General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.
He said up to 40,000 Ukrainian civilians and “more than” 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in the fighting, which is now in its ninth month. “The same thing is probably on the Ukrainian side,” Milley added.
“There has been a great deal of human suffering, human suffering,” he said at The Economic Club of New York.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday said he was ready to negotiate peace with Russia to end the war but only on condition that Russia return all occupied Ukrainian lands, pay compensation for war damage and for facing war crimes prosecution.
Russia said it was open to talks and this week announced it had begun withdrawing from Kherson.
Zelenskyy warned that the Russians were pretending to withdraw their troops from Kherson to lure Ukrainian troops into a battle entrenched in the strategic industrial port city, a gateway to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Milley, the US military’s most senior officer, said Russia had amassed 20,000 to 30,000 troops in Kherson and a full withdrawal could take weeks.
“Initial indicators show that they are in fact doing it. They have publicly announced that they are doing it. I believe they are doing it to preserve forces to re-establish defenses. south of the river (Dnieper), but that remains to be seen,” he said.
Milley said it was possible the Russians would retreat to redeploy troops for a spring offensive, but “there’s also an opportunity here, an opportunity to negotiate.”
But for negotiations to stand a chance, both Russia and Ukraine will have to achieve “mutual recognition” that a military victory “may not be achieved through military means, and therefore you need to switch to other means,” Milley said. The end of World War I is an example.