CIA Director William Burns said U.S. intelligence first became aware early last fall of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to invade Ukraine.
Burns disclosed the information during a speech at Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs on Thursday.
“By early last fall we and our partners in the U.S. intelligence community had begun to gather disturbing and detailed intelligence about Putin’s plans for a major new invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “Neither Putin nor many of those around him could imagine Russia as a major power without a deferential Ukraine – a Ukraine whose external choices were controlled by the Kremlin.
“I have learned over the years never to underestimate Putin’s relentless determination – especially on Ukraine. In early November, President [Joe] Biden asked me to travel to Russia to convey directly to Putin and several of his closest advisers the depth of our concern about his planning for war, and the consequences for Russia for attempting to execute that plan.
“I was troubled by what I heard. While it did not yet seem that he had made an irreversible decision to invade Ukraine, Putin was defiantly leaning in that direction – apparently convinced that his window was closing for shaping Ukraine’s orientation.”
Burns said Putin appeared certain the winter offered the right setting for the invasion.
“He seemed convinced that winter offered a favorable landscape with President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians unlikely, in his view, to mount effective resistance, the Russian military capable of a quick, decisive victory at minimal costs, our European allies distracted by their own politics … and the Russian economy sanctions-proof by a war chest of foreign currency reserves.
“When he launched his war seven weeks ago, Putin was proven wrong on each of those accounts.”
In January, Zelenskyy had criticized Western nations, including the U.S., for their handling of Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine, The Washington Post noted. He was critical of the West for waiting to impose stricter sanctions on Moscow.
And Politico had reported Republicans, ahead of Zelenskyy’s address before Congress last month, had criticized Biden for being slow to punish Putin.