Austin & Russia's New Defense Chief Speak For 1st Time After Crimea Beach Attack

In a rare moment which appears a somewhat positive development (or at least it's not more immediate escalation), the US and Russian defense chiefs spoke by phone Tuesday for the first time since March 2023.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin initiated the call, and the timing is important given it comes following Sunday's deadly Ukraine missile attack on a crowded Sevastopol beach which killed five people and injured 124 more, including children.

Moscow has blamed Washington for providing the long-range MGM-140 ATACMS systems used in the attack, and has even said Kiev likely had satellite and targeting help from the Pentagon.

The Guardian noted that "The two sides gave widely divergent accounts of the discussion – the first between US defense secretary Lloyd Austin and Russia’s defense minister Andrei Belousov."

Russian defense chief Belousov warned Austin against continued arms supplies to Kiev, citing the dangers of serious escalation. 

As for the US version of the call, the Pentagon readout was scant, only saying that Austin "emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine."

The Kremlin is still pointing to Washington actions as being behind an ongoing escalation:

Russia’s defense ministry said Washington and Kyiv bore "responsibility for a deliberate missile strike on peaceful residents," which it said used US-supplied ATACMS missiles.

Russia further called it a "terrorist act" and according to more details:

Videos posted on social media showed people running from the beach as explosions went off and people in swimming outfits carrying a stretcher. AFP could not verify their authenticity.

A local news channel on Telegram, ChP Sevastopol, cited witnesses as saying that an elderly woman was killed as she swam in the sea.

But despite this, elsewhere there were other rare positives. On Tuesday Russia and Ukraine conducted a prisoner swap involving 90 total POWs.

Sunday's strike involved cluster munitions dropping on men, women, and children at a Sevastopol beach...

This was the second biggest swap since May 31st, when the two sides returned 75 captives each. That exchange had come after a long lull in exchanges, and there is likely more to come this summer.

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