The head of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, which has been accused of carrying out assassination attempts on foreign soil, has died aged 62, officials have confirmed.
Gen. Col. Igor Korobov died after a long and serious illness, according to state-run news agency TASS. He had worked in military intelligence since the Cold War era, starting in 1973, and took over at the GRU after its then-director was said to have died of a heart attack.
In a statement, Russia’s defense ministry said, “The loving memory of this wonderful person, a true son of Russia, a patriot of the Fatherland, Colonel-General Igor Valentinovich Korobov will always be in our hearts.”
Vice Adm. Igor Kostyukov is the acting head of the GRU and is expected to be appointed to the role permanently, according to TASS.
Michael Carpenter, a Barack Obama-era White House adviser on Russia and now senior director for the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, tweeted, “His predecessor died in 2016 of a heart attack. Life expectancy for incumbents of this job is pretty low, but then so is the median life expectancy in Russia.”
Korobov was in charge of the GRU when it was accused of carrying out a string of brazen attempts on the lives of former Russian spies and émigré businessmen.
In March this year, former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a Russian-made military-grade nerve agent, in the English city of Salisbury. Skripal had defected to the UK.
In September, prosecutors in the UK named two Russian GRU officers as the men behind the attack — although in a surreal interview with state-controlled TV station RT, the pair, using false identities, said they were merely sightseeing.
The investigative website Bellingcat then identified the pair as military doctor Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, a decorated GRU agent.
According to a report from the MBK news site, which was run by prominent Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky before it was banned and taken offline in February, figures within the defense ministry called the GRU “deeply incompetent” at a meeting to discuss the Skripal operation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to show his own frustration over the affair at a speech in October, where he described Skripal as “scum” and a “traitor to the homeland.”
A BuzzFeed News investigation in 2017 found evidence that 14 deaths on British soil had been linked to Russia.