Top Pentagon officials have not spoken to their Russian counterparts since invasion of Ukraine began

Senior Russian military leaders have declined calls from their US counterparts since before the invasion of Ukraine began, a Pentagon spokesman said March 24.

By Jeremy Herb and Barbara Starr, CNN

(CNN) -- Senior Russian military leaders have declined calls from their US counterparts since before the invasion of Ukraine began, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.

The last known time that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu was on February 18, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley last spoke to the Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov on February 11, CNN previously reported.

"Over the past month, Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley have sought, and continue to seek, calls with their Russian counterparts. Minister Shoigu and General Gerasimov have so far declined to engage. We continue to believe that engagement between US and Russian defense leaders is critically important at this time," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

The US military has maintained a deconfliction phone line with Russia's military, which the Pentagon says has been tested daily but has not been used for any substantive reasons. The reason for the deconfliction line is to try to avoid any miscalculations that could escalate Russia's war with Ukraine that's on the doorstep of NATO territory.

The Washington Post first reported on Austin and Milley's attempts to contact their Russian counterparts.

There have been some contacts between US and Russian officials since the war began. CNN reported there was a meeting last week between Russian military officials and two US defense attachés at the Russian Ministry of Defense in Moscow. At the meeting, there was an "outburst" of emotion from a normally stoic Russian general, which the US officials said they had never witnessed from their Russian counterparts at an official meeting, according to a closely held US readout of the meeting reviewed by CNN.

Earlier this week, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan after US President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal." Sullivan raised concerns about US citizens currently detained in Russia during the meeting. Last week, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Russian counterpart, in what was the highest-level contact between the two countries since the war began.

The US believes that Russia's refusal to hold high-level meetings is due to concerns at the Kremlin that the encounters would risk a tacit admission that an abnormal situation exists in Ukraine, according to the US readout.

While the heads of state of several US allies -- including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett -- have spoken with Putin since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last month, Biden has not done so.

After Biden labeled Putin a "war criminal" last week amid mounting civilian casualties in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Biden's remark "put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture." On Wednesday, the State Department formally accused Russian forces of war crimes for targeting civilians.

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