The war in Ukraine has “quietly eaten away” at the power of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, CIA Director William J. Burns wrote in an essay published Tuesday.
While Mr. Putin’s grip on power is unlikely to weaken anytime soon, Mr. Burns wrote in Foreign Affairsdisaffection had “eaten away at Russian leaders and the Russian people,” allowing the CIA to recruit more spies.
The agency produced a series of videos aimed at recruiting Russian officials. The most recent, released last week, encourages Russians to provide information to the CIA securely using a secure browser on the dark web. The latest video taps into their anger over corruption in the Russian government.
Although the U.S. government would not say how many spies were recruited with the videos, officials said the agency would not have continued promoting them on Telegram and YouTube if the videos had not been effective. Mr. Burns echoed this sentiment in his article.
“This undercurrent of disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation recruiting opportunity for the CIA,” he wrote. “We’re not letting it go to waste. »
Part of Mr. Putin’s weakness comes from his handling of last year’s mutiny by members of Russia’s most powerful mercenary group. He seemed “detached and indecisive” in the face of the mutiny led by Eugene Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Mr. Burns wrote.
Mr. Burns wrote that Mr. Putin “finally settled scores with Prigozhin,” a reference to death of mercenary leader in a suspicious plane crash. Even so, Mr. Prigozhin’s criticism of Russian leadership against the Russian people “will not go away anytime soon,” Mr. Burns wrote.
“For many members of the Russian elite, the question was not so much whether the emperor was undressed, but rather why he took so long to get dressed,” Mr. Burns said.
Russia has rebuilt its military industrial production, but its economy has been deeply wounded by the war, he said. And in the long term, Russia “seals its destiny” as a vassal of China, dependent on Beijing for trade and technology.
Ukraine faces challenges in the war but has achieved spectacular results. Russia’s efforts to modernize its military were “in vain” and 315,000 Russians were killed or injured, Mr. Burns wrote.
Ukraine also suffered heavy losses, although Mr. Burns did not speak directly about them. U.S. officials have struggled to accurately estimate the number of lives lost in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin’s strategy is to continue to crush Ukraine and try to survive Western support. But Ukraine, Mr. Burns wrote, can “break Putin’s arrogance” by launching deeper strikes behind the battlefield’s hardened front lines. In the past, U.S. officials feared that Ukrainian attacks could lead to an escalation of the situation in Russia, possibly carrying out a nuclear test as a warning to Ukraine and the West.
Mr. Burns acknowledged that concerns about nuclear escalation were valid, but suggested they should not be exaggerated.
“Putin could engage in nuclear maneuvers again, and it would be foolish to dismiss the risks of escalation entirely,” he wrote. “But it would be equally foolish to allow ourselves to be unnecessarily intimidated by them.”
The key to Ukraine’s success, Mr. Burns wrote, was continuing to provide American aid.
Congress is considering a new military aid package, but has found itself embroiled in the politics of a border and immigration deal on Capitol Hill.
Cutting off Ukraine, Mr. Burns wrote, would be a grave mistake.
“Maintaining arms supplies will put Ukraine in a stronger position if an opportunity for serious negotiations arises,” Burns said. “This offers a chance to secure a long-term victory for Ukraine and a strategic loss for Russia; Ukraine could safeguard its sovereignty and rebuild, while Russia would have to bear the ongoing costs of Putin’s madness.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked the beginning of a new era for the CIA, Mr. Burns wrote. He spoke of the early warning of the coming invasion that intelligence agencies provided to the Biden administration, Ukraine and its allies.
But the new era, Burns said, is also about taking advantage of new technologies, including artificial intelligence. These have transformed the way the CIA collects intelligence, allowing it to analyze information more quickly and effectively.
“Even as the world evolves, espionage remains an interaction between humans and technology,” he writes.
Although there will be secrets that only humans can collect, Mr. Burns continued, the CIA must “combine mastery of emerging technologies with the interpersonal skills and individual daring that have always been at the heart of our profession.” .