The call lasted about an hour and came at the request of Austin, who used the first call between the two in 84 days to urge Defense Secretary 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 launched its invasion of Ukraine.
This ends a long period in which Russia’s top military leaders have repeatedly refused to speak to their American counterparts.
On March 24, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley “have sought and are still seeking” phone calls with Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, the top Russian general, but the Russians “to have”. so far declined to get involved.”
Following the call between Austin and Shoigu, Milley is also expected to contact his Russian counterpart to see if it’s possible to arrange a call, a defense official told CNN, but no conversation is scheduled at this time.
The two have not spoken a word since Feb. 11, a week before the last phone call between Austin and Shoigu.
On March 1, the US and Russia established a deconfliction line because the two militaries operate so close together. Some of the Russian attacks in Ukraine have taken place near the border with Poland, where US troops operate. Similar to the conflict resolution mechanism that the US and Russia have over Syria, the idea is to avoid miscalculations or misunderstandings that could lead to an unintended and dangerous escalation.
But even when the Pentagon said the line was successfully tested once or twice a day, until now there has been no communication at the highest levels of the US and Russian militaries.
“We haven’t stopped trying [to establish communications] since the last time they spoke, which was just before the invasion, so it’s been a consistent effort,” a senior defense official said in a briefing with reporters on Friday.
But the official dampened expectations of the call’s impact, saying it would not solve “acute problems” or result in a “direct change” in Russia’s military actions or increasingly hostile rhetoric.
The call comes at a particularly tense time between Russia and the West, without Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war well into its third month.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Friday the country is entering a long stretch of war, defying early expectations that Kyiv would quickly collapse.
“To win it now, we need to plan resources carefully, avoid mistakes and use our strength in such a way that the enemy can’t stand us in the end,” Reznikov said.
Despite losses that have forced Russia to retreat around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Moscow has shown no outward signs of retreat.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, insisted the Kremlin’s “special military operation” remains on course, even as he conceded that it “is not progressing at the speed that certain people in Russia wanted”.
Both are indications that the West sees neither this conflict nor its strategic consequences being resolved anytime soon.
Finland’s ambassador to NATO, Klaus Korhonen, told CNN that his country’s huge support for joining the treaty alliance is a “very drastic change in our security environment.”
Russia warned that it would beef up its ground forces and air defenses near Scandinavia and other naval forces if Finland and Sweden join NATO, but the threat did little to deter their moves toward the alliance, and perhaps only served to to accelerate their rise.