Pessimism rises regarding Russia’s willingness to tame attacks in Ukraine
By Dan Bilefsky and Julian E. Barnes
A day after inconclusive peace talks, pessimism about Russia’s willingness to tame its punishing attacks in Ukraine was growing Wednesday, amid mixed signals from the Kremlin and U.S. intelligence showing that aides had misinformed President Vladimir Putin about the war, fearful of his reaction.
According to declassified U.S. intelligence, the misinformation has created mistrust and stoked tensions between Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was once among the most trusted members of the Kremlin’s inner circle.
U.S. officials said Putin’s strict isolation during the pandemic and willingness to publicly castigate advisers had contributed to him getting incomplete or overly optimistic reports about the progress of Russian forces, apparently leaving him genuinely unaware that the Russian military had been using conscripts in Ukraine or that drafted soldiers were among those killed in action.
The release of the classified information was part of a monthslong campaign of information warfare by the Biden administration and U.S. intelligence services to counter Russian propaganda. It could not be independently verified.
Continued fighting in parts of Ukraine also underscored doubts about Russia’s intentions. Local officials reported new attacks on the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital, and the northern city of Chernihiv, two areas where Russia had said this week that it would sharply reduce combat operations. And there was also a contradiction between the positive language used by Russia’s chief negotiator about the peace talks in Istanbul and comments from officials and war supporters in Moscow.
Here are other developments:
— The humanitarian situation on the ground in Ukraine is worsening. More than 4 million people have fled the country since the Russian invasion began, including 2 million children, according to the latest figures from the United Nations refugee agency and UNICEF.
— In Mariupol, the besieged strategic port city in the south and one of the worst-hit places of the war, new satellite imagery released Tuesday showed hundreds of people lining up outside a supermarket amid food shortages. Concerns are growing that Russia is trying to starve the population to break its will.
— Germany began preparing for eventual shortages of natural gas, as officials pointed to growing concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless payments were made in rubles.
— The Russian currency, the ruble, made an enormous rebound to nearly its prewar value, bolstered by the talks in Istanbul and by the Russian central bank’s measures to support it.
— A NASA astronaut and two Russian counterparts landed in Kazakhstan on Wednesday after departing from the International Space Station in a Russian spacecraft. The space station is one of the few places where day-to-day cooperation between the United States and Russia continues.