US defense chief speaks with Russian, Ukrainian counterparts

Lloyd Austin emphasizes 'enduring' US commitment to Ukraine, need for maintaining communication with Moscow.

US defense chief speaks with Russian, Ukrainian counterparts

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke on Friday with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts as the Biden administration maintains its support for Kyiv's defense.

During his call with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, Austin reiterated "the unwavering U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine's ability to counter Russia's aggression," Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.

"Secretary Austin also underscored the international community's continued support in building Ukraine's enduring strength and safeguarding Ukraine's ability to defend itself in the future, as demonstrated by the security assistance commitments made by allies and partners at the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on October 12," he added. "The two leaders pledged to remain in close contact."

Ryder separately said that during his call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, Austin "emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine."

He did not offer further details.

The calls come after the US publicly announced that Iranian forces are present in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, helping Russian forces operate military drones supplied by Tehran to aid Moscow's war effort.

Crimea has been under Russian occupation since 2014.

The US has billed Russia's decision to turn to Iran, as well as North Korea, as signs of desperation, saying export controls it and its allies have imposed on the Kremlin have led to serious shortages of equipment that is vital to the ongoing offensive across Ukraine.