Gen. Mark Milley: ‘Very, Very Difficult’ to Eject Russian Forces from Ukraine This Year

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, at podium, speaks during a ceremo
AP Photo/Steve Helber

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley acknowledged on Friday that it would be difficult for Ukrainian forces to “eject” Russian forces from all of Ukraine this year.

“From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from all — every inch of Ukraine and occupied — or Russian-occupied Ukraine. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’d be very, very difficult,” Milley said in Germany.

He said what he thinks can happen is a “continued defense stabilized in the front.”

But he again poured cold water on the idea of a military victory for Ukraine.

“But I do think at the end of the day this war, like many wars in the past, will end at some sort of negotiating table, and that’ll be determined in terms of timing by the leaders of both countries, both Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

Milley was speaking at a press conference after a meeting of about 50 defense leaders of nations supporting Ukraine, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Friday marked the eighth meeting of the group.

In this image provided by the U.S. Army, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley meets with U.S. Army leaders responsible for the collective training of Ukrainians at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. At left is Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Hilbert, who is the commanding general for the 7th Army Training Command. Milley visited the training site in Germany for Ukrainian forces and met with troops and commanders. (Staff Sgt. Jordan Sivayavirojna/U.S. Army via AP)

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” That statement was accompanied by another package of military aid to Ukraine, in the amount of $2.5 billion.

The U.S. has sent $27.5 billion in military equipment, much of it from its own stocks, to Ukrainian forces since January 2021, and more than $100 billion in aid overall.

In November, the New York Times reported that Milley has argued inside the White House that the Ukrainians have made as many gains on the battlefield as possible before winter and they should try to cement those gains at the bargaining table, but other Biden administration officials disagreed that it is time for negotiations.

Ukrainian servicemen walk along a snow-covered trench guarding their position at the frontline near Vodiane, about 750 kilometers (468 miles) south-east of Kyiv, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2021. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

However, Milley quickly tried to clarify his remarks afterwards, spouting the administration’s line that the United States would “continue to support Ukraine as long as it takes to keep them free.”

Milley did say on Friday, however, it is “very, very possible” for Ukraine to be able to launch an offensive against Russian forces to “liberate as much Ukrainian territory as possible,” but that there was a “short window of time” to be able to equip and train Ukrainian forces.

“They’ve got to be married up with the equipment and then they’ve got to be trained. And if you look at the weather and terrain, et cetera, you can see that you have a relatively short window of time to accomplish both those key tasks. So that’s very, very challenging to do that,” he said.

“For all of these different nations that were here today, to assemble all of the equipment, get it all synchronized, get the Ukrainian troops trained, et cetera, that’ll be a very, very heavy lift,” he said. “I think it can be done but I think that it’ll be a challenge.”

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