Ukraine-Russia War: Putin preparing for prolonged war in Ukraine- US spy chief

Missiles pummeled the strategic port city of Odesa * Nuclear weapons part of military doctrine, says Russian Deputy FM *

Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this still image obtained from a recent drone video posted on social media. (photo credit: MARIUPOL CITY COUNCIL/VIA REUTERS)
Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this still image obtained from a recent drone video posted on social media.
(photo credit: MARIUPOL CITY COUNCIL/VIA REUTERS)

The United States believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for a long conflict in Ukraine and a Russian victory in the Donbas in the east of the country might not end the war, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Tuesday, in the Senate Armed Services Committee's annual worldwide threats hearing.

"We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas," Haines told lawmakers.

She added that Putin was counting on the Western resolve to weaken over time.

"Combined with the reality that Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia's current conventional military capabilities, likely means the next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory," Haines added.

During the same hearing, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said the war was at a stalemate.

"The Russians aren't winning and the Ukrainians aren't winning and we're at a bit of a stalemate here," said Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, the head of the DIA.

He added that so far, between eight and 10 Russian generals have been killed in the deadly war.

Asked about the prospect of Putin using tactical nuclear weapons, Berrier said: "Right now, we do not see that."

Haines said earlier that the intelligence community believes Putin would authorize the use of nuclear weapons only if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state.

Ukraine death toll - UN official

Thousands more civilians have been killed in Ukraine during nearly 11 weeks of war there than the official UN death toll of 3,381, the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in the country said on Tuesday.

The UN team, which includes 55 monitors in Ukraine, has said most of the deaths have occurred from the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area such as missiles and airstrikes.

"We have been working on estimates, but all I can say for now is that it is thousands higher than the numbers we have currently given to you," Matilda Bogner told a news briefing in Geneva, when asked about the total number of deaths and injuries.

 Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine March 4, 2022, in this screengrab from a video obtained from social media (credit: ZAPORIZHZHYA NPP VIA YOUTUBE/VIA REUTERS) Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine March 4, 2022, in this screengrab from a video obtained from social media (credit: ZAPORIZHZHYA NPP VIA YOUTUBE/VIA REUTERS)

"The big black hole is really Mariupol where it has been difficult for us to fully access and to get fully corroborated information," she added, referring to the port city in southeast Ukraine that has seen the heaviest fighting of the war.

"In Mariupol Russian forces continue their efforts to bombard the Ukrainian forces in the Azovstal plant," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine updated on their Facebook page.

Moscow denies targeting civilians and calls its invasion, launched on Feb. 24, a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls anti-Russian nationalists fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say this is a false pretext for waging an unprovoked war of aggression.

Bogner said her team was also investigating what he described as "credible allegations" of torture, ill-treatment and executions by Ukrainian forces against the Russian invading forces and affiliated armed groups.

Her team has reports of over 300 unlawful killings in settlements north of Kyiv, including Bucha, she said and expected this number to rise.

They met a 70-year-old man who hid for more than three weeks in a basement that was so crowded he had to sleep standing up, tying himself to wooden rails to prevent himself falling over. Bogner also voiced concern that both sides were using schools as army bases, with heavy military equipment in some cases.

Her team was also investigating what she described as "credible allegations" of torture, ill-treatment and executions by Ukrainian forces against the Russian invading forces and affiliated armed groups.

"In terms of the extent of violations by Ukrainian forces, while the scale is significantly higher on the side of allegations against Russian forces, we are also documenting violations by Ukrainian forces," she said.

Nuclear weapons part of Russia's military doctrine - Deputy FM

Asked if Russia would rule out a preemptive tactical nuclear strike on Ukraine, Russia's deputy foreign minister said on Tuesday that a decision on the possible use of nuclear weapons was clearly set out in Russia's military doctrine, RIA reported.

"We have a military doctrine - everything is written there," Alexander Grushko was quoted by state news agency RIA as saying.

Russia's official military deployment principles allow for the use of nuclear weapons if they - or other types of weapons of mass destruction - are used against it, or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.

The decision to use Russia's vast nuclear arsenal, the biggest in the world, rests with the Russian president, currently Vladimir Putin.

 Debris is seen next to a partially collapsed building is seen, after a school building was hit as a result of shelling, in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine, May 8, 2022.  (credit: STATE EMERGENCY SERVICES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Debris is seen next to a partially collapsed building is seen, after a school building was hit as a result of shelling, in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. (credit: STATE EMERGENCY SERVICES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Firefighters battled blazes in Odesa until the early hours on Tuesday after Russian missiles pounded the Ukrainian port on the day President Vladimir Putin led celebrations in Moscow marking Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

In a defiant Victory Day speech on Monday, Putin exhorted Russians to battle for their homeland but was silent about plans for any escalation. In Ukraine, there was no let-up in fighting, with Russian strikes on targets in the east and south and a renewed push by Kremlin's forces to defeat the last Ukrainian troops holding out in a steelworks in ruined Mariupol.

At least 100 civilians remained trapped in the plant, which remained under heavy Russian fire, an aide to the Mariupol mayor said on Tuesday.

Air raid sirens could be heard across several regions of Ukraine early on Tuesday including Luhansk, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk, said the region was attacked 22 times in the past 24 hours.

"During the day on May 9th, the Russians fired en masse on all possible routes out of the region."

In Moscow, during Monday's annual parade - with the usual ballistic missiles and tanks rumbling across the cobblestones - Putin told Russians they were again fighting "Nazis".

"You are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, castigators and Nazis," Putin said.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his own speech on Monday, promised Ukrainians would triumph.

"On the Day of Victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win," said Zelensky.

In Odesa, the major Black Sea port for exporting agricultural products, one person was killed and five people were injured when seven missiles hit a shopping center and a depot, Ukraine's armed forces said on Facebook.

Video footage from the scene showed fire and rescue workers combing through piles of rubble dousing still smoking wreckage. Ukrainian emergency services said all the fires set off by the strikes were extinguished early on Tuesday.

Ukraine and its allies have been trying to find a way to unblock ports or provide alternate routes for exporting its significant crops of grain, wheat and corn.

European Council President Charles Michel visited Odesa on Monday, and his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was interrupted by the missile attack.

Their talks continued in a bomb shelter, according to Shmyhal's official Twitter account.

In the town of Bogodukhov, northwest of Kharkiv, four people were killed and several homes were destroyed in Russian attacks on Monday, local media quoted Kharkiv officials as saying.

Ukraine's defense ministry said Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery were conducting "storming operations" at Mariupol's Azovstal plant, where hundreds of Ukrainian defenders have held out through months of siege.

Capturing Mariupol, located the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, and parts of eastern Ukraine under the control of Moscow-backed separatists would allow Russia to link the two areas.

'REVISIONIST DISINFORMATION'

The number of Ukrainians who have fled their country since Russia's invasion on Feb. 24 was approaching 6 million, according to the United Nations, which has been called the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.

Moscow's gains from the invasion, however, have been slow at best and it has little to show for it beyond a strip of territory in the south and marginal gains in the east.

US President Joe Biden said he was worried Putin "doesn't have a way out right now, and I'm trying to figure out what we do about that".

Sources say US Democratic lawmakers have agreed on a $40 billion aid proposal for Ukraine, including a massive new weapons package. 

The White House had earlier described Putin's remarks during his Victory Day speech as "revisionist history that took the form of disinformation."

The Soviet victory in World War II has acquired almost mythical status in Russia under Putin, who has invoked the memory of the "Great Patriotic War" throughout what he calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Western countries consider that a false analogy to justify unprovoked aggression.

"There can be no victory day, only dishonor and surely defeat in Ukraine," said British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

In Poland, the Russian ambassador was surrounded by protesters at a memorial ceremony and doused in red paint. Ambassador Sergei Andreev, his face dripping and his shirt stained, said he was "proud of my country and my president".

Sheltering in a metro station in Kharkiv - Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking second city which has been bombed relentlessly since the war's first days - Kateryna Grigoriyevna, 79, sat eating an ice cream she had ventured out to buy for Victory Day.

"We hate Putin," she said, glancing around the platform where some 200 people clustered in tents and on thin mattresses.

"I would kill him myself if I could."