CIA chief meets Russian counterpart to discuss nuclear deterrents, prisoners

Issued on: 14/11/2022 – 17:33

File photo of CIA chief William Burns at a Senate hearing in Washington taken on April 14, 2021. Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters/File Photo © Graeme Jennings, Reuters/File photo

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US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns met with his Russian counterpart in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Monday to warn of the consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, which Moscow has threatened to deploy in Ukraine, and to raise the issue of US prisoners in Russian jails, according to US officials. 


A White House National Security Council official said the chief met Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service to discuss “the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons by , and the risks of escalation to strategic stability”. 

The official, who was not authorised to comment publicly about the meeting, said Burns did not discuss any settlement of the war in Ukraine with his Russian counterpart.

Ahead of the meeting, the National Security Council (NSC) said Burns was not meeting with Naryshkin to negotiate anything, as the war is in its ninth month and Russia still occupies large swathes of Ukraine territory.

“He is not conducting negotiations of any kind. He is not discussing settlement of the war in Ukraine,” the NSC said in a statement.

“We firmly stick to our fundamental principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” it said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian state news agency Tass that the talks between Burns and Naryshkin “indeed took place”. Peskov said that “it was the American side’s initiative”.

The visit is the first known high-level face-to-face US-Russian contact since President launched the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. 

Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia, was sent to Moscow in late 2021 by US President to caution Putin about the troop buildup around Ukraine.

Putin has repeatedly said Russia will defend its territory with all available means, including nuclear weapons, if attacked.

Turkey plays key role

In Turkey, a top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that the country hosted the meeting between the heads of the Russian and US intelligence agencies. Communications Director Fahrettin Altun told The Associated Press that the meeting was “related to threats against international security, starting with the use of nuclear weapons”.

Turkey earlier this year hosted Ukrainian and Russian officials for talks and played a key role in a UN-brokered deal that allowed Ukraine to resume exporting grain to world markets.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said Monday’s meeting was hosted by Turkey’s intelligence agency, MIT.

US citizens ‘unjustly’ detained in Russia

Ahead of the meeting, US media said Burns was expected to raise the issue of US citizens detained “unjustly” in Russia with the SVR chief.

Russia has imprisoned US basketball star Brittney Griner on drug charges as well as Paul Whelan, an auto supply company official who was arrested in 2018 and convicted of spying.

Washington has reportedly offered a prisoner swap, with speculation that it is willing to exchange jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the Americans.

Last week Biden voiced hope that his Russian counterpart  would negotiate “more seriously” to free Griner, who was sent to a penal colony on a nine-year sentence after her appeal in Russian courts failed.

“My hope is that now that the election is over that Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be willing to talk more seriously about prisoner exchange,” Biden said.

‘Extremely relevant development’

The US-Russian contact in Turkey was first reported by Russia’s Kommersant newspaper. 

Beyond the war, Russia and the US have a host of outstanding issues to discuss, ranging from the extension of a key nuclear arms reduction treaty, the Syrian civil war and a Black Sea grain deal.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, when asked at the G20 summit in Indonesia about the US-Russian contact in Turkey, said the UN was not involved.

“It’s very positive that the US and Russia are having talks because that is an extremely relevant development in relation to the future, but we are not involved,” Guterres said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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