US intelligence officials in January assessed that Russia did “not want a direct conflict with U.S. forces,” but instead, sought “U.S. recognition” of its “claimed sphere of influence” over much of the former Soviet Union.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday released its 2022 annual threat assessment, which was submitted in early February. The assessment only includes intelligence through the end of January—weeks before Russia launched its multi-front war against Ukraine.
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The intelligence community’s assessment states that Russia “will remain an influential power and a formidable challenge to the United States amidst the changing geopolitical landscape during the next decade.”
The IC assessed that Russia will continue to pursue its interests in “competitive and sometimes confrontational and provocative ways.”
The IC, at the time, said Russia would press “to dominate Ukraine and other countries in its ‘near-abroad,’ while exploring possibilities to achieve a more stable relationship with Washington.”
“We assess that Russia does not want a direct conflict with U.S. Forces,” the IC assessed in January. “Russia seeks an accommodation with the United States on mutual noninterference in both countries’ domestic affairs and U.S. recognition of Russia’s claimed sphere of influence over much of the former Soviet Union.”
The intelligence community explained that Russian officials have long believed that the United States is trying to undermine Russia, “weaken” Russian President Vladimir Putin, and “install Western-friendly regimes in the former Soviet states and elsewhere,”—moves, the IC said, Russian officials “conclude gives Russia leeway to retaliate.”
President Biden, in the weeks leading up to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and in the thirteen days since Putin launched the war, has maintained that U.S. forces will not fight inside Ukraine against Russia. Instead, the United States has deployed thousands of troops to Eastern Europe with the intent of defending NATO allies.
And while the Biden administration and its European allies and partners continue to provide military aid to Ukraine, the West has, so far, ruled out a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying enforcing one would put the U.S. and NATO in direct confrontation with Russia and would expand the conflict.
At the time of the assessment, Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine. The intelligence community, at the time said Russia was continuing to “prepare for a military attack against Ukraine, with well over 100,000 troops massed near the Ukraine border, including Russian military forces in Belarus, occupied-Crimea, and the separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.”
The intelligence community assessed that Moscow would “continue to employ an array of tools to advance its own interests or undermine the interests of the United States and its allies.”
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“These will be primarily military, security, and intelligence tools, with economic cooperation playing a smaller role,” the IC stated. “We expect Moscow to insert itself into crises when Russia’s interests are at stake, the anticipated costs of action are low, or it sees an opportunity to capitalize on a power vacuum.”
The assessment added that Russia “probably will continue to expand its global military, intelligence, security, commercial, and energy footprint and build partnerships aimed at undermining U.S. influence and boosting its own.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence community assesses that Russia will remain “the largest and most capable” rival in weapons of mass destruction to the United States “for the foreseeable future,” as it “expands and modernizes its nuclear weapons capabilities and increases the capabilities of its strategic and nonstrategic weapons.”
“Russia also remains a nuclear-material security concern,” the IC reported, noting that Russia “views its nuclear capabilities as necessary for maintaining deterrence and achieving its goals in a potential conflict against the United States and NATO,” and sees a “credible nuclear weapons deterrent as the ultimate guarantor of the Russian Federation.”
The intelligence community stated that Russia is continuing its development of long-range nuclear-capable missile and underwater delivery systems meant to “penetrate or bypass U.S. missile defenses.”
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“Russia is expanding and modernizing its large, diverse, and modern set of nonstrategic systems, which are capable of delivering nuclear or conventional warheads,” the report states, adding that Moscow believes such systems “offer options to deter adversaries” and “control the escalation of potential hostilities.”
The intelligence community also found that Russia believes the expansion and modernization of its nonstrategic systems could “counter U.S. and allied troops near its border.”
The intelligence community also assessed that Russia would remain a “top cyber threat” in 2022, as it refines and employee its espionage, influence, and attack capabilities.
“We assess that Russia views cyber disruptions as a foreign policy lever to shape other countries’ decisions, as well as a deterrence and military tool,” the report states.
The intelligence community found that Russia is particularly focused on improving its ability “to target critical infrastructure, including underwater cables and industrial control systems” in the United States, as well as in U.S. allied and partner countries. The IC found that Russia’s successful compromise of that infrastructure would demonstrate Russia’s “ability to damage infrastructure during a crisis.”
The IC, at the time, said Russia is also using cyber operations to “attack entities it sees as working to undermine its interests or threaten the stability of the Russian Government.”
“Russia attempts to hack journalists and organizations worldwide that investigate Russian Government activity and in several instances, has leaked their information,” the report states.
This week, New York state said it is facing “increased risk” of cyberattacks from Russian retaliators, with NYPD officials warning that New York City is currently on “ultra-high alert.”
The IC also found that Russia presents “one of the most serious foreign influence threats to the United States, using its intelligence services, proxies, and wide-ranging influence tools to try to divide Western alliances, and increase its sway around the world, while attempting to undermine U.S. global standing, amplify discord inside the United States, and influence U.S. voters and decision making.”
“We assess that Moscow probably will build on these approaches to try to undermine the United States as opportunities arise—Russia and its influence actors are adept at capitalizing on current events in the United States to push Moscow-friendly positions to Western audiences,” the assessment states.
The IC in January also found that Moscow would continue “online influence operations” in the United States, and in other countries, like Belarus and Ukraine, and other countries of key Russian interest.”
The annual threat assessment was released just after Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and other top U.S. intelligence officials testified before the House Intelligence Committee and warned that the coming weeks of Putin’s war will get “ugly” as he takes an even more aggressive approach to try to take over Ukraine.
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“Our analysts assessed that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate, essentially doubling down to achieve Ukrainian disarmament neutrality to prevent it from further integrating with the U.S. and NATO if it doesn’t reach some diplomatic negotiation,” Haines testified.
Haines noted that while Putin may take a tougher stance now, he may be lowering his expectations in terms of possible outcomes as he sees more and more obstacles in his way.
“What he might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time, given the significant costs he is incurring,” Haines said.
Meanwhile, the annual threat assessment was not just limited to Russia, but addressed other global threats facing the United States for 2022, including China, North Korea, Iran and more.
“In the coming year, the United States and its allies will face an increasingly complex and interconnected global security environment marked by the growing specter of great power competition and conflict, while collective, transnational threats to all nations and actors compete for our attention and finite resources,” the intelligence assessment states.
The assessment states that China is increasingly a “near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas—especially economically, militarily, and technologically—and is pushing to change global norms and potentially threatening its neighbors.”
And as many have said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has emboldened China with regard to its ambition to take Taiwan, the intelligence community warned that Beijing is using a coordinated approach to compel neighbors to “acquiesce” to its preferences, “including its territorial and maritime claims and assertions of sovereignty over Taiwan.”
“Beijing will press Taiwan to move toward unification and will react to what it views as increased U.S.– Taiwan engagement,” the IC states. “We expect that friction will grow as China continues to increase military activity around the island, and Taiwan’s leaders resist Beijing’s pressure for progress toward unification.”
The assessment added that China’s “control over Taiwan probably would disrupt global supply chains for semiconductor chips because Taiwan dominates production.”
“In the South China Sea, Beijing will continue to use growing numbers of air, naval, and maritime law enforcement platforms to intimidate rival claimants and signal that China has effective control over contested areas,” the assessment states. “China is similarly pressuring Japan over contested areas in the East China Sea.”
The IC also assessed that China presents “the broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. Government and private sector networks.”
“China’s cyber pursuits and export of related technologies increase the threats of attacks against the U.S. homeland, suppression of U.S. web content that Beijing views as threatening to its control, and the expansion of technology-driven authoritarianism globally,” the report states.
The intelligence community also found that “instability and conflicts continue to threaten U.S. persons and interests,” some of which have “direct implications for U.S. security.”
“For example, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan threatens U.S. interests, including the possibility of terrorist safe havens re-emerging and a humanitarian disaster,” the assessment states.