President Joe Biden said Russian leader Vladimir Putin may have fired some of his advisers or put them under house arrest, and that it’s an “open question” as to whether Putin is fully informed on his military’s performance in Ukraine.
Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday “there’s some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of the advisers.”
“But I don’t want to put too much stock in it at this time because we don’t have that much hard evidence,” he added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview that Biden’s comments were “a perfect example of disinformation of a head of state.” Asked if that meant it was Biden instead of Putin who was poorly informed, Peskov replied, “exactly.”
Biden’s remarks add to a steady drip of suggestions in Washington and by US allies of distance between Putin and his top advisers. The comments also build on indications of inner-circle dissent, such as the departure of Russia’s climate envoy and the unsuccessful bid by central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina to step aside.
Scant public appearances in the last month by Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, raised questions about whether he had fallen afoul of Putin.
Biden said “there’s a lot of speculation” about how informed Putin is on Russian military progress in Ukraine, where his army has suffered staggering casualties while failing to capture major cities, including the capital, Kyiv.
Biden said Putin “seems to be self-isolated” and said he was skeptical of the Russian military’s claims that it is de-escalating its invasion.
Putin’s advisers fear giving him a clear picture of the situation, Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ—the branch of British intelligence dealing with intercepts and cybersecurity—said Thursday.
“Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear,” Fleming said in a speech in Australia.
Putin “massively misjudged” the resistance of the Ukrainian people, the strength of Russia’s military and the economic fallout from his invasion, he added.
On Wednesday, a White House spokeswoman said in strong terms that Putin had been misinformed by advisers about the status of Russian military efforts in Ukraine and the effect of sanctions on his country’s economy.
“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership,” said White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield, citing unspecified US intelligence. “We believe that 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.”
Bedingfield declined to elaborate on the US intelligence, saying the administration didn’t want to risk compromising its sources or methods of gathering the information. Bloomberg News