The US intel community suggests Russia is unlikely to seek direct military conflict with US and NATO, but the potential exists. This was stated in the Annual Threat Assessment report of the intelligence community issued on Wednesday, (08).
The report states Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is reshaping its relationships with the West and China, with uncertain consequences. The risk of military confrontation with the West is high, posing a threat not seen in decades.
“Russian leaders thus far have avoided taking actions that would broaden the Ukraine conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, but the risk for escalation remains significant,” the report said.
The report further suggests that Russian military failures in the war could damage Putin’s domestic standing, leading to further escalation in an attempt to regain public support.
Accusations of US and NATO intervention in Ukraine may also fuel this. Russia will likely continue to use military, security, malign influence, cyber, and intelligence tools to advance its interests and undermine those of the US and its allies.
Economic and energy leverage may no longer be as effective for Russia and Moscow is expected to insert itself into crises when it perceives its interests are at stake or there is a power vacuum.
The US report also noted that Russia will continue to employ energy as a foreign policy tool to undermine Western unity on Ukraine and coerce cooperation.
In the past, Russia’s state-owned exporter Gazprom cut off gas to several European countries that supported sanctions on Russia, leading to a surge in natural gas prices.
The report additionally claimed that Russia has employed food as a weapon by seizing Ukrainian ports, disrupting yields, and stealing grain, exacerbating global food shortages and price increases.
The report further alleged that Russia conducted malign influence operations during the 2022 US midterm elections and is increasingly using clandestine means to “penetrate the Western information environment.”
The latest annual report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also warned that Moscow plans to “strengthen ties” with American media and politics for “future influence operations.”
The 2023 report was issued four months after the 2022 midterm elections, which saw relatively subdued concerns about Russian influence efforts compared to the 2016 and 2020 presidential election cycles.