CIA Director William Burns on Thursday denounced the “horrible” crimes committed by Russian forces inand all along warning that later phases of the war, which will soon enter its eighth week, would involve continued bloodshed.
“The final chapter in Putin’s war has yet to be written, as he works in Ukraine,” Burns said in prepared public remarks to mark his first year in office. “I have no doubt about the pain and cruel damage Putin can continue to inflict on Ukraine, or the raw brutality with which Russian force is being applied.”
Addressing students and faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Burns called China, led by President Xi Jinping, “a silent partner in Putin’s aggression” and said it represented the ” “greatest challenge” facing the United States and “the deepest test the CIA has ever faced.”
In his remarks, Burns outlined several major challenges the agency faces in what he called a “new era” – characterized, he said, by an increasingly antagonistic China, Russia” pugnacious and revisionist” and other technological challenges, climate and global health threats.
“The CIA will have to reinvent itself to compete successfully in this new era,” he said.
A career diplomat who previously served as US ambassador to Russia, Burns spoke at length about the “immediate” threat posed by Kremlin aggression and called Russian President Vladimir Putin an “apostle of recovery” whose risk appetite has grown as his circle of trusted advisors has shrunk over the years.
“Every day, Putin demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers,” he said.
Burns recounted how he came away “troubled” from an interaction with Putin in November, when President Biden sent thewarn the Russians of the consequences of possible military action in Ukraine.
“Although it does not yet appear that he has made the irreversible decision to invade Ukraine, Putin was defiantly leaning in that direction, apparently concerned that his window was closing to shape the direction of the Ukraine,” Burns said.
He said Putin seemed confident at the time that the Ukrainians would submit quickly; that his own army could achieve victory “at minimal cost”; that Europeans would remain “risk averse” and that its own economy was “sanctions proof” thanks to huge foreign currency reserves.
“When he launched his war seven weeks ago, Putin was wrong on every one of those counts,” Burns said.
He said scenes inand weeks under assault by the Russians, “sadly recall” the images he witnessed in Grozny, Chechnya, as a young diplomat in the winter of 1994.
“But the Ukrainian will is unshakeable and Putin’s Russia has inflicted enormous material and reputational damage on itself,” he said.
Burns touted what he said was the largely invisible work of US intelligence officers and repeatedly praised the effects of the Biden administration’s policy of publicly releasing declassified intelligence on Russia’s plans, which , according to him, have “paid off in some important respects”.
“Bywe made it harder for Putin to obscure the truth of his unprovoked and vicious aggression,” Burns said, adding that the strategy’s success reflected the need for “new thinking and new tactics” in a particularly demanding for information.
Last week, the intelligence communityit shared with Ukraine to reflect changing tactical realities and deal with an impending Russian offensive in the country’s east and south, US officials said.
“We are intensely sharing timely intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them defend themselves throughout their country, including in areas held by Russia prior to the 2022 invasion,” a US intelligence official told CBS News.
Burns told a question-and-answer session on Thursday that the Kremlin’s previous “rhetorical positions” on the potential use of nuclear weapons had not, to date, been accompanied by “practical evidence” of deployments or of military provisions, but said the CIA “would look at this very carefully”.
He also said the agency would increase the resources it devotes to China, which he said was seeking to overtake the United States “in literally every way.” He said the CIA aimed to “double” the number of its Mandarin-speaking officers and increase Beijing-focused overseas posts.
“Nothing will matter more to our long-term success as an intelligence agency than our ability to compete with the [People’s Republic of China] and how well we are organizing for this competition over the next few years,” Burns said.