- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin is digging in and not looking for a cease-fire deal with Ukraine despite many battlefield reverses, CIA Director William Burns said in an interview over the weekend.

Russia’s reputation has been “badly undermined” by the fighting in the nearly 10-month war, Mr. Burns told PBS in an interview, but he said CIA analysts see no signs right now that Mr. Putin and the Russian military are ready to cut their losses in Ukraine.

“Most conflicts end in negotiations, but that requires a seriousness on the part of the Russians in this instance that I don’t think we see,” said Mr. Burns, whose long diplomatic career before taking the CIA post included a stint as U.S. ambassador in Moscow. “At least, it’s not our assessment that the Russians are serious at this point about a real negotiation.”

Russia’s hopes for a lightning victory over Kyiv after its Feb. 24 invasion have instead devolved into a grinding land war in Ukraine’s east and south, where Russian forces are struggling to hold the minor territorial gains they made early in the fighting. Ukraine has launched a strong counteroffensive, and the Kremlin has responded with a fierce bombing campaign targeting Ukrainian civilian targets and infrastructure.

But with both sides pulling back as winter deepens, Mr. Burns said he thinks Russia is already the clear loser in the war.

“Strategically, I think, in many ways, Putin’s war has thus far been a failure for Russia,” he said. “The Russian military has performed poorly and suffered huge losses. The Russian economy has suffered long-term damage. Most of the progress that the Russian middle class has made over the last 30 years is being destroyed.”

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On another topic, Mr. Burns said CIA analysts believe Iran’s theocratic regime is likely to survive a burst of unexpectedly strong and lengthy public protests, sparked by the September death of a young Kurdish-Iranian woman in the custody of the widely disliked “morality police.” But he said he was struck by the duration and broad appeal of the protests and said they pose a longer-term challenge to the Islamic regime in power since the 1979 revolution.

The protests, which have resulted in dozens of deaths and the arrests of prominent athletes, actors and celebrities who have criticized the regime, reflect “a growing number of Iranians who are fed up, who are fed up with economic decay, with corruption, with the social restrictions that especially affect Iranian women,” Mr. Burns said.”They are fed up with political oppression, fed up with the denial of basic human dignity.”

“In the short term … I don’t think the Iranian regime perceives an immediate threat to its grip,” he added. “It still has some very practiced habits of repression and brutality that it’s continuing to employ.”

“In the long term, though, I think the reality is that this is an Iranian regime does not have good answers for what’s on the minds of a very young population, 70% of which today is under the age of 30.”

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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