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With Ukraine in turmoil, Hagel can’t get Russian counterpart to take his calls

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been unable to get Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on the phone amid escalating tension near the country's shared border with Ukraine.

Mr. Shoigu announced Thursday that Russia planned to engage in a new series of military exercises near the Ukraine border. The military move, he said, is in response to ongoing NATO training exercises in Poland and the death of at least two pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Friday that Mr. Hagel has been trying to communicate with Russian officials but has yet to hear back from Mr. Shoigu or anyone else. Pentagon officials have reached out to Russia on Mr. Hagel's behalf within the past 24 hours, according to Col. Warren.

"We have made it clear to the Russians that Secretary Hagel is available for a phone call at any time," he said. "We have reached out to them and made it very to them that he is willing to speak to his counterpart there at any time."

Mr. Hagel intends to call on the Russians to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and express to them that the new round of military exercises along the Ukrainian border are unhelpful, Col. Warren said. The Russians, he said, "need to withdraw their troops from the Ukranian border and place them back into their garrisons."

Russia has "a broad array of forces aligned along the Ukranian border, according to Col. Warren. The Pentagon, he said, is tracking troop movements throughout the region and is "seeing all flavors of the Russian-combined armed force."

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