Inside The GRU’s Psychological Warfare Program

To understand Unit 54777’s remit, it’s first necessary to understand its provenance.
In the Soviet Union, psyops were con- ducted by the Special Propaganda Director- ate, incorporated in the massive directorate of the army, GLAVPUR (Glavnoye Politich- eskoye Upravlenie, or the Main Political De- partment). GLAVPUR was a powerful testi- mony to Bolsheviks’ constant fear of the army going rogue or mutinying. In 2019 the Rus- sian army proudly celebrated the centenary of GLAVPUR, established by the Revolution- ary Military Council of Bolsheviks a year and a half after the October Revolution as the po- litical department to supervise thousands of commissars, Communists attached to military units to spy on and oversee their command- ers (the commissars had the final word in mil- itary operational planning).The Communists never fully trusted their soldiers since soldiers had played a decisive role in all attempted or successful seizures of state power in Russian history. It was the commissars who kept the Red Army loyal to the regime even during the first two disas- trous years of war with nazi Germany, when millions had been killed or captured, thanks to the incompetence of the officers’ corps, which had been hollowed by Stalin’s purges. (Hitler, inspired by Soviet experience, had his own commissars and version of GLAVPUR called the national Socialist Leadership Of- fice, or nSFO, whose officers embedded with the Wehrmacht to kindle a fighting spirit at the late stage of World War II.) After the war, ideological overseers in the Soviet military proliferated. By the late 1980s, there were 20,000 political depart- ments with 80,000 “political workers” – the new designation for commissars – and all were supervised by the ubiquitous and all-powerful GLAVPUR. The Special Propa- ganda Directorate was part of that empire. Then, in the early 1970s, the Soviet military established special propaganda training facilities in the Military Institute of Foreign
Languages, where Golyev studied, and for the faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University, the goals being to train officers in psyops and create a reserve of Soviet jour- nalists in the event of war mobilization, re- spectively.
The fidelity of the Soviet army remained a primary objective of GLAVPUR. The Special Propaganda Directorate was, in theory, busy developing methods of subverting the hostile armies’ morale but was mostly focused on its own military personnel rather than on West- ern soldiers. It was the body that played a largely defensive, not offensive, role.
Unless, of course, actual war broke out again. “As for special propaganda,” Arsen Kasyuk, one of the top authorities on Sovi- et-era special propaganda, told official Rus- sian Defense Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda in June 2011, “it is present wherev- er there is a conflict, where active hostilities begin. Prior to that, the special propaganda bodies are, so to speak, in a waiting-prepa- ratory mode, they assess the situation, im- prove their methods, their technical base.”
Whether by accident or design, this ex- act doctrine was articulated in a slightly more excitable fashion by Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of RT, the Kremlin’s En- glish-language propaganda channel. “Right now, we’re not fighting anyone,” Simonyan told the Russian newspaper Kommersant in a 2012 interview. “But in 2008 we were fight- ing. The Defense Ministry was fighting with Georgia, but we were conducting the infor- mation war, and what’s more, against the whole Western world. It’s impossible to start making a weapon only when the war [has] already started! That’s why the Defense Min- istry isn’t fighting anyone at the moment, but it’s ready for defense. So are we.”Golyev observes in his memoir that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the new Russian army, which was still very much the same as the old Red Army, was undergoing the trauma of depoliticization. With the al- mighty Party gone, GLAVPUR was destined to follow it into oblivion. And yet, accord- ing to Golyev, the army wanted to salvage at least some parts of GLAVPUR, especially the Special Propaganda Directorate. Where might it find a powerful and permanent new patron? It was a difficult question for the mil- itary bureaucracy to answer, although they finally did by transferring the directorate to the GRU – to the second floor of the Aquari- um, as the service’s Moscow headquarters is colloquially known, where it was rebranded Unit 54777 in 1994. (Vladimir Putin restored GLAVPUR in 2018, but Unit 54777 remains under GRU control.)

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