The CIA director held a secret meeting with Zelensky about Russia’s next steps


CIA Director William J. Burns secretly to the Ukrainian capital last weekend to brief President Volodymyr Zelensky on A US official and other people familiar with the visit said his predictions were what Russia was planning militarily in the coming weeks and months.

Burns’ travel comes at a critical juncture in the 11-month war. Russian forces launch a massive offensive near the eastern city of Bakhmut that has caused many casualties on both sides and is forcing Ukraine to assess its resources there as it prepares. Major counterattack elsewhere in the country.

Foremost on the mind of Zelensky and his top intelligence officials during the meeting was how long Ukraine could expect continued U.S. and Western assistance after the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives and Decrease in aid support Ukraine Among parts of the American electorate, people familiar with the meeting said. Everyone spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private, high-level engagement.

Burns stressed the urgency of the moment on the battlefield and acknowledged that at some point it will be difficult to get help, the people said.

Zelensky and his aides came away from last week’s meeting with the impression that the Biden administration’s support for Keef remains strong and that the $45 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine that Congress passed in December would last at least through July or August, those familiar with the discussion said. They said Kyiv was not sure Congress would pass another multibillion-dollar supplementary aid package, as it did last spring.

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“Director Burns traveled to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian intelligence counterparts as well as President Zelensky and reinforced our continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression,” a US official said.

Burns is a respected figure among Zelensky’s inner circle because of his careful warning in January 2022 that Russian forces would seek to The seizure of the Ukrainian airport Antonov In the early stages of the invasion of Feb. 24. His message, delivered personally, was based on a US intelligence assessment, and he is credited with helping Ukraine prepare for the defense of the airport and Depriving Russia of a foothold necessary to seize Kyiv.

Burns’ skeptical view of Russia’s willingness to negotiate also endeared him to Zelensky’s aides, who were wary of suggestions that Ukraine should consider talking to the Russians to end the conflict.

“Most conflicts end in negotiations, but that requires seriousness on the part of the Russians in this case which I don’t think we’re seeing,” Burns told PBS last month. “At least, it is not our assessment that the Russians are serious at this point about real negotiations.”

A CIA spokesperson declined to describe what Burns relayed to Zelensky about Russian military planning. Any insights he might provide would be highly valued in Kyiv.

Right now, Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting a fierce war of attrition in eastern Ukraine around Bakhmut. The city has relatively little strategic value, but it has acquired symbolic importance for both sides, particularly Russia, which has not acquired a major Ukrainian city since last summer.

Military analysts predict that an uptick in fighting this spring could determine the course of the war.

United States and Western countries haste Armored vehicles, artillery and missiles were sent to Ukraine in a bid to bolster the army’s military firepower, with the hope that the additional equipment would enable Zelensky’s army to penetrate Russian-controlled areas such as Zaporozhye in an offensive expected to begin in the coming months.

The bloody blockade of Bakhmut poses dangers for Ukraine

Russia, meanwhile, is looking to launch its own offensive in the spring, raising expectations that it will recruit more troops after mustering 300,000 men last September. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu unveiled a proposal in December to increase the number of military personnel in the country to 1.5 million by 2026, up from 1.1 million currently.

Moscow, which recruited convicted criminals to the war effort, showed its willingness to suffer heavy losses. Last year, many of the recruits were so inexperienced, they were only given two weeks of training before being sent to the front lines. But in recent months, Russia has improved its training, according to Western intelligence officials.

Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and a senior State Department official, is one of the United States government’s leading experts on Russia. He thought extensively about the place Ukraine occupied in the Russian soul.

During the George W. Bush administration, when Ukraine’s membership in NATO was discussed, Burns emphasized the depth of Russian opposition to the idea in a memo to Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State.

Ukraine’s accession to NATO is the brightest red line for the Russian elite (not only [Vladimir] Putin), he wrote. “I have yet to find anyone who sees Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”

Recently, Burns linked the Russian president’s decision to invade Ukraine as a major step in his goal of returning Moscow to its former glory.

“He is convinced that his destiny as Russia’s leader is to restore Russia as a great power,” he told an audience at a security forum in Aspen in July. He believes the key to doing this is to re-establish a sphere of influence in Russia’s neighborhood and he doesn’t think you can do that without controlling Ukraine and its options. And that’s what produced, I think, this terrible war.”

The CIA director met with Zelensky in Kyiv as Russian missiles targeted the capital

Burns too Visit Ukraine in november. People familiar with his travels said the trips provide the intelligence chief with an opportunity to build trust with his intelligence counterparts and gain a better understanding of the conflict.

Burns’ latest trip came before a busy week of engagements in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his Ukrainian counterpart in Poland for the Their first face-to-face interaction Since the beginning of the war.

On Wednesday, Zelensky urged Ukraine’s supporters to send tanks and air defense missiles, and criticized Germany for refusing to supply modern Leopard tanks unless the United States sent the most advanced Abrams tanks.

“There are times when we should not hesitate,” Zelensky told the audience in Davos, Switzerland, via video broadcast.

On the same day, NATO defense ministers began a two-day meeting in Brussels in which the issue of Leopard tanks divided the Allies with Poland to threaten To send 14 tanks regardless of whether Germany agrees. Technically, Germany’s approval is required because it is the manufacturer of the Leopard 2.

“Either we get this approval, or we will do the right thing ourselves,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told local radio.

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