The news comes as Russian police launched a murder investigation after a military commissar in charge of enlistment for Vladimir Putin’s chaotic mobilisation campaign was found dead near his home.
But tonight senior sources in Crimea warned that Russia remained uncowed, and was preparing to authorise the use of chemical weapons as part of a new offensive which will coincide with November’s G20 summit in Bali.
A female FSB intelligence officer with operational information of Russian troops movements and a high ranking mercenary with the Putin-supporting Wagner paramilitary group are now said to have reached safe exile in France, where they have sought political asylum.
Evidence from the two defectors will both help to build up the dossier of war crimes against Vladimir Putin’s war machine and help Ukrainian forces in their counter-offensive in Donbas, said Russian human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin who revealed the defections.
The female intelligence officer has reportedly brought “serious insider information” relating to the invasion of Ukraine, counterintelligence and the Defence Ministry, while also revealing details of “corruption schemes of the FSB” – the Russian counterintelligence agency once headed by Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, the Wagner official has revealed details of the secret financing of the private army, which has recently recruited hundreds of convicted criminals still serving prison terms as part of a desperate move to bolster its ranks in Ukraine.
He also gave details of sabotage work by Wagner units in the Donbas, and confirmed Western suspicions that the organisation – led by multimillionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s chef”. is connected operationally and financially to Russia’s GRU military intelligence directorate.
Both sought asylum at the same time and had travelled in adjacent rows on the same plane, but were initially suspicious of each other, said Osechkin, 41, who last month was the subject of an FSB-linked assassination bid in France.
He added: “Both these people will testify about war crimes. I hope they will have the opportunity to cooperate with the international investigation and testify against Yevgeny Prigozhin and other persons in the Putin regime.”
In the meantime, Russian police have launched a murder investigation after the body of military commissar Lt-Col Roman Malyk, 49, was found near the fence of his home in a village in the Primorsky region of Russia.
Despite reports that he was found hanged, relatives of the married father-of-two -a veteran of Russia’s war in Chechnya – strongly denied he killed himself.
However, his death follows a series of attacks against recruiters for Putin’s unpopular mobilisation programme, with more than 70 offices hit with Molotov cocktails.
Armed snatch-gangs backed by police, reminiscent of the 18th Century press gangs employed by the Royal Navy, have been operating in Russian cities, grabbing men on underground trains, on the street, and in offices.
Speaking at a summit if Kazakhstan, the Russian premier said the call-up would be over within two weeks and there were no plans for a further mobilisation, though he remains 80,000 conscripts short of his 300,000 target
Senior military sources in Crimea said that Russia was on track to launch its own offensive next month, which would “reverse” recent Ukrainian gains.
Putin suffered one of his most humiliating actions by Ukrainian forces last week after a kamikaze drone destroyed parts of the 12-mile Kerch Strait bridge linking the peninsula to the mainland and a crucial supply route for the Russian forces who have taken control of most of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region.
The £3.3bn bridge, opened with fanfare in 2017 three years after Russia annexed Crimea, will not be completely repaired until July.
Fury over the attack caused Moscow to launch a barrage of deadly missile strikes against Kyiv and other Ukrainians cities.
A statement by Putin that Russia has no need to embark on fresh missile strikes was taken by Western officials to mean that he has temporarily deepened missile stocks.
But last night a recently-retired Russian admiral in Crimea, who still has close links with the Kremlin , warned that Moscow was preparing to unleash more sinister and deadly reprisals.
The admiral, who did not wish to be named, conceded there was “much anger” over last week’s brazen attack which “had been anticipated but not efficiently defended against”, but said that criticism was being directed towards Nato, and not Putin himself.
He added: “The West is embroiled in the fantasy that we will launch nuclear missiles. This is fantasy, and will only happen if the motherland is itself directly threatened by nuclear missiles.
“But Russian troops are preparing for their own offensive next month. And I have been told that the use of chemical weapons is being actively discussed. And some are suggesting it should be timed to happen during the G20 summit.
“We have used chemical weapons before, in Syria, and we all now know that supposed Nato red lines mean very little in practical terms.
“That is the thinking in the Kremlin today.”