Russia’s Spetsnaz Special-Operations Forces Are Under Fire in Ukraine

  • Amid its struggles in Ukraine, Russia’s navy has relied closely on its most extremely educated troops.
  • The combating has taken a outsize toll on these troops, together with Russia’s famed Spetsnaz particular operators.
  • Moscow might depend on these operators much more because it renews its marketing campaign with a concentrate on japanese Ukraine.

Russian forces have struggled in Ukraine, failing to attain any of their major aims after two months of combating.

Moscow has diminished its ambitions, specializing in japanese Ukraine. It seems to be renewing its offensive, however its efficiency has already affected assessments of its navy prowess, calling into query its standing as a “close to peer” drive.

Among the many Russian items affected are the famed Spetsnaz. Throughout and after the Chilly Conflict, these particular operators achieved legendary standing within the West. Current successes in Crimea and Syria appeared so as to add to their credentials.

Alongside the remainder of the Russian navy, nonetheless, their fame is being tarnished in Ukraine.

Town of Irpin, solely miles from Kyiv, was a base Russian special-operations forces till Ukrainian forces ousted the Russians in late March. The brutal struggle for the port metropolis of Mariupol — the type of strategic goal the place Moscow has concentrated its most succesful forces — seems to have taken an outsize toll on Russia’s particular operators.

Spetsnaz: Russia’s particular operators

Russian spetsnaz special operations troops

Troops with the Russian navy’s 14th Separate Particular Objective Brigade throughout an train, February 15, 2017.

Russian Ministry of Protection/

Moscow established the Spetsnaz, its first special-operations unit, within the Fifties to conduct strategic missions.

Spetsnaz initially had a strategic function, however now each special-operations unit within the Russian navy, legislation enforcement, and emergency and safety companies are known as Spetsnaz.

Usually, navy Spetsnaz items are a light-weight infantry airborne drive that may act as shock troops. Just a few elite Spetsnaz items, corresponding to Alpha and Vympel Teams, have strategic missions, corresponding to counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and the safety of nuclear installations.

There was restricted reporting on what Russian special-operations items have achieved in Ukraine or how they’ve carried out, however their missions there might embrace particular reconnaissance, direct-action operations, and unconventional warfare.

One of many few benefits that Russia’s navy has leveraged towards Ukraine is its long-range weapons. Russia has launched greater than 1,500 ballistic and cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets.

Russian spetsnaz special operations troops

Troops of the Russian navy’s 2nd Separate Particular Objective Brigade, a Spetsnaz GRU brigade, throughout an train.

Konstantin Morozov/Russian Ministry of Protection/

Russian particular operators might infiltrate near these targets and use specialised gear to assist information the munition. Moscow’s utter disregard for collateral injury means it is probably not utilizing such concentrating on help, however that talent set might nonetheless be used if the Kremlin needs to take out the Ukrainian management with a strategic strike.

Russian special-operations forces may also be conducting direct-action operations, corresponding to raids and ambushes, in pursuit of tactical-level targets, corresponding to capturing a metropolis block.

Typically, it will be folly to make use of particular operators for typical operations, as their potential casualties would squander the time and expense used to coach them to a excessive stage, however the lack of progress might immediate Russian commanders to take action, particularly in city settings the place the close-quarters-combat coaching of Russian commandos would possibly make the distinction between profitable and shedding.

Russia may additionally use its special-operations forces for unconventional warfare and uneven operations. Russian forces have been supporting separatist forces in japanese Ukraine for years, and that effort might increase as Moscow redirects its navy marketing campaign towards that area.

Russian particular operators may additionally goal Ukrainian strategic targets, corresponding to airfields or gas and arms depots. There have already been studies of Russian naval commandos attacking a Ukrainian navy intelligence ship.

Studying from the enemy

Russian spetsnaz special operations troops

Members of the Russian navy’s twenty second Separate Guards Particular Objective Brigade throughout an train, November 24, 2017.

Russian Ministry of Protection/

Relating to special-operations forces, the Russian navy has had ample alternative to be taught from the US.

For the previous 20 years, US particular operators have been on the tip of the spear. Their capacity to conduct high-reward missions with much less navy or political danger than bigger typical items has made them a go-to choice for American policymakers.

Russia’s navy started a significant reorganization in 2008, a part of which was the formation of a devoted special-operations command group. Created in 2009, the Russian Particular Operations Forces Command is a strategic-level special-operations group tasked with the toughest, most essential missions.

“The Russians aren’t silly. They’d have seen how profitable we have been using SOF [special-operations forces] downrange through the GWOT [Global War on Terror] and have taken their notes. That is what we might do,” a retired Delta Power operator instructed Insider.

What Russian forces have realized when it comes to navy doctrine is not obvious, however open-source data confirmed “how our operations have influenced their gear and coaching,” mentioned the retired operator, talking anonymously as a result of they nonetheless work with their unit.

Russian spetsnaz special operations troops

Troops of the Russian navy’s twenty second Separate Guards Particular Objective Brigade throughout an train, November 24, 2017.

Russian Ministry of Protection/

“It is humorous as a result of typically it is onerous to tell apart between an American and Russian operator as a result of they have an inclination to each put on MultiCam [camouflage], high-cut helmets, and carry related assault loadouts. It is solely from the weapons you can actually inform the distinction,” the previous operator added.

Moscow drew on the creation of the US’s Joint Particular Operations Command, which is a part of US Particular Operations Command, as a mannequin for its new command.

Though smaller than Russia’s new command, JSOC incorporates the US navy’s particular missions items, essentially the most elite special-operations organizations that comprise the US nationwide mission strike drive.

Moscow needed to duplicate the effectiveness of the JSOC, bringing collectively its high special-operations items to facilitate higher command and management. Even Spetsnaz items from the GRU, Russia’s navy intelligence company, had been transferred to the brand new group, although they had been reassigned to the GRU in 2013.

“Individuals in SOF are typically minimize from the identical material. The coaching, mission units, and funding could be completely different — and in some circumstances worlds aside — however the individuals on the highest ranges are typically very related,” the retired operator mentioned.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a protection journalist specializing in particular operations, a Hellenic Military veteran (nationwide service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Military HQ), and a Johns Hopkins College graduate.

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