The director of the CIA has dismissed persistent rumours that Russian President Vladimir Putin is gravely ill, perhaps suffering from cancer, by saying Putin is “entirely too healthy.”
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, William Burns stressed that this was “not a formal intelligence assessment,” but given his expertise with Russia – Burns served as America’s ambassador in Moscow from 2005 to 2008 – it will certainly give pause to those Putin opponents who hoped for signs that he could soon die from an undisclosed disease.
“There’s lots of rumours about President Putin’s health and as far as we can tell he’s entirely too healthy,” adding “that’s not a formal intelligence judgment.”
Burns said that Putin’s own views about Ukraine, and especially the will of the Ukrainian people to resist the Russian invasion, were based on “some profoundly flawed assumptions.”
“Putin really does believe his rhetoric, and I’ve heard him say this privately over the years, that Ukraine is not a real country. He believes that it’s his entitlement, Russia’s entitlement, to dominate Ukraine.”
‘Dumb Russians are all dead’
Giving an update on Russian casualty figures, the CIA director said that around 15,000 Russian troops had been killed so far, with roughly 45,000 wounded and described them as “quite significant” losses.
“The Ukrainians have suffered as well, probably a little less than that, but significant casualties.”
Director Burns said that the Russian military has adapted after significant tactical failures at the start of the invasion and that one Ukrainian contact had told him “the dumb Russians are all dead”, meaning the Russians on the ground who made battlefield errors had paid the ultimate price, and the Russian military had since learned to adapt.
Russian forces had been concentrating on the eastern Donbas region over the last 90 days, said Burns, advancing between six and 10 miles in that time.
“But it’s come at great cost, and it’s been very painful to both sides,” he added.