Mar 31, 2022 - World

Putin's massive Ukraine blind spot

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council
Photo: Andrey Gorshkov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. and U.K. officials say intelligence indicates Vladimir Putin has been "misinformed" about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine, in part due to "yes-men" advisers who are "too afraid to tell him the truth." The Kremlin later dismissed the claims.

Why it matters: The Western allies have repeatedly declassified and publicized sensitive intelligence about Russia as a tool to undermine Putin's strategy. The latest example comes as Russia claims to be pulling back from its offensive near Kyiv, which ended in failure thanks to a stiff Ukrainian resistance.

What they're saying: "[I]t increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation," Jeremy Fleming, the head of the U.K.'s GCHQ spy service, said in a major speech in Australia Wednesday.

  • "We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft," Fleming claimed.
  • "And even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime," he added.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield confirmed to reporters: "We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership."

  • Releasing this information "contributes to an understanding that this has been a strategic failure for Russia," Bedingfield said when asked why the U.S. was declassifying this intelligence now.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that "it turns out that neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have real information about what is happening in the Kremlin.”

  • “They do not understand President Putin, they do not understand the decision-making mechanism and they do not understand the efforts of our work," he added.

Between the lines: There is probably "no bigger insult" than calling Putin, a former KGB officer, "misinformed" about the state of his own military, notes Russia expert Dmitri Alperovitch.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov's comments.

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