Ukraine faces an “ugly next few weeks” as Russia’s military offensive intensifies, leading to increasingly fierce urban fighting and more civilian casualties, CIA director William Burns told US lawmakers on Tuesday.
Testifying in a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Burns argued that President Vladimir Putin is “angry and frustrated” over the slow progress of Russia’s Ukraine campaign and has “no sustainable political end game in the face of what’s going to continue to be fierce resistance from the Ukrainians.”
“Where that leads, I think, is for an ugly next few weeks in which he doubles down . . . with scant regard for civilian casualties, in which urban fighting can get even uglier,” Burns said. “The one thing I’m absolutely convinced of — and I think our analysts across the intelligence community are absolutely convinced of — is, the Ukrainians are going to continue to resist fiercely and effectively.”
Putin has said Russia attacked Ukraine to protect the breakaway Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) People’s Republics and to “demilitarize and denazify” Kiev amid a NATO-backed weapons buildup. He also claimed that the offensive is aimed only at military targets.
Burns accused Putin of predicating the Ukraine offensive on erroneous assumptions about Kiev’s fighting prowess and Western Europe’s response. He said Putin also bet that amassing large foreign currency reserves would “sanctions-proof” the Russian economy and that military modernization would enable a “quick, decisive victory at minimal cost.”
“He’s been proven wrong on every count,” Burns claimed. “Those assumptions have proved to be profoundly flawed over the last 12 days of conflict.” He added that rather than seizing Kiev within two days, as allegedly planned, Russia’s military has been unable to fully encircle the Ukrainian capital after nearly two weeks of fighting.
Burns blamed the war on Putin’s “deep personal conviction” to dominate and control Ukraine. “He’s been stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years,” the CIA director said, adding, “He doesn’t believe Ukraine is a real country. He’s dead wrong about that. Real countries fight back.”
Lt. General Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, accused Russia’s military of having a “bad plan” in Ukraine. He claimed Moscow has suffered 2,000 to 4,000 troop deaths so far. However, he conceded that the estimate was made with “low confidence” and was based on “some intelligence sources but also open source.”
Burns said Russian military casualties in Ukraine have been far higher than Putin anticipated. “He’s likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,” the CIA director added.