On Friday, April 24, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent into retirement the head of the Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU) General Valentin Korabelnikov. The 63-year-old Korabelnikov, who had been heading the GRU since 1997, is replaced with his deputy, Lieutenant General Alexander Shlyakhturov. The RIA Novosti reports that Korabelnikov consistently opposed the military reforms planned by the Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who intends to abolish GRU’s status as an independent federal agency. In particular, Korabelnikov protested the plans to disband GRU’s three elite Special Forces brigades and to subordinate the regional GRU units to the regional army command. According to a GRU source, Korabelnikov submitted retirement requests on a number of occasions, but they were all turned down until now. In line with the protocol befitting such high-level reshuffling, President Medvedev awarded the retiring general with an honorary order and it had already been leaked that Korabelnikov will be retained as a civilian advisor to the Chief of General Staff. Nevertheless, the resignation of the member of the “old guard” in the Russian top brass clears the way for the implementation of Serdyukov’s ambitious military reforms at least as they pertain to GRU. At the same time, Russian defense analyst Alexander Golts interprets Korabelnikov’s dismissal as belated expression of Kremlin’s anger at GRU’s performance during the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008.
GRU is Russia’s largest intelligence agency and its chief, who also holds the title of Deputy Chief of General Staff, is appointed by the President. GRU functions under the authority of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces and it is directly subordinated to the Chief of General Staff. GRU collects and analyzes intelligence through its military satellites and vast network of operatives abroad. The strength of GRU’s human intelligence collection can be judged by the fact that there are six times as many GRU agents in foreign countries as there are their colleagues from Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Russia’s primary external spying agency. In the interview published in the Russian mainstream newspaper Izvestia in November 2006, General Korabelnikov stated, “If it is necessary we are ready to operate in any locale on the face of this planet. Our military intelligence convincingly and repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness during the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, Arab-Israeli conflict, in Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq and other crisis points and regions of the world.”