CIA director warns Russian spy chief against deploying nukes

By AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — CIA Director Bill Burns met with his Russian intelligence counterpart on Monday to warn him of the consequences if Russia were to deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, according to a House National Security Council official. White.

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Burns and Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russian spy agency SVR, did not discuss the settlement of the war in Ukraine during the meeting in Ankara, Turkey. Ahead of the meeting, White House officials said Burns also planned to raise the cases of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security official Paul Whelan, two Americans detained in Russia that the Biden administration pressed for release in prisoner swap.

The Burns-Naryshkin meeting was the highest face-to-face engagement between US and Russian officials since before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the February invasion.

The official said Ukrainian officials were briefed prior to Burns’ trip to Turkey.

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President Joe Biden, after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, told reporters they discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine. Biden added that they “reaffirmed our shared belief that the threat of the use of nuclear weapons is completely unacceptable.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state news agency Tass that talks between Burns and Naryshkin “did take place”. Peskov said “it was the initiative of the American side”.

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

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

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

Turkey “will continue to negotiate with all parties concerned for peace and will not refrain from taking initiatives during this process”, Altun said.

The meeting between the spy chiefs came as the US Treasury Department on Monday announced an expanded list of sanctions against 14 individuals and 28 entities involved in supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex. Many of those hit by new sanctions are outside of Russia, including people and companies based in Switzerland, Taiwan and France.

Biden also announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from the southern region of Kherson, one of four regions in Ukraine that Putin annexed in September.

“This is a significant victory for Ukraine. Significant victory. And I can only applaud the courage, the determination and the capacity of the Ukrainian people, of the Ukrainian military,” Biden said.

Biden said last month the risk of nuclear ‘Armageddon’ was at the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials raised the use of tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks during the invasion of Ukraine which lasted almost nine months.

While U.S. officials have warned for months of the possibility that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine as it faces strategic setbacks on the battlefield, Biden administration officials repeatedly said that nothing had changed in US intelligence assessments to suggest Putin had imminent plans. to deploy nuclear weapons, according to US officials.

The National Security Council official added on Monday that there had been no change in the US intelligence assessment and declined to elaborate on the timing of the decision to send Burns to meet with Naryshkin.

Putin has repeatedly hinted at the use of his country’s vast nuclear arsenal, including in September when he announced his intention to recruit Russian men to serve in Ukraine. Biden sought to make it clear that the use of low-yield tactical weapons could quickly spiral out of control and lead to global destruction.

Speaking at a conference of international foreign policy experts late last month, Putin said there was no point in Russia hitting Ukraine with nuclear weapons.

“We don’t see the need for it,” Putin said. “It makes no sense, political or military.”

Biden sent Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia, to Moscow last fall as the US intelligence community saw signs that Putin was preparing to invade Ukraine.

The CIA chief’s travels are normally closely watched, but the White House, as it did last year, calculated that it was best if Burns’ interaction with the Russian spy chief was widely known.

Prior to Monday, the last publicly acknowledged face-to-face meeting between senior US and Russian officials took place in January in Switzerland: Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on January 21, before Russia’s invasion of Russia. Ukraine the following month.

Blinken and Lavrov have been in the same room for multilateral meetings since the February 24 invasion, including at a meeting of G-20 foreign ministers in Bali in early July and at the United Nations General Assembly. , but did not have direct discussions.

They did, however, have at least one telephone conversation, which focused on a possible prisoner exchange and took place in late July. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have also had phone calls with their Russian counterparts, as has National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Matthew Lee and Fatima Hussein contributed reporting.

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