(WASHINGTON) — CIA Director William Burns told lawmakers Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to agree to settlement talks with Ukraine for tactical reasons because he “does not have a sustainable end game” for his invasion.
“Given Putin’s track record, given the fact that he’s someone who hates to act out of what he believes to be weakness, that he needs to concede or admit mistakes, that’s probably a long shot,” Burns said of any chance talks might succeed after a session Thursday in Turkey between the countries’ top two diplomats failed to produce a cease-fire.
Burns also told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Putin, at the same time, is turning Russia into a “propaganda bubble.”
“He’s intensified his domination of the state run media and in his strangulation of independent media, especially in recent years, and particularly since the invasion of Ukraine began.”
“I don’t believe he can wall off [Russians] indefinitely from the truth, especially as realities began to puncture that bubble. The realities of killed and wounded coming home in an increasing number. The realities of the economic consequences for ordinary Russians as I was discussing before, the realities of you know, the horrific scenes of hospitals and schools being bombed next door and Ukraine, enough civilian casualties there as well. I don’t think he can bottle up the truth indefinitely,” he said.
Intelligence agency leaders from around the government testified in the second of two hearings detailing their annual report on “worldwide threats,” after speaking to the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Burns told Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that the U.S. needs to “focus” on Russia’s potential use of chemical weapons both in terms of a “false flag” operation and in reality.
“This is something as all of you know very well is very much a part of Russia’s playbook,” Burns said. “They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens. They’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere. So, it’s something we take very seriously.”
He said believes the U.S. is adequately pushing back on the Russian narrative.
“In all the years I spent as a career diplomat, I saw too many instances in which we lost information wars with the Russians. In this case, I think we have had a great deal of effect in disrupting their tactics and their calculations and demonstrating to the entire world that this is a premeditated and unprovoked aggression, built on a body of lies and false narratives,” he said.
The head of U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone, defended U.S. information-sharing with Ukraine amid Republican suggestions the U.S. was holding back.
“The intelligence that we’re sharing is accurate. It’s relevant, and it’s actionable. I think when we look back at this, that’s the key piece of, of what we’ve been able to do as an intelligence community,” he said.
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Scott Berrier admitted he could have done a better job assessing problems Putin’s military would have overcoming the Ukrainians’ will to fight.
“So, we assessed prior to the invasion that he was overestimate or underestimating, rather, the Ukrainians … resistance,” he said. “We did not do as well in terms of predicting the military challenges that he has encountered with his own military.”
“We made some assumptions about his assumptions, which proved to be very, very flawed,” Berrier said.
“Among the many profoundly flawed assumptions that President Putin made in launching this invasion, was his assumption that he had built a sanctions-proof economy,” Burns said.
Putin, Burns said, thought he built a “very large war chest to foreign currency reserves and gold reserves, and by not anticipating that the sanctions against the Russian Central Bank, by not anticipating that the German leadership would show such resolve in particular, I think he deeply underestimated the economic consequences, and I think they’re just now being felt in Russia, and that’s going to intensify.”
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