Tag Archives: ГРУ

Spies, Spetsnaz, and Snipers

In Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer on 10 February, Aleksey Mikhaylov gives us details on the career of new GRU Chief General-Lieutenant Igor Korobov, and perspective on issues he needs to resolve for GRU Spetsnaz forces.

Mikhaylov writes that Korobov’s appointment continues a tradition from the end of the 1990s:  the first deputy chief for strategic [agent] intelligence becomes the new head of the GRU.  His immediate predecessors — the late Igor Sergun and Aleksandr Shlyakhturov — were both “strat guys.”

As for Korobov, he matriculated at the Stavropol Higher Air Defense Aviation School in 1973 (making him about 61).  Graduating with distinction in 1977, the new lieutenant headed north to serve at Talagi airfield near Arkhangelsk in the 518th Interceptor Regiment — part of the 10th Independent Air Defense Army.

Korobov’s regiment flew large, long-range Tu-128 / Fiddler interceptors with the mission of engaging U.S. B-52 bombers in the Arctic.

Tu-128 Fiddler

Tu-128 / Fiddler

In 1981, according to Mikhaylov, Korobov was accepted into the Military-Diplomatic Academy — the GRU’s training ground.

It’s worth noting that bmpd.livejournal.com ran a lengthy item on 7 February with several photos from Korobov’s days in Stavropol and Talagi.  It adds that he served in the 2nd squadron of his regiment.  

In 1980, a “buyer” arrived from Moscow to talk to the regimental commander and review files of young officers.  He picked two candidates — Viktor Anokhin and Korobov.  Anokhin demurred because he wanted to fly, but Korobov accepted.  The former went on to become a two-star in the Air Forces.  The latter began his career in the GRU.

All this explains how Korobov came to have blue piping on his dress jacket and epaulettes.

But back to Mikhaylov . . . .  The GRU, he writes, is associated primarily with “illegals” and “foreign residencies” which acquire information on the latest developments in the military-industrial complex of the “probable enemy,” the deployment and armament of his forces, and “nuclear secrets.”  It also has directorates specializing in electronic and space reconnaissance, cryptanalysis, etc.

He continues:

“At the same time, the GRU also answers for the deployment and TO&E structure of army reconnaissance sub-units subordinate to the reconnaissance directorate of the Ground Troops.”

“After special designation [Spetsnaz] brigades that transferred to the Main Command of the Ground Troops during the transition to the new profile [under former Defense Minister Serdyukov] returned to the GRU, the Command of Special Operations Forces [SSO] also went into the structure of the directorate [GRU], according to some reports.  So besides strategic, electronic, and space intelligence, the head of the GRU and his subordinates have to work with Spetsnaz units and sub-units, and SSO Centers, and participate in the reorganization of the reconnaissance elements of the Ground Troops, Navy, and VDV.”

Mikhaylov asked Spetsnaz officers about the problems of their branch, and ways to solve them.  The majority, he writes, think the Spetsnaz still suffer from reforms instituted by Serdyukov.  Its commanders know how to lead, but not necessarily how to conduct reconnaissance operations.

Experienced Spetsnaz commanders lost in Serdyukov’s time have been replaced by officers who don’t understand reconnaissance, according to Mikhaylov’s interlocutors.  They call for better cooperation between the GRU and Main Command.

At present, in Ground Troops brigades, force reconnaissance sub-units are being established — companies in reconnaissance battalions of combined arms brigades and Spetsnaz battalions in army reconnaissance brigades.  But it’s not just structure, but also the particulars of employing these new Spetsnaz sub-units that need to be developed, Mikhaylov writes.

Several of his sources say Spetsnaz units and sub-units have become too numerous, at the expense of electronic reconnaissance.

Mikhaylov adds that Spetsnaz operations in the enemy’s rear areas require aviation assets, helicopters in particular.  But it’s unclear who will provide this air support. Other officers, however, contend that modern specialized armored vehicles like the Tigr are sufficient for most operations in which Russian forces are likely to find themselves.  But reconnaissance battalions and brigades need more UAVs, and greater numbers of advanced electronic reconnaissance systems, another Ground Troops officer told Mikhaylov.

Combined arms reconnaissance has one more headache — recently formed sniper companies for which the brigade’s chief of reconnaissance is responsible.  One sniper officer told Mikhaylov that these companies already exist though without guidance, regulations, or combat training plans.

In conclusion, Mikhaylov concedes that new GRU Chief Korobov won’t have to deal with these problems personally, but his subordinates will.

This all becomes even more interesting if you consider that the GRU, SSO, and army reconnaissance Mikhaylov describes have probably deployed on battlefields in Ukraine and Syria without sorting out their unresolved organizational and operational issues first.

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So It’s Korobov

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry announced that General-Lieutenant Igor Valentinovich Korobov (KOR-uh-buv) is the new chief of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.

General-Lieutenant Igor Korobov

General-Lieutenant Igor Korobov

Mil.ru carried a sparse press release.

News agencies didn’t have much beyond that.  But TASS provided an official photo of Defense Minister Shoygu and Korobov with the GRU standard.

Shoygu and Korobov

Shoygu and Korobov

It’s clear General-Lieutenant Korobov is no spring chicken.  He’s experienced.  And he’s a career (кадровый) intelligence officer.

We don’t know how long he will head the GRU or when the next transition will occur.  Few can say what (if any) difference it makes who’s in charge.  Fears an outsider from a rival “power” ministry or intelligence service would take over the GRU were apparently exaggerated.

TASS, and a couple other press services, carried one additional note.  They reported Korobov was previously first deputy chief, or second-in-command, of the GRU and chief of strategic intelligence.

The chief of strategic intelligence is in charge of collection, fusion, and reporting of intelligence on military threats to the security and survival of the Russian Federation.  But it’s like one word is so implicit, or regarded as so secret, that it’s left out — agent.  Chief of strategic agent intelligence.

So Korobov managed all GRU human intelligence (HUMINT) collection resources, except its most critical and productive “illegals” and their agents which the Chief of the GRU personally controls, according to Viktor Suvorov (Vladimir Rezun).

While it has capable technical intelligence-gathering means, the GRU relies on HUMINT.  It is focused on information collected from agent operations abroad.  That’s its tradition and its forte.

At its best, Soviet / Russian HUMINT means GRU “illegal” Richard Sorge practically handing Stalin the date of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR months before Operation Barbarossa began.  At its worst, Stalin, for whatever reason, ignoring Sorge’s information.

At its best, it means the USSR defeating the U.S. in just one facet of the Cold War — espionage.  At its worst, GRU officers in the 1990s inventing agents and reports to satisfy their bosses.

We may not learn much about General-Lieutenant Korobov, and it really doesn’t matter.  There’s a new first deputy chief of the GRU and chief of strategic agent intelligence reporting to Korobov now.  Just another turn of the personnel wheel.

What matters more is what it says about Russian intelligence culture.  The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry have never abandoned Soviet (perhaps historically Russian) paranoid mirror-imaging about their enemies.  They believe their enemies have secret diabolical plans to destroy them because they have such plans for their enemies.  Of course, these plans are so secret that no satellite could ever photograph, detect, or eavesdrop on them.  They can only be discovered by human agents, hence the HUMINT emphasis.

Failure to ferret out these hostile plans doesn’t mean they don’t exist; it only means the officers in charge have failed.

And whatever information agents deliver to their handlers, and handlers send back to headquarters, and headquarters prepares and presents to the leadership better fit the latter’s predilections.  Headquarters probably wouldn’t even put forward a story that didn’t track with the leadership’s mindset.

Still Awaiting New GRU Chief

On 13 January, Kommersant’s Ivan Safronov wrote that late GRU Chief General-Colonel Igor Sergun’s successor will be one of the military intelligence directorate’s current deputy chiefs:  Vyacheslav Kondrashov, Sergey Gizunov, Igor Lelin, or Igor Korobov.

General-Lieutenant Vyacheslav Viktorovich Kondrashov reportedly headed a Russian delegation that went to Cairo on an arms sales mission in late 2013.  He is likely a Middle East specialist and Arabic linguist.  He’s an old hand at the GRU headquarters.  It looks like he put on his first star over 20 years ago.  He seems like a timely choice from the GRU’s perspective, but he might not serve much longer.

Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov is probably a computer expert or mathematician from the GRU SIGINT apparatus.  He was chief of the Moscow-based 85th Main Center of Special Service which deciphers foreign military communications.  He’d be an unusual pick for an intelligence service that likes experienced field operators at the top.

General-Major (???) Igor Viktorovich Lelin was Russian military attache to Estonia and served for a time as deputy chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Personnel Directorate (GUK).  He only returned to the GRU in 2014.  Lelin doesn’t seem to have much to recommend him, at least based on what little is known of his background.

Igor Korobov seems to have no information in the public domain.  Safronov’s sources call him a “serious person” and the most probable candidate to take Sergun’s chair.  Although it’s ironic, one has to agree that the lack of data on Korobov makes it utterly impossible to dismiss him as a strong possibility.

According to Safronov, the GRU bureaucracy feared having an outside chief (from the FSO or SVR) imposed upon it following Sergun’s untimely death from a heart attack in the Moscow suburbs on 3 January.  Speculation focused on one former presidential bodyguard named Aleksey Dyumin who quickly turned up as a deputy minister of defense.  So the worry may have passed.  The Genshtab and Defense Ministry now believe the PA will settle on an insider to keep continuity in this important agency.

Ten days ago an ukaz indicating President Putin’s choice was expected “soon,” but no sign of it yet.

Safronov makes the point that the GRU has been busy because of Russia’s operation in Syria.  Its IMINT and SIGINT systems, not to mention its human agent networks, have been working overtime to support Russian military and political decisionmakers.  The GRU also played a critical part in Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Just as post-script, we’ve seen in the last day the Financial Times report that Sergun visited Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to relay Putin’s request that he consider stepping down.  Of course, the Kremlin denied it, but remember Putin said earlier this month that giving Bashar asylum would be easier than Edward Snowden.