Special Operations Forces (Russia)

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Special Operations Forces
Силы специальных операций
Sily spetsial'nykh operatsiy
Great emblem of the Special Operations Forces.svg
Emblem of the Special Operations Forces
Active2009 – present
Allegiance Russia
BranchGreat emblem of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.svg Special Operations Forces Command
TypeSpecial Operations Force
RoleSpecial Operations
Special Reconnaissance
Direct Action
Unconventional Warfare
HVT Raids
Hostage Rescue
Covert Operations
Counter Terrorism
Counter Insurgency
Part ofMiddle emblem of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (27.01.1997-present).svg Russian Armed Forces
Garrison/HQKubinka-2, Moscow region
PatronSaint Alexander Nevsky
Anniversaries27 February
EngagementsCounter-piracy operations[1]

Insurgency in the North Caucasus[2]
Russian military intervention in Ukraine

Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War

Maj. Gen. Valery Flyustikov
FlagFlag of the Special Operations Forces.svg

The Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation or just Special Operations Forces (SOF) (Russian: Силы специальных операций; ССО, tr. Sily spetsial’nykh operatsiy; SSO)[22][23] are strategic-level special forces under the Special Operations Forces Command (Russian: командование сил специальных операций; KCCO, tr. Komandovanie sil spetsial’nalnykh operatsii; KSSO or KSO)[23] of the General Staff[23] of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. It is also a structural and an independent unit of the Armed Forces.

The first units of what would become the Special Operations Forces were transferred from the GRU in 2009 as part of the continuing 2008 Russian military reform.[24] The Special Operations Forces Command was set up in 2012 and announced in March 2013 by the Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.[25][26] According to Gerasimov, the SOF was designed as a strategic-level asset, elite special operations force units of the KSSO whose primary missions would be foreign interventions including sabotage, anti-terrorism actions, foreign internal defense operations and undertaking the most complex, clandestine and classified special operations and missions for protecting interests of the Russian Federation.[27][28]

SOF are distinct from the Spetsnaz GRU that until 2010 were under the Main Intelligence Directorate and whose subsequent subordination was left unclear[29][25] until 2013 where the decision was reversed and GRU special forces units were reassigned to GRU divisions and placed under GRU authority again.[30] Russia's SOF are manned exclusively by professional personnel hired on contract, of which all are full-time servicemen consisting of commissioned officers and regular soldiers.[25]

On 26 February 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin decreed that 27 February be the Day of the SOF, according to multiple Russian official news agencies[31] (albeit not acknowledged formally), to mark the establishment of Russian control over the building of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Simferopol, Ukraine in February 2014.[32][24][25]

Mission and methods[edit]

Russian special operations forces operators.

The Special Operation Forces are a highly mobile, well-trained and equipped, constant combat readiness special operations force of the Russian Ministry of Defense, designed to perform specific tasks in order to protect the interests of the Russian Federation (with application of military force, by necessity), both within the country and abroad, in peacetime and in wartime.

The Russian Ministry of Defense defines the term "special operation" as "methods and ways of fighting not characteristic of conventional forces: reconnaissance and sabotage, subversion and sedition, counter-terrorism, counter-sabotage, counterintelligence, guerrilla, counter-guerrilla and other activities".[33][34]

The SOF have been primarily involved in Syria, conducting target acquisition for Russian Air Force combat planes conducting airstrikes and Russian Navy sea-launched cruise missile strikes, serving as military advisors training Syrian government troops, seek and destroying critical enemy objects,[35][36][37][38]disruption behind enemy lines through ambushes, high value targeted assassinations and retaliation strikes against select groups of fighters.


Within the Russian Federation[edit]

In 2009, as a part of the comprehensive reform of the Russian Federation's Armed Forces, Special Operations Directorate, subordinate directly to the Chief of the General Staff, was created on the basis of the GRU's special missions unit Senezh in the Moscow region.[24] The unit saw extensive action in the Caucasus region and earned the nickname podsolnukhi (sunflowers), a nickname given to the soldiers assigned to the unit while serving in Chechnya. It was reported that Colonel Oleg Martianov, who later became a member of the board of the Military-Industrial Commission, was one of the founders and first commander of the SOF from 2009 to 2013.[39][40]

In 2012, the Special Operations Directorate was reorganized as Special Operations Command, which was followed by plans to upscale the Forces manpower up to 9 special purpose brigades.[25]

On 6 March 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov announced the beginning of the Special Operations Forces creation. While speaking to foreign military attaches in Moscow, he said: "After reviewing the practice of the formation, training and the use of special operations forces in the leading countries of the world, Russia's Defense Ministry has also begun to create them... A corresponding command was created, which is engaged in planning work and implements plan of training of the Armed Forces... A set of documents has already been elaborated to determine the direction of development, methods of training and application of these forces".[26][41]

In March 2013, according to Russian media reports, creation of the Special Operations Center of the Ministry of Defense of Russia for around 500 professional soldiers began in the suburban village of Kubinka-2. Formation of the Center was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013. The center was directly subordinated to the Special Operations Forces Command of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

At the end of April 2013, units of the Special Operations Forces conducted a special tactics exercise at Elbrus mountains at an altitude of 4,500 meters. The exercise was dedicated to practice transportation of one of the SSO units by military transport aviation and army aviation, as well as air insertion of personnel and cargo into target area.[42][43]

During peacetime, the SOF may also be called in to execute certain specialised homeland security operations. In May 2013, the General Staff said that the unit would be tasked with security of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and that the SOF now comprised air and naval components.[44] Again, when Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the SOF and FSB special forces units took charge of ensuring the security.[45]

Since formation in 2009, the SOF also conducted counter-terrorism and special operations during the insurgency in the North Caucasus region disguised as other Spetsnaz units.

Outside the Russian Federation[edit]

The SOF has also taken part in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, clashing with Somali pirates.

In late February 2014, an unknown number of SOF operators alongside other Russian troops entered Crimea disguised as "little green men" and captured the Crimean Parliament and also began the blockading and capturing of other significant and strategic sites across the peninsula.[46][4]

SOF combat operations in Syria, which began covertly in late 2015[47] became more visible by January 2016 with the successful Latakia offensive, played a crucial role in the Palmyra offensive, provided support to the Syrian Army attempting the recapturing of Raqqa, repelling the ISIL offensive on Palmyra and throughout the Syrian push for Aleppo in the same year.[48] They returned during the Second battle of Palmyra in 2017 and saw action throughout the year in the Eastern Homs offensive, North Hama offensive, Operation Grand Dawn, the East Hama offensive, Operation Khuzam, rescuing a Russian Military Police unit in the Idlib de-escalation zone and the entirety of the Eastern Syria campaign. The SOF also contributed to the success of the Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign in 2018 and Operation Dawn of Idlib in 2019.

On 11 December 2017, SOF units provided top-level security for the unannounced visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Syria at Khmeimim Air Base by covering the most dangerous directions from sea, air and land. Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu later personally thanked all the military personnel involved for their exemplary performance of the task.[49]


While official numbers are classified, between Senezh and Kubinka-2 there are an estimate of between 2,000 and 2,500 total personnel. Additionally, the Command also has supporting elements, that provide combat support and combat service support functions. Furthermore, the Command has a dedicated special aviation brigade that directly controls combat aviation assets at Torzhok, and a squadron of Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft at the Migalovo airfield near Tver.[50]

The Special Operations Forces Command (KSSO) is similar in role to the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).[51] The Special Operations Forces Command reached full operational capability in 2013.


SOF operatives during HALO training.
SOF operatives in a winter combat training drill.

The training of the officer recruit special operators is carried out in the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School – RVVDKU (department of special and military intelligence and the department of the use of special forces) and the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School – NVVKU (department of special intelligence and the chair of the special reconnaissance and airborne training). At Senezh, potential operators learn skydiving, mountaineering, swimming and scuba diving, and storming buildings and homes, while Kubinka-2 focuses on maritime operations and recon and controls several naval special operations detachments. There is also a cold weather/mountaineering training centre at Mount Elbrus named "Terskol", in Kabardino-Balkaria. Additionally, depending on the individual tasks the soldiers are being prepared for or specialise in, the training is more in-depth.[50]

The Special Operations Forces warfare training centers and facilities:

  • Special Purpose Center "Senezh"
  • Special Purpose Center "Kubinka-2"
  • 561st Naval Rescue Center
  • 344th Army Aviation Combat Center[50]
  • Special Purpose Center "Terskol"

Known operations[edit]

  • In 2014, unidentified men with military weapons began blockading Ukrainian bases in Crimea, and on 27 February, around 50 men seized the Crimean parliament. While claiming to be a local militia, this well-armed and highly professional unit turned out to be the first deployment of Russia's special operators.[52][53][54] In another incident on 18 March, undercover operatives stormed and captured the military base in Simferopol. According to Russian media reports, Alexey Dyumin, then commander of the SOF personally conducted operations in Crimea.[55][56]
  • On 10 May 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin personally awarded medals to four officers of the SOF for showing extraordinary courage combating terrorists in Syria. They were part of a 16-man special forces detachment unit which managed to successfully repulse attacks conducted by over 300 jihadists without any losses. The commander of the unit, Lieutenant colonel Danilo was awarded the honorary title of Hero of the Russian Federation.[61][62]
  • On 16 August 2017, a 4-5 man SOF unit was ambushed by 40 Islamic State terrorists in the town of Akerbat and being abandoned by Syrian soldiers. After all the other members of his unit were injured, including the commander and the second officer, Lance corporal Denis Portnyagin took upon the whole job himself and killed 14 terrorists in the process and was even ready to blow his grenades to prevent their capture. He was awarded the honorary title of Hero of the Russian Federation for this feat.[63]
  • On 20 September 2017, the Russian General Staff said jihadist militants tried to capture a 29-man unit of the Russian military police two days before, whom were monitoring the ceasefire in the Idlib de-escalation zone. The trapped unit fought for several hours and were eventually rescued in a special operation by a joint task force which included the Syrian and Russian Air Force alongside the SOF. Three SOF operatives were injured nevertheless, all 29 men withdrew safely without any fatalities. An estimated 850 jihadists were reportedly killed by 21 September 2017 in retaliation airstrikes.[64][65][66]
  • On 26 September 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Russia had conducted massive cruise missile strikes in Deir ez-Zor and Idlib destroying significant ISIS and Al-Nusra Front targets.[67] On 27 September 2017, 5 Al-Nusra field commanders were killed in an airstrike alongside 32 militants in Idlib province. Another airstrike on 3 October 2017, killed 12 Al-Nusra field commanders including Ahmad al-Ghizai, Al-Nusra's security service chief and at least 50 militants in an undisclosed location in Syria. The Defense Ministry cited the use of "special measures" in those targeted strikes on militant positions, indicating the involvement of Russian special forces in the operations.[68][69][70]
  • On 12 January 2018, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the group of militants responsible for a massive mortar attack targeting the Hmeymim base in Syria on 31 December 2017 which killed two Russian soldiers were liquidated in the course of a special operation. SOF operatives tracked the militants to their base camp near the border of Idlib and destroyed the entire group with a Krasnopol missile as they were boarding a minibus to leave the base. No mentions were made of which group the militants were affiliated to. Separately, a depot storing militant drones located in Idlib province was destroyed as well.[71][72][73]
  • On 25 March 2019, the Russian Defense Ministry said that a group of more than 30 terrorists were eliminated in a special operation by the SOF and the Russian Air Force after they were tracked down. The operation was conducted in response to the death of 3 Russian servicemen as a result of a terrorist attack in late February. The location and the affiliation of the terrorists were undisclosed.[74][75]
  • SOF were suspected to be responsible for multiple successful raids behind enemy lines especially in Idlib province killing scores of rebel fighters including two prominent commanders from Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Nasr. Others killed were from Suqour Al-Sham, Hurras Al-Deen and other various rebel factions. [76]


According to the Russian Defence Ministry as of February 2019, there are ten cases among SOF personnel in Syria that have been confirmed to be killed in action.[77] Four members whose status is presumed to have been killed in action still remains unclear as of 2020.[78][79]

List of SOF commanders[edit]

Under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Matovnikov, the SOF were instrumental in Russia's intervention in Syria.
Commander Start of Term End of Term
Col. Oleg Martyanov 2009 2013
Maj. Gen. Alexey Dyumin 2014 2015
Maj. Gen. Alexander Matovnikov [ru] 2015 2018
Maj. Gen. Valery Flyustikov 2018 Incumbent



Submachine guns[edit]

Assault rifles[edit]

Sniper rifles[edit]

Machine guns[edit]

Explosive weapons[edit]



  • Arcteryx LEAF kit
  • Special Operations Forces kit for extremely hot climates
  • Propper Multicam BDU
  • Tactical Performance ATACS FG Tactical Field Jacket/Tactical Combat Pants
  • Tactical Performance ATACS FG Battle Strike Uniform Coat/Trousers
  • Tactical Performance Multicam Tactical Field Jacket/Tactical Combat Pants
  • Tactical Performance Multicam Battle Strike Uniform Coat/Trousers
  • Tactical Performance Multicam Tactical Combat Shirt
  • Phantom special thermal underwear[81]
  • Ratnik VKBO EMR camouflage combat uniforms
  • Arctic raid suit "Nanuk," other special equipment for low temperatures[82]


  • 6B7-1M
  • Voin-Kiver RSP
  • LSHZ 1+
  • 6B47
  • 5,45 Design Spartan 1
  • 5,45 Design Spartan 2
  • 5,45 Design Spartan 3


  • 6Sh112 LBV
  • 6Sh117 LBV
  • 6B43 armor vest
  • 6B45
  • 6B46
  • "Redut-M" armour vest
  • STICH PROFI® Loading system plate carrier
  • STICH PROFI® Lightweight plate carrier
  • FORT Defender 2
  • 5.11 Tactec Plate Carrier
  • ARS ARMA Tactec Plate Carrier
  • Raidgear&MBC "Phantom" universal Plate Carrier
  • Raidgear&MBC MBSVest Type 2 and 3 Molle Minus universal bodyarmor
  • Various Crye Precision, Survival corps, SSO/SPSON, Gear Craft, Wartech, FORT, ANA tactical, ARSARMA, Armocom plate carriers
  • FORT Gladiator-A Plate Carrier


  • FORT OVR-3SH Combat Engineering/Demining Kit
  • FORT Fortres K14 protective suit
  • FORT Raid-L protective suit
  • PMK gas mask
  • GKN-7 diving suit
  • Aqualung Amphora rebreather
  • Veer-6 ballistic shield
  • PT-2 thermal monocular
  • Peltor Com Tac XP headset
  • NRS-2 special scout knife
  • ZALA UAVs[83]
  • Strelets reconnaissance, control and communications system[84]
  • Arbalet parachute system

Transport vehicles[edit]

Ground vehicles[edit]



  • RBS BlackShadow DPVs (Diver Propulsion Vehicles)[85]

Notable members & Hero of Russia recipients[edit]


See also[edit]


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