Top US general warns of 'horrific' outcome if Russian forces 'unleashed' on Ukraine

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(CNN) — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be "horrific" for the country and would result in "significant" casualties as he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to choose a diplomatic path instead.

"Given the type of forces that are arrayed ... if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties," Milley said at a Pentagon press briefing Friday. "You can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads, and so on and so forth. It would be horrific. It would be terrible. And it's not necessary. And we think a diplomatic outcome is the way to go here."

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed reporters Friday on the US military's preparations ahead of a possible Russian invasion with tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, which prompted Austin this week to put 8,500 US troops on alert for possible deployment to support NATO in Eastern Europe.

Milley spoke of Ukraine's geography, noting that when its "high water table" freezes, "it makes it for optimal conditions for cross-country tract and wheeled vehicle maneuver."

"There are many people and highly dense population centers throughout Ukraine. And if war were to break out on a scale and scope that is possible, the civilian population will suffer immensely," he said.

Milley's remarks stand in contrast to the message coming from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelesnky spoke to US President Joe Biden by phone Thursday, where the two leaders disagreed on the urgency of the threat Russia poses, and Zelensky reiterated his view that the rhetoric risks causing panic in Ukraine on Friday.

"They are saying tomorrow is the war. This means panic," Zelensky told reporters.

But Milley said that he thinks Russia's actions "feel different" than previous escalations. "This is larger in scale and scope in the massing of forces than anything we've seen in recent memory, and I think you'd have to go back quite a while into the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude," he said.

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