Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
- CIA chief William Burns said the Ukraine war is entering a “critical” phase in the next six months.
- Burns said it will be crucial for Ukraine to puncture “Putin’s hubris” on the battlefield.
- Russia is expected to launch a major offensive in the near future.
CIA Director William Burns on Thursday warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “betting right now that he can make time work for him” and “grind down Ukrainians” in hopes the West’s support for Ukraine fades.
The CIA assesses that the next six months of the war in Ukraine will be “critical,” Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia who makes frequent trips to Kyiv, said during an event at Georgetown University.
During this “crucial” period, it will be vital for Ukrainian forces to puncture “Putin’s hubris” on the battlefield, Burns went on to say, underscoring that Ukraine needs to make it clear to the Russian leader “that he’s not only not going to be able to advance further in Ukraine, but as every month goes by, he runs a greater and greater risk of losing the territory that he’s illegally seized from Ukraine so far.”
Burns’ assessment echoed comments from NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in mid-January, when he said the war was entering a “decisive phase.”
The fight in Ukraine has morphed into a grinding war of attrition, with heavy losses on both sides and incremental gains. But Russia is expected to launch a major offensive in the near future, as Ukraine ramps up its requests for more advanced weapons from the West to help it defend against the Russian invaders and push to reclaim occupied territory. The US, Germany, and the UK recently announced they would provide battle tanks to Ukraine, fulfilling a major request.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Wednesday suggested that the expected Russian offensive is likely to occur close to the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion — February 24.
“We think that, given they live in symbolism, they are going to try to attempt something around February 24,” Reznikov told French TV station BFMTV.
Meanwhile, there are evolving discussions in Kyiv and Western capitals over the potential for Ukrainian forces to push Russia out of Crimea and regain control of the crucial Black Sea peninsula.
“We must do everything to ensure that Crimea returns home by summer,” Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, recently told the Washington Post. “Crimea will be returned to us. I’ll tell you more: It all started in Crimea in 2014, and it will all end there,” he added.
Russia invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, prompting outcry across the world. In many ways, this provocative action laid the foundations for Russia’s full-scale invasion of its next-door neighbor last February.
Crimea, home to a number of Russian military bases and Russia’s Black Sea fleet, was used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion last year. Russian aircraft and warships continue to use Crimea as a base of attack for striking Ukraine. Top military analysts have made the case that regaining control of Crimea is key to Ukraine’s long-term survival.
“The decisive terrain for this war is Crimea. The Ukrainian government knows that they cannot settle for Russia retaining control of Crimea,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army Europe, told Insider in late January. “The next few months will see Ukraine setting the conditions for the eventual liberation of Crimea,” he added.