Top US general delivers sober take on Ukrainian ambitions
No military solution to the fighting in Ukraine will arise in the near future, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.
Milley spoke alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after a virtual meeting of the ‘Ukrainian Defense Contact Group’, a collection of Western countries pledging to supply Kiev with weapons, equipment and ammunition to use against Russia – while insisting they are not a party to the conflict.
Ukraine’s strategic objectives are to take all the territory “occupied” by Russia, where “a couple hundred thousand” Russian troops are currently positioned, Milley told reporters. “That might be achievable militarily, but probably not in the near term.”
“That means fighting is going to continue. It's gonna be bloody. It's gonna be hard. And at some point both sides will either negotiate a settlement or they will come to a military conclusion,” he said. Meanwhile, the US will continue supporting Ukraine.
Austin and Milley insisted throughout that Kiev was not losing. They painted the months-long battle for Bakhmut, which Ukraine lost, as a triumph of defense. They also claimed that the Ukrainians were using the US-supplied Patriot air defense systems “very effectively.” The Russian Defense Ministry said it had used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to destroy a Patriot battery in the Ukrainian capital earlier this month.
Milley also defended the decision not to send F-16 fighters to Ukraine sooner, arguing that the US was not ramping up weapons deliveries as a result of public pressure, but always sending Kiev precisely what it needed at any given moment, using “hardcore military analysis” of cost, benefit and risk.
Deploying just ten F-16 fighters would cost $2 billion, including operations and maintenance, Milley explained, while Russia has over 1,000 modern jets. So the decision was made to supply Kiev with air defenses first, and send the F-16s as a more long-term solution.
“It's going to take a considerable length of time to build up an air force that's the size and scope and scale that'll be necessary,” Milley said. He also cautioned reporters to curb their enthusiasm, as “there are no magic weapons. An F-16 is not, and neither is anything else.”
It has been known since February that Milley would retire at some point this year. On Thursday, US President Joe Biden nominated as his replacement the current Air Force chief of staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr.