Putin praises under-fire Russian military intelligence agency

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President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Russia’s military intelligence unit on its centenary, hailing the agency that has been accused of meddling and violence by the West.

“I’m confident of your professionalism, courage and determination,” Mr Putin said in a speech to GRU officers.

The president said he appreciates intelligence information and analytics provided by the GRU and also praised the agency for its action in Syria, saying it strongly contributed to the success of Russia’s campaign there.

The West has accused the GRU of involvement in the March nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy in Britain and also of hacking the 2016 US presidential campaign and disrupting anti-doping efforts in sport.

Two Russians accused of being behind the Novichok poisoning in Salisbury
Two Russians accused of being behind the Novichok poisoning in Salisbury (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Mr Putin made no reference to Western accusations against the GRU, but noted rising global tensions.

“The conflict potential in the world is growing,” he said in Friday’s speech. “There are provocations and blatant lies, as well as attempts to upset strategic parity.”

The GRU has recently faced a series of exposures that revealed its inner workings.

In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of GRU agents accused of the March attack on former GRU officer and British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

Investigative group Bellingcat and Russian site The Insider quickly exposed the agents’ real names.

A phone discarded by GRU officers in the Netherlands
A phone discarded by GRU officers in the Netherlands (Dutch Defence Ministry/AP)

While the GRU counts its history from 1918 when it was created after the Bolshevik revolution, Mr Putin also mentioned its predecessors in the old imperial Russia.

He noted that some imperial army officers helped the Bolsheviks organise military intelligence after the 1917 revolution.

“They realised that there is no worse shame than to betray the motherland, betray comrades, and at the time of turmoil and revolutionary upheavals helped preserve the continuity of the service’s traditions,” he said.

He added: “Military intelligence officers showed the same loyalty to their duty in the early 1990s following the break-up of the Soviet Union, helping preserve the GRU potential.”

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