May 19, 2022

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Russian special operations forces Spetsnaz come under fire in Ukraine

Russian special operations forces Spetsnaz come under fire in Ukraine

  • In the midst of its conflicts in Ukraine, the Russian army relied heavily on its most trained forces.
  • The fighting took a heavy toll on those forces, including the famous special operators in Russia from Spetsnaz.
  • Moscow may rely more on these operators as it renews its campaign with a focus on eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces in Ukraine struggled, failing to achieve any of their primary goals after two months of fighting.

Moscow lowered its ambitions, focusing on eastern Ukraine. It seems that Renew her attackHowever, its performance has already affected assessments of its military strength, calling into question its status as a “close to peer” force.

between Russian units The affected is the famous Spetsnaz. During and after the Cold War, these special operators achieved legendary status in the West. Recent successes in Crimea and Syria seem to add to their credentials.

Along with the rest of the Russian army, their reputation in Ukraine was tarnished.

The city of Irbin, just miles from Kyiv, was a base for Russian special operations forces even Ukrainian forces expel the Russians In late March. The brutal fight for control of the port city of Mariupol – the kind of strategic objective in which Moscow has concentrated its most capable forces – appears to have been captured. Huge result On private operators in Russia.

Spetsnaz: Russian Special Operators

Russian Special Operations Forces Spetsnaz

Troops of the Russian Army’s 14th Separate Special Purpose Brigade during an exercise, February 15, 2017.

Russian Ministry of Defense / Mil.ru


The Moscow Spetsnaz established its first special operations unit, in the 1950s to carry out strategic missions.

Spetsnaz initially had a strategic role, but now every special operations unit of the Russian army, law enforcement, emergency and security services is called a Spetsnaz.

In general, military Spetsnaz units are light airborne infantry that can act as shock troops. A few elite Spetsnaz units, such as the Alpha and Vympel Group, have strategic missions, such as counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and security of nuclear facilities.

There have been limited reports on what Russian special operations units have done in Ukraine or how they are performing, but their missions there may include special reconnaissance, direct operations, and unconventional warfare.

One of the few advantages that the Russian military has used against Ukraine is its long-range weapons. Russia has launched more than 1,500 ballistic and cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets.

Russian Special Operations Forces Spetsnaz

Troops of the 2nd Separate Special Purpose Brigade of the Russian Army, the GRU Spetsnaz Brigade, during one of the maneuvers.

Konstantin Morozov / Russian Ministry of Defense / Mil.ru


Special Russian operators can sneak close to those targets and use specialized equipment to help direct munitions. Moscow’s utter disregard for collateral damage means it may not use such targeting assistance, but this skill set can still be used if the Kremlin wants to eliminate Ukraine’s leadership with a strategic strike.

Russian special operations forces may also conduct direct operations, such as raids and ambushes, in pursuit of objectives at the tactical level, such as capturing an apartment building in a city.

In general, it would be foolish to use special operators for conventional operations, because their potential victims would waste time and expenditures on their training to a high level, but the lack of progress may prompt Russian commanders to do so, especially in urban areas where close combat training by commandos The Russians can make the difference between winning and losing.

Russia may also use special operations forces in unconventional warfare and asymmetric operations. Russian forces have been supporting separatist forces in eastern Ukraine for years, and that effort may expand as Moscow redirects its military campaign toward that region.

Russian special operators may also target Ukrainian strategic targets, such as airports or fuel and weapons depots. There was already Reports Russian naval special forces attack a Ukrainian military intelligence ship.

Learning from the enemy

Russian Special Operations Forces Spetsnaz

Members of the 22nd Separate Guard Brigade of the Russian Army during an exercise, November 24, 2017.

Russian Ministry of Defense / Mil.ru


When it comes to special operations forces, the Russian military had a great opportunity to learn from the United States.

Over the past 20 years, private operators in the United States She was on the tip of the spear. Their ability to conduct high-reward missions with lower military or political risks than larger conventional units made them a preferred choice for U.S. policymakers.

The Russian military began a major reorganization in 2008, part of which was the formation of a dedicated special operations command organization. Established in 2009, Russian special operations Forces Command It is a strategic-level special operations organization whose mission is the most difficult and the most important.

“The Russians are not stupid. They would have seen how successful we were in hiring special operations forces. [special-operations forces] downrange during GWOT [Global War on Terror] And they took their notes. That’s what we’re going to do,” a retired Delta Force worker told Insider.

What the Russian forces have learned regarding military doctrine is not clear, but open source information showed “how our operations affected their equipment and training,” said the retired operator, who spoke anonymously because they were still working with their unit.

Russian Special Operations Forces Spetsnaz

Soldiers of the 22nd Separate Guards Brigade of the Russian Army during an exercise, November 24, 2017.

Russian Ministry of Defense / Mil.ru


“It’s funny because sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between an American operator and a Russian because they tend to wear MultiCam [camouflage]and high-cut helmets that carry similar attack gear. “Only with weapons can you really tell the difference,” the former operator added.

Moscow has based the creation of the US Joint Special Operations Command, which is part of the US Special Operations Command, as a model for its new command.

Although smaller than the new Russian command, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) contains US Army Special Mission UnitsIt is the most elite special operations organization comprising the United States’ critical national strike force.

Moscow wanted to replicate the effectiveness of the Joint Special Operations Command, bringing together the best special operations units to better facilitate command and control. Even Spetsnaz units from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, were transferred to the new organization, although they were reassigned to the GRU in 2013.

“People in special operations forces tend to be of the same fabric,” said the retired operator. “Training, task groups, and funding may be different – ​​and in some cases far apart – but people at the highest levels tend to be very similar.” .

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Greek Army (national service in the 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters), and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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