The GRU could have been founded during the Russian Civil War a century ago, but today it has found favor with Vladimir Putin as the perfect organization to carry out its military tactics of the 21st century.
As we have seen in Ukraine, the USA. UU And in Salisbury, Russia is moving away from conventional force demonstrations and what has been called "non-linear war."
This uses a combination of covert operations by special forces, espionage, cyber attacks and Internet trolls to destabilize enemy nations. Because Russia always stops before an open aggression, the West has had trouble finding an effective response to this provocation.
The GRU, in the photo, is a combination of an intelligence service and a special forces unit
A combination of intelligence service and special forces unit, the GRU, known in its entirety as the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, has proved to be very suitable for such operations.
It began as an intelligence gathering agency for the Bolshevik Red Army of Trotsky, and Lenin insisted that it remain separate from the other intelligence organization.
Today it is still separated from the SVR, the external espionage service and the national FSB (the equivalents of MI6 and MI5 of Great Britain), which were created when the notorious KGB split in 1991.
As a subordinate branch of the armed forces of Russia instead of an autonomous agency, the GRU responds to the Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu and to Valeri Gerasimov, the Chief of Staff.
It is based on a site nicknamed the aquarium on an air base near Moscow and is very large, deploying six times more agents in foreign countries than the SVR. These are typically integrated into Russian embassies as military attachments and work in the recruitment of foreign double agents, as well as in the monitoring of military installations and new weapons systems.
It has its own special forces, known as Spetsnaz.
It was believed that the GRU in 1997 had 25,000 Spetsnaz special forces soldiers, such as those who operated in Dagestan in September 1999 in search of Islamic militants.
In 1997 it was estimated that he had 25,000 Spetsnaz soldiers under his command. His legend has been leaked through the agency, with many agents linked to the desk who claim to have a history of special forces, even if they do not.
However, many agents have a military background, such as Sergei Skripal, who was recruited after serving in the Soviet Army and ended up passing secrets to MI6.
There is also a large branch of signal intelligence (like our GCHQ) with about 130 satellites in orbit around the Earth and a corresponding branch that analyzes the resulting visual images.
There are also specialized sub-departments for sophisticated cyber warfare, which recruit the best universities in Russia.
The GRUs are perfect for Vladimir Putin's "non-linear war" using special forces and cyber attacks, as well as covert operations
In July, 12 GRU officers were accused of hacking the Democratic Party's computers before the 2016 presidential election, and the group of hackers that was discovered in December last year had infiltrated the German interior and networks. The IT offices of the ministries of foreign affairs were also linked to the GRU.
It was not always so successful. After the 2008 war with Georgia, the GRU was criticized for the quality of its intelligence gathering and its focus on the use of brute force was considered outdated.
It was about to be dissolved. Since then, however, it has undergone a remarkable change. This is partly due to its leader, 62-year-old Lieutenant General Igor Korobov. Former pilot of the Air Force, he was director of the strategic direction of intelligence of the GRU and, like many superior Russians, considers that the western sanctions imposed on his movements are a badge of honor. His efforts to accommodate Putin have done wonders for the reputation of the agency.
It is believed that the GRUs were involved in the demolition of the MH-17 in eastern Ukraine
This has been helped by the role he played in Ukraine. The special forces of GRU, together with the mercenaries of the private sector, actively participated in the conflict from the beginning. It is believed that they have been among the so-called "little green men": the highly trained Russian-speaking troops, wearing masks and unmarked military uniforms and armed with highly sophisticated weaponry that suddenly appeared in Ukraine to join the rebels and encourage the agitation. .
At first, his tasks included the covert sabotage of the Ukrainian government facilities, as well as the organization of Russian-speaking rebels (and a large number of Russian "military tourists") into something that approached a coordinated army. It helped that a rebel leader was himself a former GRU officer.
The investigators who examined the demolition of flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine believe that a GRU officer was linked to the "acquisition and transport" of the weapons used.
The Vostok Battalion, a unit of GRU troops formed by veterans of Russia's recent wars in Chechnya, also participated in the conflict.
Since 2015, GRU units have been deployed in Syria to help the Assad regime carry out a reconnaissance on the battlefield. It is also believed that GRU troops participated in a coup attempt in Montenegro in 2016.
Despite its role in recruiting deserters, the GRU has always been hard on traitors from their own ranks. An officer who defected to Britain later revealed that the recruits were shown a graphic video of an agent who had turned on his colleagues who were burned to death in a furnace.
It was a powerful warning, one that the modern GRU still seems to be committed to carrying out.
- Michael Burleigh is an expert in terror and historian