In the aftermath of the failed mutiny led by Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, CIA Director William Burns initiated a phone call with Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign-intelligence service, to reassure the Kremlin that the United States had no involvement in the internal turmoil.
The call between Burns and Naryshkin is believed to be the highest-level contact between the two governments since the attempted mutiny, which posed a significant threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
The outreach by Burns is part of a broader strategy by the White House to signal to Putin and his inner circle that the United States played no role in Prigozhin’s actions and is not seeking to exacerbate tensions within Russia. U.S. officials are eager to avoid giving the Kremlin any opportunity to blame the mutiny on external enemies.
According to officials, the message conveyed by the CIA chief was clear: “The U.S. wasn’t involved. This is an internal Russian matter.” However, further details about the conversation remain undisclosed.
The White House declined to provide specific comments on the matter, emphasizing that they do not publicly discuss individual diplomatic discussions. The communication between the United States and Russia has been sporadic at high levels since Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
In a separate development, Burns made an unannounced visit to Ukraine earlier this month to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian intelligence officials. The purpose of the trip, which occurred before Prigozhin’s rebellion, was to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to sharing intelligence and supporting Ukraine in defending against Russian aggression.
CIA Director Burns, who has extensive diplomatic experience, including serving as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, has frequently been chosen as President Biden’s representative for engaging with Russia. In previous instances, Burns conveyed sensitive messages to Russian officials, including a phone call to Putin in November 2021, during which he warned of potential sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. He also met with Naryshkin in Ankara, Turkey, in November 2022 to caution Russia against the use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict.
Prigozhin, once a confidant of Putin, staged a mutiny by taking control of a military base in southern Russia and leading Wagner Group troops towards Moscow. However, the rebellion ended swiftly with a deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, in which Prigozhin and his forces would relocate to Belarus in exchange for dropped charges against him.
Since the outset, senior U.S. officials have emphasized that neither the United States nor Ukraine played a role in the armed uprising. The goal was to prevent Putin from using the events as an excuse to blame the West or NATO. President Biden reiterated this during a video call with U.S. allies, stating that the United States had no involvement and made it clear that the mutiny was an internal struggle within the Russian system.
The message regarding U.S. non-involvement was conveyed to Russian officials through appropriate diplomatic channels, including U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy relaying the message in Moscow on Saturday, as stated by the State Department.