Updated Mar 31, 2022 - World

U.K. intelligence chief says Putin's Plan B is to attack Ukrainian civilians

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands in a hall prior to a meeting with his Belarus' counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 11.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 11. Photo: Mikhaik Klimentyev/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

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 Putin's "Plan B has been more barbarity against civilians and cities," GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming said in his address in Canberra, Australia.

  • It "increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It's clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people," Fleming said.
  • "He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory."
  • Russian soldiers are "short of weapons and morale" and are "refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft," Fleming said.

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 big picture: Ukrainian officials said that Russian forces had intensified attacks on Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv over Wednesday through Thursday — despite earlier promises by Russian officials to scale back military operations near those cities in order to facilitate steps toward a peace deal.

  • Both U.S. and British intelligence officials believe Russian forces were repositioning, rather than withdrawing.
  • The U.K. Ministry of Defense noted in a Wednesday intelligence report that Russian units were reorganizing and resupplying in Russia and Belarus due to heavy losses.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context.

Go deeper