“Russian power is exhausted. The use of prisoners for reinforcements, and now the mobilization of thousands of inexperienced conscripts, illustrates a desperate situation,” Fleming said in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.
“A far cry from the inevitable Russian military victory their propaganda machine preaches, it’s clear that Ukraine’s brave actions on the battlefield and in cyberspace are turning the tide,” Fleming added.
The Ukrainian military, aided by Western weapons, successfully launched a counteroffensive, retaking large swathes of land previously occupied by Russian forces.
Ukraine is at a turning point in a rapidly escalating conflict
Fleming said Putin’s “decision-making has proven to be flawed” and that he has “few effective internal challenges” from Russia’s military and political elites.
“We know – and local Russian commanders know – that they are running out of supplies and ammunition,” he said.
Since Russia invaded its neighbour in February, the British Ministry of Defence has become a daily source of information, posting frequent short updates on social media analysing Moscow’s military strategy and war effort.
The move by the intelligence community to be more transparent follows a strategically unusual decision by Western intelligence agencies, including the U.S. intelligence community, to publicly share information about Putin’s plans — though it was ultimately not enough to deter the intrusion.
Fleming told the BBC earlier on Tuesday that his agency wanted to “articulate the threat” and encourage public trust. He warned that the UK had not removed the threat from Russia. The past 24 hours proved that Moscow still had a “very powerful military machine,” he said, referring to Monday’s attacks on dozens of Ukrainian cities.
However, he added that Russia is running out of arms and troops, and “it certainly lacks friends”.
Putin announced last month the mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists for a partial military mobilization, which he still refers to as Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. The decision sparked public panic, with thousands of eligible men fleeing to the border and scrambling to get on flights to avoid being called up to front-line deployments.
Fleming said the Russians “see how badly Putin has misjudged the situation.” “They’re running away from the draft, realizing they can’t travel anymore. They know their access to modern technology and outside influences will be greatly limited. They’re feeling the extent of the horrific human cost of the war he’s choosing.”
Here are the nuclear weapons Russia has in its arsenal
More than a month into the war, Fleming warned that Russian soldiers were demoralized, weaponized, and sometimes refused orders and sabotaged their own equipment—even then the Russian front was in chaos.
Following this weekend’s attack on the Crimea bridge, Moscow launched a wave of strikes on Monday targeting parks, playgrounds and downtown areas far from the front lines, sparking outrage and killing at least 19 people, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Putin’s supporters, however, cheered the strike. Viktor Bondarev, chairman of Russia’s upper house foreign affairs committee, called Monday’s strike the start of a “new phase” and promised more “decisive” action.
Fleming also warned that Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons to reverse its losses in Ukraine is “very dangerous” and could lead to “disaster.” However, he stressed that so far there has been no sign of their deployment and Putin has been “sticking to the principle of using them”.
This is in line with U.S. officials who believe Putin is unlikely to carry out his threats. Still, President Biden warned last week that Putin was “not joking” and called his nuclear threat the worst “doomsday prospect” in 60 years.
Strike on Ukraine increases pressure on allies to field advanced air defenses
The UK has three main intelligence agencies: MI6, the foreign intelligence agency, popularized by fictional spies James Bond and George Smiley; MI5, the domestic agent; and Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, which provides wiretapping services. The entire intelligence community is known for its secrecy.
Fleming also spoke more broadly about global threats to security on Tuesday, referring specifically to China’s efforts to expand its influence through technology.
Fleming said it could be a “sliding-door moment in history,” accusing China’s ruling Communist Party of seeking to build a “client economy and government.” He said China aims to bring countries into its sphere of influence by encouraging them to buy Chinese technology and bear what he called “hidden costs.”