President Joe Biden allegedly sent CIA chief William Burns on a secret mission to Moscow and then Kiev in mid-January, according to a report in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NNZ) on Wednesday. The White House and the CIA both addressed the allegeations on Thursday, saying it was not true that the US had offered Russia 20% of Ukrainian territory as part of a peace proposal.
According to confidential conversations with two German lawmakers dealing with foreign policy – one from the ruling coalition, the other from the opposition – Burns reportedly offered a “land for peace” deal in which Russia would keep some “20% of Ukraine’s territory” – about the size of the Donbass.
The Swiss-German newspaper mentioned the supposed proposal in passing, focusing on the chain of events that led to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden announcing they would send Leopard 2 and Abrams heavy tanks to the government in Kiev.
The NZZ report is “not accurate” and the CIA will say the same, deputy spokesperson for the White House’ National Security Council, Sean Davett, told Newsweek. A CIA official then told the US outlet that reports of a secret Moscow trip by Burns, or a peace proposal on behalf of the White House were “completely false.”
The Washington Post reported earlier that Burns had taken a secret trip to Kiev ahead of the tank announcement, in order to meet and brief Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.
From what the two German politicians told NZZ, the peace offer hinted at a split in Washington regarding the conflict. While Burns and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan want to wrap up the fighting in Ukraine quickly to focus on China, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are committed to backing Kiev.
The Swiss outlet further pointed to the recent report by the Rand Corporation, urging Washington to avoid a “long war” in Ukraine – among other reasons, so the US can focus on China.
Both Ukraine and Russia refused the US proposal, NZZ claimed. Kiev said it was unwilling to give up any territory, while Moscow was confident of victory. Asked about the NZZ report, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy told Newsweek he found it “interesting” but declined to comment on “speculation.”