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Story highlights

Clapper portrayed the increased Russian support for close ally President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's roiling civil war as impulsive

President Barack Obama said earlier this month that Russia was heading for a "quagmire" in the country

(CNN) —  

Moscow’s escalating militancy in Syria comes not because of careful strategic decisions but rather because Russian President Vladimir Putin is “winging this,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN Thursday in an exclusive interview.

Clapper said Putin was “very impulsive and opportunistic” as he increased Russian support for close ally President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s roiling civil war.

“I personally question whether he has some long-term strategy or whether he is being very opportunistic on a day-to-day basis,” Clapper told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. “And I think his intervention into Syria is another manifestation of that.”

When asked if Putin had a plan for Syria, Clapper said Putin didn’t.

“What his long term plan is, I’m not sure he has one,” Clapper said. “I think he is kind of winging this day to day.”

Clapper said the Obama administration anticipated Russia’s involvement with Syria.

“We had that down pretty well, knew when the operations were going to start well before they did,” Clapper said.

But he said it is much tougher now to track ISIS in Syria and Iraq than it was five years ago. Without a human presence on the ground in Syria, Clapper said the U.S. has to use “a robust set of capabilities” to monitor activity.

ISIS is too dangerous to have people on the ground, Clapper said. The terrorist group has been known to kill people just because they suspect people of spying.

Clapper’s comments come as Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with Russian officials in Vienna Friday as part of international talks on a Syrian peace deal.

U.S. officials have in the past called Russia’s airstrikes a “strategic blunder,” with President Barack Obama saying earlier this month that Russia was heading for a “quagmire” in the country.

“It just won’t work, and they’re going to stay there for a while,” Obama said at a news conference.