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US works to gauge peace prospects as it warns Putin ‘misinformed’ by advisers

A day after Russia claimed it was scaling back its military operation near the Ukrainian capital, strikes continued in the suburbs of Kyiv as well as in Chernihiv, whose mayor said the city was under “colossal attack.”
American and Western officials, including Biden, had already voiced deep skepticism at Russian claims of de-escalation, noting its forces had already stalled in some places where it claimed to be pulling back. On Wednesday, the US revealed declassified intelligence showing Russian President Vladimir Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine.

Administration officials were also cautiously watching ongoing peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, which both sides said were showing signs of progress after meetings in Istanbul. The US was less optimistic, saying it did not believe Putin and his underlings were negotiating in good faith.

In his conversation with Zelensky, Biden was planning to “discuss our continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,” the White House said.

US officials have been working over the past weeks to ascertain what Zelensky’s objectives may be in the talks, including potential concessions. After the meeting in Turkey, the potential contours of a settlement emerged, including discussions about the status of contested regions, official neutral status for Ukraine and international security guarantees. A prospective meeting between Zelensky and Putin was also put on the table.

Yet a day later, Moscow downplayed any advances in diplomacy. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there were no breakthroughs. And pessimism continued to pervade among Western leaders the talks could yield significant progress. The continued violence in Ukraine on Wednesday seemed to confirm US suspicions that Russia’s claims of de-escalation were nothing more than an attempt to deflect.

Biden’s phone call with Zelensky, which began just after 11 a.m. ET, is the first time the two men have spoken directly since the President’s last-minute trip to Europe for a NATO summit and meetings in Poland. Zelensky appeared virtually at the summit in Brussels, imploring leaders for scaled-up military assistance to help his military sustain the battle against Russia.

Ukraine’s military has performed well beyond expectations in keeping Russia at bay, though Russia has still inflicted massive destruction upon the country. Russian advances on Kyiv and Chernihiv had already stalled before Russia said this week it was de-escalating its military campaign in those areas.

On Wednesday, a US official said American intelligence findings show Putin is being “misinformed” by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russia’s economy.

“His senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” the official said, adding the US has information indicating that Putin has become aware of the misinformation, leading to a rift between the Russian leaders and his top defense officials.

“There is now persistent tension between Putin and the (Ministry of Defense), stemming from Putin’s mistrust in MOD leadership,” the official said. Putin did not know his military was “using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian President,” the official added.

This intelligence may help explain why Putin rejected a slew of diplomatic off-ramps the US and other countries offered Putin in the run-up to his invasion of Ukraine, believing that the Russian military would be able to quickly overwhelm Ukraine.

The official declined to provide additional examples of Putin being misinformed by his advisers, saying that information remains classified. The US intelligence community declassified and downgraded the summary of its findings but not specific intelligence to protect sources and methods.

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