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Putin believes he can’t “afford to lose” Ukraine — CIA chief

Russian President Vladimir Putin is “convinced” that his forces “doubling down” in their assault on Ukraine will enable them to progress, CIA director Bill Burns said Saturday, per AFP.

Between the lines: “He’s in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” said Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, at the FT Weekend Festival in D.C. ahead of Russia’s annual Victory Day on Monday, which analysts warn could mark a pivotal moment in the invasion of Ukraine.

 Russian  jets flying over Red Square during the general rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 7.
Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jets release smoke in the colors of the Russian flag while flying over Red Square during rehearsals for the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 7. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Yes, but: “We don’t see, as an intelligence community, practical evidence at this point of Russian planning for the deployment or even potential use of tactical nuclear weapons,” Burns said, according to AFP.

  • “Given the kind of sabre-rattling that … we’ve heard from the Russian leadership, we can’t take lightly those possibilities.”

Worth noting: Burns said Chinese President Xi Jinping was “a little bit unsettled by the reputational damage that can come to China by the association with the brutishness of Russia’s aggression against Ukrainians [and] unsettled certainly by the economic uncertainty that’s been produced by the war,” the Financial Times reports.

  • “I don’t for a minute think that it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan,” but it’s “affecting their calculation,” Burns added.

What to watch: Burns believes that the second phase of the Russian military assault on Ukraine that focuses on the east and south of the country could be “even riskier” than the first eight weeks part of the war, CBS News notes.

  • “Putin has staked a lot on this second phase of what is an incredibly ugly and brutal offensive against the Ukrainians” and was trying “to adapt to some of the lessons from the failures of the first phase,” he added.

The big picture: Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday that Russian forces were behind schedule in the Donbas and in the south after being met with “stiff Ukrainian resistance” at every turn.

  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this week it “would be a great irony” if Moscow used the Victory Day holiday, during which Russians commemorate victory over the Nazis in World War II, to officially declare war on Ukraine.
  • It “would allow them to surge conscripts in a way they’re not able to do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives,” Price added.

Go deeper: Axios explains Ukraine

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