Inside Putin’s feared GRU spy network accused of being behind the Salisbury Novichok attack

Inside Putin’s feared GRU spy network accused of being behind the Salisbury Novichok attack

The ‘boots’ who carry out Putin’s dirty work: The GRU spy network that makes recruits watch a ‘traitor’ being burned alive and is linked to Novichok attack, US election interference and MH17 atrocity

By Dailymail.com Reporter and Reuters 10:59 EDT 05 Sep 2018, updated 11:49 EDT 05 Sep 2018

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• Russia’s feared GRU was founded in 1918 after Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution

• Its full name is Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces

• An afterthought in USSR , it is now country’s largest foreign intelligence agency

What do we know about the Russian military intelligence unit suspected by Britain of being behind the Salisbury Novichok attack?

The GRU – Russia’s ‘Main Intelligence Directorate’ – was founded in 1918 after Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution.

Lenin insisted on its independence from other secret services and the GRU was seen as a rival by other Soviet secret services, such as the KGB.

Before the Russian Federation came into existence, the unit was subordinate to the more famous and feared KGB, the notorious internal security service of the Soviet Union.

<img id=”i-fc4694ad7c049189″ class=”img-share” src=”https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/newpix/2018/07/18/01/4E3ADBBF00000578-0-image-a-6_1531874056040.jpg&#8221; width=”634″ height=”432″ alt=”The GRU – Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate – was founded in 1918 after Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution. Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen above on the left with then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on the roof of the newly built GRU headquarters in 2006″/>

The GRU – Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate – was founded in 1918 after Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution. Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen above on the left with then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on the roof of the newly built GRU headquarters in 2006

GRU, one of whose divisions has an emblem featuring a bat hovering above a globe, was founded as the Registration Directorate in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution

The KGB was ultimately succeeded by the FSB – the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Putin was a member of the KGB for 16 years and later briefly the head of the FSB.

According to Yuri Shvets, a former KGB agent, GRU officers were referred to as ‘boots’ – tough but unsophisticated.

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‘The GRU took its officers from the trenches,’ he said, whereas KGB picked its agents from the USSR’s best universities.

The GRU – an acronym for Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye – would train agents and then send them to represent the Soviet Union abroad as military attaches in foreign embassies, according to historian John Barron.

But once a member of the GRU, it is believed to be exceptionally difficult to leave. And those who do so to joined foreign agencies were punished savagely.

Viktor Suvorov, a GRU officer who defected to Britain in 1978, said new recruits were shown a video of a traitor from the agency being burned alive in a furnace as a warning.

<img id=”i-4b6980760035690f” class=”img-share” src=”https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/newpix/2018/07/18/01/4E3ADBC700000578-0-image-a-7_1531874068959.jpg&#8221; width=”634″ height=”395″ alt=”Before the Russian Federation came into existence, the unit was subordinate to the more well-known and feared KGB, the notorious internal security service of the Soviet Union. The GRU headquarters is seen above in Moscow”/>

Before the Russian Federation came into existence, the unit was subordinate to the more well-known and feared KGB, the notorious internal security service of the Soviet Union. The GRU headquarters is seen above in Moscow

In recent years the agency has gained notoriety for its connection to some of Russia’s most contentious actions abroad.

In July this year, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 GRU officers, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.

The Bellingcat investigative team has linked the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine in 2014 with a GRU officer who it said ‘supervised the procurement and transport of weapons’.

The agency has also been linked to an attempt to overthrow Montenegro’s government on the eve of parliamentary elections in October, 2016.

The GRU is now considered Russia’s largest foreign intelligence service, according to Reuters, dwarfing Moscow’s better-known Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), which is the successor to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate.

Unlike the KGB, the GRU was not split up when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

It has a special status and answers directly to the chief of the general staff, one of the three people who control Russia’s portable nuclear control system.

GRU chiefs are picked by Putin himself.

Russian military intelligence has a spy network abroad that is believed by espionage experts to be several times bigger than that of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

Its experts decipher and analyze espionage information gathered by dozens of Russian military space satellites.

It also has several elite special forces units that fought in many post-1945 conflicts, including Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Syrian Civil War.

In 1997, it was thought to control 25,000 special forces troops.

<img id=”i-4ccbcaf4c96f0f1d” class=”img-share” src=”https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/newpix/2018/07/18/08/4E5D47A300000578-5964809-image-a-2_1531900121315.jpg&#8221; width=”634″ height=”413″ alt=”Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sergei Ivanov look at the emblem of the GRU’s Spetsnaz – or special forces”/>

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sergei Ivanov look at the emblem of the GRU’s Spetsnaz – or special forces

The GRU has confirmed or tacitly accepted it was behind some major spy operations abroad. It has also been accused of many operations that it denies.

Former FSB agent Alexander Litvenenko – who was murdered in London by Russian intelligence after defecting to Britain – was one of many Russians to accuse the GRU of being involved in four apartment bombings in Moscow in 1999.

He alleged it was a successful coup designed to get Putin, who was then prime minister, elected president after he launched a popular invasion of Chechnya in revenge for the bombings.

It is also believed by Western governments and intelligence agencies that the GRU is behind the hacking groups Fancy Bear and Guccifer 2.0.

Fancy Bear is thought to have been responsible for attacks on official organisations within NATO states, including the German parliament.

It is also accused of interfering in the French election of 2017 and the International Olympic Committee among other world institutions.

The GRU, however, has also suffered several humiliating blows to its reputation after some of its top agents defected to the West.

<img id=”i-71c88a979d75ab1e” class=”img-share” src=”https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/newpix/2018/07/18/01/4E5BCC6300000578-0-image-a-8_1531874073443.jpg&#8221; width=”634″ height=”410″ alt=”Spetsnaz soldiers from the Russian Interior Ministry patrol the grounds around the airport in Beslan in the Russian republic of North Ossetia in this file photo. GRU also has several elite special forces units that fought in many conflicts including Afghanistan and Chechnya”/>

Spetsnaz soldiers from the Russian Interior Ministry patrol the grounds around the airport in Beslan in the Russian republic of North Ossetia in this file photo. GRU also has several elite special forces units that fought in many conflicts including Afghanistan and Chechnya

One such defector was Oleg Penkovsky, a friend of the then GRU chief. He informed Washington of a Moscow operation to place nuclear missiles in Cuba.

The scandal led to the Cuban missile crisis and the world balanced on the brink of a full-blown nuclear war for several days.

Penkovsky was arrested in 1962 and executed in 1963 after being found guilty of high treason and espionage.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in GRU , was considered by the Kremlin to be one of the most damaging spies of his generation.

He was responsible for unmasking dozens of secret agents threatening Western interests by operating undercover in Europe.

Col Skripal, 66, allegedly received £78,000 in exchange for taking huge risks to pass classified information to MI6.

In 2006, he was sentenced to 13 years in a Russian labour camp after being convicted of passing invaluable Russian secrets to the UK.

A senior source in Moscow said at the time: ‘This man is a big hero for MI6.’

After being convicted of ‘high treason in the form of espionage’ by Moscow’s military court, Col Skripal was stripped of his rank, medals and state awards.

He was alleged by Russia’s security service, the FSB, to have begun working for the British secret services while serving in the army in the 1990s.

He passed information classified as state secrets and was paid for the work by MI6, the FSB claimed.

Col Skripal pleaded guilty at the trial and co-operated with investigators, reports said at the time. He admitted his activities and gave a full account of his spying, which led to a reduced sentence.

In July 2010, he was pardoned by then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and was one of four spies exchanged for ten Russian agents deported from the US in an historic swap involving red-headed ‘femme fatale’ Anna Chapman.

After the swap at Vienna airport, Col Skripal was one of two spies who came to Britain and he has kept a low profile for the past eight years.

The former spy was living at an address in Salisbury, Wiltshire, when the suspected poisoning took place in the city centre.

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