Within a few hours of the brutal assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov in Ankara, the Russian president Vladimir Putin convened his inner national security team: the foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, the SVR (Russian foreign intelligence agency) director Sergey Naryshkin, and the FSB (Russian domestic law enforcement and counterintelligence agency) director Alexander Bortnikov. The absence of the prime minister Dmitry Medvedev is easy to explain and I have done so at length in one of my earlier article. In a nutshell, Medvedev is no longer considered an important player in the Russian political hierarchy and will soon be replaced.
However, the absence of the defense minister Sergey Shoigu is puzzling. Should not the GRU (Russian military intelligence agency) be also involved in developing a firm response to what is undoubtedly a shocking and unexpected blow to the Russian diplomatic and security establishment? Or is it perhaps the case that it was the GRU operatives who failed in their mission to warn their civilian counterparts on the imminence of a threat to the ambassador? It has barely been a year since the GRU itself suddenly lost its chief, general Igor Sergun, under what some have claimed were mysterious circumstances in the Middle East, though the official narrative insists that he died in Moscow.
During the (old) Cold War, the number of the GRU Western spies and defectors outnumbered those from the KGB and the information they revealed was much more useful and less subject to ambiguity and suspicion. For instance, the documents passed on to the CIA by the GRU colonel Oleg Penkovsky in the early 1960s helped the U.S. prevail over the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, Penkovsky was soon caught, convicted of being a traitor, and executed. The then chief of the GRU, general Mikhail Shalin, was fired and replaced by the KGB chief Ivan Serov.