Russian troops deployed to invade Ukraine are undermining their own offensive by rejecting orders and destroying their equipment, including aircraft, according to Jeremy Fleming, the head of British intelligence agency GCHQ.
“It increasingly looks like [President] Vladimir Putin has massively misjudged the situation…. He over-estimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory,” Fleming said in prepared remarks released ahead of a speech Thursday in Australia.
“Short of weapons and morale,” the Russians downed their own aircraft by mistake, he added. Fleming also confirmed that Moscow has deployed mercenaries and foreign fighters as part of its operation.
The GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is a top partner for U.S. intelligence, and Fleming’s statement is his first public comment on the Ukraine war since the invasion began on Feb. 24.
“Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime,” Fleming continued.
Russian forces are enduring many more casualties in their ongoing bid to capture the strategic port city of Mariupol, according to a March 30 assessment of the war from the Institute for the Study of War think tank in Washington.
“Russia is withdrawing some elements of its forces around [the Ukrainain capital of] Kyiv… for likely redeployment,” analysts Mason Clark, George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko wrote. “But Russian forces will likely continue to hold their forwardmost positions and shell Ukrainian forces and residential areas.”
Russia has repeatedly struck civilian targets, such as hospitals and shelters, in recent weeks, and Western officials worry that it will become more aggressive in doing so ― including by using banned chemical weapons and claiming the Ukrainians have done so. Fleming referred to that risk in his address: “On this and many other subjects, deeply secret intelligence is being released to make sure the truth is heard. At this pace and scale, this is unprecedented.”
Negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials to secure a cease-fire have yet to bear fruit.