WASHINGTON - Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu "guaranteed" Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday that no Russian troops are involved in the transport of humanitarian relief supplies to eastern Ukraine, a Pentagon spokesman said.
In their first telephone conversation since late April, Shoygu also assured Hagel that a Russian convoy of more than 250 trucks, portrayed by Moscow as a humanitarian relief effort, "was not to be used as a pretext to further intervene in Ukraine," according to the spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.
In a written statement about the phone call, Kirby did not mention whether the two discussed the Ukrainian government's claim that it had attacked and destroyed portions of a convoy of Russian armored personnel carriers that reportedly crossed into Ukrainian territory on Thursday. That vehicle column apparently was separate from the humanitarian truck convoy.
Kirby said Shoygu "acknowledged that the goods would be delivered and distributed under the International Committee of the Red Cross," and Kirby said Shoygu assured Hagel that "Russia was meeting Ukraine's conditions."
The Ukrainian government and officials in the West have expressed suspicion for days that the Russian mission could be a pretext for a military invasion of eastern Ukraine, where government forces are battling pro-Russia separatists.
Hagel and Shuygu also agreed on the need for follow-on meetings about compliance with a 1987 arms treaty that banned ballistic missiles of intermediate range. The Obama administration in July publicly accused Moscow of violating the so-called INF treaty; Russia denies the alleged violation.