US, EU officials say Putin has been misled by ‘yes men’ advisers on Ukraine

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WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by advisers who were too afraid to tell him how badly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging Western sanctions have been, US and European officials said Wednesday.

The February 24 Russian invasion of its southern neighbor has been halted on most fronts by fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces who have recaptured territory, even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military,” making him suspicious of the military leadership, the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing newly released intelligence reports.

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“Putin was not even aware that his army was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president,” the official said.

The official did not provide the intelligence report, but said the information had been released.

The Kremlin did not immediately comment after the end of the working day in Moscow, and the Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Washington’s decision to share its intelligence more publicly reflects a strategy it has followed since the start of the war. In this case, it could also complicate Putin’s calculations, said a second US official, adding: “It’s potentially useful. Is it divisive in the ranks? It could lead Putin to reconsider who he can trust.”

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A senior European diplomat said the US assessment was in line with European thinking. “Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem when you surround yourself with ‘yes men’ or just sit with them at the end of a very long table,” the diplomat said.

Russian conscripts were told to participate in military exercises, but before the invasion, they had to sign a document expanding their duties, two European diplomats said.

“They were misled, poorly educated and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” added one of the diplomats.

There was no indication at this time that the situation could spark an uprising among the Russian military, but the situation was “unpredictable” and Western powers “would hope that unfortunate people would speak up,” the senior European diplomat said.

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Military analysts say Russia has rearranged its war targets in Ukraine in a way that could make it easier for Putin to achieve a victory, despite a disastrous campaign in which his army suffered humiliating setbacks.

Russian forces bombed the capital Kiev and northern Chernihiv on Wednesday, a day after Russia promised to reduce military operations in both cities.

“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how poorly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” the US official said.

Russia says it is conducting a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor. Western countries say Moscow launched an unprovoked invasion. (Reporting by Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

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