CIA director warns Putin’s ‘desperation’ over Russia’s failures in Ukraine could lead him to use nukes

CIA Director William Burns warned that Putin could get desperate enough to use nukes in Ukraine.

John Haltiwanger

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, on December 20, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, on December 20, 2018.

CIA Director William Burns on Thursday warned that the US can’t “take lightly” the threat of Russian President Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” Burns saidin remarks at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Since launching an unprovoked war in Ukraine in late February, Russia has struggled to make major gains on the ground. On top of failing to take Kyiv, Russia has lost thousands of soldiers and seen an astonishing number of generals killed. Russia also recently lost a missile cruiser called Moskva (named after the Russian capital) the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet.

In this context, experts have expressed grave concerns that Putin could turn to the use of weapons of mass destruction as he increasingly feels backed into a corner. Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert a few days after launching the war. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg subsequently decried Russia for “nuclear saber-rattling.”

“We’re obviously very concerned. I know President Biden is deeply concerned about avoiding a third world war, about avoiding a threshold in which, you know, nuclear conflict becomes possible,” Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia, said Thursday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a new interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper published Friday said the world needs to be “ready” for the possibility of Russia deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

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