CIA: Putin believes he "can't afford to lose" in Ukraine

CIA: Putin believes he "can't afford to lose" in Ukraine
Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

We still don’t have any confirmation as to whether or not Vladimir Putin plans to “officially” declare war on Ukraine tomorrow as Russians celebrate the anniversary of their victory over Hitler’s forces in World War 2 on Victory Day. But according to the head of the CIA, intelligence reports suggest that Mad Vlad certainly has no intention of calling it quits and bringing his troops home either. Which would be the more ludicrous decision as part of “victory day?” To declare a war that’s obviously been going on for months or to surrender and leave? Putin’s options don’t look too appetizing at the moment. But CIA director Bill Burns believes that at least in Putin’s mind, he “can’t afford to lose” his war in Ukraine. (Axios)

“He’s in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” said Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, at the FT Weekend Festival in D.C. ahead of Russia’s annual Victory Day on Monday, which analysts warn could mark a pivotal moment in the invasion of Ukraine.

“We don’t see, as an intelligence community, practical evidence at this point of Russian planning for the deployment or even potential use of tactical nuclear weapons,” Burns said, according to AFP.

The Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region isn’t being described as entirely “stalled” at this point, but it’s well behind schedule and they’re still losing a shocking number of troops and military vehicles. What has clearly been revealed is a significant lack of planning and strategic foresight on the part of Putin’s military. Under Russian law, a formal declaration of war would allow for the rapid conscription of significant numbers of additional troops that could be flooded into eastern Ukraine. But that potentially raises more problems for the madman of Moscow.

First, such a declaration might replace some of his army’s badly depleted ranks, but they would likely be even more poorly trained than the soldiers who have been bungling the invasion thus far. And a declaration of war would require a public admission that the “special action” in Ukraine really is a war, something Putin has continually denied on state television. Also, dragging thousands more of his people into the fight would surely give Russian citizens the impression that things are not going well in the war and they’ve been led into a misadventure that is costing them mightily in both blood and treasure. By controlling the flow of disinformation on state media, Putin has managed to maintain significant levels of public approval for his war, but that could begin to weaken as more and more families welcome back their loved ones in body bags.

Still, it’s alarming to hear that Putin is in a state of mind where he “can’t afford to lose.” The most dangerous animals are the ones who find themselves trapped with no escape route. If Putin really sees this as something he must win “at all costs,” those costs could add up quickly on both sides. And Putin has never taken the possibility of deploying WMDs of some kind off the table.

One other interesting nugget dropped by Bill Burns involves China. Our intelligence agencies reportedly believe that Xi Jinping is getting very nervous about the Ukrainian invasion. He’s worried that China’s reputation could be further tarnished if the world sees them as being associated with or supporting Russia’s brutal assaults on civilians. He’s also weighing the economic costs to China if sanctions related to Russia spread further and their trade opportunities contract. Xi may also be reconsidering any plans he has regarding Taiwan. Seeing how the world has banded together in support of Ukraine and shipped limitless amounts of military support to help in their response to the invaders, the Taiwanese might receive the same sort of help and turn a Chinese invasion into a prolonged bloodbath.

We should know more tomorrow. Vladimir Putin may feel that he “can’t afford to lose,” but he clearly still hasn’t established a secure path to victory either.

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