Gen. Mark Milley meets Gen. Valery Zaluzhny near the Ukrainian border

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SOUTHEASTERN POLAND — The Pentagon’s top general met on Tuesday for the first time in person with his Ukrainian counterpart, traveling by vehicle from a base here in Poland to an undisclosed location near the countries’ border in what appeared to be a symbolic show of support as Washington intensifies its military assistance to Ukraine.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent a couple of hours with Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the top officer in Ukraine’s armed forces, said Col. David Butler, a US military spokesman. The meeting was arranged after it became clear that Zaluzhny would not be able to attend a meeting Wednesday of senior NATO military officials in Brussels. Milley met the Ukrainian officer with a group that included five other Americans, an interpreter and security personnel. News of the meeting was withheld until it concluded, with officials citing safety precautions.

“They both thought it was important,” Butler said of the meeting. “It’s important that two very important military officials look at each other in the eye when they talk about very important topics. It makes a difference.”

The meeting occurred after nearly a year of remote meetings between the generals, and as the United States and its allies expand the arsenal of weapons they are providing to Ukraine — including advanced American fighting vehicles, European tanks and an array of other equipment — ahead of an expected counteroffensive against Russian forces.

The scope of training being provided for Ukrainian forces also has grown significantly in the last week, with US soldiers in Germany preparing a Ukrainian mechanized battalion to better combine how those troops use US-made weapons to maximize their effects on the battlefield, and as other US Army personnel in Oklahoma show their Ukrainian counterparts how to use a sophisticated air defense system.

US involvement in Ukraine war deepens, with troops to train in Oklahoma

The Kremlin has sharply criticized Western efforts to help Ukraine, accusing Washington and its NATO allies of waging a proxy war against Moscow and raising concerns that Russia could at some point grow intolerant of the intervention and target the United States or another NATO country. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently named Milley’s Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimovs his top commander in Ukraine, a move observers have said is a strong indication Moscow has no inclination to end its invasion as the war nears its one-year mark with more than 100,000 dead or wounded on both sides.

Milley arrived in southeastern Poland about 11 am local time, and began his meeting with Zaluzhny about two hours later, Butler said. Some Americans traveling with the general, including two journalists, remained at the military base here — a way station used to funnel aid to Ukraine — while Milley traveled closer to the border. No photography was allowed during the visit, and US military officials requested that the journalists withhold exact locations.

The meeting occurred a day after a contingent of civilian officials from the Pentagon and State Department met in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Kyiv previously in a demonstration of support for the Ukrainian leader. Milley has not visited Ukraine itself, as the United States appears to maintain a policy in which only the small contingent of American military personnel assigned to the US Embassy in Kyiv spend time in the country.

Butler said the visit did not pose significant security concerns for Milley, and that he did not go anywhere believed to be dangerous. The general wanted to provide Zaluzhny with his impressions of the Ukrainian unit that just began training under the supervision of US soldiers in Germany after visiting them on Monday, and to discuss Ukrainian needs ahead of a regularly scheduled meeting later this week of the Ukraine Contact Group , a gathering of international partners that have supported the country militarily throughout the war.

“General Milley’s job here as a military guy is to be able to describe the tactical and operational conditions of the battlefield, and what the military needs are. And the way he does that is one, by understanding it himself, but two, by talking to General Zaluzhny on a regular basis.”

Pentagon eyes major expansion of Ukraine military training

Tuesday’s visit marked the third time that Milley has visited the base in southeastern Poland since the war began. US troops here, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the military, said that their mission has expanded in the last few months as the array of weaponry from approved for transfer has grown.

Military personnel have worked to improve security at the base since the beginning of the war, adding new concrete bunkers and thick, sand-filled outdoor walls commonly known as HESCO barriers to join two batteries of Patriot air defense systems that were deployed in southeastern Poland in the spring.

A US soldier assigned to the Patriot unit said Tuesday that some have been assigned to the base since March, and that they aren’t sure when another unit of soldiers may arrive to rotate in and replace them. That’s not uncommon for Patriot units, but the lack of predictability has put a strain on the unit, the soldier said.

The unit operates continuously, with its alert status ebbing and flowing based on events of the day.

“We have to respond properly to the situation,” the soldier said.

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