Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves as “a brutal reminder of the resurgence of great power politics,” CIA Director William Burns said in a speech in Kansas City, emphasizing that the United States is committed to sharing intelligence with Ukrainians.
Still, Burns said China is the biggest geopolitical challenge the United States faces.
Burns, in only his second public speech as director, said Thursday night that Russia President Vladimir Putin had underestimated the resolve of Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The comments came as Burns accepted the Truman Legacy of Leadership Award.
The remarks underscored the Biden administration’s determination not to lose focus on China even as the largest war in Europe since World War II consumes the world’s attention.
“Xi Jinping’s China poses the biggest geopolitical challenge that we face, as far out into the 21st century as I can see, with more reach in more domains than any adversary we’ve ever encountered,” Burns said.
The United States has been moving to bolster its intelligence on China. Last fall, the CIA announced it would establish a new top-level working group focused on gathering intelligence about China and working against Chinese espionage – one of fewer than a dozen mission centers operated by the agency.
“The revolution in technology – the main arena for competition with China – is changing the way we live, work, compete and fight,” Burns said.
But the attention focused on the CIA lately has been centered on Ukraine, and President Joe Biden’s decision to repeatedly declassify intelligence in an effort to thwart Putin’s war plans. Burns on Thursday touted the declassifications, calling them “unprecedented steps” to “preempt the false narratives which Putin has used so often in the past.”
Burns said the United States has been committed to “rapid and effective intelligence sharing with our Ukrainian partners, throughout the fighting and for months beforehand.”
NBC News earlier this, citing current and former US officials, reported that the United States had given detailed intelligence to Ukrainian forces about when and where Russian missiles and bombs would strike as the invasion began.
“Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a brutal reminder of the resurgence of great power politics,” said Burns, who was an ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush.
Putin has argued for years that Ukraine isn’t a real country, Burns said. “He is learning the hard way that real countries fight back, with strong support from their friends and partners,” he said.
Burns’ speech, at a dinner held by the Truman Library Institute, which each year awards the Truman Legacy of Leadership Award – honoring both President Harry Truman and an individual with a sustained and distinguished record of serving the United States and its democratic ideals. Previous recipients have included former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, who died in March at 84.
“She had President Truman’s gift for straightforward and honest expression, and his readiness to lead with candor and plainspoken wisdom” Burns said, accepting the award in the same year the CIA marks its 75th anniversary.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, introduced Burns. He said he is grateful for his service, noting that as a member of the Intelligence Committee, he sees the director often.
“We are lucky to have him do what he does,” Blunt said.
Blunt also highlighted a $11.5 million earmark to enhance the Truman Library grounds. A “Walk with Truman” will circle the grounds and connect into Independence’s existing trail system.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.