GRU to no longer control Russian spec ops troops

compiled from AFP news report

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev removed the head of the powerful military intelligence agency on Friday after he opposed sweeping reforms of the country’s lumbering armed forces.

The defence ministry said General Valentin Korabelnikov had voluntarily left because of his age. But analysts linked the move to the reforms that have provoked discontent among hardliners in a military struggling to keep pace with the times.

Medvedev signed a decree “to remove Army General Valentin Vladimirovich Korabelnikov from the position of chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) … and to dismiss him from military service,” said a Kremlin statement.

The intelligence service known in Russia by its acronym GRU is the country’s largest spy agency and has traditionally controlled thousands of special-forces troops.

In Soviet days it had regular turf battles with the KGB secret police.

Korabelnikov had boasted of successful GRU operations in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Vietnam and Yugoslavia in a rare 2006 interview with the Izvestia daily.

Russia’s leaders are pursuing ambitious reforms aimed at modernising the military and streamlining its top-heavy command structure, as a result of which more than 150,000 officers are expected to lose their jobs.

The dismissal is a victory for supporters of military reform, said Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence commentator for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

“This is not simply a resignation. Massive reforms of the GRU are coming,” Felgenhauer told AFP. “The goal of these reforms is to break up the GRU into parts.”

Under the reform, special forces troops currently under the GRU will be made independent from military intelligence, a structure closer to that of the US armed forces, Felgenhauer said.

Independent defence analyst Alexander Golts told AFP that the dismissal was linked to Kremlin anger at the GRU’s performance in last summer’s war between Russia and Georgia.

Russia’s leaders “reproached the GRU for not having warned them about the Georgian intervention in South Ossetia,” Golts said.

During the conflict, Russia poured troops and tanks into Georgia in response to a Georgian military attempt to retake South Ossetia, whose separatist leaders had long enjoyed support from Moscow.

Reformers say the Georgia war exposed weaknesses in the coordination and combat readiness of Russia’s military, which inherited much of its structure from Soviet days when it was designed to fight a massive land war against NATO.

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