U.S. expectations for Russian military preparations were relayed to Zelensky by the CIA director. According to a US official and two Ukrainian sources, CIA Director Bill Burns met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week in Kyiv to advise him on US expectations for Russia’s spring battlefield planning.
While US officials are keeping a careful eye on any potential Russian offensive in the coming months, the covert meeting comes during a tense time when the US and its European allies are debating whether to deliver increasingly sophisticated and long-range weaponry to Ukraine. The meeting of Western defense chiefs on Friday is expected to focus on sending more weaponry to Ukraine.
Director Burns “spoke with his Ukrainian intelligence counterparts as well as President Zelensky and reaffirmed our sustained support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression,” according to a statement released by the United States.
The encounter was first revealed by the Washington Post.
Burns is a seasoned diplomat, and his journey to Kyiv last week was not his first, so he has established himself as a reliable contact there. He reportedly made two consecutive journeys to Kyiv in October and November last year. One of these visits occurred during a wave of Russian missile attacks on the city.
As winter has progressed, there has been fierce combat on the front lines, especially near Bakhmut, but no significant strategic gains for either side. Intelligence Director Avril Haines described the current situation as “not a stalemate but truly a grinding struggle at this stage” on Wednesday at the Davos World Economic Forum.
Both sides are reportedly preparing for possible spring offensives. Kyiv has kept up its calls for further backing from the United States and its Western partners in its effort to counter Russia. An inside Ukrainian source told CNN that the government in Kyiv is worried about the rate at which weapons are being shipped to the country. This is especially true now that Republicans, some of whom are suspicious of help to Ukraine, hold a majority in the US House of Representatives.
On Thursday, the Pentagon unveiled a $2.5 billion security package for Ukraine, the second largest in United States history. As part of the help, Stryker combat vehicles were included for the first time, along with additional Bradley fighting vehicles.
Despite this, the Biden administration is still at odds with Germany over whether to send tanks to Ukraine. German officials have made it clear in recent days that they will not send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine or allow any other country with the German-made tanks in their inventory to do so unless the US also agrees to send its M1 Abrams tanks to Kyiv.
Due to the high logistical expenditures in keeping them operational, the Pentagon has repeatedly said that it has no plans to acquire them.