CIA & Russian Intel Chiefs Meet In Turkey To Discuss Nuclear Tensions

 In a rare diplomatic opening of dialogue after nine months of war in Ukraine, CIA Director William Burns is in Turkey on Monday for talks with his Russian counterpart aimed at reducing nuclear tensions between the two superpowers

Burns is holding the talks with Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, in Turkey's capital of Ankara. This marks the highest-ranking face-to-face meeting between US and Russian officials since President Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb.24.

CIA & Russian Intel Chiefs Meet In Turkey To Discuss Nuclear Tensions
Getty Images/AFP

The Kremlin confirmed that the meeting is taking place at Washington's request. "Such negotiations really took place. It was the initiative of the American side," TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. 

According to Al Jazeera, citing regional sources, "Burns reportedly warned Naryshkin of the consequences Russia would face in the event it used nuclear weapons in Ukraine."

The two intelligence chiefs are said to not be discussing settlement of the Ukraine war, but are focusing on the potential for a prisoner exchange between the US and Russia, as well as the de-escalation of nuclear tensions.

According to a White House national security official cited by The Associated Press:

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Burns and Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR spy agency, would not discuss settlement of the war in Ukraine. Burns is expected to raise the cases of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, two Americans detained in Russia whom the Biden administration has been pressing to release in a prisoner exchange.

Washington and NATO allies have long accused President Putin of making nuclear threats while citing 'red lines' in Ukraine - something which Putin has denied, explaining his words were taken out context. The Kremlin has repeatedly said its nuclear doctrine has not changed, explaining that it will only use nukes if Russian territory and sovereignty comes under direct existential threat.

Sergey Naryshkin.
Sergey Naryshkin. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, at the G20 summit in Bali on Monday - which Putin was not in attendance for, President Biden and China's Xi Jinping "reaffirmed our shared belief in the threat for the use of nuclear weapons is totally unacceptable." The two had discussed Ukraine, finding common agreement on the need to avoid ratcheting nuclear rhetoric among superpowers.

But the real question remains: will Ukraine's recapture of Kherson lead to any serious attempt at negotiations? It certainly gives Kiev the battlefield leverage it has long sought. Influential voices within the Biden administration have also begun talking about pushing for peace, however, so far the hawks have prevailed, arguing that Ukraine must continue its military momentum and that seeking a ceasefire would only suggest weakness.

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