CIA Director William J. Burns secretly visited Ukraine recently, where Ukrainian officials shared an ambitious strategy to reclaim Russian-occupied territory and initiate ceasefire talks with Moscow before the year’s end, according to reliable sources aware of the visit.
The trip, which is kept undisclosed until now, involved meetings between Burns and President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as top intelligence officials in Ukraine. A US official confirmed that Burns has been regularly visiting Ukraine since Russia’s recent aggression started over a year ago, though the visits were not publicized.
While publicly expressing frustration with the counteroffensive’s pace, Ukrainian military planners conveyed strong confidence to Burns in their plan to regain significant territory by autumn.
Their strategy includes positioning artillery and missile systems near the boundary of Russian-controlled Crimea and advancing deeper into eastern Ukraine.
Subsequently, Ukraine aims to engage in negotiations with Moscow, marking the first time since peace talks broke down in March of the previous year, according to sources involved in the planning.
A senior Ukrainian official emphasized that Russia is more likely to negotiate if it perceives a threat. However, the success of Ukraine’s ambitious plans on an accelerated timeline remains uncertain. The CIA declined to comment on Burns’ assessment of the offensive’s prospects.
Military analysts acknowledge that Ukraine’s goal of forcing negotiations is challenging, given Russia’s fortified defenses, but it is not impossible.
“It’s possible they can cut off the land bridge to Crimea, either by seizing the terrain or putting it within range of HIMARS and other artillery, but much depends on the level of attrition,” Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, highlighted.
“If Ukraine sustains too many losses, its offensive could culminate early. But if Ukraine can inflict enough losses on Russian forces and equipment, and interdict the movement of reinforcements, Ukraine may be able to weaken Moscow’s defenses enough to achieve a breakthrough,” Lee added.
The possibility exists that Ukraine could disrupt the land bridge to Crimea by either seizing terrain or bringing it within range of advanced artillery systems. The outcome largely depends on the level of attrition experienced by both sides. If Ukraine inflicts substantial losses on Russian forces and hinders the movement of reinforcements, it might weaken Moscow’s defenses enough to make progress.
In preparation for the fall, Zelensky and his top aides are contemplating how to bring an end to the conflict on terms agreeable to both Russia and the Ukrainian people, who have suffered violence, forced displacement, and atrocities, as well as shortages of food and electricity for the past year and a half.
Ukraine’s ideal scenario involves exerting pressure on Russia by deploying troops and powerful weaponry close to the Crimea-Ukraine boundary, effectively holding Crimea, which houses Russia’s prized Black Sea Fleet, as a bargaining chip.
“If Ukraine has the capability to target additional important airfields, bridges, rail lines, and logistics hubs, they can make it more difficult for Russia to sustain the war,” Lee noted.
Ukraine would offer not to take Crimea by force, but in return, demand that Russia accept any security guarantees it can secure from the West. However, obtaining such guarantees has proven to be a significant challenge.