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Top U.S. general: A Russian attack on Ukraine ‘would be horrific’

·Reporter
·4 min read
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Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that if Russia decides to attack Ukraine, “it would be horrific,” and that such a move would result in “a significant amount of casualties,” particularly in Ukraine’s dense, urban areas.

Milley offered this grim assessment during a Friday press conference at the Pentagon, where he addressed the latest developments in the mounting crisis alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. While both men insisted that military conflict between Russia and Ukraine “is not inevitable,” Milley provided a sobering look at the potential damage an attack could cause, based on capabilities of the more than 100,000 Russian forces that have been deployed near Ukraine’s borders.

“If war were to break out on the scale and scope that is possible, the civilian population will suffer immensely,” Milley said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley listens during a media briefing at the Pentagon on Friday.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley listens during a media briefing at the Pentagon on Friday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Asked to elaborate on the potential devastation Ukraine could face if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to invade, Milley said that while “We don't think any final decisions have been made,” by Putin, “given the type of forces that are readied — 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 it would result in a significant amount of casualties.”

“It would be horrific, it would be terrible,” Milley continued, adding, “And it’s not necessary. We think a diplomatic outcome is the way to go here.”

Over the last several weeks, the United States and NATO allies have made a number of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions, while Putin has continued to move Russian troops toward the Ukrainian border. But the Biden administration has also refused to buckle to Putin’s demands that NATO roll back the expansion of membership to former Soviet-bloc countries. On Wednesday, the U.S. delivered a stern written response to a number of security demands outlined by the Kremlin. While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the document offers Russia “a diplomatic path forward,” he made clear that this path did not include concessions on the Kremlin’s primary demands, including the withdrawal of NATO troops from Eastern Europe and the guarantee that Ukraine and other former Soviet-bloc countries would be prohibited from joining the alliance.

While the Russian government is still studying the proposals outlined by Washington, along with a separate response also turned over by NATO this week, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that there were “few reasons for optimism” in light of the refusal by the U.S. and its allies to budge on Russia’s key requirements to avert an invasion.

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea on Jan. 18.
A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea on Jan. 18. (File Photo/AP)

Meanwhile, at a press conference in Kyiv on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed reports that he and President Biden do not see eye to eye on the risk Russia currently presents for Ukraine.

Despite insisting that he is “not being critical” of Biden, Zelensky offered some harsh words for the administration’s approach to the crisis. Specifically, Zelensky said he thinks the repeated public statements by Biden and other U.S. officials about the risk Russia presents to Ukraine is a “mistake,” and warned that “The world responds to information like that.” Zelensky also criticized the State Department’s decision earlier this week to order the evacuation of diplomats’ families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

"These are redundant and wrong steps that don’t help us,” Zelensky said, adding that Ukraine is “grateful” for the military and financial support the U.S. has provided.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his office in Kyiv, talks with President Biden on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his office in Kyiv, talks with President Biden on Friday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

“I can’t be like other politicians who are grateful to the United States just for being the United States,” Zelensky. “I’m saying the truth. We want to be partners and true friends. I don’t want to lie to you.”

While the Ukrainian president appeared to be hopeful about the possibility of a dialogue with Moscow, he also made clear that he is aware of the real danger presented by the Russian forces stationed near Ukraine’s borders, saying, “It’s not as if we're acting as if it’s not the highest level of threat.”

“We see these 100,000 troops, no mistake there,” Zelensky said. “If it happens, it will be an open war, a horrible war.”

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