The director of GCHQ has launched an unprecedented attack on Vladimir Putin, claiming his bungled ‘personal war’ in Ukraine has backfired badly.
In an excoriating verdict on the ‘failing’ invasion, Sir Jeremy Fleming said the command and control of Russia‘s campaign was in ‘chaos’ in his first public statements on the invasion.
The spy chief revealed new intelligence showing that ill-prepared Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.
He also claimed Putin’s own advisors are lying to him about Russia’s startling losses, speaking to the despot’s isolation and authoritarian approach.
Sir Jeremy said Putin’s ‘misjudgments,’ had forced him to adopt plan B – ‘barbarity against civilians and cities’.
The head of Britain’s eavesdropping intelligence agency also warned China not to be ‘too closely aligned’ with a country that wilfully breaks all the rules and ‘norms for a new global governance’.
His unprecedented public rebuke of a foreign leader came as US officials said Putin had ‘lost faith’ in his top brass, who are too afraid to tell him the truth about the war.
‘We’re now seeing Putin trying to follow through on his plan but it is failing. And his Plan B has been more barbarity against civilians and cities,’ Sir Jeremy said during a speech in the Australian capital Canberra.
‘It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people.
‘He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise. He under-played the economic consequences of the sanctions regime.
‘He over-estimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.’
He added: ‘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.
In an excoriating verdict on the ‘failing’ invasion, Sir Jeremy Fleming said the command and control of Russia’s campaign was in ‘chaos’ as he launched an unprecedented attack on Vladimir Putin’s ‘personal war’
The spy chief revealed new intelligence showing that ill-equipped Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. Pictured: A destroyed Russian tank near Kyiv
Sir Jeremy said President Putin’s ‘misjudgments’ had forced him to adopt plan B – ‘barbarity against civilians and cities’
Don’t get cosy with Kremlin, China told
China was warned not to become ‘too closely aligned’ with Russia last night.
GCHQ chief Sir Jeremy Fleming suggested Beijing was ‘not well served’ in cosying up to a nation which wilfully ignores the rules of ‘global governance’.
The spy chief spoke out just hours after a meeting in China between foreign minister Wang Yi and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Pictured: Russian and Chinese foreign ministers Lavrov and Wang Yi
The latter declared the two nations were moving toward creating a new ‘just, democratic world order,’ in a video released by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
From the Kremlin’s point of view, it regards China in the current crisis as a supplier of weapons, a provider of technology, a market for its oil and gas and a means to circumvent sanctions.
Sir Jeremy said China also stood to gain cheap energy and an ally in its opposition to the United States, but he warned the strategic alliance could backfire.
Speaking at the Australian National University in Canberra, he said: ‘There are risks to them both, and more for China, in being too closely aligned… and it is equally clear a China that wants to set the rules of the road – the norms for a new global governance – is not well served by close alliance with a regime that wilfully and illegally ignores them all.’
‘Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.’
Speaking during a visit to Australia to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Australian Signals Directorate, GCHQ’s Australian equivalent, the spy chief said: ‘We know Putin’s campaign is beset by problems – low morale, logistical failures and high Russian casualty numbers.
‘Their command and control is in chaos. We’ve seen Putin lie to his own people in an attempt to hide military incompetence.’
Sir Jeremy continued: ‘It all adds up to the strategic miscalculation that Western leaders warned Putin it would be. It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and increasingly by ordinary Russians too.
‘The great irony is that through his actions, Putin has brought upon himself exactly what he was trying to avoid – a Ukraine with a renewed sense of nationhood, a Nato that is more united than ever, and a global coalition of nations that condemn his actions.’
In a rare public address in Canberra, Sir Jeremy warned that Putin was planning to use a shadow branch of the Russian military known as the Wagner Group as ‘cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses’.
His candid remarks came as Western intelligence revealed Putin ‘didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts… showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information’.
A US official said: ‘We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military.
‘There is now persistent tension between Putin and the MOD, stemming from Putin’s mistrust in MOD leadership.’
Russia has lost as many as 15,000 troops as well as more than 2,000 military vehicles.
Moscow pledged yesterday to withdraw troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv in what it said was an effort to build trust in ‘constructive’ peace negotiations.
Ukraine said it could see no significant withdrawal of Russian forces.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the signs were positive ‘but those signals do not drown out the explosions or Russian shells’.
There are hopes now that Russia will finally observe a planned local ceasefire in and around Mariupol, which has endured a sustained bombardment for a month.
The Russian defence ministry announced yesterday that its forces will observe a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from the southern port city which has been under siege from Putin’s forces since shortly after the invasion began.
A humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdiansk, would be opened from 10am (7am GMT), the ministry said on Wednesday.
‘For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,’ the ministry statement said.
The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee the ‘unconditional respect’ for the ceasefire through written notification to the Russian side, the UNHCR and ICRC before 6am (0300 GMT) on Thursday.
But the announcement was met with huge skepticism, after Russian forces on several occasions violated similar ceasefire arrangements and attacked humanitarian corridors from Mariupol and other cities.
Prior to the ceasefire being declared, Putin himself said that shelling of the besieged city will only end when all the Ukrainian troops there surrender.
The despot made the comments during an hour long phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, with whom he has spoken on a number of occasions since the start of the invasion, on Tuesday night, the Kremlin said in a statement.
It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain could send armoured cars to help evacuate 160,000 citizens still trapped in Mariupol.
There are hopes now that Russia will finally observe a planned local ceasefire in and around Mariupol, which has endured a sustained bombardment for a month
A Ukrainian serviceman fires with a mortar, as Russia?s attack on Ukraine continues, at a position in Kyiv region, Ukraine March 30, 2022
The city has been under Russian bombardment since shortly after the start of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Nurse Svetlana Savchenko, 56, stands next to the building, destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict, where her apartment was located in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 30, 2022
The Prime Minister is considering ‘going up a gear’ in support for Ukraine and wants to target the ‘human catastrophe’ in Mariupol.
‘The question is, can we help the Ukrainians relieve Mariupol?’ he told the Commons liaison committee.
‘Would armour, would APCs [armoured personnel carriers] be useful for them [or] armoured Land Rovers? We are certainly looking at that.’
A Government source said later: ‘We’re open to sending them armoured vehicles if useful and if practicable to get them there, although the view is that will be difficult.
‘At a briefing last night it sounded like we’re not sure Mariupol can hold out much longer anyway.’
It comes as satellite images emerged yesterday showing a clearly marked Red Cross building with holes in its roof reportedly after Russian airstrikes.
According to the Kremlin, Putin previously said he would only stop bombardment of the city when all Ukrainian troops had surrendered.
While relief efforts stumbled, 70 women and medics were reportedly kidnapped from a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol and taken to Russia.
Sir Jeremy Fleming’s full speech
Good morning and thank you Rory for the introduction.
And thanks to the National Security College for hosting this event in this fabulous building. I can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Australia and especially, to see friends and colleagues here in Canberra.
Now, it’s stating the obvious to point out that the World has changed since my last visit: the pandemic, the profile and dominance of technology and cyber, the role of China, the end of the Afghan campaign and now Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Any one of these could be viewed as a historic shift. Taken together, they add up to a period of generational upheaval. The economic, societal and geo-political consequences are still playing out – and will do for decades to come.
And that’s obviously the case in the world of National Security too. Here, the threats we face and our approaches to their mitigation are changing rapidly.
There’s much talk of the need to design a new global security architecture. My contention is that it is already happening. It is already different.
And I know that you feel that here. This week’s announcement of major increases in defence and intelligence spending shows that Australia gets this new reality.
So, I’m in Canberra to talk about these themes and to understand how you’re thinking about the challenges we face.
But I’m also here because tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of ASD. Their history is long and illustrious – they’ve played a major role in keeping Australia safe. I congratulate the generations who have delivered this critical mission.
I thank them for their partnership. For at times like this, it is more obvious than ever that we stay together. We owe the people of ASD a debt for their service and we are humbled in GCHQ to be able to count on their friendship.
I’m keen to leave plenty of time to chat with Rory and take your questions, so I’m going to press on with a few of the themes and have a stab at a some implications for our sovereign and allied response.
Firstly, the pandemic. Of course, we have a way to go until we declare it’s over. The human costs are horrendous. But the amazing work of the scientists and medics leave us in a much better place. And the experience has helped us to learn some painful – and I believe useful – lessons about national security.
Perhaps most importantly, we now have a much better understanding of national resilience.
Before 2020, who here would have realised that the global supply chain for face masks would be such a critical dependency? Or that a grounding of a containership in the Suez would cause such chaos…? Or even, that semi-conductor availability would be so fragile it would affect everything from smart phone to washing machine availability…?
The pandemic has made clear that we are interconnected and dependent in ways we hadn’t fully understood. We’ve had to wake up to the reality of what that means for our economies and our security.
And we’ve seen how vital technology is to stay connected, to keep our economies going and to change the way that we work…even in the national security community.
Yet it’s also shown how vulnerable our nations are to cyber threats and how quickly our adversaries adapt to take advantage.
The lesson, for me, that our cyber security isn’t good enough and we need to invest in making it better.
The second area I want to talk about is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Believe it or not, it’s only 36 days since Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked and premeditated attack on Ukraine. It’s been shocking in every sense of the word. But it wasn’t surprising. We’ve seen this strategy before. We saw the intelligence picture building. And we’re now seeing Putin trying to follow through on his plan. But it is failing. And his Plan B has been more barbarity against civilians and cities.
Clearly, he plays by different moral and legal rules. Far too many Ukrainians and Russians have already lost their lives. And beyond this toll, many, many more have had their lives shattered. The UN estimate that in just over a month, more than ten million people have already fled their homes. It’s a humanitarian crisis that need never have happened. And it’s not over yet.
That said, it increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise. He under-played the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He over-estimated 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.
And 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.
This week, the Russian MOD stated publicly that they will drastically reduce combat operations around Kyiv and a city in the North. It looked like they have been forced to make a significant change.. But then they proceeded to launch attacks in both of those places. Mixed messages or deliberate misinformation – we’ll have to see how it unfolds.
It all adds up to the strategic miscalculation that our leaders warned Putin it would be. It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and increasingly, by ordinary Russians too.
The great irony is, of course, that through his actions, Putin has brought upon himself exactly what he was trying to avoid – a Ukraine with a renewed sense of nationhood, a NATO that is more united than ever, and a global coalition of nations that condemn his actions.
Just over a month in, it is far too early to confidently draw out all the implications of this crisis. But I’m going to outline a few aspects that really stand out to me.
I’ll start with the prominence of the information front.
Russia wrote the hybrid warfare book. State media, on-line media and agents of influence are all used to obfuscate motivations and justify military actions. We’ve seen them use this playbook in Syria and many other theatres. Their aim is to promulgate disinformation. To sow mistrust in the evidence and to amplify false narratives. It’s also to make sure that the real picture of what’s going on doesn’t get exposed inside Russia.
And that’s where the most dangerous disinformation war is being waged. We know Putin’s campaign is beset by problems – low morale, logistical failures and high Russian casualty numbers. Their command and control is in chaos. We’ve seen Putin lie to his own people in an attempt to hide military incompetence.
And all of that means, he seeks brutal control of the media and access to the internet, he seeks the closing down of opposition voices, and he’s making heavy investment in their propaganda and covert agencies.
But here again, it’s clear that Putin has miscalculated. President Zelensky’s information operation has shown itself to be extremely effective. It’s agile, multi-platform, multi-media and extremely well-tailored to different audiences. One only has to look at the way Ukraine’s flag – a field of sunflowers under a sky of blue – to see it flying everywhere, including outside GCHQ, to see how well the message has landed.
And it’s a message supported by information campaigns all over the World. In the UK, it’s focused in a new Government Information Cell which identifies and counters Kremlin disinformation targeted at UK and international audiences. It brings together expertise from across government to challenge false narratives. It deals in facts, not falsehoods; making sure that the truth is told well.
And 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.
From the warnings of the war. To the intelligence on false flag operations designed to provide a fake premise to the invasion. And more recently, to the Russian plans to falsely claim Ukrainian use of banned chemical weapons.
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.
In my view, intelligence is only worth collecting if we use it, so I unreservedly welcome this development.
Of course, other aspects of this confrontation play out in cyber space.
There has been commentary expressing surprise that we haven’t seen the Russians deploy a major cyber-attack as part of their campaign.
I think a lot of this misses the point. Whilst some people look for cyber ‘Pearl Harbours’, it was never our understanding that a catastrophic cyber-attack was central to Russian’s use of offensive cyber or to their military doctrine. To think otherwise, misjudges how cyber has an effect in military campaigns.
That’s not to say that we haven’t seen cyber in this conflict. We have – and lots of it.
Through the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, we’ve seen sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems. We’ve seen what looks like some spill over of activity affecting surrounding countries. And we’ve certainly seen indications which suggests Russia’s cyber actors are looking for targets in the countries that oppose their actions.
So just as we pay tribute to the Ukrainian military’s brave actions, we should pay tribute to Ukrainian cyber security too. We and other allies will continue to support them in shoring up their defences. And at home, we are doing all we can to ensure sure that businesses and Government urgently follow through on plans to improve basic levels of cyber resilience. I know your ACSC is doing the same here in Australia.
Now my third observation of this conflict is the extent to which non-state actors are involved and have a say in its outcome.
Some of this is on the battlefields in Ukraine. It’s clear Russia is using mercenaries and foreign fighters to augment its forces. This includes the Wagner group which has been active in Ukraine since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The group works as a shadow branch of the Russian military, providing implausible deniability for riskier operations.
Recently, we have seen that Wagner is looking to move up a gear. We understand that the group is now prepared to send large numbers of personnel into Ukraine to fight alongside Russians.
They are looking at relocating forces from other conflicts and recruiting new fighters to bolster numbers. These soldiers are likely to be used as cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses.
But it’s not just in the military sphere that we see the influence and potential of other actors. We’ve seen cyber hacking and ransomware groups pledging allegiance to both sides. We’ve seen businesses all over the world distance themselves from the Russian economy. We’ve seen technology providers step up to make sure that Ukraine can stay connected, or to address disinformation.
It’s all making the space very complicated, and in some ways, way beyond the control of Governments. It’s another reminder of the interconnectedness of the World today. And as no single entity holds the whole solution, it highlights a need for global institutions effectively working in coalition.
Putin’s aggression has certainly galvanised NATO. The war has triggered an unprecedented international response – 141 countries condemned it at the UN General Assembly. All over Europe countries are overturning decades long approaches to their defence policy; investing more too. And further afield, including in this region, countries like Australia and Japan are leaning in. It’s also showing, in stark relief, those countries that choose to either support Putin or abstain from making a choice.
And those choices will affect the global order and our national securities for decades to come.
And of course, here in this region, the most concerning issues relate to the choices China makes as it thinks about its interests in the longer term.
Now, Russia’s position on this is clear. It has made a strategic choice to align with China as China has become more powerful and in direct opposition to the United States. In the current crisis, Russia sees China as a supplier of weapons, as a provider of technology, a market for it’s hydro-carbons and as a means to circumvent sanctions.
We know both Presidents Xi and Putin place great value on their personal relationships. But Xi’s calculus is more nuanced. He’s not publicly condemned the invasion, presumably calculating that it helps him oppose the US. And, with an eye on re-taking Taiwan, China doesn’t want to do anything which may constrain its ability to move in the future.
It’s also the case that China believes Russia will provide additional impetus and support to its digital markets and it’s technology plans. We can see China is seizing the opportunity to purchase cheap hydro-carbons from Russia at the moment, to meet its needs too.
But there are risks to them both (and arguably more for China) in being too closely aligned. Russia understands that long term, China will become increasingly strong militarily and economically. Some of their interests conflict; Russia could be squeezed out of the equation.
And it is equally clear that a China that wants to set the rules of the road – the norms for a new global governance – is not well served by close alliance with a regime that wilfully and illegally ignores them all.
Now this comes into particularly sharp focus when we think about the future of technology eco-systems and the norms and governance that guide their use.
And for me, this as much about values as it is about technology. And both are vital to the competitive edge of a country.
That’s why it’s also increasingly the focus for geopolitical competition.
Historically, technology development was largely driven and owned by the West. Shared values amongst involved nations meant industry standards for emerging technologies tended to be global. Investment in technology brought status, wealth and security.
Today, we are in a different era. We can see that significant technology leadership is moving East. It’s causing a conflict of interests. Of values. Where prosperity and security are at stake.
Now obviously, China is a sophisticated player in cyberspace. It has increasing ambition to project its influence beyond its borders and a proven interest in our commercial secrets.
It also has a competing vision for the future of cyberspace and it’s increasingly influential in the debate around international rules and standards. China’s bringing all elements of state power to control, influence design and dominate technology, if you like, the cyber and the fibre.
As I’ve said previously, without action it is increasingly apparent that the key technologies on which we all rely on for prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West in the future.
If we don’t act – with our allies, with our partners and with the private sector – we will see undemocratic values as the default for vast swathes of future tech and the standards that govern it. There is no doubt that democratic nations are facing a moment of reckoning.
Now these are all pretty big themes. And they have big stakes.
Whether we’re building on the lessons from the pandemic, understanding the implications of Russia’s invasion, or grappling with the implications of China’s rise, it’s clear that we must step up.
There are many ways for us to do that, but it seems to me that two things are very important.
The first is that we have to find new ways to collaborate and cooperate with partners. For those of us in National Security, that’s about ensuring the health of existing relationships. It’s about securing our alliances, like the Five Eyes, NATO and in this region, ASEAN. And it’s about working with businesses in new and truly collaborative ways. And to do this we need to make sure that our counteroffer – to states who haven’t yet decided which way they should jump – is persuasive and coherent. Too often it’s not.
And the second is that in whatever we do, we must make sure that we stay true to our values, those that have made our systems and democracies so successful and will do so in the future too.
I spoke at the beginning about how against a backdrop of historic shifts, a new global security architecture was emerging. And all of this change will take decades to resolve. But what I can be clear on now is that how we approach these challenges will be as important as what our response is.
And all of us in this room today must play our part in following that through.
Source: Daily Mail