CIA director makes rare trip to Moscow for talks on Russia-US ties

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) William Burns appears before the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing entitled 'Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Intelligence Community - An Enduring Mission Imperative'; with testimony from leaders of the United States intelligence community, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 27 October 2021. [EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS]

CIA director William Burns is making a rare visit to Moscow to discuss US-Russia relations, the latest in a series of high-level contacts that show both sides want to keep talking despite mutual distrust and a long list of disputes.

A US Embassy spokesperson said Burns was leading a delegation of senior US officials to Moscow on Tuesday and Wednesday (2 and 3 November) at President Joe Biden’s request.

“They are meeting with members of the Russian government to discuss a range of issues in the bilateral relationship,” the spokesperson said.

Russia’s Security Council said Burns, a Russian-speaker and former ambassador to Moscow, held talks with Nikolai Patrushev, the council’s secretary and a former head of Russia’s FSB intelligence service.

Neither side gave details of the conversation, but security issues loom large in their troubled relationship.

Ties have hit a series of post-Cold War lows over issues including Russian-based cyberattacks against US targets, Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the jailing of opposition politician Alexei Navalny and Russia’s behaviour towards Ukraine, from which it seized the Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Biden sent a top Russia expert, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, to Moscow for talks last month that failed to yield any progress in a dispute between the two countries over the sizes of their respective embassies.

Biden met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Geneva in June, and said at the time it would take six months to a year to find out whether the two countries could establish a meaningful strategic dialogue.

Putin frequently criticises the United States but said last month he had established a constructive relationship with Biden. The Kremlin has said a further meeting between the two this year is a realistic possibility.

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