The head of GCHQ has said ‘desperate’ Russian president Vladimir Putin is losing the war with Ukraine both at home and abroad and faces a potential revolt against his leadership as ‘exhausted’ troops run out of supplies and munitions.
Sir Jeremy Fleming, the director of the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency, is set to claim the war is badly backfiring in Putin’s home country as fighting-age Russians desperately try to avoid being drafted into his ‘war of choice’.
In a speech in London later today, Sir Jeremy will say that despite claims of an ‘inevitable Russian military victory’ at the start of the war, ‘it’s clear that Ukraine’s courageous action on the battlefield and in cyberspace is turning the tide’.
The security chief will also suggest that ‘Russia’s forces are exhausted’ and it has become reliant on prisoners and inexperienced conscripts to backup depleted numbers on the front line.
It comes a day after Russia launched its biggest missile barrage on Ukraine since its illegal invasion in February, killing 11 people and injuring scores more in strikes in cities, including the capital Kyiv.
A defiant Volodymyr Zelenksy branded Russia a ‘terrorist state’ after the attack and said it showed the Kremlin is desperate as it is ‘not capable of opposing us on the battlefield’.
In a video taunting his counterpart, President Zelensky said that despite the strikes Ukraine had managed to shoot down half of the missiles and drones aimed at his country, adding his people ‘cannot be intimidated’.
Vladimir Putin claimed yesterday that the missiles were aimed at military, energy and communications networks, but Ukraine says they actually hit power plants and busy civilian areas.
The attacks are thought to be retaliation for an attack on the Kerch Bridge on Saturday which linked the annexed region of Crimea to the Russian mainland.
The 12-mile-long bridge was a key part of the Kremlin’s supply chain, and its destruction was a slap in the face for Russian president Putin who saw it as a pet project and a symbol of his supremacy in the region.
It came the day before a meeting of the G7 where the Prime Minister is expected to tell her fellow leaders not to waver in their support of Ukraine following the most recent attacks.
It comes amid concerns that Belarus, the Kremlin’s last-remaining ally in Europe, could be about to join the war to back up Putin after its dictator Alexander Lukashenko announced Russian units would combine with his own and deploy to the Ukraine border.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute defence think-tank later, Sir Jeremy is set to suggest that GCHQ is aware of how badly the war is going for Putin and the Kremlin.
The Daily Telegraph reported that he will say the despot has ‘failed in two major military strategies already’ and has ‘hit the courageous reality of Ukrainian defence’.
He will say: ‘With little effective internal challenge, his decision-making has proved flawed. It’s a high-stakes strategy that is leading to strategic errors in judgment.
‘Their gains are being reversed. The costs to Russia – in people and equipment are staggering.
‘We know – and Russian commanders on the ground know – that their supplies and munitions are running out.
‘Russia’s forces are exhausted. The use of prisoners to reinforce, and now the mobilisation of tens of thousands of inexperienced conscripts, speaks of a desperate situation.’
He is set to add that Russians have ‘started to understand that’ desperation too and are becoming aware of ‘just how badly Putin has misjudged the situation’.
He will say: ‘They’re fleeing the draft, realising they can no longer travel.
‘They know their access to modern technologies and external influences will be drastically restricted. And they are feeling the extent of the dreadful human cost of his war of choice.’
His remarks come a day after President Zelenksy vowed to rebuild all that had been destroyed in the latest missile attacks.
In an eight-minute-long video posted on his social media accounts, the comedian-turned-politician said his security forces were able to stop half the missiles and drones sent by Russia from hitting their targets.
He said: ‘Restoration work is currently under way across the country. We will restore all objects that were damaged by today’s attack by Russian terrorists. It’s only a matter of time.
‘Out of 84 Russian missiles launched against Ukraine, 43 were shot down. Out of 24 Russian drones, 13 were shot down. And even after that, every ten minutes I receive a message about shooting Iranian Shaheds [drones] down.
‘Therefore, follow the safety rules and pay attention to the air alarm. The danger is still there. But we are fighting. I am grateful to our air forces and ground forces units that were involved today!
‘Ukraine cannot be intimidated. We united even more instead. Ukraine cannot be stopped. We are convinced even more that terrorists must be neutralised.
‘Now the occupiers are not capable of opposing us on the battlefield already, that is why they resort to this terror. Well, we’ll make the battlefield even more excruciating for the enemy. And we will restore everything that was destroyed.
‘Believe in yourself, in Ukraine, in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and in our victory! Glory to Ukraine!’
At least 14 people were killed and 97 wounded, with six of those deaths and 51 injuries in Kyiv alone. Rockets also hit the German consulate, but the building was empty.
A mixture of missiles and Iranian-made suicide drones were used to strike the cities of Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, northern Kharkiv and Sumy, central Zhytomyr and Vinnytsia, and even far-western Ternopil and Lviv, President Zelensky said. Some of these cities have not been hit in months.
Dramatic dash-cam footage taken in Dnipro shows two of the huge missile strikes hitting a civilian area, causing fiery explosions that sent debris crashing down on cars and pedestrians nearby.
Putin said he ordered strikes on ‘military, communications, and energy infrastructure’ after what he called ‘terrorist’ attacks by Ukraine – pointing to the Kerch Bridge attack but also accusing Kyiv of bombing one of its own nuclear plants, attacking gas pipes and assassinating officials and journalists.
Putin said: ‘Kyiv’s regime, with its actions, places itself in line with international terrorist organisations. Leaving such crimes without response is impossible. In case of continuing attacks we will respond in [a] harsh manner and in line with [the] level of threats to [the] Russian Federation. Nobody should have any doubt about this.’
In Russia allies of Putin have warned that this is merely the ‘first episode’ of the country’s revenge for the blast which crippled the Crimean bridge and ‘there will be others’.
Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president himself, said Ukraine poses ‘a constant, direct and clear’ threat and that the Kremlin should aim to ‘completely dismantle the political regime of Ukraine’ which he described as ‘Nazi’.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the bridge attack and blames Russia for strikes on nuclear infrastructure and gas pipes. Zelensky said yesterday’s missile attacks had targeted power networks, water supplies, and civilians in an attempt to ‘sow terror’. ‘Russia is trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,’ he added.
Oleksii Reznikov, the defence minister, said Ukraine’s courage would never be broken and ‘that the only thing they demolish is the future of [Russia] – a future of a globally despised rogue terrorist state’.
Videos and pictures from the Ukrainian capital showed burning cars and bodies in the streets as officials said rockets hit close to a well-known memorial to a famous statesman, near a children’s play area in a park, and a pedestrian bridge. More footage showed an apartment block in Dnipro in flames.
The attacks yesterday drew condemnation from across the world, and Liz Truss is expected to call for a full meeting of Nato leaders when she attends a meeting of the G7 today.
The Prime Minister is also set to say at the virtual meeting that the G7 must not waver in its support for Ukraine after the strikes.
Mr Zelensky said Ukraine counts on the UK’s ‘leadership in consolidating international political and defence support for Ukraine, in particular regarding the protection of our skies’.
He also called on western allies to provide anti-air and anti-missile systems in response to the attacks.
US President Joe Biden condemned the widespread missile attacks in Ukraine, saying they have targeted civilians and served no military purpose.
‘The United States strongly condemns Russia’s missile strikes today across Ukraine, including in Kyiv. These attacks killed and injured civilians and destroyed targets with no military purpose,’ Mr Biden said in a statement.
‘They once again demonstrate the utter brutality of Mr Putin’s illegal war on the Ukrainian people.’
The United States has provided more than $16.8 billion worth of security assistance since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and imposed a wide-ranging array of economic sanctions on Moscow over its actions.
‘These attacks only further reinforce our commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,’ Mr Biden said.
‘Alongside our allies and partners, we will continue to impose costs on Russia for its aggression, hold Putin and Russia accountable for its atrocities and war crimes, and provide the support necessary for Ukrainian forces to defend their country and their freedom.’
However, there are concerns that the war is set to escalate further after Belarus dictator Lukashenko, one of Putin’s few remaining foreign allies, appeared to be laying the groundwork to join the war amid yesterday’s attacks.
He announced Russian units would combine with his own and deploy to the Ukraine border, accusing Kyiv of planning to attack with help from allies Poland and Lithuania.
Belarus has acted as a staging ground for Russian attacks on Ukraine, but has not yet been involved in the fighting.
Last night there were reports of large numbers of Russian troops being moved into its ally, with Kyiv Post journalist Jason Jay Smart quoting a source as saying: ‘Russian soldiers are entering Belarus by the trainload. They’re travelling in cattle cars – just a huge quantity. Just waves of trains arriving.’
Belarus has said it does not plan on attacking Ukraine but will provide an ‘immediate and harsh response’ if Mr Zelensky orders attacks on its territory.
Meanwhile, hardliners within Russia demanded a declaration of full war and the use of nuclear weapons. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had ruled out the atomic option on Sunday, but that will do little to dampen fears as Putin runs out of options having already annexed occupied territory and conscripted hundreds of thousands of troops.
Ukrainian social media networks were flooded with videos of defiance in the wake of the attacks, as people in bomb shelters and on the Kyiv subway network sung the national anthem and other patriotic songs even as bombs fell.
Summing up the mood, Ukraine’s defence ministry tweeted: ‘So, russkies, you really think you can compensate for your impotence on the battlefield with missile strikes on peaceful cities?
‘You just don’t get it do you – your terrorist strikes only make us stronger. We are coming after you.’
Widespread power outages were reported after the Russian salvo, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal saying 11 ‘key infrastructure facilities’ were hit without giving further details. Some cities were also reported to have water shortages.
Within Russia, the strikes were cheered by hawks. Ramzan Kadyrov, the staunchly pro-Kremlin leader of the Chechnya region who had demanded in recent days that military commanders be sacked, hailed yesterday’s attacks: ‘Now I am 100% satisfied with how the special military operation is being conducted.’
‘We warned you Zelensky, that Russia hasn’t even got started yet, so stop complaining … and run! Run away without looking back to the West,’ he wrote.
Russia has faced major setbacks on the battlefield since the start of September, with Ukrainian forces bursting through front lines and recapturing territory.
Putin responded to the losses by ordering a mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied territory and threatening repeatedly to use nuclear weapons.
Russian officials had predicted retaliation of the highest order after the bridge attack. Alexander Baskin, a Russian senator, is reported to have confidently suggested that the Kremlin’s response would be ‘adequate, conscious and possibly asymmetric’.
He added: ‘This was a declaration of war without rules.’
A red-faced Putin on Sunday blamed Ukrainian special forces for the explosion which severely damaged the key link to the Russian mainland.
The livid president said the blast at Kerch Bridge was designed to destroy ‘critically important civilian infrastructure’. He declared that the attack was a terrorist incident.
Speaking before today’s Russian attacks, Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, said Putin could order the indiscriminate shelling of Ukrainian cities and could even ‘go nuclear’.
However, the Kremlin has played down fears from Western observers that it could use nuclear weapons, saying it is ‘completely incorrect’ that it was considering using them in response.
Russian governors predicted today’s revenge missile attacks after the destruction of the bridge on Saturday morning, which was considered to be one of Putin’s pet projects.
The bridge has been a symbol of Russian power in Crimea since its annexation of the peninsula in 2014.
The bridge, which spans 19km from Crimea to the Russian mainland, has been used as one of the main supply routes for Russian troops since the illegal invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, allowing Putin to resupply and back up forces occupying Kherson and other southern regions of Ukraine.
Its destruction in a huge blast in the early hours of Saturday morning was a huge blow to the Russian war effort and was a slap in the face for the Russian president.
The 12-mile-long bridge over the Kerch strait links Crimea to the Russian mainland and is a major artery for Putin’s forces that control most of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region and for the Russian naval port of Sevastopol.
It was damaged in an explosion early Saturday morning which saw chunks of the bridge fall into the sea and a large fire break out.
The incident prompted gleeful messages from Ukrainian officials – though no claim of responsibility – and video footage of the bridge appeared to show a mysterious wave crest underneath the structure moments before the blast, prompting speculation that a Ukrainian-piloted boat or drone could have been behind it.