Main Intelligence Directorate (Soviet Union)

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GRU Generalnogo Shtaba
Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije
Главное Разведывательное Управление
Red star.svg
Agency overview
Formed November 5, 1918
as Registration Agency; GRU since 1942
Preceding agencies
  • Fifth Department of the Russian Imperial Chief of Staff
  • Expedition for Secret Affairs
Dissolved May 7, 1992
Superseding agency
Jurisdiction Red Army
Headquarters Moscow
Employees Classified
Annual budget Classified
Parent agency Ministry of Defense
Child agencies
  • Osnaz
  • Spetsnaz

Main Intelligence Directorate (Russian: Гла́вное разве́дывательное управле́ние, tr. Glavnoye razvedyvatel'noye upravleniye, IPA: [ˈglavnəjə rɐzˈvʲɛdɨvətʲɪlʲnəjə ʊprɐˈvlʲenʲɪjə]), abbreviated GRU (Russian: ГРУ, IPA: [geeˈru]), was the foreign military intelligence agency of the Soviet Army General Staff of the Soviet Union.


The GRU's first predecessor in Russia formed on October 21, 1918 under the sponsorship of Leon Trotsky, then the civilian leader of the Red Army;[1] it was originally known as the Registration Agency (Registrupravlenie, or RU). Simon Aralov was its first head. In his history of the early years of the GRU, Raymond W. Leonard writes:

As originally established, the Registration Department was not directly subordinate to the General Staff (at the time called the Red Army Field Staff – Polevoi Shtab). Administratively, it was the Third Department of the Field Staff's Operations Directorate. In July 1920, the RU was made the second of four main departments in the Operations Directorate. Until 1921, it was usually called the Registrupr (Registration Department). That year, following the Soviet–Polish War, it was elevated in status to become the Second (Intelligence) Directorate of the Red Army Staff, and was thereafter known as the Razvedupr. This probably resulted from its new primary peacetime responsibilities as the main source of foreign intelligence for the Soviet leadership. As part of a major re-organization of the Red Army, sometime in 1925 or 1926 the RU (then Razvedyvatelnoe Upravlenye) became the Fourth (Intelligence) Directorate of the Red Army Staff, and was thereafter also known simply as the "Fourth Department." Throughout most of the interwar period, the men and women who worked for Red Army Intelligence called it either the Fourth Department, the Intelligence Service, the Razvedupr, or the RU. […] As a result of the re-organization [in 1926], carried out in part to break up Trotsky's hold on the army, the Fourth Department seems to have been placed directly under the control of the State Defense Council (Gosudarstvennaia komissiia oborony, or GKO), the successor of the RVSR. Thereafter its analysis and reports went directly to the GKO and the Politburo, apparently even bypassing the Red Army Staff.[2]

The GRU had the task of handling all military intelligence, particularly the collection of intelligence of military or political significance from sources outside the Soviet Union. It operated residencies all over the world, along with the SIGINT (signals intelligence) station in Lourdes, Cuba, and throughout the former Soviet-bloc countries, especially in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The first head of the 4th Directorate was Janis Karlovich Berzin, a Latvian Communist and former member of the Cheka, who served until 1935 and again in 1937. He was arrested (May 1938) and subsequently liquidated (July 1938) during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge.

The GRU was known in the Soviet government for its fierce independence from the rival "internal intelligence organizations", such as the Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB), State Political Directorate (GPU), MGB, OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, KGB and the First Chief Directorate (PGU). At the time of the GRU's creation, Lenin infuriated the Cheka (the predecessor of the KGB) by ordering it not to interfere with the GRU's operations.

Nonetheless, the Cheka infiltrated the GRU in 1919. That worsened a fierce rivalry between the two agencies, which were both engaged in espionage. The rivalry became even more intense than that between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency in the US.

The existence of the GRU was not publicized during the Soviet era, but documents concerning it became available in the West in the late 1920s, and it was mentioned in the 1931 memoirs of the first OGPU defector, Georges Agabekov, and described in detail in the 1939 autobiography (I Was Stalin's Agent) of Walter Krivitsky, the most senior Red Army intelligence officer ever to defect.[3] It became widely known in Russia, and in the West outside the narrow confines of the intelligence community, during perestroika, in part thanks to the writings of "Viktor Suvorov" (Vladimir Rezun), a GRU officer who defected to Great Britain in 1978 and wrote about his experiences in the Soviet military and intelligence services. According to Suvorov, even the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, when entering the GRU headquarters, needed to go through a security screening. In Aquarium,[4] "Viktor Suvorov" alleges that during his training and service he was often reminded that exiting the GRU (retiring) was only possible through "The Smoke Stack". This was a GRU reference to a training film shown to him, in which he alleges he watched a condemned agent being burned alive in a furnace.



During the Cold War, the Sixth Directorate was responsible for monitoring Intelsat communication satellites traffic.[5]

North Korea[edit]

GRU Sixth Directorate officers reportedly visited North Korea following the capture (January 1968) of the USS Pueblo, inspecting the vessel and receiving some of the captured equipment.[6]

Head of USSR's GRU[edit]





Naval agents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Earl F. Ziemke, Russian Review 60(2001): 130.
  2. ^ Leonard, Secret Soldiers of the Revolution, p. 7.
  3. ^ Leonard, Secret Soldiers of the Revolution, p.xiv.
  4. ^ Aquarium (Аквариум), 1985, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-11545-0
  5. ^ "The Technology Acquisition Effort of the Soviet Intelligence Services" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. June 18, 1982. p. 23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-30.
  6. ^ Newton, Robert E. (1992). "The Capture of the USS Pueblo and Its Effect on SIGINT Operations" (PDF). National Security Archive. p. 177. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-30. Other collateral sources reported that a group of Soviet military intelligence officers from the Sixth Directorate (responsible for Soviet SIGINT matters) of the Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU) visited North Korea shortly after the seizure of the ship and inspected the vessel. Later, the North Koreans were reported to have turned over some of the captured equipment to the GRU. Apparently, some of this equipment was taken to Soviet radio plants in Kharkov, Voronezh, and Gorkij for examination by technicians.
  7. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952), Witness, New York: Random House, p. 799, ISBN 9780895269157, archived from the original on 2012-12-05
  8. ^ Richard J. Aldrich, Michael F. Hopkins, Intelligence, Defence and Diplomacy: British Policy in the Post-War World, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2013, p. 211
  9. ^ Nigel West, Historical Dictionary of World War II Intelligence, Scarecrow Press, 2008, p. 6
  10. ^ Hunt, Graeme. "Spies and Revolutionaries – A History of New Zealand subversion" (Auckland: Reed, 2009), p.171

Further reading[edit]