Ukraine Situation Report: Total Victory For Kyiv ‘A Very Difficult Task’ Says Top U.S. General

Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave his official point of view on what’s next for the war in Ukraine.

byHoward Altman|
Ukraine Milley
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


While Ukraine should “keep the pressure on the Russians” through the winter, Army Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that Kyiv’s ultimate goal of restoring all the territory captured and annexed by Moscow since 2014 will be “a very difficult task. And it’s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks unless the Russian Army completely collapses, which is unlikely.”

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to reporters, including from The War Zone, during a Pentagon press briefing Wednesday, following the latest meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Milley was responding to questions about his remarks last week in New York that there “has to be a mutual recognition that military victory is probably in the true sense of the word may be not achievable through military means, and therefore you need to turn to other means.” Those remarks caused a great deal of consternation in Ukraine, forcing U.S. officials to reassure their counterparts of continued support.

“I think the Ukrainians should keep the pressure on the Russians to the extent that they militarily can but winter gets very cold,” Milley said on Wednesday. “And the natural tendency is for tactical operations to naturally probably slow down. And right now what we're seeing is the lines from Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson for the most part, are beginning to stabilize now. Whether that means they will be stable throughout the winter or whatnot, nobody knows for certain.”

By January and February, “that ground probably will freeze, which could lend itself to offensive operations. So there could be a lot of activity in the winter. But because of the weather, the technical operations will slow down a bit. And President Biden, and President Zelensky himself have said that at the end of the day, it will be a political solution. So if there's a slowdown in the actual tactical fighting, if that happens, then that may become a window, possibly. It may not be for a political solution, or at least the beginning of talks to initiate a political solution. So that's all I was saying.”

Ukraine, he went on to say, “is a pretty big country. This is not a small piece of turf. And the probability of Russia achieving its strategic objectives of conquering Ukraine, of overrunning Ukraine, the probability of that happening is close to zero. I suppose theoretically, it's possible, maybe, I guess, but I don't see it happening militarily.”

Russia, however, still occupies about 20% of Ukraine, “a piece of ground, that's about 900 kilometers long and probably about 75 or 80 kilometers deep. So it's not a small piece of ground. And they invaded this country, with upwards of 170,000 troops, in multiple field armies, combined arms armies.”

Russia has “suffered a tremendous amount of casualties,” Milley said. But Vladimir Putin has also mobilized several hundred thousand additional troops, “so the Russians have reinforced and they still have significant Russian combat power inside Ukraine.”

And while Ukraine has done “a tremendous job in defeating the Russian offensive” and staging its own counteroffensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts, those successes “physically, geographically, are relatively small compared to the whole.”

As a result, “the probability of a Ukrainian military victory as defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine to include...Crimea, the probability of that happening anytime soon, is not happening militarily.”

There may be a solution, however, “where politically the Russians withdraw. That's possible. You want to negotiate from a position of strength.”

Russia, “right now is on its back. The Russian military is suffering tremendously. The leadership is really hurting bad. They've lost a lot of casualties killed and wounded [a figure he said in New York was about 100,000 combined]. They've lost - I won’t go over the exact numbers because they're classified - but they lost a tremendous amount of their tanks and their infantry fighting vehicles. They've lost a lot of their fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, and helicopters and so on so forth. The Russian military is really hurting bad. So 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. That's all I'm saying.”

In addition to clarifying his previous remarks, Milley also said that as a result of "what was likely the largest wave of missiles we've seen since the beginning of the war...over a quarter of Ukrainian civilians are without power.” The “deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage, and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population, is a war crime.”

Before heading into today’s news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, fighting remains heavy in the Donbas, but there have been no major territorial gains by either side over the past 24 hours. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment.

  • Russian military commanders reportedly ignored existing plans for offensive operations in the Vuhledar direction and committed poorly trained reinforcements to costly assaults on Pavlivka out of impatience, generating continued criticism of Russian military leadership.
  • Russian officials continued to set conditions to force the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to recognize Russian control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and thereby de facto recognize the Russian annexation of occupied Ukraine.
  • Russians are increasingly turning to various platforms on social media to express their dissatisfaction with mobilization problems, which could ignite organized online anti-war movements in Russia.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensives in the direction of Svatove and Kreminna, and Ukrainian forces continued targeting Russian logistics to the rear of Luhansk Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Vuhledar.
  • Premature reports of Ukrainian forces capturing territory on the [east ] bank of the Dnipro River provoked a backlash in the Russian information space.
  • Russian logistics routes from Crimea into southern Ukraine are likely highly degraded.
  • Russian forces are continuing to supply their diminishing supplies with Belarusian military equipment.
  • Russian officials continued to minimize the role of proxy officials in occupied territories in favor of Russian officials.

NATO, Polish leaders and Polish, U.S., and other NATO officials say the available evidence is increasingly pointing to an errant Ukrainian surface-to-air missile being responsible for an incident that killed two people on a farm yesterday in Poland. However, details about the specific circumstances remain murky, and authorities in Ukraine and Russia continue to trade accusations about who might be a fault. You can read more about that here.

Sweden on Wednesday announced its largest-ever package of military aid to Ukraine, which includes an unspecified air defense system and an unspecified amount of ammunition to go with it.

"The new military support package is planned to contain a qualified weapon system for air defense including qualified ammunition, as well as qualified ammunition for additional air defense systems, personal all-terrain vehicles, personal equipment including winter equipment and body protection, aiming devices, tents and masking nets," the Swedish Defense Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

While it is unknown what air defense systems Sweden will provide, it has CV9040 AAV anti-air vehicles, RBS 70 man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), RBS-23 intermediate-range SAMs which could be ideal for shooting down drones and cruise missiles, and IRIS-T SLS mobile advanced intermediate-range air defense systems in its arsenal. It also has a number of advanced Patriot batteries.

Ukraine continues to maintain a stiff upper lip in the midst of the ongoing Russian bombardment.

On the battlefield, Russia's Lancet-3 drones continue to cause trouble for Ukrainian forces, in this case a Ukrainian M777 howitzer was reportedly destroyed on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

A Lancet-3 also reportedly destroyed a Ukrainian BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system (MLRS).

And a French-made CAESAR 155mm self-propelled howitzer was disabled by a Lancet-3 drone as well.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has continued to find ways to innovate on the battlefield. The video below shows a Ukrainian fast attack buggy with an SPG-9 recoilless rifle mounted on top. Buggies, some of which are highly improvised, have played a role in Ukraine's hit-and-run tactics, especially when taking on Russian light vehicles and armor.

That's it for now. We will update this story if there is anything major to add until our next new update is published.

Contact the author: