Head of Russia’s GRU Spy Agency Dies After Illness
By Ann M. Simmons (Wall Street Journal)
Nov. 22, 2018 10:30 a.m. ET
The agency is accused of using espionage to destabilize rivals but its operatives are also ridiculed for making basic mistakes
MOSCOW—The head of the GRU, the Russian spy agency that Western officials hold responsible for a raft of nefarious activities, including meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, died earlier this week, the country’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday.
Igor Korobov, 62 years old, had headed the military intelligence agency since 2016 and died after a “a serious and prolonged illness,” according to a statement issued by the Russian Defense Ministry. The agency praised him as being “a true son of Russia” and “a patriot of the Fatherland.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said. “Everyone who knew Igor Valentinovich respected and appreciated him for his high competence, strength of will and courage, honesty and decency, loyalty to the oath and officer’s duty.”
Defense officials haven’t officially named Mr. Korobov’s successor, but the official Russian news agency TASS reported that a likely candidate would be Vice Admiral Igor Kostyukov, the agency’s first deputy head. Mr. Kostyukov is on the U.S. sanctions list in connection with Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. elections and actions to undermine U.S. democracy.
Mr. Korobov’s death came almost three years after his predecessor’s, Col. Gen. Igor Sergun, died suddenly in early 2016.
The U.S. and other Western nations have accused the GRU of employing espionage and subversion to destabilize rivals, sow disinformation and silence enemies. High profile allegations leveled at the intelligence agency include hacking the U.S. elections by infiltrating the Democratic National Committee’s computers and stealing research material and emails; cyberattacks against the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and coordinating the March nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Some Western officials have ridiculed the agency for bungling operations—the suspects in Skripal’s poisoning were caught on video surveillance cameras, and in other cases GRU agents made mistakes such as leaving behind evidence.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, derided the GRU in a tweet as “an amateurish bunch of jokers.”
The West has levied various sanctions on Moscow, which has denied involvement in any of the illicit activities blamed on the GRU.
Under Mr. Putin, the agency has been instrumental in helping the Kremlin achieve its foreign objectives of boosting regional and global influence, experts say. During a visit to the GRU headquarters earlier this month to mark the agency’s centenary, Mr. Putin commended the organization for its professionalism.
Mr. Korobov, who hadn’t been seen in public for months, was sanctioned under a White House Executive Order in December 2016 in connection with the alleged election interference. TASS said Mr. Korobov traveled to the U.S. in January to participate in consultations with U.S. intelligence officials about terrorism. In March, the U.S. Treasury Department put Mr. Korobov on its sanctions list in connection with “Russia’s ongoing destabilization activities.”
The late military intelligence chief joined the GRU in 1985 and held several leadership positions within the central military intelligence agency, according to his profile on the Defense Ministry’s website. He was appointed to head the agency in January 2016 and received several state awards, including the Hero of the Russian Federation, the country’s highest honorary title.
Official Russian media has pegged Mr. Kostyukov, 57 years old, to succeed Mr. Korobov. “As one of the leaders of the Russian military intelligence, he was directly involved in the leadership of the military operation in Syria,” TASS reported, noting that, if appointed, Mr. Kostyukov would be the first sailor to head GRU.
Appeared in the November 23, 2018, print edition as 'Moscow Spy Chief Linked To U.S. Meddling Is Dead.'