Tag Archives: Military Intelligence

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.

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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.

Fifty Percent Cut in GRU Reportedly Frozen

Today’s Argumenty nedeli cites an unnamed Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) representative who says a decision to cut GRU personnel by 50 percent has been ‘frozen’ for an indefinite period.  According to the article, the decision on the cut was made recently within the bounds of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reform of the military.

Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov were going to announce the elimination of several GRU ‘sub-units’ in the first half of March.  But GRU Chief General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Shlyakhturov managed to convince the country’s highest leadership not to take these steps yet.

Argumenty nedeli noted that three GRU Spetsnaz brigades–the 67th in Berdsk, 12th in Asbest, and 3rd in Samara–were disbanded last year.  It maintains that now even the part of the GRU that works with ‘secret agents’ abroad has fallen ‘under the knife.’

As to whether the top echelon believes this would seriously weaken the country’s defense capability, the article says we’ll have to wait and see.