The CIA’s director said that “it’s very hard to say” whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is bluffing over his readiness to use nuclear weapons as part of his invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with CBS News previewed on September 27 and aired in full on Sunday, William Burns said that the US should take any talk of nuclear weapons “very seriously, given everything that’s at stake.”
“We don’t see any practical evidence today in the US intelligence community that he’s moving closer to actual use, that there’s an imminent threat of using tactical nuclear weapons,” he added.
Burns’ interview, recorded before September 27, comes as Russia amped up its rhetoric around the use of nuclear weapons, and at a time of extraordinarily high tension in the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
On September 21, Putin announced the mobilization of 300,000 reservists following the Ukrainian recapture of vast swathes of territory. As he announced that, he referred back to Russia’s nuclear stockpile, saying that he would use “all the means at our disposal” if the country’s “territorial integrity” were threatened.
“This is not a bluff,” he added. His remarks were followed by similar comments — of varying levels of bombast — from senior officials.
In the interview aired Sunday, Burns said that Russia’s rhetoric is “reckless and deeply irresponsible.”
The US should be watching for any signs of preparation for the use of nuclear weapons, while policymakers should be urgently communicating the “severe consequences” of their use.
US State Department spokesperson Jake Sullivan said last week that the US has warned Russia and privately that it will face “catastrophic consequences” if it uses any nuclear weapons.
NATO also warned Russia of “severe consequences” if it uses them.
At this moment, Burns said, it’s currently not clear if Putin can even mobilize his reservist troops effectively, who he likened to “cannon fodder.”
“His military has a lot of other problems, manpower is only one of them,” Burns said, saying the Russian army is poorly equipped and had weak logistical support.