Russian soldiers not carrying out orders and sabotaging own equipment: British spy chief

The head of Britain’s cyber spy agency says new intelligence shows Russian soldiers in Ukraine are refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and have accidentally shot down their aircraft.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, the director of the Government Communications Headquarters, commonly known as GCHQ, says Russian President Vladimir Putin has “massively misjudged” the capabilities of his own military, the resistance and resolve of the Ukrainian people and the ability of the West to impose serious costs on Moscow.

The head of Britain’s cyber spy agency warns Russia is looking to target countries which oppose its actions.

The head of Britain’s cyber spy agency warns Russia is looking to target countries which oppose its actions.Credit:AP

Speaking at the Australian National University’s National Security College in Canberra, Sir Jeremy said global security faces a period of “generational upheaval” in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rise of China.

“It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

“He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime.

“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.”

He said Putin’s advisors were “afraid to tell him the truth” but the reality of what’s going on and the “extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime”.

“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,” he said.

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Sir Jeremy said Russia had made a strategic choice to align with China as it has become more powerful and in the current crisis Moscow sees Beijing as a supplier of weapons, a provider of technology and a means to circumvent sanctions.

But he said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calculus on Ukraine was “more nuanced” than Putin’s outlook.

He said Xi has not publicly condemned the invasion because it helps him oppose the US and he has his eye on re-taking Taiwan, adding “China does not want to do anything which may constrain its ability to move in the future”.

“But there are risks to them both (and 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,” he said.

“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.”

Sir Jeremy also warned that Putin is increasingly calling on mercenaries and foreign fighters to bolster his forces, including the Wagner Group which works as a shadow branch of the Russian military.

He said his agency had seen sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems through cyber attacks, as well as spillover attacks affecting surrounding countries.

He said intelligence also suggests Russia’s cyber attackers are also looking for targets in the countries that oppose their actions.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

Anthony Galloway is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Connect via email.

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