The United States Congress has also had its sights on Russian military intelligence. In August 2017, it expanded the Obama administration sanctions to target two additional military intelligence officers in a sanctions bill.
The agency, according to a Treasury Department statement, has been “directly involved in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election through cyber-enabled activities,” as well as a 2017 NotPetya cyber attack, which caused billions of dollars in losses across Europe, Asia and the United States, disrupted global shipping and trade, and knocked several major hospitals offline.
Inside Russia, one of the two units cited in Friday’s indictment, Unit 26165, had a reputation as an elite group. In 2016, Vzglyad, an online news portal, described members of the unit as being “able to decipher any code within three minutes and re-encrypt it without breaking away from writing a doctoral dissertation on quantum physics.”
The European Union sanctioned a key Russian identified as a G.R.U. officer in relation to Russia’s military incursion in eastern Ukraine under the guise of patriotic volunteers. Igor V. Girkin, under the nickname Igor Strelkov, or Igor the Shooter, led the seizure of the Ukrainian town of Slovyansk in 2014.
Bellingcat, a group conducting open source research on the Ukrainian conflict, has identified the Russian military officer who shot down Malaysia Airline flight 17 in 2014 as a member of the G.R.U.
Earlier this year, the United States imposed sanctions against the G.R.U. for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which prohibits entities from providing equipment or technology that can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missile systems. This is likely for operations in Syria, where G.R.U. commandos, or Spetsnaz, have been instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State and played a critical role in regaining cities like Aleppo and Palmyra for the Assad government.
Like the Spetsnaz, the military’s signals intelligence units have a storied history stretching deep into the Cold War.