US-Russian engagement deepens as CIA chief visits Moscow

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MOSCOW – CIA Director William J. Burns met a senior adviser to President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, leading a delegation of US officials on a two-day visit to the Russian capital which served as the last proof of increased engagement between two global adversaries.

Mr. Burns was traveling at the request of President Biden, the US Embassy in Moscow said in a statement. The surprise visit was somewhat of a merger of Mr. Burns’ current role as chief intelligence officer and his former jobs as a senior U.S. diplomat and State Department official. Karen Donfried, Deputy Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, joined Mr Burns when he met with Mr Putin’s adviser Nikolai Patrushev.

“They are meeting with members of the Russian government to discuss a range of issues in bilateral relations,” an embassy spokesperson said of the US delegation’s visit, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was at least the fourth trip to Moscow since July by a senior US official, a marked increase in contact following the summit meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin in Geneva in June. Officials on both sides say the talks have so far failed to achieve any breakthrough and are primarily aimed at stabilizing relations between two increasingly competing nuclear-weapon adversaries in cyberspace as well as geopolitics.

Discussions include a serious conversation on arms control and another on cybersecurity. The United States, for example, has revealed the names and other details of a few hackers actively launching attacks against America from Russia, and are waiting to see if the information leads to arrests, The New York Times reported.

The two sides are also discussing other issues of mutual interest, including North Korea, Afghanistan and climate policy.

U.S. officials have also said Moscow has been helpful in ongoing talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Mr Burns was one of the diplomats who started the talks with Tehran that ultimately led to the international agreement in 2015 to limit its nuclear program. Former President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018.

“Although the number of issues on which we have reached agreement is not large, we are on the right track,” Putin said last month, hailing the White House as “interested in forging ties.”

Mr Burns’ visit – and the decision to disclose it immediately – underscored efforts by both sides to telegraph that they were working to manage a volatile relationship.

Mr. Biden argued that even though the United States and Russia compete on the world stage, they should be able to cooperate “where it is in our mutual interest”. But his position has opened him to criticism that he is too willing to engage with a country that undermines American interests around the world and suppresses dissent at home.

After landing on Tuesday, Mr Burns spoke with Mr Patrushev, who is the secretary of the Kremlin Security Council and is widely regarded as the most powerful figure among intelligence officials in Mr Putin’s inner circle. . In a brief video of the start of the meeting posted online by Russian media, Mr Patrushev told Mr Burns, seated across from him at a conference table, “I am happy to welcome you to Moscow.

The CIA declined to comment.

Russian officials have publicly raised the possibility of a second meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden before the end of the year, although the White House has not confirmed that another summit is under consideration. U.S. officials are likely to want to see further progress on the issues discussed in Geneva before agreeing to another meeting.

Asked Tuesday about the possibility of another Putin-Biden meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said there was “a mutual interest in having such contacts”.

“The timetable will be determined,” Peskov said.

The White House used Mr. Burns as a sort of traveling diplomat, sending him, for example, to Afghanistan to speak with Taliban leadership during the Kabul airport evacuation in August. He also met with senior Israeli leaders in Israel ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to Washington.

A former US Ambassador to Moscow who served twice as a diplomat in Russia, he is one of the senior officials in the Biden administration with the most experience in Russian affairs.

The spectrum of intelligence issues between the United States and Russia includes electoral interference from Moscow, the spread of disinformation globally, and ransomware attacks by Russian criminal groups.

It is not clear whether Mr. Burns would raise the issue of the abnormal health incidents known as “Havana Syndrome,” an increasing number of episodes in which CIA agents and other officials have suffered. traumatic brain injury after experiencing strange pressure, heat, or sound.

Some US officials say privately they believe Russia is responsible for these health incidents.

However, analysts from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have yet to draw any formal conclusions about what prompted them. Russia has dismissed speculations that it could be responsible as “unhealthy fantasies”.

Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.


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