Senior White House Official Involved in Undisclosed Talks With Top Putin Aides

WASHINGTON – President Biden’s top national security adviser has engaged in recent months in secret talks with top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to reduce the risk of a wider conflict over Ukraine and warn Moscow against using nuclear or weapons other mass destruction. , said the United States and related officials.

The officials said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had been in contact with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Mr Putin. Mr Sullivan has also spoken to his immediate counterpart in the Russian government, Nikolai Patrushev, the officials added.
The aim has been to guard against the risk of escalation and keep communication channels open, and not to discuss the settlement of the war in Ukraine, officials said.

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When asked if Mr. Sullivan had engaged in undisclosed conversations with Mr Ushakov or Patrushev, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said: “People are alleging a lot of things” and declined to comment further. The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment.

The White House has not publicly acknowledged any calls between Mr Sullivan and any senior Russian official since March, when he spoke with Mr Patrushev.

The unpublicized talks come as traditional diplomatic ties between Washington and Moscow have eased and Mr Putin and his aides have suggested he may resort to using nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, as well as the gains made in his invasion of Ukraine this year.

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Despite its support for Ukraine and punitive measures against Russia for the attack, the White House has said that maintaining some level of contact with Moscow is essential to achieve certain mutual national security interests.

Several US officials said Mr Sullivan was known within the administration as pushing for a line of communication with Russia, even as other top policymakers felt talks in the current diplomatic and military environment would not be beneficial.

Officials did not give the exact dates and number of calls or say whether they had been productive.

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Some former American officials said it was useful for the White House to maintain contact with the Kremlin as US-Russian relations are at their lowest since the end of the Cold War.

“I think it’s always important, especially for nuclear armed countries, to maintain open channels of communication to help understand what each side is thinking and thereby avoid the possibility of accidental conflict or war,” he said. Ivo Daalder, who served as the United States. ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration. “National security advisers are the closest channel to the Oval Office without bringing the president directly into that channel of communication.”

The US national security adviser has held secret talks with top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin to warn Moscow against using nuclear weapons.


Photo:

Evgeny Biyatov/Associated Press

President Biden tried to foster a working relationship with Mr. Putin during his first year in office, which ended with a summit in Geneva in June 2021. Those talks touched on Ukraine, where the sides had clear differences, among a variety of other topics.

By October, however, US intelligence indicated that Russian forces were preparing to invade Ukraine. CIA Director William Burns was sent to Moscow in early November 2021 to warn Mr Putin of an attack.

Mr. Biden spoke twice with Mr. Putin in December 2021 and again in February 2022 to try to avoid a Russian attack while US diplomats engaged their Russian counterparts.

After Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, however, diplomatic and military relations between the two sides became rare.

Officials said Mr Sullivan played a leading role in coordinating the Biden administration’s policy and plans in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine – something expected of the president’s top national security adviser. However, he has also been involved in diplomatic efforts, including a visit to Kyiv on Friday to speak with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, meetings traditionally handled by the secretaries of state or defense.

Mr. Sullivan has spoken to the leadership of Ukraine, encouraging them to publicly demonstrate their willingness to resolve the conflict, said a US official. The United States is not pushing Ukraine to negotiate, the official added, but rather to show allies that it is seeking a solution to the conflict, which has affected world oil and food prices.

The Washington Post earlier reported efforts by Mr Sullivan to persuade Ukrainian officials to seek a resolution.

When Mr Putin and his senior aides suggested in September that Russia could use nuclear weapons if its forces were cornered, Mr Sullivan said the Biden administration had “directly, privately communicated at very high levels to r Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will face disastrous consequences for Russia.”

The White House had refused to say how that warning was communicated.

The Pentagon said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with the Russian defense minister and stressed the importance of maintaining lines of communication.


Photo:

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Last month Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and several of his counterparts spoke to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as Moscow claimed that Kyiv was preparing to use a so-called dirty bomb against it, which Ukrainian and Western officials denied.

Mr Austin began the initial call, their first discussion since May, to stress the importance of maintaining lines of communication, the Pentagon said. Shoigu started the second.

Mr Ushakov, the foreign policy adviser to Mr Putin, has served as ambassador in Washington and is seen by former and current US officials as a conduit to the Russian leader.

Mr Burns met Mr Ushakov in November 2021 during his visit to Moscow before speaking to Mr. Putin. Mr spoke. Sullivan with Mr Ushakov again in December.

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In his March conversation with Mr Patrushev, which the White House described, Mr Sullivan told the Russian official that Moscow’s forces should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns and warned the Kremlin not to use chemical or biological weapons .

Mr Patrushev, who joined the KGB in the 1970s and rose to become director of the Federal Security Service from 1999 to 2008, is seen by American officials as a hardliner who shares many of Mr Putin’s misgivings about the United States

A Russian statement said of a March conversation between Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Patrushev that it happened on the initiative of the United States, and that Mr. Patrushev emphasized “the need to stop Washington’s support for neo-Nazis and terrorists in Ukraine and facilitate the transfer of foreign mercenaries to the conflict zone, as well as refusing to continue to supply arms to the Kiev regime.”

Even as relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorate, the United States has tried to preserve some areas of cooperation, particularly on strategic arms control and the International Space Station.

Washington and Moscow have adhered to the New START treaty, which limits US and Russian long-range nuclear weapons and is due to expire in 2026.

US and Russian officials plan to hold meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, established by the New START treaty to discuss its implementation, according to US officials and a Russian media report. One goal is to discuss resuming inspections under New START that were suspended when the Covid-19 pandemic began, US officials said.

Although Switzerland has traditionally been a host country for such talks, Moscow has said it no longer considers it a neutral country because, like other European nations, it has imposed economic sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine . Western sanctions have also complicated the Russians’ travel arrangements, so plans are underway to hold the meeting in Cairo at the end of November, the officials said.

The State Department and the Russian government declined to comment on the meetings, which are not generally announced in advance.

Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.

Write to Vivian Salama at [email protected] and Michael R. Gordon at [email protected]

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