GCHQ spy chief in warning to China over Ukraine invasion

The head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency is warning China not to become “too closely aligned” with Russia as it continues to pursue its path of aggression against Ukraine.

In a rare public address during a visit to Australia, Sir Jeremy Fleming will say President Vladimir Putin has made a “strategic miscalculation” over his assault on his neighbour.

And he will say that China’s long-term interests are not well served by an alliance with a country that “wilfully and illegally” ignores the international “rules of the road”.

His intervention comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week directly confronted President Xi Jinping over Beijing’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine in what was described as a “frank and candid” discussion.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, it regards China in the current crisis as a supplier of weapons, a provider of technology, a market for its oil and gas and a means to circumvent sanctions.

However, Sir Jeremy will say President Xi – who has not publicly condemned the invasion – has a “more nuanced” view of the relationship.

With “an eye on retaking Taiwan”, he would not want to do anything which might constrain his actions in future, while he may calculate that it actually helps him oppose the US.

At the same time, Beijing is taking the opportunity to purchase cheap Russian hydrocarbons while Moscow provides additional impetus and support to its digital markets and technology plans.

Sir Jeremy will however argue that there are risks for both sides – but particularly China – in becoming “too closely aligned”.

“Russia understands that, long term, China will become increasingly strong militarily and economically. Some of their interests conflict; Russia could be squeezed out of the equation,” he will say.

“And it is equally clear that a China that wants to set the rules of the road – the norms for a new global governance – is not well served by close alliance with a regime that wilfully and illegally ignores them all.”

The GCHQ building in Cheltenham
The GCHQ building in Cheltenham (GCHQ/PA)

He will say there is the potential for a spillover into neighbouring countries, suggesting Russia’s “cyber actors” are looking for targets in states that oppose their actions.

Nevertheless, he will say, it is increasingly clear that Mr Putin has “massively misjudged” the situation in Ukraine, from the impact of sanctions to the strength of the resistance and the ability of his forces to deliver 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,” he will say.

“And even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.

“It all adds up to the strategic miscalculation that Western leaders warned Putin it would be. It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and, increasingly, by ordinary Russians too.”

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