Demoralized Russian soldiers are sabotaging their own equipment — including accidentally downing their own planes — and top generals are lying to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the success of his military campaign in Ukraine, the United Kingdom’s spy chief said Thursday.
Jeremy Fleming, the head of Government Communication Headquarters, said during a speech in Australia that Putin had “massively misjudged” both the capabilities of Russian forces and the will of the Ukrainian people to fight for their homeland.
“It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people,” Fleming said. “He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime, and he overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.”
“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,” Fleming added.
The spymaster went on to claim that Putin’s inner circle fears speaking truth to the Russian leader, though the “extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.”
Fleming added that the Russian command and control structure is in chaos, while the invasion of Ukraine had descended into Putin’s “personal war.”
The UK official’s observations dovetail with those of the US and other Western nations that say Putin is surrounded by a battery of “yes men” who are feeding him false information about how poorly Russian troops are performing, as well as the extent to which sanctions are harming the Russian economy.
“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters Wednesday.
“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” she added.
Bedingfield said the White House had released an intelligence assessment revealing the strife at the top of Moscow’s chain of command “so that there is a full understanding of what kind of strategic blunder this has been for Russia and for the Russian people.”
Fleming said Western nations are purposely releasing their intelligence findings to get ahead of Russia’s misinformation campaign about the war in Ukraine.
“Increasingly, many of those ‘truths’ come from intelligence. It is already a remarkable feature of this conflict just how much intelligence has been so quickly declassified to get ahead of Putin’s actions,” he said, adding: “On this and many other subjects, deeply secret intelligence is being released to make sure the truth is heard. At this pace and scale, it really is unprecedented.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that “we would concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin has not been fully informed.”
“It’s his military. It’s his war. He chose it. And so the fact that he may not have all the context, that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting, to be honest with you,” Kirby told reporters.
A European diplomat noted that that assessment was in line with the EU’s thinking.
“Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ or only sitting with them at the end of a very long table,” the official said.
One notable dissenter to the assessment was former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who told CNN Thursday morning that “I don’t buy that analysis.”
“I don’t think there’s a government in human history, that I’m aware of, where one of the top leader’s advisers was not perfectly prepared to say that another top adviser had made a complete mess of things,” Bolton said. “I think they’ve [the Russians] got the information. I think their calculations proved to be as inaccurate as US intelligence or French intelligence, that predicted there would be no invasion.”
In the same interview, Bolton suggested that “continued corruption in the Russian military” was to blame for discontent among fighting forces, describing the Kremlin as “a racketeering organization, not a government.”
“I think the disastrous performance of the Russian military has caused such a reputational blow that I think it’s an added reason why Putin has no incentive, from his perspective, to negotiate. If his military is to have any effect in terms of threatening other countries, he has to have some military victory he can point to,” he added. “He certainly does not have it yet, and I don’t know what it is in prospect for him. So the bad news is, I think actually this failure contributes to their determination in the Kremlin to continue this conflict until they can achieve some success that justifies the invasion in the first place.”
With Post wires