Editorial to Geostrategic Pulse 206 - The Demise of the Director of the Russian Federation Armed Forces Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU)

The Demise of the Director of the Russian Federation Armed Forces Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU)
Corneliu PIVARIU

Motto: „The Moor has done his work – the Moor may go.”
Schiller, Fiesco’s Conspiracy, Act 3, Scene 4

On 3 January 2016, Colonel-General Igor Sergun, Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, aged 58, died (“unexpectedly” – according to the Minister of Defense), after having led this directorate since 2011. According to the public information, the death was caused by heart problems, although he has never spoken about any health conditions. The demise was announced on 4 February on Kremlin’s website and shortly afterwards, President Putin gave a short press statement in which he said, among others, that Sergun was “an experienced and capable leader, a brave man and a real patriot”.       

There is very little public information about the carrier of General Sergun. After having completed his military education, he started working in military intelligence. His career development started after having been appointed military attaché in Albania – during the conflict in Yugoslavia – where apparently had a very important role in the operations of the Russian detachment that had occupied the Pristina airport in June 1999, before the arrival of the NATO troops. He was very successful as head of the GRU and that enhanced his prestige. He participated in the annexation of Crimea, the hybrid war in the east of Ukraine and in the Russia Federation’s military intervention in Syria.  

When Sergun was appointed Director of GRU in 2011, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service were trying to consolidate their positions in the operations deployed in the immediate neighborhood to the detriment of GRU. The achievements of Sergun and the failure of the FSB to prevent the removal of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the investiture of a pro-western government in Kiev in 2014, contributed to the strengthening of the GRU, which turned into Russia’s main foreign intelligence service. Due to his activity, Sergun’s name is included in the first list issued by the European Union with Russian figures subject to interdiction, the Brussels officials considering him to be responsible for the activity of the GRU agents in the east of Ukraine. Sergun was also accused of having provided BUK missile systems to the rebels in the east of Ukraine, while a former GRU agent that became a refugee in Great Britain accused him of having planned the attack against the Russian aircraft that flew over Sinai Peninsula, in order to give legitimacy to the military intervention in Syria. In fact, according to insufficiently checked sources, the death of Sergun had occurred on 1 January in Beirut. Lebanon is known to be a turntable for international espionage, especially in the current context of the Middle East and Russia is quite present in this country, considering the relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah.    

We also note that on 27 December 2015, General Alexander Shushkin, aged 52, died (also due to cardiac problems). General Shushkin was the commander of the land forces that participated in the annexation of Crimea. The death of Mikhail Lesin on 5 November 2015, still under investigation (the cause of death will probably be known in February 2016), may be a coincidence. He was a former advisor of Vladimir Putin until 2009 (former Minister of the Media in Russia) and one of the artisans of RT Channel, founded on the basis of Russia Today. 

Considering the most recent developments in Russia and the situation in Ukraine, apparently the FSB is regaining its positions in the east of Ukraine, particularly in what concerns the separatist leaders, which seems to be the effect of Igor Sergun’s demise and the weakening of GRU’s position. What is important is whether Russia’s operations in Ukraine will change, or the hybrid war will continue. Sergun favored the direct participation of the GRU, while the FSB seems to have a different view.

It will be interesting to find out who will be the follower of Sergun, whether he will be a GRU figure, according to tradition, or someone else will be appointed, probably close to Vladimir Putin. The favorite figure is already considered to be the deputy of Sergun, Lieutenant-General Alexei Diumin, who was a member of the Presidential Security Service (SBP) and close to President Putin. If Diumin is appointed, we can say that an inner struggle will take place in Kremlin for the realignment of the political forces. 

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