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Spetsnaz emblem.svg
Active 1949-2012 , 2013-present
Country  Soviet Union (1949-1991)
 Russian Federation
1991-2010 (under the GRU)
2010-2012 (Non-GRU)
2013-present (under the GRU)
Branch GRU emblem.svg GRU
Type Military special forces
Role Reconnaissance
Direct action
Size Classified[1]
Part of Soviet Armed Forces (until 1991)
Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (since 1991)
GRU Headquarters Khoroshevskoye 76, Khodinka, Moscow
Mascot(s) Bat
Engagements Cold War conflicts
Soviet War in Afghanistan
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

Spetsnaz GRU is an elite military formation under the control of the military intelligence service GRU. It was the first Soviet/Russian spetsnaz (special forces) force, more than two decades older than its KGB/FSB and MVD counterparts. The full acronym is GRU GSh (Russian: ГРУ ГШ) or Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Russian: Главное Разведывательное Управление Генерального Штаба) meaning Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (of the Russian Federation). The acronym, however, is usually shortened to just GRU (Russian: ГРУ) which stands for Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye (Russian: Главное Разведывательное Управление) (English: Main Intelligence Directorate). The word "Spetsnaz" is often written in all capital letters ("SPETSNAZ"). In 2010, following Russian Military reforms, Spetsnaz GRU were disbanded and instead placed into different divisions of the Ground Forces of the Russian Military; in 2013, however, some units were re-assigned to GRU divisions and placed under GRU authority once more.[2]


A Soviet Spetsnaz team preparing for a mission at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan in 1988

The concept of using special forces tactics and strategies was originally proposed by the Russian military theorist Michael Svechnykov (executed during the Great Purge in 1938), who envisaged the development of unconventional warfare capabilities in order to overcome disadvantages that conventional forces may face in the field. Practical implementation was begun by the "grandfather of the spetsnaz" Ilya Starinov. During World War II, reconnaissance and sabotage forces were formed under the supervision of the Second Department of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces. These forces were subordinate to the commanders of Fronts.[3]

Russian Spetsnaz GRU in Dagestan,1999

The situation was reviewed after the war ended, and between 1947 and 1950 the whole of 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, 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.

Ethnic-Chechen Spetsnaz soldiers of Sulim Yamadayev's Battalion Vostok in Georgia in 2008

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 NATO communications logistics centers) and the assassination of key government leaders and military officers.[citation needed]

During Soviet times, Spetsnaz GRU operatives would have to complete training that included the following: weapons handling, rappelling, explosives training, marksmanship, counter-terrorism, airborne training, hand-to-hand combat, climbing (alpine rope techniques), diving, underwater combat, long-range marksmanship, emergency medical training, and demolition.

Its operations included Operation Storm-333, the successful mission to kill the Afghan president in 1979. During the 2000s, ethnic-Chechen Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad existed.

Since 2009-2010, Spetsnaz GRU forces have been resubordinated, now attached to military districts of the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation[6] and subordinate to the operational-strategic commands, due to Anatoliy Serdyukov's military reforms. In 2011, it was announced that some former Spetsnaz GRU personnel might return under control of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in some form separate and distinct from GRU, and answering directly to the General Staff. In 2013, Spetsnaz units were returned to GRU authority.

Listing of brigades

An incomplete list of the Soviet Spetsnaz brigades and the locations at which they were stationed:[7]

  • 2nd independent Special Forces Brigade - Promezhitsy, Pskov Oblast; (Leningrad Military District)
  • 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade - Roshinskiy, Samara Oblast; (Volga-Ural Military District)
  • 12th independent Special Forces Brigade - Asbest-5, Sverdlovsk Oblast; (Volga-Ural Military District) transferring: Chaikovskyy (Perm). Moved in September 1992 from Lagodekhi, Georgian SSR in the Transcaucasus Military District[8]
  • 14th independent Special Forces Brigade - Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai; (Far Eastern Military District)
  • 16th independent Special Forces Brigade - Chuchkovo, Moscow Military District. Moved to Tambov, November 2003.
  • 22nd independent Guards Special Forces Brigade - Kovalevka, Rostov Oblast; (North Caucasus Military District). Location in Rostov Oblast differs from source to source. Schofield lists Aksai, which is frequently echoed. Holm lists a series of unit moves, beginning in Kapchagai in Alma Ata Oblast to Afghanistan to Azerbaijan, but Stepnoy in Rostov Oblast from June 1992 to present.
  • 24th independent Special Forces Brigade - Kyakhta, Siberian Military District. Holm lists a series of unit moves from Nara-Byrka (Yasnaya), Chita Oblast, 11.77 - 9.88 (former SRF missile site), Kyakhta, Buryatskaya ASSR, 9.88 - 2002 [50 21 14N, 106 26 09E], Sosnovyy-Bor, Buryatskaya ASSR, 2002 - 2012, and Novosibirsk, Novosibirsk Oblast, 2012 - today.
  • 67th independent Special Forces Brigade - Berdsk, Novosibirsk Oblast; (Siberian Military District) Activated June 1984; disbanded March 2009.
  • 216th independent Special Operations Battalion - Moscow (Moscow Military District)

Other brigades listed by Michael Holm in 2013 include:

  • 4th independent Special Forces Brigade GRU (formed Riga, Latvia, September 1962)[9]
  • 5th independent Special Forces Brigade GRU (formed Maryina Gorka, Minsk Oblast, 1 January 1962, to Armed Forces of Belarus, now part of the Силы специальных операций ВС РБ)
  • 8th Special Forces Brigade GRU (formed Izyaslav, Khmelnitskiy Oblast, Carpathian Military District, December 1962, to Armed Forces of Ukraine)
  • 9th independent Special Forces Brigade GRU (activated 15.10.62 in Kirovograd, Kirovograd Oblast, Kiev Military District, formation complete 31.12.62.) Taken over by Ukraine 1992.
  • 10th independent Special Forces Brigade GRU (activated 10.62 in Karagoz, Crimean Oblast, Odessa Military District). Taken over by Ukraine early 1992 (directive issued 11.10.91).
  • 15th independent Special Forces Brigade GRU (Chirchik, Tashkent Oblast, taken over by Uzbekstan December 1994)

Black Sea Fleet:

  • 17th independent Special Forces Brigade GRU (Pervomayskiy Island, Nikolayev Oblast)

The 10th independent Spetsnaz Brigade was reformed in the North Caucasus Military District by the Russian GRU in 2003.[10] Now reported location is 353211, Goryachy Klyuch, Mol'kino, Krasnodar Krai.[citation needed]

Spetsnaz weapons

Soviet Spetsnaz weaponry consisted of more streamlined, stripped-down weapons suitable for covert operations, such as the AKS-74U carbine. Modern Russian Spetsnaz weapons include the VSS Vintorez sniper rifle, SV98 sniper rifle, AK-9 assault rifle, AN-94 assault rifle, and the PP-19 Bizon submachine gun, along with older weaponry such as the AKS-74U. Specialized weaponry includes the NRS-2, a ballistic knife with a built-in single-shot firing mechanism able to fire an 7.62x42mm SP-4 cartridge (the same used in PSS Silent Pistol), along with the RPG-16 and plastic explosives; for urban warfare scenarios, the PKP Pecheneg LMG has also been used by Spetsnaz groups. Similar to other modern special forces organizations, Spetsnaz weaponry is selected by merit of stealth and reliability for special military operations, espionage, sabotage, or other covert actions.


Depiction of a Spetsnaz GRU training installation as published in Soviet Military Power, 1984.

  1. Spionage gegen Deutschland — Aktuelle Entwicklungen Stand: November 2008 (German)
  2. Bat or Mouse? The Strange Case of Reforming Spetsnaz
  3. Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.34
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 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. UNHCR | Refworld | Putin’s Military: Let the Good Times Roll
  7. Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, Appendixes, p.259
  8. Michael Holm, 12th independent Special Forces Brigade, accessed 2013.
  9. Michael Holm, 4th independent Special Forces Brigade, accessed 2013.
  10. Michael Holm, 10th independent Special Forces Brigade, accessed 2013.

Further reading

  • 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

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