Report to Congress on Russian Military Intelligence

November 27, 2020 10:59 AM

The following is the Nov. 24, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, Russian Military Intelligence: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Following Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, many observers have linked Russia to additional malicious acts abroad. U.S. and European officials and analysts have accused Russia of, among other things, interfering in U.S. elections in 2016; attempting a coup in Montenegro in 2016; conducting cyberattacks against the World Anti- Doping Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2016 and 2018, respectively; attempting to assassinate Russian intelligence defector Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom in 2018; and offering “bounties” to Taliban-linked fighters to attack U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. Implicated in all these activities is Russia’s military intelligence agency, the Main Directorate of the General Staff (GU), also known as the GRU.

The United States has indicted GRU officers and designated the GRU for sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cybercrimes, and election interference. The Department of Justice has indicted GRU officers for cyber-related offenses against the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, NotPetya malware attacks in 2017, various cyberattacks against the 2018 Olympics, and interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. The GRU as an agency has been designated for sanctions under Executive Order 13694, as amended, and Section 224 of the Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017 (CRIEEA; P.L. 115-44/H.R. 3364, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act [CAATSA], Title II).

The GRU is a large, expansive organization under the command of Russia’s Ministry of Defense and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Headed since 2018 by Admiral Igor Kostyukov, the GRU plays an important role in Russia’s foreign and national security policies. As an arm of the military, the GRU is responsible for all levels of military intelligence, from tactical to strategic. The GRU commands Russia’s spetsnaz (special forces) brigades, which conduct battlefield reconnaissance, raiding, and sabotage missions, in addition to training and overseeing local proxies or mercenary units. Additionally, the GRU conducts traditional intelligence missions through the recruitment and collection of human, signals, and electronic assets. Beyond its traditional combat- and intelligence-related roles, the GRU conducts extensive cyber, disinformation, propaganda, and assassination operations. These operations are often aggressive and brazen, leading to publicity and the exposure of GRU culpability.

Congress and the executive branch continue to consider responses and countermeasures to malicious Russian activities. Because the GRU continues to conduct cyberattacks, election interference, assassinations, and disinformation, understanding the agency’s structure and the position it occupies in Russian foreign and security policy can help identify what the GRU is capable of and why it conducts particular operations. Understanding the GRU also offers insight into Russia’s wider use of cyber, disinformation, and influence operations and can inform broader discussions of potential U.S. responses and countermeasures.

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