CIA Director William Burns made a secret visit to Kyiv last week to brief Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his senior intelligence officials on U.S. assessments of Russia's war plans in the coming weeks and months, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing U.S. officials.
The war in Ukraine is currently centered around Russia's bloody campaign to capture Bakhmut, Ukraine's drive to take back Svatove and Kreminna further north, and Russia's missile and drone strikes on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure. But Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning significant offensives in the spring.
Any insights Burns might offer about Russia's military plans "would be highly valued in Kyiv," the Post reports. "Burns is a respected figure among Zelensky's inner circle because of his accurate warning in January 2022 that Russian forces would seek to capture Ukraine's Antonov Airport in the opening stages of the Feb. 24 invasion," an assessment "credited with helping Ukraine prepare to defend the airport and deny Russia a foothold needed to capture Kyiv."
Ukrainian officials have been warning since December that Russia appears to be preparing another assault from neighboring Belarus, possibly against Kyiv. The Institute for the Study of War research organization assessed Thursday night that such an attack could be in the works, "although not necessarily and not in the coming weeks." Top Kremlin officials met in person or over the phone with top Belarusian officials on Thursday to discuss military cooperation, ISW reports, but "a Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus remains a highly unlikely scenario in the forecast cone this winter and unlikely but more plausible in autumn 2023."
"Director Burns traveled to Kyiv where he met with Ukrainian intelligence counterparts as well as President Zelensky and reinforced our continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression," a U.S. official told the Post and CNN. A second U.S. official told The New York Times that Burns' visit was an intelligence mission designed "to ensure that information continues to flow both ways."
Burns, a former ambassador to Russian, has made several secret trips to Kyiv, including one last November. "The trips offer the spy chief an opportunity to build trust with his intelligence counterparts and form a better understanding of the conflict," the Post reports. Ukraine, the Times adds, "is heavily dependent on insights from the CIA and other intelligence agencies on Russian planning."