The head of the United Kingdom’s GCHQ intelligence service said that disgruntled Russian troops have engaged in self-sabotage while invading Ukraine, and have accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft.
During a speech at the Australian National University on Thursday, GCHQ Chief Jeremy Fleming said, “It’s clear [Russian President Vladimir Putin’ misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed 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,” Fleming added.
On Feb. 26, two days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine shared a Facebook post describing an alleged Russian friendly fire incident in the Black Sea. The post read, “In the waters of the Black Sea, the ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet ‘friendly fire’ destroyed its military aircraft.”
It was not immediately clear if Fleming was referring to this alleged Russian friendly fire incident or yet another incident during his Thursday remarks.
Fleming also told his audience Russia is now turning to foreign fighters and mercenary forces, including the Wagner Group, to augment his invasion forces.
“These soldiers are likely to be used as cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses,” Fleming said.
Fleming’s comments are also not the first time western sources and officials have described low morale among Russia’s invasion forces.
A video posted by a Russian soldier earlier this month reportedly showed dozens of Russian soldiers sheltering in an empty storehouse. The soldier claimed he and others complained that their commanders told them they were simply being deployed to military “exercises” and that once they were actually in Ukraine, they were being used as “cannon fodder.” The soldier said he and others were being forced to sign documents retroactively firing them so that the Russian military could deny they were ever sent into battle.
Last week, a Ukrainian journalist claimed a Russian soldier deliberately ran over his commander with a tank after blaming the commander for costing his friends’ lives. Other news editors and publications, citing Western intelligence officials, also reported a Russian soldier deliberately ran over his commander.
The alleged morale problems among Russia’s invasion forces may be due in part to difficulties keeping up with the flow of supplies into Ukraine. During an official background press call last week, a U.S. military official also said the U.S. has assessed Russian troops are suffering from frostbite “because they lack the appropriate cold-weather gear for the environment that they’re in,” and lack food and fuel and personal equipment for some of their troops.