CIA director calls Bucha killings ‘crimes’, Putin attacks

In his first public speech as director of the CIA, William J. Burns on Thursday called the killings of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha “crimes” and said Russia had “inflicted massive materiel and reputational damage on itself” following the invasion ordered by President Vladimir Putin seven weeks ago.

Burns, who engaged with Putin as the US ambassador to Russia, made a blatant accusation against the Russian leader and withdrew to former Russian atrocities.

“I have no doubt about the cruel pain and damage that Putin may continue to inflict on Ukraine, or the brutal brutality with which Russian power is being used,” Burns said during prepared remarks at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “The crimes in Bucha are horrific. The scenes of destruction in Mariupol and Kharkiv are sadly reminiscent of the pictures I saw in Grozny in Chechnya as a young diplomat in the winter of 1994-95: Forty square blocks in the center of the city flattened by Russian shelling and bombing, leaving thousands of civilian deaths. “

While leaders debate ‘genocide’, a growing focus on atrocities in Ukraine

Burns’ comments were in line with previous assessments by senior officials in the Biden administration, including President Biden, that Putin is responsible for war crimes in Ukraine. On Wednesday, Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the United States is likely to establish that genocide has been committed.

On April 12, in Des Moines, President Biden referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “dictator” committing “genocide” in Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: The Washington Post)

In a speech in Iowa on Tuesday, Biden called Russia’s attack on Ukraine a “genocide.” He later told reporters that he deliberately used the word and that he would “let the lawyers decide internationally whether it is qualified.”

“It definitely works that way for me,” Biden added.

Burns also spoke about his own interactions in Moscow with Putin and his advisers in early November, when the US intelligence service followed the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border in apparent preparations for invasion.

Burns said Biden sent him to Russia to convey “the depth of our concern over [Putin’s] planning war and the consequences for Russia of trying to execute that plan. I was worried about what I heard. “

Although at the time it did not appear that Putin had irrevocably decided to attack, Burns said he “defiantly leaned in that direction, seemingly convinced that this window was closing to shape Ukraine’s orientation.”

Putin seemed to believe that the winter offered a “favorable landscape” for invasion, and that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his fellow citizens were unlikely to raise “effective resistance.” Putin also assessed that the Russian military was “capable of a quick, decisive victory at minimal cost” and that he had made the Russian economy “sanctioned by a war chest of foreign exchange reserves,” Burns said.

Hubris and isolation led Vladimir Putin to misjudge Ukraine

These assumptions proved to be deeply flawed. The Russian military stalled quickly after the invasion on February 24 and was marked by logistical challenges and a fierce reaction from the Ukrainian military., which has killed thousands of Russian soldiers. The United States and European countries promptly sanctioned the Russian central bank and froze hundreds of billions of dollars in reserves that Putin had left exposed abroad.

Putin also misjudged Ukraine and its people, Burns said. “Ukraine, he had argued for years, was not a real country. But real countries are fighting back. And that is what Ukrainians have done with such remarkable bravery, led with such courage and determination by President Zelensky. “

The CIA director made several remarks to Putin personally, describing him as a “repayment apostle” driven by complaints that remain “firmly convinced that the West – especially the United States – took advantage of Russia’s moment of historical weakness in the 1990s. “

“His risk appetite has grown as his grip on Russia has been tightened,” Burns continued. “His circle of advisers has narrowed, and in the small circle it has never been career-promoting to question his judgment or his stubborn, almost mysterious belief that his fate is to restore Russia’s sphere of influence. “Every day, Putin demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers.”

A few days after the invasion of Ukraine, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to a higher alert, alerting world leaders and raising the prospect that the war could witness an unprecedented use of nuclear weapons.

But it is not clear that Putin’s order led to any change in Russia’s position, Burns said during a question-and-answer session.

“Although we have seen some rhetorical views on the part of the Kremlin on moving to higher levels of nuclear preparedness, so far we have not seen much practical evidence of such broadcasts or, you know, military dispositions that would reinforce that concern,” Burns said. “But we keep a close eye on it. It’s one of our most important responsibilities at the CIA.”

Burns, who was confirmed as CIA director in March 2021, had given congressional testimony, but his statements in Atlanta were the most comprehensive to date in an unofficial forum. He also highlighted the Chinese government, calling “the long-term problem posed by China’s ambitious leadership … the most important geopolitical challenge, as far as I can see into the 21st century.”

“A silent partner in Putin’s aggression, Xi Jinping’s China, is our biggest challenge, in many ways the most in-depth test the CIA has ever faced,” Burns added.

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