CIA Director William Burns spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week about Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine in an effort to gauge the Kremlin’s intentions in the region, according to a report.
Burns, who served as US ambassador to Russia during the George W. Bush administration, led a delegation of American officials who were dispatched by President Biden to Moscow on Nov. 2 and 3, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
Jean-Pierre declined to confirm that Burns had spoken with Putin, nor did she reveal the specific topics that were discussed between the US delegation and their Russian counterparts.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN, which first reported on the conversation, that Putin and Burns spoke on the phone.
Peskov said the two discussed “bilateral relations, the crisis situation in the diplomatic practice, and an exchange of views on regional conflicts.”
“Of course, cybersecurity issues were also mentioned,” he added.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said last week that an estimated 90,000 Russian troops are amassed along the border in eastern Ukraine. Satellite images show Russia has positioned military hardware — including tanks, self-propelled artillery and missiles — near the frontier.
A source told CNN that the US has “serious concerns” over Russian military activities in the region and “it would be foolish for us not to be considering the possibility of an invasion or incursion.”
Russia was hit with sanctions by the US and the European Union after it illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported pro-separatist forces in Ukraine’s Donbass region. The conflict between the separatists and government forces has killed more than 13,000 people over the past seven years.
Putin last week declared that Crimea will always be a part of Russia.
“Our country has regained its historical unity. This living and unbreakable bond can be especially keenly felt, of course, here, in Sevastopol, in Crimea,” he said. “They are with Russia forever now, as that is the sovereign, free and unbending will of the people, of all our people.”
The Defense Department said last week that it is monitoring the situation.
“As we’ve said before, any escalatory or aggressive actions by Russia would be of great concern to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a briefing last Friday.
“Without getting into greater detail right now, I think it’s really a matter of scale. It’s a matter of the size of the units that we’re seeing,” he said.
“We’ve seen this before,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last week before noting that so far there was “nothing overtly aggressive” about Russia’s actions, Voice of America reported.
“What does this mean? We don’t know yet,” Milley said. “But we’re continuing to monitor with all of our capabilities.”
Peskov shot down reports of the buildup as “low quality claims” last week.
“The movement of our military equipment and army units … is exclusively our business,” he told reporters at the time. “Russia has never threatened anyone.”
The US and Ukraine, a fellow NATO member, signed a Strategic Defense Framework in August, and Washington has pledged to provide Kiev with $60 million in military aid on top of the more than $400 million it provided already this year.
With Post wires