The call lasted about an hour at the request of Austin, who used the first call between the two in 84 days to urge Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to implement an “immediate ceasefire,” according to a brief reading of the call. The two last spoke on February 18, a week before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
It ends a long period during which top Russian military leaders repeatedly refused to talk to their American counterparts.
On March 24, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley “have sought and are still seeking” phone calls with Shoigu and Russian General Valery Gerasimov, but the Russians “have so far refused to participate.”
After the call between Austin and Shoigu, Milley is also expected to reach out to his Russian counterpart to see if a call can be scheduled, a defense official told CNN, but no conversation is currently on schedule.
The two have not spoken since February 11, one week before the last call between Austin and Shoigu.
On March 1, the United States and Russia established a line of disengagement because the two armies operate close to each other. Some of the Russian strikes in Ukraine have been close to the border with Poland, where US forces operate. Similar to the US-Russia deconfliction mechanism on Syria, the idea is to avoid any miscalculation or misunderstanding that could lead to unintended and dangerous escalation.
But even when the Pentagon said the line had been successfully tested once or twice a day, there was still no communication at the highest levels in the US and Russian militaries.
We never stopped trying [to establish communications] “Since the last time they spoke, which is just before the invasion, so it has been a consistent effort,” a senior defense official told reporters Friday.
But the official tempered expectations about the impact of the call, saying it would not resolve any “severe issues” or lead to a “direct change” in Russian military actions or increasingly hostile rhetoric.
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