The West is beating Russia at its own game

In modern warfare, winning the propaganda war can be just as important as achieving military success on the battleground in terms of shaping the ultimate outcome of a conflict. Which is why it has been so heartening to see our intelligence and military chiefs, normally so reticent about hogging the limelight, making sure that it is the West, and not Russia, that is dominating the narrative on the war in Ukraine.

Even before hostilities commenced the spooks were breaking cover, seeking to convince sceptics such as myself that, despite President Vladimir Putin’s claims to the contrary, the Kremlin was actively preparing to invade Russia’s southern neighbour.

And, in the five weeks since the invasion, there has been no let-up in the regular flow of information provided by our military and intelligence services. What’s more, they have furnished us with eye-catching details of Mr Putin’s inept handling of the war.

Consequently, the Kremlin’s attempts to persuade the outside world that Mr Putin’s “special military operation” is nothing more than an attempt to “denazify” Ukraine, and that the valiant Russians would be garlanded as liberators by a grateful nation, no longer have any credence. Convincing neutrals that President Zelensky, whose Jewish grandparents perished when the Nazis burned the family’s village, had somehow become a convert to the Nazi cause was always going to be tough ask.

The everyday flow of Western intelligence has also succeeded in providing an up-to-the-minute account of the grim reality of the conflict. We have heard of the appalling atrocities committed by Russian forces, which in some cases clearly constitute war crimes, and have been given details of Mr Putin’s inability to comprehend the disastrous ramifications of the invasion.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of Britain’s intelligence, cyber and security agency, revealed in a speech in Australia last week that Mr Putin’s advisers were “afraid to tell him the truth”, which meant Mr Putin had “overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.” The failures in Russian leadership, the damning indictment went on, had resulted in demoralised and undisciplined Russian soldiers refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

Sir Jeremy’s analysis is supported by a slew of intelligence reports from the US and Britain that portray a dysfunctional Kremlin desperately trying to exert its authority over a failing military campaign that is increasingly resorting to brutal measures, such as indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, to achieve its goals.

The spooks’ success in helping the outside world comprehend the reality of the Ukraine conflict is certainly a marked improvement on their public contribution to previous conflicts. Forty years ago, when I covered the dreary Ministry of Defence briefings on the Falklands campaign for the Telegraph, it was almost impossible to get Whitehall to provide an accurate picture of how the war was progressing.

Much has changed since then, not least the development that Russia, Iran and other hostile regimes now use fake news and cyber warfare to undermine the morale and political stability of their opponents.

Belatedly, the West has woken up to the importance of responding robustly to this threat. In Britain, for example, the formation of the Army’s new 77th Brigade has been specifically conceived to provide the military with the ability to thwart Russian cyber attacks, as well as their attempts to present a false narrative on the Ukraine conflict.

Judging by their performance to date, we are not only playing the Russians at their own game, we are winning. 

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