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What have we learned about Russia’s Military Intelligence Directorate over the past few months? (Spoiler: it’s more Boris and Natasha than Black Widow.)

Meduza
  1. Agents get documents for new fictional identities, when they join.
  2. Some agents change only their surname, while others also change their first name, patronymic, birth date, and place of birth.
  3. The new surnames agents assume are generally more common last names in Russia (for example, Shishkamov becomes Shirokov, Ivannikov becomes Laptev, and Mishkin becomes Petrov).
  4. Agents change their passports, but not their driver’s licenses.
  5. Agents aren’t assigned phony backstories when they’re issued their new identities. Instead of forged backdated documents, their new records bear a “Top Secret” label and a stamp that reads “Do Not Provide Any Information” and lists the Military Intelligence Directorate’s phone number.
  6. Agents travel abroad only using their new passports with their fake names.
  7. Agents’ new identification documents are issued in batches, as evidenced by their sequential passport numbers.
  8. In state registration paperwork, agents and their families often list their home addresses as their military unit or the GRU’s headquarters. As a result, anyone with access to databases with these records is able to identify the agents.
  9. The top state honor granted to GRU agents, the Hero of the Russian Federation award, is bestowed personally by Russia’s president. The executive order issuing the award is classified, but recipients’ families, friends, and former instructors know about it. Sometimes, military academies celebrate winners with honorary plaques.
  10. In addition to the Hero of the Russian Federation medal, the state also awards some GRU agents free apartments in Moscow.
  11. During missions abroad, agents carry various receipts, so they can submit expense reports for reimbursements back in Moscow.

Sources: investigations by Bellingcat, The Insider, and The Conflict Intelligence Team.

Image on front page: Dutch Defense Ministry