Putin's war is a 'blunder,' White House says

WASHINGTON — The White House has called Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine a “moral outrage” being perpetrated by a “butcher” who is committing “war crimes.” But on Wednesday it found a new way to describe the attack on Ukraine, now heading into its second month.

“It is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said at a press briefing — only her second for the administration — that came after the public release of an intelligence assessment alleging that Putin’s generals were hiding the war’s mismanagement from him.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The point of releasing that assessment, she explained, was to give “a full understanding of what kind of strategic blunder this has been for Russia and for the Russian people.”

Never before had the Biden administration so insistently used the language of incompetence to describe the conflict — that is, as not only an atrocity for Ukraine but also a disaster for Russia, the kind of classic Soviet mishap that Putin had always avoided. On Wednesday, the White House repeated that characterization four times.

The intelligence declassified earlier that day helped “underscore that this has been a strategic blunder for Russia,” Bedingfield said. The assessment also subtly shifted the blame toward the Kremlin’s generals, making the implicit argument that even though it was Putin who started the war, it was his inner circle’s bad advice that perpetuated the conflict, which has immiserated millions of Ukrainians and left Russia isolated and potentially on the brink of economic calamity.

“Our aim is to show that this has been a strategic blunder for Russia. Ultimately, this is going to leave them weaker; it is not going to leave them stronger,” Bedingfield said, describing the invasion as a “terrible decision” that has led to “persistent tension” between Putin and his generals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

Wednesday also saw the Pentagon make a similar point. “We would concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin has not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense at every turn over the last month,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a news briefing.

The message emanating from the Biden administration seemed intended for a Russian audience, perhaps even for Putin himself, who could be finally facing the consequences of fostering a Kremlin culture where no dissent or disagreement is permitted.

The fact that Putin may not know the full extent of reality, Kirby said, was “a little discomforting.”

British intelligence chief Jeremy Fleming also offered a withering assessment of the war, arguing on Thursday that Putin had “massively misjudged” every aspect of the invasion.

For its part, the Kremlin strenuously rejected the U.S. assessment and its intimations of internal discord, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying on Thursday that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon possess the real information about what is happening in the Kremlin,” according to the Associated Press.

“It is not just regrettable, it elicits concern, because this complete lack of understanding leads to erroneous decisions, tragic decisions that could have very bad consequences,” he warned.


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