The United States does not “take lightly” the possibility that Russia could seek to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine as Moscow continues to face difficulties on the battlefield, CIA Director Bill Burns said Thursday.
"Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they've faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low yield nuclear weapons,” he said in public remarks at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The CIA “watch[es] for that very intently,” Burns said. But he emphasized that the US has yet to see any signs that Russia is preparing to take such a step.
"While we've seen some rhetorical posturing on the part of the Kremlin about moving to higher nuclear alert levels, so far we haven't seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce that concern—but we watch for that very intently,” Burns said.
Still, in the same remarks, Burns warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly isolated and his "risk appetite has grown as his grip on Russia has tightened.”
“His circle of advisors has narrowed and in that small circle it has never been career-enhancing to question his judgment or his stubborn, almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia's sphere of influence,” Burns said.