In the Thick of It

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Russian Officials and Analysts Weigh In on Pentagon Leaks

April 14, 2023
Ingrid Burke Friedman

The latest leak of top-secret US intelligence documents may not be as comprehensive as some of the previous disclosures, but it is much more current, containing assessments of various aspects and repercussions of the Russia-Ukraine war that are as recent as early March. Some of these leaked documents appear to have been altered in Russia’s favor. For instance, one U.S. document posted on Telegram channels had figures crudely altered to reduce Russian casualties and increase Ukrainian casualties. But even this did not prevent Russian officials and pundits from wondering whether the leak was some sort of a Western-Ukranian disinformation campaign aimed against Russia. A sampling of the views of these pundits and officials, including Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, head of the Russian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee Grigory Karasin, can be found below (ordered alphabetically). While surveying their views, it is important to keep in mind who among Russia’s top dogs have kept mum on the issue, despite the fact that the contents of the leaks fall within their remit, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Intelligence Director Sergey Naryshkin, FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and deputy chairman of that council Dmitry Medvedev.

  • Dva Mayora (Two Majors), a pro-war Russian Telegram channel: “It looks like an element of a large-scale operation launched by the enemy to misinform Russia.” (Telegram, 04.12.23)
  • Abbas Galyamov, former Kremlin speech writer: “Here Putin seems to be cosplaying the USSR, but during Soviet times it was we who supplied Egypt with weapons, and now, it turns out, we dream that Egypt will supply us with weapons. Feel the difference.” (Telegram, 04.13.23)
  • Grey Zone, a Telegram channel popular with Russia's Wagner mercenary group, said it was possible the documents are "disinformation of Western intelligence in order to mislead our command to identify the enemy's strategy in the upcoming counteroffensive." (WP, 04.14.23)
  • Grigory Karasin, head of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee: “A serious leak of classified documents in Washington is a troubling and multi-layered signal. It requires analysis. All are alarmed [by these developments] — allies and patients like Kyiv alike. Secret plans have been brought to light. There is also talk of internal struggles within the intelligence services regarding the future course of foreign affairs, primarily with respect to Ukraine. We will analyze the development of this apparent scandal.” (Telegram, 04.09.23)
  • Rostislav Ishchenko, political scientist: "Well, based on what is published there, [these documents are] unlikely to be disinformation. Most likely, these are genuine documents simply because there is no particularly critical information there. Basically, they once again confirmed what we already knew.” ( Moskva, 04.13.23)
  • Yuri Lyamin, military expert: “It is very difficult to figure out where the truth is and where the lies are, or who edited these documents and when. Everyone is waiting for the Ukrainian offensive, so attempts to throw in disinformation and elements of an information war were inevitable.” (Kommersant, 04.11.23)
  • Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, said Russia has begun analyzing the documents, and they appear to be "quite interesting." (WP, 04.11.23)
    • Like everyone else, we don’t know how reliable these documents are, but even if we disregard them, for a long time now <...> we have had and still have information about the fact that many instructors from NATO countries, including the UK, as well as fighters are participating in combat operations," the official noted. (RIA, 04.12.23)
  • Veniamin Popov, an analyst: “Leaks of classified information are becoming increasingly common in America … numerous reports have appeared on the Internet and in American newspapers in recent days about how Washington is approving military plans for Ukraine. Official authorities say that all of these leaks are being investigated. In reality, these facts indicate that the state machine in the United States is malfunctioning: many people, even in ministries and departments, do not agree with the policy pursued by the current authorities. In this regard, one cannot but agree with Noam Chomsky, who believes that the current leaders of America are ‘rushing towards disaster.’” (RIAC, 04.12.23)
  • Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, press service: “We draw the following conclusions: this document is the last ‘Nanai-American warning.’ It has been leaked deliberately.” (Telegram, 04.13.23)
  • Russia in Global Affairs, a journal: “They are spreading topics of damage to relationships with allies who learned from the leaked Pentagon documents that the Americans are spying on them. It’s a bit funny — who had any illusions about this after Snowden?” (Russia in Global Affairs (RiGA) via Telegram, 04.10.23)
    • In response to a BBC Russian Service headline about Austin’s vow to “turn over every stone” in investigating the source of the leaks, RiGA Telegram retorts: “They'll turn every stone. This brings to mind the story of the British spy rock in Moscow in 2006. Presumably they will turn things over in the same way.” (Russia in Global Affairs via Telegram, 04.12.23)
  • Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister, said the leaked documents could be a move by the United States to "deceive" Russia. "It's probably interesting for someone to look at these documents, if they really are documents or they could be a fake or it could be an intentional leak," Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies. "Since the U.S. is a party to the (Ukraine) conflict and is essentially waging a hybrid war against us, it is possible that such techniques are being used to deceive their opponent, the Russian Federation," he said. (MT/AFP, 04.12.23, Vzglyad/TASS, 04.12.23)
  • Rybar, a pro-war Russian telegram channel reportedly run by former Defense Ministry press specialist Mikhail Zvinchuk: “As usual, [Russian] foreign-agent media outlets have joined a massive information campaign [spearheaded] by Western and Ukrainian media on the topic of the so-called ‘leaked Pentagon secret documents.’ Today, publications such as Vazhnye Istorii, Meduza, Dozhed, and others retold yet another article from The New York Times (the main mouthpiece of Western political propaganda) about the ‘secret documents.’ … This is clearly a large-scale disinformation campaign ahead of the Ukrainian offensive on the front. If the Ukrainian offensive fails, and the announced plan to ‘capture Crimea’ fails, the media and Western politicians will have a reason to justify their failure by citing ‘leaked documents’ that already showed low readiness levels.” (Telegram, 04.12.23)
  • Tsargrad, a pro-war Russian TV channel: “It is possible that the whole epic with some "leaked" Pentagon documents is nothing more than disinformation thrown in as part of the information war.” (Tsargrad, 04.13.23)
  • Voenkor Kotyonok (military commander kitten), a pro-war Russian telegram channel: “Is the leak part of a larger plan to misinform Moscow in anticipation of the intensification of hostilities at the front?”  (Telegram, 04.12.23)
  • Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the leak of secret Pentagon materials may be related to the upcoming 2024 US presidential elections, and during this period, anything can be expected. "There is a beautiful poem by Tyutchev, one of his most famous, that says: ‘There is in early autumn a short but wonderous time.' Well, in American political life, there is a time that may not be very short, but that is certainly wonderous. It's called the 'pre-election' period,” said Zakharova. (RIA, 04.12.23)

This item is part of Russia Matters’ “Clues from Russian Views” series, in which we share what newsmakers in/from Russia are saying on Russia-related issues that impact key U.S. national interests so that RM readers can glean clues about their thinking.