Russia’s defense minister held rare phone talks with his US counterpart on Friday, after pro-Kremlin officials said they were turning the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson into a ‘fortress’ as Kyiv forces advance.
Few details emerged from the conversation between Russian Sergei Shoigu and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, but both sides confirmed they had discussed Ukraine.
“Current international security issues – including the situation in Ukraine – were discussed,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The Pentagon declined to provide details beyond saying that Austin, who initiated the conversation, stressed the need for lines of communication amid the war in Ukraine.
“Secretary Austin has emphasized the importance of maintaining the lines of communication in the ongoing war against Ukraine,” a U.S. military spokesman said.
Russia’s Tass news agency quoted Vienna-based Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov as saying on Russian television: “Misunderstandings must be dispelled so that there are no accidents…these are always important contacts, and it is important that the Americans are the first to go.”
Gavrilov, a top security negotiator, also said that following the call, Moscow was waiting for clarification on the nuclear deterrent exercises NATO is conducting, TASS added.
A Pentagon spokesperson said Friday provided the best opportunity for the two sides to talk, without explaining why that was. She did not say if further talks were planned between the two.
It was only the second call between ministers since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February. In May, Austin had urged Moscow to implement an “immediate ceasefire”.
At the time, the Russian invasion force had been pushed back from the capital of Kyiv, but was steadily advancing into the eastern regions of Donbass and Kharkiv and had consolidated its position in the south.
Six months later, however, Ukrainian forces pushed back.
In recent weeks, forces from Kyiv – aided by Western weapons – have advanced along the west bank of the Dnieper towards the region’s main city, Kherson.
It was the first major city to fall to troops from Moscow and recapturing it would be a major prize in Ukraine’s counter-offensive.
Reuters and Agence-France Presse contributed to this report