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Angus King: Whether Ukraine falls or not, 'Putin has lost the war either way'

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks as U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton appears before a Senate Rules and Administration Committee oversight hearing on the Jan. 6, attack on the Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
Andrew Harnik
/
AP
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks as U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton appears before a Senate Rules and Administration Committee oversight hearing on the Jan. 6, attack on the Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.

U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine says Americans should prepare for Russia to exert more brutality against Ukrainian cities and people, and for possible cyberattacks here at home, as Russian President Vladimir Putin prosecutes a war that King believes he's already lost.

During a press conference with Maine reporters Thursday, King described Putin as the most dangerous man in the world.

But while Russia's invasion of Ukraine might initially yield a military victory against its outgunned and outmanned neighbor, King says that Putin has grossly underestimated the resistance of the Ukrainian people, as well as a unified western alliance that has already deployed sanctions to cripple the Russian economy.

The result could be a protracted Ukrainian insurgency campaign against a military occupation that U.S. military leaders hope will have fewer financial resources and become increasingly unpopular with Russian citizens.

"That's why I say I think Putin has lost the war either way," King says. "He may gain control of Kyiv or other cities, but in the long run holding those gains is going to be very, very difficult."

King is a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees and both receive classified briefings from U.S. military leaders and intelligence officials.

Committee members are not allowed to disclose information from those briefings, but their views are often shaped by them.

King believes there's a good chance Russia will intensify its bombing campaign, essentially replicating its punishing offensive on cities in Chechnya in the late 90s.

The difference now, however, is that most nations are aligned against Russia's invasion and some, including the U.S., are providing financial and military aid to the Ukrainian resistance.

But while Russia is largely isolated, King says Putin could become more desperate and strike back against the U.S. or its allies.

"It's very likely that Vladimir Putin is going to lash out. One way may be, as I mentioned, carpet bombing Ukraine and civilians. But another could be a cyberattack on our country or on other western countries because that's certainly in the Russian playbook," he says.

King has long worried about cyberattacks against private institutions like banks, or public infrastructure, and he says cybersecurity in both areas is uneven across the country.

He also said it's unclear how the conflict will be resolved given that U.S. intelligence views Putin's invasion as the fulfillment of his long-held dream of reconstituting the former Soviet Union and that withdrawing from Ukraine would be an embarrassing defeat.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.