Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday warned of “protracted conflict” in Ukraine that could take years to end.
“I think that NATO, the United States, Ukraine and all of the allies and partners that are supporting Ukraine are going to be involved in this for quite some time,” Milley, the top U.S. military officer, testified before the House Armed Services Committee.
Milley was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in their first congressional testimony since Russia attacked Ukraine in February. The hearing was meant to focus on the 2023 defense budget request, but the latest developments in Ukraine took center stage.
Russia’s invasion, which has forced over 4 million people to flee their country, is threatening peace in Europe and the world, said Milley, pointing to shifting global power dynamics.
“We are now facing two global powers: China and Russia, each with significant military capabilities, both who intend to fundamentally change the rules-based current global order,” he said. “We are entering a world that is becoming more unstable and the potential for significant international conflict is increasing, not decreasing.”
Gen. Mark Milley: "We are entering a world that is becoming more unstable and the potential for significant international conflict between great powers is increasing, not decreasing." pic.twitter.com/XvQgrcdRq4
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 5, 2022
Milley dismissed suggestions that the U.S. could have done more to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from going through with the invasion in the first place.
“Candidly, short of the commitment of U.S. military forces into Ukraine proper, I’m not sure he was deterrable,” Milley said. “This has been a long-term objective of his that goes back years.”
As countries in Eastern Europe grow increasingly worried that they might be next on Putin’s target list, Milley supported the idea of establishing permanent U.S. military bases in the region. But he said forces should rotate to limit the costs associated with permanent troop deployment, including moving family and schools. He added that U.S. allies in the region, like Poland, would be willing to help pay.
Austin said NATO is assessing how to increase its presence in Eastern Europe to respond to the changes in the area’s “security architecture.”
“If NATO deems that it’s appropriate to change its footprint, then certainly we’ll be a part of that,” Austin said. “Our goal is to make sure we continue to reassure our allies and partners, especially those that are on the eastern flank.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday the war is entering a critical stage.
“Moscow is not giving up its ambitions in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said during a news conference ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers this week. “In the coming weeks, we expect a further Russian push in eastern and southern Ukraine to try to take the entire Donbas and to create a land bridge to occupied Crimea.”
❝We expect a further Russian push in eastern and southern #Ukraine, to try to take the entire Donbas and to create a land-bridge to occupied Crimea. So this is a crucial phase of the war❞#NATO Allies are determined to provide further support to 🇺🇦 @jensstoltenberg | #ForMinpic.twitter.com/sHDrXshnqZ
— NATO (@NATO) April 5, 2022
Reports of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha have shocked the world, prompting the White House to impose further sanctions Wednesday in conjunction with allies blocking all new investment in Russia.
“The goal is to force them to make a choice,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “The biggest part of our objective here is to deplete the resources that Putin has to continue his war against Ukraine.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.