CIA Director William Burns said Thursday the United States should not dismiss the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons in its war with Ukraine.
Following a speech at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Burns said, "Given the potential desperation of [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they've faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."
Burns noted the U.S. has not seen "practical evidence" of such escalation.
"While we've seen some rhetorical posturing on the part of the Kremlin about moving to higher nuclear alert levels, so far we haven't seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce that concern," said Burns, the CIA director since March 2021.
"But we watch for that very intently. It's one of our most important responsibilities at [the] CIA."
Putin has placed his nuclear forces on a "heightened state of alert," and earlier this week, the Kremlin reportedly issued threats of relocating its nuclear arsenal to the Baltic region — if Sweden and Finland were to formally join the 30-country North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The U.S. has previously warned Russia about the consequences of using biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine. But until this week, the specter of nuclear threats hadn't surfaced publicly. When it entered conversation, many were quick to dismiss it at worrisome saber-rattling, unlikely to manifest.
In his speech at Georgia Tech, Burns addressed the Russia-Ukraine war, along with the United States' efforts in declassifying certain information that might involve Russia's military plans moving forward.
"By being open with some of our secrets, we made it harder for Putin to obscure the truth of his unprovoked and vicious aggression," said Burns.
This week, President Joe Biden announced that Ukraine would receive $800 million in additional security aid.
Given the most recent economic sanctions, according to reports, Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world.
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