The birthday of the foundation of Soviet military intelligence by Lev Trotsky is 5 November. The appalling publicity received by the G(R)U as a result of the Skripal’ affair and the messy, easily traceable, bare-faced penetrations of NATO communications systems have necessitated a face lift. As was done in 1963, when the GRU had mud all over its face because Colonel Pen’kovskii was discovered to have been working for MI6 and to have given away the fact that the Soviet Union did not have the intercontinental ballistic missile systems the Kremlin claimed to possess, documentary material is now hurriedly being released to demonstrate the unique value of the Directorate’s contribution to Russian security (in respect of World War II, atomic espionage, the Bay of Pigs in 1962, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan). This piecemeal attempt to compensate for the lack of a proper press service is a windfall for historians eager to find out more about the GRU.
An article published today in Komsomol’skaya pravda awkwardly entitled “Nashi agenty soblaznili sestru Napoleona i sorvali khimataku Gitlera” contains a number of fascinating revelations, including photocopies of original secret intelligence reports. In this respect it follows the pattern we have seen in the welcome publication of documents on the Czechoslovakian crisis in 1938. But what strikes the eye is a comment sent in by a reader, “Patriotka” (patriot), that sits at the bottom of the article and that tells all: “Yes, in those days there were [real] MEN unlike the current generation.”