August 17, 2022

Head of the British intelligence service MI6 Richard Moore said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had thus far suffered a “strategic defeat” in Ukraine, failing to achieve any of what Moore described as three key objectives — removing Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy from power, taking control of the country’s capital, Kyiv, and sowing disunity within NATO. 

“On all of those,” he said, “I think they count as epic fails.” 

Moore, who took part in a question-and-answer session at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, predicted that Russian forces would be forced to regroup within “the next few weeks,” offering Ukraine a crucial window within which to make battlefield reversals.  

“I think they’re about to run out of steam,” Moore said of the Russian military, adding that the U.K.’s assessment was that Russian forces “will increasingly find it difficult to supply manpower and material over the next few weeks.”  

“They will have to pause in some way and that will give the Ukrainians opportunities to strike back,” Moore said.  

He added that the Ukrainians’ ability to notch successes would serve as “an important reminder to the rest of Europe: that this is a winnable campaign by the Ukrainians” – especially ahead of what Moore said would be a “pretty tough winter.”   

“We’re in for a tough time,” he said.  

Still, he said Russia had been hampered since the start of the invasion by what he called a “toxic combination” of military miscalculation and intelligence failure.  

“I don’t think they’re having a great war,” Moore said. “They clearly completely misunderstood Ukrainian nationalism. They completely underestimated the degree of resistance that the Russian military would face,” he said.   

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The Kremlin’s intelligence shortcomings were now likely exacerbated by the expulsion, earlier this year, of more than 400 Russian intelligence officers from the European continent.  

“We reckon in the U.K., that’s probably reduced their ability to do their business to spy for Russian in Europe by half,” Moore said.   

The British intelligence chief also echoed a more casual remark made at the same forum yesterday by CIA director William Burns, who quipped that Putin appeared “entirely too healthy” before noting that was not a formal U.S. intelligence assessment.  

Moore said Thursday that “there’s no evidence that Putin is suffering from serious ill health.” 

Like Burns, Moore also said China had been “conservative” in weighing whether to provide military assistance to Russia — though it had otherwise supported the Kremlin by purchasing Russian oil.  

“[I]t feels pretty tight, but it’s not an equal partnership, and Ukraine has made it less equal,” Moore said. “Moscow is very much the junior partner and the Chinese are very much in the driving seat.”  

He also said China’s close observation of the West’s approach to the conflict made it imperative to continue bolstering Ukrainian forces.  

“[T]his is one of the reasons why it is so essential that we tough it out on Ukraine and we keep going through this winter and we help the Ukrainians to win, or at least negotiate from a position of significant strength,” Moore said, “is because Xi Jinping is watching this like a hawk.” 

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