Russian troops in Ukraine are burning ammunition faster than the country’s defense industry can replace it, Avril Haines, director of US national intelligence, said Saturday.
Russia is using up munitions “quite quickly,” prompting Moscow to look to other countries for help, including North Korea, Haines told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell during a panel at the Reagan Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
When asked how fast Russia was using up ammunition, Haines replied: “I don’t think I can give you precise numbers on this forum. But quite quickly. I mean, it’s really pretty extraordinary.
She added: “And our own feeling is that they are not able to natively produce what they are spending at this stage.
So that will be a challenge.”
The Pentagon said last month that Russia is firing as many as 20,000 artillery shells a day, despite a series of battlefield setbacks. Echoing earlier statements from Biden administration officials, Haines said Russia was using up precision munitions even faster than its conventional munitions.
The Biden administration previously said Russia has turned to North Korea to secure more artillery ammunition. Haines said the extent of North Korea’s aid seemed limited, but it was something the intelligence community would continue to watch closely.
“We’ve indicated that we’ve seen some movement, but it’s not much at this stage,” she said of North Korea’s role.
The looming ammunition shortage was just one of many challenges facing the Russian military, Haines said, citing problems with morale and logistics.
The intelligence chief said the pace of war in Ukraine appeared to slow with the onset of winter and that both armies would try to reset and regroup for more fighting in the spring. But she said the intelligence community was “fairly skeptical” that Russian forces would be adequately prepared for new clashes in March.
According to Haines, Russian President Vladimir Putin was “surprised” by the disappointing performance of his army after the invasion of Ukraine in February.
“I think he is becoming more and more aware of the challenges facing the military in Russia. But it’s still not clear to us at this stage if he has a full picture of how challenging they are,” Haines said.
Putin has not changed his political goal of effectively controlling Ukraine, but it is unclear whether he would accept the scaled back military ambitions, Haines said.
“I think our analysts would say he would be willing to do that on a temporary basis, with the idea that he would come back to this issue at a later date,” she said.
While the recent protests don’t seriously question Putin’s grip on power, there has been increasing criticism from political figures about the conduct of the war in Russia, which Haines says could influence his decision-making on the conflict.
She also said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent warnings against the use of nuclear weapons would be important to Putin.
“I think it’s fair to say, from our perspective, Xi’s voice on this will clearly be one of the most convincing for Putin on this issue,” Haines said.
China and TikTok
Turning to China’s recent protests over Covid-19 quarantine rules, Haines said the public displays of anger posed no risk to the regime’s overall stability or survival. But she said: “How it develops will be important for Xi’s position.”
The widespread protests contradicted the Chinese government’s narrative of how the country functions more smoothly than more chaotic democracies, and Covid-19 restrictions negatively impacted China’s economy, Haines said.
Despite the challenges of containing the virus, addressing public anger over quarantine protocols and ensuring economic growth, Xi was “unwilling to bring a better vaccine from the west,” she said.
The director of US intelligence, the first woman to hold the job, also said there were good reasons to be concerned about China-owned Tik-Tok.
When asked if parents should be concerned about their kids using the popular video platform, Haines said, “I think you should be.”
China is developing frameworks for foreign data collection and had the capacity to “turn that around and use it to target audiences for information campaigns or other things, but also have it for the future so they can use it for different purposes use what they’re interested in,” Haines said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray recently warned he had serious concerns about Tik-Tok, saying the Chinese government could use it to collect data on millions of users or check its recommendation algorithm, which could be used to influence public opinion. intentionally influenced.
Haines said more than two months of women-led protests in Iran were “remarkable” but that the Iranian regime did not see the unrest as an immediate threat to staying in power. However, the deteriorating economy and protests over time could fuel unrest and instability, she said.
According to Haines, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Iranian intelligence services have taken an “extremely aggressive” attitude towards critics at home and abroad.
Haines’ office is overseeing an assessment of the potential risk to national security from the disclosure of documents taken from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. But she and other intelligence officials have declined to comment on the case, which is a Justice Department investigation.
NBC News’ Mitchell asked Haines what would happen if an intelligence officer deleted classified documents and then resisted returning them.
After a long pause, Haines laughed and said, “Please don’t do this!”