U.K. intelligence chief says Putin’s Plan B is “more barbarity against civilians” in Ukraine

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U.S. and British intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has “massively misjudged” the economic and military consequences of his forces invading Ukraine.

State of play: The head of British intelligence agency GCHQ said in a rare address Thursday that Putin was trying to follow through on his plan, but “it is failing.” So “his Plan B has been more barbarity against civilians and cities,” GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming said in his address in Canberra, Australia.

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  • “[I]t increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation,” Fleming said. “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.”

GCHQ head Jeremy Fleming

Meanwhile, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. concurred with reports that Putin has “not been fully informed” by his advisers about the developments of the war in Ukraine.

Between the lines: White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said at a briefing Wednesday that recently declassified U.S. intelligence showed “Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership.”

  • “We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth,” Bedingfield said.

  • “So it is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”

The bottom line, via Fleming: Even though Western intelligence officials “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.”

Go deeper: U.S. believes Russia’s pullback near Kyiv is “repositioning,” not “withdrawal”

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