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CIA chief says 15,000 Russians killed in war, dismisses Putin health rumors

Speculation about Russian President Vladimir Putin's health has picked up after the Feb. 24 invasion. (Alexey Maishev/Kremlin/Pool/Sputnik/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Russia’s territorial gains in Ukraine have been minimal and have come at a “very high” cost, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday, illustrating the deadly grind of the conflict while dismissing concerns about President Vladimir Putin’s health.

CIA Director William J. Burns poured cold water over persistent speculation that the Russian leader is ill during a security forum in Aspen, Colo.

“There are lots of rumors about President Putin’s health, and as far as we can tell, he’s entirely too healthy,” he quipped, adding that it was “not a formal intelligence judgment.”

In the lead-up to the invasion and in the months that have followed, Putin has been portrayed as more eccentric and irrational. Widespread speculation that he is sick, possibly with cancer, has continued to circulate as the war drags on.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to limp off his plane on arrival in Tehran for a meeting with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 19. (Video: Associated Press)

Burns said about 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war in Ukraine. Up to 45,000 more have been wounded, he said, citing the latest U.S. intelligence on Russian losses. “Ukrainians have suffered, as well — probably a little less than that, but … significant casualties,” Burns said.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the top U.S. military officer, told reporters Wednesday that Russian forces have taken just six to 10 miles of new territory in the past 90 days after focusing their efforts on seizing eastern Ukraine. “The bottom line is, the cost is very high, the gains are very low, there is a grinding war of attrition,” he said.

U.S.-supplied HIMARS changing the calculus on Ukraine’s front lines

“Advances are measured in literally hundreds of meters” on some days, Milley said.

The United States is also considering sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine, amid Kyiv’s fears that Russian forces could get further entrenched if the war drags on into winter. “After winter, when the Russians will have more time to dig in, it will certainly be more difficult,” the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said Tuesday.

Those weapons could include warplanes, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said Wednesday. Brown didn’t specify the type of aircraft, but said the options include American-made fighter jets and those manufactured in Europe.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on Sept. 21, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow our live updates here.

The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Staged referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place from Sept. 23 to 27 in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another staged referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson starting Friday.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can help support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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