Tag Archives: GRU

GRU Deputies

Deputy (or First Deputy?) Chief of the GRU Vice-Admiral Igor Olegovich Kostyukov surfaced to give a speech on Asian regional security at the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security (April 4-5).

Habitually fearing to say intelligence, most Russian media attributed him to a “main directorate of the RF Armed Forces General Staff.”

His speech boiled down to an anti-American diatribe against U.S. policy and alliances in Asia. There’s a Mil.ru wrapup as well as a transcript on the MCIS site.

Kostyukov criticized not just the U.S. but the Trump administration specifically for using any means, including military ones, to preserve its hegemony in international affairs, and expand its foreign trade and control of world markets.

He sounded quite the Soviet ideologist, or perhaps the ideology hasn’t changed. Does the U.S. really control world markets now?

The GRU admiral said recent U.S. policy documents don’t hesitate to declare that America will rely more on military power to stem international trends it doesn’t like. Its penchant for seeking “peace through strength” leads to military conflict, and:

“This contradicts the views of many states, including the Russian Federation, which will not accept diktat and are for a just world order, equal rights and partnership between countries, the collective search for solutions to ensure security and preserve peace.”

“The Russian Federation is convinced that the only effective means of ensuring regional security is political dialogue and taking each other’s interest into account.”

One supposes Russian actions in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria don’t count. They must have come from a different page of the Kremlin playbook.

Still, there’s no doubt his views resonated with some countries willing to attend MCIS.

But the true intent here is to catch up on the GRU leadership lineup.

The MOD refers to Vice-Admiral Kostyukov as a deputy to GRU Chief General-Colonel Igor Valentinovich Korobov. But Russian press sources often report him as a first deputy.

It’s interesting that the MOD trotted Kostyukov out. The U.S. has sanctioned him for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine and for interference in America’s electoral process. He was a military attaché to Greece as an O-6 in the early 2000s. Otherwise he’s little known. His name didn’t pop as a contender before General-Colonel Korobov became GRU Chief. It’s not even clear when Kostyukov appeared in the GRU leadership.

A similarly sanctioned Russian officer, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseyev, reportedly became a First Deputy Chief of the GRU in 2011. [Only in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation has it been common to have two or three first deputies of this or that.] Commissioned as a VDV officer, Alekseyev served as chief of intelligence for the old Moscow and Far East Military Districts before coming to headquarters to lead the 14th (Spetsnaz) Directorate, according to Moskovskiy komsomolets.

Neither Kostyukov nor Alekseyev was really known prior to U.S. sanctions in late 2016. See Vedomosti for reference.

They weren’t part of the equation as possible successors to the late General-Colonel Sergun in January 2016. At the time, only Korobov, and deputy chiefs Vyacheslav Viktorovich Kondrashov (a general-lieutenant and deputy since 2011) Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov (rank unclear and a deputy since 2015), and Igor Viktorovich Lelin (a general-lieutenant and deputy since 2014) seemed to be contenders.

Information on these three can be found in this old post.

This source notes that Gizunov headed the “operational group” that successfully identified the “Anonymous International” or “Shaltay-Boltay” hackers, including two FSB computer security experts, who stole and published embarrassing documents and emails from Russian government officials. Gizunov’s often listed just as general. The lack of a specific rank raises some questions about his exact status.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s unlikely all GRU deputies have been identified above. 

We have an assortment of deputies and first deputies including officers who served in legal GRU residencies abroad or in troop reconnaissance and Spetsnaz or in cryptography and information security. It seems we’re missing that first deputy for strategic agent intelligence about whom nothing is known publicly. That general who personally controls the operations of the GRU’s illegal residencies and most important agents in foreign countries.

The last three GRU chiefs — Korobov, Sergun, and Shlyakhturov — each served in that capacity. Another turnover is never far away. Korobov looks tired and old, and he’ll turn 62 on August 3.

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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.

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.

Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man

Last week KZ ran a piece titled “Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man.”  Easy to overlook, it turned out to be about the Black Sea Fleet’s new 127th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The article informs us that the brigade was formed after last year’s invasion.  It has the latest and greatest in weapons and equipment, including mobile EW and ELINT systems and Orlan and Leyer UAVs.  But its men, the article says, are the main thing.

The new brigade is 100 percent contract-manned, according to the article, but it is less than clear on the point.  Is it fully manned and all personnel are contractees or is it less than 100 percent manned but men on-hand are all contractees?  The article offers no other information on the brigade’s TO&E.

KZ notes that the commander and sub-unit commanders have combat experience and medals.  Colonel Aleksandr Beglyakov commands the 127th.  But there’s precious little about him.  What looks like a fragment of an Odnoklassniki profile appears below.

Beglyakov's Odnoklassniki Profile?

Beglyakov’s Odnoklassniki Profile?

If it’s him, he’s young at 37, but not exceptionally so for a Russian O-6.  He attended the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School — cradle of Russian Army reconnaissance men.  He’s completed his mid-career school — VUNTs SV “Combined Arms Academy of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”

The brigade’s recon men appear to be organized into groups like GRU Spetsnaz. At least one sergeant came from an independent Spetsnaz regiment in Stavropol. He says we are the “most polite” of all “polite people.” We come quietly, fulfill our mission, and leave quietly, according to him.

The KZ author describes another soldier as a “fifth generation reconnaissance man” — physically strong, equally skilled with weapons and modern digital systems.

This article brings us to the independent reconnaissance brigade, the ORBr — what it is, its origin, and what its future will be.

The first modern Russian Army ORBr, the 100th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade, is based in Mozdok.  It was formed in 2009 under former defense minister Serdyukov and was branded “experimental.”  There have been reports it would disband, but it apparently hasn’t.

One apparently knowledgeable observer shared this description:

“The 100th Experimental Independent Reconnaissance Brigade (Mozdok, North Ossetia) was formed in the summer of 2009 on the basis of the 85th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment [ooSpN] of the 10th Independent Spetsnaz Brigade:”

“command, air-assault battalion, reconnaissance battalion (two reconnaissance companies + a tank company), SP howitzer battalion, SpN detachment, UAV detachment, anti-aircraft missile-artillery battalion, EW company (expanding into an independent ELINT battalion), engineer company, maintenance company, material-technical support company, medical company, in the future its own helicopter regiment.”

“A mixed squadron transferred into the brigade from Budennovsk.  The helicopter sub-unit carries out missions for the ground formation and is operationally subordinate to it.  The squadron provides cover for the brigade’s armored columns, transports supplies, and conducts all types of reconnaissance.”

“The brigade’s command was formed on 1 December 2009.”

It’s a very interesting and unique brigade by Russian Army standards.  It has surprisingly robust combined arms firepower to go along with its reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities.

ORBr roots extend to Soviet times.  But it was different then.  The 25th ORBr in Mongolia had three reconnaissance battalions, a “deep reconnaissance” (SpN??) battalion, and fewer technical intelligence systems.  Its helo squadron had 20 Mi-8s and an Mi-2 for the brigade commander.  Soviet forces in Mongolia also included the 20th ORBr.  Most Russians who served in or comment on these formations are pretty adamant that they reported to the GRU.

Medvedev Visits GRU Headquarters

General-Major Sergun Welcomes Medvedev and Serdyukov

President Dmitriy Medvedev, accompanied by Defense Minister Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov, paid a visit on GRU headquarters yesterday.

Medvedev came to bestow state awards on GRU officers.  Presidential visits to the home of Russian military intelligence are rare, and usually come in connection with its anniversary (November 5).

So we have to suppose the lame-duck Supreme CINC and possible future prime minister went to the GRU to (a) bolster its newly-appointed chief, General-Major Igor Sergun, and (b) try to boost the morale of a service hard-hit by cuts and reorganizations under Serdyukov’s reforms.  Medvedev’s brief remarks seemed to confirm as much.

According to Kremlin.ru, after giving the GRU obligatory praise, Medvedev told its officers that the world situation is changing and “it requires adjustments not just in intelligence priorities, but also methods . . . .”

He continued:

“Consequently, a reorganization of the entire system of military intelligence has also occurred.  These changes have been introduced.  The results of the recent past show that the GRU is successfully coping with its established missions.  And on the whole military intelligence is performing professionally and effectively.”

“Of course, we need to increase the operational potential of the service, and its information potential, and its analytical potential.”  

Medvedev’s “on the whole” was a recognition of a state of affairs that is something less than fully optimal.  How much we don’t know.  He also seemed to be dealing with an audience more accustomed to, and happier with, operations than analysis.

The president went on to note the GRU’s traditional role in monitoring the global political-military situation, forecasting threats, tracking military-technical and defense industrial developments, and, especially, in counteracting international terrorism.

Kremlin.ru provided this video of Medvedev’s remarks.

Sergun Replaces Shlyakhturov

Press sources report 52-year-old General-Major (one-star) Igor Sergun has replaced General-Colonel Aleksandr Shlyakhturov as GRU Chief.  Not surprisingly, little is known about Sergun.

Izvestiya reports Shlyakhturov’s departure was in the works for some time, and Sergun took over the job on December 22.  The paper’s Genshtab source says Sergun headed an unidentified GRU directorate prior to relieving his predecessor.  Knowledgable outside observers who spoke with Izvestiya believe Sergun arrives at a difficult time, following reforms and personnel cuts implemented by Shlyakhturov.

While not necessarily a “youth movement,” Sergun’s appointment follows a trend of putting lower-ranking officers and generals in charge of key Defense Ministry and General Staff directorates.

Komsomolskaya’s Viktor Baranets claims Sergun is the first to head the military intelligence agency at such a low rank.

Novyy region added a bit, saying Sergun is 54 (born in 1957) and was a colonel serving as military attache in Albania in 1998, according to press from that time.