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Blunt Questions Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Regarding Russian Aggression Toward Ukraine

April 14, 2021

WASHINGTON – During a U.S Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) questioned Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Burns and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier regarding concerns over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization of Russian forces near Ukraine. Blunt also questioned Berrier regarding the effect of the pandemic on U.S. military readiness.

Following is a transcript:

BLUNT: Director Burns, you have extensive personal knowledge and experience with Putin. How do you assess what he's doing right now—near and in the eastern Ukraine—and the impact that that may have? Is this an actual movement? Do we think it's a bluff to try to get concessions? A little of both? What do you think about Putin's actions right now as it relates to Ukraine?

BURNS: Well, Senator, thanks for the question. I think, as I said in my confirmation hearing, most of my white hair came from serving in Russia and dealing with Putin's Russia over the years. So, one thing I've learned is not to underestimate, you know, the ways in which President Putin and the Russian leadership, you know, can throw its weight around. I think—and I'll turn to General Berrier about this in a moment—but, you know, I think obviously, the Russian military buildup in Crimea and alongside the border of the Donbass is a serious concern. I think it could be a combination of the things that you mentioned: signaling a way of trying to intimidate the Ukrainian leadership, signals to the United States. But, also, that buildup has reached the point where, you know, it also could provide the basis for limited military incursions as well. And so, it's something not only the United States but also our allies has to take very seriously. And, I know Director Haines and I and others have been involved in, you know, a number of briefings and conversations with our allies as well, so that we're sharing information and they share that same concern I think that we have as well. And, that was part of the purpose of the president's call yesterday to President Putin was to register very clearly the seriousness of our concern.

BLUNT: Good. We'll probably talk about that more later, too. General Berrier, what's your sense of what's happening there and the concerns we should have about it?

BERRIER: Senator, working with our partners in Joint Staff J2, European Command, NATO, and our key Five Eyes partners, the Russians have positioned themselves to give themselves options. So, as we've watched that buildup of forces, they could actually be going into a series of exercises starting anytime, or they could, if they chose to, perhaps do a limited objective attack. They may, they may take that option. We don't know what the intent is right now. I agree with Director Burns and his assessment of that, and we can go into more detail in the closed session.

BLUNT: Let me see if I get one more question in, General Berrier. We know that our adversaries, no matter what level of involvement they had in the pandemic, can see now the impact that has on a big, open, free society like ours. But, they also can see the impact it has on the military. Look what happened on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and in other places. What are we thinking about as a potential way we'd respond to similar circumstances from a defense point of view?

BERRIER: Senator, the pandemic has given us insights on how we can do our jobs better should this happen again. In terms of readiness of our key adversaries that we watch, I think initially it did have an impact on the readiness of those forces although they seem to have overcome that. As an example is what we're seeing with the Russians in Ukraine and Crimea right now. It does not appear to be impacted by COVID, and so we continue to watch that very carefully across the spectrum of foreign military intelligence.

BLUNT: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman.

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