Russian soldiers sabotaging own efforts in Ukraine, says UK spy chief

Jeremy Fleming, director of UK intelligence agency GCHQ, pictured in November 2019. Fleming delivered a speech in Canberra, Australia on Thursday in which he addressed the war in Ukraine.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has misjudged the situation in Ukraine, but his advisors are scared of telling him the truth about what’s happening on the ground, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency said Thursday.

“It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people,” Jeremy Fleming, director of UK intelligence agency GCHQ, said in a speech in Australia.

Referring to the conflict in Ukraine as Putin’s “personal war,” Fleming said the Russian leader had also underestimated the economic consequences of the sanctions regime as well as Russia’s military capabilities.

“We’ve seen Russian soldiers – short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” he said.

“And even though we believe Putin’s advisors are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.”

A spokesperson for the Russian government was not available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Fleming did not give any details on how GCHQ or British intelligence officials knew how Putin’s inner circle felt about relaying the details of the invasion to the Russian leader. Fleming’s comments came after newly declassified US intelligence revealed on Wednesday that the Russian president feels he has been misled by Russian military leaders, who kept crucial details about the invasion from him over fear of angering him.

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White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters that the failure to tell Putin what was really happening had “resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership.”

Despite all of this, Fleming said Thursday that Putin was still trying to follow through on his plan to gain ground in Ukraine.

“But [the plan] is failing. And his Plan B has been more barbarity against civilians and cities, “he said.

Russian officials said this week that they would scale back their military activity in and around the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv – an announcement that has been met with skepticism in the West.

“It looked like they had been forced to make a significant change. But then they proceeded to launch attacks in both of those places,” Fleming said. “Mixed messages or deliberate misinformation – we’ll have to see how it unfolds.”

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