Austin speaks with Russian counterpart for first time since start of war in Ukraine

Austin speaks with Russian counterpart for first time since start of war in Ukraine

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday spoke with his Russian counterpart, the first such conversation between the two officials since the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine began in February, according to the Pentagon.

Austin spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu by phone, where the Pentagon chief “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” the Defense Department said in a statement.

A senior defense official later told reporters that the call was initiated by Austin and lasted about an hour, with the tone characterized as “professional.”

The two officials last spoke on Feb. 18, less than a week before Russia began its attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Since then, Pentagon officials have made consistent efforts to speak with Russian defense officials but were repeatedly rebuffed.

It was unclear what changed on the Russian side to engage in the call, but Austin hopes it “will serve as a springboard for future conversations,” according to the official.

“I won’t speak for the Russians, but I think generally our takeaway was that the message was received with respect to keeping the lines open,” they said.

However, Austin “continues to have concerns about what’s going on in Ukraine,” and the call itself “didn’t specifically solve any acute issues or lead to a direct change in what the Russians are doing and what they’re saying,” the official said.