges and threats we face today. It is possible to destroy them [the systems – ed.] in positions as well, but our partners also understand that means against ballistic threats are needed. Such as Patriot PAC-3 and SAMP-T.
We see a shift, Italy and France have also declared their readiness to transfer these systems to Ukraine, which is now being actively discussed after the Ramstein. Therefore, the threat is there, it has not disappeared anywhere, and we must respond to it.”
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U.S. intel chief warns of ‘devastating’ impact of Russian missile attacks
Avril Haines said Thursday night that Moscow is making “very incremental progress” in its war on Ukraine.
Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent – January 27, 2023
AUSTIN, Texas — President Biden’s chief intelligence adviser raised fresh concerns Thursday night that Russian missile attacks are having a “devastating” impact on the Ukrainian economy, noting that the war has already reduced the country’s gross domestic product by nearly one-third.
Speaking during a question-and-answer session at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said U.S. officials so far “do not see any reduction in the resolve of the Ukrainians to fight this war.”
But at the same time, Haines seemed to offer a more sobering view of the conflict than most Biden administration officials have shared to date. She said the “brutal” missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure are taking a far bigger toll than has been publicly understood.
“What we do see is the impact it’s having on the economy,” she added. “The Ukrainian economy has already been devastated during this conflict. And we’re seeing a reduction of about 30% of the GDP. I mean, it’s really — it’s brutal, and if [the Russians] take down the [Ukrainian energy] grid, and if they have the impact that they’re looking to have on critical infrastructure, it will be really challenging.”
Haines’s comments came on a day when the Russians unleashed another barrage of missiles, killing 12 civilians, as part of a campaign targeting the energy grid with the apparent goal of leaving the country without power and water during the freezing winter months.
Her carefully couched comments on the difficulties facing Ukraine come during a crucial period when the Biden administration and Western allies are racing to step up their military aid to the Kyiv government. Just this week, the White House announced that the United States will send heavy-duty M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine — a move that helped persuade Germany to send some of its even more critically needed Leopard tanks to the country.
Haines touted the administration’s declassification of intelligence last year that revealed Russia’s intentions to invade Ukraine during a period when European allies were skeptical that President Vladimir Putin would actually go through with it. And she said the U.S. has continued to provide important tactical battlefield intelligence to the Ukrainian military.
But she also described the war as having devolved into a “grinding conflict” where the movements are in “hundreds of meters.” The frontlines, she noted, have mostly remained “relatively static” even while the Russians press an offensive in the eastern Donbas region in which they have made “very incremental progress.”
The occasion for Haines’s appearance was a forum on declassification of government records sponsored by a little-known federal agency called the Public Interest Declassification Board.
The board has pushed the intelligence community to address what it views as an alarming explosion in classified records that the government can’t even keep track of — an issue that has taken on new relevance with the discovery of classified documents at the homes and offices of former President Donald Trump, President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence.
On Wednesday, Haines, citing ongoing special counsel investigations, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that she could not accede to requests to share with the panel copies of the documents at issue or even describe them. Her stance drew criticism from senators on both sides of the aisle.
And she entirely avoided the subject of the Trump, Biden and Pence documents Thursday night, both in prepared remarks and in a later question-and-answer session with Adam Klein, the director of the University of Texas’s Strauss Center for International Security and Law, who never raised the subject. Haines left immediately after the session without taking questions from journalists.
But in her prepared remarks, she did acknowledge that “overclassification” had become a serious problem that has proliferated with an explosion in digital data. She promised new initiatives using technology and artificial intelligence to help reduce the number of such records, now literally in the tens of millions.
“Not only is this an important issue for our democracy, but it undermines our national security,” Haines said, adding that overclassification “erodes our basic trust that citizens have in our government.”
“To be clear, just because information is inconvenient or embarrassing is not a basis for classification,” she said.