CIA director makes rare Moscow visit to discuss Russia-US ties

Russia's Security Council said CIA chief William Burns held talks with Nikolai Patrushev, the council's secretary and a former head of Russia's FSB.

 Russian and US state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, Russia March 27, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/ANTON VAGANOV)
Russian and US state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, Russia March 27, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANTON VAGANOV)

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 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.

 William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2021. (credit: TOM WILLIAMS/POOL VIA REUTERS) William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2021. (credit: TOM WILLIAMS/POOL VIA REUTERS)

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 behavior 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 dialog.

Putin frequently criticizes 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.