CIA chief William Burns meets Russian spy boss Sergey Naryshkin

White House official says the two spy agency chiefs in Ankara did not discuss any negotiations over the war in Ukraine but talked about the consequences of nuclear weapons.

CIA Director William Burns
CIA Director William Burns met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Naryshkin, in Ankara on November 14, 2022 [File: Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP]

CIA Director William Burns has met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, in the Turkish capital, Ankara, the Kremlin has confirmed.

According to the TASS news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Such negotiations really took place. It was the initiative of the American side.”

A White House official said the discussions between Burns and Naryshkin on Monday were about the consequences of using nuclear weapons.

United States President Joe Biden had a similar conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping over reducing the threat of nuclear war in Ukraine.

But the US official, who spoke to the Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity, said: “[Burns] is not conducting negotiations of any kind. He is not discussing settlement of the war in Ukraine.”

“He is conveying a message on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the risks of escalation to strategic stability,” the official said.

“He will also raise the cases of unjustly detained US citizens,” the official said.

INTERACTIVE Russia's nuclear programme

Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia, was sent to Russia in 2021 by Biden to caution President Vladimir Putin about his troop build-up around Ukraine.

“We briefed Ukraine in advance on his trip,” the US official said. “We firmly stick to our fundamental principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

While the meeting between Russia and the US was first reported by Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, The Associated Press reported that two Turkish officials have said they did not know about a meeting between US and Russian delegations.

Nuclear weapons

Last month, Biden declared that the risk of nuclear “armageddon” is at its highest level since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Since Moscow’s illegal annexation of four regions in Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly said it will defend its territories with all available means, including nuclear weapons.

Before a G20 summit gets under way in Bali on Tuesday, Biden spoke to Xi and discussed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which “reaffirmed our shared belief in the threat or the use of nuclear weapons is totally unacceptable”.

The talks referenced Moscow’s thinly veiled threats to use atomic weapons as its invasion of Ukraine reached its ninth month.

Britney Griner
US President Joe Biden says he would like to negotiate a prisoner swap with Russia that could include professional American basketball player Brittney Griner [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/Reuters]

Prisoner swap

The US and Russia have a number of issues to discuss besides the war in Ukraine, ranging from the extension of the START arms treaty and the Black Sea grain export deal, which is due to expire soon.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was asked in Bali about the US-Russian contact in Turkey, and he said the United Nations was not involved in the talks.

“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.

Biden said this month that he hoped Putin would be willing to discuss a possible prisoner swap to secure the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner, sentenced to nine years in prison on drugs charges, and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years on espionage charges.

Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer jailed in the US, has been mentioned as a person who could be swapped for Griner and Whelan in any future prisoner exchange.

Source: News Agencies