Press releases about business, cryptocurrency, fintech and more news in Hong Kong and Asia

Defense chiefs hold talks on Ukraine

A Russian military convoy is seen on the road toward the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, southeastern Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. (PHOTO / AP)

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW –  Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu spoke with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday for the second time in three days and held a flurry of calls with three other counterparts from NATO countries.

Moscow provided no details on the conversation with Austin, which came after the two men spoke on Friday for the first time since May.

They (Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu) discussed the situation in Ukraine, which is rapidly deteriorating … It is trending toward further uncontrolled escalation.

The Russian Defense Ministry

Its readouts on the other calls said Shoigu had said the situation in Ukraine was worsening.

“They discussed the situation in Ukraine, which is rapidly deteriorating,” the Russian Defense Ministry said of Shoigu’s call with French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu. “It is trending toward further uncontrolled escalation.”

Shoigu also spoke separately to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Britain’s Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace.

Shoigu told his French, Turkish and British counterparts of Moscow’s concern that Ukraine could detonate a “dirty bomb”, a device laced with radioactive material.

ALSO READ: Russia accuses Ukraine of organizing Crimea bridge blast

The Pentagon’s readout of the call said Austin told Shoigu he “rejected any pretext for Russian escalation”. Austin also reaffirmed the “value of continued communication”.

The White House National Security Council rejected Shoigu’s allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.

In a joint statement after the talks, Britain, France and the United States said they were committed to supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.

The conversations showed that Russia and members of the US-led NATO alliance are actively maintaining channels of communication at a time of rising international concern about a possible nuclear escalation.

US President Joe Biden said the world is closer to “Armageddon” than at any time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

ALSO READ: Lavrov says Russia open to talks with West

A local resident pushes her bicycle through damaged buildings in Toretsk, eastern Ukraine, on Aug 5, 2022. (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

The Pentagon’s readout of the call with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Shoigu he “rejected any pretext for Russian escalation”. Austin also reaffirmed the “value of continued communication”

Nuclear exercise 

Last week, NATO launched its annual nuclear deterrence exercise and said it expects Russia to hold drills shortly to test the readiness of its own nuclear forces.

A top 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”.

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

There is concern that support from Ukraine’s allies in Europe might be eroded due to soaring energy costs as winter approaches.

Meanwhile, Iran announced on Sunday a contract with Russia to supply it with 40 turbines to help its gas industry amid Western sanctions, local media reported.

ALSO READ: EU adopts 8th package of sanctions against Russia

“Currently, 85 percent of the facilities and equipment needed by the gas industry are built inside the country, and based on this capability, a contract has recently been signed to export 40 Iranian-made turbines to Russia,” Iranian Gas Engineering and Development Company’s CEO Reza Noushadi was quoted as saying by the Oil Ministry’s news agency Shana.

A photo taken on March 24, 2022 shows a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) filling station for trucks in Dortmund, western German. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

After Sunday’s call, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said he had reaffirmed France’s desire for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, and that Paris refused to get drawn into any form of escalation

Noushadi said US sanctions on Russia are aimed at excluding Moscow from the gas market.

“In recent years, the United States has widely set up LNG production plants, and recently, with the all-out embargo on Russia and then the explosion in the Nord Stream gas pipeline, it effectively eliminated one of its biggest competitors in gas exports,” he said.

Russia on Monday accused Western countries of having “essentially stolen” its gold and foreign exchange reserves via sanctions.

Asked by reporters about a European Union proposal to transfer frozen Russian assets to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “In general, a large part of our assets have been essentially stolen by specific Western countries.”

READ MORE: Hungarian chief diplomat calls Western sanctions 'complete failure'

Unprecedented Western sanctions have frozen around half of Russia’s gold and foreign exchange reserves, which stood near $640 billion before the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis on Feb 24.

Agencies via Xinhua