Russia: The head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service says Russia will struggle to maintain its military campaign, and Ukraine may be able to retaliate.
MI6 chief Richard Moore said Russia had seen an “epic failure” in its initial goals; Removal of the President of Ukraine, capturing Kyiv, and sowing divisions in the West.
He was speaking in a rare public appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. He called the invasion “the most egregiously naked act of aggression in Europe since World War II”.
He said recent Russian gains were “small” and that Russia was “about to run out of steam”.
“We assess that the Russians will increasingly find it difficult to find manpower and materiel over the next few weeks,” Mr Moore told the conference in Colorado. “They will have to pause in some way, giving the Ukrainians the opportunity to strike back.”
That outlook could be seen as optimistic, and Ukraine’s ability to counter-attack could depend on an over-supply of Western weapons, which its officials say have often been too slow to arrive.
The MI6 chief said any success on the battlefield would be “an important reminder to the rest of Europe that this is a winnable campaign” – especially before a winter that was likely to pressure gas supplies.
“We are in for a tough time,” he said. He said that a further reason to maintain support to help the Ukrainians win or “at least negotiate from a position of significant strength” was that China’s leader Xi Jinping was “watching like a hawk”.
Around 400 Russian intelligence officers operating under cover have been expelled across Europe, reducing Russia’s ability to spy on the continent by half.
“Our door is always open,” he said when recruiting disaffected Russian officials to spy for Britain.
MI6 puts most effort into China
In China, he said MI6 had “never had any illusions about Communist China”.
He revealed that MI6 has now dedicated more efforts to China than any other subject, with actions in the region devoted to combating terrorism.
He said it was “too early to tell” what lessons China would draw from Putin’s actions in Ukraine, but there were plenty of signs that officials in Beijing were going into overdrive to act on their idea. “It’s quite difficult to read at the moment,” he said.
He said it was “important” to remind China’s leadership how an invasion of Taiwan could go wrong. He said China’s leadership underestimated American resolve and power, which could lead them to miscalculate. Asked about a significant conflict, he said, “I don’t think it is inevitable.”
If the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan last year made it harder to deal with threats, he acknowledged that “this was a reverse for us when it happened, and it is now more difficult”. He said it would require finding “different ways” to deal with the Islamist terrorist threat, including working with partners who MI6 may not usually deal with.
Asked to reflect on the state of politics and violence in the United States, the MI6 chief sidestepped the question but stressed his “huge affection” for the US, where he had studied and taken his first paid job as a teenager.
He corrected the interviewer to say this job had been as a beach attendant rather than a lifeguard. “I didn’t have the body for that,” he said to laughter from the audience.