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Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)

Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation
Служба внешней разведки Российской Федерации
Seal of the SVR RF
Official emblem

Flag of the Russian Federation
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: ) 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]


  • History 1
  • Legal authority 2
  • Command structure 3
  • Involvement in Russian foreign policy 4
  • Operations 5
    • Espionage 5.1
    • Cooperation with foreign intelligence services 5.2
    • Assassinations abroad 5.3
  • Recruitment 6
  • Notable Russian intelligence agents 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • External links 10


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, 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]


  • Official website (Russian)

External links

  1. ^ a b c d The Security Organs of the Russian Federation. A Brief History 1991–2004 by Jonathan Littell, Psan Publishing House 2006.
  2. ^ The Jamestown Foundation
  3. ^ a b c d e Vasili Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew (2000). The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books. ISBN 0-14-028487-7.
  4. ^ a b c PDF volume about SVR espionage activities, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  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
  7. ^ a b 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. ^
  9. ^ Whither Russian foreign intelligence? By Victor Yasmann, Asia Times, 6 June 2000
  10. ^ Russian intelligence justifies Soviet annexation of Baltic states
  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". SF Chronicle. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  13. ^ "Iraq's Russian Arms Buyer Headed Germ Warfare Program; Russian Spies Unmasked in London Financial System". 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  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. ^ a b Russia steps up espionage
  18. ^ Interview with Konstantin Preobrazhensky , 27 January 2006
  19. ^ a b c d e Defense Personnel Security Research Center. "Espionage Cases 1975–2004". Retrieved 19 February 2006. 
  20. ^ McGreal, Chris (29 June 2010). "FBI breaks up Russian spy ring in deep cover". The Guardian (UK). 
  21. ^ "U.S. arrests 10 for allegedly spying for Russia". Reuters News Service. 28 June 2010. 
  22. ^ Shane, Scott; Savage, Charlie (28 June 2010). "US Charges 11 With Acting as Agents for Russia". New York Times. 
  23. ^ "Cambridge couple linked to alleged Russian spy network". Boston Globe. 28 June 2010. 
  24. ^ "Who were the alleged spies working for". CBS news. 28 June 2010. 
  25. ^


See also

  • June 2010: With the breakup of known parts of the Illegals Program, 10 individuals who allegedly carried on deep-cover espionage activities were arrested by FBI, and an eleventh was arrested while attempting to transit through Cyprus. These individuals were purportedly working for the SVR on long term covert assignments in penetrating policy making circles in the United States government. An agent going by the name of Christopher Metsos is still being sought by the authorities; the agents arrested on 28 June 2010 include Mikhail Semenko, Vladimir Guryev, Lidiya Guryev, Andrey Bezrukov, Yelena Vavilova, Mikhail Kutsik, Nataliya Pereverzeva, Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov, Vicky Pelaez, and Anna Chapman.[20][21][22][23][24] A twelfth man, Alexey Karetnikov, was deported later. They were revealed by SVR defector Deputy Head of illegal spies, colonel Alexander Poteyev.[25]
  • February 2001: Robert Philip Hanssen was arrested for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for more than 15 years of his 27 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He passed thousands of pages of classified documents on nuclear war defenses and Sensitive Compartmented Information and exposed three Russian agents of the United States, two of whom were tried and executed. He pleaded guilty to espionage and was sentenced to life in prison.[19]
  • October 2000: Sergei Tretyakov, an SVR officer working undercover at the Russian UN mission defected to the United States with his family.
  • June 2000: Soviet Union and Russia since about 1969. Having retired as a colonel in the United States Army Reserve, he was the highest-ranking military officer ever accused of spying. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.[19]
  • December 1996: Earl Edwin Pitts was charged with providing Top Secret documents to the Soviet Union and then Russia from 1987 until 1992. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to two counts of espionage and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.[19]
  • November 1996: Harold James Nicholson was arrested while attempting to take Top Secret documents out of the country. He began spying for Russia in 1994. He was a senior-ranking Central Intelligence Agency officer. In 1997, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than 23 years in prison.[19]
  • February 1994: Aldrich Hazen Ames was charged with providing highly classified information since 1985 to the Soviet Union and then Russia. The information he passed led to the execution of at least 9 United States agents in Russia. In April, he and his wife pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit espionage and to evading taxes. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.[19]

Notable Russian intelligence 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."[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.

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.[17] "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.[17]


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]

"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]

Assassinations abroad

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]

Cooperation with foreign intelligence services

According to former GRU Colonel George Trofimoff.



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]

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]

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 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 telling 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]

Involvement in Russian foreign policy

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 rumors 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.

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.

  • Personnel;
  • Operations;
  • Analysis & Information (formerly Intelligence Institute);
  • Science;
  • Operational Logistics & Support.

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:

  • Directorate PR: Political Intelligence: Included seventeen departments, each responsible for different countries of the world (espionage in the USA, Canada, Latin America, etc.)
  • Directorate S: Illegal Intelligence: Included thirteen departments responsible for preparing and planting "illegal agents" abroad, conducting terror operations and sabotage in foreign countries, "biological espionage", recruitment of foreign citizens on the Russian territory and other duties.
  • Directorate X: Scientific and Technical Intelligence
  • Directorate KR: External Counter-Intelligence: This Directorate "carries out infiltration of foreign intelligence and security services and exercises surveillance over Russian citizens abroad."
  • Directorate OT: Operational and Technical Support
  • Directorate R: Operational Planning and Analysis: Evaluates SVR operations abroad.
  • Directorate I: Computer Service (Information and Dissemination): Analyzes and distributes intelligence data and publishes a daily current events summaries for the President.
  • Directorate of Economic Intelligence

According to published sources, the SVR included the following directorates in 1990s:[6][7]

Mikhail Fradkov is the current 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.

Command structure

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

  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.

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:

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]

Legal authority


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