Exclusive: Behind the scenes of a rare American encounter with a Russian general in Moscow

The reading, which was reviewed by CNN, describes the views of the two defense attachés who attended and their own impressions of what they saw and heard. It does not offer a definitive explanation for the behavior of the Russian general. Minutes of sensitive meetings are never made public by the military or intelligence community, as they are scrutinized for clues to an adversary’s thinking and intentions.

The meeting, held at Russia’s Defense Ministry in Moscow, is a rare example of Russian and US defense officials sitting in person since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The reading describes the meeting as tense, with visible signs of stress on the Russian side.

He notes in particular the behavior of Russian Major General Yevgeny Ilyin, deputy head of the main directorate for international cooperation who has a long experience of relations with American officials. In a break from typical practice, Ilyin spoke without notes or set talking points, according to the reading.

As the meeting ended, a US defense attaché “casually inquired” about Ilyin’s family roots in Ukraine, and the Russian general’s “stoic demeanor suddenly turned red and agitated,” according to the reading. The Americans reported that Ilyin answered “yes” and was born in Dnipropetrovsk before moving with his family to Donetsk, where he went to school.

But US officials reported that Ilyin then added that the current situation in Ukraine is “tragic and I am very depressed about it” – then left without shaking hands, according to the reading.

It is not known why the meeting took place or the circumstances that prompted it. CNN does not know if there are additional documents describing the meeting. The readout does not include the names of the U.S. attachés at the meeting, and CNN was unable to ascertain their identities. The Pentagon and State Department declined to comment. CNN has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.

The American team felt, according to the reading, that Ilyin stopped short of accusing the United States and Ukraine of atrocities against his family. It’s unclear exactly what led them to this conclusion, but one of the attaches said: “The fire in his eyes and his agitated attitude sent a shiver down his spine.”

The reading said one of the attachés was speechless, and the two Americans said they had never “witnessed such an outburst from Russian counterparts in an official meeting.”

American meetings with Russian officials are usually scripted affairs. Although it is not clear from the summary what precisely led to Ilyin’s reaction, the two US defense attachés who attended the meeting assessed the general’s reaction as a possible sign of morale problems.

“At the very least, it is clear that the morale problems of the Russian forces are not limited to frontline troops,” the statement concludes.

An overview of US-Russian military relations

The reading provides a behind-the-scenes look at a Russian army that failed in its apparent aim to quickly take kyiv after launching the invasion last month. Senior US military officials have publicly and privately said that the morale of Russian military forces is suffering as they enter the fourth week of their invasion of Ukraine – an invasion which US officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin , would run much more quickly and smoothly than it has.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov disputed US estimates that Russian troops had morale problems. “You should probably doubt this information,” Peskov said. “You have to doubt it and you have to think twice whether it’s true or not.”

The Kremlin has continued since well before the invasion to deny direct high-level contact between US generals and their Russian counterparts, making this meeting of heightened interest. The United States has a deconfliction hotline with the Russian military that has been tested daily but has not been used.

The United States believes that the refusal of high-level meetings is due to Kremlin fears that the meetings will show them vulnerable if they allow such meetings, because it risks tacitly admitting that an abnormal situation exists, according to the report. reading.

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Even before the meeting came to a remarkable end, US officials reported that Ilyin’s stoicism had begun to fade during the meeting when the Americans called the situation in Ukraine a crisis, and the Russian general quickly dismissed them. “corrected and cancelled”.

The Russian general did not deviate in discussions of the Russian strategy of victory at all costs of the invasion of Ukraine, according to the reading. In this case, the two Americans believe they witnessed a Russian general who was “clearly distressed by the situation but had nowhere to project his anger except in accordance with the Kremlin state-sponsored narrative”, depending on the reading.

The reading notes that the Americans are not neglecting the meeting may have underlined the hardening of the Russian position on the war and the need for Russian military officials to carry out their orders because they have no other choice.

A senior defense official said last week that the United States had “noted anecdotal indications that morale is not high” in some of the Russian forces’ military units.

“We certainly have indications that morale is a growing problem within Russian forces fighting in Ukraine,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. “As time passes and they continue to fail to achieve the progress in the field that they want to achieve, we have seen more and more indications that unit morale and cohesion is a problem.”

CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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