The head of Russian military intelligence agency GRU, General Igor Korobov, has died at the age of 62, Russia’s defence ministry says.
Gen Korobov, who took up the post in 2016, is said to have died after “a serious and long illness” on Wednesday.
The GRU was this year linked to a nerve agent attack in Britain on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Gen Korobov is understood to have faced criticism by Russian officials over the failure of the operation.
The attack on Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on 4 March led to them requiring weeks of hospital treatment.
The poisoning is alleged to have been carried out by suspects Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, both identified by British authorities as GRU operatives, and “almost certainly” approved by the Russian state.
Russia denies the allegations.
The GRU, or Main Intelligence Directorate, is the intelligence arm of the Russian military tasked with carrying out undercover international operations.
GRU’s year of notoriety
The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow writes:
Igor Korobov’s career in the Soviet, then Russian military, spanned more than 40 years.
He joined military intelligence in the mid-1980s and rose through the GRU ranks to a key position, overseeing strategic intelligence-gathering.
In 2016 he was given the top job: agency chief.
Under Korobov, and his predecessor Igor Sergun, the GRU became the Kremlin’s spy agency of choice for a series of high-profile and highly controversial operations. The GRU has been linked to Russia’s military operation in eastern Ukraine, to Moscow’s meddling in the US election and to a failed coup in Montenegro.
The defence ministry described Korobov as a “wonderful person”. But 2018 has been less than wonderful for the agency he headed. A series of botched operations – most notably the Salisbury poisoning – has thrust the GRU into the limelight and raised questions about its methods and activities.
Korobov reportedly died “after a long, extended illness”. Did he fall ill, as rumours suggest, after a dressing-down from the president? I can’t confirm that.
But what’s clear is that if you take on the role of GRU chief, don’t expect a carriage clock and a happy retirement at the end of it. Korobov’s predecessor, Igor Sergun, also died while in office.
Tass news agency tweeted the news of his death with an image of Gen Korobov in a grey military jacket.
He was described by Russia’s defence ministry on Wednesday as “a wonderful person, a faithful son of Russia and a patriot of his homeland,” Reuters news agency reported.
The ministry did not provide any further details about his death.
The GRU was allegedly involved in undercover operations in Ukraine – including Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and in computer hacking in the 2016 US presidential election.