Milley says ‘Russia has lost’ in Ukraine, but the war continues

The war continues, for now.
Jeff Schogol Avatar
Destroyed Russian Tank
A photograph shows a street-art piece by Italian urban artist Tvboy on a destroyed Russian tank in Ukraine. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

After nearly one year of brutal conflict, Russia has failed to subjugate Ukraine or shatter the NATO alliance, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday. 

“In short: Russia has lost,” Milley said during a news conference in Brussels. “They’ve lost strategically, operationally, tactically, and they are paying an enormous price on the battlefield.”

But in the next breath, Milley made clear that the war in Ukraine is not yet over by saying that the international community will continue to support the Ukrainians until Russian President Vladimir Putin “ends his war of choice.”

With that said, history has shown that conflicts tend to continue long after one side has lost. Both Germany and Japan fought on for years during World War II even though they no longer had the ability to achieve victory.

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Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last year, up to 200,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded, according to the New York Times. The Dutch open source group Oryx recently estimated that more than 1,000 Russian tanks have been destroyed and another 547 Russian tanks have been captured by the Ukrainians.

Currently, the Russian military has regained the initiative in Ukraine and started launching a new offensive in Luhansk, which is in eastern Ukraine, according to the Institute for the Study of War think tank in Washington, D.C.

“The commitment of significant elements of at least three major Russian divisions to offensive operations in this sector indicates the Russian offensive has begun, even if Ukrainian forces are so far preventing Russian forces from securing significant gains,” ISW wrote in its Feb. 8 assessment of the conflict.

It would be more accurate to say that Russia is losing the war rather than it has lost, said Luke Coffey, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.

“Ukraine is clearly on the front foot,” Coffey told Task & Purpose. “As more Western weapons pile into Ukraine, Ukraine only gets stronger. And as Russia has to dig deeper into its ancient stockpiles of older tanks and armored vehicles, Russia gets weaker.”

However, Coffey cautioned that the conflict could last for years unless the United States and its partners begin providing Ukrainians with weapons they need to win the war — including F-16s, A-10s, and Army Tactical Missile System rockets, or ATACMS.

Russia claims to have mobilized 300,000 new troops, Coffey said. Even if the actual number of conscripts that have been mobilized is far fewer than that, the Russians will still be able to throw tens of thousands of new troops into battle.

“There’s no indication that Russia is willing to give up or go to the negotiating table,” Coffey said, adding, “2023 will not be a year at peace.”

Russia’s population also stands at roughly 142 million, and that is more than three times the size of Ukraine’s population of about 43 million, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

That means Russia can take terrible losses and still overwhelm Ukrainian forces, said Phillip Karber, a Marine veteran and national security analyst, who spent 190 days as an observer on Ukraine’s front lines.

Karber said his sources in Ukraine have told him that the Ukrainians are killing 20 Russians for every one of their own troops slain. At that rate, a Ukrainian rifle platoon can inflict heavy casualties on the Russians, but the platoon will no longer exist after a month of fighting.

“The bleeding is horrendous on the Ukrainian side and the only way to stop it is to give them the goddamn ATACMS,” Karber told Task & Purpose. The units are getting battered. The guys are shattered. You have units that are down to 10 guys that started with 30 or 40.”

Karber also urged the United States and its allies to provide Ukraine with the type of military aid it needs to end the war quickly, arguing that Ukrainian democracy is at risk the longer the conflict drags on.

“Democracies don’t handle long wars well,” Karber said. “Nobody does, but it’s hard on democracies. What happens in a long war: You either lose the war or you lose the democracy — or you lose both.”

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