Wednesday, April 05, 2023

5: Russia

How to win the hot war in Ukraine and the cold war that will follow it After a year of fighting, what comes next?

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Putin Should Have Read Evan Gershkovich, Not Imprisoned Him Putin has no independent sources of reliable information. He refuses to read news stories on the internet, fearing it might be used to spy on him. Battlefield information is filtered — and laundered — through layers of military bureaucracy and takes days to reach him. Past military successes in Georgia and Crimea made him overconfident, and the pandemic turned him into a paranoid recluse. On the eve of the invasion, neither his foreign minister nor his domestic-policy chief was aware of the war about to come. .............. And, like despots through the ages, he listens only to people who tell him what he wants to hear. One of them, the oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, The Journal reported, “assured Mr. Putin that Ukrainians saw themselves as Russian, and would welcome the invading soldiers with flowers.” Putin is godfather to one of Medvedchuk’s daughters. .......... Government statistics are massaged to hide bad news. Every bureaucracy, including the domestic intelligence services, has its own agendas and reality-distorting prisms. ........ By now it should be clear that Putin is living inside a manufactured reality .......... Diplomatic remonstrations won’t puncture his fantasy bubble, but another tranche of Abrams tanks to Ukraine might. ........ Putin has sought to wage a disinformation campaign in the West for decades. Western news organizations can repay his abuses with an information campaign about Russia, in Russian, for Russians. They, too, deserve to have the benefit of facts Putin wants nobody — including even himself — to know.

Putin, Isolated and Distrustful, Leans on Handful of Hard-Line Advisers Russia’s president built a power structure designed to deliver him the information he wants to hear, feeding into his miscalculations on the Ukraine war ......... Russian troops were losing the battle for Lyman, a small city in eastern Ukraine, in late September when a call came in for the commanding officer on the front line, over an encrypted line from Moscow. It was Vladimir Putin, ordering them not to retreat. The president seemed to have limited understanding of the reality of the situation ........ His poorly equipped front-line troops were being encircled by a Ukrainian advance backed by artillery provided by the West. Mr. Putin rebuffed his own generals’ commands and told the troops to hold firm ......... The Ukrainian ambushes continued, and on Oct. 1, Russian soldiers hastily withdrew, leaving behind dozens of dead bodies and supplies of artillery to restock Ukraine’s weapons caches. .......... Mr. Putin expected the war in Ukraine to be swift, popular and triumphant. For months, he struggled to come to terms with what instead became a costly quagmire, and found himself isolated and distrustful at the pinnacle of a power structure designed to reinforce his belligerent worldview and shelter him from discouraging news. ........... Through the summer, delegations of military experts and arms manufacturers emerged from presidential meetings questioning whether Mr. Putin understood the reality on the battleground ........ the president remains surrounded by an administration that caters to his conviction that Russia will succeed, despite the mounting human and economic sacrifices. ....... “The people around Putin protect themselves” ..... “They have this deep belief that they shouldn’t upset the president.” ......... Over time, Mr. Putin, who has never served in the military, has become so wary of his own command structure that he has issued orders directly to the front line. ........ an isolated leader who was unable, or unwilling, to believe that Ukraine would successfully resist. The president, these people said, spent 22 years constructing a system to flatter him by withholding or sugarcoating discouraging data points. ............ The president increasingly speaks of Russia in near-religious terms, as a 1,000-year-old civilization waging a holy struggle that will right historical wrongs and elevate him into a pantheon of conquering czarist leaders such as Peter the Great............. Though contact between the U.S. and Russia occurs almost every day, whether through their embassies, the Pentagon or the CIA, those conversations have become constrained ......... have found some of Mr. Putin’s closest allies to be even more hard-line than the authoritarian leader himself. ........... Putin wakes daily around 7 a.m. to a written briefing on the war, with information carefully calibrated to emphasize successes and play down setbacks ............ He has long refused to use the internet for fear of digital surveillance ........... making him more dependent on briefing documents compiled by ideologically aligned advisers. ......... Battlefield updates can take several days to reach Mr. Putin’s desk, leaving them often out of date ....... Front-line commanders report to the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the successor to the KGB, which edits reports for experts at the Security Council, who pass them to Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, the arch hawk who helped persuade Mr. Putin to invade Ukraine. He, in turn, passes the reports to Mr. Putin. ............. Mr. Putin, current and former Russian officials and people close to the Kremlin say, remains fully committed to bringing Ukraine to heel and is ready to mobilize Russia’s economy and population for years to succeed. If Western arms shipments and economic support flag, and Ukrainian morale dips, he could still emerge, on balance, as the victor in what is already the largest war in Europe since World War II. ............ After three days of quarantine and three PCR tests, the executives sat at the end of a long wooden table, listening as Mr. Putin described a war effort he considered a success. Ukrainians were only motivated to fight, he told them, because their army was shooting deserters ............ Then Mr. Putin turned to Chief of General Staff for the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, who said Russian weapons were successfully hitting their targets and the invasion was going according to plan. The arms makers left the meeting with a sense that Mr. Putin lacked a clear picture of the conflict ............ who supports the war, said in an interview that the president “proceeded from an incomplete understanding of the situation and in some ways not fully correct.” ......... The war planners, he said, “clearly underestimated the strength of the enemy and overestimated their own.” ......... Mr. Putin needed only days to roll through more than a fifth of Georgia in 2008, and weeks to take Ukraine’s peninsula of Crimea in 2014— ...........

The Russian president came to see the Crimea operation as a personal triumph.

His inner circle gradually shrank down to his most hawkish advisers, who assured Mr. Putin Russian forces would seize Kyiv within days. ............. “He probably forgot that when he was a KGB operative he was lying to his boss,” said Indrek Kannik, a former head of analysis for Estonian foreign intelligence. ......... Diplomats at the mission learned during Mr. Putin’s two-decade rule to feed Moscow the story it wanted to hear ........ Junior officials and senior directors knew that to win plaudits and promotions they should exaggerate good news and play down the bad, for fear of upsetting “papa,” a nickname for Mr. Putin, once used for Russian czars. ............... The seeds of Mr. Putin’s overconfidence against Kyiv were planted in 2014, when his most senior war planners advised him not to seize Crimea. .............. Pro-Western protesters had overwhelmed riot police in central Kyiv, prompting Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Vyktor Yanukovich to flee. Mr. Putin summoned his security chiefs to the Kremlin for an all-night operation to exfiltrate Mr. Yanukovich to Russia. Shortly before sunrise, Mr. Putin told his staff he had resolved to take Crimea, the predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula, he said in a 2015 documentary. ............. After a swift and nearly bloodless victory, his poll ratings soared above 80%. The Kremlin contrasted the weekslong operation to czarist Russia’s painful defeat in the 19th century’s yearslong Crimean War. .................. In 2018, Mr. Putin, who began to speak of Russia as a military power equal to the U.S., gave his annual state of the union speech in front of a screen showing nuclear weapons striking what appeared to be Florida. “Nobody listened to Russia,” he said. “Well, listen up now.” ................ Mr. Putin was becoming more reclusive and consulted a shrinking roster of old allies. When Sergei Kirienko, Kremlin domestic politics chief, gathered the full presidential team together in 2019, Mr. Putin lectured them for hours on Russian sovereignty and his views. “They left feeling like he was talking to himself” ............. When Covid arrived in 2020, the health-conscious Mr. Putin retreated from his usual residence in the Moscow suburbs to a remote estate near Lake Valdai, 250 miles from the capital, and the presidential summer residence in Sochi on the Black Sea............. There, he spent extended time with his old friend and media mogul Yuri Kovalchuk, who quarantined nearby, and the pair theorized over a shared idea of a restored Great Russia ............. As the circle tightened, Mr. Putin became increasingly paranoid, convinced that the U.S. was stationing nuclear weapons in Ukraine ............ July 2021, Mr. Putin published a 6,917-word historical essay on the Ukrainian nation .......... From inside Ukraine, a Kremlin-connected businessman was telling Mr. Putin what he wanted to hear. Viktor Medvedchuk, a Russia-funded politician, had made Mr. Putin godfather to his daughter Darya. For years, Mr. Medvedchuk had a dedicated line to reach the president—a phone with a Russian number and a secure calling app the Ukrainians called Kremlyovka, in reference to the Kremlin ............ Mr. Medvedchuk assured Mr. Putin that Ukrainians saw themselves as Russian, and would welcome the invading soldiers with flowers ......... Meanwhile, the FSB was tweaking polling data to convince Mr. Putin that Ukrainians would welcome Russian soldiers ......... War planning fell to the FSB more than the military, according to the former Russian intelligence officer and a person close to the defense ministry. The ministry kept normal working hours in the weeks leading up to the invasion, with little sense of the urgency. .............. Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Mr. Peskov; his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov; chief of staff, Anton Vaino; and Mr. Kirienko, the domestic policy chief, weren’t aware of the plans ......... Fifteen days into the war, after his quick strike on Kyiv failed, Mr. Putin scowled in a gold-embroidered armchair as his defense minister briefed him over a video link in a televised meeting. ....... “Vladimir Vladimirovich, everything is going to plan,” said Mr. Shoigu. “We report this to you every day.”

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