Since the Syrian revolution, there has been multiple reports on Russian intelligence activity in Syria. Gen. Yuri Ivanov, 52, deputy head of GRU, the Russian military’s overseas intelligence arm of Russian military, was reported dead by Debka File website (photo below).
According to Debka, the Russians said that Ivanov drowned while swimming, but intelligence sources said that he was killed in the Russian base in Syria, then thrown into sea. Turkish fishermen then found his remains in sea. Also, a Syrian report claimed that the Damascus twin suicide bombings last year targeted a Russian intelligence base; the Russian intelligence had reportedly warned the Syrian regime against Western infiltration of its army, and plans to target the Arab League observers.
The Arab Digest has interviewed a Syrian source close to Russian intelligence. He said that the Russian Intelligence, though maintain a presence in the region, but have higher priorities than the Middle East. The United States, Europe, the Caucuses, former Soviet Republics, China and India, all fair higher in priorities than the Middle East. The source said that the Russian Prime Minister has ordered his administration to show defiance against the United States' push towards intervention in Syria. Vladimir Putin wants to strengthen his weak popularity ahead of Russia's upcoming presidential elections.
However, the Russian Intelligence have in the past decade strengthened their presence in Dubai (through the Russian mafia there) and Doha where Russian agents assassinated the former Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in a car explosion in 2004. They also maintain a presence in Jordan, where they monitor the Chechen community. It remains unclear what their base in Syria does, other than cooperation on pro Chechen Islamist activity.