MI6 chief Richard Moore says 'no amount of disinformation can disguise' Putin's plot

UK security establishment using Twitter as a tool in real time to push back against Russia

No 10 Downing Street in London is lit up in the colours of blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine after the Russian invasion. EPA
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MI6 chief Richard Moore has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that “no amount of disinformation” will be able to disguise the fact his attack on Ukraine was “unprovoked and long-planned”, as British intelligence had exposed his plot well in advance.

The head of the UK’s secret intelligence service said experts had worked with their counterparts in the US to reveal Mr Putin's plans during the build-up to his invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian leader’s determination to assassinate Ukrainian politicians and stage “false-flag” operations to justify an invasion had been laid bare for the world to see, Mr Moore said.

On Thursday, Russia declared war on Ukraine, after its leaders had for months denied that an invasion was being planned.

Ben Wallace, the UK’s Defence Secretary, said on Friday the Russian army had failed to make progress on any of its objectives on day one of the invasion, and is “behind its hopeful timetable”.

He also claimed Russia had suffered heavy casualties in the first day of the military operation, losing 450 personnel.

“Glory to Ukraine!” Mr Moore tweeted. “US and UK intelligence communities uncovered Putin’s plans for Ukraine.

“We exposed his attempts to engineer ‘false flag’, fake attacks to justify his invasion. We revealed his plans to assassinate Ukrainian leaders and senior officials.

“This attack was long planned, unprovoked, cruel aggression. No amount of Russian disinformation will now disguise that fact from the international community.”

Ukraine has said more than 60 Russian-battalion tactical groups were on Ukrainian territory on the first day of the invasion.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said on Thursday night that there were continuing clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian soldiers along the Line of Contact in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine.

Officials believe there had been “no breakthrough by Russian forces” trying to make their way deeper into Ukrainian territory. The ministry took to Twitter as well to make its information known.

Ukraine forces were resisting the Russian offence and it was unlikely that Russia had achieved its first-day objectives.

The ministry said a fleet of Russian warships had entered Ukrainian waters in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Russia has suspended civilian shipping in the Sea of Azov, “likely in preparation for a full blockade”.

“We have seen no evidence to corroborate reporting of an amphibious landing in Odessa,” the ministry said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the resistance the Ukrainian troops were showing during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday morning.

Their conversation came after Mr Zelenskyy publicly rebuked Nato and European leaders for being “afraid” to admit Ukraine to the military alliance.

Britain, the US and the EU have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion. But Kiev wants guarantees that it will be allowed to join Nato.

“Today, I asked the 27 leaders of Europe whether Ukraine will be in Nato. I asked directly. Everyone is afraid, does not answer.”

Mr Zelenskyy said Ukraine "needs the support of partners more than ever", adding: "We demand effective counteraction to the Russian Federation. Sanctions must be further strengthened."

Mr Johnson assured Mr Zelenskyy that "the world is united in its horror at what Putin is doing" and praised the "bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people", No 10 said.

"The Prime Minister committed to provide further UK support to Ukraine in the coming days as the people of Ukraine and the world continue to demonstrate that Putin cannot act with impunity," a statement added.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said just before 4am on Friday that "horrific rocket strikes" had hit Kiev in an attack he compared to the city's 1941 shelling by Nazi Germany.

Mr Zelenskyy said "subversive groups" were encroaching on the capital, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kiev "could well be under siege".

US officials believe the action is an attempt by Mr Putin to dismantle Ukraine's government and replace it with his own puppet regime.

Speaking on Friday morning, Britain’s defence chief suggested the invasion had not gone as planned for the Russians on their first day.

“The Russian army has failed to deliver on day one its main objective,” Mr Wallace told Sky News.

However, Russia has captured key sites, including the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. No staff were wounded in the capture.

Mr Wallace said he would expect Mr Putin to be “held to account” if he committed a war crime.

“If President Putin commits a war crime, then, just as I do if I were to commit a war crime, I should expect to be held to account,” he said.

A man takes pictures of a damaged residential building in Kiev, where a military shell allegedly hit, on Thursday. AFP

Asked if Mr Putin’s actions already constituted a war crime, he said: “I’m not, I’m afraid, an international lawyer. I couldn’t tell you the difference between breaking international law insofar as directing your forces to invade another country, versus a war crime — for example, things like genocide, and indeed, you know, torture, etc.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate [on] the differences. What I would say is he has clearly broken international law, he is occupying or trying to occupy a sovereign country [that] made one mistake in his eyes. Their mistake in his eyes was not to choose the Kremlin as a way for their future. And that’s all they have done.”

Mr Blinken has warned President Putin may not stop at Ukraine and could send troops into Poland.

Mr Blinken’s comments came after a report suggested Russia had massed troops and military equipment on the Belarusian-Polish border

“Is it a possibility that Putin goes beyond Ukraine? Sure, it is a possibility,” Blinken told ABC News host David Muir.

Jack Detsch, a Pentagon and national security correspondent at Foreign Policy magazine, described how Russia had “assembled troops, armour, artillery and more than 50 heavy equipment transporters at a training area in Brest”, in Belarus, near the Polish border.

He said Mr Putin had “also added more equipment at a nearby rail yard in Belarus”.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 10:26 AM