Ukraine war: Predicting Russias next step in Ukraine

- BBC News

Ukraine war: Predicting Russias next step in Ukraine

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is likely to achieve any decisive military action in Ukraine this year, the UKs head of military intelligence has told the BBC.

Speaking in a rare public interview, Lt Gen Sir Jim Hockenhull also said he had been keeping a very close eye on Russias potential use of nuclear weapons.

On 23 February this year, Gen Hockenhull had been working late into the night. He cycled home at midnight, and went to bed at about 01:00.

He got a phone call an hour later saying there had been some odd indicators of activity on the Ukrainian border, so he got back on his bicycle and returned to work.

The confirmation came that Russia had indeed invaded its neighbour.

Minutes later, and still in the early hours of the morning, he was briefing Britains prime minister and defence secretary on the beginning of Europes biggest armed conflict since World War Two.

As the chief of Defence Intelligence for the past four years, Gen Hockenhull works in the shadows, running an organisation that deals with highly classified and secret information. The war in Ukraine has made its work and his job more important.

He says he became increasingly convinced that Russia was about to launch its invasion in November last year. That was when he thought "this is going to happen", he recalls.

The week before the invasion, he took the highly unusual decision of publishing a map predicting Russias likely invasion plans on Twitter. It was a decision he says wasnt easy, but he was convinced there was a need to get information out into the public domain.

"Its important to get the truth out before the lies come," he says.

He also defends the Wests decision to highlight Russias potential to use chemical and biological weapons.

He believes it helped stop them from conducting so-called false flag operations to try and portray the Ukrainians or the West as being the instigators of the conflict.

Rarely has so much classified intelligence been shared with the public. Defence Intelligence has since been publishing daily updates throughout the war.

Intelligence is not a science - predictions are made on a scale of probabilities, and there are a number of things that have surprised UK defence intelligence.

Gen Hockenhull says the strength of Western unity and Ukrainian resistance have surpassed expectations.

So have the failures of Russias military, whose command, control and logistics have been "poor", he suggests. It has also suffered from political interference, from the strategic to the tactical level, he adds.

There has been a lack of trust between Russias political and military class - and Gen Hockenhull says he is surprised Moscow has suffered all of these problems at the same time.

We should be wary of thinking in binary terms - that people are winning or losing - or thinking it is a stalemate, says Gen Hockenhull.

Russia, he says, is clearly trying to generate more forces after suffering significant losses.

It is also having to redeploy some of its troops from the Donbas to the south, where he says it is under significant pressure from Ukrainian forces in and around Kherson.

But Gen Hockenhull still says it is unrealistic to expect a decisive shift in the south in the coming months.

He says he understands Ukraines desire to retake territory, but adds that while there will be counter-attacks and counter-offensives, he does not believe there will be decisive action taken this year by either side.

His expectation is for a long conflict.

This raises another question - what will President Vladimir Putin do if he continues to struggle to meet his military objectives? Could he resort to the use of nuclear weapons?

Gen Hockenhull says this is watched "very, very closely".

Russian military doctrine, unlike that of the West, includes the use of tactical, or battlefield, nuclear weapons for military operations.

While he believes it is unlikely tactical nuclear weapons will be used imminently, he says it is something he will continue to watch.

The likelihood of their being used may change if the battlefield dynamic shifts, he explains.

After four years as chief of Defence Intelligence, Gen Hockenhull is now moving on to head up UK defences Strategic Command - which includes overseeing the UKs activities in space, in cyber and the use of special forces.

He still sees Russia as the greatest threat, but hes also increasingly concerned about China.

Beijing has been flexing its military muscle over Taiwan in recent weeks.

Gen Hockenhull says it would be inappropriate of him to not consider an "incredible military modernisation with a country determined to resolve a political issue" a problem.

The work of British military intelligence is not going to get any easier.

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