The head of Russia's GRU spy agency is reported dead ‘after a long and serious illness’

Igor Korobov, the head of Russia’s Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU), died “after a long and serious illness,” a Defense Ministry spokesperson told the news agency RIA Novosti early on November 22. Korobov was 62 years old. He served in the Soviet and Russian armed forces since 1973, joining the USSR's military intelligence in 1985 and becoming Russia's GRU director in 2016.

According to a report by Sergey Kanev published at Dossier Center in October, Korobov reportedly started feeling unwell after a severe reprimand from President Putin in mid-September, following the exposure of an apparently bungled GRU operation to assassinate Sergey Skripal in Salisbury, England. For months, investigative reporters have pieced together evidence exposing the agency's illegal mission in March 2018. At the time, Kanev's sources speculated that Korobov might be fired before the end of the year and replaced by GRU General Sergey Gizunov, a St. Petersburg native who is supposedly known as “Putin's eyes and ears inside Russia's military intelligence.”

Igor Korobov
Igor Korobov

Korobov's predecessor, Igor Sergun, died suddenly on January 3, 2016. Officially, he passed away at his home outside Moscow after suffering a heart attack. According to the American geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, however, Sergun died on New Year’s Day in Lebanon.

A career intelligence officer who started out in the 1980s, Korobov graduated from the “Conservatory” and went on to oversee Russia’s strategic intelligence gathering, including the management of all foreign stations. His appointment was no surprise: since the 1990s, the president has traditionally entrusted the job to lieutenants who supervised Russia’s foreign stations.

American officials added Korobov to their sanctions list in December 2016 for his “efforts to undermine democracy” by organizing hacker attacks. Nevertheless, Korobov and the directors of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) made an unprecedented trip to Washington in February 2018 to meet with members of the U.S. intelligence community to discuss the war against terrorism.