Tuesday, May 05, 2009

RUSSIA's military intelligence GRU gets a new Chief

On April 24, President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed Army General Valentin Korabelnikov from the position of chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia's military intelligence agency, and deputy chief of the General Staff and appointed Korabelnikov's deputy, Lieutenant General Alexander Shlyakhturov, in his place.

Korabelnikov's possible resignation, which was long surrounded by rumors, is now a reality. The Russian media says Korabelnikov opposed the Kremlin's sweeping reforms for the country's Armed Forces.

In the past few months, top GRU officials and the Defense Ministry were divided on the military reform, primarily its aspects concerning the military intelligence agency.

The sides disagreed on the proposed reduction of special weapons and tactics (SWAT) GRU brigades and their re-subordination to military district headquarters. This process became the focus of contradictory media reports, some of which implied that the Armed Forces would be deprived of their SWAT units.

A respected publication claimed that the GRU's technical reconnaissance systems, namely, space satellites and radio intercept units, would be re-subordinated to the Foreign Intelligence Service, an off-shoot of the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB).

The very same publication discussed the possible re-subordination of all GRU divisions to the Foreign Intelligence Service. Although this rumor was not confirmed, it, along with other reports concerning a resignation allegedly handed in by Korabelnikov, caused many questions about the future of the GRU and the entire military reform.

Despite groundless rumors concerning the GRU's possible liquidation, many analysts knew that a conflict was brewing between top GRU and Defense Ministry officials, and that either the GRU chief or the Defense Minister would have to step down. General Korabelnikov had to resign because Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his concept of the military reform are supported by the Kremlin.

General Korabelnikov received an honorable discharge, plus the Order of Service to the Fatherland, 3rd class, and was reportedly allowed to choose his successor, General Shlyakhturov.

The public knows nothing about General Shlyakhturov's biography and service record. Such tight secrecy implies that he is a career intelligence operative.

It is unclear how the GRU of the General Staff will change under General Shlyakhturov. One thing is obvious: The agency will have to be overhauled together with the entire army, whose administrative and troop control divisions, which had evolved over the decades, are currently being revamped. Personnel cuts and other negative consequences seem inevitable.

However, most Russians will never be able to assess the effectiveness of the GRU reform.