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CIA chief made secret trip to Ukraine prior to Wagner mutiny: US official

CIA Director William Burns (File photo by Reuters)

CIA Director William Burns made a secret trip to Ukraine, prior to the Wagner Group's armed mutiny against Moscow, US newspapers have reported.

The US spy chief traveled to Kiev in June to meet with his intelligence counterparts and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, The Washington Post reported.

During the meeting, Ukrainian officials shared plans to regain Russian-occupied territories and begin ceasefire negotiations by the end of the year, the daily added.

A US official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Burns traveled to Kiev to reaffirm "the US commitment to sharing intelligence to help Ukraine defend against Russian aggression.”

The official went on to say that the CIA director "traveled to Ukraine as he has done regularly since the beginning of Russia's recent aggression more than a year ago."

The official further noted that the latest trip took place before the 24-hour mutiny by the Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, but stressed that the rebellion "was not a topic of discussion."

In an audio message posted on Telegram on June 23, Prigozhin accused Russia’s military top brass of ordering a rocket attack on the group's field camps in Ukraine -- where Russia has been conducting a military operation -- killing "huge numbers” of his paramilitary forces. Authorities in Moscow, however, strongly denied his claim.

He also claimed that he had taken control of the southern city Rostov-on-Don as part of an attempt to oust the military leadership.

The mutiny, which lasted less than 24 hours, came to an end after the Wagner leader agreed to turn his troops back on their path to the Russian capital, following negotiations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko aimed at deescalating the situation. 

The Kremlin then announced that Russia has dropped a criminal case previously filed against the head of Wagner group.

According to a report published in the New York Times, US spy agencies “strongly suspected” that Prigozhin was planning to take military action against Russia days before he ordered his troops to march on Moscow.

However, US officials decided to keep silent about Prigozhin’s plans. The pretext was that if they said anything, Putin could have accused them of orchestrating a coup, the report said.

Margarita Simonyan, the chief of Russia’s state broadcaster, was also cited as saying in Russian media that there is “no doubt” the mutiny was orchestrated by the secret services of the United States, Britain, and Israel.

The United States has attempted to make clear to Russia it played no role in the rebellion.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Burns has called Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) to assert that Washington had no role in the mutiny.

The phone call was the highest-level contact between the two governments since the attempted mutiny, the WSJ said.

US President Joe Biden also said on Monday that the mutiny by the Wagner group against the Kremlin was part of a struggle within the Russian system, stressing that the United States and its allies were not involved in it.

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