MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin congratulated Russia's GRU military intelligence on its centenary Friday, hailing the agency that has been accused by the West of election meddling, nerve agent poisonings and hacking attacks against chemical weapons probes and anti-doping sports bodies.
"I'm confident of your professionalism, courage and determination," the Russian leader said in a speech to GRU officers in Moscow.
Putin said he highly appreciates the intelligence information and the analytics produced by the GRU and also praised the agency for its actions in Syria, saying it strongly contributed to the success of Russia's campaign there.
The United States and its allies have accused the GRU of involvement in the March nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy in Britain, hacking the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and disrupting anti-doping efforts in world sports. Russian authorities have rejected the accusations, calling them part of a Western smear campaign.
Putin made no reference to Western accusations against the GRU, but noted rising global tensions.
"The conflict potential in the world is growing," Putin said in Friday's speech. "There are provocations and blatant lies, as well as attempts to upset strategic parity."
The GRU has recently faced a series of exposures that revealed its inner workings.
In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of GRU agents accused of the March nerve agent attack on former GRU officer and British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. The investigative group Bellingcat and the Russian site The Insider quickly exposed the agents' real names.
Dutch authorities also have recently identified four alleged GRU agents who tried to hack the world's chemical weapons watchdog from a hotel parking lot.
While the GRU counts its history from 1918, when it was created in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, Putin also mentioned its predecessors in imperial Russia. He noted that some imperial army officers helped the Bolsheviks organize military intelligence after the 1917 revolution.
"They realized that there is no worse shame than to betray the Motherland, betray comrades, and at the time of turmoil and revolutionary upheavals helped preserve the continuity of the service's traditions," he said.
Putin added "military intelligence officers showed the same loyalty to their duty in the early 1990s following the breakup of the Soviet Union, helping preserve the GRU potential."