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US general sees little chance Ukrainian military can turn recent successes into broader victory

U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool/CNP/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The top U.S. general on November 16 said the chances of any near-term military victory for Ukraine are not high unless the Russian military completely collapses, which he said is unlikely.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the Ukrainian military has had important successes in Kharkiv and Kherson, Russia occupies 20 percent of Ukraine and still has significant combat power inside the country’s territory.

“The military task of kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task, and it’s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks,” Milley said, speaking at a joint news conference at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

A political solution involving a Russian withdrawal is still possible, he said, noting that Russia could end the fight now, but it won’t.

Russia intends to “continue fighting into the winter as best as we can tell,” Milley said.

Milley and Austin addressed reporters after a virtual meeting between dozens of defense ministers representing countries in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Austin said the meeting was the group’s seventh this year and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov took part.

“The free world is with us until we win,” Reznikov said on Twitter after the meeting. “Ukrainian strength now: increased economic potential, better training for the Ukrainian Army, modern logistics.”

He thanked the partners for their support and “new initiatives” and noted he expects significant results before the next meeting in Germany.

The countries in the contact group have supported Ukraine by sending billions of dollars in military hardware and have offered training, advising, and intelligence support.

There was an “absolute sense of emergency, absolute sense of determination” on the part of all member countries that attended meeting, the top U.S. general said. “The cohesion and coherence of the organization is complete and the resolve is high.”

Milley reiterated that the United States and other nations in the contact group would support Ukraine in defending itself for as long as it takes. Milley also repeated the U.S. position that it is up to Ukraine to decide how and when to negotiate with the Russians.

“Ukraine will continue to endure. Ukraine is not going to back down,” Milley said. “The Ukrainian people are hard. They are tough, and most of all they are free and they want to remain free. Ukraine is going to continue to take the fight to the Russians.”

Ukraine has vowed to keep the pressure on Russian forces until it reclaims control of all occupied territory. Ukrainian forces recaptured the strategic southern city of Kherson over the weekend, raising optimism about Kyiv’s broader military prospects heading into winter.

Austin said winter fighting favors the Ukrainians in part because contact group members have sent enormous amounts of winter gear. The Russians, on the other hand, will have difficulties getting the winter gear they need to support their troops because supplies have been limited by economic sanctions and supply lines have been damaged.

Russia is currently taking time to regroup their forces while they conduct what Milley called a “campaign of terror” to inflict maximum suffering on the Ukrainian civilian population in order to defeat Ukrainian morale.

A barrage of missiles on November 15 was likely the largest wave of missiles seen since beginning of the war, Milley said, adding that the Russians are striking Ukrainian civilian infrastructure that has little or no military purpose.

He said the attacks cause unnecessary suffering within the civilian population and said the Pentagon has assessed that more than a quarter of the Ukrainian civilian population is without power.

“The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering of civilian population is a war crime,” he said.