CIA director meets Russia’s top spy chief for secret Ukraine talks
The high-level meeting in Turkey will be the first face-to-face summit between a top Kremlin and US official since the invasion
November 14, 2022 • 5:39pm
America and Russia’s top spy chiefs met in Turkey for secret talks about the war in Ukraine as world leaders gathered at the G20 in Indonesia.
Bill Burns, director of the CIA, and Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, met in Ankara in the first face-to-face high-level contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,
The White House said they discussed the use of nuclear weapons, and stressed that Mr Burns is “not conducting negotiations of any kind”. The US has been openly calling for Ukraine and Russia to engage in peace talks after Kyiv’s victory recapturing the city of Kherson.
Ukraine was briefed in advance of the Ankara meeting, the White House said, adding: “We firmly stick to our fundamental principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
The Kremlin did not confirm or deny the meeting was taking place.
The rare meeting came as world leaders gathered for the G20 summit in Bali America stepped up efforts to restart diplomacy around Ukraine following Russia’s defeat in the month-long battle for Kherson.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, visited the city on the bank of the Dnipro river to watch soldiers raise the Ukrainian flag on the central square.
“This is what the Russian Federation did in our country, it showed the whole world that it can kill. But all of us, our armed forces, our National Guard,” he said in remarks to the press.
It came as Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping gathered in Bali for the annual G20 summit, which opens on Tuesday.
Mr Biden and Mr Xi – a key ally of Vladimir Putin – agreed that nuclear weapons should never be used, including in Ukraine.
The statement will be seen as a warning to Moscow, which has in recent months publicly toyed with the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
“Under the current circumstances, China and the United States share more, not less, common interests,” Mr Xi told Biden during a three-hour meeting, according to a Chinese transcript.
There have not been any high-level public conversations between the US and Russia since Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign secretary, and Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, met in Geneva in January, a month before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Monday night, Rishi Sunak said Britain believed in “putting Ukraine in the strongest possible position for an eventual negotiation”.
He added: “And that’s our job – and ultimately the Ukrainians will then decide the basis of those talks.”
President Biden sent Mr Burns to Moscow in November last year to try to dissuade Vladimir Putin from going ahead with his planned invasion of Ukraine.
However, the White House said: “We have been very open about the fact that we have channels to communicate with Russia on managing risk, especially nuclear risk and risks to strategic stability.”
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, arrives to the G20 summit in Bali, where he is representing Russia CREDIT: SONNY TUMBELAKA /AFP
The meeting in Ankara follows reports that American officials have asked their Ukrainian counterparts to soften their war aims in a bid to make negotiations work.
Mr Sullivan to Kyiv last week asked Mr Zelensky to drop his demand that Russia gives up Crimea, which it illegally annexed in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Mr Zelensky said in a video address last week the war must end with the liberation of all Ukrainian territory including Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions that were occupied in 2014, as well as reparations and prosecution of war criminals.
However, he appeared to drop his refusal to talk to Russia as long as Vladimir Putin is in power, apparently in response to a US request.
Sources close to the Ukrainian government told The Telegraph last week that Mr Zelensky remains sceptical about the use of negotiating with Mr Putin and still believes Russia must be defeated on the battlefield to compel its government to come to terms.
Mr Sullivan has denied “pressuring” Ukraine, but US diplomatic initiatives have caused anxiety among some Central European allies who fear a premature negotiated peace will only pause the war rather than end it.
On Monday, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, said Europe had to be clear that any peace had to come only on Ukraine’s terms and that speculation in the public sphere over talks was unhelpful.
“The speculations that we found in the public sphere, I think they are unhelpful and therefore, it is important that Europe sends a very clear message that we will support Ukraine to the peace that it will be settled by them… I think it merits reminding because the speculations I think they are not productive and not helpful”
Estonia’s foreign minister said the West had not done enough to help Ukraine and urged an increase in military aid. “Ukrainians need long-range missiles to deter Russians,” said Urmas Reinsalu.
It came as the secretary general of Nato warned Russia remained a threat to Ukraine and that the success of any peace talks would depend on Ukraine having the upper hand on the battlefield.
“Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson demonstrates the incredible courage of the Ukrainian armed forces, but it also shows the importance of our continued support to Ukraine,” Jens Stoltenberg said in the Netherlands.
“We should not make the mistake of underestimating Russia. The Russian armed forces retain significant capabilities as well as a large number of troops. And Russia has demonstrated a willingness to bear significant losses. They have also shown extreme brutality.”
Josep Borell, EU’s chief diplomat, said the liberation of Kherson was “very good news” and proved sending military and other support to Kyiv was the right decision and “had to continue”.