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Russia's GRU: Spy agency known for brazenness back in the headlines

June 29, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

FILE - In this Saturday, July 14, 2018 file photo, a man walks past the building of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, also know as Russian military intelligence service in Moscow, Russia. The U.S. Justice Department has charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations hours after British and Dutch officials leveled new accusations against the military unit. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

For an intelligence service that is supposed to operate in the shadows, the GRU seems to attract a lot of headlines.

Now the spy agency is again at the center of international attention, after reports that US intelligence concluded GRU operatives offered cash incentives to the Taliban to kill American and British troops in Afghanistan.

But observers also wonder why the Russian intelligence agency would run an operation that potentially conflicts with Russia's own stated goals to bring warring parties to the table in Afghanistan and avoid a precipitous collapse of the central government.

In March 2018, then UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia was "highly likely" responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury -- and that the two suspects in the attack were believed to be officers of the GRU.

Now, allegations that the GRU offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US troops come at a sensitive time: Russia -- which considers Afghanistan a near-neighbor -- want American troops out of the country.

An alleged GRU operation targeting US and coalition soldiers would appear to be at odds with those Russian diplomatic initiatives, says Laurel Miller, program director for Asia with International Crisis Group.

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