|Branch||National Guard of Russia|
|Type||Gendarmerie, riot police|
|Role||Tactical law enforcement, crowd control, riot control, domestic counter-terrorism, VIP protection, patrol and checkpoint duties|
|Size||c. 20,000 (in Russia)|
|Part of||Ministry of Internal Affairs|
|Nickname(s)||Omonovtsy, "Black Berets"|
OMON (Russian: ОМОН—Отряд мобильный особого назначения, Otryad Mobilny Osobogo Naznacheniya, Special Purpose Mobility Unit) is a system of special police units of Federal Police within the National Guard of Russia, and previously Soviet and Russian Ministries of Internal Affairs. It was created as the special forces of the Soviet Militsiya in 1988, and then played major roles in several armed conflicts during and following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
OMON is much larger and better known than SOBR, another special police branch of the Russian Interior Ministry. In modern context, the OMON were used more like riot police, or as a gendarmerie-like paramilitary force. OMON units also exist in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and other post-Soviet states. However, some post-Soviet units have changed names and acronyms. OMON officers are commonly known as the omonovtsy.
On 5 April 2016, OMON became part of the newly established National Guard of Russia, ending its years as part of the Ministry of the Interior.
OMON originated in 1979, when the first Soviet SWAT-like police unit was founded in preparation for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to ensure that there were no terrorist incidents like the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. Subsequently, the unit was to be utilized in emergencies such as high-risk arrests, hostage crises and acts of terror.
The current OMON system is the successor of that group and was founded on 3 October 1988 in Moscow and was called the Militsiya Squad of Special Assignment. Special police detachments were often manned by former soldiers of the Soviet Army and veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. OMON units were used as riot police to control and stop demonstrations and hooliganism, as well as to respond to emergency situations involving violent crime. The units later took on a wider range of police duties, including cordon and street patrol actions, and even paramilitary and military-style operations.
Following Russia's 2011 police reform, Russian OMON units were to be renamed Distinctive Purpose Teams (KON), while OMSN (SOBR) would become Special Purpose Teams (KSN). It was announced that Special Purpose Centers for Rapid Deployment forces would also be created in Russian regions, to include regional OMON and OMSN units. In essence, all police spetsnaz (special designation) units were brought together under the joint command of the Interior Ministry — the Center for Operational Spetsnaz and Aviation Forces of MVD (Центр специального назначения сил оперативного реагирования и авиации МВД России). In January 2012, Russia's OMON was renamed from Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya, (Special Purpose Militia Unit) to Otryad Mobilniy Osobogo Naznacheniya (Special Purpose Mobile Unit), keeping the acronym.
Soviet OMON Activities
- On 20 January 1991, Soviet-loyalist Riga OMON attacked Latvia's Interior Ministry, killing six people during the January 1991 events which was not confirmed by internal investigation, in a failed pro-Moscow coup attempt following the Latvian SSR's declaration of independence. Seven OMON officers were subsequently found guilty by the Riga District Court and were sentenced in absentia. The part of the Riga OMON troops remained loyal USSR and oath of allegiance. The unit got evacuated from Riga to Tyumen in Russia by air force together with all ammunition, vehicles and firearms. And incorporated with local Tyumen OMON.
- A series of attacks on border outposts of the newly independent Republic of Lithuania took place during the period of January to July 1991. These resulted in several summary execution-style deaths of unarmed customs officers and other people (including former members of Vilnius OMON), which were attributed to Riga OMON. Some sources say that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had lost control of the unit during that period. For years, Lithuania has continued to demand that the persons suspected in these incidents should be tried in Lithuania; one suspect was arrested in Latvia in November 2008.
- The April–May 1991 Operation Ring by the Azerbaijan SSR OMON and the Soviet Army against the Armenian irregular units in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, resulted in forty deaths of mostly Armenian civilians, and the forced displacement of nearly 10,000 ethnic Armenians. In later attacks, several more Armenian civilians were killed; others suffered abuse which included instances of rape. In continuing fighting in this area, fourteen Azerbaijani OMON members and one Armenian paramilitary fighter were reported killed in September 1991.
- Violent and often armed clashes occurred between the Georgian SSR's OMON and opponents of the first Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia prior to the Georgian Civil War of 1991–1993. Eleven combatants on both sides, including Georgian OMON members and regular militsiya officers, were reported killed in skirmishes during September and October 1991. There were also allegations of OMON firing at unarmed protesters.
Post-Soviet OMON Activities
- Prior to the creation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the bulk of the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, on the Azeri side, was conducted by the post-Soviet OMON units and irregular forces. This included the defence of the village of Khojaly by a group of Azeri OMON troops and armed volunteers against the Armenian and Russian Army forces prior to, and during, the Khojaly massacre on 25 February 1992; most of the group involved died along with several hundred other Azeris, mostly civilians.
- South Ossetian ad-hoc OMON, organized by a group of Tskhinvali internal affairs division militsiya officers, was reportedly the most combat-ready force on the separatist side at the outset of the South Ossetia War in April 1992.
- In Tajikistan, the civil war began after local OMON began defecting to anti-Nabiyev protesters in May 1992. The country's minority Pamiri people largely backed the United Tajik Opposition, and for that reason were targeted for massacres by pro-government forces during the bloody first phase of the war in 1992–1993. A significant portion of the Tajikistan MVD's command structure and its OMON consisted mainly of Pamiris who were then either killed or forced to flee to Gorno-Badakhshan.
- North Ossetia's OMON participated in the short but vicious 1992 East Prigorodny Conflict in Russia. They killed or 'disappeared' hundreds of local indigenous Ingush people. Ossetian OMON reportedly massacred residents of Ingush villages that had first been shelled by Russian federal army tanks that were officially in to the region for 'peacekeeping' purposes.
- Following the War of Transnistria in 1992, several high-ranking former OMON and KGB officers assumed senior posts in Moldova's pro-Russian separatist region of Transnistria. Former Riga OMON Major Vladimir Antyufeyev, who had led the attacks against Latvian authorities in 1991 and was put on the Interpol wanted list, renamed himself "General Vadim Shevtsov" and became Transnistria's minister of state security and intelligence. He is also alleged to have overseen the self-declared republic's organized criminal smuggling rackets. In 2012, the KGB of Transnistria announced it has "launched a criminal investigation into Vladimir Antyufeev who is suspected of misuse of state powers."
- Moscow OMON, and units brought from other cities, clashed with anti-Yeltsin demonstrators during the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis and reportedly beat some members of the Supreme Soviet of Russia (Russian parliament at the time).
- Russian OMON had extensive and controversial involvement in the brutal wars in Chechnya since 1994. (See below).
- OMON undertook cordon duties during Russia's mass hostage crises including: the 1995 Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis, the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, and the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis.
- Russia used the Dagestani OMON in a fight against Islamic separatism during the 1999 War of Dagestan and later against a continuing Islamist militant insurgency. Similar situations have also taken place in several neighbouring Muslim majority republics since the early 2000s.
- OMON have broken up several opposition rallies, including the Dissenters' Marches since 2006, sparking reports of police brutality, including excessive use of force and arbitrary detention of participants. In 2007, the brutal actions of OMON against peaceful protesters and arrests of opposition figures were harshly criticised by the European Union institutions and governments. Moscow OMON also made international news when it prevented gay rights activists (including the European Parliament members) from marching after the Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov did not allow a planned parade to take place in 2007.
- On 24 March 2006, Belarusian OMON stormed the opposition's tent camp at Minsk's October Square without provocation, violently ending the peaceful Jeans Revolution against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. Thousands of people were beaten and hundreds detained, including the opposition's presidential candidate Alaksandr Kazulin, as a result of the attack.
- In February 2008, Tajik OMON commander Oleg Zakharchenko was killed in a shootout with an anti-organized crime police unit composed of former opposition fighters, under disputed circumstances, in Gharm. In 2009, the former Interior Minister of Tajikistan, Mahmadnazar Salihov, allegedly committed suicide to avoid being arrested in connection with the case; Salihov's family claimed he was murdered in a political purge.
- South Ossetian separatist OMON took part in the fighting against the Georgian Armed Forces in August, during the 2008 South Ossetia war and were accused of "special cruelty" against civilians in the overrun ethnic Georgian villages. Subsequently, South Ossetian OMON fighters were absorbed into Russian regular forces in the area as a contract soldiers and continued to be deployed in the highly disputed Akhalgori zone.
- Gulmurod Khalimov, the Russian-U.S. trained OMON chief in Tajikisan since 2012, disappeared in 2015. He had defected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, and threatened to attack American cities. He was declared wanted for treason by Tajik government.
Conflict in Chechnya
The force was active in the First Chechen War of 1994-1996 in which OMON was often used in various security and light infantry roles, notably for the notorious "cleansing" (zachistka) operations. Prior to the war, there was also an OMON formation belonging to the Interior Ministry (MVD) of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Chechnya's separatist government. The independent Chechnya had an OMON battalion prior to the war, but it was not battle trained, and did not play any significant role as an organized force before disintegrating. During the armed conflict, almost every Russian city would be regularly sending militsiya groups, often OMON members, for tours of usually three or four months. The pro-Moscow administration of the Chechen Republic also formed its own OMON detachments. In February 1996, a group of thirty-seven Russian OMON officers from Novosibirsk surrendered to Chechen militants of Salman Raduyev and Khunkar-Pasha Israpilov during the Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye hostage crisis; Seventeen prisoners were later swapped for Chechen fighters captured by the Russian side in the same incident. In August 1996, group of about thirty ethnic Chechen members of Russian OMON answering to pro-Moscow commander Said-Magomed Kakiyev were reportedly captured and executed in Grozny by the separatist militias of Doku Umarov and Ruslan Gelayev during the battle for the city.
OMON took part in the Second Chechen War as well. OMON forces sustained severe losses in the conflict, including from the March 2000 ambush which killed scores of servicemen from Berezniki and Perm (including nine captured and executed), the July 2000 suicide bombing which killed at least twenty-five Russians at Argun base of OMON from Chelyabinsk, and the April 2002 mine attack which left twenty-one Chechen OMON troops dead in central Grozny. Control and discipline continued to be questionable in Chechnya, where the OMON members were known to have engaged in, or fallen victim to, several deadly incidents of friendly fire and fratricide. In perhaps the bloodiest of such incidents, at least twenty-four were killed when OMON from Podolsk attacked a column of OMON from Sergiyev Posad in Grozny on 2 March 2000. Among other incidents, several Chechen OMON servicemen were abducted and executed in Grozny by Russian military servicemen in November 2000, members of Chechen OMON engaged in a shootout with the Ingush police on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia resulting in eight fatalities in September 2006, and Ramzan Kadyrov-controlled local OMON clashed with a group of rival Chechens belonging to the Kakiyev's Spetsnaz GRU military unit in Grozny, resulting in at least five being killed in 2007.
OMON was often accused of severe human rights abuses during the course of the conflict, including abducting, torturing, raping and killing civilians. By 2000, the bulk of such crimes, as recorded by international organisations in Chechnya, appeared to have been committed either by or with the participation of OMON. Moscow region OMON took part in the April 1995 rampage in the village of Samashki, where up to 300 civilians were reportedly killed during a large-scale brutal cleansing operation by federal MVD forces. In December 1999, a group of unidentified OMON members manning a roadblock checkpoint shot dead around forty refugees fleeing the siege of Grozny. OMON from Saint Petersburg are believed to have been behind the February 2000 Novye Aldi massacre in which at least sixty civilians were robbed and then killed by Russian forces entering Grozny after the fall of the city; one officer, Sergei Babin, was to be prosecuted in relation to the case in 2005 but he vanished. In April 2006, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of the forced disappearance of Shakhid Baysayev, a Chechen man who had gone missing after being detained in a March 2000 security sweep by Russian OMON in Grozny. In 2007, Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug OMON officer Sergei Lapin was sentenced for the kidnapping and torture of a Chechen man in Grozny in 2001, with the Grozny court criticising the conduct of the OMON serving in Chechnya in broader terms. In an event related to the conflict in Chechnya, several OMON officers were also accused of starting the May 2007 wave of ethnic violence in Stavropol by assisting in the racially motivated murder of a local Chechen man.
In Russia, there is an OMON unit in every oblast, as well as in many major cities; for example, there is an OMON unit within the Moscow City police department, and two separate units within Moscow Oblast police department. Information from different sources suggested that there were between 10,500 and 15,000 OMON members stationed at population centers and transportation hubs around the country during the 1990s. This number officially rose to about 20,000 nationwide by 2007; the biggest OMON unit in Russia, Moscow OMON, numbers over 2,000 members. Most OMON officers retire at the age of approximately forty-five. They were also sometimes not paid for their service. In 2001, for example, some fifty OMON members from Moscow filed a lawsuit claiming they had not been paid for one month of combat operations in Chechnya. Due to the use of OMON members in high risk situations, especially in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the group often loses members in combat.
Members of OMON are required to achieve a high level of fitness and expertise in small arms and hand-to-hand combat. Males between the ages of twenty-two and thirty who have completed their two-year military service can apply to join OMON. The application includes medical and psychological tests, and tests of speed and fitness. The initial training lasts for four months. The applicants are extensively trained in the use of different weaponry and close combat, and are also trained to follow orders at any cost. Special emphasis is put on urban combat and the entering and clearing of buildings. The training also includes legal training. The application procedure closes with a final test, where the applicant has to fight three to five trained members of OMON by hand wearing boxing gloves. Fewer than one in five applicants pass and are selected to join.
OMON groups use a wide range of firearms, including but not limited to: AK-74 assault rifle, AKS-74U carbine assault rifle, 9A-91 compact assault rifle, and PP-19 Bizon submachine gun while the Makarov pistol, Stechkin automatic pistol and the MP-443 Grach are assigned as sidearms. OMON units may use other weaponry, typically used by Russian light infantry during special operations and in war zones, such as: the PK machine gun, the GP-25 underbarrel grenade launcher for assault rifle or the GM-94 pump-action grenade launcher, RPG series rocket-proppelled grenade launchers, and the Dragunov and Vintorez sniper rifles. They are in fact sometimes called "OMON soldiers".
OMON vehicles include specially-equipped vans, buses and trucks of various types (often armored and sometimes equipped with mounted machine guns), as well as a limited number of armored personnel carriers (BTR-60, BTR-70 and BTR-80).
OMON's headgear remains their signature black beret, (they are thus sometimes called Black Berets), which they share with the Naval Infantry. The group's members usually tend to wear either all-black or blue or gray camouflage police uniforms, but a not uncommon sight has been a variety of Russian Army and Russian Internal Troops uniforms, often with black balaclava masks and/or helmets.
- Berkut – Ukrainian special police successor to OMON (disbanded following a revolution in 2014)
- OPON – Azerbaijani paramilitary successor to OMON (forcibly disbanded by the government security forces after an OPON revolt in 1995)
- Internal Troops – paramilitary soldiers of the MVD in the Soviet Union and several post-Soviet states
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