Politics

Putin can be “dangerous and reckless:” CIA director discusses Russian president’s path forward

As the Central Intelligence Agency celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the intelligence community is keeping a watchful eye on the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin. CBS News visited the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to speak with Director William Burns and ask him if Putin is concerned about the advances Ukraine’s military is making as hundreds of thousands flee Russia.

“He’s gotta be concerned, not just about what’s happening on the battlefield in Ukraine, what’s happening at home and what’s happening internationally,” Burns told “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell. “He stood next to Xi Jinping last February just before the war started, and they proclaimed a friendship without limits. Well, it turns out that that friendship has some limits.”

Burns said China has been somewhat muted in its support for Russia in the conflict, noting that it has not provided the type of military support Putin had likely been hoping for. Nevertheless, Burns said, Putin remains “stubbornly confident in his own judgments.”

Burns said that the Russian leader can be “quite dangerous and reckless” when he feels cornered or “feels his back against the wall.” But Putin is, in Burns’ estimation, also basing his approach going forward on “flawed assumptions, where he thinks he can tough it out with the Ukrainians, and with the United States, and with the West.”

As for how closely China is paying attention to the war, Burns said he believes Xi is “watching what’s happening in Ukraine like a hawk.” 

“I think he’s been sobered to some extent by the poor performance of the Russian military,” he said. “The Chinese leadership is also looking at what happens when you stage an invasion and the people you’re invading resist with a lot of courage and tenacity as well.”

This revelation, Burns said, could possibly change Xi’s attitude towards Taiwan. 

“President Xi insists today that, while he is firmly committed to unification, in other words to achieving control over Taiwan, his preference is to pursue means to achieve that short of the use of force,” Burns explained. “But he’s also instructed his military, we know, to be prepared no later than 2027 to conduct a successful invasion of Taiwan. So the reality, at least as we see it, is that the further you get into this decade, the greater the risks rise of a potential conflict.”


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