Russian President Vladimir Putin is overestimating his forces’ ability to defeat Ukraine’s defenders, according to CIA Director William Burns.
One year after Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence chief predicted that the rising costs of the war increasingly would take an inescapable toll on Russia, despite Putin’s zeal for the campaign.
“I think Putin is, right now, entirely too confident of his ability, as I said before, to wear down Ukraine, to grind away and that’s what he’s giving every evidence that he’s determined to do right now,” Burns said in an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that aired Sunday.
Asked if there was opening for discussion with the Russians over Ukraine, CIA Dir. Burns says after meeting with Russia’s top spy chief 3 months ago, “No…it was pretty dispiriting.”
The spy chief seemed to reflect Putin’s view that “he can grind down the Ukrainians,” he adds. pic.twitter.com/cpHqGHT0kc
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 26, 2023
“At some point, he’s going to have to face up to increasing costs as well, in coffins coming home to some of the poorest parts of Russia because many of the conscripts, you know, who are being thrown as cannon fodder in the front and the Donbas as well, come from Dagestan and Buryatia, the poorest parts of Russia as well,” Burns continued.
“There’s a cumulative economic damage to Russia as well,” he added. “Huge reputational damage, I think to Russia. It has not exactly been a great advertisement for Russian arms sales. So this is going to build over time, but right now, the honest answer, I think Putin is quite determined.”
Russia began what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in a conflict that has led to tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people. Moscow’s forces managed to seize roughly a quarter of Ukraine, but the Ukrainians have been able to fend off their advance with the support of a coalition of countries led by the United States that has sent Ukraine billions of dollars of lethal aid and levied waves of sanctions against Russia.
Burns has played an integral role in assisting Ukraine over the past year. He reportedly took a secret trip there last month to brief officials on the future of the conflict.
During his interview on CBS, Burns noted before the invasion, he was dispatched to Ukraine to warn about intelligence showing Putin was planning a “lightning strike” from the Belarus border to seize Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv in a matter of days. He also divulged having a “pretty dispiriting” conversation in recent months with Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s external intelligence service, because of his pride and “defiant” attitude.
Looking ahead, Burns said what transpires on the battlefield this year would shape prospects for negotiations.
“I think, what’s going to be critical as we look ahead in 2023 and provide all the material and intelligence support that we can for our Ukrainian partners, is to puncture that hubris on Putin’s part and regain momentum on the battlefield,” he said.
Putin and President Joe Biden delivered speeches last week marking the first anniversary of the conflict’s start.
During his state-of-the-nation address to Russia’s National Assembly on Tuesday, Putin accused Ukraine’s “Western masters” of starting the war. “We are using force to end it,” he added, signaling Moscow has no plans to back down.
Biden made a surprise visit last week to Kyiv, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, after which he delivered a defiant speech in Warsaw, Poland. “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never,” Biden said on Tuesday.
Biden also urged the Russian people to reject Putin’s claims that the West started the war in Ukraine and threatens Russia’s very existence.
“I speak once more to the people of Russia,” Biden said. “The United States and the nations of Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia. The West was not plotting to attack Russia, as Putin said today. And millions of Russian citizens who only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy. This war was never a necessity. It’s a tragedy.”
In recent days, U.S. officials have said China is weighing sending weapons and ammunition to Russia to assist with its war efforts, claims which Beijing has publicly rejected.
Burns insisted to “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan that the United States is “confident” that Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment.
CIA Director William Burns says the U.S. is “confident” that China is “considering the provision of lethal equipment” to aid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Burns told @margbrennan that the U.S. is hoping to “deter” Beijing from making a “very risky and unwise bet.” pic.twitter.com/9iD5XLGAy0
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 25, 2023
“We also don’t see that a final decision has been made yet, and we don’t see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment.” he said, adding that the Biden administration is working to “make very clear” there would be consequences in a bid to deter such a transaction.
In addition, Burns said there is evidence showing the Iranians and North Koreans are providing lethal aid to Russia, assistance which “prolongs a vicious war of aggression.”