One week after saying there may be a window for peace talks to end the war in Ukraine, the top US general laid out a comprehensive list of Russia’s failures and suggested negotiations – if they were to occur – would be done from a position of strength for Kyiv.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the Russian military was “really hurting bad” after nearly nine months of war in which the Kremlin has failed to achieve any of its goals. The Ukrainians have racked up “success after success after success,” Milley quipped, while the Russians “have failed every single time.”
Those failures, Milley suggested, which come on top of Ukraine’s recent liberation of Kherson, may even allow Ukraine to push for what it is unlikely to achieve militarily: a withdrawal of Russian forces.
“There may be a political solution where politically the Russians withdraw,” Milley said at a press conference Wednesday. “You want to negotiate at a time when you’re at your strength, and your opponent is at weakness. And it’s possible, maybe, that there’ll be a political solution. All I’m saying is there’s a possibility for it.”
He was speaking following a meeting of allies who make up the Ukraine Contact Group and after leaders of Poland and NATO said the missile that killed two people in Polish territory on Tuesday was likely fired by Ukrainian forces defending their country against a barrage of Russian strikes, and that the incident appeared to be an accident. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, speaking at the same press conference, said the US has seen no information so far that “contradicts” Poland’s “preliminary assessment”.
Milley appeared to be making a concerted effort to lay out his position on the state of the war, one week after he appeared to push for negotiations amid stabilizing front lines and a potential winter lull in fighting in comments that ruffled some allies and members of his own administration. Speaking in New York last Wednesday, Milley said both Russia and Ukraine will have to realize that military victory is impossible to achieve and that a negotiated end to the conflict would end the suffering of war.
“When there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it,” Milley said at the time.
Those remarks forced the Biden administration to reassure Ukraine that there had been no change in the US position of allowing the country to decide its own future or to pressure Kyiv into negotiations.
Austin underscored that position on Wednesday, standing next to Milley at the press conference. “What’s a good time to negotiate? We’ve said repeatedly that the Ukrainians are going to decide that and not us.”
Nevertheless, Milley laid out the realities of the fight ahead, with winter already setting in on the battlefields of Ukraine. Russia has knocked out parts of Ukraine’s energy grid and infrastructure, leaving many homes without electricity or water. Ukraine’s military has conducted successful counteroffensives in the east and the south, but the front lines are stabilizing, Milley said, and the fight tends to slow down in winter.
Russia’s mobilization efforts have also given them more manpower for the war, even if their troops arrive ill-equipped and with hardly any training. The odds of Ukraine achieving the outright military victory of pushing Russia out of the country are “not high, militarily,” he said.
This time, Milley was more careful with his talk of negotiations, implicitly acknowledging that the chances of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reaching any sort of agreement still seem very off.
“So if there’s a slowdown in the actual tactical fighting, if that happens, then that may become a window, possibly – it may not – for a political solution, or at least the beginnings of talks to initiate a political solution,” he said.
But one day after Russia launched perhaps the largest barrage of missiles against Ukraine, the US and the West made it clear they’re preparing for a longer conflict, one in which Kyiv still needs air defenses and ammunition for the fight ahead.
“We will be there for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free,” said Milley.