Fighting in Ukraine, fallout far from over, Pentagon leaders warn

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Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine is far from over, and the West must prepare for a years-long engagement to support the government in Kyiv, guard NATO’s eastern border and prepare to revive an era of conflict between great powers, they said top Pentagon leaders Tuesday.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, testifying together on Capitol Hill for the first time since the Russian invasion began more than five weeks ago, painted a bleak picture of a world moving “toward greater instability,” with Russia’s attack a likely precursor to much larger, more destructive wars involving the US, Russia, Europe and China. Defense officials dismissed direct comparisons between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a possible Chinese offensive on Taiwan, but in sometimes combative testimonies before the House Armed Services Committee, they acknowledged that Beijing, like Moscow, is trying to disrupt the international rules-based order and expand its Makes.

As Russian forces have begun withdrawing from the outskirts of Kyiv and concentrating their invasion on Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, General Milley has warned there will be more bloodshed. The US, he said, should begin preparations now to help Ukraine in what is likely to be a protracted struggle.

“I think this is a very protracted conflict. But I think it’s at least measured in years. I don’t know about a decade, but definitely years,” he said. “This is a very broad conflict that Russia initiated and I think NATO, the United States, Ukraine and all allies and partners who support Ukraine will be involved for some time to come.”

General Milley and Mr. Austin faced tough questions from some Republican lawmakers, who said the two men, along with President Biden, failed to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and that they have a track record of misplaced policy priorities and poor foreign policy ratings in Afghanistan, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Referring specifically to Ukraine, Mr Austin argued that nothing would stop Mr Putin unless US and NATO troops were stationed in Ukraine, a move that could have sparked a major world war.

“I don’t think our campaign has failed,” Mr. Austin said. “This is still ongoing and there is a price Putin has to pay for what he has done.”

“If we sent troops to Ukraine to fight Putin, that would be a different story,” he added. “But we made a decision that we wouldn’t do that, and we made the decision for the right reasons, and I support those decisions.”

But General Milley acknowledged that the war could have repercussions well beyond the immediate theater in Eastern Europe, calling Russia’s decision to invade “the greatest threat to the peace and security of Europe, and perhaps the world, in my 42 years of service.” Uniform”.

The Pentagon leaders’ appearance before lawmakers on Tuesday, ostensibly to discuss the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal, came amid global outrage over alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces in Bucha, Ukraine, and other regions before they withdrew from Kyiv. Shocking images from Bucha appear to show civilians being executed at close range, some with bullets to the head and others with their hands tied. Others appeared to have had their throats cut.

The gruesome photos have sparked anger directed at Mr Putin and his allies in the Kremlin. They have also sparked fresh calls for Russia to be expelled from key international bodies such as the United Nations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday questioned the effectiveness of the UN when Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, could simply veto almost any major action proposed by the world body.

In a chilling video message to the Security Council, Mr Zelenskyy described what he saw and heard on a visit to Bucha on Monday.

“Women were raped and killed in front of their children,” he said, comparing the atrocities to the actions of terrorist groups like IS. “But here it is being done by a member of the United Nations Security Council.”

He said Russia has carried out similar actions in other areas it occupied after invading Ukraine.

“Russian troops are deliberately destroying Ukrainian cities with artillery and air strikes. They block cities on purpose [and] Causing mass starvation,” Mr Zelenskyy said. “They are deliberately shooting at columns of civilians in the street who are trying to flee.”

Mr. Zelenskyj called for a comprehensive reform of the United Nations. Allowing a nation like Russia to exercise its veto power without consequences “undermines the entire architecture of global security,” he said.

The Kremlin has denied allegations of war crimes. Russian officials said this week the photos and videos from Bucha are little more than Ukrainian propaganda aimed at stoking anti-Russian sentiment.

encouragement in Europe

But the atrocities will provide even more fuel for NATO to bolster its defenses in Eastern Europe and increase direct security assistance to Ukraine. With tens of thousands of US troops already stationed in Europe, General Milley discussed the potential for new American bases and greater US troop engagement in Eastern European countries that are on the front lines of direct Russian aggression.

“My advice would be to build permanent bases, but not deploy permanently [forces], so you get the effect of permanence by having rotational forces circulating through permanent bases,” he said. “I think a lot of our European allies, especially those like the Baltics or Poland and Romania and elsewhere, are very, very willing to establish permanent bases. They will build them, they will pay for it.”

Pentagon top civilian and military leaders also feuded with lawmakers over whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could make a Chinese invasion of Taiwan more likely.

Mr Austin warned lawmakers against drawing parallels between the two crises, although Beijing has so far rhetorically backed the Kremlin in its clash with the West.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, urged Mr Austin whether Western allies’ response to the Russian invasion would have any impact on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calculus on Taiwan.

“I think it’s not wise to make direct comparisons between Ukraine and Taiwan,” Mr. Austin said. “These are two completely different scenarios, two different theatres.”

“I don’t want to speculate on what’s on Mr. Xi’s mind,” he added, “but I think as the world looks on, they are struck by the commitment, the determination of many countries around the world to resist this kind of.” Behave.”

Tuesday’s lengthy House of Representatives hearings also included a heated clash between Mr. Austin and Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, who used his Question Time to charge that Mr. Austin and other Pentagon leaders were using US military superiority in favor of the United States Adopting socialist ideologies and doctrines would have compromised Critical race theory for recruits.

Mr. Gaetz’s allegations seemed to enrage the normally quiet, reserved Mr. Austin, who was becoming visibly agitated in the face of the increasingly intense questioning.

Mr. Austin initially responded by saying he would let the Pentagon’s budget proposal “speak for itself,” but he responded forcefully when Mr. Gaetz then claimed that Russia and China were overtaking the US in developing hypersonic weapons.

“What do you mean we’re behind on hypersonics? How do you come to that assessment?” Mr. Austin said.

“I don’t know. I make this assessment because China uses hypersonic weapon systems and we are still developing them,” Mr. Gaetz replied. “I make this assessment because Russia actually used one.”

“While everyone else in the world seems to be developing skills and being more strategic,” Mr. Gaetz continued, “we have time to embrace critical race theory at West Point, embrace socialism at the National Defense University, and do compulsory pronoun training” in the military .

Mr. Austin then responded with an explosive accusation of his own.

“Again, this is the most capable, most credible force in the world. It was and will continue to be,” he said. “And this budget helps us with that. The fact that you are embarrassed by your country… I am sorry.”

“I’m embarrassed about your leadership,” Mr. Gaetz replied. “I’m not embarrassed about my country. I wish we didn’t lose to China. It is so shameful that you are sitting here attributing your failures to the failures of the uniformed soldiers.”

Mr Austin said accusations that US analysts had misjudged the course of the Ukraine war had to be offset by the fact that US and Western military support had helped Kyiv, a larger invading force far longer than many predicted to fend off

“Did you notice that Russia didn’t overrun Ukraine because of what we and our allies did?” Mr. Austin asked Mr. Gaetz. “Have you ever thought about it?”

• Mike Glenn and Joseph Clark contributed to this report.

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