A full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “horrific,” the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday, adding that the massive buildup of Russian military along the border is reminiscent of the Cold War.
Moscow has amassed more than 100,000 military personnel along the Ukrainian border, including air and ground troops, special operations forces, and cyber and electronic warfare capabilities. Meanwhile, significant naval forces also threaten Ukraine, Army Gen. Mark Milley said at a press conference at the Pentagon.
“I think you’d have to come back quite a while into the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude,” Gen. Milley said. “It would be horrific.”
He warned Moscow that any invasion would result in a “significant amount of casualties,” as Ukraine’s defenses have improved since 2014, when Russia invaded and later annexed Crimea. Ukraine now has about 150,000 troops to defend itself, so an invasion wouldn’t be “cost-free” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“They maintain artillery and air defense [and] they have a highly regarded territorial force,” Gen. Milley said. “Ukraine has the right to be independent. We are continuing our effort to enhance their ability to protect themselves.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that Moscow seems to be plotting a pretext to stage an incursion into Ukraine.
“That is straight out of the Russian playbook, and they’re not fooling us,” he said. “This is something that we’re taking very seriously.”
Mr. Austin said Mr. Putin could use his troops to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to launch “coercive acts or provocative political acts” such as the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine.
Both men, who were making their first extensive public statements about the conflict this year, said they don’t believe Mr. Putin has made the final decision about whether to invade.
“Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy,” Mr. Austin said.
The Pentagon insists no American troops will be sent to Ukraine other than the small contingent of U.S. military advisers who are already there.
However, the Pentagon placed 8,500 service members, mostly from the Army and Air Force, on a heightened state of alert this week. If activated, they could become the U.S. contingent of NATO’s 40,000-member quick reaction force and would be sent to the alliance’s eastern region to shore up nervous NATO allies, officials said.
“A move on Ukraine will accomplish the very thing Russia says it does not want — a NATO alliance, strengthened and resolved on its western flank,” Mr. Austin said. “We are ready, capable and prepared to uphold our obligation under treaty to NATO. An attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all.”
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.