As the Kremlin’s site said on January 4, General Igor Sergun, 58, had suffered a “sudden death,” but gave no details as to the cause, timing, or circumstances. The state-run news agency TASS said he died on January 3, Radio Liberty reports.
The statement quoted President Vladimir Putin as giving his condolences, saying that Sergun had dedicated his “entire life…to serving the homeland and the armed forces.”
Sergun took over from General Aleksandr Shlyakhturov, who stepped down in 2011 at age 64. No replacement for Sergun was announced.
His death comes at a time when clandestine, paramilitary, and espionage agencies in Russia have taken a central role in executing key policy decisions under Putin, himself a former chief of the lead domestic spy agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the agency said.
“Sergun was an extremely important figure in the revival of the fortunes of the GRU, an agency that was pretty much at rock bottom when he took it over at the end of 2011,” Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor and authority on Russia’s security apparatus, wrote in a blog post on January 4.
The GRU – formally subordinate to the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff – is widely believed to have played a central role in the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Western analysts and officials believe the agency was also instrumental in coordinating and overseeing the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where a conflict between Russian-backed separatists and government forces has killed more than 9,000 people since it erupted in April 2014.