Spetsnaz

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This article is about the Russian term. For other uses, see Spetsnaz (disambiguation).
OSN "Grom" operator of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service.

Spetsnaz (Russian: спецназ; IPA: [spʲɪt͡sˈnas]) abbreviation for Войска специального назначения, tr. Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya, pronounced [vɐjsˈka spʲɪt͡sɨˈalʲnəvə nəznɐˈt͡ɕenʲɪjə] (English: Special Purpose Forces) is an umbrella term for special forces in Russian and is used in numerous post-Soviet states. Historically, the term referred to special military units controlled by the military intelligence service GRU (Spetsnaz GRU). It also describes special purpose units, or task forces of other ministries (such as the Ministry of Emergency Situations' special rescue unit)[1] in post-Soviet countries.

As Spetsnaz is a Russian term it is typically associated with the special forces units of Russia, however other post-Soviet states often refer to their special forces by the term as well. The 5th Spetsnaz Brigade of Belarus or the Alpha group of the Security Service of Ukraine are both examples of non-Russian Spetsnaz forces.[2]

Etymology[edit]

The Russian acronyms SPETSNAZ (spetsialnogo naznacheniya) and OSNAZ (osobogo naznacheniya), both meaning "special purpose", are general terms used for a variety of special operations forces (or regular forces assigned to special tasks). They are syllabic abbreviations typical of early Soviet-era Russian, although many Cheka and Internal Troops units (such as OMSDON) used osobogo naznacheniya in their full names.

Spetsnaz later referred to special purpose or special operations forces, and the word's widespread use is a relatively recent, post-perestroika development in Russian language. The Soviet public used to know very little about their country's special forces until many state secrets were disclosed under the glasnost ("openness") policy of Mikhail Gorbachev during the late 1980s. Since then, stories about Spetsnaz and their supposedly incredible prowess, from the serious to the highly questionable, have captivated the imagination of patriotic Russians, particularly in the background of the decay in military and security forces during perestroika and the post-Soviet era. A number of books about the Soviet military intelligence special forces, such as 1987's Spetsnaz: The Story Behind the Soviet SAS by defected GRU agent Viktor Suvorov, helped introduce the term to the Western public as well.

In post-Soviet Russia "Spetsnaz" became a colloquial term as special operations (spetsoperatsiya), from police raids to military operations in internal conflicts, grew more common. Coverage of these operations, and the celebrity status of special operations forces in state-controlled media, encouraged the public to identify many of these forces by name: SOBR, Alpha, Vityaz, and so forth. The term Spetsnaz has also continued to be used in several other post-Soviet states such as Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan for their own special operations forces. In Russia, foreign special operations forces are also known as "Spetsnaz" (for example, United States special operations forces would be called "amerikanskiy spetsnaz").

Known operations[edit]

"The Crabb Affair"[edit]

Lionel Crabb was a British Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser berthed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1956. On 16 November 2007, the BBC and the Daily Mirror reported that Eduard Koltsov, a Soviet frogman, claimed to have caught Crabb placing a mine on the Ordzhonikidze hull near the ammunition depot and cut his throat. In an interview for a documentary film, Koltsov showed the dagger he allegedly used in a Russian documentary as well as an Order of the Red Star medal that he claimed to have been awarded for the deed.[3][4] Koltsov, 74 at the time of the interview, stated that he wanted to clear his conscience and make known exactly what happened to Crabb.[5]

Soviet war in Afghanistan[edit]

Main article: Operation Storm-333
Special forces prepare for mission in Afghanistan.

Special forces have been used extensively in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, usually fighting a fast insertion/extraction type warfare with helicopters. But their most famous operation was Operation Storm-333, in which Soviet Special Forces stormed the Tajbeg Palace in Afghanistan and killed Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and his 100–150 personal guards.[6] The Soviets then installed Babrak Karmal as Amin's successor.

The operation started on December 27, 1979, with 661 Soviet operators dressed in Afghan uniforms, including KGB and GRU special forces officers from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target – the Tajbeg Presidential Palace.

The operation began at 19:00 hr., when the KGB-led Soviet Zenith Group destroyed Kabul's communications hub, paralyzing Afghan military command. At 19:15, the assault on Tajbeg Palace began; as planned, president Hafizullah Amin was killed. Simultaneously, other objectives were occupied (e.g., the Ministry of Interior at 19:15). The operation was fully complete by the morning of December 28, 1979. Several interviewed Alpha Group veterans call this operation one of the most successful in the group's history.

Alleged conflict with Pakistani commandos[edit]

It is believed, that during the war in Afghanistan, Soviet special forces came in direct conflict with the Pakistan's Special Services Group that was deployed, disguised as Afghans and provided support to the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets. Author Aukai Collins, in the book My Jihad, reports that Pakistani commandos have engaged the Soviet Airborne Forces in a battle that had taken place in 1986 or 1987, when the Soviet Army had inserted about three thousand Spetsnaz-aided paratroopers in an attempt to advance all the way to the Pakistani border. About three hundred Pakistani commandos teamed up with five hundred Mujahideen and fought the Spetsnaz for twenty seven days.[7]

Another battle reported as having been fought between the Pakistanis and Soviet troops, in Kunar Province in March 1986. But the Soviets claim that the battle have actually been fought between the GRU's 15th Spetsnaz Brigade, and the Asama Bin Zaid regiment of Afghan Mujahideen under Commander Assadullah, belonging to Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's faction.[8] Further alleged battles include during Operation Magistral, where SSG inflicted heavy casualties on soviet forces.

The Beirut hostage crisis[edit]

In October 1985, specialist operators from the KGB's Group "A" (Alpha) were dispatched to war-torn Beirut, Lebanon. The Kremlin was informed of the kidnapping of four Soviet diplomats by the militant group, the Islamic Liberation Organization (a radical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood). It was believed that this was retaliation for the Soviet support of Syrian involvement in the Lebanese Civil War.[9] However, by the time Alpha arrived, one of the hostages had already been killed. Through a network of supporting KGB operatives, members of the task-force identified each of the perpetrators involved in the crisis, and once identified, began to take the relatives of these militants as hostages. Following the standard Soviet policy of no negotiations with terrorists, some of the hostages taken by Alpha were dismembered, and their body parts sent to the militants. The warning was clear: more would follow unless the remaining hostages were released immediately. The show of force worked, and for a period of 20 years no Soviet or Russian officials were taken captive, until the 2006 abduction and murder of four Russian embassy staff in Iraq.

However, the veracity of this story has been brought into question. Another version says that the release of the Soviet hostages was the result of extensive diplomatic negotiations with the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who appealed to King Hussein of Jordan, and the leaders of Libya and Iran, to use their influence on the kidnappers.[10]

After the breakup of Soviet Union[edit]

After the collapse of the USSR Spetsnaz forces of the Soviet Union's newly formed republics took part in many local conflicts such as the Civil war in Tajikistan, Chechen Wars, Russo-Georgian War, 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, and the Crimea Crisis. Spetsnaz forces also have been called upon to resolve several high profile hostage situations such as the Moscow theater hostage crisis and the Beslan school hostage crisis to various degrees of success.[11]

Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis[edit]

The crisis took place from 14 June to 19 June 1995, when a group of 80 to 200 Chechen separatists led by Shamil Basayev attacked the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk,where they stormed the main police station and the city hall. After several hours of fighting and Russian reinforcements imminent, the Chechens retreated to the residential district and regrouped in the city hospital, where they took between 1,500 and 1,800 hostages, most of them civilians (including about 150 children and a number of women with newborn infants).[12]

After three days of siege, the Russian authorities ordered the security forces to retake the hospital compound. The forces deployed were elite personnel from the Federal Security Service's (FSB's), Alpha Group, alongside MVD militsiya and Internal Troops. The strike force attacked the hospital compound at dawn on the fourth day, meeting fierce resistance. After several hours of fighting in which many hostages were killed by crossfire, a local ceasefire was agreed on and 227 hostages were released; 61 others were freed by the Russian forces. A second Russian attack on the hospital a few hours later also failed, and so did a third, resulting in even more casualties. The Russian authorities accused the Chechens of using the hostages as human shields.

Shamil Basaev, mastermind behind the Moscow theater hostage crisis, was killed by FSB operators.

According to official figures, 129 civilians were killed and 415 were injured in the entire event (of whom 18 later died of their wounds).[13] This includes at least 105 hostage fatalities.[12] However, according to an independent estimate 166 hostages were killed and 541 injured in the special forces attack on the hospital.[14][15] At least 11 Russian police officers and 14 soldiers were killed.[12] Basayev's force suffered 11 men killed and one missing; most of their bodies were returned to Chechnya in a special freezer truck. In the years following the hostage taking, more than 30 of the surviving attackers have been killed, including Aslambek Abdulkhadzhiev in 2002 and Shamil Basayev in 2006, and more than 20 were sentenced by the Stavropol territorial court to various terms of imprisonment.

Second Chechen war[edit]

Main article: Second Chechen War

Russian special forces were instrumental in Russia's and the Kremlin backed government's success in the Second Chechen War. Under joint command of Unified Group of Troops (OGV), GRU, FSB, MVD Spetsnaz operators conducted a myriad of anti-insurgency and counter terrorism missions, including targeted killings of separatist leadership, in the meantime inflicting heavy casualties among Islamist separatists. Some of the most infamous victims of these successful missions were internationally condemned terrorists and separatist leaders, like Mukhu Aliyev, Aslan Maskhadov, Abdul Halim Sadulayev, Dokka Umarov, Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev, Akhmed Avtorkhanov, Ibn al-Khattab, Abu al-Walid, Abu Hafs al-Urduni, Muhannad, Ali Taziev, Supyan Abdullayev, Shamil Basayev, Ruslan Gelayev, Salman Raduyev, Sulim Yamadayev, Rappani Khalilov, Yassir al-Sudani. During these many operators received honors for their courage and prowess in combat, including with the title Hero of the Russian Federation. At least 106 FSB and GRU operators died during the conflict.[16]

Moscow theater hostage crisis[edit]

The crisis was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by 40 to 50 armed Chechens who claimed allegiance to the Islamist militant separatist movement in Chechnya.[17] They took 850 hostages and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and an end to the Second Chechen War. The siege was officially led by Movsar Barayev.

Due to the disposition of the theater, special forces would have had to fight through 100 feet of corridor and attack up a well defended staircase, before they could reach the hall in where the hostages held up. The terrorist also had numerous explosives, with the most powerful in the center of the auditorium, that if detonated, could have brought down the ceiling and caused an excess of 80 percent casualties.[18] After a two-and-a-half day siege and the execution of two female hostages, Spetsnaz operators from the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alpha and Vega Groups, supported by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) SOBR unit, pumped an undisclosed chemical agent into the building's ventilation system and raided it.[17]

During the raid, all 40 of the attackers were killed, with no casualties among Spetsnaz, but about 130 hostages died due to adverse reactions to the gas (including nine foreigners). Russian security agencies refused to disclose the gas used in the attack leading to doctors in local hospitals being unable to adequately respond to the influx of casualties.[19] All but two of the hostages who died during the siege were killed by the toxic substance pumped into the theater to subdue the militants.[20][21] The use of the gas was widely condemned as heavy-handed, but the American and British governments deemed Russia's actions justifiable.[22] Physicians in Moscow condemned the refusal to disclose the identity of the gas that prevented them from saving more lives. Some reports said the drug naloxone was successfully used to save some hostages.[23]

Beslan school siege[edit]

Beslan school victim photos.

Also referred to as the Beslan massacre[24][25][26] started on the 1st of September 2004, lasted three days and involved the capture of over 1,100 people as hostages (including 777 children),[27] ending with the death of 334 people. The event led to security and political repercussions in Russia; in the aftermath of the crisis, there has been an increase in Ingush-Ossetian ethnic hostility, while contributing to a series of federal government reforms consolidating power in the Kremlin and strengthening of the powers of the President of Russia.[28]

The crisis began when a group of armed radical Islamist combatants, mostly Ingush and Chechen, occupied School Number One (SNO) in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia (an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation) on 1 September 2004. The hostage-takers were the Riyadus-Salikhin Battalion, sent by the Chechen terrorist warlord Shamil Basayev, who demanded recognition of the independence of Chechnya at the United Nations and the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya.

On the third day of the standoff, counter terrorism units stormed the building using heavy weapons after several explosions rocked the building and children started escaping. It was in this chaos most of the officers were killed, trying to protect escaping children from gun fire.[29] [30] At least 334 hostages were killed as a result of the crisis, including 186 children.[31][32] Official reports on how many members of Russia's special forces died in the fighting varied from 11, 12, 16 (7 Alpha and 9 Vega) to more than 20[33] killed. There are only 10 names on the special forces monument in Beslan.[34] The fatalities included all three commanders of the assault group: Colonel Oleg Ilyin, Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Razumovsky of Vega, and Major Alexander Perov of Alpha.[35] At least 30 commandos suffered serious wounds.[36]

The attack also marked the end to the mass terrorism in the North Caucasus separatist conflict until 2010, when two Dagestani female suicide bombers attacked two train stations in Russia. After Beslan, there was a period of several years without suicide attacks in and around Chechnya.

Lessons learned[edit]

FSB Spetsnaz are particularly active. Conducting 119 targeted operations in the North Caucasus in 2006 alone, during which they eliminated more than 100 leaders of terrorist groups.[37]

By the mid 2000s, the special forces gained a firm upper hand over separatists and terrorist attacks in Russia dwindled, falling from 257 in 2005 to 48 in 2007. Military analyst Vitaly Shlykov praised the effectiveness of Russia's security agencies, saying that the experience learned in Chechnya and Dagestan had been key to the success. In 2008, the American Carnegie Endowment's Foreign Policy magazine named Russia as "the worst place to be a terrorist", particularly highlighting Russia's willingness to prioritize national security over civil rights.[38] By 2010, Russian special forces, led by the FSB, had managed to eliminate out the top leadership of the Chechen insurgency, except for Dokka Umarov.[39]

Starting from 2009, the level of terrorism in Russia increased again. Particularly worrisome was the increase in suicide attacks. While between February 2005 and August 2008, no civilians were killed in such attacks, in 2008 at least 17 were killed and in 2009 the number rose to 45.[40] In March 2010, Islamist militants organised the 2010 Moscow Metro bombings, which killed 40 people. One of the two blasts took place at Lubyanka station, near the FSB headquarters. Militant leader Doku Umarov — dubbed "Russia's Osama Bin Laden" — took responsibility for the attacks. In July 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev expanded the FSB's powers in its fight against terrorism.

In 2011, Federal Security Service operators exposed 199 foreign spies, including 41 professional spies and 158 agents employed by foreign intelligence services.[41] The number has risen in recent years: in 2006 the FSB reportedly caught about 27 foreign intelligence officers and 89 foreign agents.[37] Comparing the number of exposed spies historically, the then-FSB Director Nikolay Kovalyov said in 1996: "There has never been such a number of spies arrested by us since the time when German agents were sent in during the years of World War II." The 2011 figure is similar to what was reported in 1995-1996, when around 400 foreign intelligence agents were uncovered during the two-year period.[42]

Anti terrorist operations prior to 2014 Sochi Olympics[edit]

Olympic organizers received several threats prior to the Games. In a July 2013 video release, Chechen Islamist commander Dokka Umarov called for attacks on the Games, stating that the Games were being staged "on the bones of many, many Muslims killed ...and buried on our lands extending to the Black Sea."[43] Threats were received from the group Vilayat Dagestan, which had claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings under the demands of Umarov, and a number of National Olympic Committees had also received threats via e-mail, threatening that terrorists would kidnap or "blow up" athletes during the Games.

In response to the insurgent threats, Russian special forces began cracking down on suspected terrorist organizations, making several arrests and claiming to have curbed several plots,[44] and killed numerous Islamist leaders including Eldar Magatov, a suspect in attacks on Russian targets and alleged leader of an insurgent group in the Babyurt district of Dagestan.[45] Dokka Umarov himself was killed on 7 September 2013 in a targeted strike.

The operations were a success and the Olympics went down without any major terrorist incident.

2014 intervention in Ukraine[edit]

According to western leadership, GRU Spetsnaz spearheaded the occupation of the Crimean peninsula during the 2014 Crimean crisis. Allegedly, several hundred members of the GRU 45th Spetsnaz Regiment and the 22nd Spetsnaz brigade were then sent in, disguised as civilians, to support and advise a popular uprising.

On 27 February, at 4:20 local time, sixty pro-Russian gunmen seized Crimea's parliament building and Council of Ministers building. They were said to be professionals and heavily armed, giving the impression that they were highly trained special forces operators.[46] Thirty broke into the building initially, with a bus carrying another thirty and additional weapons arriving later.[47] The gunmen were unmarked, but raised Russian flags.[48]

Ongoing insurgency in the Caucasus[edit]

Although crime has been markedly reduced and stability increased throughout Russia compared to the previous year, about 350 militants in the North Caucasus have been killed in anti-terror operations in the first four months of 2014, announced Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev in the State Duma.[49]

On September 23, 2014, Russian news agencies marked the 15th anniversary of the formation of the Unified Group of Troops (OGV, or ОГВ) in the North Caucasus. The OGV was is the inter-service headquarters established at Khankala, Chechnya to command all Russian defense ministry (MOD, MVD, FSB) operations from the start of the second Chechen war in 1999.

Since it's inception, the OGV combined operations has conducted 40,000 special missions, destroyed 5,000 bases and caches, confiscated 30,000 weapons, and disarmed 80,000 explosive devices and in the process has killed over 10,000 insurgents in the time frame of 15 years. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) noted that the Hero of the Russian Federation has been awarded to 93 MVD servicemen in the OGV (including 66 posthumously). Overall, more than 23,000 MVD troops have received honors for their conduct during operations.[50]

Russian spetsnaz forces participated in the 2014 Grozny clashes.[51]

Timeline[edit]

The concept of using special tactics and strategies was originally proposed by Russian military theorist Mikhail Svechnykov (executed during the Great Purge in 1938), who envisaged the development of unconventional warfare capabilities to overcome disadvantages faced by conventional forces in the field. Its implementation was begun by the "grandfather of the spetsnaz", Ilya Starinov.[citation needed]

During World War II, the Red Army reconnaissance and sabotage detachments were formed under the supervision of the Second Department of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces. These forces were subordinate to front commanders.[52] The infamous NKVD internal security and espionage agency also had their own special purpose (osnaz) detachments, including many saboteur teams who were airdropped into enemy-occupied territories to work with (and often take over and lead) the Soviet Partisans.

In 1950, Georgy Zhukov advocated the creation of 46 military spetsnaz companies, each consisting of 120 servicemen. This was the first use of "spetsnaz" to denote a separate military branch since World War II. These companies were later expanded to battalions and then to brigades. However, some separate companies (orSpN) and detachments (ooSpN) existed with brigades until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The spetsnaz included fourteen army brigades, two naval brigades and a number of separate detachments and companies, operating under the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and collectively known as Spetsnaz GRU. These units and formations existed in the highest-possible secrecy, and were disguised as Soviet paratroopers (Army spetsnaz) or naval infantrymen (Naval spetsnaz) by their uniforms and insignia.

Twenty-four years after the birth of Spetsnaz, the first counter-terrorist unit was established by KGB head Yuri Andropov. From the late 1970s through the 1980s, a number of special-purpose units were created in the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD).

During the 1990s, special detachments were established within the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and the Airborne Troops (VDV). Some civil agencies with non-police functions have created special units also known as Spetsnaz, such as the Leader special centre in the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS).

2013 saw the creation of the Special Operations Forces of the Russian Federation encompassing all special military units in the Army and Navy.

Soviet and Russian nomenclature[edit]

Russian Kremlin Regiment honour guard in Alexander Garden, 2006

Soviet and Russian military special forces[edit]

The elite units of the Soviet Armed Forces and Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are controlled, for the most part, by the military-intelligence GRU (Spetsnaz GRU) under the General Staff. They were heavily involved in secret operations and training pro-Soviet forces during the Cold War and in the wars in Afghanistan during the 1980s and Chechnya during the 1990s and 2000s. In 2010, as a result of the 2008 military reforms, GRU special forces came under the control of the Ground Forces, being "directly subordinated to commanders of combined strategic commands."[53] However, in 2013, these Spetsnaz forces were placed back under the GRU. The Russian Airborne Troops (VDV, a separate branch of the Soviet and Russian Armed Forces) includes the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Regiment.

Most Russian military special forces units are known by their type of formation (company, battalion or brigade) and a number, similar to other Soviet or Russian military units. Two exceptions were the ethnic Chechen Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad (East and West) that existed during the 2000s. Below is a 2012 list of special purpose units in the Russian Armed Forces:[54][55]

3rd Spetsnaz Brigade on parade, 9 May 2011.
Special Operations Command (KSO)[56][57]
Russian Ground Forces
Russian Airborne Troops
Russian Navy

KGB and FSB special forces[edit]

Man in black in front of soldiers
Russian Prime Minister Medvedev visiting Dagestan FSB special forces base in Makhachkala, 2009

The Center of Special Operations of the FSB (CSN FSB, центр специального назначения ФСБ) is officially tasked with combating terrorism and protecting the constitutional order of the Russian Federation. The CSN FSB consists of estimated 4,000 operators[59] in three operative divisions:

CSN FSB headquarters is a large complex of buildings and training areas, with dozens of hectares of land and scores of training facilities. The average training period for a CSN officer is about five years.[60]

Spetsgruppa 'A' (Alpha Group) is a counter-terrorist unit created in 1974. It is a professional unit, consisting of about 700 operators and support personnel in five operational detachments. Most are stationed in Moscow, with the remainder in three other cities: Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg and Khabarovsk. All Alpha operators undergo airborne, mountain and counter-sabotage dive training. Alpha has operated in other countries, most notably Operation Storm-333 (when Alpha and Zenith detachments supported the 154th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment—known as the "Muslim Battalion"—of the GRU on a mission to overthrow and kill Afghan president Hafizullah Amin).[61]

Spetsgruppa "B" (Vympel) or Vega, (among other names) was formed in 1981, merging two elite Cold War-era KGB special units—Cascade (Kaskad) and Zenith (Zenit)—which were similar to the CIA's Special Activities Division (responsible for covert operations involving sabotage and assassination in other countries) and re-designated for counter-terrorist and counter-sabotage operations. It is tasked with the protection of strategic installations, such as factories and transportation centers. With its Alpha counterparts, it is heavily used in the North Caucasus. Vympel has four operative units in Moscow, with branch offices in nearly every city containing a nuclear power plant.

Spetsgruppa "C", or Smerch, but also known as the Service of Special Operations (ССО), is a relatively new unit formed in July 1999. Officers from Smerch are frequently involved with the capture and transfer of various bandit and criminal leaders who help aid disruption in the North Caucasus and throughout Russia. Operations include both direct action against bandit holdouts in Southern Russia as well as high-profile arrests in more densely populated cities and guarding government officials. Because of its initials, this group is casually referred to as “Smerch”. With the Center of Special Operations and its elite units, many FSB special forces units operate at the regional level. These detachments are usually known as ROSN or ROSO (Regional Department of Special Designation), such as Saint Petersburg's Grad (Hail) or Murmansk's Kasatka (Orca).

Foreign Intelligence Service[edit]

The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), formerly the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, has its own top secret special force known as Zaslon (meaning Screen, Barrier or Shield) about which extremely little is known, and which officially does not even exist.[citation needed]

Soviet and Russian MVD special forces[edit]

Two soldiers in a city, wearing camouflage and OMON insignia
Two Russian OMON riot police officers in Moscow's Red Square, 2006
Officer of Moscow SOBR special police force in 2012

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) Spetsnaz includes a number of Russian Internal Troops (VV, successor to the Soviet Internal Troops) paramilitary units to combat internal threats to the government, such as insurgencies and mutinies. These units usually have a unique name and official OSN number, and some are part the ODON (also known as Dzerzhinsky Division). OBrON (Independent Special Designation Brigade) VV special groups (spetsgruppa) were deployed to Chechnya.[62]

The following is a list of Internal Troops OSNs (отряд специального назначения, "special purpose detachment") in 2012:[63]

In addition to Internal Troops, the MVD has Politsiya (formerly Militsiya) police special forces stationed in nearly every Russian city. Most of Russia's special-police officers belong to OMON units, which are primarily used as riot police and not considered an elite force—unlike the SOBR (known as the OMSN from 2002 to 2011) rapid-response units consisting of experienced, better-trained and -equipped officers. The Chechen Republic has unique and highly autonomous special police formations, supervised by Ramzan Kadyrov and formed from the Kadyrovtsy, including the (Akhmad or Akhmat) Kadyrov Regiment ("Kadyrov's Spetsnaz").

The following is a list of Federal Penitentiary Service OSNs:

Federal Drug Control Service of Russia

  • OSN "Grom"
Soldiers and a priest in front of a banner
Internal Troops' 7th OSN with a Russian Orthodox priest and their flag (also featuring a maroon beret), 2005

Ministry of Justice

  • Dozens of various independent detachments, such as OSN Saturn.

Belarusian Spetsnaz[edit]

Armed Forces Spetsnaz[edit]

Belarus maintains its own special forces in the form of the 5th Spetsnaz Brigade, which it inherited from the Soviet Spetsnaz GRU. While Russia has been modernizing its forces, and Ukraine has begun to adopt a western model, Belarus's armed forces often claim to be the most direct successors to Soviet Units. Belarus's units conduct joint exercises with the Armed Forces of Russia in which the nation's special forces participate extensively. Belarus's ruling party has been accused of using its special forces to assassinate opposition leaders.[78][79]

Army special operations forces include:[80]

There are units to perform the tasks of particular importance:

  • 33 Guards Spetsnaz detachment (complete with officers and warrant officers)
  • A special purpose detachment of 5th Spetsnaz Brigade (known as "company officer")
  • 527th Spetsnaz company
  • 22nd Spetsnaz company (KRC)

KGB of Belarus[edit]

KGB of Belarus is the national intelligence agency that was formed from the inherited personnel and operators after the break up of the Soviet Union. KGB of Belarus has its own Spetsgruppa "A" (Alpha Group), which is the country's primary counter-terrorism unit.

Belarus's Diamond unit is the Spetsnaz detachment responsible for guarding president Alexander Lukashenko.

Kazakhstan Spetsnaz[edit]

As with many post Soviet states Kazakhstan adopted the term Alpha Group to be used by its special forces. The Almaty territorial unit of Alpha was turned into the special unit Arystan (meaning "Lions" in Kazakh) of the National Security Committee (KNB) of Kazakhstan.[81] In 2006, five members of Arystan were arrested and charged with the kidnapping of the opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbayuly, his driver, and his bodyguard; the three victims were then allegedly delivered to the people who murdered them.[82]

Kokhzal (meaning wolf pack in Kazakh language) is a special forces unit of Kazakhstan responsible for carrying out anti terror operations as well as serving as a protection detail for the President of Kazakhstan.[83]

Ukrainian Spetsnaz[edit]

Ukraine's Alpha SBU emblem

Like all post - Soviet states, Ukraine inherited it's spetnaz units from the remnants of the Soviet armed forces, GRU and KGB units. Nowadays, Ukraine maintains its own Spetsnaz structure under the control of the Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Defense, the Security Service of Ukraine maintains its own Spetsnaz force, the Alpha group. Ukraine's Berkut special police force gained mainstream attention during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution as it was one of the main forces used by the government to quell the uprising. Ukraine relies on Spetsnaz forces for various activities from intelligence gathering, fighting fraud and organized crime, responding to terrorism, electronic warfare, as well as responding to mass protests. Spetsnaz units were extensively used during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution by the Yanukovich regime to suppress Euromaidan protesters. During the subsequent Crimea Crisis and the War in Donbass the new government was hesitant to use these forces as they were seen as symbols of the previous regime. Many Spetsnaz member found a purpose by joining a Territorial defense battalion (Ukraine) or the National Guard of Ukraine, ironically they often fought side by side with Euromaidan protesters with whom they recently clashed. Spetsnaz units were eventually deployed to combat separatist forces as they began to gain ground. Ukraine's 3rd Separate Spetsnaz Regiment has been responsible for defending the Donetsk International Airport which has faced nearly daily battles since May 2014.[84][85]

Ukraine's SBU Alpha Group conducting training

Ukraine's Spetsnaz forces have had a dubious reputation as they have been used by the government to extort, scare, and blackmail businesses and individuals. Moreover many units, especially those of the Security Service of Ukraine are highly autonomous and essentially functioned as mercenaries for various oligarchs or government officials. During the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution Spetsnaz units have been suspected of carrying out sniper attacks on protesters in Kiev. Because of this reputation many units were dismissed after the fall of president Yanukovich.[86][87]

Current structure of spetsnaz units in Ukraine.

  • Alpha Group Part of the Security Service of Ukraine which is the successor of the Soviet KGB, the SSU is an independent agency that reports directly to the President of Ukraine. Alpha group is the main counter terror unit of Ukraine and due to the SSU being directly subordinate to the president and not a parent agency is the unit with broadest authority.

Current active units of the Ministry of Interior are:

  • Cheetah: 200 man unit stationed in Crimea, forced to evacuate due to the Crimea Crisis
  • Tiger: The unit is designed to combat terrorism and preserve public order. The unit was active in suppressing protests during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.
  • Omega: Stationed in Mariupol the unit has been active in the 2014 War in Donbass. Designed to combat terrorism, often works along with Vega special forces unit.
  • Scorpion: Specializes in the defense of Ukraine's nuclear facilities
  • Falcon: Stationed in Kyiv and designed to battle organized crime
  • Cobra: Specializes in mountain combat
  • Griffin: Tasked with protecting courts, ensure the safety of judges
  • Jaguar: Tasked with stopping hooliganism, cease riots, suppressing riots in prisons. Was actively involved in the suppression of Euromaidan protests, afterwards units were also deployed against pro Russian separatists.
  • Titan: Ensuring the safety of foreign deputies, investigating fraud and counter-fitting rings.
  • Bars: Main purpose is to ensure law and order in case of protesting students, football hooligans as well as various security duties. Was active in suppressing the Euromaidan protests.
  • Scat: Protection of ports as well as other marine structures such as dams and vessels. Specialize in underwater demolition.
  • Shadow: Specialize in intelligence and counterintelligence activities and sabotage. Designed to operate for prolonged periods of time behind enemy lines.
  • Vega: Combat terrorism, works closely with the Omega unit.
Patch of the 73rd Naval Center of Special Operations

Active units of the Ministry of Defense are:

The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine is a wholly independent agency, much like the Security Service of Ukraine. The border guards maintain two spetsnaz units code named Falcon and Gryphon. Ukraine prison ministry maintains spetsnaz teams to respond to prison riots and breakouts. The State Security Administration (Ukraine) is responsible for protecting high-ranking officials including the President of Ukraine and maintains a spetsnaz unit code name Bulat in Kyiv.

Berkut special purpose police force[edit]

Ukraine's Berkut (special police force) was perhaps the nation's most well known Spetsnaz unit and served under the Ministry of Internal Affairs until its dissolution in 2014. Following the Crimea Crisis, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs absorbed the Crimean Berkut unit.

The force came to worldwide attention during the Ukraine without Kuchma riots, as well as the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. Berkut is essentially a successor to OMON special police units of the Soviet Union and is analogous to SWAT teams in the United States. A Berkut unit was stationed in most cities of regional significance. The unit specialized in riot control and tactical law enforcement. Due to Berkut units being stationed in most regions of Ukraine, the term became synonymous with Spetsnaz or law enforcement and many special police units were referred to by the name.[88]

Berkut has been accused of excessive brutality, intimidation, and being involved in various criminal activity throughout its history. Some examples include:

  • 23–25 June 1995: Assaulted Crimean Tatars near Sudak (Crimea) and helped criminals to escape angry crowd[89]
  • 18 July 1995, "Black Tuesday": Prevented burial of Patriarch Volodymyr (Kiev)[90][91]
  • 24 August 1998 (Independence Day): Violent dispersal of a peaceful protest by coal miners for not having been paid for two and a half years in Luhansk[92] (governor of Luhansk Oblast - Oleksandr Yefremov)
  • November 2000: March 2001, Ukraine without Kuchma: Protected government from angry crowd
  • 19 August 2013: Attacked a parliamentarian during the 2013 Kiev political protests near city hall
  • Beginning 22 November 2013, attacked protesters of the Euromaidan[citation needed]
  • 23 January 2014: Kidnapped Alexandra Haylak, a 22-year-old volunteer of the Euromaidan medical service, stripped her of all identification, and left her in the woods near Vyshhorod.[93]
  • 23 January 2014: Andriy Parubiy, an opposition member of Ukraine's parliament, reported that Berkut was altering standard issue stun grenades, making them lethal devices by wrapping them with nails and other shrapnel and using them against Euromaidan protesters. Parubiy showed reporters samples of the altered weapons.[94]

Due to their history of brutality, as well as their involvement in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the unit developed a dubious history and was disbanded by Ukraine in 2014.

2014 Ukranian Revolution[edit]

Many Special police units were active in responding to the protests of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution including the Tiger and Leopard special forces groups of the Ministry of Interior, Berkut special police Force, and SBU Alpha Group.[95][96] On 18 February, after months of civil unrest protests took a harsher turn storming parliament. Troops thought to be SBU Alpha were seen heavily armed and carrying AK-47 rifles, military jets could also be seen flying over Kiev. By February 20 there were reports of snipers appearing on rooftops, this lead to perhaps the most bloody standoff of the revolution which resulted in over 100 sniper deaths of which SBU is also suspected of covering up.[97] By February 23 police presence in Maidan square had dissipated, which was unusual as it was not part of an agreement signed by the new government, this corresponded to the disappearance of president Yanukovich, sensing a change in power police forces likely abandoned their post. Throughout the revolution, police units were holding back protesters however, having pulled units in from all over Ukraine into Kiev, protests flared up across the country eventually resulting in a change of government.[98][99]

War in Donbass[edit]

Ukraine's Spetsnaz in Donetsk

Due to the inherent corruption of the Ministry of Interior many Spetsnaz units and commanders were sacked, Berkut being the most notable. However, Russian Spetsnaz units soon recruited many of the released members. During the Crimea Crisis Berkut members could be seen alongside Russian "little green men" who later admitted to being Russian Spetsnaz members. SBU also reported that about 30% of its Alpha group members were unaccounted for and were likely fighting alongside Donetsk or Luhansk insurgent groups and in March 2014 only the Alpha group only had about 200 active members still loyal to Ukraine.[100][101]

At the begging of the Crimea Crisis and the War in Donbass Ukraine's parliament stated that their forces only had 6,000 combat ready infantrymen, this compared with approximately 20,000 troops stationed at Russian bases in Crimea alone. At the time Ukraine also had a sizable number of units deployed across the world as part of missions such as Operation Atalanta, ISAF, Kosovo Force, and over 200 troops attached to a UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo.[102] This meant that Ukraine's most experienced and well trained troops were deployed and unavailable at the start of the conflict. Ukrainian government immediately began a process of mobilization and the creation of reserve forces such as a National Guard, however it would be several months until these units would be trained. Therefore Ukraine's depleted spetsnaz forces, without the aid of a larger conventional force, or an effective local police force, were called to defend the state. According to Ukraine's Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak spetsnaz forces operated largely alone during the first period of the war in Ukraine's Donbass region as they were the only units fit for duty at the time.[103][104]

A group of heavily armed men appeared in Donetsk on 3 March 2014. These were dubbed as Russian Spetsnaz operatives invading Ukraine by some, or American Blackwater operatives by others. However, it was revealed that it was actually members of Ukraine's Alpha group escorting Andrey Shishatskiy, the ex-governor of Donetsk after he attacked by a group of pro Russian separatists. Several months later Mariupol was declared the administrative center of Donetsk oblasts due to unrest and most administrative functions were transferred there[105]

Despite having lost many members, Ukrainian Spetsnaz was called to service in April 2014 once Russian insurgents began to advance into Ukraine. One of the first large scale missions was to retake the Kramatorsk airfield as a pivot point to put pressure on Donetsk, which had largely been taken over by insurgents. On 15 April, Spetsnaz unit Omega stormed the airfield retaking it and capturing an undisclosed number of pro-Russian insurgents in the process.[106] Kramatorsk airfield was the scene of prolonged fighting even after its recapture. On 25 April insurgents launched a failed attempt to retake the airfield destroying a Mil Mi-8 helicopter and an An-2 transport. The airfield was surrounded by insurgents for several months until the liberation of Kramatorsk from insurgents in July 2014.

Ukraine's Special Forces walk past a destroyed aircraft at Donetsk Airport

On April 25, 2014 Ukraine's Spetsnaz units were some of the first units to encounter insurgents in Sloviansk, which was to become a rebel stronghold. Ukrainian Spetsnaz units began to systematically destroy rebel checkpoints around the city in April so that regular forces could break through into the city, however it would be several more months until the main components of the Ground Forces of Ukraine were able to break through into the city.[107]

On 26 May 2014 Russian insurgents launched an attack taking Donetsk Airport, the nation's second busies airport at the time. For the first time in the conflict Ukrainian forces responded almost immediately instead of waiting several days by launching airstrikes from Su-25 aircraft and launching Mi-24 gunships to suppress the attackers. Spetsnaz forces as well as airborne troops were airlifted to the scene to battle the insurgents for the airport starting the First Battle of Donetsk Airport. With the help of air support government forces drove out insurgents by the next day and took control of the airport. This was the first successful operation in the War in Donbass as prior to this insurgent forces were accustomed to quick victories and government forces typically took several days to respond to attacks. After the battle many foreigners including Chechen terrorists were revealed to have fought against Ukrainian forces.[108]

In May and June 2014 Special Fores units were involved in aiding regular army and National Guard Units in the First Battle of Mariupol. By this time Russian separatists have captured most of Donetsk Oblast as far north as Yampil', although government troops retained control of key points such as Kramatorsk and Donetsk airfields. Insurgents then spread south toward Mariupol, the second largest city in the Donbass. On April 17, 2014 a large group of several hundred separatists attempted to storm a military base in Mariupol. The Ukrainian military counterattacked and Omega special forces unit was air lifted unto the scene to help local troops drive back the attackers. During the failed assault 63 separatists were captured and three killed. Omega special forces group was then tasked with protecting Mariupol for the remainder of the First Battle of Mariupol.[109] Later on 9 May separatists stormed the city police headquarters, Omega and National Guard Units attempted to recapture the building but Ukrainian forces eventually retreated outside the city and cordoned off the city limits with check points. On 13 June Omega special forces, along with National Guard units, Azov Battalion and Dnipro Battalion stormed the city. In the ensuing 6 hour battle government troops recaptured all buildings from separatists and hoisted the Ukrainian flag over the city hall.[110]

Ukraine's Special Forces battling insurgents from inside Donetsk Airport

Ukraine's special forces have also carried out several operations deep into rebel held territory, operating in Donetsk and Luhansk cities.[111]

Spetsnaz forces have also been responsible for locating and neutralizing terrorist cells operating deep inside of Ukraine, clearing cities that have been recaptured from insurgents, as well as searching for potential saboteurs. In May, the SBU raided and arrested several potential saboteurs in Odessa region[112][113] In October 2014 the head of Ukraine's Security Service claimed that SBU security forces detained over 100 saboteurs over a three week period, some foreign citizens of Russia, that were planning to carry out sabotage missions across Ukraine. The director also claimed that 507 potential saboteurs have been detained in total since the start of the Crimea Crisis.[114]

Ukrainian Naval Infantry maintains its own small spetsnaz force in the form of the 73rd marine spetsnaz detachment, the detachment is named "Seals" after the United States Navy SEALs and is built around the same purpose.[115] In August 2014 the commander of the 73rd marine spetsnaz detachment was killed in an operation near Donetsk, Ukraine.[116]

While forces from the Ministry of Interior are often involved in locating spies and saboteurs, the Spetsnaz units of the Ministry of Defense have been more directly involved in the war. Perhaps the most well known are the Spetsnaz units responsible for defending Donetsk International Airport. The Airport was raided on April 18, but maintained operations until May 25, 2014 after which it faced nearly daily attacks. The 3rd Separate Spetsnaz Regiment have been defending the airport and have earned the nickname "Cyborgs" due to their ability to repel months of persistent attacks and has been involved in the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport. Rebels have on multiple occasions stated that they have captured the airport, however the flag of Ukraine has been flying over the dispatch tower since the start of the conflict, suggesting the airport has never been captured. The airport's garrison has been able to withstand attacks by Russian T-72 tanks, Grad and Uragan rocket artillery, as well as 2S4 Tyulpan heavy mortars without any air support. By September, Russian Spetsnaz forces began to actively aid the rebels in assaulting the airport, however only managed to only advance 500 meters closer to the complex by the end of the month.[117][118] The struggle for area surrounding the airport has been dubbed as the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport.

On 22 November 2014 spetsnaz groups Cheetah and Titan stormed the Odessa oil refinery. There were no injuries during the operation. A statement from the prosecutor's office of the Odessa Oblast stated that spetsnaz forces were used to secure the refinery's assets. In April a Ukrainian court ruled that the refinery's assets were to be liquidated, however it is suspected management was trying to profit by illegally selling 55 million hryvnia worth of assets without court approval. Prosecutors attempted to enter the refinery on 17 October 2014 to enforce a court decision to confiscate the refinery's assets but were stopped by security, therefore the decision to use spetsnaz forces to secure the premises and carry out the previous court order was made by the prosecutor's office.[119]

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Sources[edit]

  • Viktor Suvorov, Spetsnaz: The Story Behind the Soviet SAS, Hamish Hamilton, London 1987
  • David C. Isby, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, Jane's Publishing Company Limited, London, 1988
  • Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993

External links[edit]