US not passing Ukraine aid would be historic mistake, says CIA chief

Russian war in Ukraine is quietly corroding power of Vladimir Putin at home, says William Burns

Arpan Rai
Wednesday 31 January 2024 12:40 GMT
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Ukraine is facing a crucial year as it battles Russia’s invasion and if the US fails to pass fresh aid for Kyiv at this critical moment it will be an “own goal of historic proportions”, the CIA director has warned.

“This year is likely to be a tough one on the battlefield in Ukraine,” William Burns said, adding that Kyiv faces a difficult test of its ability to safeguard its sovereignty.

“For the United States to walk away from the conflict at this crucial moment and cut off support to Ukraine would be an own goal of historic proportions,” he wrote in an article for the Foreign Affairs..

Mr Burns also added that the Russian war in Ukraine is “quietly corroding” the power of president Vladimir Putin, with Russia increasingly isolated on the world stage thanks to the bloody war it is waging in Ukraine.

“Disaffection with the war is continuing to gnaw away at the Russian leadership and the Russian people, beneath the thick surface of state propaganda and repression. That undercurrent of disaffection is creating a once-in-a-generation recruiting opportunity for the CIA. We’re not letting it go to waste,” Mr Burns wrote.

The CIA chief said Mr Putin is betting on time to “grind down Ukraine and wear down its Western supporters”.

"Ukraine’s challenge is to puncture Putin’s arrogance and demonstrate the high cost for Russia of continued conflict, not just by making progress on the frontlines but also by launching deeper strikes behind them and making steady gains in the Black Sea," he said.

He warned that Mr Putin will likely engage again in nuclear sabre-rattling and it would be “foolish to dismiss escalatory risks entirely” by the Russian president. “But it would be equally foolish to be unnecessarily intimidated by them,” he said.

Western aid’s preservation is a key to success, he said.

“It offers a chance to ensure a long-term win for Ukraine and a strategic loss for Russia; Ukraine could safeguard its sovereignty and rebuild, while Russia would be left to deal with the enduring costs of Putin’s folly,” the US intelligence official said.

This comes as the US secretary of state Antony Blinken warned on Tuesday that Ukraine’s gains can dissolve without any further US aid via supplemental funding, risking a victory for Russian troops invading Ukraine.

"Without it, simply put, everything that Ukrainians achieved and that we’ve helped them achieve will be in jeopardy," Mr Blinken said in a joint news conference. “It will simply reinforce for Vladimir Putin that he can somehow outlast Ukraine and outlast us.”

"Absent that supplemental, we’re going to be sending a strong and wrong message to all of our adversaries that we are not serious about the defence of freedom, the defence of democracy," he said.

Congress has approved more than $110 bn for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.

But Ukraine has been left in the lurch at a critical juncture in the war as no new funds have been issued since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in January 2023.

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