Spetsnaz (Войска специального назначения - спецназ/Voiska spetsialnovo naznacheniya - spetsnaz, / in IPA) is a general term for "special forces" in Russian, literally "special purpose units". In Russian the term is commonly used to denote special forces of all countries, but in English it is used only for the Russian special forces. In fact, its use in English is usually associated with Russians writing in English or with writers making an attempt at linguistic authenticity. English language media generally refer to them as "Russian special forces" and, in fact, usually refer to special forces of any other country by a similar generic term.

Spetsnaz can refer to any elite or special purpose units controlled by the Federal Security Service (FSB) with counter-terrorist and anti-sabotage tasks, Ministry of Interior (of the police) MVD, and the army special forces controlled by the military intelligence service GRU. Nowadays 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).

Strictly speaking all SPETSNAZ units operated by the KGB/FSB were called OSNAZ, an acronym for [voiska] osobogo naznacheniya or "special purpose [detachments]". These units were originally raised for internal use against counter-revolutionaries, dissidents 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. For example, it is known that the assassination of Afghanistan's president carried out by Spetsnaz in December 1979 was under the direction of the KGB.

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.

Alpha (alfa) Group was involved in the Beslan school hostage crisis on September 3, 2004. They were criticized for the use of excessive deadly force, which resulted in hostage and Alfa casualties. However, the situation was handled fairly well by Spetznaz despite an unsecure perimeter (there were ordinary citizens armed with rifles firing at terrorists).

It has been claimed that spetsnaz also are trained in "non contact" martial arts.

Security services units

The Center of Special Operations (CSN) 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" subdivisons - 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 CT unit, which consists of roughly 300 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 counter-terrorist 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 B operatives' standard BDU color is black. However, in Chechnya they use different kinds of camouflage.

Not much information about SSO 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 Interior Troops (Russian National Guard) units, which are of good quality and intended for use to combat insurgency 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 with a casualty ratio of approximately 1 to 200. Their missions may includes 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 U.S. 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 Russian military. Despite this, they are not very similar to the Special Forces of the US. 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 usually integrated in the structure of the VDV (airborne troops) though not 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, for instance, they would wear the uniform of a unit which is stationed nearby, in order to blend in.

Here are some of the Spetsnaz Brigades and the location at which they are stationed (the list is deliberately not full, for obvious reasons).

* 2nd ObrSpN - Promezhitsy (Pskov region); strength around 960 (Leningrad MD)

* 3rd Guards ObrSpN - Roshinskij (Samara Oblast); (Volga-Urals MD)

* 10th (Mountain) ObrSpN - Molkino (Krasnodar region); activated July 1, 2003 (NCMD)

* 12th ObrSpN - city of Asbest-5 Sverdlovsk region); (Volga-Urals MD)

* 22nd Guards ObrSpN - Kovalevka (Rostov Oblast); (NC MD)

* 67th ObrSpN - Berdsk (Novosibirsk Oblast); Siberian Military District

and many others, including:

* 14th Separate Brigade of Special Designation Ussuriysk, Far Eastern Military District

* 16th Spetsnaz Brigade - formerly Teplyi Stan, surburb of Moscow, now Chuchkovo

* 24th Spetsnaz Brigade - Kyakhta, 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 minisubmarine battalion, as well as the signals company, headquarters company, and support elements.

Russian Naval Spetsnaz

At the fall of the Soviet government, 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 elite forces, but in no means 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.


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.

The use and abuse of the term in the Russian language as of 2004

The word "Spetsnaz" is characteristic of the Russian language constructs of the Soviet era, being made by connecting first syllables of several words to produce an easily pronounceable and, in this case at least, perhaps a "scary sounding" word. Compare also Komintern (Communist International), kolhoz (collective farm), diamat (dialectical materialism), and gorkom (town-level committee of the Communist Party). Similar constructs are also prominent in the German, Chinese and Japanese languages, whereas in the English language abbreviations generally consist of first letters rather than syllables, although George Orwell's 1984 is a notable exception.

However, the widespread use of this word is actually a relatively recent, post-Soviet 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" (Vladimir Rezun), a GRU agent who defected to England and is best known for his revisionist views on Stalin's alleged complicity in the rise of Hitler and the making of World War II. 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, perhaps unhealthy, 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, much of what would be generally considered as nonsense for military junkies was 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 "cool". For example, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a well-known populist and nationalist politician of very ill repute, 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 less literate users.

Spetsnaz is also found in a few former Soviet countries (CIS) such as; Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia etc.


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