Special Forces of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces

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Spetsnaz GRU
Spetsnaz emblem.svg
Spetsnaz GRU logo
Active1949–2012, 2013–present
Country Soviet Union (1949–1991)
 Russian Federation (1991–present)
BranchRed star.svg GRU (formerly)
GRU emblem.svg G.U.
1991–2010 (under the GRU)
2010–2012 (non-GRU)
2013–present (under the GRU)
TypeSpecial forces
RoleSpecial operations
Special reconnaissance
Direct action
Part ofCoat of arms of the Soviet Union 1.svg Soviet Armed Forces
Middle emblem of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (27.01.1997-present).svg Russian Armed Forces
GRU Headquarters76 Khoroshyovskoe shosse, Khodinka, Moscow
PatronSaint Alexander Nevsky
Motto(s)"Only the stars are above us." («Выше нас только звёзды»)[2]
EngagementsCold War conflicts
Vietnam War
Operation Danube
Soviet–Afghan War
Civil War in Tajikistan
East Prigorodny conflict
War in Abkhazia
First Chechen War
Invasion of Dagestan
Second Chechen War
Insurgency in the North Caucasus
Russo-Georgian War
Russian military intervention in Ukraine
Russian military intervention in Syria
Depiction of a Spetsnaz GRU training installation as published in Soviet Military Power, 1984

Special Forces of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (Russian: Части и подразделения специального назначения (спецназ) Главного управления Генерального штаба Вооружённых сил Российской Федерации (СпН ГУ ГШ ВС РФ)), commonly known as the Spetsnaz G.U. or Spetsnaz GRU is the special forces (spetsnaz) of the G.U., the foreign military intelligence agency of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The Spetsnaz GRU was formed in 1949, the first spetsnaz force in the Soviet Union, as the military force of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the foreign military intelligence agency of the Soviet Armed Forces. The force was designed in the context of the Cold War to carry out reconnaissance and sabotage against enemy targets in the form of special reconnaissance and direct action attacks. The Spetsnaz GRU inspired additional spetsnaz forces attached to other Soviet intelligence agencies, such as the Vympel and Alpha Group of the KGB.

Modus operandi[edit]

The concept of using special forces tactics and strategies in the Soviet Union was originally proposed by the military theorist Mikhail Svechnykov, who envisaged the development of unconventional warfare capabilities in order to overcome disadvantages that conventional forces faced in the field. Svechnykov was executed during the Great Purge in 1938, but practical implementation of his ideas was begun by Ilya Starinov, dubbed the "grandfather of the spetsnaz". Following the entrance of the Soviet Union into World War II, basic forces dedicated to acts of reconnaissance and sabotage were formed under the supervision of the Second Department of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, and were subordinate to the commanders of Fronts.[3]

The primary function of Spetsnaz troops in wartime was infiltration/insertion behind enemy lines (either in uniform or civilian clothing), usually well before hostilities are scheduled to begin and, once in place, to commit acts of sabotage such as the destruction of vital communications logistics centers, as well as the assassination of key government leaders and military officers.[citation needed] Spetsnaz GRU training included: weapons handling, fast rappelling, explosives training, marksmanship, counter-terrorism, airborne training, hand-to-hand combat, climbing (alpine rope techniques), diving, underwater combat, emergency medical training, and demolition.


Soviet era[edit]

The situation was reviewed after the war ended, and between 1947 and 1950 the whole of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was reorganized.[4] The first "independent reconnaissance companies of special purpose" were formed in 1949, to work for tank and combined-arms armies, which were tasked to eliminate amongst others enemy nuclear weapons systems such as the MGR-3 Little John and MGM-1 Matador.[4] In 1957, the first Spetsnaz battalions were formed under the GRU, five to operate beyond the 150–200 km range of the reconnaissance companies. The first brigades were formed in 1962, reportedly to reach up to 750 kilometres in the rear to destroy U.S. weapons systems such as the MGM-52 Lance, MGM-29 Sergeant, and MGM-31 Pershing.[4] Two 'study regiments' were established in the 1960s to train specialists and NCOs, the first in 1968 at Pechora near Pskov, and the second in 1970 at Chirchik near Tashkent.[5] According to Vladimir Rezun, a GRU defector who used the pseudonym "Viktor Suvorov", there were 20 GRU Spetsnaz brigades plus 41 separate companies at the time of his defection in 1978.

Known missions[edit]

An Afghanka wearing Soviet Spetsnaz team preparing for a mission at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan in 1988

In May 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, nine GRU special forces operatives raided a secret US airbase in Cambodia in a bid to capture a brand new Super Cobra attack helicopter, equipped with the latest guidance systems and guided missiles at the time. As a result of the operation, one helicopter was stolen and taken to Vietnam which was eventually brought back to the Soviet Union. The rest were destroyed and 15 Americans soldiers were killed in the operation. According to the Soviets, the U.S. learnt about the attack on the base by Soviet special forces years later thanks to a KGB leak.[6][7]

The first major foreign operation of the unit came in August 1968, when Moscow decided to crack down on the Prague Spring and move the troops of Warsaw Pact countries into Czechoslovakia. The Spetsnaz GRU was tasked with capturing the Prague Airport. On the night of 21 August, a Soviet passenger plane requested an emergency landing at the Prague Airport, allegedly due to engine failure. After landing, the commandos, without firing a shot, seized the airport and took over air traffic control. At the same time, other Spetsnaz GRU units that had infiltrated into Prague a few days before the operation seized control of other key city points.[6][7]

In December 1979, the undercover Spetsnaz GRU unit codenamed "Muslim Battalion" participated in Operation Storm-333, the successful mission to assassinate Hafizullah Amin, the President of Afghanistan, and to capture Amin's residential palace which triggered the Soviet–Afghan War.[6][7]

Most of Spetsnaz GRU's operations remain classified even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is believed the special forces had participated in operations in more than nineteen countries around the world in Africa, Asia and South America. From time to time, the men also served as military instructors and set up training camps for Soviet-backed fighters in Vietnam and Angola.[7]

Russian Federation era[edit]

Following the deactivation of the Soviet GRU in 1992, control of the special forces was transferred to the newly formed G.U. of Russia and were maintained to their respective assigned units as before. According to Stanislav Lunev, who defected to the U.S. in 1992, the GRU also commanded some 25,000 Spetsnaz troops as of 1997.[8]

Following the 2008 Russian military reform, a brand new Directorate of Special Operations was established in 2009 following studies of American and various Western special operations forces units and commands. The newly formed Special Operations Forces which is directly subordinated to the General Staff, bypassing the GRU.[9][10] In 2013, the Directorate became the Special Operations Forces Command with a GRU unit transferring to the command.[10]

In 2010, Spetsnaz GRU units were reassigned to the military districts of the Ground Forces and was subordinate to the operational-strategic commands until 2012, due to then Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov's military reforms.[11][10] This decision was reversed in 2013 and Spetsnaz GRU units were reassigned to their original GRU divisions.[11][10]

Known operations[edit]

Spetsnaz GRU forces during the 1999 Dagestan War
Spetsnaz GRU during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War

Throughout the mid-1990s to the 2000s, Spetsnaz GRU were involved in both the First Chechen War and more prominently in the Second Chechen War and also the Invasion of Dagestan in August 1999. The special forces learned invaluable lessons from the first war and transformed into a better and more effective fighting force and were instrumental in Russia's and the Russian backed government's success in the second war.

In 2003, during the Second Chechen War, the GRU formed the Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad, two ethnic Chechen units that belonged to the Spetsnaz GRU which fought primarily in Chechnya, and also in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War as well as peacekeeping operations after the 2006 Lebanon War.

Spetsnaz GRU maintains an airborne unit, the Separate Spetsnaz Airborne Reconnaissance Unit (codenamed No. 48427), which participated in the 2008 Georgian War.[12] The unit is housed at Matrosskaya Tishina 10 in Moscow.[12][13]

During the period of insurgency in the North Caucasus region, Spetsnaz GRU along with special forces from the FSB and MVD conducted numerous special operations and counter-terrorism operations against mainly the Caucasus Emirate, Wilayat al-Qawqaz and other smaller terrorist groups.

After the Crimean crisis, during which some units of Spetsnaz GRU were a part of the "Little green men", and the start of the rebel insurgency by pro-Russian rebels, Ukraine has on numerous occasions accused various Spetsnaz forces of aiding the rebels and even fighting on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. In December 2014, the Ukrainian military claimed that the Spetsnaz GRU was involved in attacks on an airport[14] in Donetsk which was later captured by DPR in the battle.

In late 2015, GRU special forces operators were reportedly involved in the Syrian Civil War, appearing in the government offensives of Aleppo and Homs.[15][16] GRU officials have also visited Qamishli, near the border with Turkey.[17]

List of GRU special units[edit]

Below is a list of current "Spetsnaz" units in the Russian Armed Forces that fall under GRU operational control during wartime operations:[18][19][20]

  • Russian Ground Forces[21][22] - fields 7 spetsnaz brigades of varying sizes and one spetsnaz regiment.
    • 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade – based in Promezhitsa, Pskov Oblast
      • Brigade HQ
        • Signals Battalion (2× Company)
        • Support Company
      • 70th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 329th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 700th Special Purpose Detachment
      • Training Battalion (2× Company)
    • 3rd Special Purpose Brigade – based in Tolyatti
      3rd Spetsnaz Brigade on parade, 9 May 2011.
      • Brigade HQ
        • Signals Company
        • Special Weapons Company
        • Support Company
        • Logistics Company
      • 1st Special Purpose Detachment (1st Battalion)
      • 790th Special Purpose Detachment (2nd Battalion)
      • 791st Special Purpose Detachment (3rd Battalion)
      • Training Battalion (2× Company)
    • 10th Special Purpose Brigade – based in Mol'kino, Krasnoyarsk Territory
      • Brigade HQ
        • Signals Company
        • Special Weapons Company
        • Support Company
        • Logistics Company
        • K-9 Unit
      • 325th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 328th Special Purpose Detachment
      • Training Battalion (2× Company)
    • 14th Special Purpose Brigade – based in Ussuriysk
      • Brigade HQ
        • Signals Company
        • Logistics Company
      • 282nd Special Purpose Detachment
      • 294th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 308th Special Purpose Detachment
      • Training Battalion (2× Company)
    • 16th Special Purpose Brigade – based in Tambov, with all units deployed in Tambov except for the 664th SPD.[23]
      370th SPD conducting special reconnaissance training (2017).
      • Brigade HQ
        • EOD company
        • Signals Company
        • Logistics Company
      • 370th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 379th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 585th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 664th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 669th Special Purpose Detachment
    • 22nd Special Purpose Brigade – entire unit is based in Stepnoi, Rostov Oblast[24][25]
      22nd SPB operatives conducting winter Anti-Terrorist training (2017).
      • Brigade HQ
        • Signals Company
        • Support Company
        • Special Weapons Company
        • Logistics Unit
        • Engineer Unit
      • 108th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 173rd Special Purpose Detachment
      • 305th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 411th Special Purpose Detachment
    • 24th Special Purpose Brigade – based in Irkutsk, with all units and units deployed in Irkutsk[23]
      • Brigade HQ
        • Signals Company
        • Special Weapons Company
        • Logistics Unit
      • 281st Special Purpose Detachment
      • 297th Special Purpose Detachment
      • 641th Special Purpose Detachment
    • 25th Special Purpose Regiment
  • Russian Airborne Troops[26]
  • Russian Navy
Combat swimmers of the 313th PDSS conduct land operations.
Combat swimmer from the 311th PDSS in Kamchatka (2017).

The navy also fields dedicated maritime sabotage and counter-sabotage diver units which are attached to the naval infantry. These units also include combat swimmers, trained to conduct underwater combat, mining and clearance diving. The task is to protect ships and other fleet assets from enemy frogmen and special forces. The term "combat swimmers" is correct term in relation to the staff of the OSNB PDSS. Every PDSS unit has approximately 50–60 combat swimmers.[27] There are PDSS units in all major naval bases across Russia.[27] The OMRP is composed of reconnaissance divers that fall under operational subordination to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). There are four OMRPs in Russia serving each fleet: Northern Fleet, Baltic Fleet, Black Sea Fleet and Pacific Fleet, with each consisting of 120–200 personnel.[27]

Dissolved units[edit]

The Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad were two Spetsnaz units; Vostok headquartered at Eastern Chechnya and Zapad headquartered at Western Chechnya. It was subordinate to the GRU and responsible for carrying out mountain warfare and special operations in Chechnya. A power struggle then broke out between rival pro-Russian Chechen warlords then Head of the Chechen Republic Kadyrov and Sulim Yamadaev which led to a series of assassinations and shootouts in the ensuing years forcing the GRU to disband the controversial battalions in November 2008.

See also[edit]

Similar foreign special forces units:


  1. ^ Spionage gegen Deutschland — Aktuelle Entwicklungen Stand: November 2008 (in German)
  2. ^ https://express-gravi.ru/congratulations/devizy-rodov-voysk-rf/
  3. ^ Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.34
  4. ^ a b c Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.35
  5. ^ Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.37
  6. ^ a b c https://www.rbth.com/defence/2017/05/10/gru-alpha-vympel-russias-famous-covert-operators-759604 |date=21 Nov 2019
  7. ^ a b c d http://survincity.com/2011/03/how-did-the-russian-special-forces/ |date=21 Nov 2019
  8. ^ Lunev, Stanislav (12 September 1997). "Changes may be on the way for the Russian security services". PRISM. The Jamestown Foundation. 3 (14). Archived from the original on 25 November 2006. The GRU is Russia's largest security service. It deploys six times more officers in foreign countries than the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), which is the successor of the First Main Directorate of the KGB. Moreover, 25,000 spetsnaz troops are directly subordinated to the GRU, whereas the KGB's various successor-organizations have been deprived of their own military formations since 1991.
  9. ^ Marsh, Dr. Christopher (2017). Developments in Russian Special Operations - Russia's Spetsnaz, SOF and Special Operations Forces Command (PDF). CANSOFCOM Education & Research Centre Monograph Series. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. ISBN 9780660073538. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d Nikolsky, Alexey (2015). "Little, Green and Polite: The Creation of Russian Special Operations Forces". In Howard, Colby; Pukhov, Ruslan (eds.). Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: East View Press. ISBN 9781879944657.
  11. ^ a b McDermott, Roger (2 November 2010). "Bat or Mouse? The Strange Case of Reforming Spetsnaz". Jamestown.org. Retrieved 2014-08-19.
  12. ^ a b Rakuszitzky, Moritz; Romein, Daniel; Dobrokhotov, Roman (November 22, 2018). "Second GRU Officer Indicted in Montenegro Coup Unmasked". bellingcat.
  13. ^ В/Ч 48427 (in Russian). ЗАЧЕСТНЫЙБИЗНЕС. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  14. ^ https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-military/ukraine-says-russian-special-forces-involved-in-attacks-on-airport-in-east-idUSKCN0JF1ZN20141201 |retrieved=25 Oct 2019
  15. ^ Tsvetkova, Maria (November 5, 2015). "New photos suggest Russia's operation in Syria stretches well beyond its air campaign". Business Insider. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. CIT also published screenshots from the Instagram page of Ilya Gorelykh, who it said had served in Russia's GRU special forces in the past [...] In late October it showed he had uploaded pictures from Aleppo, one of which showed him holding an assault rifle while wearing civilian clothes. Another image of him posing in camouflage with three other armed men was apparently taken in Homs.
  16. ^ "Beyond the airstrikes: Russia's activities on the ground in Syria". November 8, 2015. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. We believe that Russia's operation in Syria is a "hybrid war", not unlike the one seen in Ukraine. Apart from the airstrikes, Russia provides Assad forces with surface-to-surface rocket systems, combat vehicles, equipment, advisors, artillery support and spotters. More importantly, recently there have been more and more reports of Russian soldiers, vehicles and "volunteers" being spotted close to the frontlines.
  17. ^ Agence France-Presse (January 22, 2016). "Turkey alarmed by 'Russian build-up' on Syria border". The National. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. Top Russian military officials, including figures from the GRU military intelligence service, had already visited Qamishli, it added.
  18. ^ ГРУ (Главное Разведывательное Управление) ГШ ВС РФ. Russian Military Analysis (in Russian). Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  19. ^ Военно-Морской Флот. Russian Military Analysis (in Russian). Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  20. ^ Security, Global. "Spetsnaz Order of Battle". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
  21. ^ John Pike. "Spetsnaz Order of Battle". Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  22. ^ http://vdvloknya.ucoz.ru/news/1_dekabrja_den_rozhdenija_2_obr_specnaz_gru/2012-11-30-776
  23. ^ a b Сергей Козлов. Спецназ ГРУ: Очерки истории. // Том 5. Новейшая история. 1999-2010 гг.. — Москва: Русская панорама, 2010. — P. 40–41, 44–50, 65, 335–336, 492–493. — 400 p. — 3 000 экз.
  24. ^ 22 гв ОБрСпН — первая в Российской Гвардии
  25. ^ 22 гвардейская отдельная бригада специального назначения (22 огбрСпН ГРУ)
  26. ^ John Pike. "45th Special Purpose Regiment". Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  27. ^ a b c staff (29 January 2009). "Delfin". ShadowSpear: Russian Special Operations. www.shadowspear.com. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  28. ^ John Pike. "Naval Spetsnaz [Spetsialnaya Razvedka]". Retrieved 31 July 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993
  • Scott and Scott, The Armed Forces of the Soviet Union
  • Viktor Suvorov, Spetsnaz: The Story Behind the Soviet SAS, 1987, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-11961-8
  • Steve Zaloga, James W. Loop, Soviet Bloc Elite Forces, Volume 5 of Elite Series, Osprey Publishing, 1985, ISBN 0850456312, 9780850456318