Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)

The Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (Russian: Слу́жба вне́шней разве́дки, tr. Sluzhba vneshney razvedki; IPA: [ˈsluʐbə ˈvnʲɛʂnʲɪj rɐˈzvʲɛtkʲɪ] or SVR RF (Russian: СВР РФ) is Russia‘s external intelligence agency, mainly for civilian affairs. The military affairs espionage counterpart is 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]





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.[citation needed] The head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, created the Foreign Department (Inostranny Otdel – INO) to improve the collection as well as the dissemination of foreign intelligence. On 6 February 1922, the Foreign Department of the Cheka became part of a renamed organization, the State Political Directorate, or 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]

Former Director of the SVR RF Sergei Lebedev stated “there has not been any place on the planet where a KGB officer has not been.” During their 80th anniversary celebration, Vladimir Putin went to SVR headquarters to meet with other former KGB/SVR chiefs Vladimir Kryuchkov, Leonid Shebarshin, Yevgeny Primakov and Vyacheslav Trubnikov, as well as other famous agents, including the British double agent and ex-Soviet spy George Blake.[4]

Legal authority

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]

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:

  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.

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.

Command structure

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.

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

  • 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 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:

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

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.

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.

Involvement in Russian foreign policy

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]

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]

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]



According to former GRU Colonel Stanislav Lunev, “SVR and GRU (Russia’s political and military intelligence agencies, respectively) are operating against the U.S. in a much more active manner than they were during even the hottest days of the Cold War.”[11] From the end of the 1980s, KGB and later SVR began to create “a second echelon” of “auxiliary agents in addition to our main weapons, illegals and special agents”, according to former SVR officer Kouzminov.[7] These agents are legal immigrants, including scientists and other professionals. Another SVR officer who defected to Britain in 1996 described details about thousand Russian agents and intelligence officers, some of them “illegals” who live under deep cover abroad.[3] Recently caught Russian high-profile agents in US are Aldrich Hazen Ames, Harold James Nicholson, Earl Edwin Pitts, Robert Philip Hanssen and George Trofimoff.

Cooperation with foreign intelligence services

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]

Assassinations abroad

“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,[citation needed] 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]

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]


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]

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.

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]

Notable Russian intelligence agents

  • 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]
  • 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]
  • June 2000: George Trofimoff, a naturalized citizen of Russian parents, was arrested for spying for the 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]
  • October 2000: Sergei Tretyakov, an SVR officer working undercover at the Russian UN mission defected to the United States with his family.
  • 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]
  • 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 (Александр Потеев).[25]


Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation

SVR logo
Mikhail Fradkov

since October 6, 2007
Residence Yasenovo, Moscow
Appointer Vladimir Putin
Inaugural holder Yevgeni Primakov (SCR)
Formation September 18, 1991

The Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the RF (D/SVR) serves as the head of the Russian for the Civil Intelligence Agency, which is part of the Russian Intelligence Community. The Director reports to the President and the Head of Russian Security Council. The Director is assisted by the Deputy Director, and he is a civilian or a general or flag officer of the armed forces. The Director is appointed by the President, with the concurring or nonconcurring recommendation from the Head of Security Council.

List of Directors of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the RF

Portrait Director Tenure President(s) served under
Yevgeni Primakov December 1991 – 1996 Boris Yeltsin
Vyacheslav Trubnikov 1996 – May 2000 Yeltsin
Sergei Lebedev 20 May 2000 – 6 October 2007 Vladimir Putin
Mikhail Fradkov (Brasília, 04 April 2006).jpeg Mikhail Fradkov October 6, 2007 – Present Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin

See also




External links