Make GRU GRU again, Putin says as intelligence agency turns 100

The Russian president suggested returning the historic name to the military intelligence agency, which is accused in the West of staging coups, tilting US elections and using chemical weapons to get rid of double agents.

On Friday, Russian military intelligence officers were celebrating their professional holiday. This year is a big date for the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The organization is best known by its Soviet-times name the GRU (Maine Intelligence Directorate), even though the agency has changed its name to simply GU years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested the internationally-recognized old name of the agency should be returned. He was speaking during a celebration held in Moscow’s Theater of the Russian Army.

“It’s not clear where the word ‘intelligence’ disappeared [to]. Why don’t we go back to the Main Intelligence Directorate,” the Russian president suggested.

The holiday was chosen after the date when the freshly-created Red Army was ordered to centralize intelligence-collecting activities under a single department of the general staff. The military intelligence changed its name several times over the years, eventually becoming the GRU in 1953. The latest change came in 2010.

Speaking at the gala, Putin praised the military intelligence for the role they played in the past few years in Syria, where the Russian military was assisting the government in fighting jihadist groups. Targeting information and other intelligence crucial for the campaign was provided by the GRU people.

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Putin added that as Russia’s Commander-in-Chief he is well aware of the GRU’s “unique capabilities” to conduct special missions and to obtain and analyze intelligence for the country’s leadership.

The GRU has had plenty of bad press in the West lately. Of the three Russian agents tasked with foreign intelligence (the two others are the civilian SVR and the counterintelligence agency FSB, which has a limited mandate for foreign intelligence), the GU is called the most reckless by its critics. It stands accused of being behind a number of high-profile missions over the past years, including attempting a coup in Montenegro, stealing private emails of the Democratic party and the Hillary Clinton campaign, unleashing computer malware on Ukraine and, of course, attempting to kill a former double agent with chemical weapons in Salisbury.

The litany of accusations is denied by Moscow and seems to be ignored by the Russian people. A recent opinion poll about the Novichok poisoning affair in Britain showed that while almost 80 percent of Russians knew about it, only 7 percent believed that the Russian intelligence was involved and just 4 said it made them think worse of the spooks.

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