US and Russian Defense Secretaries Talk for First Time Since Ukraine War Starts

The Defense Secretary of U.S and gives Russia, Lloyd J. Austin and Sergei K. Shoigurespectively, spoke for the first time since the Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February. The conversation took place this Friday, the 13th, at a time when the war reached an impasse. Negotiations between the countries have no results and conflicts continue.

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The last time the two had spoken was on February 18, six days before the invasion. From there, tensions between Russia and the United States and Europe escalated and created the continent’s biggest geopolitical crisis since the 2nd War.

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According to a Pentagon spokesman, John KirbyAustin pushed for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and stressed the importance of maintaining dialogue.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the link between the two was “on the initiative of the American side”, which two senior US officials confirmed. Senior Pentagon officials, including Austin, repeatedly tried to contact their Russian counterparts after the invasion.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin during a press conference at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, April 26.  Austin spoke with his Russian namesake on Friday, the 13th, for the first time since the start of the war.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin during a press conference at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, April 26. Austin spoke with his Russian namesake on Friday, the 13th, for the first time since the start of the war. Photograph: Ronald Wittek / EFE

“What motivated them to change their minds and be open to it, I don’t think we know for sure,” a senior Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity to describe a confidential call. He stated that the conversation lasted an hour and had a “professional” tone, but did not break new ground.

“The call itself did not specifically resolve any serious issues nor did it lead to a direct change in what Russians are doing or saying,” the official said. However, he added that Austin hoped this would “serve as a springboard for future conversations.”

Austin and Shoigu’s conversation was the highest-level contact between US and Russian officials since March 16, when President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Russian Security Council Secretary General Nikolai Patrushev, for reiterate the United States’ strong opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A day after visiting Kiev with the Secretary of State, Antony BlinkenOn April 25 in Poland, Austin said he expected to see Russia “weakened,” in a statement that has drawn criticism of the Biden administration and heightened tensions between the two countries. “We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do the kind of thing it did in invading Ukraine,” he said at the time.

The conversation with the Russian minister comes three days after Avril D. Haines, the US director of national intelligence, told a US Senate committee that the next two months of fighting in Ukraine will be crucial as Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, tries to strengthen the military campaign. But in her assessment, even if Russia conquered the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the war would not end.

Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the same Senate committee that the war was “at an impasse.” “The Russians are not winning, the Ukrainians are not winning,” he said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 30, 2017. Shoigu responded to the US request for dialogue on Friday, 13
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 30, 2017. Shoigu responded to the US request for dialogue on Friday, 13 Photograph: Pavel Golovkin / AP

European Union to send new military aid package to Ukraine

In parallel, the European Union announced on Friday a new package of military aid for Ukraine and the G-7 promised to support Kiev “until victory” against the Russian invasion. The new package is estimated at 500 million euros. Therefore, the total sent by the EU to Ukraine since the beginning of the war reaches 2 billion euros.

The head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, stated that the package is a continuation of what has been done before. According to him, the ‘recipe’ used by the EU to retaliate against Russia for the invasion is the same: more economic sanctions, more support for Kiev and “continue to work for Russian isolation”.

The package was announced during a G-7 meeting in Germany. During the meeting, France and the UK reaffirmed their support for Ukraine in the conflict. “We will continue to permanently support Ukraine’s struggle for its sovereignty, until victory,” said French diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrovaccused the EU of having “followed the paths of NATO” by taking an “aggressive and bellicose” role in the conflict in Ukraine.

Bombing in Donetsk kills a civilian

A bombing in the region of donetsk, eastern Ukraine, killed at least 1 civilian and wounded 12 others on Friday, according to the region’s governor. The responsibility for the attack was attributed to Russian troops.

Donetsk is part of the Donbas and has seen fierce conflicts between Ukraine and Russia in recent weeks, as Moscow focuses on capturing the region.

According to the Ukrainian army, Russian attacks in the east continued on Friday in villages and new towns. One of the attacks was near the village of Rubezhnoie, near the city of Severodonetsk – seen by analysts as strategic for securing control of the Donbas. The cities of Zoloth and Kamishevakha also suffered attempted attacks from Russia, but Ukraine claimed to have repelled them.

Ukrainian forces added that Moscow also fired on the villages of Kamenka and Novoselivka, as well as offensives near the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces resist.

The information was released in the daily communiqué of the Ukrainian Army, but could not be verified by international news agencies. /NYT, AFP and AP

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