The United States’ top military officer traveled to Poland and spoke face-to-face with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time as Russia’s war with Ukraine approaches its year-long mark.
U.S. Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Ukraine’s top military officer, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, for a few hours at an undisclosed location in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine.
Zaluzhnyi said he outlined the “urgent needs” of his troops with Milley on Tuesday.
The two leaders have often spoken over the past year about Ukraine’s military demands and the state of the war, but had never met.
The meeting comes as the international community ramps up military aid to Ukraine, including extensive training of Ukrainian troops by the US and the delivery of a Patriot missile battery, tanks and more air defense and other weapons systems by the US and a coalition. of European and other nations.
It also marks a key moment in the war. Ukrainian troops are facing fierce fighting in the eastern province of Donetsk, where Russian troops – supplemented by thousands of private Wagner Group contractors – are trying to turn the tide after a series of battlefield setbacks in recent months.
‘Look each other in the eyes’
Army Colonel Dave Butler, a Milley spokesman, said it was important for the two generals to meet in person.
“These guys have been talking really regularly for about a year now and they’ve gotten to know each other,” Butler said.
“They have spoken at length about the defense Ukraine is trying to put up against Russian aggression. And it’s important – when you have two military professionals looking into each other’s eyes and talking about very, very important topics, there is a difference.
Butler said there was some hope Zaluzhnyi would travel to Brussels this week for a meeting of NATO and other defense chiefs. But when it became clear on Monday that it would not take place, Milley and Zaluzhnyi soon decided to meet in Poland, near the border.
While a number of U.S. civilian leaders have entered Ukraine, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has made it clear that no uniformed military personnel will enter Ukraine, except those connected to the embassy in Kiev. Butler said only a small group – Milley and six of his senior staffers – came to the meeting by car.
He said the meeting will allow Milley to relay Zaluzhnyi’s concerns and information to the other military leaders at the NATO leaders’ meeting.
Milley, he said, will be able to “describe the tactical and operational conditions on the battlefield and what the military requirements are for them, and the way he does that is one through understanding himself, but also through regular interaction with Zaluzhnyi talk. ”.
Milley will also be able to describe the new training of Ukrainian forces that the US is doing at the Grafenwoehr training area in Germany. More than 600 Ukrainian troops have begun the extensive training program.
This week’s meeting between Milley and Zaluzhnyi kicks off a series of high-level meetings of military and defense leaders. Milley and other defense chiefs will meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, and then the so-called Ukraine Defense Contact Group will meet at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Thursday and Friday.
The meetings are expected to focus on Ukraine’s current and future military needs as the harsh terrain of the winter months turns into muddy roads and fields in the spring.
In an interview with Economist magazine in December, Zaluzhnyi said Ukraine needed 300 tanks, 600-700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers to push back the invaders.
Britain broke the taboo on heavy tanks this weekend, promising a squadron of its Challengers. But it has too few to form the basis of a Ukrainian armed force. The US Abrams tanks run on turbine engines, which burn too much fuel for Ukraine to use in large numbers.
That leaves the leopards, which Germany made in the thousands during the Cold War and are now deployed by armies across Europe. Poland and Finland have already said they would send leopards if Berlin authorizes re-exports.
“We hope that some partners, allies, will give tanks to Ukraine,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Separately, the Netherlands plans to send a Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, the Dutch news agency ANP told Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said NATO allies were sending a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin by stepping up arms deliveries to Ukraine.
“The message we are sending to Putin…is that we have made a commitment to support the Ukrainians until they are victorious,” Cleverly told a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced from their homes since Russia launched a so-called “special military operation” last February to remove security threats in Ukraine. Ukraine and Western lenders are calling Russia’s actions an unprovoked, imperialistic land grab.
Ukrainian troops drove back Russian troops in the second half of 2022, but for the past two months the front lines have largely frozen despite both sides taking heavy casualties in relentless fighting.