Ukraine could take time to “kick out” over 200,000 of Vladimir Putin’s troops from its soil even if its military counteroffensive achieves all its goals, a soon-to-retire US military general has claimed in a new interview.
The comments come as Ukraine has stepped up its counteroffensive against Russia in the last few days by retaking a couple of key villages near battle-worn Bakhmut and launched joint intelligence ops in Crimea, the territory Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.
“There’s well over 200,000 Russian troops in Russian-occupied Ukraine,” General Mark A Milley, who is set to retire as the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an “exit interview” to CNN.
“This offensive, although significant has operational and tactical objectives that are limited in the sense that they do not – even if they are fully achieved – they do not completely kick out all the Russians, which is the broader strategic objective that president Zelensky has,” he said.
Ejecting Russian soldiers from the entirety of Ukraine is going to take a long time and will be “a very significant effort over a considerable amount of time”, Mr Milley said.
The general said he doesn’t want to “put a time on it because a lot of things can happen in a war”.
“You could see a general collapse, you can see escalation, you could see a lot of different things happen in the future, but I can tell you that it will take a considerable length of time to militarily eject all 200,000 plus Russian troops out of Russian-occupied Ukraine. That’s a very high bar, that’s gonna take a long time to do it,” he said.
Earlier this month, Mr Milley said Ukraine only has around 45 days left before poor weather conditions hinder its continuing counteroffensive.
It will become “very difficult to manoeuvre” once it starts raining, according to the head of the US military.
“That offensive kicked off about 90 days ago,” he said, referring to recent criticism about the counteroffensive.
“It has gone slower than the planners anticipated. But that is a difference between what (Prussian general and military theorist Carl von) Clausewitz called war on paper and real war,” he said.
“So these are real people in real vehicles that are fighting through real minefields, and there’s real death and destruction, and there’s real friction.
“And there’s still a reasonable amount of time – probably about 30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left. So the Ukrainians aren’t done,” he said.
“This battle is not done. They haven’t finished the fighting part of what they’re trying to accomplish. So, we’ll see… It’s too early to say how this is going to end. They at least have achieved partial success in what they set out to do, and that’s important. And then the rains will come in. It’ll become very muddy,” he said.
“It’ll be very difficult to manoeuvre at that point, and then you’ll get the deep winter, and then, at that point, we’ll see where things go.
“But right now it is way too early to say that this offensive has failed or not failed.”
In the same interview, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff, said Ukraine is “winning” because Russia failed to bring the country under its control.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is now in its fourth month and its forces have now had a series of territorial successes against Russian forces, including closing in on the country’s eastern areas from multiple directions.
Russia had invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Ukraine’s pushback, backed by its Western allies who have poured help through modern machinery and funds, has so far been marked by small victories and is awaiting more major breakthroughs.