Home International News Russia's GRU: Spy agency known for brazenness back in the headlines

Russia’s GRU: Spy agency known for brazenness back in the headlines

The GRU — formally referred to as Main Directorate of the General Staff — has lengthy been accused by the West of orchestrating brazen and high-profile assaults, together with the hacking of Democratic Party e mail accounts in the course of the 2016 US presidential election and the 2018 nerve agent assault in Salisbury, England.

Now the spy company is once more on the middle of worldwide consideration, after reports that US intelligence concluded GRU operatives provided money incentives to the Taliban to kill American and British troops in Afghanistan.

The information has already brought on a political storm in Washington, with congressional leaders demanding solutions from the Trump administration. But observers additionally surprise why the Russian intelligence company would run an operation that doubtlessly conflicts with Russia’s personal said targets to convey opponents to the desk in Afghanistan and keep away from a precipitous collapse of the central authorities.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov mentioned the story — first reported by the New York Times — was a “hoax,” echoing President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the reported intelligence could also be “phony” and the story false.

“First of all, these assertions are a lie,” Peskov mentioned in a convention name with reporters. “Secondly, if the US special services still report to the president, then I suggest [you] proceed from the corresponding statements of President Trump, who has already given his assessment to these reports.”

One could be forgiven for having a way of déjà vu: The denials about GRU at all times come swiftly from the Russian authorities.

In March 2018, then UK Prime Minister Theresa May mentioned Russia was “highly likely” chargeable for the tried homicide of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia within the English metropolis of Salisbury — and that the 2 suspects within the assault have been believed to be officers of the GRU. That July, the US Special Prosecutor’s workplace indicted 12 GRU officers for his or her alleged involvement within the hacking of Democratic Party e mail accounts as half of a bigger, Kremlin-directed effort to intervene within the 2016 US election marketing campaign.

The Kremlin repeatedly denied involvement in each instances, though Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to as Skripal a “traitor” and a “scumbag” and prompt that the leak of the Democratic Party emails was not essentially a nasty factor.

“Some hackers published information about the unseemly conduct of Ms. [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign headquarters — supporting one candidate for the party nomination at the expense of the other,” he mentioned. “Everyone is talking about who did it, but is it so important who did it? What is important is the content of this information. That’s my answer.”

Now, allegations that the GRU provided bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US troops come at a delicate time: Russia — which considers Afghanistan a near-neighbor — need American troops in a foreign country.

Son of Novichok victim urges Putin to hand over suspects

In late February, the US and the Taliban inked a peace deal that paves the way in which for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and peace talks between the militant group and the federal government.

While relations between the US and Russia are fraught, the 2 international locations have some widespread floor on Afghanistan: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova, normally a staunch critic of US international coverage, lately praised US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad for his “proactive efforts” to dealer peace in Afghanistan.

And Russia has made its personal efforts to shape outcomes in Afghanistan, bringing representatives of the Taliban and a few of Afghanistan’s most distinguished political gamers to Moscow.

An alleged GRU operation concentrating on US and coalition troopers would seem like at odds with these Russian diplomatic initiatives, says Laurel Miller, program director for Asia with International Crisis Group.

Russia has cultivated contacts with each the Taliban and different opponents in Afghanistan as a option to affect outcomes in a area it considers its strategic yard. “It’s long been known that there were Russian contacts with the Taliban and at minimum some greasing of the relationship with benefits as a hedging technique,” Miller mentioned. Back in 2017, as an illustration, Army Gen. John Nicholson, the highest US commander mentioned publicly Russia was sending weapons to the Taliban by way of neighboring Tajikistan.

However, she mentioned that an operation to place bounties on US troops can be way more provocative and a “different thing” from its typical conduct. “It conflicts with what Russian official policy is,” she mentioned. In different phrases, the alleged GRU operation concentrating on US and coalition troops might have blowback: doubtlessly undermining US assist for withdrawal, or maybe prompting contemporary sanctions on Russia.

But the company does have a popularity for brazenness — and may function seemingly opportunistically or independently of official coverage.

Andrew Weiss, vp for research on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, factors out that the GRU does aggressively pursue operations that trigger diplomatic fallout. Intelligence consultants say the Salisbury poisoning — which led to the investigative outlet Bellingcat unmasking the alleged GRU operatives by way of open-source analysis — confirmed a sample recklessness and overt brutality, relatively than a secretive strategy to spycraft, that despatched a message to the GRU’s enemies.

“That was a pattern we’ve seen many times in Ukraine,” he mentioned, referring to Russian intelligence actions there. “The Kremlin is hardly a well-oiled machine, but time and again, Putin — either by denying blatant Russian misdeeds or throwing a safety blanket over his security establishment — does little to improve Russia’s international image.”

And Putin has proven constant willingness to provide political cowl to the GRU.

Just a number of months after the Salisbury poisonings, which prompted the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats from the West, Putin took half in a gala occasion to have fun the centenary of what he referred to as the “legendary GRU” and praised the patriotism of its officers, who work for a company that now not has “intelligence” in its identify.

“It is unclear where the name Main Intelligence Directorate has gone,” he said. “We ought to restore it.”

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