Putin has not earned the victory he claims over Mariupol, experts say
The announcement from the Kremlin was "yet more disinformation from their well-worn playbook," said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin may be hoping to starve the last bastion of resistance in Mariupol into surrender, but has not earned the victory he claims over the city, according to U.S. experts.
Putin on Thursday announced victory over the besieged port city, where Ukrainian forces and civilians have held fast in the face of relentless assault by Russian troops.
"Putin may be planning to wait out the defenders, who haven't been able to get food or water," one U.S. intelligence official told Just the News. "He knows that without sustenance, without ammunition, at some point they won't be able to fight anymore."
The victory declaration from Moscow is premature, the U.S. State Department said.
The announcement from the Kremlin was "yet more disinformation from their well-worn playbook," spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
The Kremlin on Thursday posted a transcription of a discussion between Putin and his defense minister discussing the situation in Mariupol.
The post is striking, the intelligence official said, because it appears to depict an inside, real-time conversation between the Russian leader and his defense chief. But, the official added: "The entire thing appears carefully rehearsed and staged."
Without referencing recent speculation that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was dead, ill, or under arrest, the transcript depicts Putin and Shoigu discussing the situation in Mariupol.
"The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the people's militia of the Donetsk People's Republic have liberated Mariupol," Shoigu tells Putin. "The remaining nationalists are hiding in the industrial area of the Azovstal steel plant."
As relayed in the transcript, Shoigu tells Putin the importance and recent history of Mariupol, and describes Russian actions as humanitarian and geared toward "liberating" the civilians who live there.
"The city is now calm, which allows us to begin efforts to restore order, enable people to return to their homes and bring peaceful life back to the city," Shoigu says. "As for those hiding at Azovstal, we have reliably sealed its perimeter, and need three or four days to complete this effort at Azovstal."
Putin responds with apparent restraint.
"I believe it would be inadvisable to storm this industrial zone," he tells Shoigu. "I order you to cancel it."
When Shoigu acknowledges the order, Putin continues.
"This is the case when we have to prioritize preserving the lives and health of our soldiers and officers," Putin says. "Of course, this is our constant priority, but even more so in this case. There is no need to penetrate these catacombs and crawl under these industrial facilities. Seal off the industrial zone completely."
Putin then addresses how to handle the enemy forces.
"You must offer all those who have not laid down their weapons to do so [sic]," he says. "Russia guarantees them their lives and dignity as per the relevant international legal instruments. All the wounded will get medical assistance."
By publicizing the transcript, the analyst said, Putin seeks to portray himself as having both gravitas and compassion, but he could also be signaling that he aims either to conclude — or enhance — his operations in Donbas.
"Putin has changed his tone," he said. "Which could mean he wants to wind things down, or that he is laying the groundwork to justify a renewed assault."
The analyst is not authorized to talk to the media, and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The new messaging could indicate that Putin wants to commence clearing the roads for a forthcoming display, one think tank noted.
"Russian forces have not achieved any major breakthroughs, nor have they demonstrated any new capability to conduct multiple successful, simultaneous advances," wrote the Institute for the Study of War in a Wednesday report. "Russian forces additionally made grinding progress against remaining Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol's Azovstal Steel Works and announced plans for a May 9 Victory Day parade in the city."
A similar parade is held each year in Moscow to commemorate the Soviet Union's contribution toward defeating Nazy Germany during World War II.
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that the U.S. would send an additional $800 million shipment of ammunition, tactical drones and howitzers to Ukraine.
"We don't know how long this war will last, but as we approach the two-month mark, here's what we do know, Putin has failed to achieve his grand ambitions on the battlefield," Biden said when announcing the shipment.
Since the war began on Feb. 24, the U.S. has given $3.4 billion in military support to Ukraine.