Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misled by advisers “who fear telling him the truth” about the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine and the impact of Western sanctions on the Russian economy, according to Western officials.
The assessments by officials in the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom on Wednesday came as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came to a bloody halt in much of the country, and negotiations to end the month-long war failed to produce results.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said the United States believes “Putin is being misled about how poorly the Russian military is doing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his top advisers are afraid to tell him: Fact.”
She said the intelligence findings also indicate that Putin is now aware of the situation about the information coming to him, and that this has led to “continued tension” between the Russian leader and his military leadership.
She added that Washington is now providing this information to show that the conflict in Ukraine “was a strategic mistake for Russia.”
The Biden administration is publishing US intelligence findings from before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, using the information to rally European allies and counter Russian disinformation.
The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the US assessments.
She previously denied US reports that Russian forces had suffered major setbacks in Ukraine, with Putin himself saying in early March that everything was “on the verge of planning”.
Bedingfield’s comments came hours after a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told reporters that Washington’s latest assessment was based on recently declassified intelligence, though they did not detail the underlying evidence for that decision.
The official said the intelligence community also concluded that Putin was unaware that his military was using and losing recruits in Ukraine.
The official said the findings show a “clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information” to Putin, and make clear that Putin’s top advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth,” adding that the Biden administration hopes disclosing the findings can help urge Putin to reconsider his options in Ukraine.
A second US official said the latest assessment could complicate Putin’s calculations.
“It may be useful,” the official said. Do you sow discord in the ranks? It could make Putin reconsider who he can trust.”
A senior European diplomat told Reuters news agency that the US assessment was in line with European thinking.
Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ or just sitting with them at the end of a table that’s too long,” the diplomat said.
Two other European diplomats told Reuters that the Russian recruits were told they were taking part in military exercises, but that they had to sign a document before the invasion to extend their assignments.
“They were misled, poorly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” one diplomat added.
Jeremy Fleming, head of the UK’s GCHQ, said British intelligence showed Russian soldiers were in poor morale and ill-equipped.
“We have seen Russian soldiers – who lack weapons and morale – refuse to follow orders, sabotage their own equipment and even accidentally shoot down their planes,” Fleming said in a speech in Canberra at the Australian National University. A copy of his notes.
He repeated the assessments of the United States and the European Union, noting that Putin “significantly underestimated” the capabilities of the Russian military.
“We think Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth,” Fleming added.
The Kremlin did not immediately comment on Fleming’s comments.
The United Nations reported that the Russian invasion of Ukraine killed and injured thousands of people and forced more than four million to flee Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Russian forces continued to bombard the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, and the besieged city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, despite its promise the day before to reduce military operations in the two cities.
Ukraine and Western countries rejected the Russian promise, describing it as a ploy to regroup the invaders, who had suffered heavy losses.
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