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Pentagon Holds Press Briefing On War In Ukraine. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 16, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: And I appreciate your leadership as we gathered today this morning for the seventh consecutive convening of the Ukrainian Contact Group, which we have been doing every month, as you know.
And thanks also to all the ministers of defense out there who participated and all of my counterparts, all the CHODs that participated, and other senior representatives from almost 50 countries who showed up at this meeting this morning and continue to take part in these discussions, which are very, very productive.
The mission of the group remains clear, to support Ukraine as they counter the illegal and unprovoked Russian aggression, and to continue to supply Ukraine with the capabilities necessary to defend their sovereignty.
Through these contact group sessions and other close coordinations that I have and the secretary has with our counterparts that I talked to, General Zaluzhnyi weekly, and my staff continually talks to his staff, we continue to respond to Ukraine's battlefield requirements, and their needs for a means of fighting for their freedom.
This is a war of choice. It's a war of choice for Russia. They embarked on a tremendous strategic mistake. They made a choice in February of this year to illegally invade a country that posed no threat to Russia. In making that choice, Russia established several objectives. They wanted to overthrow President Zelenskyy and his government. They wanted to secure access to the Black Sea.
They wanted to capture Odessa. They wanted to seize all the way to the Dnipro River, pause, and then continue to attack to the Carpathian Mountains. In short they wanted to overrun all of Ukraine. And they lost. They didn't achieve those objectives.
They failed to achieve their strategic objectives and they are now failing to achieve their operational and tactical objectives. Russia changed their war aims in March and the beginning of April. Their war of choice then focused on the seizure of the Donbass, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. That was their operational objectives, and they failed there.
Then they changed again and expanded to seize Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The strategic reframing of their objectives, of their illegal invasion have all failed, every single one of them. And we have just witnessed last week Russia's retreat from Kherson.
They retreated across the Dnipro River. They moved to more defensible positions south of the river. Their losses due to Ukrainian success and skill and bravery on the battlefield have been very, very significant. And it's clear that the Russian will to fight does not match the Ukrainian will to fight.
On the battlefield, Ukrainians' offensive in Kharkiv has been successful, where they crossed the Oskil River, and they have moved to the east and are near the town of Svatove. There is a significant ongoing fight down in Bakhmut right now in the vicinity and Siversk and Soledar, where the Ukrainians are fighting a very, very successful mobile defense.
There is limited contact right now in Zaporizhzhia and limited contact in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. And, as we already discussed, Kherson's offensive has been successful.
So, across the entire front-line trace of some 900 or so kilometers, the Ukrainians have achieved success after success after success. And the Russians have failed every single time. They have lost strategically. They have lost operationally, and I repeat they lost tactically.
What they have tried to do, they failed that. They started this war. And Russia can end this war. Russia can make another choice, and they can make a choice today to end this war.
However, Russia is choosing to use their time to attempt to regroup their forces, and they are imposing a campaign of terror, a campaign of maximum suffering on the Ukrainian civilian population in order to defeat Ukrainian morale. The Russians are striking throughout the depth and breadth of all of Ukraine with air-launched cruise missiles, with Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles, and with other types of munitions.
They are striking the Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, and it has little or no military purpose. While assessments are ongoing, yesterday's strikes looked like they launched at least 60 missiles, and they may have launched upwards of 90 or even perhaps 100.
And we will have better assessments in the days ahead. But it was likely the largest wave of missiles that we have seen since the beginning of the war. These missiles, again, they targeted intentionally and damaged civilian power generation facilities to cause unnecessary suffering with the civilian population.
We assess now that over a quarter of Ukrainian civilians are without power. The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population, is a war crime. With the onset of winter, families will be without power and, more importantly, without heat.
Basic human survival and subsistence is going to be severely impacted, and human suffering for the Ukrainian population is going to increase. These strikes will undoubtedly hinder Ukraine's ability to care for the sick and the elderly.
Their hospitals will be partially operational. The elderly are going to be exposed to the elements. In the wake of unrelenting Russian aggression and incalculable human suffering, Ukraine will continue to endure.
Ukraine is not going back down. The Ukrainian people are hard. They're tough. And, most of all, they're free. And they want to remain free. Ukraine is going to continue to take the fight to the Russians. And I just had a significant conversation with my Ukrainian counterpart. And he assures me that that is the future for Ukraine.
As Ukraine continues to fight, air defense capabilities are becoming critical for their future success. An integrated system, an integrated air defense system, an integrated air and missile defense system is what is necessary as Ukraine repels Russian aerial attacks.
And a significant portion of today's conversations in today's meeting with almost 50 countries focused on how we, as a global coalition, can provide the right mix of air defense systems and ammunition for Ukraine to continue its control of the skies and prevent the Russians from achieving air superiority.
To combat continued Russian strikes, last Thursday, the United States announced $400 million in additional commitments to support Ukraine. And those capabilities included missiles for the HAWK air defense systems, which is a complement to what Spain has recently committed. There's other air defense systems included in that $400 million package, along with ground systems, such as up-armored Humvees, grenade launchers, and additional HIMARS ammunition and lots of other pieces of equipment.
Wars are not fought by armies. They're fought by nations. This war is fought by the Ukrainian people and it's fought by the Russian people. And this is a war that Russia's leadership has chosen to put Russia into. They didn't have to do this. But they did. And they have violated Ukrainian sovereignty. They have violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
It is in complete contradiction to the basic rules that underlined the United Nations Charter established at the end of World War II. This is one of the most significant attempts to destroy the rules-based order that World War II was fought all about.
And we, the United States, are determined to continue to support Ukraine with the means to defend themselves for as long as it takes. But at the end of the day, Ukraine will retain -- will remain a free and independent country with its territory intact. Russia could end this war today. Russia could put an end to it right now. But they won't.
They're going to continue that fight. They're going to continue that fight into the winter, as best we can tell. And we, the United States, under the direction of the president and the secretary of defense, we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes to keep them free, sovereign, independent with their territory intact.
The president of the United States has been very, very clear to us that it's up to Ukraine to decide how and when or if they negotiate with the Russians. And we will continue to support them as long as it takes.
The United States will continue to support Ukraine with the best possible equipment to position them on the battlefield, to give them positions of strength against the Russians. And that is also true of all the other nations that attended the meeting today.
There is an absolute sense of urgency, an absolute sense of determination on the part of all the member states that attended our meeting today. And I can tell you, the cohesion and coherence of the organization is complete, and the resolve is high.
Ukrainians are not asking for anyone to fight for them. They don't want American soldiers or British or German or French or anybody else to fight for them. They will fight for themselves. All Ukraine is asking for is the means to fight. And we are determined to provide that means.
The Ukrainians will do this on their timeline. And, until then, we will continue to support all the way for as long as it takes. It is evident to me and the contact group today that that is not only a U.S. position, but it is a position of all the nations that were there today. We will be there for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free.
Thank you. And I welcome your questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, Chairman, thank you very much, gentlemen.
First question will go to Associated Press.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Mr. Secretary, President Zelenskyy just denied that it was Ukrainian air defense missile that landed in Poland. How are you certain that this was possibly a Ukrainian air defense missile and was not a Russian missile?
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thanks, Tara.
First of all, the investigation is still ongoing. And Poland is conducting that investigation. We are assisting in any way we can. We do have some experts on the ground there helping, helping Polish leadership.
We have full confidence in Poland's ability to conduct this investigation in a proper way. And, until that's complete, again, I think it's -- it'd be premature for anybody to jump to conclusions. And I know that Ukraine has offered to participate and help in any way they can as well.
So we won't get ahead of what -- of the investigation, but our information supports what President Duda said earlier. His preliminary assessment was that this was most likely, most likely a result of an Ukrainian air defense missile. But we will let the investigation play out here.
QUESTION: So, at this point, are you confident in saying that this was not a Russian missile?
AUSTIN: We're going to let the investigation play out. And then, once the results are released, we will be confident in everything. But, again, we -- our information supports what President Duda had said earlier.
QUESTION: And then, Chairman Milley, after this strike occurred, did you reach out to your Russian counterparts or did with any other military officer reach out to their Russian counterparts to protect against escalation? And, if not, why not?
MILLEY: There were -- I do that through my staff to set the calls up.
The short answer is, yes, some attempts were made. No success. But the Russian counterpart did have -- I did talk to my Ukrainian counterpart immediately, General Zaluzhnyi, talked to him several times, in fact, also Polish counterpart and several other CHODs in Europe.
And exactly what the secretary said, the investigation is ongoing. There's professionals there to do the forensics, all the debris that's in and around the impact site and so on and so forth. And, very shortly, we will know all the facts. And we just don't know them right this second.
QUESTION: So, Russia did not take the call?
MILLEY: Right. My staff was unsuccessful in getting me linked up with General Gerasimov. That's correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go to the next question, ABC, Luis Martinez.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Chairman, actually, I would just like to follow up on Tara's question initially, because, in his remarks, President Zelenskyy cited a conversation with your counterpart, General Zaluzhnyi, saying that he had confirmed to him that it was not a Ukrainian missile.
Based on your conversations with him today, was there a disconnect there? And then I will follow up with another question.
MILLEY: Yes, I'm not going to talk about -- he and I, our agreement between each other is not to talk about the substance of the conversations that we have. We have conversation several times a week.
And we acknowledge that we have the conversations, but we don't discuss the substance of the conversation. So I have to honor that, and I will continue to honor that. But I can tell you that, right now, the investigation is ongoing.
These are professional investigators. There is a debris field there. There's other forms of data that are going to be available that come from various technical means.
And I suspect, very shortly, we will have very confirmed data as to what the point of origin is, point of impact, what the angle of the weapon system was, the flight trajectory. All the details are going to be known in due time, but it's pretty early actually in the investigation.
So we will know that, and the secretary will know that. President Biden will know that. And we will all get informed here shortly by the investigators. And Poland has put together a team. They have lead. And they have put together a team of professional investigators to do that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, yesterday, it was kind of the reality of the speculation that has been going on for months about how NATO might respond if a Russian missile went into NATO territory.
On the opposite side, the United States has been very careful not to provide weapons systems that might reach into Russia. What about Crimea? If the United States HIMARS -- supplied HIMARS systems are able to reach inside Crimea regularly, is that a concern, given what we saw yesterday?
And the follow-up, sir, to your comments about -- earlier from last week about the possibility of discussions put on by a slowdown in the fighting, let's say, during the winter, it sounds like the comments that you're making today about the winter are that the Ukrainians are going to continue very strongly.
Are you pulling back from your comments from last week that you see an opportunity for negotiations with the Russians?
MILLEY: No, I think -- I think the Ukrainians should keep the pressure on the Russians, to the extent that they militarily can.
But winter gets very, very cold. And the natural tendency is for tactical operations are going to naturally probably slow down. And right now, what we're seeing is the lines from Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson, for the most part, are beginning to stabilize. Now, whether that means they will be stable throughout the winter or not, nobody knows. Nobody knows for certain.
Come January, February, that ground probably will freeze, which could lend itself to offensive operations. So, there could be a lot of activity in the winter. But, typically speaking, because of the weather, the tactical operations will slow down a bit. And I think that President Biden -- and President Zelenskyy himself has said that there will be a -- at the end of the day, there will be a political solution. So, if there's a slowdown in the actual tactical fighting, if that
happens, then that may become a window possibly -- it may not -- for a political solution, or at least the beginnings of talks to initiate a political solution. So that's all I was saying.
QUESTION: And from you, sir.
And I -- first, let me just agree with what the chairman just said in terms of, there is a -- there probably will be a slowdown in the fall and going in into winter. Fall is a muddy season, as you know, and so is the spring.
So, when the ground hardens, trafficability will probably improve. And then we will be -- we may see more activity. But I would remind everyone that this war started in February. So, winter does not mean that we're going to stop fighting or the Ukrainians are going to stop fighting. I certainly, like the chairman believe, that they won't.
And so we're going to do everything within our power to make sure that they have the means to accomplish their goals and objectives. And along that line, the goals and objectives of this fight are the Ukrainians'. They're not ours. And so we won't prescribe -- haven't prescribed to the Ukrainians what they can and cannot do.
And so our focus is to continue to provide them the means to be successful in their endeavors. And so that's my response. To the question on Crimea, again, the Crimea is an issue to be thought through and sorted out by the Ukrainian leadership.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go ahead.
Helene, "New York Times."
QUESTION: First, General Austin, so, with winter coming...
AUSTIN: It's a bad habit to keep. You calling me general, but...
QUESTION: Sorry. It's like ingrained in my head.
QUESTION: Secretary Austin, do you agree then with General Milley's comments in New York last week that Ukraine cannot achieve a military victory, as defined by driving Russia out of all of its territory, including Crimea, and therefore should use winter as an opportunity to negotiate?
AUSTIN: I -- again, having the chairman here, I think it's fair to allow him to really provide context for his comments.
AUSTIN: I think -- and you have heard me say this before now -- there are countless numbers of people that have been amazed and astonished by what the Ukrainians have accomplished.
And so I won't presuppose what's what's possible or impossible for them. What I am focused on is just making sure that they have the means to do two things. First is to protect themselves and their civilian population from some of the things that we have seen here recently with the aerial bombardments.
The second thing is to enable them to achieve their goals and objectives on the ground as they continue to try to take back their sovereign territory. So, we're going to continue to support them. And, again, I think, to this point, we have seen him come up with very achievable goals and objectives.
We have seen a very successful counteroffensive, both in Kharkiv and also in Kherson. And I think they will continue to keep the pressure on the Russians going forward.
And in terms of what's a good time to negotiate, we have said repeatedly that the Ukrainians are going to decide that, and not us. And we will support them for as long as it takes.
Now, we just spent almost four hours with our colleagues there in a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting. It was amazing to me how many ministers of defense on their own said, we're going to do this for as long as it takes. And so I continue to see unity. I continue to see resolve. And that's very, very encouraging.
And I think it's encouraging for Oleksiy Reznikov and his team to hear that as well, because, as you know, they're in the meeting as well. So, yes.
MILLEY: So, Helene, I will make a couple of comments, first on the Russians.
QUESTION: I still have a question for you, though.
MILLEY: OK. But let me -- let me help you out with this...
AUSTIN: So, that will be like four questions, I think, Helene.
QUESTION: I haven't asked...
MILLEY: Let me help you out with this one first.
So, start with the Russians. Ukraine is a pretty big country. This is not a small piece of turf. And the probability of Russia achieving its strategic objectives of conquering Ukraine, of overrunning Ukraine, the probability of that happening is close to zero.
I suppose, theoretically, it's possible, maybe, I guess, but I don't see it happening, militarily. So I just don't see that happening.
But they do currently occupy about 20 percent of that -- of Ukraine. So they occupy a piece of ground that's about 900 kilometers' long and, I don't know, probably about 75 or 80 kilometers' deep. So it's not a small piece of ground. And they invaded this country with upwards of 170,000, 180,000 troops, and multiple field armies, combined arms armies.
And they have suffered a tremendous amount of casualties. But he's also done this mobilization, called up additional people. So the Russians have reinforced. They have -- they still have significant Russian combat power inside Ukraine.
Now, Ukraine has had success in the defense. They did a tremendous job in defeating the Russian offensive. It's incredible what they were able to do. And then they went on the offensive at the beginning of September. And they had great success up in Kharkiv. And they have had better success even down in Kherson, as you just witnessed.
But Kherson on and Kharkiv, physically, geographically, are relatively small compared to the whole, so that that -- the military task of militarily kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task. And it's not going to happen in the next couple of weeks, unless the Russian army completely collapses, which is unlikely.
So, in terms of probability, the probability of a Ukrainian military victory, defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine, to include what they define -- or what they claim as Crimea, the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high, militarily.
Politically, that may be a political solution where, politically, the Russians withdraw. That's possible. You want to negotiate from a position of strength. Russia right now is on its back. The Russian military is suffering tremendously. Leaders have been -- the leadership is really hurting bad. They have lost a lot of casualties, killed and wounded.
They have lost -- I won't go over exact numbers because they're classified, but they have lost a tremendous amount of their tanks and their infantry fighting vehicles. They have lost a lot of their fourth- and fifth-generation fighters and helicopters and so on and so forth.
The Russian military is really hurting bad. So you want to negotiate at a time when you're at your strength and your opponent is at weakness. And it's possible, maybe, that there will be a political solution.
All I'm saying is, there's a possibility for it. That's all I'm saying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have time for just a couple more.
Go to VOA, Carla Babb.
QUESTION: Thank you, gentlemen, both for doing this.
Mr. Secretary, you stressed that the United States and their allies are committed to Ukraine for as long as it takes. How long do you think Russia can continue this war with its current arsenal and its current personnel? And how much has Iran and North Korea's weapons extended their ability to wage this war?
And, Mr. Chairman, thank you. You thoroughly answered my question that with Luis and Helene, so I'm going to ask you a question on China, if I may.
QUESTION: After the meeting with President Biden and President Xi, have you seen any indications that China has changed its ambition to control Taiwan?
And the last time the national defense strategy was rolled out, the Pentagon said America's military edge was eroding. Now that this new one has rolled out, is America's military edge still eroding to China?
AUSTIN: So, thanks, Carla.
In terms of how long Russia can sustain their efforts, that's left to be seen. I think the chairman just gave a very accurate and compelling description of kind of where the Russians are right now. They're -- they have some problems. They have had problems since the very beginning of this trying to sustain their efforts.
Those problems have only become more acute. They have lost a lot of people. And, as important, they have lost a lot of important military gear. So, the numbers of tanks that they have lost, the numbers of armored personnel carriers, pretty staggering numbers.
As important, the numbers of precision-guided munitions that they have rifle through in this endeavor is striking. But they won't be able to reproduce those munitions very quickly, because there are trade restrictions on their -- that prevent them from rapidly gaining microchips and other things that are required to produce these kinds of munitions.
And so it may take years for them to restock that inventory up to the point that they were before they started this conflict. We have seen them struggle with having enough munitions to fight the way that they want to fight. So they're reaching out to Iran. They're reaching out to North Korea.
I do think that those countries will probably provide them some capability. And so, for that reason, I don't think this will be over anytime soon. Our goal, our requirement is to make sure that we continue to provide Ukraine with the means to do what's necessary to prosecute their campaign. And so they have to continue to keep the pressure on the Russians
going forward. And I think, a winter fight favors the Ukrainians. We have pushed enormous amounts of winter gear into Ukraine, thanks to countries like Canada and others who have really been very, very generous.
Russia, on the other hand, I mean, they're fighting in a foreign country. The Ukrainians have challenged their supply lines. It will be difficult for them to get the kinds of gear into their troops that they need to be able to fight effectively.
And so I think the Ukrainians will have the upper hand in this fight, as they have right now, but that they will continue to maintain that upper hand going into the winter, just like we saw them operate in February of last year.
They know the -- they know the land. They can -- they can pull things from the local communities. And they will be prepared for this -- for this winter weather. And I don't think the Russians will be as prepared, and they will continue to struggle to get things into their troops using the supply lines that they currently have.
And the Russians -- Ukrainians will continue to pressure those supply lines.
QUESTION: And do you think the Russians can hold out, all it takes them -- the years that you say it would take for them to fully resupply?
AUSTIN: I don't think the Ukrainians are going to allow them to hold out.
I think the Ukrainians are going to continue to pressure them. And so this -- the battlefield dynamic will change, continue to change. The Ukrainians know that allowing them to rest and refit and rearm is a mistake. That's a -- that's an operational mistake. And I don't believe they're going to make that mistake.
And I -- my goal is to make sure that they have means to do what's necessary to ensure that they don't hold up.
MILLEY: And you had two questions for the secretary.