18

When US President Biden visited Kiev, it is thought that Russia was made aware of the visit ahead of time for purposes of deconfliction - for example to avoid a Russian attack on Kiev while unaware that they were putting a head of state at risk.

This is supported by CNN's Biden makes surprise visit to Ukraine

And it's interesting because, you know, the expectation had been that with the president here, it might be a quiet day. The Russians almost certainly already knew he was here. They'd be unlikely to do something like, you know, extraordinary, like launching a missile attack on this city while the president was here. But when we heard those air raid sirens, the first thing you want to find out is what type of threat has been reported. In this case, it was MiG activity over Belarus. That, again, is something that we have on an almost daily basis but it does take on pretty loaded significance when you have the president of the United States in a church in the center of town still, Miles, away from the next border, the next border being Poland...

And Wikipedia's 2023 visit by Joe Biden to Ukraine:

The White House stated the visit to an active warzone was unprecedented as the U.S. does not have a military presence in Ukraine, nor a significant diplomatic footprint in Kyiv.19 The visit was the first in modern history that a US leader has traveled into a war zone not under control of the US military.

19"U.S. alerted Russia to Biden's Ukraine visit for "deconfliction purposes," White House says". CBS News. February 20, 2023. Archived from the original on February 20, 2023.

The CBS News article quotes US national security adviser Jake Sullivan:

"We did notify the Russians that President Biden would be traveling to Kyiv," Sullivan told CBS News chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes. "We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes. And because of the sensitive nature of those communications, I won't get into how they responded or what the precise nature of our message was, but I can confirm that we provided that notification."

Now, CNN's Putin makes surprise visit to key city in Ukraine devastated by Russia shows footage of Putin driving a simple passenger automobile, said to be in Mariupol.

The image is notable because this automobile seems to offer virtually zero protection from anything from small arms to an RPG to a large kinetic weapon of the types being used routinely by both sides. Compare to "the beast".

Question: Did Russia communicate President Vladimir Putin's planned Mariupol visit to Ukraine for deconfliction purposes?


Image supporting the question's premise that Putin has been reported to be driving in Mariupol in an ordinary passenger automobile in a war zone, making him particularly vulnerable:

screenshot from CNN's "Putin makes surprise visit to key city in Ukraine devastated by Russia" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOOvkl9oM2o

3
  • 4
    Somewhat aside ""Indeed, the United States notified Russia about Biden's visit to Kiev - via diplomatic channels. But we gave no guarantees of his security," Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Bortnikov said in an interview with the Shot Telegram channel." ndtv.com/world-news/… Mar 20, 2023 at 12:02
  • 2
    "the visit to an active warzone was unprecedented as the U.S. does not have a military presence in Ukraine" - the two situations are not equivalent, as Putin visited an area under direct Russian military control. His driving a car is probably a publicity stunt, like flying airplanes, hunting tigers, etc. There was probably heavy security presence not captured in the photo. Mar 21, 2023 at 10:29
  • Another point: movements of a US president are likely not a secret for the Russian intelligence, especially taking into account the numbers of people and the amounts of equipment involved, and that much of these movements begin days or weeks before the President actually travels. So the message to Russians was more of a courtesy - to ensure that they do not stage a symbolic provocation, potentially producing ugly images of an octogenarian President rushing for a bomb shelter or something of a kind. Mar 21, 2023 at 10:36

2 Answers 2

23

Ukraine has very limited abilities to strike Mariupol. It's not in HIMARS range. For the same reason Kadyrov's sons went to the "front line" there, i.e. showed up at some training camp and fired some RPGs. (Even Kadyrov's daughter--who has a minister post--tagged along.) Ukraine's longer-range strike capabilities are limited to some Soviet-era drones, for now, like those they allegedly used on some Russian airfields, but that was more of a one-off attack.

So [frame challenge], there was probably not much concern on the Russian side with what Ukraine would do.

16
  • 4
    The gauleiters have been repeatedly attacked in their cars in those areas. Mar 20, 2023 at 9:48
  • 2
    This doesn't fully answer the question if US / NATO were pre-informed about Putin's visit - Russia and NATO have hotlines and protocols for issues like these.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 20, 2023 at 11:38
  • 1
    @Fizz Yes, this seems to be more of a Russia - US / NATO thing, and there is no way the Russians would pass on such Intel to the Ukranians. Even the US has acknowledged it sometimes doesn't pass on intel to the Ukranians because they don't want it "misused" (intel used for some operation without US / NATO approval).
    – sfxedit
    Mar 20, 2023 at 11:40
  • 2
    It also doesn't address the issue of partisans with a RPG or revolver. That is likely to be a significant challenge, especially for such a prominent target.
    – vidarlo
    Mar 20, 2023 at 12:53
  • 2
    @sfxedit That was not specifically asked. The question is just whether it "was communicated" -- I assume that meant to Ukraine, as it is the only other country involved in the fighting in this theater and the only country that would have any reason to strike the city. NATO is not launching any strikes, so informing it would not achieve a goal of deconfliction.
    – Corrodias
    Mar 20, 2023 at 16:03
18

In fact, letting the Ukrainians know in advance might have the opposite effect.

Consider back in May 2022, when Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, made a visit to the front lines. Obviously, there's a difference between Gerasimov and Putin. But the difference isn't that big. Both are valid military targets and both are very important Kremlin officials.

As detailed by the New York Times:

Finally, in late April, the Russian chief of the general staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, made secret plans to go himself.

American officials said they found out, but kept the information from the Ukrainians, worried they would strike. Killing General Gerasimov could sharply escalate the conflict, officials said, and while the Americans were committed to helping Ukraine, they didn’t want to set off a war between the United States and Russia.

Here, the concern seems to be that, if the U.S. directly provides intelligence that could be used to harm high-ranking Russian officials, it would be seen as a hostile act by Russia.

The Ukrainians learned of the general’s plans anyway, putting the Americans in a bind. After checking with the White House, senior American officials asked the Ukrainians to call off the attack. “We told them not to do it,” a senior American official said. “We were like, ‘Hey, that’s too much.’”

Notice the subtle shift here: the Ukrainians (supposedly) obtained the intelligence independently. Thus, there shouldn't be any way this implicates the United States, which was the reason why the Americans withheld it from Ukraine in the first place. Still, the U.S. is concerned about escalation.

The message arrived too late. Ukrainian military officials told the Americans that they had already launched their attack on the general's position. Dozens of Russians were killed in the strike, officials said. General Gerasimov wasn’t one of them.

Ukraine knew that a high-ranking Russian general was visiting the front (and in striking distance). Ukraine was also asked by the U.S. not to strike, but the message arrived too late (or perhaps it was simply "delayed" on the Ukrainian side). Still, the Ukrainians went ahead with the strike. We can conclude that they are not too concerned about escalation compared to the United States.

After all, they are already at war with Russia. Communication "for deconfliction purposes" only works if there's no conflict in the first place. Yes, Russia can still escalate in Ukraine: they do have nuclear weapons. But that's really it. According to Western sources they've already committed 97% of their conventional army.

3
  • 2
    The line between "Killing General Gerasimov could sharply escalate the conflict" and "they didn’t want to set off a war between the United States and Russia" is tenuous at best. What it really shows is that American foreign policy is timid.
    – RonJohn
    Mar 21, 2023 at 1:21
  • Thanks for digging this up. I could vaguely remember reading it, but incorrectly recalled it was about Shoigu, so searching for it again turned up nothing... Shoigu also did visit, but the issue of US-Ukraine communications around his visit wasn't covered in the press. Mar 21, 2023 at 5:40
  • FWTW, Shoigu's visits seems to have been also rather far from the front line, but less details have been released about it, to say for sure. Mar 21, 2023 at 9:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .