British spy chief invites Russians appalled by Ukraine war to help end the bloodshed

Sir Richard Moore said the UK would handle offers to co-operate with 'discretion and professionalism'

Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a mortar near the city of Bakhmut. Reuters
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The head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, has urged Russians angry at Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to spy for the UK.

In a speech in Prague on Wednesday, Sir Richard Moore said Britain's “door is always open” and it “will work to bring the bloodshed to an end”.

He offered reassurance that the UK would offer its "sacred trust" to protect them and said Russians were continuing to get in touch.

“Now is a time where we are seeing Russians who are totally appalled by what they are seeing done in their name in Ukraine. It’s a moment where people are looking to come and help us," Sir Richard said.

"What happens in Russia is down to Russia, but what they can do is help us to bring the bloodshed in Ukraine to an end by helping us to support the Ukrainians.

"It is our sacred trust to protect them and if we didn’t we would not be in business, and we are very much in business.

“We will handle their offers of help with the discretion and professionalism for which our service is famed. Their secrets will be safe with us.

“The truth is that people continue to come to us, and in doing so they take risk. We look after the people who come to us and work with us. Our successes are never known."

Two killed in Crimea bridge blast

Two killed in Crimea bridge blast

He said “many Russians are wrestling with the same dilemmas and the same tugs of conscience” as their predecessors did in 1968 when Soviet tanks crushed the uprising in Prague.

“I invite them to do what others have already done this past 18 months and join hands with us. Our door is always open,” Sir Richard said.

“There are many Russians today who are silently appalled by the sight of their armed forces pulverising Ukrainian cities, expelling innocent families from their homes and kidnapping thousands of children.

“They are watching in horror as their soldiers ravage a kindred country. They know in their hearts that Putin’s case for attacking a fellow Slavic nation is fraudulent, a miasma of lies and fantasy.”

He said he remained "very positive" Ukraine will succeed and said Mr Putin is “clearly under pressure”, as demonstrated by the recent revolt by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries.

“It is an extraordinary set of events. Prigozhin started as a traitor at breakfast, was pardoned by supper and then invited for tea," he said.

"Obviously we cannot talk about sources but we were not surprised when he made his move. When he finally blew his top it was not much of a surprise. It is a real indictment of how Russia cannot control the invasion and instability it has caused.

"Putin is clearly under pressure. Prigozhin was his creature, utterly created by Putin and he turned on him. He really didn’t fight back, he made a deal to save his skin."

Asked how far Mr Putin is prepared to go, given his references to nuclear weapons, Sir Richard said: “Even I can’t see inside Putin’s head, but … the only people who have been talking about escalation and nuclear weapons are Putin and a handful of henchmen around him.

“That is irresponsible, it’s reckless and it is designed to try and weaken our resolve in supporting Ukraine and it will not work.”

AI used to target Russia's weapons supply

He said that while artificial intelligence is being used to help target the Kremlin’s war machine, technology will never replace human agents.

“As AI trawls the ocean of open source, there will be ever greater value in landing, with a well-cast fly, the secrets that lie beyond the reach of its net,” he said.

Human agents “are never just passive collectors of information” and “sometimes they can influence decisions inside a government or terrorist group”.

But he said technology is moving “with startling speed”.

“My teams are now using AI to augment, but not replace, their own judgment about how people might act in various situations,” he said.

“They’re combining their skills with AI and bulk data to identify and disrupt the flow of weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.”

He said AI was set to play a significant role for the security service in the future.

"There is absolutely no doubt some of our adversaries will develop AI in cases that are dangerous, and that worries us, and it will be a significant part of our role to discover and disrupt people who wish to use it in this way," he said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is presently pushing for the UK to play a lead role in AI regulation.

Updated: July 19, 2023, 11:52 AM