TWELVE Russian intelligence officers were indicted over claims they meddled in the US presidential election to swing it in Donald Trump’s favour.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with uncovering any collusion between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, alleged these agents belonged to Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU.
It was once rumoured this secretive bureau, which recruits only the most patriotic young soldiers from poor backgrounds, has nuclear suitcase bombs stashed around the US.
Not only are they trained to gather top secret information on its rivals, its agents have been accused of creating “death squads” to assassinate its enemies on foreign soil.
They may have already caused a major diplomatic spat, with British officials blamed the agency for poisoning agent Sergey Skripal, himself a former GRU colonel, with Novichok in Salisbury.
Now, in a strongly-worded indictment, Mueller claims the same agency “conducted large scale cyber operations to interfere” with the election.
But after Donald Trump sided with Vladimir Putin over his own security experts, the agency which once lived in the shadow of the infamous KGB is very much in the spotlight.
Here, we delve deeper into its murky operations, recruitment process, assassination attempts and alleged involvement in altering the course of US history…
What does the GRU do?
The GRU, officially known as the Main Intelligence Directorate, is the arm of the Russian Defense Ministry tasked with gathering what some experts refer to as “battlefield intelligence”.
It has long existed and worked alongside the KGB, which operated as the Soviet Union’s main security agency until its breakup in 1991.
But by 1997, it commanded 25,000 troops and deployed six times more agents than KGB’s successors, the SVR.
It once had stations known as “residencies” in Russian embassies around the world and still has a terrifying network of agents abroad, according to the Daily Beast.
GRU agents who spied on Ukrainian forces, intercepted communications and seized important military outposts were credited for the “bloodless seizure of Crimea” in 2014, Foreign Policy reported.
While visiting the agency’s sprawling new Moscow HQ in 2006, Vladimir Putin bragged: “No other country can boast of such a state-of-the-art complex.”
How are GRU officers recruited?
While the KGB’s eye was drawn to the sons of high ranking officers, the GRU looked for its agents among the working class, GRU defector Victor Suvorov wrote in his book, Inside Soviet Military Intelligence.
They also avoid “intellectually developed” officers who are fluent in foreign languages, according to intelligence expert Constantine Preobrazhensky.
“Such people have been thought to be unreliable,” he claimed. “They might be fond of Western freedoms and could defect.”
Preobrazhensky claimed they look for patriotic candidates who do not want to serve abroad and descend from poor peasant families.
Who are the GRU’s special forces?
The GRU has its own special forces battalion known as the Spetsnaz, which was first formed in 1949.
These soldiers, armed with a distinctive Vintorez rifle, have extensive battlefield experience in Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans and reportedly in Syria.
But the force war originally designed to carry out reconnaissance and sabotage operations against its enemies in the Cold War.
They were not trained to rescue hostages, according to Systema Spetsnaz, which claims they were tasked with destroying enemy command posts and taking out its leadership.
Did the GRU meddle in the US election?
Nothing has been proven but US prosecutors certainly seem to think so: In a 29-page indictment, a Grand Jury listed 12 Russians co-conspirators who it claimed interfered in the US election.
It said they hacked into the computers of officials involved in the contest, stole documents and released them in an attempt to swing the vote.
The document listed monikers and code names used by the suspects, including Agent X, who are accused of using malware to move the stolen documents.
Who is Aleksandr Golovin? Russia midfielder set to sign for Chelsea
Who is Croatia president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and her husband?
golov is in
Chelsea close in on CSKA star for Aleksandr Golovin he rejects Monaco offer
Why did Russian fans boo Croatian defender Domagoj Vida?
Vida faces ban from England semi-final over SECOND ‘Glory to Ukraine’ video chant
It went on to say the “conspirators” hacked the accounts of volunteers and employees working for Clinton and used fictitious online personas to cover their tracks.
British officials also believe the attack on the Skripals was “most probably carried out by current or former agents of the service known as the GRU”, the Times reported.
The same agency was accused of assassinating Chechen writer and politician Zelimkhan Abdulmuslimovich in May 2017.
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online news team? Email us at email@example.com or call 0207 782 4368. You can WhatsApp us on 07810 791 502. We pay for videos too. Click here to upload yours.