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US, Russian defence chiefs speak for first time since invasion

AP – Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu spoke with United States (US) Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday after months of refusing direct contact with his American counterpart. But officials said the call didn’t appear to signal any change in Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

A senior Defence Department official said on Friday that while Austin believes the hour-long conversation was important in the effort to keep lines of communication open, it didn’t resolve any “acute issues” or lead to any change in what the Russian are doing or saying as the war enters week 12.

The call – initiated by Austin – marked the highest level American contact with a Russian official since the war began in late February. Over the past several months, Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that Russian leaders declined to take calls from Austin and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley.

This is the first conversation between Austin and Shoigu since February 18, a week before the war started. Another senior official said on Friday that Milley is expected to also reach out to his counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, Russian chief of the general staff.

The Pentagon said that Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasised the importance of maintaining lines of communication” in a statement.

Several officials described the call as a positive step. The official characterised the tenor of the call as “professional” but provided no other details on its content.

United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. PHOTO: AP