Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley attempted to speak with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday following a missile-caused explosion in Poland but was unable to get through, the top military official revealed Wednesday.
Milley said his staff tried to connect him with Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov but they were “unsuccessful in getting me linked up.”
He instead spoke several times with his Ukrainian counterpart, with his Polish counterpart and with other chiefs of defense in Europe, Milley told reporters at the Pentagon
U.S. officials are still waiting on more information as to the exact origin of a Soviet-era missile that struck within Poland’s borders on Tuesday, killing two.
Initial assessments from Poland and NATO suggest that the armament was likely a Ukrainian air defense missile that unintentionally struck near the Ukrainian-Polish border in the village of Przewodów.
The incident occurred as Russia began a renewed missile barrage on Ukraine, pounding civilian targets and energy infrastructure ahead of winter.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking alongside Milley on Wednesday, said the Pentagon was still gathering information but has “seen nothing that contradicts [Polish President Andrzej Duda’s] preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.”
He added that whatever the final conclusion “the world knows that Russia bears ultimate responsibility for this incident.”
Tuesday’s incident put Western leaders on edge and set off a flurry of calls and meeting between top officials after it appeared that Russia’s attacks on Ukraine had spilled beyond its borders and risked widening the conflict — a long-held concern among NATO members, of which Poland is one.
But the new assessments that emerged Wednesday appeared to calm worries that the strike would cause the nearly nine-month war to escalate, as it didn’t appear Russia had deliberately targeted Poland. Such an occurrence may have drawn NATO into the conflict under Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty, which states that an attack against one member is viewed as an attack on all.
The Polish government, aided with U.S. experts, is now investigating the explosion, and Austin said Washington has “full confidence” in the inquiry.
“They’ve been conducting that investigation in a professional and deliberate manner, and so we won’t get ahead of their work. We’re going to stay in close touch with our Polish counterparts as well as with our NATO allies and other valued partners,” Austin said.
The Pentagon leaders also touched on Russia’s current efforts in its war on Ukraine, with Milley calling Moscow’s latest barrage of between 60 and 100 missiles “likely the largest wave of missiles that we’ve seen since the beginning of the war” and a “war crime.”
“The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population, is a war crime,” Milley said.
The top general, who earlier on Wednesday met virtually with the Pentagon-led Ukraine Contact Group, also pushed for Ukraine to receive more air defense capabilities, weapons he called “critical” for Ukraine’s future successes.
In addition, Milley stressed that Moscow has failed “every single” objective in the conflict.
“It’s clear that the Russian will to fight does not match the Ukrainian will to fight,” Milley said. “The Russians have failed every single time. They’ve lost strategically, they’ve lost operationally and, I repeat, they lost tactically. What they’ve tried to do, they failed at.”
But he also allowed that “militarily kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task” and one that the Ukrainian military will not likely accomplish “anytime soon,” though there may be a political alternative to end the conflict.
“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,” Milley said. “It’s possible, maybe, that there’ll be a political solution. All I’m saying is there’s a possibility for it. That’s all I’m saying.”