CIA Director Bill Burns confirmed that China is considering transferring lethal aid to Russia in its war against Ukraine.
During the interview, Burns revealed that the Chinese leadership is “considering the provision of lethal equipment.” While a final decision has not been made yet, the Biden administration sees it as an escalation in the war.
Burns emphasized the importance of making this intelligence public, stating that “we don’t see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment” and that the administration’s goal is to deter China from deciding to transfer lethal aid. Burns confirmed that if China does choose to provide lethal support, it “would be a very risky and unwise bet.”
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that China was actively exploring the possibility of providing Russia with lethal aid, which would include weapons and ammunition, to help their war against Ukraine. These deliberations come even as the United States has sanctioned multiple Chinese companies allegedly providing non-lethal aid to Russian mercenaries.
When asked if the CIA knew where Chinese President Xi stands on assisting Russia, Burns stated, “I think the Chinese are also trying to weigh the consequences of, you know, what the concerns we’ve expressed are, you know, about providing lethal equipment. Where’s the point at which, you know, they would run into some pretty serious consequences. And that’s what we’ve tried to make clear.”
Burns pointed out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the worldwide response have particularly interested the Chinese President. Burns said, “There’s no foreign leader who’s watched more carefully Vladimir Putin’s experience in Ukraine, the evolution of the war, than Xi Jinping has. I think, in many ways, he’s been unsettled and sobered by what he’s seen.”
The CIA does not believe that Xi has yet decided on whether to invade Taiwan. Burns said, “I think we need to take very seriously Xi’s ambitions with regard to ultimately controlling Taiwan. That doesn’t, however, in our view, mean that a military conflict is inevitable.”
President Biden has repeatedly dispatched Burns, a Russian speaker and former ambassador to Russia, to speak with Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Russia’s top spy chief. Burns made particular note of how the intelligence provided by the US helped Ukraine to strengthen its resolve, stating that “I think President Zelenskyy understood what was at stake and what he was up against.”
In a secret trip to Kyiv in the days before the Russian invasion, Burns laid out for Zelenskyy the most recent intelligence, which suggested that Putin was planning a lightning strike to seize Kyiv in a few days. “Our Ukrainian intelligence partners also had good intelligence about what was coming as well. But I do think that the role of intelligence in this instance…have helped him to defend his country with such courage and tenacity,” Burns said.
In his meeting with Sergey Naryshkin, his Russian counterpart, three months ago, Burns described the meeting as “pretty dispiriting,” with a very defiant attitude on the part of Naryshkin. Burns stated that Putin believes he can make time work for him, grind down the Ukrainians, wear down European allies, and eventually set in political fatigue.