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 Russia’s likely invasion plans on Twitter. It was a decision he says wasn’t easy, but he was convinced there was a need to get information out into the public domain.
“It’s important to get the truth out before the lies come,” he says.
He also defends the West’s decision to highlight Russia’s 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 Russia’s 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 Russia’s political and military class – and Gen Hockenhull says he is surprised Moscow has suffered all of these problems at the same time.
What happens next?
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 Ukraine’s 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.
The nuclear option
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”. Moscow is unlikely to use nuclear weapons imminently, Gen Hockenhull says
Russian military doctrine, unlike that of the West, includes the use of tactical, or battlefield, nuclear weapons for military operations.
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While he believes it is unlikely tactical nuclear weapons will be used imminently, he says it is something he will continue to watch.