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Military Intelligence


Although the means have grown more sophisticated, the basic function of military intelligence (voyennaya razvedka ) has remained unchanged: collecting, analyzing and disseminating information about the enemy's intentions and its ability to carry them out. Since the Soviet era, military intelligence has been classified according to three categories: strategic, operational, and tactical. Strategic intelligence entails an understanding of actual and potential foes at the broadest level, including the organization and capabilities of their armed forces as well as the economy, population, and geography of the national base. Operational intelligence refers to knowledge of military value more directly tied to the theater, and is typically conducted by the staffs of front and army formations, while tactical intelligence is carried out by commanders at all levels to gather battlefield data directly relevant to their current mission.

Before the Great Reforms (1860s1870s), Russian generals had three basic means of learning about their foes: spies, prisoners of war, and reconnaissance. Thus, at the Battle of Kulikovo (1381) Prince Dmitry Donskoy dispatched a reliable diplomat to the enemy's camp to study the latter's intentions, questioned captives, and personally assessed the terrain, all of which played a role in his famous victory over the Mongols. While capable commanders had always understood the need for good intelligence, until the early eighteenth century the Russian army had neither systematic procedures nor personnel designated to carry them out. Peter I's introduction of a quartermaster service (kvartirmeisterskaya chast ) in 1711 (renamed the general staff, or generalny shtab, by Catherine II in 1763) laid the institutional groundwork. The interception of diplomatic correspondence, a vital element of strategic intelligence, was carried out by the foreign office's Cabinet Noir (Black Chamber, also known as the shifrovalny otdel ), beginning under Empress Elizabeth I (r. 17411762). Inter-ministerial rivalry often hampered effective dissemination of such data to the War Ministry.

It would take another century for military intelligence properly to be systematized with the creation of a Main Staff (glavny shtab ) by the reformist War Minister Dmitry Milyutin in 1865. Roughly analogous to the Prussian Great General Staff, the Main Staff's responsibilities included central administration, training, and intelligence. Two departments of the Main Staff were responsible for strategic intelligence: the Military Scientific Department (Voyenny ucheny komitet, which dealt with European powers) and the Asian Department (Aziatskaya chast ). Milyutin also regularized procedures for operational and combat intelligence in 1868 with new regulations to establish an intelligence section (razvedivatelnoye otdelenie ) attached to field commanders' staffs, and he formalized the training and functions of military attachés (voennye agenty ). The Admiralty's Main Staff established analogous procedural organizations for naval intelligence.

In 1903, the Army's Military Scientific Department was renamed Section Seven of the First Military Statistical Department in the Main Staff. Dismal performance during the Russo-Japanese War inevitably led to another series of reforms, which saw the creation in June 1905 of an independent Main Directorate of the General Staff (Glavnoye Upravlenie Generalnago Shtaba, or GUGSh), whose first over quartermaster general was now tasked with intelligence, among other duties. Resubordinated to the war minister in 1909, GUGSh would retain its responsibility for intelligence through World War I.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir Lenin established a Registration Directorate (Registupravlenie, RU) in October 1918 to coordinate intelligence for his nascent Red Army. At the conclusion of the Civil War, in 1921, the RU was refashioned into the Second Directorate of the Red Army Staff (also known as the Intelligence Directorate, Razvedupr, or RU). A reorganization of the Red Army in 1925 saw the entity transformed into the Red Army Staff's Fourth Directorate, and after World War II it would be the Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoye Razvedivatelnoye Upravlenie, GRU).

Because of the presence of many former Imperial Army officers in the Bolshevik military, the RU bore more than a passing resemblance to its tsarist predecessor. However, it would soon branch out into much more comprehensive collection, especially through human intelligence (i.e., military attachés and illegal spies) and intercepting communications. Despite often intense rivalry with the state security services, beginning with Felix Dzerzhinsky's Cheka, the RU and its successors also became much more active in rooting out political threats, whether real or imagined.

Both tsarist and Soviet military intelligence were respected if not feared by other powers. Like all military intelligence services, its record was nevertheless marred by some serious blunders, including fatally underestimating the capabilities of the Japanese armed forces in 1904 and miscalculating the size of German deployments in East Prussia in 1914. Yet even the best intelligence could not compensate for the shortcomings of the supreme commander, most famously when Josef Stalin refused to heed repeated and often accurate assessments of Nazi intentions to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941.

See also: administration, military; military, imperial era; military, special purpose forces; soviet and post-soviet; state security, organs of


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Leonard, Raymond W. (1999). Secret Soldiers of the Revolution: Soviet Military Intelligence, 19181933. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye

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