In general, authoritarian leaders who have been in power for a long time are at risk of being misinformed: their advisors may be tempted to hide the bad news by fear of being blamed for them, they might embellish the truth to stay in the leader's good graces. By definition, authoritarian leaders tend not to tolerate contradiction and surround themselves with people who think like them. Confirmation bias and a lack of diverse perspectives would obviously hinder their ability to get an objective and complete picture of the situation.
Putin's government appears to show signs of this problem:
- For example, the video of Putin asking his officials to sign off his decision, including the scolding of his intelligence chief, shows a inflexible leader probably feared by his officials.
- There are clear indications that the Russian army was not well prepared, in particular suffering egregious logistics issues. This is the kind of issue which is fairly easy to anticipate, so presumably the state of preparedness of the army was overestimated when the decision to invade was made.
- The resistance of the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian population in general was drastically underestimated by Moscow. Putin even addressed the Ukrainian troops, asking them to overthrow their government. This looks like a fairly serious misunderstanding of the general state of mind in Ukraine, consistent with the Russian government believing their own propaganda instead of relying on objective intelligence reports.
Beyond Putin himself, there seems to be a culture of non-transparency and fabricating "alternative facts" at the top of the Russian government which may affect how the government and the army function: if at every level in a hierarchy people tell their boss what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, it can lead to vast discrepancies between the situation as observed at the bottom of the hierarchy and as reported at the top.
- Is there evidence that the Russian government decision process is systematically biased by a culture of non-transparency and repression of diverging opinions?
Edit: a couple weeks later, the US and the EU were making remarks along the same lines as my question, e.g. Why is GCHQ saying Putin has been misinformed about Ukraine war?, Putin misled by 'yes men' in military afraid to tell him the truth.