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US urges Russia to keep lines of communication open on Ukraine

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WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Friday to keep “lines of communication” open on the war in Ukraine, a spokesman said.

“Secretary Austin emphasised the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder said in a statement following their phone call.

Russia also confirmed the call — the second between the two officials since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.

In his last call with Shoigu on May 13, Austin urged Moscow to implement an “immediate ceasefire” in Ukraine.

Russia did not do so, and Kyiv’s forces have since regained swathes of territory from Moscow’s troops in the east and south of the country.

Washington says Iranian trainers on ground helping Moscow with drone attacks

Relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to new lows since the start of the war. Russia has accused the US of seeking to prolong the conflict by providing financial and military aid to pro-Western Ukraine, while Washington has condemned Moscow’s invasion as illegal.

Austin also spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov “to reiterate the unwavering US commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ability to counter Russia’s aggression”, Ryder said in a separate statement on Friday.

The defense secretary “underscored the international community’s continued support in building Ukraine’s enduring strength and safeguarding Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the future,” the statement said.

Iranian trainers

The United States has said Iranian military trainers were in Crimea helping Russian forces operate Iranian-made drones to attack targets in Ukraine, adding that an alarming strand to a war that has heightened geopolitical tensions.

Ukrainian citizens endured the first day of nationwide scheduled power outages since the war began eight months ago so repairs could be made to damaged or destroyed energy plants as winter approaches.

“We can confirm that Russian military personnel based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs and using them to conduct kinetic strikes across Ukraine, including in strikes against Kyiv in recent days,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told a daily briefing with reporters, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

“We assess that … Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations,” Price said. He said “we do have credible information” but he did not provide evidence.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has used the southern peninsula to train soldiers and reopen Soviet-era military bases as part of the invasion of its neighbour.

There was no immediate public reaction from Tehran to the US accusations, but Iran has denied the drones are Iranian-made. Russia has also denied using Iranian drones in Ukraine.

Russia’s defence and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Washington was going to pursue all means to “expose, deter and confront” Iran’s supply of munitions to Russia, including more sanctions, while also considering air defences for Ukraine.

European Union members have agreed on new measures against Iran, the bloc said, while Britain imposed sanctions on senior military figures and a firm it said were involved in the supply of Iranian drones to Moscow.

“Iran and Russia, they can lie to the world, but they certainly can’t hide the facts, and the fact is this: Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground,” Kirby said, without providing details.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter he had held detailed discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on a request for air and missile defence systems and technology. Lapid’s office said the Israeli leader expressed “deep concern” about the military connection between Iran and Russia.

Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2022


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