Top US and Russian generals spoke for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine in February, with the Pentagon confirming a phone call between Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Russia's Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
"The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open," a US Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson said. "In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private," the spokesman added. However Russia's state RIA confirmed Ukraine was a central topic, and other issues of "mutual interest'.
Earlier this month Pentagon officials raised the alarm over what they described as many instances of the Russian side refusing to pick up the established "deconfliction" military-to-military hotline.
The Pentagon has said that multiple calls from US military officials over the past months to their Russian counterparts were ignored. This also as direct negotiations between Kiev and Moscow have all but ceased, with the exception of discussions over prisoner exchange.
Typically the hotline would involve lower level officers monitoring any inbound calls. Reuters describes:
The "deconfliction" hotline is an open phone line based at the European Command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and falls under Air Force General Tod Wolters, who leads all U.S. forces in Europe.
Gen. Wolters has expressed of the Milley-Gerasimov discussion that he hopes it is a sign that Russia and the West could inch closer to a diplomatic solution on Ukraine. "It's my hope we will be one step closer to a diplomatic solution," Wolters said.
But a fresh report in The Wall Street Journal signals there's unlikely to be a negotiated peace on the horizon anytime soon:
Ukraine’s military intelligence chief said the country would keep fighting until it evicts Russian forces from all of its territory—including Crimea and other areas effectively seized by Moscow in 2014—and called for deliveries of longer-range heavy weapons and warplanes from the West to help.
"I don’t know any borders except the borders of 1991," Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said, referring to the year of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. "Who can force Ukraine to freeze the conflict? This is a war of all Ukrainians, and if someone in the world thinks that they can dictate to Ukraine the conditions under which it can or cannot defend itself, then they are seriously mistaken."
Also it remains that from Moscow's point of view there's little to talk about given Washington is ramping up its proxy war style involvement in support of the Ukrainians quite openly, and at an unprecedented pace – also as the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill has now been approved.
As news broke that Generals Milley and Gerasimov had a phone call, I asked #NATO's top military commander Gen Tod Wolters for his reaction.
"It's my hope we will be one step closer to a diplomatic solution," he said. pic.twitter.com/IYKRO8toUn
— Teri Schultz (@terischultz) May 19, 2022
US officials have further been openly bragging to the press about intelligence sharing with Kiev, which they say resulted in sinking the Russian Black Sea fleet's flagship Moskva cruiser, and which has allowed Ukrainian forces to take out top Russian officers, including generals. Last week President Biden reportedly warned intelligence officials to stop the leaks, which are "counterproductive".
The US has also been training Ukraine's military on how to use new weapons systems being provided by Washington, including cutting edge small drones, such as the Switchblade and the Phoenix 'Ghost' drones. The Kremlin has responded by upping its attacks on suspected weapons convoys in Ukraine, as well as rail and transport infrastructure.