“In my 50-plus years in the intelligence business, I cannot recall a more diverse array of challenges and crises that we confront as we do today,” Clapper told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on February 9 while discussing his agency’s annual worldwide threat assessment, RFE/RL reported.
Clapper said that Russia remains intent on pursuing an “assertive foreign policy” in 2016, including hampering Ukraine’s Western aspirations.
Despite reduced violence between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin will continue to maintain “long-term influence over Kyiv” and frustrate “Ukraine’s attempts to integrate with Western institutions.”
“Events in Ukraine raised Moscow’s perceived stakes for increasing its presence in the region to prevent future regime change in the former Soviet republics and for accelerating a shift to a multipolar world in which Russia is the uncontested regional hegemon in Eurasia,” Clapper said.
The United States and the European Union have targeted Russia with several rounds of sanctions following Moscow’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 9,000 since April 2014.
Washington, Brussels, Kyiv, and NATO accuse Russia of supplying the separatists with weapons, money, training, and soldiers, allegations the Kremlin denies despite substantial evidence of such support.
Clapper told lawmakers during the February 9 hearing that Russia is “paranoid” about being challenged by NATO, and that its efforts to challenge American power could drive it into a new Cold War.
“They’re greatly concerned about being contained,” he said.
Clapper added that Russia in 2016 will raise pressure on neighboring states to join the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, which former Soviet republics Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan have already joined.