Update: the afternoon I wrote this, it was announced that Lt Gen Igor Korobov has been appointed. Needless to say, I take full credit for forcing the Kremlin’s hand😉. Meanwhile Dyumin, perhaps as a consolation prize, perhaps because his position at the defence ministry had thus become untenable, moves across to become acting governor of Tula. So the military win this round – but apparently not easily.
A month ago tomorrow, military intelligence chief Igor Sergun died of heart failure in the suburbs of Moscow (not in Lebanon, not anything exciting…). That the announcement of his successor would be delayed because of the long Christmas-to-Orthodox-New-Year holidays was expected. But despite a couple of times hearing suggestions that a name was about to be announced, no one yet.
It’s bad enough that we don’t even know what the agency should be called — it’s traditional form, the GRU, that even Putin uses, or the more anonymous GU (“the Main Directorate”) in official parlance? I talk a little about this in War On The Rocks here. But as the leadership vacuum continues to resist being filled, it is hard not to assume this is because the appointment is proving contentious. As near as I can tell–and all this needless ought to be taken with caution, as the people who really know aren’t going to tell–there is a three-cornered, asymmetric fight:
Steady As She Goes. The obvious stakeholders want the obvious choice: defence minister Shoigu, CoGS Gerasimov (probably) and the bulk of the GRU itself want one of Sergun’s deputies to succeed: Vyacheslav Kondrashev, Sergei Gizunov, Igor Lelin, or most likely, Igor Korobov. Obviously the new director’s interests and personality would have an impact, but essentially this is the continuity choice.
A Fork in the Road. Seemingly the least-likely option, being floated by a few senior figures within the regular Ground Forces, is one of their number. This is really to push forward their own agenda, which is to split the GRU, with one portion sticking to the “spy” stuff, and the other–taking with it the Spetsnaz commandoes–engaging in tactical reconnaissance, special ops and that kid of thing. I don’t at present see any wider constituency for this, although in such circumstances it is always possible the main candidates cancel each other out and open the way for the mutually-least-objectionable one.
Praetorians to the Fore. There has been something of a trend of late to see security apparatus insiders known to Putin, especially from the Presidential Security Service (SBP) and its parent, the Federal Guard Service (FSO) parachuted into key positions across the security sector. It could be that Putin will want to make sure a personal client is heading the GRU, in which case the obvious candidate would be Lt. Gen. Alexander Dyumin, whose strangely meteoric rise from presidential bullet-catcher to deputy defence minister in less than a year I have sketched here.
What I have to confess I don’t see any signs of, is a land-grab by any of the other intel agencies, notably SVR and FSB. The military is still not a bloc to mess with, and any such move would unite them more than anything else.