National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has in recent months held secret talks with high-level Russian officials, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing unnamed US and allied officials.
The officials said that the talks were aimed at reducing the risk of the war in Ukraine turning into a broader conflict and that Sullivan warned Moscow against using nuclear weapons. They said Sullivan held talks with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev.
As of Sunday night in Washington DC, the talks haven’t been confirmed by the White House or the Kremlin. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson was asked if Sullivan had the conversations and replied, “People claim a lot of things.”
The last confirmed call between Sullivan and a Russian official took place back in March. But Sullivan did say in September that the US has warned Russia of what the consequences would be if it used a nuclear weapon in Ukraine in private communications.
Since Russia invaded on February 24, the US has barely engaged on a high level with Russia, at least publicly. Top US and Russian military officials have held occasional calls, but there’s only been one known conversation between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. But the Blinken-Lavrov call was focused on a potential prisoner swap, not the war in Ukraine.
President Biden recently said that he has “no intention” of meeting with Putin about Ukraine even after he warned the risk of nuclear “armageddon” was at its highest since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The Journal report said that Sullivan is one person within the administration that has been pushing for lines of communication with Russia while many have not.
Wanting diplomacy with Russia has become an unpopular view in Washington. Last month, a group of 30 progressive Democrats sent a letter to President Biden that mildly called for talks with Russia, but after facing backlash, the letter was quickly retracted. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who led the effort, blamed the release of the letter on her staff.
The Journal report also said that US and Russian officials are planning to hold a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, a compliance and implementation body that was established by the New START treaty. The New START Treaty is the last piece of nuclear arms control between the two powers and limits the deployment of warheads, missiles, and bombers. The idea of holding the talks is to work on resuming inspections that were suspended due to Covid-19.