US wants more direct channel to Russian defence ministry about Ukraine - ambassador

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and the new U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan attend a ceremony for newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 5, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

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March 24 (Reuters) - Washington would like to have a more direct communication channel with Russia's defence ministry in order to deal with unforeseen events in the conflict in Ukraine, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow has said.

John Sullivan told the independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta that an emergency hotline between Washington and Moscow, set up in the Cold War to pre-empt an accidental nuclear conflict, was still in existence.

"But we hope that we will have a direct line for more direct interaction on issues related to Ukraine, especially with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense," he added, according to Novaya Gazeta's Russian transcript of his remarks, published on Thursday.

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"We're working on this, and, in fact, there has already been a precedent for such interaction - this is a communication channel that was used by the militaries of our countries to prevent conflict situations in Syria."

Sullivan denied frequent allegations by Moscow that Washington uses Ukraine as a strategic lever to weaken Russia, which sent troops into its neighbour a month ago, alleging among other justifications that Ukraine posed a security threat.

"(Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy has been leading the country all this terrible time, and it is up to his government and the people of his country to decide what they need," he said.

"It can sometimes be difficult to convince interlocutors in Russia that Ukraine is an independent country with a democratically elected government that decides for itself what Ukraine needs."

Sullivan said the United States had no desire to break off ties with Russia, or close its embassy in Moscow.

"For decades, the long-term strategy of the United States towards Russia was to accept it in the community of countries of the world, in the system of our trade relations," he said.

"Eventually, Russians and Americans will resume normal relations. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it will happen."

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Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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