Officials in the United States and the United Kingdom have spent the past two days reporting signs of Russian President Vladimir Putin not being on the same page with his advisers or his troops regarding the country’s invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, a U.K. intelligence chief said “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.”
“It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation,” UK Government Communication Headquarters head Jeremy Fleming said. “It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime, and he overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.”
Fleming’s also reinforced a similar assessment the Pentagon made a day prior. At his daily briefing Wednesday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. believes President Putin may not be getting the full picture from his advisers about how his troops are performing in Ukraine.
“The fact that he may not have all the context, that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting, to be honest with you,” Kirby said. “If he’s not fully informed of how poorly he’s doing, then how are his negotiators going to come up with an agreement that is enduring?”
As Western officials focused on Putin’s relationship with his advisers and troops, the chief of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog is focusing on securing the safety of Ukraine’s four nuclear plants. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited a plant near Mykolaiv and met with Ukraine’s energy minister and other officials Wednesday. On Thursday, Grossi headed to Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad for talks with senior Russian officials.
Grossi’s trip to Russia Thursday comes as Ukraine’s state power company Energoatom announced Russian troops began leaving the Chernobyl nuclear plant due to radiation exposure. Russia took over Chernobyl in the early stages of the invasion.
“We are trying to be very active in order to ensure that as soon as possible, the situation is regressed, and the facilities are back in the hands of the Ukrainians,” Grossi said Wednesday. “It’s a difficult work, as you can imagine, but one that it is, of course, and is capable and it is our responsibility.”