CIA Director William Burns quietly visited the Ukrainian capital for a classified meeting with President Vladimir Zelensky and his intelligence apparatus, multiple outlets reported on Thursday. Besides sharing Washington’s intelligence analysis, the official also allegedly warned that US military aid could wane in the coming months amid opposition from Republicans, who recently took control of Congress.
Burns arrived in Kiev sometime late last week and discussed “his expectations for what Russia is planning militarily in the coming weeks and months,” emphasizing “the urgency of the moment on the battlefield” for Ukrainian forces, according to the Washington Post.
“Director Burns traveled to Kiev where he met with Ukrainian intelligence counterparts as well as President Zelensky and reinforced our continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression,” an unnamed US official confirmed in a statement to Reuters.
During the talks, Ukrainian officials reportedly raised concerns about US support and asked how long they could expect the aid to continue. Burns allegedly acknowledged that “at some point assistance would be harder to come by” with Republicans again holding a majority in the House, as a number of conservative lawmakers have grown increasingly critical of the American largesse.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has authorized more than $27 billion in direct military assistance to Kiev, with the latest $2.5 billion aid package approved on Thursday.
Last week’s trip was not Burns’ only visit to Ukraine over the last year, having met with Zelensky in January 2022 – weeks before Russia sent troops into the neighboring state – and again in November. He is said to be a “respected figure” among officials in Kiev due to his intelligence briefings, which have included warnings about plots to assassinate the Ukrainian leader and information about Russia’s military plans.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Burns also met with the head of Moscow’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, in Turkey last November, around the same time he visited Kiev. While Lavrov said “no revelations” were made during the talks, he noted that the sit-down came at Biden’s request. Naryshkin, meanwhile, said he is ready for another round of talks with Burns earlier this week, provided the two sides can agree on the details.
A career-long diplomat before becoming CIA director, Burns previously served as the US envoy to the Russian Federation under President Barack Obama. As ambassador, he issued warnings behind the scenes about NATO’s continued expansion toward Russia’s borders, penning a 2008 memo obtained by WikiLeaks which discusses the subject in detail. Nonetheless, Burns remains vocally critical of Moscow in public comments, telling PBS last month that Russia is not “serious” about “real negotiation” to end the conflict with Ukraine.