Advisers misled Putin on Ukraine

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about Russian forces’ performance in Ukraine, according to a U.S. official.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday to discuss the recently declassified intelligence finding, said that Putin has felt misled by the Russian military and there is now persistent tension between him and senior Russian defense officials.

The official did not detail underlying evidence for how U.S. intelligence made the determination.

But the intel community has concluded that Putin was unaware that the military had been using and losing conscripts in Ukraine. They also have determined Putin is not fully aware of the extent to which the Russian economy is being damaged by economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and allies.

The findings demonstrate a “clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information” to Putin, and show that Putin’s senior advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth,” the official said.

The new intelligence comes after the White House on Tuesday expressed skepticism about Russia’s public announcement that it would dial back operations near Kyiv in an effort to increase trust in ongoing talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Turkey.

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“We’ll see,” Biden said about that announcement. “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.”

Russian forces pounded areas around Ukraine’s capital and another city overnight, regional leaders said Wednesday.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said the administration views any movement of Russian forces as a “redeployment and not a withdrawal” and “no one should be fooled by Russia’s announcement.”

Biden was to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in the war.

Putin has long been seen outside Russia as insular and surrounded by officials who don’t always tell him the truth. U.S. officials have said publicly they believe that limited flow of information –- possibly exacerbated by Putin’s heightened isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic -– may have given the Russian president unrealistic views of how quickly he could overrun Ukraine.

The Biden administration before the war launched an unprecedented effort to publicize what it believed were Putin’s invasion plans, drawing on intelligence findings. While Russia still invaded, the White House was widely credited with drawing attention to Ukraine and pushing initially reluctant allies to back tough sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy.

But underscoring the limits of intelligence, the U.S. also underestimated Ukraine’s will to fight before the invasion, said Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in recent testimony before Congress.