By Phil Stewart
WIESBADEN, Germany (Reuters) - The United States is hosting war planning exercises in Germany for Ukrainian military officers to help them think through upcoming battlefield decisions, officials said on Thursday, ahead of the next phase of the year-old conflict with Russia.
The multi-day, table top exercises have been carried out at a war-gaming facility at a U.S. Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany, where the top U.S. military officer, Army General Mark Milley, visited on Thursday.
U.S. officials declined to talk through the potential battlefield scenarios that Ukrainian military staff were examining during the drills, which involve thought exercises to evaluate potential military courses of action.
"No one is sitting there telling the Ukrainians, go left or go right or do this or do that. That is not the job of the international community," Milley told reporters traveling with him to Germany. "All we're doing is setting up the framework and the mechanics to allow the Ukrainians to self-learn, to learn against a situation, or various scenarios."
General Darryl Williams, the U.S. Army commander in Europe, praised the dozens of Ukrainian military staff who attended the drills, saying they were "really, really good".
The drills come on the heels of the one-year anniversary of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, as speculation mounts about what potential offensives Kyiv and Moscow might attempt in the war's second year.
Ukrainian forces repelled Russia's advance on Kyiv early in 2022, and the conflict, which Moscow calls a "special military operation," has become one of grinding trench warfare in the east and south.
In recent months, Russia has also targeted Ukraine's power grid, causing blackouts and loss of water and heat for millions of people across the country.
With both countries showing no sign of backing down, the prospects of an end to the fighting any time soon look bleak.
Russia and the United States' top diplomats spoke face-to-face on Thursday for the first time since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on the sidelines of a G20 meeting, where ministers traded blame over the conflict.
U.S. Army General Christopher Cavoli, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told reporters that the United States would stand with Ukraine for "as long as it takes."
The United States and its allies have committed billions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine, including Bradley fighting vehicles, tanks and advanced air defenses.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last month he hoped the contributions would "make a pretty significant difference in their counteroffensive in the spring."
The United States and its allies are also training Ukrainian forces outside of Ukraine, including combined arms training in Germany.
Milley expressed optimism in Ukraine's military even as he acknowledged a difficult fight ahead.
"I have tremendous confidence in the Ukrainian will to resist. And at the end of the day, the outcome, I believe, will be a free, independent, sovereign Ukraine," Milley said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Stephen Coates)