Novichok poisoning: What is the Russian GRU?

Russia’s military intelligence service can deploy special forces and boasts agents worldwide

The GRU has the capacity to send in special forces to hot spots and can also call on agents across the world. File photograph: Getty Images

The GRU has the capacity to send in special forces to hot spots and can also call on agents across the world. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Britain said two Russian military intelligence officers from the GRU, almost certainly acting with the approval of senior Russian officials, were responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent.

 The Russian military intelligence service  – GRU

  • Russia’s military intelligence service is commonly known by the Russian acronym GRU, which stands for the Main Intelligence Directorate. Its name was formally changed in 2010 to the Main Directorate (or just GU) of the Russian chief of the general staff. But its old acronym, GRU, is still more widely used. 
  • The GRU was founded as the Registration Directorate in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution. Revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin insisted on its independence from other secret services, which saw its as a rival.
  • Russia’s two other most widely known intelligence and security services were both created from the Soviet-era KGB: the Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, and the Federal Security Service, or FSB.
  • The GRU answers directly to the chief of the general staff and the Russian defence minister, each of whom are thought to have access to Russia’s portable nuclear briefcase.Igor Korobov is the chief of GRU. He was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2016 and this year accused of attempted interference in the US election and cyber attacks. Valery Gerasimov is chief of the general staff. He was sanctioned by the EU over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine.
  • The GRU does not have a website and does not comment publicly on its actions. Its structure, staff numbers and financing are state secrets.
  • It has agents worldwide. The GRU also has special forces units that fought in many post-second World War conflicts including Afghanistan and Chechnya.
    The headquarters of the Russia’s Main Intelligence Department (GRU) in Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images
    The headquarters of the Russia’s Main Intelligence Department (GRU) in Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images
  • The public was given a rare chance to see parts of the GRU’s Moscow headquarters when Russian president Vladimir Putin visited it in 2006. He was shown taking part in shooting practice.
  • Sergei Skripal once worked in the service but was turned by Britain’s MI6 spy service. He is believed to have betrayed dozens of GRU spies across Europe to his British handlers.
    – Reuters