US, Russian defence ministers hold talks, discuss situation in Ukraine
The US and Russian defense secretaries have spoken in a phone call, in a rare moment of high-level contact between the two countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu spoke on Friday, the two countries confirmed.
Both sides said the situation in Ukraine was discussed. It is the first time they have spoken since a call on May 13.
After Friday’s call, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told the BBC that the US was “eager to keep lines of communication open”.
“It has been since May since the two gentlemen spoke, so Secretary Austin took today as an opportunity to connect with Minister Shoigu,” he said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that “current questions of international security were discussed, including the situation in Ukraine”.
After their previous conversation in May, Austin urged his counterpart to call an immediate ceasefire — a request that was not mentioned this time.
It comes after hints from Russian President Vladimir Putin that he may be willing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and warnings against this from US President Joe Biden.
Officials in both the US and the UK say they believe the chances of Putin carrying out these veiled threats are low.
Asked if the call had been scheduled as a response to this issue, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that while Putin’s hints had been “irresponsible and concerning”, the US has seen “no indication at this time” that Russia has decided to use nuclear weapons.
Already frosty relations between the US and Russia soured even further since the invasion of Ukraine.
The leaders of both countries had a meeting in mid-2021, which was heralded as a positive step towards a better relationship. But this progress stalled as tensions escalated over Ukraine.
Putin and Biden held several calls in the months before the war, in which the US president warned his Russian counterpart to stand down. There have been no talks between the leaders since the invasion.
Both men are set to attend the G20 summit in Indonesia next month, but have indicated that they will avoid a meeting.
The US responded to the war with a package of sanctions on Russia, in addition to significant military aid to Ukraine.
Earlier this week Biden accused Putin of trying to intimidate Ukrainians into surrendering, after Russia declared martial law in four recently-annexed regions of Ukraine.
The Russian president is now in an “incredibly difficult position”, he said, and the “only tool available to him is to brutalize individual citizens in Ukraine”.
Russia has previously denounced the US and the West for attempting to influence the war by supplying weapons and other aid to Ukraine.
In one of his most anti-American speeches so far, Putin accused the West of being “colonial” last month, when marking the annexation of four Ukrainian regions.