Spetsnaz is an umbrella term for special forces in Russian and is used in numerous post-Soviet states.
Historically, the term referred to special military units controlled by the military intelligence service GRU(Spetsnaz GRU). It also describes special purpose units, or task forces of other ministries (such as the Ministry of Emergency Situations’ special rescue unit) in post-Soviet countries.
As Spetsnaz is a Russian term, it is typically associated with the special forces units of Russia; but other post-Soviet states often refer to their special forces by the term as well since they inherited their special purpose units from the now-defunct Soviet security agencies. The 5th spetsnaz Brigade of Belarus or the Alpha group of the Security Service of Ukraine are both such examples of non-Russian Spetsnaz forces.
Soviet and Russian military special forces
The elite units of the Soviet Armed Forces and Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are controlled, for the most part, by the military-intelligence GRU (Spetsnaz GRU) under the General Staff. They were heavily involved in secret operations and training pro-Soviet forces during the Cold War and in the wars in Afghanistan during the 1980s and Chechnya during the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2010, as a result of the 2008 Russian military reform, GRU special forces came under the control of the Russian Ground Forces, being “directly subordinated to commanders of combined strategic commands.” However, in 2013, these Spetsnaz forces were placed back under the GRU, under the wings of the newly formed Special Operations Forces of the Russian Federation. The Russian Airborne Troops (VDV, a separate branch of the Soviet and Russian Armed Forces) includes the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade.
Most Russian military special forces units are known by their type of formation (company, battalion or brigade) and a number, like other Soviet or Russian military units. Two exceptions were the ethnic Chechen Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad (East and West) that existed during the 2000s. Below is a 2012 list of special purpose units in the Russian Armed Forces:
- Special Operations Forces, subordinate directly to the MoD
- Special Operations Command (KSO)
- TsSN “Senezh”
- Combined Arms
- ”Voennay Razvedka” (Military intelligence) personnel/units within larger formations in ground troops, airborne troops and marines. Intelligence battalion in the divisions, reconnaissance company in the brigade, a reconnaissance platoon in the regiment.
- Russian Ground Forces
- 2nd Special Purpose Brigade in Promezhitsa, Pskov Oblast
- 3rd Special Purpose Brigade in Tolyatti
- 10th Special Purpose Brigade in Mol’kino, Krasnoyarsk Territory
- 14th Special Purpose Brigade in Ussuriysk
- 16th Special Purpose Brigade in Tambov
- 22nd Special Purpose Guards Brigade in Stepnoi, Rostov Oblast
- 24th Special Purpose Brigade in Irkutsk
- Russian Airborne Troops
- 45th Guards Special Purpose Brigade
- Russian Navy
- Naval Special Operations Units
- 442nd Detached Naval Reconnaissance Spetsnaz Point (omrpSpN – Pacific Fleet)
- 420th Detached Naval Reconnaissance Spetsnaz Point (omrpSpN – Northern Fleet)
- 431st Detached Naval Reconnaissance Spetsnaz Point (omrpSpN – Black Sea Fleet)
- 561st Detached Naval Reconnaissance Spetsnaz Point (omrpSpN – Baltic Fleet)