Top U.S. general plays down probability of near-term Ukraine military victory

WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - The top U.S. general on Wednesday said Ukraine's chances of any near-term, outright military victory were not high, cautioning that Russia still had significant combat power inside Ukraine despite suffering battlefield setbacks since its invasion in February.

Ukraine has vowed to keep the pressure on Russian forces until it reclaims control of all occupied territory. Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces recaptured the strategic southern city of Kherson - stoking optimism about Kyiv's broader military prospects heading into winter.

Still, U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged caution.

"The probability of a Ukrainian military victory - defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine to include what they claim as Crimea - the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high, militarily," Milley told a news conference at the Pentagon.

"Politically, there may be a political solution where, politically, the Russians withdraw. That's possible," he added, saying Russia "right now is on its back."

Milley added that the United States would support Ukraine in defending itself for as long as it takes, comments echoed by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the same event.

Milley and Austin addressed reporters after a virtual meeting between dozens of defense ministers supporting Ukraine's military with billions of dollars in military hardware as well as training, advising and intelligence support.

"Ukraine will continue to endure. Ukraine is not going to back down," Milley said, adding that Ukraine was free, "and they want to remain free."


Milley accused Russia of "imposing a campaign of terror" on Ukraine with its attacks on cities and energy plants.

"The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage, and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population is a war crime," Milley said.

The Pentagon has stressed the importance of military-to-military communication with Moscow during the nine-month-long war. Austin and Milley both spoke with their Russian counterparts last month after Moscow accused Ukraine of planning a "dirty bomb" attack.

But Milley acknowledged unsuccessful attempts to reach his Russian counterpart on Tuesday after a deadly missile strike in Poland raised concerns about spillover of the war into NATO territory. Ukraine is not a member of the trans-Atlantic defense alliance but aspires to join.

NATO leaders said on Wednesday that the missile that hit Poland was probably a stray fired by Ukraine's air defenses and not a Russian strike.

Austin said Ukraine knows that it would be a mistake to allow Russia to refit and rearm its troops.

"They have to continue to keep the pressure on the Russians going forward and I think (a) winter fight favors the Ukrainians," Austin said.

Reporting by Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart and Caitlin Webber; editing by Jonathan Oatis; editing by Grant McCool

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Thomson Reuters

National security correspondent focusing on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Reports on U.S. military activity and operations throughout the world and the impact that they have. Has reported from over two dozen countries to include Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.

Thomson Reuters

Phil Stewart has reported from more than 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Sudan. An award-winning Washington-based national security reporter, Phil has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, Fox News and other programs and moderated national security events, including at the Reagan National Defense Forum and the German Marshall Fund. He is a recipient of the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Joe Galloway Award.