Speaking at the Australian National University in Canberra, Sir Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence listening centre, said: “It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation.
“It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people”.
Sir Jeremy said Mr Putin had overestimated the abilities of the Russian 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,” he said.
Ukrainian military sources claimed early on in the war, which began on February 24, that a Russian ship in the Black Sea destroyed an aircraft in “friendly fire”, though it was not confirmed by Russia.
It was unclear whether this was one of the incidents highlighted by Sir Jeremy.
Sir Jeremy also said Mr Putin was also hampered by the reluctance of senior Kremlin advisers to tell him the truth about Russia’s staggering military campaign.
Sir Jeremy said British intelligence experts have seen “sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems” and has seen indicators suggesting Russia’s cyber actors are looking for targets in countries that oppose the Kremlin’s actions.
He said it is “clear” that Russia is using mercenaries and foreign fighters to support its forces — including the Wagner group.
“They are looking at relocating forces from other conflicts and recruiting new fighters to bolster numbers,” he said.
“These soldiers are likely to be used as cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses.”
On the position of China in the Ukraine conflict, Sir Jeremy said there are risks for Russia and China associated with the two countries aligning too closely.
“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,” he said.
– Reported with CNN