Defense & National Security — New Putin-Russia tensions emerge

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It’s Wednesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here.

The White House said Wednesday that U.S. intelligence assesses that Russian President Vladimir Putin feels “misled” by the Russian military after a so far unsuccessful and bloody bid to take Ukraine.

We’ll detail the latest U.S. intelligence and how it might be influencing Putin and creating tensions in the Russian government.

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write me with tips at [email protected]

Let’s get to it.

US says Putin feels ‘misled’ by Russian military

Putin being “misled” by the Russian military has resulted in tensions between him and his military leadership, the White House said Wednesday.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield detailed the declassified intelligence from the White House podium Wednesday afternoon, following a pattern of the Biden administration proactively declassifying and releasing intelligence related to Russia to disrupt Moscow’s plans in its ongoing assault on Ukraine.

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership,” Bedingfield told reporters.

Afraid of the truth?: “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,” she added.

The intelligence adds to a body of evidence that Putin’s war in Ukraine, Bedingfield said, has been a “strategic blunder.”

Limited information: Bedingfield would not say much about the motivation behind releasing the intelligence beyond saying that it helps the public understand that Russia is committing a “strategic error” with its invasion of Ukraine.

She declined to speak more about the underlying intelligence, citing the need to protect sources and methods, but suggested the government wouldn’t have released the information unless officials were confident in the assessment.

‘Persistent tension’: A U.S. official told The Hill that there is “persistent tension” between Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense “stemming from Putin’s mistrust” of its leadership.

“Putin didn’t even 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 said.

The Pentagon’s concern: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to discuss the intelligence in detail but said the Pentagon concurred with the conclusion that Putin has not been “fully informed” by his military “at every turn over the last month,” something that could be a concern for Western nations and 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. “Certainly one outcome of that could be a less than faithful effort at negotiating some sort of settlement here. . . . The other thing is, I mean, you don’t know how a leader like that’s gonna react to getting bad news.”

Read the full story here.

PENTAGON: RUSSIA SENDS 1,000 CONTRACT FIGHTERS TO DONBAS

About 1,000 mercenaries from the shadowy Russian military contractor the Wagner Group are now in the Donbas region of Ukraine, pointing to a shift in Kremlin tactics in the war, Kirby also said Wednesday.

In the past few days, U.S. intelligence has seen Russia become “much more active” in the Donbas region, including more airstrikes in the area.

“We think that the Wagner group now has about 1,000 people dedicated to the Donbas,” Kirby told reporters.

Why the shift?: Wagner contractors have fought in the Donbas area over the past eight years since Russia aided a separatist movement in the region in 2014.

“This is an area where the Wagner group is experienced so it’s not a surprise that they would try to try to look at using private military contractors there,” Kirby explained.

“We think it’s a reflection of the very tough fighting that continues to go on there, in the Donbas, and Mr. Putin’s desire to reinforce his efforts there.

In addition, over the last 24 hours the U.S. has seen a little less than 20 percent of the troops Russia had arrayed against Kyiv begin to reposition elsewhere in the country and to Belarus.

Read more here.

Biden to Zelensky: US will give $500M in aid

The United States will provide $500 million in budgetary assistance to Ukraine as part of its aid to the country in the face of Russia’s invasion, President Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a call on Wednesday.

Biden and Zelensky spoke over the phone for nearly an hour, the latest communication between the two leaders about the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The two talked about U.S. efforts to provide military, economic and humanitarian assistance, according to a White House readout.

“The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” the White House said in its statement.

How it will help: The budgetary aid intends to keep the Ukrainian government and economy stable as the invasion enters its second month.

Biden was in Europe last week, where he announced the U.S. would provide an additional $1 billion in humanitarian aid to assist with the millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded more than one month ago.

More likely to come: The U.S. has also provided a total of $1 billion in military aid since the invasion began, supplying Ukraine with anti-tank and anti-aircraft defense systems, small arms and other weapons to defend itself against Russia.

Zelensky has asked Western nations for additional support, and the White House readout indicated the Biden administration may provide more defense systems in the days to come.

Read the full story here.

Biden wants to meet parents of detained Marine

President Biden said Wednesday he would try to meet with the parents of Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia.

Reed’s parents were demonstrating outside the White House throughout the day Wednesday to raise awareness about their son’s case.

“I’m going to see if I can get to see them,” Biden told reporters when asked whether he would meet with the family. “They’re good people.”

Earlier: Trevor Reed’s parents, Joey and Paula Reed, were demonstrating outside the White House on Wednesday as they grow increasingly desperate to secure their son’s release. They called for a meeting with Biden and sought to raise awareness about their son’s case.

“Free Trevor Reed,” read a sign his parents carried with them. “Prisoner of Russia since 2019.”

A long sentence: Trevor Reed was detained in Russia in 2019 and charged with assaulting a police officer during a drunken incident that he says he does not remember. He was sentenced to nine years in prison the following year and tried to appeal that sentence.

The U.S. government has called his detention unjust and tried to secure his release, though without success.

The Reeds have tried to get Biden’s attention on the case in recent weeks amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Read the full story here.

COMMISSION TO REVIEW 750 CONFEDERACY-LINKED MILITARY ITEMS

The congressional naming commission announced Wednesday that it will review “more than 750 Department of Defense items” to determine whether their names “commemorate the Confederacy.”

The commission will “assess the cost of renaming or removing names, symbols, displays, monuments, or paraphernalia” that celebrates any person who voluntarily served the Confederacy, a statement from the commission said.

The full list of items under review includes everything from military bases to stickers and flyers. The items are located at military installations across the U.S. and in other countries, including two at a naval base in Japan.

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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