Well, aren’t we all.
But yes, if you read this morning’s post, you know there’s good reason to believe the tsar has existed in a thick bubble for many years about the state of his military, the willingness of Ukrainians to resist, and the determination of the west to punish him if he went ahead with this folly.
When does that bubble pop? What does it look like when it does?
It must have been punctured to some extent by the magnitude of the sanctions Russia is facing. And eventually the extent of Russian difficulties on the ground across the border will become undeniable:
New from @LucasFoxNews
A new U.S. intelligence assessment says more than 4,500 Russian soldiers have been killed here in Ukraine since the war began over 10 days ago.
That’s more than the number of Americans killed during the Iraq War….
— Jacqui Heinrich (@JacquiHeinrich) March 7, 2022
If I’m right that Russia has quietly began reducing its demands for a ceasefire then Putin must already have left the bubble to some degree. Just not enough:
EXCLUSIVE: Ukrainian Pres. Zelenskyy to @DavidMuir on new conditions from Kremlin: Putin needs to “start the dialogue, instead of living in informational bubble without oxygen…He is in this bubble.” https://t.co/EPUvsRMUrD pic.twitter.com/XddUVMBTt2
— ABC News (@ABC) March 7, 2022
There may be an extreme asymmetry right now in the quality of information the heads of state on each side have access to. Putin’s advisors might genuinely fear bringing news like this to him, knowing what it means for the military’s logistical quagmire:
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 7, 2022
“Some of the [supply] vehicles are being abandoned, officials said, because Russian troops fear sitting in the convoy when fuel-supply tanks are being targeted by the Ukrainians, setting off fireballs,” the Times reported today. It’s conceivable that Putin’s coterie of yes-men have assured him that, despite the early setbacks, everything is on course and it’s a matter of time before Ukraine falls. They might be playing for time, hoping for a miraculous rally on the ground that bowls the Ukrainians over.
Good luck to them and their loved ones if it doesn’t happen.
Meanwhile, Zelensky is getting regular reports from western intelligence agencies on Russian troop movements. Per the Times, “In Washington and Germany, intelligence officials race to merge satellite photographs with electronic intercepts of Russian military units, strip them of hints of how they were gathered, and beam them to Ukrainian military units within an hour or two.” That helps explain why the Ukrainians have been so effective in targeting Russian supply lines. They have eyes in the sky.
But they could be even more effective. According to one House Democrat, the White House is holding back — to a degree — on sharing intelligence for fear that real-time sharing will be deemed an act of war by Russia:
The U.S. is not sharing some of the most sensitive intelligence that could enable lethal strikes against the Russian military by Ukrainian forces, in part over concerns about being seen as a direct participant in the war, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday…
“We want to support the Ukrainians in every way we possibly can, without going to war with Russia,” [Rep. Adam] Smith said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “When it comes to intel-sharing and targeting, that’s a fine line.”
The U.S. is providing some intelligence to Ukraine, he said, but not “real-time targeting.”
“We’re not doing that, because that steps over the line to making us participating in the war. So the Pentagon is really struggling and walking that very fine line,” he said.
Sending intelligence to the Ukrainians “within an hour or two” but not quite “in real time” seems like the Pentagon trying to be half-pregnant. They’re helping Ukrainians kill Russian soldiers, risking escalation with Moscow, but not helping enough to make them really effective at it, which could end the war more quickly.
The informational bubble that shields Putin from bad news also shields his subjects, by design. Another report is circulating today of a bizarre, almost unbelievable phenomenon in which Ukrainians are phoning family members in Russia to describe conditions on the ground only to find that their relatives simply don’t believe them. One woman who lives in a suburb of Kiev told her sister back in Russia what was happening after the invasion began and received this reply: “No one is bombing Kyiv, and you should actually be afraid of the Nazis, whom your father fought against. Your children will be alive and healthy. We love the Ukrainian people, but you need to think hard about who you elected as president.”
Ukraine has even set up a website urging Ukrainians to call their Russian relatives and describe conditions on the ground, knowing that that’s one of the few ways in which Russia’s informational bubble might plausibly be punctured. But how do you manage that with a population that’s been so brainwashed by propaganda that even eyewitness testimony from their own siblings can’t sway them? The bubble is one of Putin’s great assets in that sense, minimizing the risk of an uprising at home.
Questions continue to swirl online about whether he’s in a bubble or whether he’s actually lost his marbles due to illness. One British tabloid claimed today that Putin might have terminal cancer. Another rumor circulating alleges that he has Parkinson’s. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has spent the last few weeks sporadically tweeting that the Putin of 2022 is physiologically different from the Putin of 10 years ago, a dark hint that U.S. intel has reason to believe something’s amiss:
(2) “The IC does. Extensive. Some direct. Rubio is cleared. He is one of two heads of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He is leaking on purpose. He is reliable.
The buzz I have heard is very specific. He is said to be suffering a mental illness…
— Tim McMillan (@LtTimMcMillan) March 5, 2022
(4) have had been directly or officially involved with the intelligence collection or analysis of Putin’s mental health. Because of this I’ve been unwilling to publish this info at @Debriefmedia. However, I’m willing to share here. With proper context included.
— Tim McMillan (@LtTimMcMillan) March 5, 2022
It’s not either/or, of course. He could be mentally ill and in a thick informational bubble. Nothing to worry about.
I’ll leave you with this. Hopefully Putin lives long enough to be tried for war crimes and hanged.
In a village south of Kyiv we met Ihor Mozhaev picking through the rubble of his home after a Russian air strike Friday. He lost 5 family members, including his wife and 12yo daughter. “Just leave Ukraine alone already. God help this to end as soon as possible.” (W/ @gultuysuz) pic.twitter.com/aLI9FMV60W
— Alex Marquardt (@MarquardtA) March 7, 2022