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THE KREMLIN FILE, Podcast, Episode 16, 4/21/22
In an interview with Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, Hosts Olga Lautman and Monique Camarra asked what was happening with Putin and the leadership in Russia.
Soldatov noted that this war in Ukraine is different from the other Russian wars in the past few decades.
The Scale of the War
Putin has never engaged in a war of this scale before.
The Command Structure
The wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea and Syria had a clear chain of command. There was always a commander in charge of the war and you knew who was in charge of the situation on the battlefield. In Ukraine, we do not know that. It is only recently that we have had a commander appointed who was in charge of the entire war.
The Relationship Between Putin and the Command
In other wars, Putin has never attacked members of his own command structure to this extent. There have been problems with the FSB, two generals have been placed under house arrest. The head of the National Guard was asked to resign and there are rumors that he is under criminal investigation. The Defense Minister disappeared and then reappeared (See Washington Post, 3/26/22). There are people in every security service that Putin is unhappy with.
The command structure was evidently not informed of the invasion until very shortly before the order was given. They did not have time to adequately prepare. (Note: This may be an indication of how little Putin trusts his command structure).
Security Services and Their Role in the War in Ukraine
While all the security services were involved in the invasion of Ukraine, they had different objectives. The FSB had two objectives. They were to collect intelligence on political activity in Ukraine and cultivate political groups which might be supportive of the invasion. They were identifying spies and political operatives.
The FSB intelligence had a big impact on Putin’s thinking about the invasion and the war. But, in the end, Putin thinks he’s the best FSB agent that has ever been.
The military and security services think tactically, but they rarely seen the bigger picture. They think about the tactics of invading Ukraine, but not the effect of the sanctions on the economy. Had they limited their actions to the Donbas, securing their position there, they might have been able to expand their control over larger parts of Ukraine without provoking the sanctions. It was their attack on Kyiv and the entire country that provoked the array of sanctions.
Ukraine is Different
Putin has strong opinions about Ukraine. He has been writing articles about Ukraine for years. And, he is emotional about Ukraine and its place within the Russian sphere. This is not just a failure of the intelligence services, it’s also partly an outcome of Putin’s emotional reaction to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Putin takes a dim view of the Ukrainians in relation to Russians. He had evidently decided that the Ukrainians were weak and given a shove by the Russians, the Ukrainian government would fall and be replaced by a Russian puppet.
It is unlikely that Putin would have listened to more realistic assessments of the likelihood of the success of the invasion had he been given them. He considers himself the best FSB intelligence analyst in the world.
And, the evidence seems to indicate that Putin is not receiving accurate assessments of what is going on in Ukraine. He does not read social media, or watch TV. And, he would not believe anything on Western TV. The fact that the war was going so badly for so long without any change in strategy is a further indication that Putin was not getting accurate information.