CIA chief William Barnes

US and Russian spy chiefs meet face-to-face to discuss Moscow’s nuclear threat to Ukraine and Americans detained by Russia.

CIA Director William Burns and his Russian counterpart Sergei Naryshkin held talks in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Monday.

The Kremlin said the talks were an “initiative on the American side”.

It is the highest-level meeting between officials since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House said Barnes, who was the US ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008 and spoke Russian, was not discussing ending the war.

His message was the consequences of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons and the risk to strategic stability, the White House said in a statement.

The United States has repeatedly warned Moscow against using strategic nuclear weapons in Ukraine in recent months.

In September, Vladimir Putin accused the West of trying to destroy Russia. He insisted on using ‘all available means’ to defend his territory, which was seen as a veiled threat of using nuclear weapons.

The meeting between Barnes and Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR), was confirmed by a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has emerged as a key mediator between Russia and the West since the February attacks.

The White House statement emphasized that Barnes was not conducting any negotiations. Washington will remain firm on the basic principle, nothing about Ukraine but Ukraine.

The statement also said officials were discussing the “unjust” detention of US citizens in Russia.

In August, US basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for smuggling and possessing cannabis oil. He was transferred to a penal colony last week.

Marijuana use is illegal in Russia, but Moscow has been accused of using Griner as a political pawn.

In late July, the Biden administration offered a prisoner swap with Russia for the release of Griner, whom Moscow has accused of espionage.

Speaking after his transfer to the penal colony, White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said the United States remained steadfast in its efforts to free him and other detained Americans.

The exact content of the talks in Ankara is unknown. A CIA spokesman said they never discuss the director’s activities abroad. But the meeting comes at a critical moment in the war, after the fall of Kherson and the question of how Moscow will respond to the blow.

Although Naryshkin is not considered as important in Moscow as Burns is in Washington, he is not part of Putin’s inner circle and was significantly humiliated by the Russian leader in a meeting on the eve of the attack in February – US leaders hope that a face-to-face meeting will give the CIA director some insight into Moscow’s thinking.

(November 15/FA)