- CIA Director Bill Burns met with Zelensky on a secret trip ahead of the Russian invasion last year.
- Burns warned Zelensky about Russian assassination plots at a time when Zelensky cast doubt on US intelligence.
- Details of the Kiev meeting are outlined in Chris Whipple’s forthcoming book on Joe Biden’s White House.
CIA Director Bill Burns met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a secret trip to Kyiv ahead of the Russian invasion last year to share news that surprised the Ukrainian leader: The Russians were plotting to assassinate him.
At the time, in January 2022, Zelenskyy dismissed the idea that the Russians would launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and suggested that American public warnings were creating “panic,” noted Chris Whipple in his forthcoming book, “The Fight of His Life: In Joe Biden’s White House.”
It was unusual for the US to publicly release intelligence in this way, suggesting that Washington was confident in its assessment of Russia’s intentions. But just weeks before Russia invaded, Zelenskyy expressed concern that such warnings would have a negative effect on Ukraine’s economy – and stressed that Kyiv was used to dealing with threats from Russia.
“Burns came to give him a reality check,” and the CIA director said Russian special forces were coming for Zelensky, Whipple writes, adding that President Joe Biden told Burns “to share the precise details of the Russian conspiracy.”
“This immediately caught Zelensky’s attention; he was taken aback, sobered by this news,” Whipple wrote in the book, which will be published on January 17.
Russia invaded Ukraine the following month, triggering Europe’s biggest military conflict since World War II. Since then, Ukrainian officials have said that Zelenskyy survived more than a dozen Russian assassination attempts. But Whipple, who interviewed Burns, gives readers a glimpse of how the stakes were laid for Zelensky as he tried to deflect American warnings of an impending invasion.
“The intelligence was so detailed that it would have helped Zelensky’s security forces prevent two separate Russian assassination attempts,” he wrote.
As previously reported, Burns also shared “a draft of Putin’s invasion plan” during that visit to Zelensky’s office to help him prepare. wrote Whipple. He presented Russian plans to attack the Antonov airfield north of Kiev and use it as a staging ground for an attack on Kyiv.
Whipple wrote that most of the interviews for his book were about “deep background,” which meant he could use the information but agreed not to directly quote sources without permission.
The US was a key partner of Ukraine during Russia’s unprovoked invasion, which began in February 2022. Kyiv has received billions of dollars in security aid from Washington since the start of the war, and the US has continued to provide Ukraine with vital intelligence to aid its forces on the battlefield.