Russian Shoigu holds second call with US Secretary of Defense in three days

Oct 23 (Reuters) – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday for the second time in three days and held a series of calls with three others counterparts from NATO countries.

Moscow did not provide any details of the conversation with Austin, which took place after the pair spoke on Friday for the first time since May. His readings on the other calls indicated that Shoigu said the situation in Ukraine was getting worse.

“They discussed the rapidly deteriorating situation in Ukraine,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said of Shoigu’s call with French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu. “It tends towards a further uncontrolled escalation.”

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Shoigu spoke separately with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Britain’s Ben Wallace.

The Shoigu ministry said it had told its French, Turkish and British counterparts about Moscow’s fear that Ukraine could detonate a “dirty bomb” – a device containing radioactive material. Russia has provided no evidence to support such a claim.

Previous Russian claims that Ukraine may resort to the use of banned weapons such as biological weapons have raised concerns in the West that Moscow may be preparing to stage ‘false flag’ attacks and blame them on Kyiv.

The Pentagon’s reading of the call said Austin told Shoigu he “rejects any excuse for Russian escalation.” Austin also “reaffirmed the value of ongoing communication.”

The White House National Security Council said in a statement that it rejected Shoigu’s false claims that Ukraine was preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.

“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation, he said.

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There was no indication from the Russian side that the talks had produced any positive results. They showed, however, that Russia and members of the US-led NATO alliance are actively maintaining channels of communication at a time when the international community is growing increasingly concerned about a possible nuclear escalation.

As Russia reels from successive defeats in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has declared that he will resort to nuclear weapons if necessary to defend his “territorial integrity”. US President Joe Biden has said the world is closer to “Armageddon” than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

NATO launched its annual nuclear deterrent exercise last week and said it expects Russia to hold drills soon to test the readiness of its own nuclear forces.

A senior Russian diplomat was quoted after the Shoigu-Austin call on Friday as saying that “misunderstandings must be cleared up so that there are no accidents.”

Lecornu after Sunday’s call said he had reaffirmed France’s desire for a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine, and that Paris refused to be drawn into any form of escalation.

Britain said Wallace had “refuted” Shoigu’s claims that Western countries were facilitating a plan by Kyiv to escalate the conflict.

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Reuters reporting; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Porter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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