United States defence secretary Lloyd Austin has held a rare telephone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, with the Ukraine war featuring in the talks, according to the defence ministry from both countries.
The Pentagon on Friday declined to offer specifics beyond saying that Austin, who initiated the conversation, emphasised a need for lines of communication amid the war in Ukraine.
“Topical issues of international security – including the situation in Ukraine – were discussed,” said Russia’s defence ministry.
Few details emerged of Friday’s conversation – only the second call between the ministers since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. Back in May, Austin had urged Moscow to implement an “immediate ceasefire”.
The call comes as pro-Kremlin officials in Ukraine’s east said they were turning the country’s southern city of Kherson into a “fortress” as Kyiv’s forces advance. Ukraine said on Friday it had retaken a total of 88 towns and villages in the region since launching its offensive to retake Kherson in September.
Kyiv’s forces in recent weeks – aided by Western weapons – have been advancing along the west bank of the Dnieper river towards the region’s main city Kherson.
Ukraine’s push in the south comes after a sweeping counteroffensive in the northeast Kharkiv region that has badly impaired Russia’s supply routes and logistics corridors in the eastern Donbas region.
‘Russia doubling down on its aggression’
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had seen no evidence that Russia is interested in ending its aggression towards Ukraine, and instead was “doubling and tripling down”. However, Austin said the US would stay in contact with Russia.
“We have seen no evidence of that at this moment. On the contrary, we see Russia doubling and tripling down on its aggression,” Blinken told a joint news conference with French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.
Russia attacks ‘horrific’
Blinken pointed to Russia’s recent attacks on power stations and other civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and the mobilisation of troops who Blinken called “horrifically, cannon fodder that Putin is trying to throw into the war”.
“The fundamental difference is that Ukrainians are fighting for their country, their land, their future. Russia is not and the sooner President Putin understands that and comes to that conclusion, the sooner we will be able to end this war,” Blinken said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s energy minister said that Russian air attacks have hit at least half of Ukraine’s thermal generation capacity, causing billions of dollars of damage since October 10, though not all those power units have stopped working completely.
German Galushchenko told the Reuters news agency that Ukraine may need electricity imports to get through the winter after attacks that had struck 30-40 percent of power infrastructure and traders were already holding negotiations with suppliers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday urged the West to warn Russia not to blow up a dam in southern Ukraine that would cause severe flooding.
Russia has accused Ukraine of rocketing the dam and planning to destroy it in what Kyiv officials called a sign Russia might blow it up and blame Ukraine.
Neither side produced evidence to back up their allegations.