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Russian invasion of Ukraine would be ‘horrific’ with ‘significant casualties,’ Gen. Milley warns

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28, 2021. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
January 31, 2022

A Russian invasion of Ukraine with the weapons the Russian military has already amassed on Ukraine’s borders could result in significant casualties, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned at a Pentagon press briefing on Friday.

“Given the type of forces that are arrayed — the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces — all of it packaged together, if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and would result in a significant amount of casualties,” Milley said, during the joint press conference with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

“You can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific. It would be terrible,” Milley added.

Around 100,000 Russian troops have gathered near Ukraine for months. Thus far, the Russian military has also reportedly moved dozens of armored vehicles, attack and transport helicopters and fixed-wing attack fighters near Ukraine’s borders.

Last week, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Russia continues to send battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to its border with Ukraine, as well as neighboring Belarus.

According to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency, the modern Russian military operates 170 BTGs. The battalion tactical group is a specialized temporary formation, centered around a combat battalion, such as a tank, rifle or mortar unit. Each BTG has its own attached artillery, air defense, engineering and logistics support units, giving it greater flexibility to operate in battle.

Military Times reported Ukrainian defense officials believe 58 Russian BTGs — about a third of Russia’s operational BTGs — are now positioned within miles of Ukraine.

In response to the Russian military buildup, the U.S. has already shipped around 260 tons of weapons to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies like the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also begun sending weapons to Ukraine.

During their Friday press conference, Milley and Austin both said Russia had not yet decided to invade Ukraine and could still choose a path of diplomacy.

Earlier in the press conference, Austin said, “While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has that capability and there are multiple options available to him.”

“We don’t think final decisions have been made to conduct any sort of offensive operation into Ukraine by the Russians,” Milley said. “And we firmly believe there’s still room for a diplomatic outcome here.”

Austin said Russian attacks on Ukraine could take many different forms. With the forces it has already built up, an armed Russian invasion of Ukraine could include the seizure of cities and territories, but Austin also warned of “coercive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.”

Austin said the U.S. is monitoring for Russian disinformation narratives. He reiterated past warnings about a potential Russian “false flag” attack, where its operatives would attack pro-Russian forces and then blame the attack on Ukraine, as a justification for further conflict. Austin said such a falsified attack could create a pretext for a Russian invasion or strikes on Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

“Any Russian attack or further incursion into Ukraine would not only ignite conflict, it would also violate the bedrock principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination,” Austin said.