US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine

The call lasted about an hour and was at the request of Austin, which used the first call between the two in 84 days to urge Defense Secretary Sergei Shoigu to implement a “cease- immediate fire,” according to a brief reading of the call. The latter two spoke on February 18, a week before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

This ends a long period in which top Russian military leaders have repeatedly refused to speak with their American counterparts.

On March 24, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “searched and continue to search” for phone calls with Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian general-in-chief, but the Russians “so far have refused to engage.”

Following the call between Austin and Shoigu, Milley should also contact his Russian counterpart to see if it is possible to schedule a call, a defense official told CNN, but there are currently no conversations on the schedule. .

The two haven’t spoken since Feb. 11, a week before the last call between Austin and Shoigu.

On March 1, the United States and Russia established a deconfliction line because the two armies operate so close to each other. Some of the Russian strikes in Ukraine took place near the border with Poland, where US troops operate. Similar to the deconfliction mechanism the US and Russia have on Syria, the idea is to avoid any miscalculations or misunderstandings that could lead to an unintended and dangerous escalation.

But even though the Pentagon said the line had been successfully tested once or twice a day, there had been no communication at the highest levels of the US and Russian armies so far.

“We kept trying [to establish communications] Since the last time they spoke to each other, which was just before the invasion, so it has been a constant effort,” a senior defense official said during a press briefing with officials. reporters on Friday.

But the official tempered expectations about the impact of the call, saying it would not solve any “acute problems” or lead to a “direct change” in Russia’s military actions or increasing rhetoric. more hostile.

The call comes at a particularly difficult time between Russia and the West, with no clear launch pad for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in its third month.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Friday the country was entering a long phase of war, defying early expectations that kyiv would quickly collapse.

“To win it now, we have to carefully plan resources, avoid mistakes, project our force so that the enemy, in the end, can’t stand up to us,” 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 backing down.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russian Ambassador to the European Union, insisted that the Kremlin’s “special military operation” remains on track, although he acknowledged that it “is not happening at the speed that some people want in Russia”.

Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden are moving ever closer to NATO membership, and the United States is set to approve another $40 billion aid package. Ukraine, including billions of new weapons and equipment.

Both indicate that the West sees neither this conflict nor its strategic consequences dissipating quickly.

Finland’s Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen told CNN the huge outpouring of support in his country to join the treaty alliance was a “very drastic change in our security environment.”

Russia has warned that it would bolster its ground forces and air defenses near Scandinavia and more naval forces if Finland and Sweden join NATO, but the threat has done little to deter their moves to the alliance, perhaps only serving to accelerate their ascent.

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