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U.K.’s top spy: We have to win in Ukraine because China is watching like a hawk

Richard Moore of MI6 also said an estimate of 15,000 Russians killed so far is “conservative,” and that 400 Russian intel officers have been expelled from Western Europe.

In his first public interview on foreign soil, the chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service said Thursday that the West needs to "win" in Ukraine in part because the Chinese leadership is watching the war closely for lessons about how to achieve its goal of dominating Taiwan.

“This is one of the reasons why it is so essential that we tough it out on Ukraine … and we help the Ukrainians to win, or at least negotiate from a significant position of strength,” said Richard Moore, director of MI6, the United Kingdom’s foreign intelligence agency. “It’s because Xi Jinping is watching this like a hawk.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with CNN’s Jim Sciutto at the Aspen Security Forum, Moore added that Xi “underestimates U.S. resolve and power and that might lead him to miscalculate.” He said he does not believe war between China and the West is inevitable, but he said the West needs to make clear to Beijing the dire consequences that would come if it invaded Taiwan.

“Clearly we need to find ways of messaging with clarity and getting the sort of deterrence in place that’s necessary to avoid that kind of miscalculation,” he said. 


Richard Moore, the chief of MI6, speaks at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., on July 21, 2022.
Richard Moore, the chief of MI6, speaks at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., on July 21, 2022.NBC News

In appraising the state of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moore echoed CIA Director William Burns, who said at the same forum Wednesday that the Russian forces had made incremental progress seizing territory in the Donbas region, now that the conflict has settled into a grinding war of attrition.

But, he said, “I think they are about to run out of steam,” adding that he believes the Russian military “will have to pause in some way, and that will give the Ukrainians opportunities to strike back.”

Moore said an assessment by U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies that 15,000 Russians had been killed so far is “conservative.”

He added that it would behoove the Ukrainian military to start regaining territory now, because it “will be an important reminder to the rest of Europe that this is a winnable campaign … we are about to go into a pretty tough winter,” with Europe rationing heating fuel because of sanctions on Russia. “We’re in for a tough time.”

Moore noted that European governments have been cracking down on Russian spying. He said that about half the Russian intelligence officers under diplomatic cover in Europe — about 400 people — have been expelled.

“That has probably reduced their ability to do their business to spy for Russia in Europe by half,” he said. 

Moore said that his spy agency “has never had any illusions whatsoever about communist China,” adding that countering China has now eclipsed counterterrorism as its top mission priority.

On Iran, Moore said he does not believe Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is interested in rejoining the nuclear deal with the U.S. and others, echoing views expressed by American officials.

Moore, who studied in the U.S. and became a Chicago sports fan, called the cooperation between American and British intelligence the “most special of all elements of our relationship. It is an extraordinarily intimate, high trust relationship … and that keeps our two countries safe.”