A top Russian security official met the visiting chief of the Central Intelligence Agency on Tuesday, a rare encounter amid tensions between Moscow and Washington.
Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, met CIA Director William Burns in Moscow to discuss U.S.-Russian relations, Patrushev’s office said in a statement without providing any details.
Ties between the two countries have badly frayed over Russia’s interference with U.S. elections and 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, its support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, hacking attacks and other irritants.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a June summit in Geneva in an attempt to make relations between their nations more stable and predictable.
They agreed to launch consultations on arms control and cybersecurity while noting areas of continued disagreement.
Speaking last month, Putin described relations with Washington as “quite constructive” and said he personally has developed “working, stable relations” with Biden. The Russian leader voiced hope that mutual interests would eventually help normalize U.S.-Russia ties.
Patrushev, a longtime close associate of Putin’s, is considered one of Russia’s most influential officials.
Speaking at an online panel Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov noted that U.S.-Russian relations are more troubled now than they were even at the height of the Cold War and called for quick moves to reduce tensions.
He particularly hailed arms control consultations that followed the Geneva summit and voiced hope they could achieve progress.
Ryabkov lamented the U.S. Embassy’s decision to stop issuing non-immigrant visas to Russians and encouraged Washington to send additional consular staff to resume normal operations.
Russia and the U.S. exchanged several rounds of diplomat expulsions and took other steps restricting the activities of their respective diplomatic missions amid growing tensions over the past years.
As part of trading diplomatic blows, Russia banned the U.S. Embassy from hiring local residents. The embassy has said the move forced it to reduce its consular staff by 75% and cut most U.S. citizen services as well as non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel.
A senior U.S. official told reporters last month that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has shrunk from about 1,200 in 2017 to approximately 120, a dramatic reduction.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the personnel shortage made it difficult to continue with anything other than a caretaker presence at the embassy, adding that the Russian government is aware of that and progress must be made soon.