CIA Director Bill Burns warned on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked a lot on the second phase of his war in Ukraine and believes that “doubling down” on the military conflict is still his best path forward.
It is this mindset, Burns said, that makes the second phase of the offensive at least as risky — and maybe even riskier — than the first phase of the conflict.
"He's in a frame of mind in which he doesn't believe he can afford to lose," Burns said about Putin during a Financial Times event in Washington. "I think he's convinced right now that doubling down still will enable him to make progress."
“His convictions about Ukraine and the reality of Russia’s capability to continue to grind away at Ukrainian resistance — I don’t know whether that’s been shaken yet,” he added. “So the stakes are quite high.”
That view is informed by what Burns said he has observed about Putin over the last several years.
"What I've seen, especially over the last decade, is him in a way stewing in a very combustible combination of grievance and ambition and insecurity all kind of wrapped together," he said.
Burns also said that the risk of the war escalating into a nuclear conflict should not be underestimated during the second phase, even though the US intelligence community does not see “practical evidence at this point of Russian planning for deployment … of tactical nuclear weapons.”
“Given the kind of saber-rattling … we’ve heard from the Russian leadership, we can’t take lightly those possibilities,” Burns said. “At a moment when … the stakes are very high for Putin’s Russia and those risks at this second phase of the conflict are serious and should not be underestimated.”
Ramifications outside Russia: Burns also said that Russia’s conflict in Ukraine has affected China’s calculations when it comes to “how and when” it goes about attempting to take control of Taiwan.
“Clearly the Chinese leadership is trying to look carefully about the lessons they should draw from Ukraine about their own ambitions in Taiwan,” Burns said.
“I don’t think for a minute it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan but I think its something that’s affecting their calculation about how and when they go about doing that,” he added.