Ukraine war: Pentagon chief talks with Russian counterpart

The Pentagon has said that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Ukraine, and for the first time since the start of the war, Russia has held talks with its counterparts.

Austin confirmed the call in a tweet on Friday, saying he had spoken to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for the first time since February 18.

“I urge Ukraine to emphasize the importance of an immediate ceasefire and the continuation of communication,” Austin tweeted.

The call comes as Russian forces continue their offensive in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, prompting US President Joe Biden’s administration to provide billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Kyiv.

Austin has repeatedly tried to talk to Shoigu since Moscow launched an offensive against its neighbors on February 24, but officials say the Russians are not interested.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters Friday that talks between the two leaders lasted about an hour, but did not mention what the Russians were doing in Ukraine or directly.

The officer described the call as “professional”.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the call was made on a “United States initiative”, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

“Hot issues related to international security, including the situation in Ukraine, were discussed,” the TASS quoted the ministry as saying.

Russia has repeatedly warned Washington and its European allies not to supply heavy artillery and other weapons to Kyiv, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky has called for an end to Russian aggression in the eastern part of the country.

In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, Zhelensky said that if Russia succeeds in seizing the east, it could try again to seize the capital, Kyiv.

This week, Avril Haynes, director of National Intelligence, also said that the transfer of Russian troops to the Donbass area was temporary.

“It simply came to our notice then [Vladimir] Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine, at which point he still wants to achieve goals outside the Donbass, “Haynes told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday.

“Our assessment that Putin’s strategic goals may not change is that the decision to re-deploy Russian troops in the Donbass at the end of March shows that he is confident that the Russian military will capture Kyiv.

Meanwhile, Zelensky said on Thursday that he was ready for face-to-face talks with Putin to end the conflict, as the United Nations has now forced more than six million refugees to flee Ukraine.

In an interview with Italian broadcaster Roy 1, the Ukrainian president said, “I am ready to talk to Putin, but only with him. Without any of their intermediaries. In the framework of negotiations, there is no ultimatum. “

However he acknowledged that their numbers were not enough to defeat Lukashenko’s government.

“Every day we see the capture of small towns and the signs of violence, torture and executions left by the Russian military. That is why the negotiations are complicated,” Zhelensky said.

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