TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia who has spent much time studying the Russian leader, said his and other Western intelligence agencies see no sign that Moscow is prepared to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in order to gain a victory in Ukraine or to target Kyiv’s supporters.
Russia placed its nuclear forces on high alert shortly after launching the invasion on Feb 24.
Since then Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons if the West directly intervenes in the Ukraine conflict.
“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.
“Given the kind of saber-rattling that … we’ve heard from the Russian leadership, we can’t take lightly those possibilities,” he said.
“So we stay very sharply focused as an intelligence service … on those possibilities at a moment when the stakes are very high for Russia,” he said.
Burns did not offer any assessment of the current battlefield situation or predict how the war would end.
But he said that China, which Washington now sees as its primary adversary, is studying closely the lessons of the war and what they mean for Beijing’s desire to take control of Taiwan.
Burns said he does not believe that Chinese President Xi Jinping has altered his goal of eventually uniting Taiwan with China, by force if necessary.
But he said he thinks Beijing has been “surprised” by the poor performance of Russian military forces as well as the tough resistance coming from the entire Ukrainian society, as well as the strong defense support the West has provided Kyiv.
Russia’s experience in Ukraine is probably affecting Beijing’s calculation “about how and when” they try to gain control of Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province.
“I think they’ve been struck by the way in which particularly the transatlantic alliance has come together to impose economic costs on Russia as a result of that aggression,” he continued.
Beijing has been “unsettled by the fact that what Putin has done is to drive Europeans and Americans closer together,” Burns said.
“What conclusions get drawn from all that remains a question mark,” he said.
“I think the Chinese leadership is looking very carefully at all this, at the costs and consequences of any effort to use force to gain control over Taiwan.”