Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)

Coordinates: 55°35′02″N 37°31′01″E / 55.584°N 37.517°E / 55.584; 37.517

Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation
Служба внешней разведки Российской Федерации

Seal of the SVR RF

Official emblem

Flag of the SVR
Agency overview
Formed December 1991
Preceding agency
Headquarters Yasenevo, Moscow, Russia
Minister responsible
Agency executive
Child agency
  • Institute of Intelligence Information
Российской Федерации

The Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (Russian: Слу́жба вне́шней разве́дки, tr. Sluzhba vneshney razvedki; IPA: [ˈsluʐbə ˈvnʲɛʂnʲɪj rɐˈzvʲɛtkʲɪ]) or SVR RF (Russian: СВР РФ) is Russia's external intelligence agency, mainly for civilian affairs. The military affairs espionage counterpart is the GRU. The SVR RF is the successor of the First Chief Directorate (PGU) of the KGB since December 1991.[1] The headquarters of SVR are in the Yasenevo District of Moscow.

Unlike the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the SVR is responsible for intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation. It works in cooperation with the Russian Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye (GRU, Main Intelligence Directorate), which reportedly deployed six times as many spies in foreign countries as the SVR in 1997.[2] 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 RF is the official foreign-operations successor to many prior Soviet-era foreign intelligence agencies, ranging from the original 'foreign department' of the Cheka under Vladimir Lenin, to the OGPU and NKVD of the Stalinist era, followed by the First Chief Directorate of the KGB.

Officially, the SVR RF dates its own beginnings to the founding of the Special Section of the Cheka on 20 December 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. On 6 February 1922, the Foreign Department of the Cheka became part of a renamed organization, the State Political Directorate, or GPU. 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 Commissariat 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 RF issued a CD-ROM 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 Director of the SVR RF 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 Vladimir Kryuchkov, Leonid Shebarshin, Yevgeny Primakov and Vyacheslav Trubnikov, as well as other famous agents, including the British double agent and ex-Soviet spy George Blake.[4]

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 President of the Russian Federation (currently Vladimir Putin) can personally issue any secret orders to the SVR RF without consulting the houses of the Federal Assembly: State Duma and Federation Council.

Command structure

Sergey Naryshkin is the current (since 22 September 2016) Director of the SVR RF. The head of the SVR RF is appointed by and reports directly to the President of Russia. 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]

According to the SVR RF web site,[8] the organization currently consists of a Director, a First Deputy Director (who oversees the directions for Foreign Counterintelligence and Economic Intelligence) and the following departments:

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 Department of Directorate S, there is the elite Special Operations (Spetsnaz) Group called Zaslon. Formerly in PGU KGB USSR called Vympel (e.g. French counterpart; Division Action). However, mere existence of such group within SVR is denied by Russian authorities. Nevertheless, there were some rumours that such group does indeed exist and is assigned to execute very special operations abroad primarily for protection of Russian embassy personnel and internal investigations. It is believed that the group is deep undercover and consists of approximately 500 highly experienced operatives speaking several languages and having extensive record of operations while serving in other secret units of the Russian military.

Involvement in Russian foreign policy

During Boris Yeltsin's presidency, the SVR conflicted 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 in 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 requesting 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.[9] SVR also tried to justify annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in World War II using selectively declassified documents.[10]

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



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."[11] From the end of the 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 several thousand 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 GSh VS RF and the SVR RF with the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Military Intelligence Directorate.[4] In 2003 it was reported that SVR RF trained Iraqi spies when Russia collaborated with Saddam Hussein.[12][13] The SVR also has cooperation agreements with the secret police services of certain former Soviet republics, such as Azerbaijan and Belarus.[4]

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 poisoner of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, was allegedly an SVR officer.[14] However, SVR denied involvement in the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. An SVR spokesperson queried over Litvinenko remarked: "May God give him health."[15]

It was reported that in September 2003, an SVR RF agent in London was making preparations to assassinate Boris Berezovsky with a binary weapon, and that is why Berezovsky had been speedily granted asylum in Britain.[16] 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]

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.[17] The articles or studies were generated by Russian experts who worked for the SVR.[17] 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".[17]


SVR RF actively recruits Russian citizens who live in foreign countries. "Once the 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.[18] "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 and a close number of foreigners swearing allegiance upon pain of death.[18]

These claims have not been confirmed by the official SVR website, which states that only Russian citizens without dual citizenship can become SVR RF agents.

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 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."[19]

Notable Russian intelligence agents

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 The Security Organs of the Russian Federation. A Brief History 1991–2004 by Jonathan Littell, Psan Publishing House 2006.
  2. The Jamestown Foundation
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Vasili Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew (2000). The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books. ISBN 0-14-028487-7.
  4. 1 2 3 PDF volume about SVR espionage activities, Office of the Director of National Intelligence Archived 10 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  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". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  7. 1 2 Alexander Kouzminov, Biological Espionage: Special Operations of the Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Services in the West, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN 1-85367-646-2.
  8. "Служба внешней разведки Российской Федерации". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  9. Whither Russian foreign intelligence? By Victor Yasmann, Asia Times, 6 June 2000
  10. Sputnik (23 November 2006). "Russian intelligence justifies Soviet annexation of Baltic states". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  11. Expulsion of Russian Spies Teaches Moscow a Needed Lesson by Stanislav Lunev, 22 March 2001
  12. Robert Collier; Bill Wallace (April 17, 2003). "Russia now admits training Iraqi spies / But it says intent was to fight crime, terror". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  13. "Iraq's Russian Arms Buyer Headed Germ Warfare Program; Russian Spies Unmasked in London Financial System". Archived from the original on 7 June 2007.
  16. 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 1-4165-5165-4
  17. 1 2 3 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
  18. 1 2 "Defence & Security Intelligence & Analysis - IHS Jane's 360". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  19. Interview with Konstantin Preobrazhensky , 27 January 2006
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 Defense Personnel Security Research Center. "Espionage Cases 1975–2004". Retrieved 19 February 2006.
  21. McGreal, Chris (29 June 2010). "FBI breaks up Russian spy ring in deep cover". The Guardian. UK.
  22. "U.S. arrests 10 for allegedly spying for Russia". Reuters News Service. 28 June 2010.
  23. Shane, Scott; Savage, Charlie (28 June 2010). "US Charges 11 With Acting as Agents for Russia". New York Times.
  24. "Cambridge couple linked to alleged Russian spy network". Boston Globe. 28 June 2010.
  25. "Who were the alleged spies working for". CBS news. 28 June 2010.
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