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Russians awakening to cost of Putin’s invasion, says UK spy chief

Ordinary Russians are increasingly counting the cost of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and can see ever more clearly “how badly Putin has misjudged the situation”, according to a senior British spy chief.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, head of British cyber intelligence unit GCHQ, called Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine a “high-stakes strategy” where “the costs to Russia — in people and equipment — are staggering” and the “Russian population has started to understand that”.

“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,” Fleming said.

The Russian population is, meanwhile, “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 [Putin’s] war of choice,” Fleming added.

According to an independent survey by Russian polling organisation the Levada Center, almost half of polled Russians are anxious about mobilisation although support for Russia’s military actions remains high. The poll was published on September 1.

Fleming’s remarks come after Russia launched a series of missiles attacks on Ukrainian cities which Putin said was retaliation for the explosion over the weekend that collapsed part of the Kerch bridge connecting Russia and the occupied Crimean peninsula

His comments form part of a longer speech he is due to make on Tuesday to the Royal United Services Institute think tank, in which the spy chief will also lay out the technological threat posed by China.

Fleming, who has described security threat posed by Russia as affecting the weather while China’s affects the climate, said Beijing’s rising technological prowess meant western nations faced what he called a “sliding doors moment in history” that “will define our future”.

The two countries have described their relationship as being “without limits”, and Fleming said that among the lessons Beijing is learning from the war in Ukraine is that a centralised digital currency could “enable China to partially evade the sort of international sanctions currently being applied to Putin’s regime in Russia”.

The Chinese Communist party, he said, was seeking to use key technologies like digital currencies and satellite systems to tighten its grip on power at home and spread influence abroad by shaping the global tech ecosystem.

Central bank digital currencies could allow the state to monitor the transactions of its users, both abroad and at home, Fleming said.

China may also use its Beidou satellite navigation system, which Beijing has developed as an alternative platform to Europe’s Galileo and the US’s GPS satellite systems and has forced “Chinese citizens and businesses to adopt”, could also be used to deny other nations access to space in the event of a conflict.

China is seeking to create “client economies and governments” by exporting its technology around the world, Fleming said, and countries that take up Beijing’s offer, which is often packaged into broader commercial deals and aid packages, risk “mortgaging the future”.

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