Russia has resurrected SMERSH, the feared counterintelligence unit created by Joseph Stalin during World War II to hunt down spies and saboteurs, according to Western analysts.
The reestablishment of the group – the name of which is an abbreviation of the Russian phrase for “death to spies” – was noted in the latest daily update from the British Ministry of Defence.
It wrote: “In late 2023, Russian politicians claimed that Soviet counterintelligence organization SMERSH was being re-established.
“In January 2024, an open-source image showed operatives apparently wearing SMERSH uniform patches.”
The politician referred to is Andrei Gurulev, a member of the defense committee in Russia’s state Duma, who last month said a decision had been made to create a new version of the organization.
He said: “We talked about SMERSH and today created a directorate that will work in the same way in the new territories [Ukrainian regions annexed by Moscow].”
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 08 January 2024.— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) January 8, 2024
Find out more about Defence Intelligence's use of language: https://t.co/URCt1exABm #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/Eba74VLNpn
Gurulev also said that recent Ukrainian intelligence operations within Russia itself demonstrate the threat posed by spies and saboteurs.
Referencing an attack in November in which Ukraine’s SBU blew up a freight train deep inside Russia, he added: “A fight against saboteurs and spies is necessary across the whole country: after all, war has come back to bite us across the entire territory of the Russian Federation.”
Gurulev said that those caught should face a lifetime of hard labor in remote penal colonies as punishment.
Then last week, a video emerged of a Russian man confessing to “wrongly and thoughtlessly” filming air defense units in Russia’s Belgorod region where Ukrainian special forces continue to carry out regular attacks.
Flanking the man were two guards. Their backs were turned to the camera and the word ‘SMERSH’ was printed on their flak jackets.
A 22-year-old from Belgorod has been shown publicly apologising alongside two men bearing ‘SMERSH’ insignia after filming a Russian air defence system in action— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) January 3, 2024
There’s been talk of Russia reviving Stalin’s notorious counter-intel organisation but no official confirmation yet pic.twitter.com/SEw4tbXskq
According to British intelligence, it is unclear whether the developments means a fully-fledged new organisation has been developed or if it is simply a case of rebranding.
The MoD added: "However, it provides another example of how the Russian authorities consciously couch the Russia-Ukraine conflict in the spirit of the Second World War, and their strong focus on the supposed infiltration of external threats into the country."
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