The war in Ukraine has “quietly corroded” the power of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, wrote in an essay published on Tuesday.
While Mr. Putin’s grip on power was unlikely to soon weaken, Mr. Burns wrote in Foreign Affairs, disaffection had “gnawed away at the Russian leadership and the Russian people,” allowing the C.I.A. to recruit more spies.
The agency has made a series of videos aimed at recruiting Russian officials. The most recent, released last week, encourages Russians to securely provide information to the C.I.A. using a secure browser on the dark web. The latest video makes an appeal to their anger over corruption in the Russian government.
While the U.S. government will not say how many spies have been recruited with the videos, officials said the agency would not have continued to push them on Telegram and YouTube if they were not effective. Mr. Burns echoed this sentiment in his article.
“That undercurrent of disaffection is creating a once-in-a-generation recruiting opportunity for the C.I.A.,” he wrote. “We are not letting it go to waste.”
Part of Mr. Putin’s weakness stems from his handling of the mutiny last year by members of Russia’s most powerful mercenary group. He looked “detached and indecisive” in the face of the mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Mr. Burns wrote.
Mr. Burns wrote that Mr. Putin “eventually settled his score with Prigozhin,” a reference to the mercenary leader’s death in a suspicious plane crash. Despite that, the critique of Russian leadership that Mr. Prigozhin put in front of the Russian people “will not soon disappear,” Mr. Burns wrote.
“For many in the Russian elite, the question was not so much whether the emperor had no clothes as why he was taking so long to get dressed,” Mr. Burns said.
Russia has rebuilt its military industrial production, but its economy has been deeply wounded by the war, he said. And long term, Russia is “sealing its fate” to be a vassal of China, dependent on Beijing for trade and technology.
Ukraine faces challenges in the war but has achieved dramatic results. Russia’s efforts to modernize its military has been “hollowed out,” and 315,000 Russians have been killed or wounded, Mr. Burns wrote.
Ukraine has also suffered deep casualties, though Mr. Burns did not touch on that directly. U.S. officials have struggled to estimate precisely how many lives have been lost in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin’s strategy is to continue to grind down Ukraine and try to outlast Western support. But Ukraine, Mr. Burns wrote, can “puncture Putin’s arrogance” by launching strikes deeper behind the hardened front lines of the battlefield. In the past, U.S. officials have worried that Ukraine’s attacks might cause Russia to escalate, even possibly by conducting a nuclear test as a warning to Ukraine and the West.
Mr. Burns acknowledged that concerns about nuclear escalation were valid but suggested they should not be exaggerated.
“Putin might engage again in nuclear saber-rattling, and it would be foolish to dismiss escalatory risks entirely,” he wrote. “But it would be equally foolish to be unnecessarily intimidated by them.”
The key to Ukraine’s success, Mr. Burns wrote, was to continue providing U.S. aid.
Congress is considering a new package of military aid, but it has become entangled with the politics of a border and immigration deal on Capitol Hill.
Cutting off Ukraine, Mr. Burns wrote, would be a huge mistake.
“Keeping the arms flowing will put Ukraine in a stronger position if an opportunity for serious negotiations emerges,” Mr. Burns said. “It offers a chance to ensure a long-term win for Ukraine and a strategic loss for Russia; Ukraine could safeguard its sovereignty and rebuild, while Russia would be left to deal with the enduring costs of Putin’s folly.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ushered in a new era for the C.I.A., Mr. Burns wrote. He spoke of the early warning of the coming invasion that intelligence agencies provided the Biden administration, Ukraine and allies.
But the new era, Mr. Burns said, was also about taking advantages of new technologies, including artificial intelligence. Those have transformed how the C.I.A. collects intelligence, allowing it to analyze information faster and more efficiently.
“As much as the world is changing, espionage remains an interplay between humans and technology,” he wrote.
While there will be secrets that only humans can collect, Mr. Burns continued, the C.I.A. must “blend mastery of emerging technologies with the people-to-people skills and individual daring that have always been at the heart of our profession.”