During the 1970s, when the Cold War was at its height, the West became aware of the existence of Soviet Spetsnaz troops, which were grouped into what were known as "diversionary brigades." Today, although the Cold War is long since ended, Spetsnaz units are still part of the Russian order-of-battle, although their missions have changed.
Spetsnaz (Spetsialnoye nazranie = troops of special purpose) were raised as the troops of the Glavnoe razvedyvatel'noe upravlenie (GRU) (= main intelligence directorate [of the General Staff]) and in the 1980s numbered some 30,000. These were deployed: one Spetsnaz company per Army; one Spetsnaz regiment in each of the three "theaters of operations"; one Spetsnaz brigade in each of the four Soviet Fleets; and an independent
Spetsnaz brigade in most military districts of the USSR. There were also special Spetsnaz intelligence units, one to each Front and Fleet: total 20.
A Spetsnaz unit was 135 strong, normally operating in 15 independent teams, although they could also combine for specific missions. A Spetsnaz brigade was 1,000-1,300 strong and consisted of a headquarters, three or four parachute battalions, a communications company, and supporting troops. It also included an anti-VIP company, composed of some 70-80 regular troops (i.e., not conscripts) whose mission was to seek out, identify and kill enemy political and military leaders. A naval Spetsnaz brigade had a headquarters, two to three battalions of combat swimmers, a parachute battalion, supporting units, and an anti-VIP company. It also had a group of midget submarines designed to deliver combat swimmers to distant targets.
The existence of Spetsnaz was a closely guarded secret within the Warsaw Pact and individual troops were not allowed to admit membership, to the extent that army Sestinas wore standard airborne uniforms and insignia, while naval Sestinas wore naval infantry uniforms and insignia.
Spetsnaz in 1999
Some of the republics which broke away from the old Soviet Union took over the Spetsnaz units within their borders or have converted parachute units to the Spetsnaz role.
Naval Spetsnaz also continue to serve in the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific fleets. Most of these are subordinate to the Fleet commanders, but some are under the direct control of the Naval Commander-in-Chief in Moscow or other former Soviet Republics capitals like Kiev(Ukraine) .
Ukrainian naval special-designation forces, or Spetsnaz, have been less visible in the wake of the USSR's dissolution. Recently, however, the Russian navy's commander in chief, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, reaffirmed that naval special-operations units – which have a long, active history in the Soviet armed forces – remain assigned to the Russian Baltic, northern, Pacific and Black Sea fleets. Although the admiral provided few specifics on the size and capabilities of the units, he did indicate that they were elite, that they were equipped with special weapons (including small submarines), and that they were comparable to U.S. Navy SEALS or the Israeli Navy's 13th Flotilla. Stating that these units have no special name beyond their "combat swimmer" or "naval spetsnaz" designations, the admiral indicated that most of the units are directly subordinate to their respective fleet commander. Of particular note, Kuroyedov said that he retains naval spetsnaz subunits under his direct control as well, "for resolving fleet tasks and rendering assistance.
Although Spetsnaz units may be used for other purposes during peacetime, their primary role is to carry out strategic missions during the final days prior to war breaking out and in war itself. These wartime tasks would include: deep reconnaissance of strategic targets; the destruction of strategically important command-control-and-communications (C3) facilities; the destruction of strategic weapons' delivery systems; demolition of important bridges and and transportation routes; and the snatching or assassination of important military and political leaders. Many of these missions would be carried out before the enemy could react and some even before war had actually broken out.
On operations the majority of Spetsnaz soldiers would carry a 5.45mm AKS-74 rifle and a 5.45mm PRI automatic pistol. All would also carry combat knives, which are specially designed for Spetsnaz troops. One such design is the NR-2, an ingenious device which in addition to the blade incorporates a short 7.62mm caliber barrel in the handle and is fired by clipping the scabbard and knife together to give some control. Quite when such a weapon would be used instead of a knife or a pistol is open to question. Spetsnaz troops are also trained in all types of foreign weapons.
Those joining Spetsnaz with no previous military experience must be given the normal recruit's basic training in discipline, marching, field craft, weapons handling, and range work. Once the recruit moves on to proper Spetsnaz training, however, the pressure intensifies:
*weapons handling, including the use of foreign weapons and marksmanship;
*physical fitness, with an emphasis on endurance and strength;
*tracking, patrolling, camouflage, and surveillance techniques, including
survival in a wide variety of harsh environments;
*hand-to-hand combat, both unarmed and with knives (both hand-held and
throwing), and assassination of designated targets;
*sabotage and demolitions;
*language training and prisoner interrogation;
*infiltration by air, including parachuting for fixed-wing aircraft, and
exit from helicopters by ropes or parachute.
Naval Spetsnaz must, in addition, learn combat swimmer techniques, the use of underwater weapons, canoeing, arrival and exit over beaches, exit and entry to submerged submarines. (Note: this is not all Spetsnaz training; this is only to give the reader a better understanding of what Spetsnaz training is like)
Other Spetsnaz Troops
During the 1970s and 1980s special operations troops became increasingly the vogue in various ministries of the (then) Soviet Union. Further, such was the large and disorganized nature and wastefulness of the Soviet system that similar bodies with similar missions were set up by different parts of the same ministry, particularly within the Committee for State Security (KGB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). These special troops went under the generic title of Spetialgroups and were paramilitary forces which received special training and indoctrination for a variety of missions. Many of hese units served in a variety of roles in the war in Afghanistan but for most of them a defining moment seems to have been reached during the 1991 coup, when they were forced to take sides, or at least to refuse to take action. After the coup had been defeated President Yeltsin transferred most of them to his personal control but they have since been transferred yet again back to various ministries. Many of the groups have been involved in the recent conflicts in the Russian Federation and Ukraine.
Special group "ALFA" (= special group A) was set up by the KGB's Seventh Directorate in 1974 and appears to have been inspired by the British SAS and US 1SFOD-D (Delta) as a counter-terrorist and hostage-rescue group. Alfa is generally credited with being the unit that attacked the Presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on December 28 1980 and murdered President Hafizullah Amin and his family. Alfa is now controlled by the FSB (Federalnaia sluzhba bezopasnosti = Federal Security Service) in general terms, equivalent to the USA's FBI. Also raised by the KGB, but this time the First Chief Administration, was Special group VYMPEL whose mission was to fulfill the KGB's wartime role of assassination and snatching. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was transferred to the MVD but is now with the FSB with a primary responsibility for a hostage rescue.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs also has at least two groups of special troops known as the OMON (= black berets), which were originally raised to provide additional security and (if necessary) hostage rescue at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Since then they have been used for counter-terrorist activities and defeating armed criminals, and are currently involved in campaigns against drug cultivation.
Symbolizing the disorganized nature of contemporary Russia is the GROM Security Company, which is a quasi-private organization working under exclusive contract to the Federal Government. GROM (the Russian word for "thunder" and with no relationship to the Polish group of the same name) is manned by former troops of the various KGB Special Forces and provides security for selected government personnel and buildings, as well as for trains and aircrafts.
Speznaz UIN is a group of special assignment, which submits UIN (management on performance of punishment, UIN submits to the ministry of justice) with tasks: suppression of the mass disorders and revolts in prisons, colonies, rescue of the hostages seized and deducted in prisons and colonies, barricades situation in these establishments, search and detention run made. The employees of speznaz UIN carry berets of black color with general-army cockade and Russian or Ukrainian flag on the left party of beret.