Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin finally got through to his Russian counterpart, Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, on Friday, the first time the two have talked since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, officials said.
“On May 13, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu for the first time since Feb. 18,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. “Secretary Austin urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication.”
Later, a senior Defense Department official, speaking on background with reporters, said they would not add any other details about the conversation except to say that Austin initiated the contact and that the pair spoke for more than an hour.
Kirby told reporters Friday that the conversation was the first between the two since Feb. 18, about a week before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.
“Secretary Austin held a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoygu. This is the first conversation they’ve had since Feb. 18 and the secretary urged an end to the conflict in Ukraine and he emphasized the importance of maintaining communication,” Kirby told reporters.
“We remain keenly focused on the evolving situation in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression in the region. And the United States continues its course to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies to maintain a strong deterrent and defensive posture on NATO’s Eastern Flank.”
For that, Kirby said, Austin has ordered the deployment of 10,500 personnel to replace Army units serving in the European theater, keeping a force of about 100,000 in the region.
Among those providing relief to stationed units, the 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will relieve 82nd Airborne troops in EUCOM, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team will replace about 4,200 troops from the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in Poland, the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team 1st Calvary Division from Fort Hood, Texas, will replace about 4,200 soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Germany, and the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, will replace about 1,800 soldiers in the 1st Air Calvary Brigade in the United States commitment to Atlantic Resolve, Kirby said.
“These moves are designed to respond to the current security environment,” Kirby said. “Moreover, these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine. They are going to support the robust defense of NATO allies.”