The head of the British armed forces has said Russian president Vladimir Putin has already lost his war in Ukraine after making “catastrophic misjudgments”.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defense Staff, said: “The scenes coming out of Mariupol and elsewhere are horrific, and the coming weeks will continue to be very difficult.
“But in many ways, Putin has already lost. Far from being the far-sighted manipulator of events that he would have us believe, Putin has damaged himself through a series of catastrophic misjudgments.”
US and European officials said on Wednesday that Mr Putin had been misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the conflict was going or how badly Western sanctions had hit Russia.
“Like all authoritarians, he allowed himself to be misled as to his own strength, including the effectiveness of the Russian armed forces,” the Chief of the Defense Staff said.
Admiral Radakin was speaking as Red Cross rescuers headed to besieged Mariupol to try to save some of the thousands of people left cold and starving there.
He told an event hosted by the Institute for Government think tank: “And lastly, he has failed to anticipate the unity and cohesion that exists among the free nations of the world, here in Europe and obviously far beyond.
“His actions to date have done more to galvanize than divide and have shown Ukraine to have the one thing Russia conspicuously lacks – real friends.
“What is very clear is that Putin is a weaker and more diminished figure today than he was a month ago, and conversely Nato is stronger and more united today than at any time I can remember.”
Russia’s neighbor Finland appears to be moving closer to joining the military alliance. Finnish support for Nato membership emerged to a record high on Monday, according to a survey.
Admiral Radakin said Mr Putin’s ambitions to take Ukraine swiftly had fallen apart and that there were early indications that Russian forces were retreating, making the military open to attack from Ukrainian defenders.
He added: “It looks now that less emphasis is being placed on Kyiv and more emphasis is being placed on the east and the south.
“We are starting to see the early indications of those forces being moved back from Kyiv and retreating to both Russia and Belarus.
“That in itself is a difficult evolution for Russia because they are doing that under contact, so Ukraine armed forces will attack those Russian forces as they retreat.”
However, his analysis differs from that of Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, who warned on Thursday that Russian forces were not withdrawing but regrouping.
Admiral Radakin branded the decision by the military not to tell members of its armed forces that they would be invading Ukraine “insane”.
He said: “And then you get up to their most senior commanders, who are clearly under pressure because Russia has made this catastrophic mistake, and then the way it has prosecuted the invasion looks to us like it has been very poorly conducted, and there is pressure on Russia’s military. But how substantial that is and whether or not that evolves into something more impactful, we are going to have to wait and see.”
At the same time, Oleksandr Gruzevich, the deputy chief of staff of Ukraine’s ground forces said Russian forces around Kyiv had lost their offensive capacity and were changing tactics to favor long-range attacks more than direct fighting.