Russian President Vladimir Putin (left), Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov (center) head of the Main Intelligence Department of the General Staff of the Russian Army Gen. Valentin Korabelnikov visit the intelligence department's new headquarters.
Photo: Dmitry Azarov
The President Comes Flying to the GRU
// For the opening of its new headquarters
Russian President Vladimir Putin landed on the roof of the new headquarters of the Main Intelligence Department of the General Staff of the Russian Army (Russian abbreviation GRU) yesterday. Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov has the details.
The bright, spacious building of concrete and glass is apparently what Russian military intelligence has been lacking all these years to look good at home and abroad. Otherwise, supreme commander Putin would not have signed the order three and a half years ago to build the new building in place of what had lightheartedly been called “the aquarium” for years.
The construction of the new GRU headquarters set the federal budget back 9.5 billion rubles and was carried out with three and a half years of such enthusiasm that it would have put last century's Komsomol construction projects to shame. Its cost cannot be called grandiose either when you see the finished product. From many of the hallways, the concrete-panel housing that surrounds it can be seen. But all office windows look down on the courtyard, where there is a covered garden, fountain and wooden bridge over a stream. The fitness center and swimming pool on the building's first floor are simply intimidating.
The building holds a plethora of high-cost secrets. Nonetheless, if I am not mistaken, most of the funds budgeted to it went on the fence that surrounds it. The wall can, its builders promise, withstand a tank. It might be interesting to find out what tank builders say about the wall, however.
The president was the first to test the new headquarters' soundness. He landed on its roof in an Army helicopter. Then he examined every nook and cranny of the building. I think he just didn't want to leave it. He spent the most time firing various types of pistols in the shooting range. They say he's a good shot. He spent much less time in the situational center. When we were there half an hour ahead of him, GRU personnel shared information with us surprisingly readily. When asked what situations the situational center was meant for, they said practically any situation at all.
“Did you follow the American congressional elections?” one journalist asked in alarm and confusion.
“Well, not a lot,” a general answered. “That's more the job of the SVR [Russian abbreviation for External Intelligence Service].”
In the command center, which, to my amazement, we saw with our own eyes, they told us that if, God forbid, a fire breaks out, you have only a few seconds to evacuate the building before the gas used to put out the fire puts you out too. The apathy toward human life was breathtaking to me, almost as badly as the gas. But when I looked in the eyes of our tour guide, I realized that his real heartlessness was his desire to joke with us.
Our guides were wearing both Hero of the Soviet Union and a Hero of Russia stars on his uniform and were as impressive as the stories they told. They had the manners of nobility. They would not hesitate a second to let a lady go first (after open the door for her with their electronic key). It comes automatically to them, just as they cover their mouths when they yawn or cough. There really was the impression that those people had spent many years in an aquarium.
Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov announced as he entered the building that he had been in the headquarters of many intelligence services around the world, and his foreign colleagues have every right to come to this one as well, “but no farther than the lobby and cafe.”
I hope that he meant that that was an adequate response to his reception in the foreign agencies.
Ivanov reported that the building, frame and finish, was made out of predominantly domestic materials. Half an hour earlier, head of the Defense Ministry's Special Constructions Department told us that the headquarters were packed with complex and unusual equipment, giving the impression that it was the ideal “smart” house that the designers of expensive living space strive to create.
“Didn't Microsoft have anything to do with it?” a doubting journalist asked.
“Ah, that's a question for Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev, First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia]. He met with Bill Gates yesterday,” Ivanov answered brightly.
Medvedev was standing to the side, along with chief of the presidential staff Sergey Sobyanin, FSB director Nikolay Patrushev and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, as if in acknowledgment of the fact that today he was not the center of attention. I wondered if they had thought about the children's neurological center that could have been built under the national health project with the same money in the same building.
It only then became clear to me that a parallel national project had been unfolding at a breakneck pace in the middle of Moscow and was being presented to the president in finished form.
Putin congratulated the building's workers on National Military Intelligence Day, which is traditionally celebrated on November 5” told them that they were meeting their professional holiday in “a unique facility that fully meets the department's specific needs.”
“This meeting here today was planned long ago, in 2001,” the president said, “when I first visited the headquarters of the GRU as head of state. Then I pointed out to the defense minister and head of the GRU that content and form should be in harmony… And if you consider that the GRU is the eyes and ears of the Russian Army, and the entire Russian state to a significant degree… then of course its workers should work not only in appropriate condition. They should work in very good conditions!”
They it, nothing should be denied them as they peek and eavesdrop.
“It is pleasant for me to note,” the president continued, “that, just five years ago it seemed that we had more important things to do, even in the military sphere, than build administrative buildings…”
He fell silent for a moment so his audience could realize for themselves that today there are no more important tasks than that.
“It was difficult for us to find the money for such a large-scale project,” he continued, “but I think that we did the right thing. Today we can say with pride and confidence that the Main Intelligence Department of the General Staff of the Russian Army has simply one of the best complexes, that, without any exaggeration, it has the best-equipped complex that any intelligence agency in any country has. Perhaps no state today has such a modern complex.”
And he liked the shooting gallery best, I thought.
After thanking the personnel of the GRU for their good work, the president moved on to an analysis of the international situation, which was, it seemed, even more complicated than the day before.
“The international community finds itself a situation in which factors of force are dominating in international relations,” he said, “a situation where relations are being undermined by unilateral action – action that is not legitimate in international law – undertaken by a number of countries, and by attempts by some countries to unceremoniously impose their positions without taking into account at all the legitimate interests of other partners. And you know what means states make use of when carrying out such action: the economy, political and diplomatic means, and a monopoly on the world media.”
He was apparently getting ready for the European Union summit in Helsinki at the end of the month.
All the Article in Russian as of Nov. 09, 2006