CIA Director Warned Zelensky of Assassination Threat at Secret Meeting Before Invasion

CIA Director Bill Burns met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a secret trip to Kyiv ahead of the Russian invasion last year to tell him the Russians were plotting to assassinate him.

One year ago in January 2022, Zelensky had dismissed the idea that Russians would carry out an assassination plot, or would carry out an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. He had suggested that U.S. public warnings were creating a “panic.” 

It was unusual for the U.S. to publicly disclose intelligence like assassination attempts or an invasion attempt, suggesting the U.S. government was confident in its assessment of Russia’s intentions. 

But it was just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Zelensky expressed concerns that such warnings would have a negative impact on the Ukrainian economy — and emphasized that Kyiv was used to facing threats from Russia. 

Descriptions of the Kyiv meeting come from Chris Whipple in his forthcoming book, “The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House.” Whipple gives a new glimpse of how the stakes were laid out to Zelensky as he tried to push back on U.S. warnings about an impending invasion.

Whipple said Burns had to give Zelensky a “reality check,” and that the director of the CIA shared that Russian Special Forces were in fact coming for him. 

President Joe Biden told Burns “to share precise details of the Russian plots.” Burns also shared a “blueprint of Putin’s invasion plan” during that visit to Zelensky’s office to help him prepare. 

Russia invaded Ukraine the next month, nearly a year ago in February 2022. And with it, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II. 

Since then, Ukrainian officials have spoken about Zelensky surviving more than a dozen Russian assassination attempts. According to Whipple, at least two of those success stories were thanks to U.S. intelligence shared by Burns during that visit to Kyiv.

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