Putin thinks he’ll break America’s will in Ukraine, but he’s wrong, says CIA director
William J. Burns in Washington, DC on February 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Vladimir Putin thinks the Russian military’s reduced attrition strategy in Ukraine will crush Ukrainian forces and break the will of the US-led alliance – but he’s wrong, the CIA director said on Wednesday, William Burns, at the Aspen Security Forum.
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Vladimir Putin thinks the Russian military’s reduced attrition strategy in Ukraine will crush Ukrainian forces and break the will of the US-led alliance – but he’s wrong, the CIA director said on Wednesday, William Burns, at the Aspen Security Forum.
“Putin’s view of Americans is that we still have attention deficit disorder and will be distracted by other things,” Burns said during a live interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. . “My personal opinion is that Putin was wrong in his assumptions about the breakdown of the alliance and the Ukrainian will before the war started, and I think he is just as wrong now.”
After a disastrous start to the war based on a series of faulty assumptions, Russia settled into its traditional method of warfare in the eastern region of Ukraine, Burns said – directing massive artillery and air strikes. against cities, regardless of civilian casualties.
Russia had some success, he said, advancing six to 10 miles across a narrow strip of land in the Donbass region. But the gains were very expensive. The United States estimates that up to 15,000 Russian troops were killed and three times as many wounded, he said. He said Ukrainian losses would be almost as high.
“In one of my recent conversations with one of my Ukrainian counterparts, he pointed out that the stupid Russians were all dead,” Burns said. “And I think what he meant by that [is]… the Russians adapted … Putin reduced his targets.
But he said the Ukrainians should be able to continue to resist, “as long as we continue to support them with the weapons and ammunition they have used so effectively.”
Putin was wrong to think he could fracture the NATO alliance, Burns said — instead, NATO welcomes Finland and Sweden and has beefed up its troop deployments closer to Russia’s borders.
“He thought he could establish his dominance over Ukraine very quickly,” Burns said. “It’s hard not to see this as a strategic failure at this point for Putin and Russia.”
Burns said the CIA is not aware of any evidence that Putin is mentally or physically impaired.
“There are a lot of rumors about President Putin’s health and as far as we can tell he is too healthy.”
Lessons for China
Burns offered a fairly detailed assessment of what the CIA thinks China has learned from the Russian adventure in Ukraine.
He said he would not underestimate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s determination to assert Chinese control over Taiwan, and he said he believed “he is determined to ensure that his military has the ability to take such action if he decided to go in that direction”.
He said Russia’s experience in Ukraine is unlikely to influence the timing of China’s Taiwan ambitions, but could change how it decides to approach them.
He added: “I think Chinese leaders are trying to study the lessons of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what it is telling them…If there is a lesson that I think what they can learn from Putin’s experience in Ukraine is that you don’t get quick and decisive victories with disappointing strength.”
The idea that 190,000 Russian troops would effectively occupy and control 47 million rebellious Ukrainians never made sense, Burns said.
“So I suspect the lesson that the Chinese leadership and military are learning is that you have to amass overwhelming force. If you’re going to do that in the future. You have to control the information space. You have got to do whatever you can to protect your economy from the potential for sanctions, even though China’s economy is much stronger and more entangled with economies around the world than Russia ever was.
“And you must do everything you can to try to drive wedges across the Indo-Pacific between the United States and its allies.”
On Iran, Burns said the United States does not believe Iran has resumed efforts to build a nuclear weapon, but he said Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges means its time to escape – the time he would need to build a bomb – became very short.
“Trendlines are quite troubling,” he said.