In a rare public statement on Tuesday, the head of the British intelligence service warned that Russian forces in Ukraine are overstretched and fatigued, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin is making “strategic errors in judgment.”
After Putin called up reservists to bolster his war effort and claimed a “major strike” throughout Ukraine this week, Britain’s intelligence, cyber, and security agency GCHQ’s head Jeremy Fleming has issued an assessment. In retaliation for the bombing of Russia’s critical Crimean Bridge over the weekend, Ukrainian forces launched a series of missile attacks on energy installations and civilian infrastructure around the country, including in the heart of Kyiv.
The Russian armed forces have been depleted. Fleming told the Royal United Services Institute in London that the urgent situation was evidenced by the employment of prisoners as reinforcements and the subsequent mobilization of thousands of unskilled conscripts.
Ukrainian bravery “on the battlefield and in cyberspace is clearly shifting the tide,” Fleming said. “Far from the certain Russian military victory that their media machine spouted.”
With the aid of Western armaments, the Ukrainian military has conducted effective counteroffensives, retaking large swaths of territory from the Russian troops.
Ukraine conflict has reached a critical juncture, with violence rapidly spreading.
To paraphrase Fleming, Putin faces “no effective internal resistance” from the Russian military and political elite because of his “decision-making,” which has proven wrong.
That “we know” includes the knowledge of Russian ground commanders, he claimed.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Britain’s Defense Ministry has become a regular source of information, pumping out frequent bite-sized updates on social media evaluating Moscow’s military strategy and war effort.
After Western intelligence agencies, led by the United States’ intelligence agency, took the unprecedented step of publicly sharing information regarding Putin’s plans, the choice to be more open with intelligence was made, even if it was ultimately ineffective in preventing the invasion.
Fleming said his agency’s goal in stepping out is to “illuminate the threat” and gain the public’s trust, as he explained it to the BBC on Tuesday morning. He warned that Britain is not dismissing the Russian threat. The recent 24 hours, he claimed, have shown that despite Western doubts, Russia still possesses a “highly capable military machine.” This was in reference to the attacks on dozens of Ukrainian cities on Monday.
However, he continued, “it’s absolutely running out of allies” in addition to weapons and soldiers.
For what he still calls Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Putin last month announced a partial military mobilization of up to 300,000. The decision caused widespread fear, with thousands of draft-eligible men rushing to the borders and airports to catch flights out of the country before they were sent to the front lines.
The Russian people are “realizing how terribly Putin has misunderstood the issue,” Fleming added. It’s too late for them to avoid the draft, so they’re trying to get out of the country. They are aware that the limits placed on their use of contemporary technology and exposure to the outside world will be quite severe. And they are beginning to experience the terrible human cost of his war of choice.
Moscow replied to the weekend’s attack on the Crimean Bridge with a wave of strikes on parks, playgrounds, and downtown districts far from the front lines on Monday, according to Ukrainian police. At least 19 people were killed in the attacks.
Many of Putin’s supporters, though, praised the attacks. The head of Russia’s upper house foreign affairs committee, Viktor Bondarev, has called the strikes on Monday the start of “a new chapter” and has pledged more “resolute” action in the future.
Threats by Russia to use nuclear weapons to avenge its losses in Ukraine, Fleming cautioned, are “extremely dangerous” and may cause a “catastrophe.” He emphasized, however, that there have been no signs of their deployment, and that Putin has been “keeping within the policy of their use.”
U.S. officials’ assessments that Putin isn’t likely to follow through on his threats are supported by this. Even so, President Biden warned last week that Putin was “not joking,” and his nuclear threats were the most serious “prospect of Armageddon” in 60 years.
Allies are feeling more pressure to deploy cutting-edge air defense systems after the strikes on Ukraine.
There are three primary intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom: MI6, the foreign intelligence service made famous by James Bond and George Smiley, MI5, the domestic agency, and GCHQ, the eavesdropping service. The intelligence community as a whole is notoriously discreet.
On Tuesday, Fleming addressed a broader audience about global security risks, singling out China’s efforts to expand its influence in STEM fields.
Fleming claimed that the Chinese Communist Party was trying to establish “client economies and governments,” calling the situation a “sliding doors moment in history.” He claimed that China’s goal is to have other nations buy Chinese technology and bear the “hidden costs” of doing so, thus bringing other nations under Chinese sway.