News World Europe ‘Strategic blunder’: Putin feels ‘misled’ amid Ukraine failures
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‘Strategic blunder’: Putin feels ‘misled’ amid Ukraine failures

Pentagon says Putin being misled about Russian losses

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Russian President Vladimir Putin feels he has been misled by his advisers, leading to persistent tension between him and his military chiefs, the White House says.

US intelligence is that Mr Putin is being “misinformed by his advisers about how badly 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”, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said.

It was “increasingly clear” that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been a “strategic blunder” that would leave it weaker over the long term, she said on Thursday.

Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the US.

The White House assessment was backed by the Pentagon, with spokesman John Kirby saying Mr Putin was not being fully informed about events in Ukraine.

“It’s his military. It’s his war. He chose it … the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting,” Admiral Kirby said.

The US reports came after the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy service, Jeremy Fleming, told a Canberra audience that some Russian soldiers in Ukraine had refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft.

Mr Fleming said Mr Putin had “massively misjudged” the capabilities of Russia’s once mighty armed forces while underestimating both the resistance of the Ukrainian people and the resolve of the West, which has punished Moscow with largely co-ordinated sanctions.

“Putin has massively misjudged the situation,” Mr Fleming said in a speech on Wednesday at the Australian National University in Canberra, according to a transcript of his remarks.

“We believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth.”

Citing new intelligence, Fleming said there was evidence that Russian soldiers had low morale and were poorly equipped.

“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,” Mr Fleming said.

GCHQ, which gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain, has a close relationship with the US National Security Agency and with the eavesdropping agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Russia’s defence ministry says its armed forces are professional and carrying out their duty in Ukraine with considerable success. It says the West has spread lies about the operation, to try to bring down Russia.

But the US assesses that Russia has suffered failure rates as high as 60 per cent for some of its precision-guided missiles, three US officials with knowledge of the intelligence told Reuters.

The Kremlin has made no immediate comment on the reports.

Ms Bedingfield also said the US had “continued to see evidence today of Russia attacking and advancing in places where they had previously said they would not”.

Russia said at peace talks in Turkey on Tuesday it would reduce military operations around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to focus on the eastern Donbas region. However, local officials have said attacks continued overnight in Chernihiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – who will address Australia’s parliament by videolink at 5.30pm on Thursday (AEDT) – said his country’s forces were preparing for new Russian attacks in Ukraine’s east as Moscow built up troops there after setbacks near Kyiv.

Tough resistance by Ukrainian forces has prevented Russia capturing any major city, including Kyiv, where a Russian armed column was held back for weeks.

In a video address early on Thursday, Mr Zelensky referred to Russian troop movements away from Kyiv and Chernihiv and said it was not a withdrawal but rather “the consequence of our defenders’ work”.

Mr Zelensky said Ukraine was seeing “a build-up of Russian forces for new strikes on the Donbas and we are preparing for that”.

Moscow has cultivated close ties with pro-Russian separatists controlling swathes of the Donbas region, which encompasses two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” that Russia says it is helping to free from Ukrainian control.

The leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, said on Wednesday that offensive operations were intensifying.

“We are well aware that the longer it takes us to liberate our territory, those settlements that are now under control of Ukraine, the more victims and destruction there will be,” he said.

Donetsk includes the besieged port city of Mariupol, which has endured some of the war’s heaviest fighting and bombardment and where about 170,000 people are trapped with scarce food and water.

Russian forces had taken half of the strategic port city, an adviser to Mr Zelensky said on Wednesday.

The fate of Donbas, which Russia demands Ukraine cede to the separatists, was discussed at the Istanbul talks. A senior Ukrainian negotiator said the talks would resume online on Friday.

Ukraine has sought a ceasefire without compromising on territory or sovereignty. However, it has proposed adopting a neutral status in exchange for security guarantees.

Russia opposes Ukraine joining the US-led NATO military alliance, and has cited its potential membership as a reason for the invasion.

Western sanctions imposed on Russia as punishment for its invasion have largely isolated its economy, but Moscow is still the biggest supplier of oil and gas to Europe.

Seeking to exert its leverage, Russia demanded oil and gas payments be made in rubles, raising fears of energy shortages in Europe. Germany has warned of a possible emergency if Russia cuts supplies.

-AAP