WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. military officer said Wednesday he tried to contact his Russian counterpart following the missile explosions in Poland, but was unable to get through.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his staff tried to reach senior Russian military official Gen. Valery Gerasimov on the phone to discuss the incident without ” hit “.
Milley did not specify the efforts, but the lack of communication raises concerns about high-level US-Russian communications in the event of a crisis. A strike against NATO member Poland could have risked a bigger conflict if it turned out that Russia had launched the strike.
The United States and other senior leaders now say they believe the strike was likely launched by Ukrainian air defenses to defend against a Russian missile bombardment. But uncertainty swirled for hours. Several US defense officials said it was not unusual for Gerasimov to be unavailable for a call.
The lack of communication is concerning, especially given the potential implications of the strike, said John Tierney, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington.
Open lines of communication “are essential if we are to avoid the risk of conflict caused by misconceptions, miscalculations or mistakes,” Tierney said. “It is disturbing to learn from General Milley that his counterpart was unreachable or unwilling to engage when an explosion occurred in Poland.”
Milley spoke to his military counterparts in Ukraine and Poland as governments worked quickly to determine whether the missile that killed two people in Poland was launched by Russia or Ukraine.
The conversation came as Milley said Russia’s recent defeat in the key southern city of Kherson and the possible slowdown in military operations in winter could provide an opportunity to negotiate.
“You want to negotiate at a time when you are at your strength and your opponent is at weakness,” Milley said during a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. “The Russian army is suffering tremendously,” he said, citing heavy losses of Russian tanks, combat vehicles, fighter jets and helicopters.
If the fighting slows, Milley said it could become “a window” for talks on a political solution.
He and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said they expect Ukraine to continue fighting through the winter, and that the US and its allies will continue to provide more support and weapons. And it will be up to Ukraine to determine possible negotiation plans.
“We have repeatedly said that the Ukrainians will decide this and not us. And we will support them for as long as it takes,” said Austin, who was also present at the briefing.
The missile that landed in Poland on Tuesday was launched in the “biggest wave of missiles we’ve seen since the start of the war,” Austin said. On Tuesday, Russia launched up to 100 missiles into Ukraine as Moscow stepped up airstrikes after heavy losses on the ground.
Milley said it was unlikely either side could achieve a military victory quickly. He said the likelihood of Russia, which currently controls around 20% of Ukraine, invading the whole country “is close to zero”. And, he added, “the task of physically expelling Russians from Ukraine is a very difficult task. And that won’t happen in the next few weeks unless the Russian military collapses completely, which is unlikely.