As nuclear rhetoric from Russia escalates tensions with the West, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Burns said Russian spy chief, Sergey Naryshkin, understands there will be “serious consequences” for Russia if U.S. warnings against nuclear arms use in Ukraine are ignored.
During a Feb. 26 interview with the CBS talk show “Face The Nation,” Burns said, “What [President Joe Biden] asked me to do, which was to make clear to Naryshkin, and through him to President Putin, the serious consequences should Russia ever choose to use a nuclear weapon of any kind.”
The CIA director added, “I think Naryshkin understood the seriousness of that issue, and I think President Putin has understood it as well.”
The sobering words come just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the country’s withdrawal from a key nuclear arms agreement with the United States.
On Feb. 22, Russia elected to suspend its participation in the New START arms treaty, an agreement that limits both nations from building up or launching nuclear weapons.
In November last year, Burns met with Naryshkin in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss the subject of nuclear weapons and U.S. prisoners. Reflecting on the November session during the Feb. 26 interview, the CIA director said the meeting with Naryshkin was “pretty dispiriting” and described Russia’s top intelligence officer as “defiant.”
“There was a very defiant attitude on the part of Mr. Naryshkin,” Burns said. “A sense of cockiness and hubris, in sense reflecting Putin’s own view … that he can make time work for him, that he believes he can grind down Ukrainians, that he can wear down our European allies, that political fatigue will eventually set in.”
On Feb. 22, the Russian State Duma supported Putin’s measure to suspend the New START treaty. Going forward, only the president can make the decision to reenter the agreement.
Moscow representatives told local reporters the same day that before continuing with the New START treaty, there must first be a tally of not just the nuclear arsenals of the United States, but also of other NATO powers.
Kremlin officials said that Russia would continue to participate in the exchange of notifications with Washington regarding the launch of intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, per the 1988 agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States.
In the Sunday interview, Burns said he thinks Putin believes the United States and other Western allies of Ukraine will eventually turn their attention elsewhere once they exhaust their resources, giving Russia a chance to win the war by playing the long game.