Saturday

17th Apr 2021

US spy chiefs predict Syria, Ukraine wars to drag on

  • 'Putin is the first leader since Stalin to expand Russia’s territory,' Clapper noted (Photo: prameya)

The Syria war will get worse in 2016 and the Ukraine war won’t end, US intelligence chiefs have said, in what one of them called a “litany of doom”.

“Unpredictable instability has become the ‘new normal,’ and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future,” James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, told the Senate’s armed services committee in his yearly briefing on Tuesday (9 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Syria war is 'message to the West' on Russia's conventional capabilities (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He described his threat assessment as a “litany of doom”.

“In Syria, pro-regime forces have the initiative, having made some strategic gains near Aleppo and Latakia in the north, as well as in southern Syria,” he said.

He said the regime, despite being backed by Russian air power, is too weak to “accomplish strategic battlefield objectives”. But he said the other side cannot win either.

“The opposition has less equipment and fire-power, and its groups lack unity. They sometimes have competing battlefield interests and fight among themselves,” he said.

Noting that the war has displaced 11 million people, he added: “The record level of migrants, more than 1 million arriving in Europe, is likely to grow further this year.”

He said Islamic State was “somewhat on the defensive, and its territory and manpower are shrinking” but it was still a bigger threat than al-Qaeda.

He noted that its “foreign fighters”, which number 38,200, including 6,900 from Western countries, were its core threat in terms of overseas attacks.

“There are now more Sunni [Muslim] violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens than at any time in history,” he said.

Russia and Ukraine

Clapper also predicted that Russia would not back down in Ukraine.

“Moscow’s objectives in Ukraine will probably remain unchanged, including maintaining long-term influence over Kiev and frustrating its attempts to integrate into Western institutions,” he told the US senators.

“[Russian president] Putin is the first leader since Stalin to expand Russia’s territory,” he noted.

He said that despite its economic downturn, Russia continued its "aggressive military modernisation programme” and “continues to have the largest, and most capable, foreign nuclear-armed ballistic missile force”.

Vincent Stewart, the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, echoed Clapper.

He said the Syrian regime was “unlikely to be militarily defeated or collapse in the near-term”.

He also said the Russia-backed regime offensive was likely to see moderate “opposition groups cooperating or merging with terrorist groups” for the sake of survival.

Message to West

He said Putin’s intervention in Syria was designed to “showcase” new cruise missiles and heavy bombers.

“These operations are designed to … send a message to the West about the manner in which the Russian military could operate in a major conventional conflict.”

He noted that Putin had “de-emphasised” the military approach to Ukraine.

But he said Russia was still ready to “rapidly redeploy troops to the [Ukraine] border".

He also described the Minsk 2 ceasefire deal, brokered by France and Germany, as an opportunity for Russia to “institutionalise influence within Ukraine without risking more sanctions”.

Russia 'will inspire jihadis'

US secretary of state John Kerry is to meet his Russian counterpart at a security conference in Munich, Germany, later this week.

But State Department spokesman James Kirby said on Tuesday the US did not expect Russia to contribute to the Syria peace process.

“We continue to see them act as if they believe there is a military solution to this conflict,” he said.

He noted that “many European nations are dealing with [a] heavy refugee flow, and we recognise that”.

But he added that prolongation of the Syria war posed a threat for Russia as well.

“They’ll get dragged into a conflict that won’t end … They will inspire the attraction of foreign fighters and jihadis, not just to Syria but even perhaps in their own country,” he said.

EU, US and Russia to 'pause' Syria war

Syria hostilities are to “pause” in one week and aid agencies are to have full access under a new accord which, Germany "hopes," will lead to fewer people fleeing to Europe.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us