By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Health & Fitness Journal) – A communications line set up between the militaries of the United States and Russia at the start of Moscow’s war against Ukraine has only been used once so far, a US official told Health & Fitness Journal.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States initiated a call through the Deconfliction line to express concerns about Russian military operations near critical infrastructure in Ukraine.
Health & Fitness Journal is the first company to report on the use of the decon conflict line beyond regular testing.
Few details are known about the specific incident that led to the call on the line connecting the US military’s European command and Russia’s national defense management center.
The official declined to elaborate but said it was not used when a misguided missile landed in NATO member Poland on November 15, killing two people. The blast was likely caused by a Ukrainian air-defense missile, but Russia was ultimately responsible because it started the war in late February, NATO said.
Although the US official declined to specify what Russian activity prompted the US alert, there have been publicly acknowledged incidents of Russian fighting over critical Ukrainian infrastructure.
These include Russian operations around Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest under Russian control.
Ukraine has also raised concerns that Russia could blow up the Nova Kakhovka dam holding back a huge reservoir in southern Ukraine. The breaching of the dam would lead a wall of water to flood the settlements below, including towards the strategic capital of the Kherson region, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces on November 11.
Communications between the US and Russia have been in the spotlight since Russia’s invasion of its neighbor began, amid the grave risk that a miscalculation by one side could trigger a direct conflict between the nuclear-armed nations.
MULTIPLE WAYS OF COMMUNICATION
The conflict resolution line is just one of several ways the US and Russian militaries have yet to communicate.
Other military channels include rare high-level talks between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The top US and Russian generals, US Army General Mark Milley and Russian General Valery Gerasimov, have also spoken twice since the war began, his office said.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Director Bill Burns have also been in contact with Russian officials.
Still, US-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War, and the US State Department said Monday that Moscow had postponed talks in Cairo to resume nuclear weapons inspections. The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the talks have been postponed. Neither side gave a reason.
When asked for comment on the conflict resolution line, the Pentagon said only that it retained multiple channels to “discuss critical security issues with the Russians during an emergency or contingency to prevent miscalculations, military incidents and escalations.”
“We are encouraged by recent discussions by senior DoD officials with Russian counterparts and believe continued dialogue is critical,” a Defense Department spokesman said.
Neither the Russian Embassy in Washington nor the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow responded to requests for comment.
NO ‘COMPLAINT’ LINE
When it was announced in March, the Pentagon said the conflict decon line was created to avoid unintended clashes in NATO airspace or on the ground.
“It’s not meant to be a general purpose complaint line where we can just pick up the phone and raise concerns about what Russia is doing in Ukraine,” a senior US defense official said at the time.
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union maintained such hotlines at various levels.
Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Moscow and a former senior Pentagon and NATO official, said the latest line of conflict resolution should focus on day-to-day operations — as opposed to the more strategic talks between top officials like Milley and Gerasimov.
Vershbow compared it to the far more active conflict resolution line for Syria, where American and Russian forces sometimes operate in the same airspace or terrain.
“We have seen this in Syria, where the direct operational channel can at least clarify intentions in a fast-moving situation where Washington may be asleep,” Vershbow told Health & Fitness Journal.
The conflict resolution line is being tested twice a day with calls in Russian, the US official told Health & Fitness Journal. A Russian spokesman for US European Command is initiating those calls from Wiesbaden, Germany, the official said.
Wiesbaden is also the headquarters of the Pentagon’s new Security Assistance Group-Ukraine (SAG-U), which is supporting the Kiev government’s defense against Russian forces from afar.
US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, previously said that early in the conflict, planners believed the decon conflict line could be useful if the United States needed to evacuate Americans from Russian-held territory in Ukraine.
When the war began, the United States thought that Russia might be able to quickly seize Ukrainian territory and imprison American citizens before they had a chance to leave the country.
One official had speculated it could also have been used when a Russian fighter jet chased a Ukrainian plane into Polish airspace, or when a Russian missile crossed NATO airspace.