The powerful head of Russia's military intelligence agency GRU has died, TASS news reported. Igor Korobov took charge of GRU in 2016 and is believed to have been behind the failed assassination attempt of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal in England in March.
Korobov, 62, died Wednesday following a "long and serious illness," the Russian Defense Ministry told the Russian news outlet. His predecessor, Igor Sergun, died under unexplained circumstances two years ago at the age of 58.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described Korobov as a "faithful son of Russia" and "patriot of the fatherland." He was notably not in attendance for the 100th anniversary ceremony of the GRU earlier this month where President Vladimir Putin praised the agency's "unique abilities, according to CBS News.
What about the assassination attempt?
In March, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by Novichok, a Soviet-made nerve agent, at his home in Salisbury, England. Skripal was a former Russian Army colonel working for the GRU, and he had used his position to funnel information to British intelligence before he was finally caught and imprisoned. Later, he was traded to the U.S. in a spy swap and eventually settled in England.
In July, investigators “identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time. They [the investigators] are sure they [the suspects] are Russian.”
Russian authorities have denied all allegations that it had anything to do with the attacks.
However, British Prime Minister Theresa May has been adamant that the attack was not carried about rogue GRU operatives and that it was "almost certainly approved" by a senior-level official in Russia.
Some unconfirmed reports claimed that Korobov became ill after being personally "dressed down" President Vladimir Putin after a series of failures by the agency, according to The Guardian.
Others have said his death is not suspicious and that he died after a long battle with cancer.
Russian journalist Sergei Kanev, who uncovered much of the GRU operations in the last year, was less certain of Korobov's "well-timed cancer."
"He knew a lot about the GRU’s secret operations, including about the poisoning of the Skripals,” Kanev told the Guardian.
Korobov was on the U.S. Treasury Department's sanctions in 2016 for "significant malicious cyber-enabled activities," according to NPR. But that didn't keep Korobov from attending secret talks with other top Russian security officials in Washington, D.C., in January, according to reports.
The agency has not yet named a replacement for Korobov, but TASS reported that Vice Admiral Igor Kostyukov, 57, is a likely candidate. He is also under U.S. sanctions, according to NPR.
Korobov is survived by his wife and two daughters.