U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talked to his Russian counterpart by telephone on Friday for the first time since Moscow invaded Ukraine, and called for an immediate ceasefire.
American officials had repeatedly expressed frustration at Russian refusals to maintain communications during the conflict.
But on day 79 of the war, the Pentagon announced that Austin had spoken to Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu.
‘Secretary Austin urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,’ said spokesman John Kirby.
A senior U.S. defense official said the two had spoken for about an hour in a ‘professional’ call requested by Austin.
‘I won’t speak for the Russians,’ said the official, ‘but I think generally our takeaway was that the message was received with respect to keeping the lines open.’
The Pentagon announced on Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his counterpart Sergei Shoigu by telephone and demanded an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier sits on a tank carryied by a transporter near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on May 12, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine
He added that American officials had repeatedly requested conversations but did not know why Moscow had agreed this time.
‘We have not stopped trying since the last time we spoke which was before the invasion,’ he said.
Russia’s TASS news agency said: ‘Topical issues of international security were discussed, including the situation in Ukraine.’
It comes after Russia faced multiple setbacks during what it calls its ‘special military operation.’
A whirlwind assault on Kyiv was repelled by spirited Ukrainian resistance, and Russian forces are now concentrating on the eastern Donbass region.
But the U.S. official said they were making little progress.
‘Most of the activity that we are seeing in Washington is in the Donbass area. And essentially we continue to see the Russians not making any major gains in the Donbass,’ said the official, adding that Ukrainian artillery had thwarted Russian efforts to gain territory.
Ukrainian forces are trying to hold the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychans’k from Russian troops, which have almost managed to surround them. The river crossing attempt was designed to complete the encirclement, but was foiled
The United States and Russia have established a hotline since the invasion to prevent miscalculation and escalation in the region.
The ‘deconfliction’ hotline is an open phone line based at the European Command’s headquarters and falls under Air Force General Tod Wolters, who leads all U.S. forces on the continent.
Last month Austin upped the stakes in the war, saying the U.S goal was to see Russia ‘weakened’ so it no longer has the capacity to invade its neighbors.
It came after reporters asked him to define ‘America’s goals for success.’
He said that the U.S. wanted ‘Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country, able to protect its sovereign territory.’
Speaking from an aircraft carrier in Poland, Austin added: ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.’
Austin did not call for a peace settlement but rather stepped up his rhetoric against Russia as the conflict enters its third month and Ukraine launched offensive attacks into Russia over the weekend, when missile strikes blew up two oil storage facilities supplying Putin’s troops fighting for control of Donbas.