By Jonathan Landay and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The threat of Russia potentially using tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine cannot be taken lightly, but the CIA has not seen a lot of practical evidence reinforcing that concern, CIA Director William Burns said on Thursday.
In a speech at Georgia Tech, Burns referred to the "potential desperation" and military setbacks that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government have suffered since moved forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
For those reasons, "none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons," Burns said.
That said, despite "rhetorical posturing" by the Kremlin about putting the world's largest nuclear arsenal on high alert, "We haven't seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce that concern.”
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Burns made his comments in response to a question from former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, a leading arms control advocate, at the end of his first speech since taking the helm of the premier U.S. spy agency in March 2021.
In a wide-ranging address, the former career U.S. diplomat said U.S. spy agencies began last fall collecting "disturbing and detailed" intelligence on a plan by Putin for a "major new invasion" of Ukraine.
Putin has "stewed" in grievance, ambition and insecurity and saw the "window was closing for shaping Ukraine's orientation" away from the West, said Burns, who called the Russian leader an "apostle of payback."
U.S. intelligence has been vital to Ukraine's fight against Russian forces, said Burns, whose diplomatic posts included one as U.S. ambassador to Moscow.
The "crimes" he said those forces committed in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are "horrific."
Russia, which has repeatedly denied targeting civilians since the invasion, has called the accusations Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a "monstrous forgery" aimed at denigrating the Russian army.
The Kremlin says it launched a "special military operation" to demilitarize and "liberate" Ukraine from nationalist extremists.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Michael Martina; Editing by Howard Goller)
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