Following Russia’s temporary retreat to resupply and strategize its potential attack to secure the Donbas region, there have been two differing predictions from high-ranking military officials regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the past few days. These two differing views come from Retired United States Army Maj. Gen. Michael “Mike” Repass and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
During a CNN interview, Repass shared his insights on the ongoing war in Ukraine. Repass, the former commander of the US Special Operations Command in Europe, has been an adviser for the Ukrainian military for the last six years under a US government agreement. He thinks that the Russians had “culminated” 5 days ago and that they would be weaker in the coming attacks.
“The Russians culminated about 5 days ago… I believe that the Ukrainians sensed that and started conducting local counterattacks, particularly to the north and west of Kyiv. They also started counterattacks in the east recently.”
He explained that “culmination” in military jargon refers to when a force no longer has enough combat power to maintain progress in offensive operations. Despite the Ukrainian counter-offensives, Repass is also concerned about whether the scale of this operation will be enough to mount a significant pushback against Russia.
“We really don’t know what’s going on, on the ground, in granular detail, so it’s hard to judge the Ukrainian tactics and capabilities, and — this is more important — we have no idea what the Ukrainian losses have been so far.”
Repass points out that if the war turns into a battle of attrition, observers from the outside will not know how much it will cost Ukraine. “Our analysis about what is going on will be somewhat shallow,” he said.
Furthermore, he assessed that the Russian forces had peaked as it was revealed that the Russians had really poor command and control processes, shown in the high number of deaths among its commanders, generals, and troops. In the previous weeks, it was also discovered that the Russians had really poor radio communication systems coupled with conscripts that did not know how to fight. This combination led to senior leaders going to the front lines to try and fix the problems, only for them to be killed by Ukrainian forces.
“On the organization side, the Russians created battalion tactical groups as their primary war-fighting formations with vastly different armaments and degrees of vehicle mobility. To employ their capabilities properly, they have to string them out across the battlefield in-depth, but they don’t have the technology and procedures for arranging these forces in the way they need to,” he explained.
Gen. Milley: The War Can Last For Years
On the other hand, the highest-ranking military officer in the US, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, has predicted that the Russia-Ukraine conflict would drag on for years to come.
“It’s a bit early, still, even though we’re a month plus into the war. There is much of the ground war left in Ukraine, but I do think this is a very protracted conflict. And I think it’s at least measured in years,” he said during the House Armed Services Committee last Tuesday. “I don’t know about a decade, but at least years for sure,” he added.
He also said that the conflict was “very extended” and that NATO and the United States should be prepared to be involved with the conflict for “quite some time.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan also shares this view as he believes that the war in Ukraine “may very well be protracted.”
In response to the perceived prolonged war in Ukraine, Milley was asked by House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith about what can the US do more to help the Ukrainians fend off the Russians.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) stated that setting up permanent bases in eastern European NATO countries would possibly deter Russia. Milley said that the posture of the US regarding the permanent bases is still being debated upon. However, he did say that there would be an increased presence of US troops in the region in the coming years.
“My advice would be to create permanent bases but don’t permanently station, so you get the effect of permanence by rotational forces cycling through permanent bases,” he suggested. The General also added that the European allies of the US like Poland, Romania, and the Baltics would be very much open to establishing bases in their countries.
“They’ll build them. They’ll pay for them, etc., for us to cycle through on a rotational basis. So you get the effect of permanent presence of forces, but the actual individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines are not permanently stationed there for 2-3 years,” he said.
Despite their differences in views, the US government and Repass did agree on several points in their separate statements, one being that Russia would be focusing its invasion campaign in Donbas as the Kremlin itself announced its intentions of “completely liberating” the region.
According to Repass, Moscow’s initial plan was to oust the current Ukrainian government and annex as much territory. More so, Putin also aimed to create a land bridge that would connect Crimea to mainland Russia, which would be one of the goals of the Russians in repositioning troops in Donbas.
“The seizure of Kyiv was (and is) not essential to Russia’s success and was a want-to-have as opposed to a must-have. The land bridge to Crimea is a Russian must-have,” Repass said.
On the other hand, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that the best assessment of the Russians backing off from Northern Ukraine is that they would be resupplying in Belarus and moving back into the Donbas region.
“It’s clear the Russians want to reprioritize their operations in the Donbas area [and] that could be one destination, but again, [it’s] too soon to know,” Kirby said on March 31. “We don’t really have a good sense of it.”
Later during the House Armed Services Committee meeting regarding the defense budget, Milley and, particularly, Defense Secretary Austin would get into a heated argument with Rep. Matt Gaetz as the Pentagon had a bad track record for predicting several key events in the past during the months leading up to the invasion.
“You guys told us that Russia couldn’t lose. You told us that the Taliban couldn’t immediately win. And so I guess I’m wondering what in the $773 billion that you’re requesting today is going to help you make assessments that are accurate in the face of so many blown calls,” Gaetz said.
“You totally blew those calls, and maybe we would be better at them if the National Defense University actually worked a little more on strategy and a little less on wokeism.”