As Ukrainian forces sustained intensified Russian attacks in the east of the country, the top U.S. and Ukrainian military officers met for the first time at a secret location in southeastern Poland as Kyiv pressed the need for increased supplies of Western arms in its defense against Moscow’s full-scale invasion.
A U.S. military spokesman said Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, met with General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, Ukraine’s military chief, at a base near Poland’s border with Ukraine on January 17.
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The Washington Post and other news outlets reported that the U.S. contingent included five other military officers, along with an interpreter and security personnel. Because of safety precautions, news of the gathering was not disclosed until it concluded.
“They both thought it was important,” U.S. military spokesman Colonel David Butler said.
“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,” he added.
The two have spoken often since Russia’s February 24, 2022, invasion, but this was the first face-to-face meeting of the generals.
Zaluzhniy confirmed the meeting, writing on Twitter: “My first personal meeting with #GenMilley, Chairman of @thejointstaff happened in Poland.”
He said he “extended my gratitude for the unwavering support & assistance” provided by the United States and other allies. He added that he “outlined the urgent needs” of the Ukrainian military that “will accelerate our victory.”
The meeting came as Ukrainian cities and troops faced relentless Russian attacks, mainly in the east of the country, over the past 24 hours and as Western allies prepared to meet in Germany to discuss giving Ukraine offensive armaments such as tanks, a major desire of leaders in Kyiv.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily report on January 17 that Russians launched more than 70 attacks the previous day, shelling 15 settlements near the disputed city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, including the strategic town of Soledar, which has been all but razed to the ground by Russian shelling.
A Russian victory in Soledar would allow Moscow’s forces to inch closer to Bakhmut, where pitched battles have been raging for months.
“The enemy does not abandon its intentions to seize the entire Donetsk region. It is conducting offensive actions in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions,” the General Staff said, adding that Russian forces also continued to press in the direction of Zaporizhzhya and Kherson.
WATCH: Hundreds came to bid farewell to a popular boxing coach on January 17 in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro. Korenovskiy was a victim of a January 14 Russian missile strike on a nine-story apartment building that killed at least 40 people.
The latest attacks came after a Russian missile strike on an apartment building that houses around 1,700 people in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro killed at least 45 people.
Ukrainian officials said on January 17 that rescuers had called off the search for victims of the attack, with little or no hope of finding alive any of the 20 people who remain missing.
Russia has denied responsibility for the attack on the massive apartment complex.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his regular video address on January 16 that the attack on Dnipro and Russia’s push to gain the upper hand in the east highlighted the need for the West “to speed up decision-making” in supplying weapons.
Kyiv has long been pushing for tanks and armored vehicles that will help it punch holes in Russia’s front lines.
Britain confirmed on January 16 that it was going to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks and other military equipment, including hundreds of armored vehicles and advanced air-defense systems.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki ratcheted up pressure on Germany on January 16 to follow suit and provide more weapons to Ukraine, including Leopard 2 battle tanks, but Berlin says those tanks should be supplied only if there is agreement among Kyiv’s main allies, particularly the United States.
Poland and Finland have already pledged to send some of their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Analysts say the Leopard 2 is superior to the tanks Russia has deployed and would give Kyiv a decisive advantage.
The Netherlands will send a Patriot missile-defense system to Ukraine, Dutch news agency ANP reported on January 17. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is currently in Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden, announced a joint U.S.-German initiative to send the defense systems to Ukraine.
Oleskiy Danylov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, said on January 16 that Ukraine urgently needs more and better weapons it expects Russia “to attempt to make a so-called final push” that could occur on the invasion’s anniversary or in March.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is preparing to visit Berlin on January 19 and then host a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group the following day at the U.S. military base in Ramstein to discuss further support — including military aid — for Ukraine with allies.
Zelenskiy said on January 16 that he expects a “key decision on arms supplies from our partners” at the Ramstein meeting.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on January 17 that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had visited Russian troops involved in Ukraine. The information could not be independently confirmed.