Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley reaffirmed on Wednesday that he sees an opportunity for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and that the chances of a Ukrainian military victory happening anytime soon are “not high.”
“In terms of probability, the probability of a Ukrainian military victory defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine to include what they define or what the claim is Crimea, the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high, militarily,” Milley told reporters at a joint press conference with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He said the areas that Ukraine has recaptured in Kharkiv and Kherson are “relatively small” compared with the territory Russia controls.
Milley said it’s possible that Ukraine could achieve some of its goals politically, through diplomacy. “There may be a political solution where, politically, the Russians withdraw, that’s possible. You want to negotiate from a position of strength. Russia right now is on its back,” he said.
Milley said that he believes the fighting could slow down in the winter, providing the opportunity for diplomacy. Austin said he believes fighting will slow this fall going into the winter but that things could pick up once the ground hardens.
“So when the ground hardens, trafficability will probably improve, and then we’ll be — we may see more activity. But I would remind everyone that this war started in February. So it — you know, winter does not mean that we’re going to stop fighting,” Austin said.
Russia could be preparing to launch a major offensive this winter as it has been reinforcing its positions after mobilizing 300,000 fresh troops. Moscow this week has launched massive missile barrages across Ukraine targeting infrastructure, which continued on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Voldymr Zelensky said that he received “signals” from his Western backers that Russian President Vladimir Putin desires direct negotiations with Ukraine. Zelensky said he proposed a public format for talks, suggesting he might have softened his stance on negotiations.
While there are much more talks of diplomacy now, Milley and Austin’s primary message was that they would support Ukraine in its war for “as long as it takes.” The two military leaders attended another meeting of the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group, which consists of representatives from about 50 countries.
“We just spent almost four hours with our colleagues there in the Ukraine Defense Contact meet — Group meeting. It was amazing to me how many ministers of defense, on their own, said ‘we’re going to do this for as long as it takes,'” Austin said.
To continue supporting Ukraine, the White House has asked Congress to approve $37.7 billion in new aid, which would bring total US spending on the war to about $105 billion.