Russian Airborne Troops
|Russian Airborne Troops|
Coat of Arms of Airborne Forces
|Country|| Soviet Union
|Branch||Russian Armed Forces|
|Size||45,000 paratroopers, will expand to 72,000 paratroopers by 2019|
|Nickname(s)||Blue Berets, Winged Infantry|
"Никто, кроме нас!"("Nobody, but us!")
|Anniversaries||August 2 – Day of Desantniks|
|Engagements||Battle of Lake Khasan
Battles of Khalkhin Gol
World War II
First Chechen War
Second Chechen War
2008 South Ossetia war
2014 Crimean crisis
War in Donbass
|Col.Gen. Vladimir Shamanov|
|Gen. Vasily Margelov
Lt. Col. Anatoly Lebed
Gen. Georgy Shpak
|Alternative Coat of Arms|
|Flag of Airbone Forces|
The Russian Airborne Troops or VDV (from "Vozdushno-desantnye voyska", Russian: Воздушно-десантные войска, ВДВ; Air-landing Forces) is a military branch of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. They are an elite force, on par with the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Aerospace Defence Forces. First formed before World War II, the force undertook two significant airborne operations and a number of smaller jumps during the war and for many years after 1945 was the largest airborne force in the world. The force was split after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, losing divisions to Belarus and Ukraine, and has been reduced in size.
Interwar and World War II
The first airborne forces parachute jump is dated to 2 August 1930, taking place in the Moscow Military District. Airborne landing detachments were established after the initial 1930 experimental jump, but creation of larger units had to wait until 1932–33. On 11 December 1932, a Revolutionary Military Council order established an airborne brigade from the existing detachment in the Leningrad Military District. To implement the order, a directive of the Commissariat of Military and Naval Affairs transformed the Leningrad Military District’s 3rd Motorised Airborne Landing Detachment into the 3rd Airborne Brigade (Special Purpose) commanded by M.V. Boytsov. Two further airborne brigades (the 13th and 47th) and three airborne regiments (the 1st, 2nd, and 5th, all in the Far East) were created in 1936. In March and April 1941, five Airborne Corps (divisions) were established on the basis of the existing 201st, 204th, 211th, 212th, and 214th Airborne Brigades. The number of Airborne Corps rose from five to ten in late 1941, but then all the airborne corps were converted into "Guards" Rifle Divisions in the northern hemisphere summer of 1942.
The Soviet airborne forces were mostly used as 'foot' infantry during the war. Only a few small airborne drops were carried out in the first desperate days of Operation Barbarossa, in the vicinity of Kiev, Odessa, and the Kerch peninsula. The two significant airborne operations of the war were the Vyazma operation of February–March 1942, involving 4th Airborne Corps, and the Dnepr/Kiev operation of September 1943, involving a temporary corps formation consisting of 1st, 3rd, and 5th Airborne Brigades. Glantz writes: "After the extensive airborne activity during the winter campaign of 1941–42, [the] airborne forces underwent another major reorganization the following summer. Responding to events in southern Russia, where German troops had opened a major offensive that would culminate in the Stalingrad battles, the ten airborne corps, as part of the Stavka strategic reserves, deployed southward. Furthermore, the Stavka converted all ten airborne corps into guards rifle divisions to bolster Soviet forces in the south. Nine of these divisions participated in the battles around Stalingrad, and one took part in the defense of the northern Caucasus region."
The Stavka still foresaw the necessity of conducting actual airborne operations later during the war. To have [such a force] the Stavka created eight new airborne corps (1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th) in the fall of 1942. Beginning in December 1942, these corps became ten guards airborne divisions (numbered 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th (formed from 9th Airborne Corps (2nd formation)), 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, two formed from the 1st Airborne Corps and the three existing separate maneuver airborne brigades). The new guards airborne divisions trained in airborne techniques, and all personnel jumped three to ten times during training, though many were from jump towers.
After the defeat of German forces at Kursk, the bulk of the airborne divisions joined in the pursuit of German forces to the Dnepr River. Even as ten guards airborne divisions fought at the front, new airborne brigades formed in the rear areas. In April and May 1943, twenty brigades formed and trained for future airborne operations. Most of these brigades had become six new guards airborne divisions (11th through 16th) by September 1943. The Stavka however, earmarked three of these airborne brigades for use in an airborne operation to cross the Dnepr River, which was unsuccessful.
David Glantz wrote in 1984:
In August , the Stavka formed the 37th, 38th, and 39th Guards Airborne Corps. By October, the newly formed corps had combined into a separate airborne army under Maj. Gen. I. I. Zatevakhin. However, because of the growing need for well-trained ground units, the new army did not endure long as an airborne unit. In December, separate airborne army the Stavka reorganized the separate airborne army into the 9th Guards Army of Col. Gen. V. V. Glagolev, and all divisions were renumbered as guards rifle divisions. As testimony to the elite nature of airborne-trained units, the Stavka held the 9th Guards Army out of defensive actions, using it only for exploitation during offensives.
From 1944 the airborne divisions were reconstituted as Guards Rifle Divisions.
- 37th Guards Svirsk Airborne Corps (19 January – 9 August 1944, and from 30 December 1944, 37th Guards Rifle Corps):
Lieutenant General Pavel Mironov (19 January 1944 – May 1946)
- 38th Guards Airborne Corps:
- 39th Guards Airborne Corps:
HQ 9th Guards Army was redesignated Headquarters Airborne Forces in June 1946 after the war ended. The units of the Army were removed from the order of battle of the Air Forces of USSR and assigned directly to the Ministry of Armed Forces of USSR.
In 1946 the force consisted of five corps (the 8th and 15th had been added) and ten divisions:
- 8th Airborne Corps (103rd and 114th Divisions). The 114th Airborne Division was established in 1946 on the basis of the similarly numbered Rifle Division in Borovukha (just east of Slutsk) in the Belarussian SSR. The Division was disbanded in 1956, with two of its regiments (the 350th and 357th) joining the 103rd Guards Airborne Division.
- 15th Airborne Corps (the 76th and 104th Divisions),
- 37th Guards Airborne Corps (the 98th and 99th in Primorsky Krai)
- 38th Guards Airborne Corps (105th and 106th at Tula),
- 39th Guards Airborne Corps at Belaya Tserkov in Ukraine (the 100th and 107th Guards Airborne Divisions (Chernigov, disbanded 1959))
In the summer of 1948, five more Guards Airborne Divisions were created. The 7th (Lithuania, 8th Airborne Corps), the 11th (activated 1 October 1948 in Ryazan, Moscow Oblast, from the 347th Guards Air Landing Regiment, 38th Airborne Corps), the 13th Guards (at Galenki, Primorskiy Kray, with the 37th Airborne Corps), the 21st Guards (Estonia, Valga, with the 15th Airborne Corps), and the 31st Guards (Carpathians, 39th Airborne Corps). At the end of 1955 and the beginning of 1956 the 11th, 21st, 100th and 114th Airborne Division were disbanded as well as all the airborne corps headquarters. The number of divisions, thus, decreased to 11. In April 1955 the transport aircraft were separated from the VDV and the Air Force Military Transport Aviation was created. In 1959 the 31st and 107th Airborne Divisions were disbanded, but in October 1960 the 44th Training Airborne Division was formed. In 1964 the Airborne Forces were directly subordinated to the Ministry of Defence.
The creation of the post-war Soviet Airborne Forces owe much to the efforts of one man, Army General Vasily Margelov, so much so that the abbreviation of VDV in the Airborne Forces is sometimes waggishly interpreted as "Войска дяди Васи", "Uncle Vasya's Troops".
Airborne units of two divisions (7th and 31st Guards) were used during Soviet operations in Hungary during 1956, and the 7th Guards division was used again during the 1968 Operation Danube invasion of Czechoslovakia. The first experimental air assault brigade – the 1st Airborne [Airmobile/Air Assault] Brigade – was apparently activated in 1967/1968 from parts of the 51st Guards Parachute Landing Regiment (PDP) (Tula), after the Soviets had been impressed by the American experiences in Vietnam. In 1973 the 13th and 99th Airborne Divisions were reorganised as air assault brigades, and thus the number of divisions dropped to eight. There were also several independent brigades, regiments and battalions. However, even by the 1980s only two divisions were capable of being deployed for combat operations in the first wave against NATO using Air Force Military Transport Aviation and Aeroflot aircraft.
Airborne Troops Commander-in-Chief Vasily Margelov had continued to wear the Telnyashka blue-and-white striped shirt commemorating an earlier moment in his career, from his wartime Naval Infantry service in the Baltic Fleet. In 1979, the telnyashka became an official part of the uniform.
In accordance with a directive of the General Staff, from August 3, 1979, to December 1, 1979, the 105th Guards Vienna Airborne Division was disbanded. From the division remained in the city of Fergana the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment (much stronger than the usual regimental size) with the separate 115th military-transport aviation squadron. The rest of the personnel of the division were reassigned to fill out other incomplete airborne units and formations and to the newly formed air assault brigades. Based on the division's 351st Guards Parachute Regiment, the 56th Guards Separate Air Assault Brigade was formed in Azadbash, (Chirchiq district) Tashkent Oblast, Uzbek SSR. Meanwhile, the 111th Guards Parachute Regiment became the 35th Separate Guards Air Assault Brigade.
However, there was also a mistaken Western belief, either intentional Soviet deception or stemming from confusion in the West, that an Airborne Division, reported as the 6th, was being maintained at Belogorsk in the Far East in the 1980s. This maskirovka division was then 'disbanded' later in the 1980s, causing comment within Western professional journals that another division was likely to be reformed so that the Far East had an airborne presence. The division was not listed in V.I. Feskov et al.'s The Soviet Army during the period of the Cold War, (2004) and the division at Belogorsk, the 99th Guards Airborne Svirskaya Red Banner Order of Kutuzov Division moved to Bolgrad in the Ukraine in late 1969.
In 1979, the 58th Air Assault Brigade was activated as a mobilization unit in Kremenchug. It was co-located with the 23rd Air Assault Brigade from 1986 and disbanded in 1989.  The 128th Air Assault Brigade existed between 1986 and 1989 as a mobilization unit in Stavropol. The 130th Air Assault Brigade existed between 1986 and 1989 as a mobilization unit in Abakan.
In 1989, the Airborne Forces consisted of:
- 7th Guards Cherkassy Airborne Division (HQ Kaunas Fortress, Lithuanian SSR)
- 76th Guards Chernigov Airborne Division (Pskov, RSFSR)
- 98th Guards Svir Airborne Division (Bolgrad & Kishinev, Moldovan SSR)
- 103rd Guards Airborne Division (Vitebsk, Belorussian SSR)
- 104th Guards Airborne Division (Kirovabad, Azerbaijan SSR)
- 106th Guards Airborne Division (Tula, RSFSR)
- 242nd District Training Centre of the Airborne Forces (Gaižiūnai/Jonava, Lithuanian SSR) created from the 44th Training Airborne Division. However, the divisional banner was retained. The division's full designation in Russian was 44 воздушно-десантная Овручская Краснознаменная орденов Суворова и Богдана Хмельницкого дивизия – 44th Airborne Ovruch Red Banner Order of Suvorov and Bogdan Khmelnitsky Division) with three training regiments. The division was established in Pskov in October 1960 as the 4th Airborne Division, and according to some sources, it was given the Fighting Banner of the 111th Guards Rifle Division (the wartime 4th Guards Airborne Division), although the Division and its regiments were not guards units. After the formation of the division was relocated to Lithuania, where it received the number 44.
- 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment (Gudauta, Georgian SSR)
- 11th Air Assault Brigade (Mogocha, Transbaikal MD)
- 13th Air Assault Brigade (Magdagachi, Far Eastern MD)
- 21st Air Assault Brigade (Kutaisi, Transcaucasian MD)
- 23rd Air Assault Brigade (Kremenchug, Southwestern TVD)
- 35th Guards Air Assault Brigade (Cottbus, Group of Soviet Forces in Germany)
- 36th Air Assault Brigade (Garbolovo, Leningrad MD)
- 37th Air Assault Brigade (Chernyakhovsk, Baltic MD)
- 38th Guards Air Assault Brigade (Brest, Belarusian MD}
- 39th Air Assault Brigade (Khyriv, Carpathian MD)
- 40th Air Assault Brigade (Nikolaev, Odessa MD)
- 56th Air Assault Brigade (Ýolöten, Turkestan MD)
- 57th Air Assault Brigade (Aktogay, Central Asian MD)
- 83rd Air Assault Brigade (Byalograd, Northern Group of Forces)
- 171st Independent Communications Brigade (Medvezhi Ozera, Moscow Military District, RSFSR)
Commanders of the Soviet Airborne Forces
- Vasili Glazunov 1941–1943
- Alexander Kapitokhin 1943–1944
- Ivan Zatevakhin 1944–1946
- Vasily Glagolev 1946–1947
- Alexander Kazankin 1947–1948
- Sergei Rudenko 1948–1949
- Alexander Gorbatov 1950–1954
- Vasily Margelov 1954–1959
- Ivan Tutarinov 1959–1961
- Vasily Margelov 1961–1979
- Dmitri Sukhorukov 1979–1987
- Nikolai Kalinin 1987–1989
- Vladislav Achalov 1989–1990
- Pavel Grachev 1990–1991
After the Fall of the Soviet Union
With the demise of the Soviet Union, the number of VDV divisions has shrunk from seven to four, as well as four brigades and the brigade-sized training center. It was announced in July 2015 that plans called for the 31st Airborne Brigade to be expanded into the 104th Guards Airborne Division, and for an additional airborne regiment to be attached to each division.
- 7th Guards Air Assault (Mountain) Division in Novorossiysk (108th, 247th Regiments)
- 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Pskov
- 98th Guards Airborne Division in Ivanovo
- 106th Guards Airborne Division in Tula
- 11th Guards Airborne Brigade in Ulan-Ude
- 31st Guards Airborne Brigade in Ulyanovsk (planned to be reflagged as 104th Guards Airborne Division)
- 56th Guards Airborne Brigade in Kamyshin
- 83rd Guards Airborne Brigade in Ussuriysk
- 242nd Training Centre of the VDV in Omsk
- 45th Special Reconnaissance Regiment in Kubinka
- 1182nd Guards Artillery Regiment
- 38th Signal Regiment
The 11th Air Assault Brigade in the Central Military District (former Siberian Military District) and the 56th Air Assault Regiment in the Southern Military District (former North Caucasus Military District) were partially infantry formations reporting directly to the military districts they are stationed in. The VDV's training institute is the Ryazan Institute for the Airborne Troops named for General of the Army V.F. Margelov. In addition, in the mid-late 1990s, the former 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment was stationed in Gudauta, Abkhazia AR, Georgia. It later became the 10th Independent Peacekeeping Airborne Regiment. The unit was further designated the 50th Military Base.
In the early 1990s, General Pavel Grachev, the first Russian Defence Minister, planned for the VDV to form the core of the planned Mobile Forces. This was announced in Krasnaya Zvezda ('Red Star,') the Ministry of Defence's daily newspaper, in July 1992. However, the Mobile Forces plan never eventuated. The number of formations available for the force was far less than anticipated, since much of the Airborne Forces had been 'nationalised' by the republics their units had been previously based in, and other arms of service, such as the GRU and Military Transport Aviation, who were to provide the airlift component, were adamantly opposed to ceding control of their forces.
From 1996 the VDV dispatched the 1st Separate Airborne Brigade to Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of IFOR's Multi-National Division North. The brigade, unusually, used Ground Forces equipment such as BTR-80s.
After an experimental period, the 104th Parachute Regiment of 76th Airborne Division became the first Russian ground forces regiment that was fully composed of professional soldiers (and not of "srochniki" – the conscripted soldiers aged eighteen). It was announced that the 98th Airborne Division is also earmarked for contract manning, and by September 2006, it was confirmed that 95% of the units of the 98th Division had shifted to contract manning.
The VDV divisions are equipped with armoured fighting vehicles, artillery and anti-aircraft guns, trucks and jeeps. Thus VDV units possess superior mobility and firepower with these vehicles. Each division has both regiments equipped with them and their derivatives. (Each division used to have three regiments, but the 106th was the last, and lost its third regiment in 2006.) With the reduction in forces after 1991, the 61st Air Army, Russia's military air transport force, has enough operational heavy transport aircraft to move one airborne division, manned at peacetime standards, in two-and-a-half lifts. The single independent brigade, the 31st at Ulyanovsk, however, is not equipped with its own armor or artillery and may be equivalent to Western airborne troops, in that it functions as light infantry and must walk when reaching their destination. The 31st was the former 104th Guards Airborne Division.
VDV troops participated in the rapid deployment of Russian forces stationed in Bosnian city Ugljevik, in and around Pristina airport during the Kosovo War. They also were deployed in Chechnya as an active bridgehead for other forces to follow.
Russian airborne troops had their own holiday during the Soviet era, which continues to be celebrated on 2 August. Their most emblematic mark of distinction is a blue beret. VDV soldiers are often called "blue berets". Each year, current and former paratroopers, often in an inebriated state, celebrate by meeting up and wandering city streets and parks. The day is notorious for two common sights: paratroopers frolicking in fountains and picking fights with hapless passers-by.
Notable former Airborne Forces officers include Aleksandr Lebed, who was involved in responses to disorder in the Caucasus republics in the last years of the Soviet Union, and Pavel Grachev who went on to become the first Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation. PRIDE heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter Sergei Kharitonov, went to the Airborne Troops academy in Ryazan', and remains on active duty with the Russian Airborne Troops.
Since 2008, women have been allowed to serve in the VDV, as officers, after finishing studies in the academy.
On 26 May 2009 Lieutenant-General Vladimir Anatolevich Shamanov became the new commander of the VDV, replacing Lieutenant-General Valeriy Yevtukhovich who was being discharged to the reserve. Shamanov is twice decorated as a "Hero of Russia" for his combat role in the campaigns in Chechnya. His previous posts are the chief of the combat training directorate and commander of the 58th Army. His most recent post was chief of the main combat training directorate. General Shamanov and the acting commander of the 106th Airborne Division were severely injured in a car crash on 30 October 2010. The general's driver was killed.
On 28 January 2010, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the VDV's air components had been placed under the VVS.
Under the 2008 reform programme, the four existing two-regiment divisions should have been transformed into 7–8 air-assault brigades. However once General Shamanov became commander-in-chief of the Airborne Troops, it was decided to keep the original structure. The divisions have been beefed up and there are now four independent airborne/air-assault brigades, one for each military district. The 332nd School for Praporshchiks of the VDV (Russian: 332 Школа прапорщиков ВДВ) in Moscow was disbanded in December 2009 (also under the 2008 reform programme, all praporshchik (WO) posts in the Russian Armed Forces have been formally abolished).
In October 2013 it was reported that the three airborne brigades under military district control (seemingly the 11th and 83rd (Ulan-Ude and Ussuriysk) in the Eastern Military District and the 56th at Kamyshin in the Southern Military District) would be returned to VDV command. The process was completed as of July 2015.
Armament and equipment
Personal firearms and crew served weapons include:
- AK-74M and AKS-74 assault rifles, and AKS-74U special purpose and self-defence carbine (5.45×39mm).
- RPK-74, light weight machinegun (5.45×39mm), now largely withdrawn from service and replaced by PKM/PKP.
- PKM, general purpose machinegun (7.62×54mmR).
- 6P41 "Pecheneg" general purpose machinegun (7.62×54mmR), currently replacing PKM as general purpose machinegun throughout the Russian Armed Forces.
- Dragunov SVD, sniper rifle (7.62×54mmR).
- Dragunov SVU, modified SVD in bullpup configuration and its variants are in a limited use.
- SV-98, main sniper rifle (7.62×54mmR).
- GP-25 and GP-30, under-barrel 40 mm grenade launchers for fragmentation and gas grenades.
- AGS-17 Plamya (Flame), 30 mm automatic grenade launcher.
- RPO-A "Shmel" (Bumblebee), infantry rocket flamethrower, currently replacing the older RPO "Rys" (Lynx).
- RPG-7D anti-tank rocket launcher, or more modern systems such as the RPG-22 and RPG-26.
- 2B14 "Podnos" 82 mm mortar or the older M-37M
- 9K38 "Igla" man-portable SAM system, or the more modern 9K338 "Igla-S".
- 9K333 "Verba" man-portable SAM system, currently entering service.
- 9K111 "Fagot" and 9K115 "Metis" man-portable anti-tank systems.
- AS Val Special Assault Rifle 
Unlike the rest of the mechanized units, which use variety of APCs and IFVs such as the BMP series, BTR series and MT-LB, the VDV uses exclusively BMD family vehicles. There are over 1,800 armored fighting vehicles, mostly BMD-1 (since 1969) and BMD-2 (since 1985). There were also over 100 BMD-3 (1990) that were partially upgraded to BMD-4 level. All of them are amphibious, moving at around 10 km/h in water. BMD-4 is also capable of full, continuous fire while in the deep water, unlike any other vehicle with such heavy weaponry (100 mm gun and 30 mm auto cannon). However, some units (such as those who served on peacekeeping duties in the Balkans) are known to have used BTR armored personnel carriers rather than BMD's.
There is also a turret-less variant of the BMD-1, the BTR-D, which is used as troop carrier and severs as the basis for specialised versions such as anti-tank, command and signals. The BTR-D will partially be replaced by the new multi-purpose APC BTR-MD "Rakushka" that will also come in several different versions. Approximately 280 vehicles in all BTR-D configurations are in service. As part of the 2011 state defence order (GOZ), 10 BMD-4M and 10 "Rakushka's" have been ordered, but according to the VDV's CinC General Colonel Shamanov, Kurganmashzavod did not give a guarantee it would produce them. The Russian Defense Ministry adopted the BMD-4M in early December 2012. They are planning to receive 10 BMD-4M vehicles and 10 BTR-MD vehicles for final testing by mid-2013, with commissioning by the end of 2013. The Russian Airborne plans to acquire 1,000 BMD-4Ms through 2020. The first production batch of the new armored vehicles BMD-4M and BTR-MDM "Shell" in the amount of 24 units (12 each) transferred to the Russian Airborne Troops.
Russian Airborne brigade-level units will soon receive SPM-2 GAZ-233036 Tigr armored cars. They may also order experimental Kamaz Typhoon armored infantry transports, following modifications to meet the demands of the airborne.
On 1 August 2013, it was reported that the Russian Airborne Forces will develop a hybrid combat vehicle that combines features of an airborne infantry fighting vehicle and a helicopter. To meet the demands of future armed conflicts, a combat module that combines a light combat vehicle and an attack helicopter is being considered, with a crew of three-four people. The vehicle will be developed for the VDV by 2030.
The airborne self-propelled artillery guns ASU-57 and ASU-85 have been withdrawn. They had light armour and limited anti-tank capability, but provided invaluable fire support for paratroopers behind enemy lines (the caliber of the gun is the number next to ASU designation in mm).
Today the VDV operates the following systems:
- 2S9 Nona 120 mm self-propelled gun-mortar.
- 2S25 Sprut-SD 125 mm self-propelled artillery/anti-tank gun based on BMD-3 hull.
- D-30 (2A18) 122 mm howitzer and anti-tank weapon, towed by truck, not amphibious, able to make 360 degree turns as it is deployed on a tripod
- ZU-23-2 23 mm air-defence gun, is either mounted on the BTR-D, or can be towed by a jeep or truck as it has wheels. Since 2011, some ZU-23s are being replaced by the Strela-10M3.
The VDV is equipped with numerous types of airborne capable trucks and jeeps, for example the Ural-4320, the GAZ-66V and the GAZ-2975 "Tigr" for transporting cargo, specialist crews and equipment (e.g. mortars, ammunitions), but not infantry (all fighting paratroopers are transported in armoured vehicles). Currently the GAZ-66 is being replaced by the KAMAZ-43501.
- Compact recon complex, "The Seeker" with 2 UAV.
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- See also ru:37-й гвардейский стрелковый корпус
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- The 56th Air Assault Regiment is the former 56th Guards Separate Air Assault Brigade.
- See also ru:Рязанский институт Воздушно-десантных войск имени генерала армии Маргелова В.Ф.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Russian Airborne Troops.|
- Unofficial website of VDV (Russian)
- Official web site of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Russian)
- "Desantura" (Russian)
- Association of VDV veterans (Russian)
- History of VDV on pobeda.ru (Russian)