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What is SPETSNAZ?

There always have been military and paramilitary sol- diers and units with special training and special tasks in Russia and the Soviet Union. There is a special expres- sion in Russian language for the soldiers with extraor- dinary skills and initiative that always has been se- lected to do the hard and dangerous job of reconnais- sance – their name was and is Razvedchiki, scouts. But these soldiers, like the airborne troops or the Navy Ma- rines, are not Spetsnaz; they are simply skilled soldiers who will lead the way into battle.

What is SPETSNAZ? There always have been military and paramilitary sol- diers and units with special

Modern breasttab for airborne Razvedchiki

Let have a quick look at the world of secret police and Special Forces in Russia and the Soviet Union, and try to define what they really are.

Tsar Ivan the 4 th , maybe better known as ”The Terri- ble”, probably established the first organized secret po- lice force Oprichnina in 1565. This police force con- sisted of some 6.000 horsemen dressed in black frogs and they were called Oprichniki. They formed death squads and fought and defeated all kinds of resistance against the ruling tsar. They were disbanded when tsar Ivan died in 1584.

More than a hundred years later tsar Peter the Great re- established a secret police force in 1697 and called it Preobraczenskyy Prikaz. This force gathered informa- tion by the use of informers and torture of prisoners. Again, the force was disbanded when the tsar died in 1725 and it was not until 1826 that a permanent secret police was established as the 3 rd Department of the Im- perial Chancellery. The final change of the tsar’s secret police was made after the assasination of tsar Alexan- der the 2 nd in 1881. The force was expanded to two de- partments, a polical department called Osobyy Otdel and a security police called Okhrana. The ”red” side disbanded both departments after the Bolshevik coupe in 1917. Elements of the Okhrana continue their work on the ”white” side in the Russian civil war 1918 – 20 and were subsequently shut down when the war ended.

The new rulers of Russia quickly learned that they could not do without the power tool of a secret police, especially with a civil war going on. Felix Dzerzhinsky established the VChK (Vserossiskaya Tjrezvytjainaya Kommissariya po Bor’be s Kontrerevolutsiei i Sabo- taszem), maybe better known as the Tjeka, in 1918. This institutions full name was The All-Russian Com- missariat for Battle against Counter-Revolutionary and

Saboteurs, and it was given supreme power to investi- gate, prosecute and execute enemies of the revolution. This institution also established the labourcamps, that later was known to have caused the death of millions of Russians. The army and the navy also lacked intelli- gence capacity, so Leonid Trotsky founded GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye Generalnogo Shtaba), The Intelligence Service of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, in 1919. This started the long power struggle between the two main intelligence- gathering forces of the Soviet Union, the Tjeka and GRU. One of the Tjekas jobs was to keep an eye on GRU!

During the 1930’es and WW2 the Soviet Union estab- lished a number of military Special Forces to support and organize the resistance behind the German lines. NKVD, the Tjeka successor, commanded the main part of these forces. The reason for this was simply that the NKVD had more power than GRU and that operations were directed against a foreign country – Germany – and this was a Tjeka task. After the war ended in 1945 these special and very experienced forces were reor- ganized and “hidden” among the vast regular forces of army, airborne and navy troops. A new secret army had been moulded from the experience of the Great War.

What is SPETSNAZ? There always have been military and paramilitary sol- diers and units with special

NKVD communications team with partisans

These forces was a deep secret for many years, so deep a secret that most of the Soviet population, and even the armed forces, were unaware of their existence. Only after the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979 and the asymmetric war between the Soviet Army and the Mujahedin resistance that followed for 10 years, the Soviet Union officially admitted to the existence of these forces.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 a lot has changed. It has become fashionable to be named Spets- naz in Russia, actually in all of Eastern Europe, so to- day we see more than 10 different types of Spetsnaz in Russia. But if you ask military men in Russia who they consider to be the true Spetsnaz, only the two GRU variants – army and navy – really counts as Spetsnaz, Special Forces. This is the reason why these two forces are described in more details than the other forces in this book.

Special or special?

In many Western countries there are difficulties under- standing what Soviet and Russian Special Forces really was and still are. One of the reasons for this could be, that the Russian language has two words for the con- cept of military units with special training and special tasks: ”osobyy” and ”spetsialnyy”. The original term for these forces were ”Osobogo Naznacheniya”, in short OSNAZ, while the present (and more Western in- spired?) term often is ”Spetsialnogo Naznacheniya”, in short SPETSNAZ. And it gets worse if we focus more detailed on the individual Special Forces units. Let us take a look.

We have established that the first Special Forces were OSNAZ and not SPETSNAZ. So from the beginning – before WW2 – there was the Special Forces OSNAZ under NKVD command. During WW2 the famous

OMSBON (”Otdel’naya Motostrelkovaya Brigada

Osobogo Naznacheniya”), the Independent Motorized Infantry Special Forces Brigade, was established. It was responsible for training of partisans and planning of partisan sabotage b ehind the enemy lines. Com- manding officer for OMSBON, Major General Mikhail Fedorovich Orlov, was one of the first military com- manders that systematically developed Special Forces warfare in an asymmetric environment.

Special or special? In many Western countries there are difficulties under- standing what Soviet and Russian

Major General Mikhail Fedorovich Orlov

After the end of WW2 the Soviet Army and Navy were reorganized. This also caused NKVD and GRU to go separate ways with their Special Forces. At this time the term Spetsnaz was introduced as a sort of successor for Osnaz, mainly be- cause of the influence from the Western allies and their approach to the Special Forces structure and use. But not all the units since Electronic Warfare units were still named Osnaz, so now you had Osnaz as an inte- grated part of Spetsnaz. In more recent days the term Osnaz are being used by the militia for their Special Forces Units, the OMON (”Otryad Militsiy Osobogo Naznacheniya”), so you see, the mix-up continues.

Brigades and formations

A term that for many years has confused Western writ- ers and journalists are the ”Brigada”-unit. In the West- ern military world a brigade is a main combat unit of 3

– 5.000 soldiers. In the Soviet Union and Russia the main combat formation has always been the regiment. The Russian understanding of the term “brigade” is more like out Western “Fire brigade” which is rather undefined as a size of a unit and therefore more a title. This means that a Soviet or Russian Special Forces Brigade could be anything from a hundred to several hundreds of soldiers!

Another widely used term in Russia is Otryad, that means a formation and again this is not a clearly de- fined unit size. If you really need to put some sort of size on these two units, a brigade could be 5 – 600 sol- diers and a formation 50 – 100 soldiers.

So who are they?

Spetsnaz is an abbreviation of the name ”Voyska Spet- sialnogo Naznacheniya”, which means forces with special tasks, a much broader definition than used in the Western forces. It is impossible to make a direct comparison between Spetsnaz and Western Special Forces like the British SAS or the American Navy SEALs, since their organisation, structure, tasks, equipment and way of doing things are very different from their Western counterparts. The Soviet and Rus- sian Special Forces have never had the same techno- logical support or the same possibilities to exercise with other forces.

As mentioned earlier there are several Spetsnaz-forces in modern Russia. This could be seen as a heritage from the Soviet Union with competing authorities and the use of the old Roman way: ”Divide et Impera”. In the old days – as today – none of the leaders dared to have one man commanding an entire elite corps, so they were all divided into smaller fractions.

Special or special? In many Western countries there are difficulties under- standing what Soviet and Russian

Soldier from FSB ALFA-unit in Mos- cow 1993

In Russia you will find Spets- naz on several different mili- tary levels: Strategic, operative and Tactical levels. The term covers different types of units, from local recon- and special- subunits inside military units like the Division (tactical le- vel), to special unit inside the Airborne Divisions and the Ministry of the Interiors Anti- terror units (tactical and opera- tive level). Not to forget the in- dividual secret agents of the Government Security Forces (strategic level). These units all have different structure etc. In many Western articles and books Spetsnaz also covers Army recon Units, Airborne Forces and the Navy Infantry, but that is not the case in this book. In my opinion these units are elite infantry like the American Rangers or the Brit- ish Gurkhas. In consequence of this it would not be

correct to assume that military Spetsnaz amounts to some 40 or 50.000 soldiers, but more likely 4 – 6.000, divided into units under central command in Moscow or subordinated the Military Districts or Navies. A mixture of officers, enlisted personnel and conscripts, mans these units and some of the unit will only have a skeleton crew. There is a substantially reserve that can be called in with fairly short notice, but to insist on the big numbers seen in Western literature is simply not reasonable.

Different Special Forces

This book will focus on:

Army Special Forces (GRU),

Navy Special Forces (GRU and the navy),

State Security Special Forces (FSB, SVR,

FPS, FPO) and Minstry of Interior Special Forces (VV and MVD)

Focus will as earlier mentioned in particular be on the real military Spetsnaz from the Army and Navy.

To create an overview maybe it would be practical to take a quick walk through the Spetsnaz environment.

Army Spetsnaz

The central parts of Army Spetsnaz units are profes- sionals, but the main bulk still is conscripts. Conscrip- tion is 2 years of very hard training, probably like the British SAS in the Territorial Army. After these two years the conscript can be demobilized (dembel in Rus- sian), or choose from the following three options if he is qualified:

• • • He can move on to officers course at the Air- borne Forces Officers
He can move on to officers course at the Air-
borne Forces Officers Academy.
He can stay on as an enlisted man.
He can be transferred to the active reserve for
a 5-years period.

Shoulder patch for Army Spetsnaz (modern)

As previous mentioned army spetsnaz are organized in brigades, either independent or subordinated a Military District or a Front. The brigade in Belarus Military District always had a special position as a testing bri- gade for new equipment and methods of operation.

This would ensure that the best-equipped and best- trained brigade was available and ready for action against NATO on the European Central Front.

The core of the brigades gets a far better training than the reserve or the conscripts. Besides the normal train- ing in parachute jumping, reconnaissance, hand-to- hand combat and weapons practice they are taught for- eign language, radio code techniques and silent killing. My personal experience with Russian Special Forces soldiers indicate, that their language skills are limited to reading of signs and roadmaps and some very lim- ited use of the language. Even though one must pre- sume that GRU – like a lot of other similar authorities – link the individual soldier to a geographical area, like the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden and Norway), their language skills are not well enough to enable them to pose as a native. But another consequence of this geographical system probably is that in every Rus- sian Diplomatic Mission there is a Rezident (command- ing officer) who takes care of GRU business in that particular country.

In March 2003 GRU took over the military part of the electronic surveillance from FAPSI (Federal’noye Agenstvo Pravichelstvennoy Svyazi i Informatsiy pri Presidente Rossiiskoy Federatsiy), The Federal Agency for Security of Communications and Information Sys- tems.

correct to assume that military Spetsnaz amounts to some 40 or 50.000 soldiers, but more likely

FAPSI shoulder patch

The Army Spetsnaz units are called ooSpN (Otdelniy Otryad Spetzialniya Naznacheniya), Independent Spe-

cial Operations Detachments. These detachments are

company-sized, which means 75 – 150 soldiers. Unit

are numbered with 3-digits, for example 173. ooSpN

that was established in Afghanistan in 1980 and later

on participated in the invasion of Chechniya.

Units can be deployed by parachute, as a long-range

recon patrol or as a disguided part of a regular army

unit. Often small detachments are integrated in air-

borne formations in order to get the detachment unseen

into their operations area.

Navy and Naval Spetsnaz

Navy and Naval Spetsnaz are normally recruited from the Navy or the Navy Marine Infantry. Often young soldiers join the Spetsnaz after ending their conscrip- tion. Basic training is conducted in Kiev, the rest of the training with the teams. Some of the specialized divers training takes place on one of the 3 diving schools. Some recruitment goes through the paramilitary youth organisation DOSAAF (Dobrovol'noe Obshestvo Sode- istviya Armii Aviacii i Flotu), The Volunteer organisa- tion for support of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Navy and Naval Spetsnaz Navy and Naval Spetsnaz are normally recruited from the Navy or the

Navy spetsnaz shoulder patch

Navy Spetsnaz conduct reconnaissance missions against areas of interest close to the coastline or where Navy Infantry will land. A lot of training missions are carried out against other countries harbour facilities and naval installations. They use a lot of time on para- chute jumps, combat swimming and sabotage. In pea- cetime Navy Spetsnaz are often used to test units guar- ding major facilities such as power plants, nuclear in- stallations, Navy bases etc. Navy Spetsnaz are not di- rectly subordinated GRU, but operate through the indi- vidual Navy’s Intelligence Center.

Units were established in the beginning of the 50’es under the name RON (Rota Osobogo Naznacheniya), Special Operations Company. Today they are called OMRP (Otdel'niy Morskoy Razvedyvatel'niy Punkt), Independent Navy Reconnaissance Center. Like the Army Spetsnaz they have 3-digit number, for example 561. OMRP from the Baltic Fleet.

Unit can be deployed by parachute, from surface ves- sels or from special mini-submarines like the PIRA- NHA.

Navy and Naval Spetsnaz Navy and Naval Spetsnaz are normally recruited from the Navy or the

The Navy OB PDSS units

The Central Navy Staff operate a number of separate units to protect Fleets, Naval Bases and port installa- tions. Units are called OB PDSS (Otdel'naya Brigada Podvodnyh Diversionnyy Special'nyy Sil), Independent Brigade against Underwater Saboteurs, and are defen- sive forces. They do not go on recon missions, their job are to defend Russia against the other countries Navy Special Forces

Navy and Naval Spetsnaz Navy and Naval Spetsnaz are normally recruited from the Navy or the

Skuldermærke for OB PDSS enhed nummer 269 i Gadzhievo ved Nordflåden

OB PDSS units are fairly small, but they have very sophisticated equipment at their disposal, among these firearms that can fre under water, stun grenades and listening and explosive devices.

These units are normally stationed at Navy bases, for example at Gadzhievo, a nuclear submarine base with the Northern Fleet. If necessary they can be stationed on board a major surface vessel to participate in the ships defence against hostile divers and submarines.

State Security Service Spetsnaz

When the Soviet Union was dissolved, so was KGB. Today the State Security Service Spetsnaz are divided between FSB, SVR, FPS and FSO.

FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti), The Na- tional Security Service, takes care of the interior secu- rity, which is protection of the borders, anti-terror and counter-intelligence. They tend to look more relaxed on the term “border” and their operations areas are border areas and related areas of interest, including ar- eas in other neighbouring countries and the Russian Embassies around the world. FSB probably has agents on most of the Russian Embassies with their own Rezident. The anti-terror part is becoming more and more vital, and FSB command a couple of very profes- sional units called ALFA, BETA and VYMPEL. These names do not indicate anything about these units; the names simply are the first three letters in the alphabet. In March 2003 FSB took over the civil- ian part of FAPSI, and became responsible for non-military communi- cations security in Rus- sia.

State Security Service Spetsnaz When the Soviet Union was dissolved, so was KGB. Today the State

Original ALFA shoulder patch

SVR (Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki), The Foreign Intelli- gence Service, mainly deals with espionage and coun- ter-espionage, in fact as a direct successor of KGB. Naturally there would be a SVR-rezident on every em- bassy supported by a staff of operatives.

FPS (Federalnaya Pogranichnaya Sluzhba), also known as The Border Troops, has been under security service control. Since borders are taken very literally there are border troops personnel attached to all Rus- sian Embassies.

Finally we have the Central National Security Service FSO (Federalnaya Sluzhba Okhran) that protect the central administration and communications installa- tions. FSO also took over responsibilities from FAPSI.

Ministry of Interior Spetsnaz

MVD, (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del), Ministry of In- terior, is rsponsible for the general security in Russia. They dela with riots, local anti-terror, hostage situa- tions, organized crimes and all other “local” crime. To do this they have a great number of special units of which some can be compared with the Western SWAT teams. The general name for these units is OMON (Ot- ryad Militsiy Osobogo Naznacheniya), The Special Forces of the Militia, and they cover a vast area of re-

sponsibilities, which is why these units are scattered all over the country.

State Security Service Spetsnaz When the Soviet Union was dissolved, so was KGB. Today the State

OMON skuldermærke

From the birth of the Soviet Union is was necessary to have a large standing military force for the purpose of upholding law and order in the country. This force could be seen as reminiscence from the civil war around 1920 and the wish to always be prepared to fight and destroy counter-revolutionary forces in the country. These forces are organized ain the same way as the army and are called VV (Vnutrenniye Voyska), The Internal Security Forces. They have been in action numerous times against citizens of the Soviet Union and Russia in order to suppress riots or rebellions. The largest formation is called The Dzerzhinsky Division and the general term for this force is ODON (Otdel- naya Diviziya Osobogo Naznacheniya), The Independ- ent Special Forces Division.

State Security Service Spetsnaz When the Soviet Union was dissolved, so was KGB. Today the State

ODON shoulder patch for a recon unit

Militia Spetsnaz

To complete the Special Forces picture I will shortly mention the Militia (Police) Spetsnaz. These forces are seen more and more in the medias and are used by the “real” Spetsnaz when there is a need for a lot of man- power, for instance during the hostage drama in Beslan in 2004. The Militia Spetsnaz do not have the same training level as the Army or Security Forces Spetsnaz, but training and equipment are getting closer to their Western counterpart. Unfortunately leadership and

communication still seems to be as bad as in the Soviet Union.

communication still seems to be as bad as in the Soviet Union. Militia shoulder patch Other

Militia shoulder patch

Other examples of “Spetsnaz”

As earlier mentioned there are many ”Spetsnaz” forces in Russia today. An interesting example is the Air Force Rescue Service, which we would call SAR. But this one is also a Space Rescue Service!

communication still seems to be as bad as in the Soviet Union. Militia shoulder patch Other

Soviet Union SAR shoulder patch

This service was founded during WW2 and went through an enormous development during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The Soviet Army and Air Force lost a lot of helicopters and airplanes in Afghanistan and the rescue service tried to save as many pilots as possible.

The Air Force Rescue Service has continued its devel- opment and implmented advanced equipment and training and is today a very capable service. Unfortuna- tely there are financial problems in Russia which is the reason for not all units being as well equipped and trai- ned as they could be.

communication still seems to be as bad as in the Soviet Union. Militia shoulder patch Other

Russian SAR shoulder patch

Finally I would like to mention The President’s regi- ment, which of many is considered a parade unit. But

this unit also have a security finction, since this regi-

ment is responsible for the protection of kremlin and

the central ministries.

communication still seems to be as bad as in the Soviet Union. Militia shoulder patch Other

”Touristphoto” from The Red Square in Moscow

These last examples of ”Spetsnaz” are just to show how different the Eastern and Western definition for Special Forces really is.