Russian special purpose regiments or Spetsnaz, Specnaz (Russian: Войска специального назначения, (спецназ, pronounced [spjɪtˈsnas]) tr: Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya; pronounced [ˈvojskə spjɪtsɨˈaljnəvə nəznɐˈtɕenjɪjə]) is a general term for “special forces” in Russian, literally “special purpose”. These Russian special forces can specifically refer to any elite 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) Foreign special forces are also commonly referred to as Spetsnaz on Russian television, for example “American Spetsnaz.” Spetsnaz specialists have trained the Republican Guard of Syria, Iraq and Iran and they have been involved in training other special forces units across the world.
Internal troop units of the Cheka were originally raised for internal use against counter-revolutionaries and other undesirables; the most acclaimed is the Vityaz (MVD). Today they carry the same role as gendarmerie or National Guard units in other countries.
Spetsnaz carry out reconnaissance and “social warfare” missions in “peacetime” as well as in war. The primary function of Spetsnaz troops in wartime was infiltration/insertion behind enemy lines (either in uniform or civilian clothing), usually well before hostilities were scheduled to begin and, once in place, to commit acts of sabotage (such as the destruction of vital NATO communications logistics centers) and the assassination of key government leaders and military officers. According to Vladimir Rezun, a GRU defector who used the pseudonym “Viktor Suvorov”, there were 20 Spetsnaz brigades plus 41 separate companies. Thus, the total strength of Spetsnaz forces was around 30,000 troops at the time. Currently, their numbers are around 15,000.
Federal Security Service units
Main article: FSB (Russia)
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” 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. 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 and assassination 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 and martial arts training, driving APCs and flying 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 such as the official woodland camouflage, “Flora”.
Special Operations Service
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 25 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. The following is a partial list of the spetsnaz units:
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.
They are generally well-trained and equipped, being far superior to the regular Russian infantry. 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”. Such as United States Army Rangers working with 1st SFOD-D (aka “Delta Force”).
Aside from the Interior troops special forces, MVD has plenty of Militsiya (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.