Austin also communicated Friday with Oleksii Reznikov, Ukrainian Minister of Defense.
As his troops retreat, Russia’s defense chief comes under pressure at home
The Pentagon relies on behind-the-scenes discussions with Russia and other adversaries to avoid missteps or miscommunications that could inadvertently trigger a broader conflict. The United States has expanded its military footprint in Eastern Europe and the Baltics in response to the war in Ukraine, and the lack of conversation between Washington and Moscow has become a cause for concern – especially as the Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested it again recently. weeks its willingness to use nuclear weapons.
The risk of an unintended read error has been high for months. US personnel in Poland are involved in transferring Western weapons and other military supplies to Ukraine, while US and NATO jets continue to conduct operations over the Baltic Sea.
The “deconfliction line” between the United States and Russia cooled after the invasion as repeated calls from the United States to Moscow went unanswered, officials said. During Austin’s last call with Shoigu on May 13, the Secretary of Defense “asked for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.” Friday’s reading included no mention of Austin making a similar call.
Austin made Friday’s call, Sabrina Singh, the Defense Department’s deputy press secretary, told reporters. She called the conversation “a good opportunity, the right opportunity to connect”, adding that “the dialogue is good here”.
Dialogue, however, was more frequent before the start of the war. In late February, with the invasion imminent, the pair held a tense call during which Austin pushed Shoigu to make clear the Kremlin’s intention to attack. As The Washington Post previously reported, he told the Russian leader, “I know what you are doing.
US officials have described their limited conversations since then as “professional”.
US saw wreckage of suicide drones Russia used in Ukraine
Shoigu has faced mounting political pressure at home following recent retreats of Russian forces into Ukraine, with hardliners openly attacking the military command for setbacks in areas the Kremlin claims to have annexed. The defense minister has appeared increasingly vulnerable after a succession of humiliating military failures forced Putin last month to order the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists.
Austin’s outreach to Shoigu comes as Russia, facing harsh Western sanctions and other punitive economic measures, has turned to Iran for help amid its mounting losses on the battlefield. The White House this week confirmed reports that Tehran had sent a small number of personnel to help Russian operators using Iranian-made drones target key infrastructure in Ukraine. The US has seen the wreckage of the unmanned aircraft, which could prove advantageous as Ukrainian forces look for better ways to defeat them.
Ukraine is looking to consolidate gains on the battlefield in the east and south before the onset of winter, when both sides are likely to slow down operations. The offensive push marks a crucial test for Ukrainian forces and their ability to keep pressure on already beleaguered Russian supply lines.
Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.