Top US, Ukraine military leaders meet in Poland

In this image provided by the U.S. Army, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley meets with U.S. Army leaders at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Grafenwoehr, Germany, Jan. 16, 2023.[AP]

U.S. Army General Mark Milley and his Ukrainian counterpart met at a military base in southeastern Poland on Tuesday in their first face-to-face talks, a sign of the two countries' growing coordination supporting Ukraine's defense against Russia's 11-month invasion.

Milley, chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ukrainian General Valerii Zaluzhnyi talked for two hours at the undisclosed site near the Ukraine-Poland border. The two top military chiefs had never met but have talked often since Russian forces stormed into Ukraine last February.

The meeting came as the United States and its Western allies continue to ship billions of dollars or armaments to Ukraine to fend off Russian airstrikes, even as the ground battles in eastern Ukrainian territories have resulted in something of a stalemate, with neither side able to take full control.

While the U.S. has maintained its stance of not sending troops to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, it has become more strategically involved in the war, recently agreeing to send a Patriot air defense missile battery to Ukraine and train Ukrainian soldiers at a military base in the U.S. on how to use it.

Army Colonel Dave Butler, a spokesman for Milley, told two reporters traveling with Milley that he and the Ukrainian military leader felt it was important to meet in person.

"These guys have been talking on a very regular basis for about a year now, and they've gotten to know each other," Butler said. "They've talked in detail about the defense that Ukraine is trying to do against Russia's aggression. And it's important — when you have two military professionals looking each other in the eye and talking about very, very important topics, there's a difference."

Butler said the meeting would allow Milley to relay Zaluzhnyi's concerns and information to the other military leaders during a NATO chiefs' meeting later this week. Milley, he said, will be able to "describe the tactical and operational conditions on the battlefield and what the military needs are for that. And the way he does that is one, by understanding it himself, but by also talking to Zaluzhnyi on a regular basis."

In addition, Milley also will be able to describe the new training of Ukrainian forces that the U.S. has started at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Butler said.

Milley saw arms instruction for 600 Ukrainian troops during a nearly two-hour visit there on Monday, which the U.S. hopes will better prepare Ukrainian troops to launch an offensive or counter any surge in Russian attacks.

Milley and other allied defense chiefs are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, and then the so-called Ukraine Contact Group will gather at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Thursday and Friday. That group includes about 50 top defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who work to coordinate military contributions to Ukraine.

On the battlefield, Russia in recent days claimed it took control of the small salt-mining town of Soledar, although Ukraine said that its troops are still fighting there. In a barrage of airstrikes last weekend, Russia hit Kyiv, the northeastern city of Kharkiv and the southeastern city of Dnipro, where the death toll in one apartment building rose to 45.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Monday that the attack in Dnipro highlights the need for faster and more coordinated decisions on arms supplies to Ukraine.

"What happened in Dnipro … only underscores how important it is to coordinate all the efforts of the coalition defending Ukraine and freedom," Zelenskyy said. "And to speed up decision-making."

Russian officials have repeatedly denied targeting civilians in Ukraine, including again Monday as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian forces "do not strike residential buildings or social infrastructure. They strike military targets." Peskov said what happened in Dnipro was caused by Ukrainian air defenses.

Meanwhile, a man claiming to be a former commander in the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group who fought in Ukraine is seeking asylum in Norway after fleeing there last week.

Authorities in Norway said border guards detained a man near the Russia-Norway border early Friday.

A lawyer for Andrey Medvedev told news agencies that Medvedev was in Norway and seeking asylum.

"He has declared that he is willing to speak about his experiences in the Wagner Group to people who are investigating war crimes," lawyer Brynjulf Risnes said.

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