Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent several hours with Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, a senior officer in Ukraine’s armed forces, said Col. David Butler, a U.S. military spokesman. The meeting was arranged after it became clear that Zaluzhny would not be able to attend a meeting of NATO’s top military officials in Brussels on Wednesday. Milley met with the Ukrainian officer with a group that included five other Americans, a translator and security personnel. News of the meeting was withheld until its conclusion, with officials citing precautionary measures.
“They both thought it was important,” Butler said of the meeting. “It is important that two very important military men look each other in the eye when they talk about very important topics. It matters.”
The meeting came after nearly a year of remote meetings between the generals and as the United States and its allies expand the arsenal of weapons they are providing Ukraine – including advanced American combat vehicles, European tanks and a range of other equipment – ahead of an expected counteroffensive against Russian forces.
The scope of training provided to Ukrainian forces has also grown significantly in the past week, with US soldiers in Germany training a Ukrainian mechanized battalion to better combine how those troops use US-made weapons to maximize their effect on battlefield, and like other US Army personnel in Oklahoma show their Ukrainian counterparts how to use a sophisticated air defense system.
The Kremlin has sharply criticized Western efforts to help Ukraine, accusing Washington and its NATO allies of waging a proxy war against Moscow and raising concerns that Russia could eventually grow impatient with the intervention and turn to the United States or another a NATO country. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently appointed Milli’s Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, as his top commander in Ukraine, a move observers say is a strong indication that Moscow has no desire to end its invasion as the war nears its one-year mark with more than 100,000 dead or wounded on both sides.
Milli arrived in southeastern Poland around 11 a.m. local time and began her meeting with Zaluzhny about two hours later, Butler said. Some Americans traveling with the general, including two journalists, remained at the military base here — a staging post used to funnel aid to Ukraine — while Milli traveled closer to the border. No photography was allowed during the visit, and the US military asked journalists not to report the exact locations.
The meeting came a day after a contingent of civilian officials from the Pentagon and the State Department met in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken traveled to Kyiv earlier in a show of support for the Ukrainian leader. Milley has not visited Ukraine itself, as the United States appears to maintain a policy in which only the small contingent of US military personnel assigned to the US Embassy in Kyiv spend time in the country.
Butler said the visit did not pose significant safety concerns for Millie and that he did not go anywhere believed to be unsafe. The general wanted to provide Zaluzhny with his impressions of the Ukrainian unit, which has just begun training under the watch of American soldiers in Germany, after visiting them on Monday, and to discuss Ukraine’s needs before a regularly scheduled meeting later this week of the Contact Group for Ukraine, a gathering of international partners who supported the country militarily during the war.
“General Milley’s job here as a military man is to be able to describe the tactical and operational conditions on the battlefield and what the military needs are. And the way he does that is one by figuring it out on his own, but two by talking to General Zaluzhny on a regular basis.
Tuesday’s visit marked the third time Mili has visited the base in southeastern Poland since the war began. US troops here, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the military, said their mission had expanded in the past few months as the pool of weapons approved for transfer grew.
Military personnel have been working to improve security at the base since the start of the war, adding new concrete bunkers and thick, sand-filled exterior walls known as HESCO barriers to join two batteries of Patriot air defense systems that were deployed in southeast Poland in spring.
A U.S. soldier assigned to the Patriot unit said Tuesday that some had been assigned to the base since March and that they were unsure when another unit of soldiers might arrive to rotate in and replace them. That’s not unusual for Patriot units, but the lack of predictability has put a strain on the unit, the soldier said.
The device runs continuously, with its alert status changing and expiring according to the day’s events.
“We have to react properly to the situation,” said the soldier.
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