A rare face-to-face meeting between Russian and US military officials last week led to an “outburst” of emotion from a normally stoic Russian general, a “revealing moment” that the Americans present believe hinted at larger morale problems in Russia’s military, according to a closely held US military readout of what transpired.
The readout, which was reviewed by CNN, describes the perspective of the two defense attachés who attended and their own impressions of what they saw and heard. It does not offer a definitive explanation of the Russian general’s behavior. Readouts of sensitive meetings are never made public by the military or intelligence community because they are scrutinized for clues about an adversary’s thinking and intentions.
The meeting, held at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, is a rare instance of Russian and American defense officials sitting down in person since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The readout describes the meeting as tense, with visible signs of stress on the Russian side.
It makes particular note of the behavior of Russian Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Ilyin, deputy chief of the main directorate of international cooperation, who has a long track record of dealing with American officials. In a break from typical practice, Ilyin spoke with no notes or set talking points, according to the readout.
As the meeting was breaking up, one US defense attaché “casually inquired” about Ilyin’s family roots in Ukraine, and the Russian general’s “stoic demeanor suddenly became flushed and agitated,” according to the readout. The Americans reported Ilyin responded “yes,” and said that he was born in Dnipropetrovsk before moving with his family moving to Donetsk, where he went to school.
But the US officials reported Ilyin then added that the current situation in Ukraine is “tragic and I am very depressed over it” — and then he walked out without shaking hands, according to the readout.
It’s unclear why the meeting was held or the circumstances behind it. CNN does not know if there’s additional documentation describing the meeting. The readout does not include the names of the American attachés in the meeting, and CNN has been unable to learn their identities. The Pentagon and State Department declined to comment. CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.