SVR Russia: Inside the secret intelligence agency once known as the infamous KGB

Russia’s 102-year-old foreign intelligence service traces its lineage to the time of Lenin

Alice Murphy
Wednesday 28 December 2022 13:08 GMT
(SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is the current incarnation of one of the world’s oldest espionage agencies, known for decades as the KGB.

Tracing its lineage to the Soviet Union’s NKVD Foreign Department, established on 20 December 1920, the SVR is the official successor to multiple intelligence agencies, ranging from the original “foreign department” of the Cheka under Vladimir Lenin, to the OGPU of the Stalin era and the First Chief Directorate of the KGB.

The SVR has historically close ties to the Kremlin, underlined by the fact that many of its directors, including Yevgeny Primakov and Mikhail Fradkov, also served as prime ministers of Russia.

The country’s current president, Vladimir Putin, is the service’s most famous graduate, having served as an agent in East Germany in the 1980s.

The SVR has its headquarters in the Yasenevo District of Moscow. Unlike the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), it is tasked with intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation.

According to the Russian government website, the SVR consists of several special state agencies – foreign intelligence bodies of the Russian Federation – and is a vital part of Russia’s security system aimed at protecting the individual, society and the state from external threats by using the means and resources stipulated in this Federal Law.

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