Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#13 - JRL 7069 - RAS 16

SOURCE. V. Shlykov, Chto pogubilo Sovetskii Soiuz? Genshtab i ekonomika [What Destroyed the Soviet Union? The General Staff and the Economy]. Moscow: Interregional Foundation for Information Technologies, September 2002

Vitaly Shlykov, is an expert in military economics and a former deputy chairman of the RF State Committee on Defense Questions. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked in the military-economic (10th) administration of the Main Intelligence Administration (GRU) of the General Staff, i.e. Soviet military intelligence (henceforth GRU-10). This monograph is based on his experience there. (1)

GRU-10 was created by Politburo decision at the end of 1971 to assess the military-economic potential of foreign states. From 1972 it issued its findings in annual handbooks (known as "orange handbooks" from the hard orange covers) that were sent directly to Politburo members -- the only GRU documents thus distributed. (2)

The high-ranking positions (up to lieutenant general) assigned to GRU-10 were a magnet for careerists, few of whom had any relevant knowledge. The head of GRU-10, whom the author identifies as General Ch, had just graduated as a colonel from the General Staff Academy and knew no economics and no foreign languages. A few officers did possess specialized knowledge or practical intelligence experience, but those who flaunted their expertise and stood up to their incompetent superiors were soon thrown out.

Thus when Shlykov joined GRU-10 he was sent to work under Colonel T, a genuine specialist who headed the section on Western Europe. Colonel T told him that General Ch understood nothing: he should follow only his (Colonel T's) instructions. The next day Colonel T received an order from General Ch to submit his resignation from the armed forces.

The content of the handbooks was much less impressive than their appearance. Much space was taken up by statistics from open foreign sources concerning the population, GDP, industrial and agricultural output, and foreign trade of various countries. There were separate sections on the size and composition of armed forces, military budgets, numbers of weapons and their technical characteristics -- but these data too came from open sources. The use of information from GRU agents and coded telegrams was forbidden, not only for reasons of security but mainly because "too often this information contradicted the exaggerated official GRU assessments, especially of the scale and character of Western countries' mobilization preparations."

Nevertheless, the handbooks bore the stamp "Top Secret" -- presumably to make the figures in them appear more reliable. After 1980, when Shlykov was put in charge of issuing the handbooks, he managed to get them reclassified as "Secret" but failed in his attempts to declassify them altogether or at least to downgrade them to the lower category of "For Service Use." The obstacle to declassification, he was told, was the section on the mobilization capacity of industry: the methods by which the figures in this section were calculated must not be revealed to the adversary. However, these methods were explained in a non-secret manual that any GRU employee could obtain or copy.

The methods for estimating mobilization capacity were fairly simple and largely based on straightforward extrapolations, but even so they assumed the availability of information that was often difficult or impossible to obtain. Some data could be found in open sources or derived from satellite photographs (e.g. the ground area of factories), but much had to be guessed. If a GRU-10 officer started to explain such difficulties to General Ch, he would interrupt the explanation with: "Give me your assessment! Tomorrow!" (3) Thanks to his energetic leadership style, the handbooks were prepared in record time.

Many officers, afraid that they might be accused of "underestimating the militaristic threat," resolved their uncertainties by giving maximum estimates. It was assumed, for example, that if the US could produce 70,000 tanks a year during World War Two then its current capacity upon mobilization could be no smaller. Account was taken of all factories that had ever had any connection with tank production. All those not currently producing tanks were counted under reserve capacity -- that is, it was assumed that contingency plans existed to re-profile them rapidly, as if the US had the same kind of arrangements for war mobilization as the Soviet Union. As a result, US capacity for tank production was overestimated about tenfold.


(1) I omit most of the technical discussion. Peter Rutland was so kind as to send me this source on an Adobe Acrobat file, and I shall forward it to anyone interested on request.

(2) Initially the number of recipients of the handbooks was no more than 20. Later it grew to over 100.

(3) The general addressed his subordinates with the familiar, in this context disrespectful, "ty." "Tomorrow," the author recalls, was his favorite word.

Back to the Top    Next Article