CIA Director William Burns: The next 6 months will be “critical” for the war in Ukraine

CIA Director William Burns said Thursday that the next six months will be “critical.” war in Ukraine Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that declining Western interest and “political fatigue” could give his military a new chance to win on the battlefield.

“Putin, I think, is betting now that he can make time work for him,” Burns said. “It seems to us that the key will be on the battlefield in the next six months.”

“Putting through Putin’s arrogance, making it clear that not only will he not be able to advance further in Ukraine, but every month he is more and more at risk of losing the territory he has illegally seized in Ukraine so far,” he continued. “So this next period, I think, will be absolutely crucial.”

CIA Director William Burns
CIA Director William Burns speaks during the Traynor Award Ceremony at Georgetown University on February 2, 2023 in Washington, DC.

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A career diplomat and former ambassador to Russia said Western intelligence showed Moscow was not interested in peace talks, despite periodic reports to the contrary.

“We don’t think Putin is serious about negotiations, despite what you sometimes hear about it,” Burns said.

His remarks came amid warnings from Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing to launch a major offensive aimed at the eastern part of the country, where missile attacks have already strengthened this week. The war will enter its second year at the end of this month.

Burns participated in a moderated discussion at Georgetown University on Thursday, where he was presented with the Treynor Award for Distinguished Achievement in Diplomacy. Burns, a former deputy secretary of state, also served as ambassador to Jordan and worked during the Obama administration to begin backroom negotiations with Iran that paved the way for the 2015 nuclear deal.

On Thursday, he called the apparent deepening of military ties between Russia and Iran “a particular concern.” Iran is known to have drones provided and appropriate training of Putin’s forces in Ukraine.

Burns said that while in Kiev “about 30 hours” the last month Meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and his advisers, at least six of those hours were spent “in bomb shelters” as Russian forces carried out two separate strikes on civilian targets using Iranian Shahed 136 drones.

On Iran, he said that internal instability caused by widespread demonstrations had made Tehran’s regime “increasingly restless.”

“What happens domestically leads to more aggressive behavior externally,” he said.

“I do think that as we look ahead to 2023 — and this was reinforced on my last trip — the Middle East will once again become a particularly difficult set of issues for American policymakers as well,” Burns said.

He spoke ominously about recent talks he had in the region with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, which he said made him “very concerned” about the possibility of increased violence.

“Much of what we see today bears a very sad resemblance” to the events that preceded the second intifada more than two decades ago, he said. “I’m worried about that.”

Burns also warned that a Russian-backed mercenary organization known as Wagner group “extended its influence” to a number of African countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso.

“This is a very unhealthy development and we are working very hard to counter it because it is now threatening Africans across the continent,” he said.

The CIA chief also said China remains the “biggest geopolitical challenge” facing the US in the coming decades, calling the competition with Beijing “unique in its scope”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping “lacks ambition, but he’s not 10 feet tall,” Burns said. “He has a lot of problems at home, whether it’s the zero-spread policy of COVID that didn’t go as planned, the economic growth numbers — which may improve in the next few years — but have been historically low in recent years as well. We have a good hand, but we just have to play it systematically and thoughtfully.”

He said Xi is closely following Putin’s experience in Ukraine and, while likely “concerned” by Russia’s murky military activities, still remains “committed” to the partnership the two countries announced last year.

“But in truth, there are some limitations to that as well, simply because I think — as far as we can tell today, anyway — Xi Jinping and the Chinese leadership have been very reluctant to provide Russia with such lethal weapons. to use in Ukraine, which, as we know, the Russians are very interested in,” Burns said.

As for Xi Jinping’s own regional ambitions, Burns said US intelligence has shown that Xi has instructed the People’s Liberation Army to be ready for a successful military invasion of Taiwan by 2027.

“It doesn’t mean he’s decided to invade in 2027 or any other year, but it’s a reminder of the seriousness of his focus and his ambitions,” Burns said.

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