MOSCOW — Nina Loguntsova arrives at school early to stand at soldier-style attention, and she leaves late after extra classes that have included cryptography. Three different military uniforms hang in her closet.

The 17-year-old student is part of an expanding military-education program at Moscow’s public schools that aims to inculcate respect for security services and boost the math and computer knowledge of potential recruits.

One of the program’s partners is the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU – whose fingerprints, the West claims, are increasingly found on suspected Kremlin-ordered operations around the world.

The list includes hacking into Democratic National Committee emails in 2016, spearheading Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and the nerve-agent attack in Britain earlier this year.

“Russia is our motherland. We will defend it,” says 17-year-old Nina Loguntsova, a student of an expanding military-education program that’s partnered with the intelligence agency GRU at Moscow’s public schools.

New details uncovered by The Washington Post also show that a GRU unit has been at the forefront of Russia’s psychological-warfare efforts, including a previously undisclosed attempt to influence Ukraine policy in Congress in 2015.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin tightens his grip at home and asserts Russian influence abroad, the country’s military intelligence agency – a worldwide network – is emerging as one of his most powerful tools.


“A military intelligence agency that used to be strictly military has now become, if you will, universal,” said Nikita Petrov, a historian of Soviet intelligence agencies at Memorial, a history and civil rights organization in Moscow. This portrait of the GRU’s reach – from Moscow classrooms to U.S. senators’ offices on Capitol Hill – is based on interviews in Moscow and Washington, public records and information provided by Western intelligence officials. Russia’s Defense Ministry, which oversees the GRU, did not respond to requests for comment.

The agency’s rise reflects the Kremlin’s tactics in its confrontation with the West, analysts say. While Russia is far weaker economically than the United States and Western Europe, Putin has shown a higher appetite for risk and benefited from a domestic public that largely buys into the narrative of a Russia under siege.

“Russia is our motherland,” said Loguntsova, an 11th-grader. “We will defend it.”

Former U.S. intelligence officials say the GRU has always been seen as the more brutish cousin of Russia’s main intelligence agency, previously known as the KGB. Gennady Gudkov, a Russian opposition politician who served in the KGB and then in its FSB successor agency, said GRU officers referred to themselves as the “badass guys who act.”

” ‘Need us to whack someone? We’ll whack him,” he said. “Need us to grab Crimea? We’ll grab Crimea.’ ”

In the United States, the GRU is perhaps best known as the agency that led the way in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a July indictment of 12 of its officers obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller.


But interviews and public records in Russia show that its reach extends to the battlefields of Ukraine and Syria and to school classrooms in Moscow – reflecting the multipronged approach Putin is taking in his conflict with the West.


The GRU’s power is bolstered by a surge in public support for Russia’s military and its intelligence agencies – a focus on patriotism and conflict with the West that is a recurring theme in state media. The GRU itself, records show, is promoting the intelligence services in public schools.

Yevgenia Loguntsova – the mother of Nina – heard horror stories when she was young about the Soviet intelligence services.But by 2015, Loguntsova’s perception of the Russian intelligence services had changed. Russia’s best and brightest now join the services, she said. She enrolled her daughter in a “cadet class.”

Documents posted on the school website show the class is sponsored by the Federal Security Service, the formal name of the FSB, and by the cyberwarfare wing of the GRU that has also been called APT28 or Fancy Bear by American researchers.

The cooperation agreement between the security services and Loguntsova’s school is signed by Viktor Netyksho, who was named in the July indictment, accused of leading the GRU’s effort to hack the email accounts of Democratic and Clinton campaign officials.


“The concepts of motherland and patriotism are all-encompassing,” said the elder Loguntsova, 43, a psychologist. “We can’t love our motherland and not respect these same organizations.”


The GRU’s rise in standing at home has mirrored an expanded role abroad.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the GRU played a key role in Moscow’s two bloody wars in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

“They gained experience in extrajudicial violence,” said Alexei Kondaurov, a retired KGB general. “This is a key thing that changes one’s psychology.”

Under Putin, GRU units that focused on propaganda and decryption in the Soviet era are now conducting psychological operations over the Internet and waging cyberattacks. In 2013, the GRU launched a “science company” as part of the Defense Ministry’s effort to recruit talent from universities.


“Historically, the GRU has been Russia’s main agency for operating in uncontrolled spaces, which has meant civil wars and the like,” said Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian intelligence at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. “In some ways, the Internet is today’s uncontrolled space.”

In February 2015, as the conflict in eastern Ukraine dragged into a second year, a dozen U.S. senators received an email from someone purporting to belong to a group called the “Patriots of Ukraine.” The email contained a link to a petition to “save” Ukraine, whose pro-Western government is fighting pro-Russian separatists.

In creaky English, it began: “US Senators and Congressmen! Today the situation in Ukraine is extremely bad. Ukraine is in war. … Level of corruption is Ukrainian Armed Forces is enormous. High-ranking officer sell armaments to the terrorists.”

The petition went on to implore the senators – who appeared to be picked only by virtue of their last names, as they were the first dozen or so by alphabetical order – to send “high-experienced U.S. and NATO specialists” to substitute for Ukrainian commanding officers.

“We hope you are able to influence the White House, Pentagon and State Department and achieve the agreement to send western officers to Ukraine for direct control of our Armed Forces,” said the petition, a copy of which was shared with The Post by a Western intelligence agency, which described the operation.

The email apparently gained no traction on Capitol Hill.


But it was noteworthy in one important regard. It was the first known, if somewhat crude, effort by the GRU’s main psychological-operations division to influence U.S. politicians, according to the Western intelligence agency.

Western intelligence analysts saw the campaign having twin aims, to further demoralize Ukrainians after heavy losses and to sow confusion among U.S. policymakers – to make them believe that the Ukrainians themselves had lost faith in their military.

The GRU unit behind the emails, known as Unit 54777, or the 72nd Special Service Center, is the center of the Russian military’s psychological-warfare capability, say Western intelligence officials.

Last month, when the Russian border guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, young men in a Ukrainian border region were sent text messages to report for military service. The text messages, the Western intelligence agency said, were sent by the psy-ops unit – a previously unreported assessment.

“They are the center of gravity for Russian psychological operations,” said an officer from that agency. “Their hand has been seen in many of the most well-known campaigns.”

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