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Pentagon leaders warn of a horrific aftermath if Russia invades Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley (R) hold a news briefing at the Pentagon on January 28, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s top officials warned Friday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would result in a “horrific” aftermath.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin detailed the grim scenario as U.S. and NATO forces prepare for a potential Moscow attack on its ex-Soviet neighbor.

“Given the type of forces that are arrayed, the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces, all of it packaged together. If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties and you can you imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, all along roads, and so on and so forth,” Milley said.

“It would be horrific,” added Milley, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer.

The Pentagon’s warnings came as Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews U.S. diplomatic and security proposals that were hand-delivered by John Sullivan, the American ambassador to Russia. Russia initially offered a chilly response to the proposals.

“So we will await what the Russian government’s reaction and assessment is to our written responses,” Sullivan told reporters on Friday from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. “And then as Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted, I would expect that there would be a discussion or perhaps a meeting. But I don’t know that hasn’t been agreed to.”

Milley said that Russia’s posture along Ukraine’s border was unlike anything he has seen during his four-decade military career. He said the Russians have deployed air forces, naval forces, special forces, cyber electronic warfare, command and control, logistics engineers and other capabilities along Ukraine’s border.

“I think you’d have to go back quite a while into the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude,” Milley said, adding that the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops to the border was larger “than anything we’ve seen in recent memory.”

Austin called on Moscow to de-escalate tensions by removing Russian troops and military equipment from its shared border.

“Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy,” Austin said.

“He [Putin] can choose to de-escalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialogue and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.”

For months, the West has watched a steady build-up of Kremlin forces along Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimics Russian moves ahead of its 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked an international uproar and triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow.

The Kremlin has denied that the troop deployment is a prelude to an attack and has instead characterized the movement as a military exercise.

Russian officials have meanwhile repeatedly called on the U.S. to prevent an eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance.

Russia has also demanded that the U.S. “shall not establish military bases” in the territories of any former Soviet states that are not already members of NATO, or “use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

The U.S. and NATO have said that such a request cannot be accommodated.

Since 2002 Kyiv has sought entry into NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance.

While President Joe Biden has not committed to sending U.S. combat troops to Ukraine, American forces could deploy to neighboring NATO member countries. In addition to sharing a border with Russia and Belarus, Ukraine is boarded by four NATO countries.

“We are ready, capable and prepared to uphold our obligation under treaty to NATO,” Milley said, evoking the group’s Article 5 clause, “an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all NATO.”

Earlier this week, Biden told reporters that a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would radically alter European security. “If he were to move in with all those forces, it’d be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world,” Biden said.

Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday, the second call this month, to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.

The president also told Zelenskyy that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv remains open and fully operational after the State Department issued an order for eligible family members of personnel at its embassy in Kyiv to leave.

The State Department also recommended on Sunday that all U.S. citizens in Ukraine depart the country immediately, citing Russia’s continued military buildup on the border.

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