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Foreign Intelligence Service
Служба Внешней Разведки
Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency.gif
Seal of the SVR
Official Emblem
Agency overview
Formed December 1991
Preceding agency KGB First Chief Directorate
Jurisdiction President of Russia
Headquarters Yasenevo, Moscow Russia
Minister responsible Dmitry Medvedev, President of Russia
Agency executive Mikhail Fradkov, Director
Child agency Institute of Intelligence Information

The Foreign Intelligence Service (Russian: Служба Внешней Разведки Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki or SVR) is Russia's primary external intelligence agency. The SVR is the successor of First Chief Directorate (FCD) of the KGB since December 1991.[1] The headquarters of SVR are still in Yasenevo, Moscow, just beyond the Moscow Automobile Ring Road.

Unlike the FSB, the SVR is responsible for intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation. It works in cooperation with the Russian military intelligence organization GRU, which reportedly deployed six times as many spies in foreign countries as the SVR in 1997.[2] However SVR is reportedly more influential behind the scenes than GRU or the FCD was, especially with regard to defining Russian foreign policy.[3] The SVR is also authorized to negotiate anti-terrorist cooperation and intelligence-sharing arrangements with foreign intelligence agencies, and provides analysis and dissemination of intelligence to the Russian president.[3]



SVR is the official foreign-operations successor to many prior Soviet-era foreign intelligence agencies, ranging from the original 'foreign department' of the Cheka under Lenin, to the OGPU and NKVD of the Stalinist era, followed by the First Chief Directorate of the KGB.

From the beginning, foreign intelligence played an important role in the Soviet Union's foreign policy, when Bolshevik intelligence services were formed during the Russian Civil War. On December 19, 1918, the Central Committee Bureau of the RKP(b) decided to combine military front Cheka units and Military Control Units, which were controlled by the Military Revolutionary Committee, into one organization, the 'Special Section' (department) of the Cheka, headed by Mikhail Kedrov. The task of the Special Section was to collect human intelligence by gathering political and military information behind enemy lines, and to expose, neutralize, and liquidate counter-revolutionary elements in the Red Army. At the beginning of 1920, a sub-section was formed in the Special Section named the War Information Bureau (WIB) which conducted political, military, scientific and technical intelligence in surrounding countries.

The Red Army's defeat in the 1920 Polish–Soviet War was the primary motivation for the formation of a large independent foreign intelligence department in the Cheka. Officially, the SVR dates its own beginnings to the founding of the Special Section of the Cheka on December 20, 1920. The head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, created the Foreign Department (Inostranny Otdel - INO) to improve the collection as well as the dissemination of foreign intelligence. The new department consisted of the Management Office (INO chief and two deputies), the Chancellery, an Agent department, a visa bureau, and various foreign country sections.

On February 6, 1922, the Foreign Department of the Cheka became part of a renamed organization, the State Political Directorate, or GPU. The first head of the 'Foreign Department' of the GPU was a Bolshevik and Comintern leader, Mikhail Trilisser. The Foreign Department was placed in charge of intelligence activities overseas, including collection of important intelligence from foreign countries and the liquidation of defectors, emigres, and other assorted 'enemies of the people'. In 1922, after the creation of the State Political Directorate (GPU) and its merger with the People's Commisariat for Internal Affairs of the RSFSR, foreign intelligence was conducted by the GPU Foreign Department, and between December 1923 and July 1934 by the Foreign Department of Joint State Political Administration or OGPU. In July 1934, the OGPU was reincorporated into the NKVD. In 1954, the NKVD in turn became the KGB, which in 1991 became the SVR.

In 1996, the SVR issued a CD-ROM in 1996 entitled Russian Foreign Intelligence: VChK-KGB-SVR, which claims to provide "a professional view on the history and development of one of the most powerful secret services in the world" where all these services are presented as a single evolving organization.[3]

Former SVR chief Sergei Lebedev stated “there has not been any place on the planet where a KGB officer has not been.” During their 80th anniversary celebration, Vladimir Putin went to SVR headquarters to meet with other former KGB/SVR chiefs Kryuchkov, Shebarshin, Primakov, and Trubnikov, as well as other famous agents, including the British double agent and ex-Soviet spy George Blake.[4]

SVR Legal Authority

The "Law on Foreign Intelligence" was written by SVR leadership itself and adopted in August 1992. This Law provided conditions for "penetration by chekists of all levels of the government and economy", since it stipulated that "career personnel may occupy positions in ministries, departments, establishments, enterprises and organizations in accordance with the requirements of this law without compromising their association with foreign intelligence agencies."[5]

A new "Law on Foreign Intelligence Organs" was passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council in late 1995 and signed into effect by then-President Boris Yeltsin on 10 January 1996. The law authorizes the SVR to carry out the following:

  • (1) Conduct intelligence;
  • (2) Implement active measures to ensure Russia's security;
  • (3) Conduct military, strategic, economic, scientific and technological espionage;
  • (4) Protect employees of Russian institutions overseas and their families;
  • (5) Provide personal security for Russian government officials and their families;
  • (6) Conduct joint operations with foreign security services;
  • (7) Conduct electronic surveillance in foreign countries.

The Russian Federation President (currently Dmitry Medvedev) can personally issue any secret orders for the SVR, without asking the houses of the Federal Assembly: State Duma and Federation Council.

SVR Command Structure

Mikhail Fradkov is current SVR Director. The SVR Director is appointed by and reports directly to the President of Russia (currently Dmitry Medvedev). The Director provides briefings to the President every Monday and on other occasions as necessary. The Director is also a member of the Security Council of Russia and the Defense Council (

According to published sources, the SVR included the following directorates in 1990s[6][7]:

  • Directorate PR- Political Intelligence. It included 17 Departments, each responsible for different countries of the world (espionage in USA, Canada, Latin America, etc.)
  • Directorate S - Illegal Intelligence. It includes 13 Departments responsible for preparing and planting "illegal agents" abroad, conducting terror operations and sabotage in foreign countries, "biological espionage", recruitment of foreign citizens on the Russian territory and other duties.
  • Directorate X - Scientific and Technical Intelligence
  • Directorate KR - External Counter-Intelligence. This Directorate "carries out infiltration of foreign intelligence and security services and exercises surveillance over Russian citizens abroad."
  • Directorate OT - Operational and Technical Support
  • Directorate R - Operational Planning and Analysis. It evaluates SVR operations abroad.
  • Directorate I - Computer Service (Information and dissemination). This directorate analyzes and distributes intelligence data and publishes a daily current events summaries for the President
  • Directorate of Economic Intelligence

According to SVR web site [2], this organization currently consists of a Director, a First Deputy Director (who oversees the directions for Foreign Counterintelligence and Economic Intelligence) and the following departments:

  • Personnel;
  • Operations;
  • Analysis & Information (formerly Intelligence Institute);
  • Science;
  • Operational Logistics & Support.

Each Directorate is headed by a Deputy Director who reports to the SVR Director. The Red Banner Intelligence Academy has been renamed the Academy of Foreign Intelligence (ABP are its Russian initials) and is housed in the Science Directorate.

Within the Operations Dept of Directorate S, there is the elite Special Operations (Spetsnaz) Group called Vympel.

Involvement in Russian foreign policy

During Yeltsin presidency, SVR fought with Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for directing Russian foreign policy. SVR director Yevgeni Primakov upstaged the foreign ministry by publishing warnings to the West not to interfere the unification of Russia with other former Soviet republics and attacking the NATO extension as a threat to Russian security, whereas foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev was telling different things. The rivalry ended in decisive victory for the SVR, when Primakov replaced Kozyrev in January 1996 and brought with him a number of SVR officers to the foreign ministry of Russia[3].

In September 1999, Yeltsin admitted that the SVR plays a greater role in the Russian foreign policy than the Foreign Ministry. It was reported that SVR defined Russian position on the transfer of nuclear technologies to Iran, NATO expansion, and modification of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty[8]. SVR also tried to justify annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in WWII using selectively declassified documents[9].

SVR sends to the Russian president daily digests of intelligence, similar to the President's Daily Brief produced by CIA in the US. However, unlike the CIA, the SVR recommends to the president which policy options are preferable.[3]

Front organizations

According to Yuri Shvets, a former KGB agent “In the days of the Soviet Union, the number of spies was limited because they had to be based at the foreign ministry, the trade mission or the news agencies like Tass. Right now, virtually every successful private company in Russia is being used as a cover for Russian intelligence operations.”[10] For example, close connections of SVR with Russian gas company Gazprom and oil company LUKoil have been reported.[1]

Although every Russian company abroad may be a front organization of SVR or GRU (and in fact some of them have been organized by SVR[7]), the most famous of them is Russian aviation company Aeroflot. In the past, this company conducted forceful "evacuations" of Soviet citizens from foreign countries back to the USSR. People whose loyalty was questioned were drugged and delivered unconsciousness by Aeroflot planes, assisted by the company KGB personnel, according to former GRU officer Victor Suvorov[11]. In 1980s and 1990s, specimens of deadly bacteria and viruses stolen from Western laboratories were delivered by Aeroflot to support Russian program of biological weapons. This meant "delivering the material via an international flight of the Aeroflot airline in the pilots' cabin, where one of the pilots was a KGB officer".[7] At least two SVR agents died, presumably from the transported pathogens.[7]

When businessman Nikolai Glushkov was appointed as a top manager of Aeroflot in 1996, he found that the airline company worked as a "cash cow to support international spying operations"[12]: 3,000 people out of the total workforce of 14,000 in Aeroflot were FSB, SVR, or GRU officers. All proceeds from ticket sales were distributed to 352 foreign bank accounts that could not be controlled by the Aeroflot administration. Glushkov closed all these accounts and channeled the money to an accounting center called Andava in Switzerland.[12] He also sent a bill and wrote a letter to SVR director Yevgeni Primakov and FSB director Mikhail Barsukov asking them to pay salaries of their intelligence officers in Aeroflot in 1996.[12] Glushkov has been imprisoned since 2000 on charges of illegally channeling money through Andava. Since 2004 the company is controlled by Viktor Ivanov, a high-ranking FSB official who is a close associate of Vladimir Putin.




According to former GRU Colonel Stanislav Lunev, "SVR and GRU (Russia's political and military intelligence agencies, respectively) are operating against the U.S. in a much more active manner than they were during even the hottest days of the Cold War."[13]. From the end of 1980s, KGB and later SVR began to create "a second echelon" of "auxiliary agents in addition to our main weapons, Illegals and special agents", according to former SVR officer Kouzminov[7]. These agents are legal immigrants , including scientists and other professionals. Another SVR officer who defected to Britain in 1996 described details about several thousand of Russian agents and intelligence officers, some of them "illegals" who live under deep cover abroad[3] Recently caught Russian high-profile agents in US are Aldrich Hazen Ames, Harold James Nicholson, Earl Edwin Pitts, Robert Philip Hanssen and George Trofimoff.

Cooperation with foreign intelligence services

An agreement on intelligence cooperation between Russia and China was signed in 1992. This secret treaty covers cooperation of the GRU and the SVR with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Military Intelligence Directorate.[4] It was reported that SVR trained Iraqi spies during collaboration of Russia with Saddam Hussein.[14][15]. The SVR also has cooperation agreements with the secret police services of certain former Soviet republics, such as Azerbaijan and Belarus.[4]

Internet disinformation

According to senior SVR officer Sergei Tretyakov, he often sent intelligence officers to branches of the New York Public Library where they got access to the Internet without anyone knowing their identity. They placed propaganda and disinformation to educational web sites and sent e-mails to US broadcasters.[16] The articles or studies were generated by Russian experts who worked for the SVR.[16] The purpose of these active measures was to whitewash Russian foreign policy, to create good image of Russia, to promote Anti-American feelings and "to cause dissension and unrest inside the US".[16]

Assassinations abroad

"In the Soviet era, the SVR – then part of the KGB – handled covert political assassinations abroad"[1]. These activities reportedly continue[1]. Igor the Assassin, who is believed to have been the actual poisoner of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was allegedly an SVR officer [3]. However SVR denied its involvement in the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko .An SVR spokesperson said about Litvinenko: "May God give him health." [4].

It was reported that in September 2003, an SVR agent in London was making preparations to assassinate Boris Berezovsky with a binary weapon, and that is why Berezovsky had been granted a speedy asylum in Britain[12]. GRU officers who killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar in 2004 reportedly claimed that supporting SVR agents let them down by not evacuating them in time, so they have been arrested by Qatar authorities[1].


SVR actively recruits Russian citizens who live in foreign countries. "Once the FSB or SVR officer targets a Russian émigré for recruitment, they approach them, usually at their place of residence and make an effort to reach an understanding," said former FSB officer Aleksander Litvinenko.[17] "If he or she refuses, the intelligence officer then threatens the would-be recruit with legal prosecution in Russia, and if the person continues to refuse, the charges are fabricated". It was reported that SVR prey on successful Russian businessmen abroad.[17]

Today, Russian intelligence can no longer recruit people on the basis of Communist ideals, which was the "first pillar" of KGB recruitment, said analyst Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy. "The second pillar of recruitment is a love for Russia. In the West, only Russian immigrants have feelings of filial obedience toward Russia. That’s precisely why [the SVR] works with them so often. A special division was created just for this purpose. It regularly holds Russian immigrant conferences, which Putin is fond of attending."[18]

Public Perception in Russia

According to Russian media surveys (2004 and 2005), the Russian public realizes the need to have an active foreign intelligence capability in order to defend their homeland. The SVR appears to be positively perceived by most Russians as they view its mission as vital to their own security.

Notable Russian intelligence agents

  • February 1994 - Aldrich Hazen Ames was charged with providing highly classified information since 1985 to the Soviet Union and then Russia. The information he passed led to the execution of at least 9 United States agents in Russia. In April, he and his wife pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit espionage and to evading taxes. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.[19]
  • June 2000 - George Trofimoff, a naturalized citizen of Russian parents, was arrested for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia since about 1969. Having retired as a colonel in the United States Army Reserve, he was the highest ranking military officer ever accused of spying. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.[19]
  • October 2000 - Sergei Tretyakov, an SVR officer working undercover at the Russian UN mission defected to the United States with his family.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e The Security Organs of the Russian Federation. A Brief History 1991-2004 by Jonathan Littell, Psan Publishing House 2006.
  2. ^ The Jamestown Foundation
  3. ^ a b c d e f Vasili Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew (2000). The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books. ISBN 0-14-028487-7.
  4. ^ a b c PDF voulume about SVR espionage activities, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  5. ^ The HUMINT Offensive from Putin's Chekist State Anderson, Julie (2007), International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 20:2, 258 - 316
  6. ^ SVR Organization - Russia / Soviet Intelligence Agencies
  7. ^ a b c d e Alexander Kouzminov Biological Espionage: Special Operations of the Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Services in the West, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN 1-853-67646-2 [1].
  8. ^ Whither Russian foreign intelligence? By Victor Yasmann, Asia Times, June 6, 2000
  9. ^ Russian intelligence justifies Soviet annexation of Baltic states
  10. ^ Putin spy war on the West The Sunday Times May 20, 2007, by Mark Franchetti and Sarah Baxter
  11. ^ Viktor Suvorov Aquarium (Аквариум), 1985, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-11545-0
  12. ^ a b c d Alex Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko. Death of a dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, The Free Press (2007) ISBN 1-416-55165-4
  13. ^ Expulsion of Russian Spies Teaches Moscow a Needed Lesson by Stanislav Lunev, March 22, 2001
  14. ^ Russia now admits training Iraqi spies
  15. ^ Iraq's Russian Arms Buyer Headed Germ Warfare Program; Russian Spies Unmasked in London Financial System
  16. ^ a b c Pete Earley, "Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War", Penguin Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-399-15439-3, pages 194-195
  17. ^ a b Russia steps up espionage
  18. ^ Interview with Konstantin Preobrazhensky , January 27, 2006
  19. ^ a b c d e Defense Personnel Security Research Center, Espionage Cases 1975-2004,, retrieved 2006-02-19 

External links


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