Vladimir Putin ‘gearing up for a prolonged war and will not stop at Donbas’

She added: “Combined with the reality that Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions, and Russia’s current conventional military capabilities, the next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory.”

Appearing before the armed services committee in the US Congress, Ms Haines said that she expected more “ad hoc decision-making” by Putin, and an increasing potential for him to use “more drastic means, including imposing martial law, reorienting industrial production, or potentially escalatory military options”.

She said that Putin would also use “nuclear rhetoric” to deter the West from intensifying support for Ukraine.

However, he “would probably only authorise the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state or regime,” she said.

She added: “We’re supporting Ukraine, but we also don’t want to ultimately end up in World War III.”

US intelligence officials believe that Putin currently has four “near-term” objectives. He wants to take over Donbas, encircle Ukrainian forces west of Donbas, and consolidate a land bridge from Donbas to Crimea.

The fourth goal is to extend the land bridge west to take Odesa and reach Transnistria, cutting off Ukraine from the sea in the process.

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