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CIA director says he anticipates ‘ugly next few weeks’ in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

CIA Director William Burns spoke during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday.Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Top United States intelligence officials testified Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assumptions that the country would be able to achieve a “quick” and “decisive” victory in its invasion of Ukraine have proven to be wrong, with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency saying he anticipates an “ugly next few weeks” in the war as Putin presses on with the attack.

In a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, William Burns, the CIA director, said that he does not anticipate Russian’s invasion of Ukraine will end with Russia sustaining the implementation of a puppet regime in the face of “massive opposition” from Ukrainian people.

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“I fail to see and our analysts fail to see how he could sustain a puppet regime or a pro-Russian leadership that he tries to install in the face of what is a massive opposition from the Ukrainian people,” Burns said. “In many ways it’s been Putin’s aggression going back to 2014 in Crimea that’s created a strong sense of Ukrainian nationhood and sovereignty that he faces today.”

Burns said he anticipates “an ugly next few weeks” in the war in which Putin “doubles down” with little regard for civilian casualties and where urban fighting will get uglier because he is certain the Ukrainian people will continue to resist Russia’s advances.

Putin entered the war with a number of assumptions that led him to believe Russia faced a “favorable landscape” against Ukraine, Burns said. Those included beliefs that Ukraine was weak and easily intimidated; that European countries like France and Germany were distracted by political developments in their countries; that Russia’s economy was sanctions-proofed with the buildup of financial reserves; and that Russia’s military was modernized and capable of “a quick, decisive victory at minimal cost.”

“He’s been proven wrong at every count,” Burns said. “Those assumptions have proven to be profoundly flawed over the last 12 days of conflict.”

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Russia has not performed as Putin anticipated during the conflict for a number of reasons, Burns said, including the leadership Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demonstrated, the resolve of other European countries, the “devastating” results of sanctions imposed on Russia — particularly the Russian Central Bank — and the weak performance of the Russian military.

“Instead of seizing Kyiv within the first two days of the campaign, which was what his plan was premised upon, after nearly two weeks they still have not been able to fully encircle the city,” Burns said. “Putin has commented privately and publicly over the years that he does not believe Ukraine is a real country. Well, he’s dead wrong about that. Real countries fight back, and that’s what Ukrainians have done quite heroically over the last 12 days.”

Russia’s failure to seize Kyiv has deprived it of the military victory it expected would prevent the United States and its allies with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from being able to equip Ukraine with meaningful military aid, said Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Russia underestimated the strength of Ukraine’s resistance, intelligence officials assess, and the military’s own challenges, including an “ill-constructed plan, morale issues, and considerable logistical issues,” Haines said.

But Russia’s future course of action is still unclear, Haines said. It’s unknown if Russia will continue its “maximalist plan” to try to capture most or all of Ukraine. If it does pursue that plan, officials believe it will be “especially challenging for the Russians to hold and control Ukrainian territory and install a sustainable pro-Russian regime in Kyiv in the face of what we assess is likely to be a persistent and significant insurgency.”

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That plan will also require more resources, even as Russia “has begun to loosen its rules of engagements to achieve their military objectives,” Haines said, adding that the human toll of the war is only increasing.

Russian forces “are at the very least operating with reckless disregard for the safety” of civilians, Haines said, as they continue to launch air strikes and attacks on cities across Ukraine.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Scott Berrier estimated in his testimony that between 2,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers have died so far.

The United Nations human rights office said Tuesday that it has confirmed 474 civilian deaths in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, and 861 civilians have been injured. It acknowledged that the actual toll is likely much higher, but the fighting has delayed the reports it receives and others still need to be corroborated. The UN also said Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the war has reached 2 million — 1 million of whom are children in what James Elder, a UNICEF spokesman, said was “a dark historical first.”


Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.