Russia’s Smersh: Resurgence of the Spy Hunters

On 2 January,  officers wearing jackets with “Smersh” logos arrested a man and forced him to confess on video. The name “Smersh” derives from the Russian words “Smert’ Shpionam,” translating to “death to spies” in English. Smersh was a counterintelligence agency established by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union during World War Two. Initially, the unit identified German spies operating within Soviet borders and was disbanded after the war ended. The Smersh rooted out spies and monitored patriotism within the Red Army.

Smersh resurfaced in March 2023 when Sergey Aksyonov, appointed by the Russian Government to lead Crimea, proposed a similar organization due to concerns about dissent in the region. On 4 December Lt. General Andrei Gurulev announced the revival of Smersh in “new territories”, referring to recently occupied territories. Smersh’s appearance coincides with the Russian government’s efforts to suppress dissidents and curtail anti-Russia, Putin rhetoric within the country.

Key Judgement 1. The resurgence of Smersh will likely bolster Russia’s national security and patriotism narrative, justifying crackdowns on perceived threats.

Key Judgement 2. Reviving Smersh in “new territories” will likely bolster Russian control within the next 6 months, altering perceptions of Russia’s status in the war.

Key Judgement 3. Russia Reviving Smersh signals a return to authoritarian tactics, foreshadowing increased repressive governance within 6 months.

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