Russian special purpose regiments or Spetsnaz, Specnaz ( _ru. Войска специального назначения, ("спецназ") tr: Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya, pronounced|spʲetsnaz) is a general term for "special forces" in Russian, literally "special purpose units".Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) can refer to any élite or special purpose units under subordination of the Federal Security Service (FSB) or Internal Troops of Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the units controlled by the military intelligence service GRU.

Currently, the term is used as well to describe any special purpose units or task forces of other ministries (even the Emergency Situations Ministry special rescue unit) [ [http://www.sambofrance.org/documents/degradation.html The Degradation of Russia's Special Forces] , by Stanislav Lunev, The Jamestown Foundation ] Foreign special forces are also commonly referred to as Spetsnaz on Russian television, for example "American Spetsnaz." Spetsnaz has trained the Republican guard of Syria, Iraq and Iran and they have been involved in training other special forces units across the world. Strictly speaking, all Spetsnaz units operated by the KGB/FSB were called OSNAZ, an acronym for " [voiska] osobogo naznacheniya" or "special purpose [detachments] ".

These internal troop units originally were raised for internal use against counter-revolutionaries and other undesirables. There has always been a certain amount of shifting of personnel and units between both the GRU who control SPETSNAZ and the MVD with OSNAZ MVD and OSNAZ KGB or FSB, especially between the latter two. Today, OSNAZ is a term mainly used in connection with GRU-controlled COMINT, ELINT and radio-surveillance units within the Armed Forces. Spetsnaz carry out reconnaissance and social warfare missions in "peacetime" as well as in war. According to Vladimir Rezun, a GRU defector who used the pseudonym "Viktor Suvorov", there were 20 Spetsnaz brigades plus 41 separate companies. Thus, total strength of Spetsnaz forces in the 1980s could have been around 30,000 troops.

Federal Security Service units

The Center of Special Operations (CNS) of the FSB is designed to combat terrorism and to protect the constitutional order in the Russian Federation. The CSN FSB consists of 3 different "operative" subdivisions - Department A (also known as spetsgruppa "Alfa"), Department V (also known as spetsgruppa "Vympel"), and so-called SSO (Special Operations Service). The headquarters of CSN FSB is a huge complex of buildings and training areas (dozens of hectares worth of land, 76 training facilities, etc). It is located in the town of Balashikha-2, only 10 km away from the Moscow ring. The average training of a solid CSN operative lasts about 5 years.

*"Alfa" is a well-known counter-terrorist unit begun in 1974. Today "Alfa" is a highly professional unit, which consists of roughly 700 servicemen. The majority of the unit is stationed at Moscow, the rest of the unit is located in three other cities - Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg, and Khabarovsk. All the "Alfa" operatives undergo special airborne and firearms training. Roughly one third of them have special mountain training; another third have special counter-sabotage diving training. Spetsnaz operatives always improve on their skills in countless exercises and special operations (including constant service in North Caucasus). The unit utilizes a wide range of modern Russian and foreign weapons and equipment, some modified from the original versions to fit the unique needs of the unit.

*"Vympel" (the Pennant) – formerly known as an elite cold war-era KGB sabotage unit – is now also a counter-terrorist and counter-sabotage unit. But, unlike "Alfa", instead of learning how to storm airplanes and buses, they operate in an entirely different environment. They are experts in 18 special disciplines (among which - how to infiltrate guarded buildings, extensive marksmanship training, driving APCs and airplanes, and medical training) and are Russia's last defense against possible terrorist acts involving nuclear plants, hydroelectric dams, and other industrial complexes. However, "Vympel" operatives are still heavily used in special operations missions in the Northern Caucasus, along with their counterparts from "Alfa" unit. "Vympel" has 4 operative units, "Alfa" has 5 operative units. One unit from each Department is always participating in offensive operations in Chechnya. They constantly rotate their troops, and each operative unit is stationed in Chechnya at least 2-3 times per year. "Vympel" is stationed in Moscow, but it also has multiple branch offices in virtually every city where there is a nuclear power plant.

Department A and V operatives' standard BDU color is black. However, in Chechnya they use different kinds of camouflage.

* Special Operations Service - Not much information about SOS can be obtained, but it is known that they also participate in FSB special operations in the Northern Caucasus and also act as highly skilled bodyguards for government officials.

Together with Center of Special Operations and its elite units, there are many FSB special forces units of regional significance. Such operative detachments are usually called ROSN (Regional Department of Special Designation). The most powerful ROSNs are said to be at Saint Petersburg (ROSN "Grad") and Nizhny Novgorod.

Ministry of Interior units

Spetnaz MVD includes 16 Internal Troops units, which are of good quality and intended for use to combat insurgency, border security and for counter-terrorism purposes. These units usually have a unique name and official OSN number. Here is a list of some of these spetsnaz units (the list is deliberately not full due to obvious reasons):

* 1st PSN (former 6th OSN) VV "Vityaz" - stationed in Moscow;
* 7th OSN VV "Rosich" - Novocherkassk;
* 8Th OSN VV "Rus" - Moscow;
* 12th OSN VV "Ratnik" - Nizhni Tagil;
* 15th OSN VV "Vyatich" - Armavir;
* 16th OSN VV "Skif" - Rostov.

and many others.

They are generally well-trained and equipped, being far superior to the regular Russian infantry. For example, it is claimed that the unit "Rus" had fought successfully against the insurgents in Chechnya. Their missions may include reconnaissance missions and regular combat operations (mostly house-to-house CQB assaults). They (especially "Vitjaz") have sometimes served as the back-up team during the counter-terrorist operations by team "Alpha". The parallel of United States Army Rangers and 1st SFOD-D (aka "Delta Force") is apparent.

Aside from the Interior troops special forces, MVD has plenty of police special forces, which are stationed in virtually every large Russian city. While OMON units are mostly used as riot police and during drug busts, they are not really considered a significant counter-terrorist force and simply lack the sufficient expertise. For these reasons MVD has numerous OMSN units (formerly known as SOBR), which consist of senior ranked police officers and are properly trained and equipped to combat terrorists, insurgency, and to participate in any kind of high-risk mission in general.

Russian army special forces

"Spetsnaz GRU", or Russian army special forces, are the original SPETSNAZ and are generally considered the best trained units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Despite this, they are not very similar to the Special Forces of the US or the SAS of the UK. The Spetsnaz have created a fierce reputation as one of the best special forces in the world today due to the very harsh standards of their training. They are controlled by the GRU (the Russian military intelligence agency). During the Cold War, these units were deployed in Eastern Europe in order to carry out reconnaissance and sabotage missions against the NATO forces in the event of a war in Europe. The units of Spetsnaz GRU have no official names, such as is the case with units of Spetsnaz MVD. They are generally referred to by numbers, for example, "16th Separate Brigade of Spetsnaz", much like any other military unit, and are sometimes deployed under VDV command aegis.

Few details are actually known about the operations of Spetsnaz GRU, but it is known that the units were heavily involved in wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Spetnaz GRU teams usually wear standard-issue VDV uniforms, light blue VDV berets and unit patches in order to avoid identification. However, they can also wear different uniforms, forinstance, they would wear the uniform of a unit which is stationed nearby, in order to blend in.

Here are most of the Spetsnaz Brigades and the location at which they are stationed: [Interim reference is Carey Schofield, 'The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, Appendixes, p.259. I'll firm this up.]

* 2nd ObrSpN - Promezhitsy (Pskov region); "strength around 960" (Leningrad Military District)
* 3rd Guards ObrSpN - Roshinskij (Samara Oblast); (Volga-Ural Military District)
* 10th (Mountain) ObrSpN - Molkino (Krasnodar region); "activated July 1, 2003" (North Caucasus Military District)
* 12th ObrSpN - city of Asbest-5 Sverdlovsk region); (Volga-Ural Military District)transferring: Chaikovskyy (Perm')
* 14th Separate Brigade of Special purpose Ussuriysk, Far Eastern Military District
* 22nd Guards ObrSpN - Kovalevka (Rostov Oblast); (North Caucasus Military District)
* 67th ObrSpN - Berdsk (Novosibirsk Oblast); (Siberian Military District)
* 216 INDEP SPETZNAZ BN Moscow (Moscow Military District)

and many others, including:

* 16th Spetsnaz Brigade - formerly Teplyi Stan, suburb of Moscow, now Chuchkovo, Moscow Military District
* 24th Spetsnaz Brigade - [Ulan-UdeKyakhta, Siberian Military District

A Spetsnaz brigade consists of three to five Spetsnaz battalions, a signals company, support units, and a headquarters company containing highly skilled professional soldiers responsible for carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, and contact with agents in the enemy rear area. The organisation of a naval SPETSNAZ brigade reflects its emphasis on sea infiltration, with up to three frogman battalions, one parachute battalion, and a mini-submarine battalion, as well as the signals company, headquarters company, and support elements.

Russian Naval Spetsnaz

The Soviet Naval Spetsnaz came in to being in 1957 by order of Defence Minister Georgy Zhukov. The Black Sea fleet created their spetsnaz unit in 1967. A marine counter terrorist and counter sabotage unit was created in 1969 as "protivodiversionniye sili i sredstva" ("counter-sabotage forces and resources") counter-underwater forces. [p.395, Isby] In 1970, the Main intelligence service of a General staff (GRU) created a top secret reconnaissance - sabotage group "Delfin" (Dolphin) for operations against sea bases of foreign states. Instructors from group "Delfin" prepared the combat swimmers for KGB groups "Alfa" and "Vympel". At the fall of the Soviet Union, each of the Soviet Red Banner Fleets (four total) had a Naval Spetsnaz Brigade assigned to it (see combat swimmers). Furthermore, modern Alfa and Vympel special purpose forces also have naval units.

Russian Naval Infantry, or the Russian Marines, are specialised amphibious infantry, but by no means are they Spetsnaz troops as Naval Special Operations would be carried out by Delfin (Naval Spetsnaz) troops rather than the Marines, which are intended to spearhead amphibious invasions.

The 4 Major Naval Spetsnaz units are:

* 4 INDEP SPETZNAZ PT Parusnoe (Baltyysk) (Baltic Fleet) formerly Viljandi, Estonia (transferred from Army GRU to Navy GRU)
* 431 INT SPETZNAZ PT Tuapse (Black Sea Fleet) formerly Kronstadt (Baltic Fleet)
* 42 SPETZNAZ PT Russkyy island (Pacific Fleet)
* 420 INT SPETZNAZ PT Polyarnyy (Northern Fleet)


Russian intelligence agencies, MVD, FSB, and the FPS and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR, "Sluzhba Vneshnej Razvedki", Russian equivalent of the American CIA) have their own Osnaz units.

Russian language use

The word "Spetsnaz" is a syllabic abbreviation typical for the Russian language since the Soviet era, with its proliferation of new organizations. However, the widespread use of this word is actually a relatively recent, post-"perestroika" development in the Russian language. The existence of these special forces units was not known to the general public during the Soviet era. In a sense, this became yet another state secret that was published during the glasnost of the Gorbachev's perestroika. There were a number of well-known books written about the Spetsnaz, best known of these "Aquarium" by Viktor Suvorov, a GRU agent who defected to England.

Suvorov also wrote a book specifically on the subject. The stories about the Spetsnaz and their allegedly incredible prowess, from the more serious to the highly questionable, have captivated imaginations of the more patriotic, and perhaps less critical, Russians, particularly being set against the background of a generally known decay in the Russian military during perestroika and the post-Soviet era. It merits noting that the great interest in all things Spetsnaz ran parallel to the similarly intense interest in all things related to intelligence, KGB, etc. The popularity of Spetsnaz was all the more enhanced by the reports of their very real accomplishments during Russia's second campaign in Chechnya starting in 2000.

At the turn of the 21st century, many of what would be generally considered as inaccuracies were written about Spetsnaz, GRU, KGB, and similar "top secret" and "exciting" topics. The word "Spetsnaz" was sometimes frivolously used to refer to anything the speaker deemed somehow special or exclusive. For example, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a well-known populist and nationalist politician, once referred to his and his political party comrades' going for a swim at a party-organized festival as a "Spetsnaz on the water", while speaking on camera. This somewhat intentionally extreme incident should give some sense of the extent the term has been debased for many people.

Nowadays, in Russia "spetsnaz" have become a colloquial term gradually losing its umbrella function; special operations became much more commonplace, be it a police drug raid, terrorist scenario or military operation. Heavy news coverage of such events allowed the public to address these units by name - OMON, SOBR, Alfa, Vympel, Vityaz and so forth. The Interior Ministry units like OMON are especially close to everyday life now, as they are acting as riot police and SWAT, so they're even less likely to be called Spetsnaz. The word itself is always spelled in lower case in Russian, even when referring to the GRU Spetsnaz.

In the United States, despite the focus on the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is still some training conducted at Fort Irwin's National Training Center and Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center for countering SPETSNAZ in the rear areas of NATO. SPETSNAZ is still, almost twenty years after the end of the Cold War, regarded as a real threat.

petsnaz Knife

A specialized combat knife developed for the use of Spetsnaz. A powerful spring installed within the grip allows the blade to be ejected.



*Isby, David C., "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

See also

* Alpha Group
* Vympel
* Rus (special forces)
* Vityaz (MVD)
* Russian Airborne Troops
* Spetsnaz (miniseries)

External links

* [http://www.specialoperations.com/Foreign/Russia/Spetznaz.htm Special Operations.com - Spetsnaz]
* [http://militera.lib.ru/research/suvorov6/ Spetsnaz: the story behind the Soviet SAS by Victor Suvorov (1987)]
* [http://www.agentura.ru/ Russian Special Ops Units]
* [http://www.vvmvd.ru Ministry of Internal Affairs special forces]
* [http://www.lib.ru/MEMUARY/CHECHNYA/chechen_war.txt Vyacheslav Mironov: "Assault on Grozny Downtown"]
* http://www.kommersant.ru/k-vlast/get_page.asp?page_id=2005769-22.htm
* [http://www.weaponplace.ru/specnaz.php Russian Special Forces]

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