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Reported detention of Russian spy boss shows tension over stalled Ukraine invasion, US officials say


WASHINGTON — The recriminations and accusations began within Russia’s spy and defense agencies, as the campaign that Moscow expected to result in a whirlwind takeover of Ukraine’s capital instead turned into a costly and costly quagmire. embarrassing, U.S. officials said.

The blame game, which includes the detention of at least one senior Russian intelligence official, does not appear to pose an immediate threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s iron grip on power, but US officials are watching the machinations closely. .

A US official described as credible reports that the commander of the FSB intelligence agency unit responsible for Ukraine had been placed under house arrest.

The official, in an interview, also said that quarrels had broken out between the FSB and the Russian Defense Ministry, two of the main government units responsible for preparing for the February 24 invasion.

The Russian Defense Ministry building on the banks of the Moskva River in Moscow on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.


Photo:

Andrei Rudakov/Bloomberg News

Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns told Congress earlier this month that Mr Putin planned to seize the Ukrainian capital of kyiv within two days, suggesting the Russian leader expected at minimum resistance.

Russian forces instead encountered fierce Ukrainian counterattacks and their ground advance stalled this week amid mounting casualties. Four Russian generals are dead, according to the Ukrainian government. Some US government calculations estimate that up to 7,000 Russian soldiers were killed in action, although officials warn that these are uncertain estimates.

Current and former US officials say Russian intelligence agencies are often hesitant to deliver bad news to their bosses and may have reinforced Putin’s view, which he has expressed publicly, that Ukraine was a dysfunctional country whose leadership would quickly crumble as some of its citizens welcomed Russian troops.

“It’s hard to imagine a senior intelligence official talking with Putin and not telling Putin what he wants to hear, especially if it’s a deeply held belief, like Putin’s beliefs about Ukraine,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, a former CIA and National Security Council official specializing in the region.

“When it comes to this guy, it’s also clear that the culture of ‘someone is at fault and will pay’ is clearly still in effect,” said Mr Edmonds, now at the nonprofit research organization lucrative NAC.,

of the Russian President.

Reported detention of Russian spy boss shows tension over stalled Ukraine invasion, US officials say

A damaged kindergarten Friday after a Russian bombardment in Kyiv, Ukraine. US officials said Russia expected to seize kyiv a few weeks ago.


Photo:

Roman Pilipey/EPA/Shutterstock

The Russian embassy did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

The FSB officer believed to be under investigation and under house arrest is the Colonel-General. Sergei Beseda, head of the intelligence agency’s Fifth Service, also known as the Operational Information and International Communications Service.

Another former US intelligence official who has studied Russia for decades says Mr Putin, a former FSB chief, helped create the Fifth Service, which functions as the de facto foreign intelligence arm of the global agency. , which primarily focuses on homeland security. He would have shared responsibility for preparing the way for the invasion of Ukraine, the former official said. This, he said, likely included a plot made public by the United States and the United Kingdom, but denied by Russia, to eliminate Ukrainian leadership and install pro-Moscow successors.

Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, who co-wrote the first report on Mr Beseda’s house arrest, said Mr Putin could blame the FSB for not bringing about the rapid collapse of the Ukrainian government which he expected.

“Putin himself is absolutely sure that he understands Ukraine very well,” said Soldatov, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. “He expected his agencies, first and foremost the FSB, to do substantive work, like cultivating political groups that could provide support for the Russian invasion. And now, obviously, that’s not what is happening.

Reported detention of Russian spy boss shows tension over stalled Ukraine invasion, US officials say

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Friday at a concert in Moscow that marked the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.


Photo:

sergei guneyev/Press Pool

The Russian leader, Mr Soldatov added, could also suspect the FSB of leaks, given US intelligence agencies’ detailed knowledge of the Russian invasion plan, part of which Washington has made public. The fifth service’s responsibilities include maintaining contact with foreign intelligence agencies, including on counterterrorism issues, he said.

The U.S. Treasury imposed financial sanctions on Mr. Beseda, as well as other Russian individuals and entities, in 2014 for their alleged role in Russia’s takeover of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.

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Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who served as deputy U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia from 2015 to 2018, said Russia’s security services have overlapping responsibilities and compete for favor with the Kremlin.

Mr. Putin appears to scapegoat individuals and shift blame, said Ms. Kendall-Taylor, currently at the Center for a New American Security. “I think he’s in a much more precarious position now.”

Write to Warren P. Strobel at Warren.Strobel@wsj.com and Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com

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