CIA does not have any “practical evidence” that Russia is getting ready to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, its director, Bill Burns, said Saturday.
Burns, a veteran diplomat, was speaking at the “Weekend Festival” organized by the Financial Times in Washington, DC.
But, he added, “we can’t take lightly those possibilities” given Russia’s saber-rattling.
Russia had announced shortly after its invasion of Ukraine began, on Feb. 24, that it had placed its nuclear deterrence forces under heightened alert and Russian President Vladimir Putin had threatened a “swift retaliation” on any third party intervening in the war.
Burns said he believed Putin is determined to pursue the war and cannot contemplate losing.
“[Putin] is in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose; so the stakes are quite high in this phase,” he said. “I think he’s convinced right now that doubling down . . . will enable him to make progress,” he added.
The CIA Director also said that China is closely following developments in the Ukraine to find lessons in its own strategy to gain control of Taiwan. China has never made a secret of its belief that it considers Taiwan an integral part of its territory, adding that China was also “dismayed” by “the fact that what Putin has done is driving Europeans and Americans closer together.”
“It strikes us . . . that (Chinese President) Xi Jinping is a little bit unsettled by the reputational damage that can come to China by the association with the brutishness of Russia’s aggression against Ukrainians [and] unsettled certainly by the economic uncertainty that’s been produced by the war,” Burns said.