Three months before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, CIA Director William Burns and U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan met in Moscow with Nikolai Patrushev, an ultra-hawkish adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Burns and Sullivan informed Patrushev that they knew of Russia’s invasion plans and that the West would respond with severe consequences if Russia proceeded. According to Burns, Patrushev said nothing about the invasion. Instead, he looked them in the eye, conveying what Burns took as a message: the Russian military could achieve what it wanted.
Once home, the two Americans informed U.S. President Joe Biden that Moscow had made up its mind. Not long after, Washington began publicly warning the world that Russia would attack Ukraine. Three months ahead of the invasion, the Kremlin knew that the United States had discovered its war plans and that the world would be primed for an assault—yet Putin decided to deny his intentions to Russia’s own troops and most of its senior leaders. They did not learn of the invasion until several days or even hours before it began. The secrecy was a mistake. By orchestrating the attack with just a small group of advisers, Putin undercut many of the advantages his country should have had.