Repeated attempts by the United States’ top defense and military leaders to talk with their Russian counterparts have been slammed by Moscow last month, leaving the world’s two biggest nuclear powers in the dark about the explanation for military movements. And the fear of a major miscalculation is increasing. Or crash on the battlefield.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, have tried to make phone calls with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, but the Russians have so far refused. Is. To engage,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.
The call by Austin and Miley, which was not previously reported, follows Russia’s conduct Operations near the borders of NATO members Poland and Romania, while the United States and its European allies conduct air-police operations over the Baltic Sea and send weapons and equipment to Ukraine by ground transport.
Moscow and Washington maintain a ceasefire channel but current and former officials say contact with high-ranking military leaders is needed to avoid unnecessary escalation or confusion.
James Stavaridis, who served as Supreme Allied Commander in NATO from 2009 to 2013, said “direct contact between the most senior officers has a high risk of escalating without fire.” “Very young people are flying in jets, operating warships”, and conducting combat operations in the Ukrainian War. They are not seasoned diplomats, and in the heat of operations their actions can be misunderstood. ,
“We must avoid the sleepy war scenario of NATO and Russia because senior leaders cannot pick up the phone and explain to each other what is happening,” he said.
Russia’s recent use of hypersonic missiles and other sophisticated weapons against targets in western Ukraine has underscored the risk of spillover into a broader confrontation.
“The risk is clearly heightened at present,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Russia is attacking targets in western Ukraine, not far from the border with NATO members, and the Ukrainian Air Force apparently continues to operate from that area, meaning there is a risk that its aircraft can be mistaken for NATO aircraft. Border.”
US defense officials have described the deconvolution phone line as a tactical mechanism to avoid miscalculations, especially when it comes to defending NATO airspace or territory, but its functionality may be limited.
When asked if there was anything reported via the channel, a US defense official this week said, “It’s not set up as a complaint line where you can just call and You can complain about the stuff.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.
Sam Charp, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, said Austin and Mille’s calls serve a “fundamentally different purpose” from the deconstruction channel.
“One is about strategic accident avoidance. The other is about strategic engagement,” he said. “It is always important to communicate our interests clearly and maintain a strategic level to better understand their interests When there is no communication at that level, their worst-case scenario, often based on poor information, is more likely to drive their behavior.”
As shocks on Russia’s battlefield become more pronounced and the conflict nears its second month, US officials worry that Russian President Vladimir Putin may move militarily in hopes of changing the trajectory of the war. As more dangerous weapons and tactics are deployed, the risks of widespread conflict increase.
“A nightmare would be a Russian missile or attack aircraft destroying a US command post across the Polish-Ukrainian border,” said Stavridis, a retired admiral. “A local commander may react immediately, thinking that the incident was a harbinger of a wider attack. This could lead to a rapid and irreversible escalation to include the potential use of nuclear weapons.”
Stavridis said that while he was Supreme Allied Commander, he could dial his Russian counterpart anytime “and did it on several occasions to clarify and de-escalate the situation.”
Kirby said the Pentagon believes the engagement between the US and Russian defense leaders is “critically important at this time.” In addition to the deconvolution channel, the United States and Russia can also connect through the defense attaché at the US Embassy in Moscow, or through relaying messages to the Defense Ministry.
Communication between the United States and Russia has shrunk since the war broke out last month. US Ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan frequently meets with Russian officials, with tours and calls to Moscow. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, spoke to his counterpart Nikolay Petrushev last week for the first time since the start of the conflict. Some US and Russian military officials met last week at the Russian Defense Ministry, CNN first reported,
According to US officials, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not attempted any talks with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, since the start of the conflict.
It is not clear why Russia’s top generals have refused to hold calls with their US counterparts.
“I suspect the problem is with the Russian insistence that this is a ‘special military operation’ and a reluctance to acknowledge the true nature of the war,” said Angela Stant, a Russian scholar at Georgetown University who is a senior intelligence officer. was employed as Bush Administration.
Charp said that given the high stakes of the conflict, the general would also be waiting for Putin’s approval to take the call, and he may not be signing.
Another theory is that Putin may now see the United States as a staunch adversary on its downfall and not worth engaging in. Russian officials have called Biden a “war criminal” to Putin, saying it could lead to a complete rift in relations.
Biden has tried to avoid conflict by keeping US troops out of Ukraine and US planes out of its airspace.
“You’re talking about avoiding incidents by plane or at sea,” said Ben Hodges, a retired Army officer who served as commanding general of US Army Europe. “I’m sure they wanted to tell Gerasimov and Shoigu that Russian pilots shouldn’t launch missiles too close to the Polish border, but they’d also like to talk about other places, not just Ukraine, where you have Russians. airplane.”
“I would also think that they would like to tell – don’t take what we are doing here, what we are doing as provocative work,” he said.
The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.