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US, Russian Defence Chiefs speak for 1st time since Ukraine invasion

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Russians are withdrawing from Kharkiv, says Ukraine
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu

RUSSIA,US: Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu spoke with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday after months of refusing direct contact with his American counterpart. But officials said the call didn’t appear to signal any change in Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

A senior Defence Department official said Friday that while Austin believes the hour-long conversation was important in the effort to keep lines of communication open, it didn’t resolve any “acute issues” or lead to any change in what the Russian are doing or saying as the war enters week 12.

The call — initiated by Austin —- marked the highest level American contact with a Russian official since the war began in late February. Over the past several months, Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that Russian leaders declined to take calls from Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This is the first conversation between Austin and Shoigu since February 18, a week before the war started.

Meanwhile, Russian troops are withdrawing from around Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of heavy bombardment, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.

Zelensky said talks with Russia on getting wounded defenders out of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were “very complex”, adding that Kyiv was using influential intermediaries.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told the country’s Suspilne news outlet Saturday that Ukrainian authorities are negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops from the steelworks.

An aide to Mariupol’s Mayor said between 150,000 and 170,000 civilians remain in the city, which had a prewar population of more than 400,000. – THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Monday, May 16, 2022 – 01:00

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