Spetsnaz GRU
The Spetsnaz GRU logo
Active1949–2012, 2013–present
TypeSpecial forces
Part of
GRU Headquarters76 Khoroshyovskoe shosse, Khodinka, Moscow
PatronSaint Alexander Nevsky
Motto(s)"Only the stars are above us"
(«Выше нас только звёзды»)[2]
A depiction of a Spetsnaz GRU training installation as published in Soviet Military Power, 1984

Spetsnaz GRU, formally known as Special Forces of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, (Russian: Части и подразделения специального назначения Главного управления Генерального штаба Вооружённых сил Российской Федерации) is the special forces (spetsnaz) of the GRU, the foreign military intelligence agency of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.


The Stavka began preparing special-purpose (OSNAZ) groups to serve in the GRU in 1937 - training personnel for special-purpose radio units at the engineering radio-technical department of the Budyonny Military Electro-Technical Academy in Leningrad.[3]

The Spetsnaz GRU, the first spetsnaz force in the Soviet Union, formed in 1949 as the military force of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the foreign military-intelligence agency of the Soviet Armed Forces. The force was designed in the context of the Cold War to carry out reconnaissance and sabotage against enemy targets in the form of special reconnaissance and direct-action attacks. The Spetsnaz GRU inspired additional spetsnaz forces attached to other Soviet intelligence agencies, such as Vympel (founded in 1981) and the Alpha Group (established in 1974) - both within the KGB.

Modus operandi

The concept of using special forces tactics and strategies in the Soviet Union was originally proposed by the military theorist Mikhail Svechnykov, who envisaged the development of unconventional warfare capabilities in order to overcome disadvantages that conventional forces faced in the field. Svechnykov was executed during the Great Purge in 1938, but practical implementation of his ideas was begun by Ilya Starinov, dubbed the "grandfather of the spetsnaz".[4]

Following the entrance of the Soviet Union into World War II, basic forces dedicated to acts of reconnaissance and sabotage were formed under the supervision of the Second Department of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, and were subordinate to the commanders of Fronts.[4]

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 communications logistics centers, as well as the assassination of key government leaders and military officers.[citation needed]

Spetsnaz GRU training included: weapons handling, fast rappelling, explosives training, marksmanship, counter-terrorism, airborne training, hand-to-hand combat, climbing (alpine rope techniques), diving, underwater combat, emergency medical training, and demolition.


Soviet era

The situation was reviewed after the war ended, and between 1947 and 1950 the whole of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was reorganized.[5] 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.[5]

In 1957, the first Spetsnaz battalions were formed under the GRU, 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.

Known missions

The first major foreign operation of the unit came in August 1968, when Moscow decided to crack down on the Prague Spring and move the troops of Warsaw Pact countries into Czechoslovakia. The Spetsnaz GRU was tasked with capturing the Prague Airport. On the night of 21 August, a Soviet passenger plane requested an emergency landing at Prague Airport, allegedly due to engine failure.[7][8]

After landing, the commandos, without firing a shot, seized the airport and took over air traffic control. At the same time, other Spetsnaz GRU units that had infiltrated into Prague a few days before the operation seized control of other key city points.[7][8]

An Afghanka wearing Soviet Spetsnaz team preparing for a mission at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan in 1988

In December 1979, the undercover Spetsnaz GRU unit codenamed "Muslim Battalion" participated in Operation Storm-333, the successful mission to assassinate Hafizullah Amin, the President of Afghanistan, and to capture Amin's residential palace which triggered the Soviet–Afghan War.[7][8]

Most of Spetsnaz GRU's operations remain classified even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is believed the special forces had participated in operations in more than nineteen countries around the world in Africa, Asia and South America. From time to time, the men also served as military instructors and set up training camps for Soviet-backed fighters in Vietnam and Angola.[8]

Russian Federation era

Following the deactivation of the Soviet GRU in 1992, control of the special forces was transferred to the newly formed G.U. of Russia and were maintained to their respective assigned units as before. According to Stanislav Lunev, who defected to the U.S. in 1992, the GRU also commanded some 25,000 Spetsnaz troops as of 1997.[9]

Following the 2008 Russian military reform, a brand new Directorate of Special Operations was established in 2009 following studies of American and various Western special operations forces units and commands. The newly formed Special Operations Forces which is directly subordinated to the General Staff, bypassing the GRU.[10][11] In 2013, the Directorate became the Special Operations Forces Command with a GRU unit transferring to the command.[11]

In 2010, Spetsnaz GRU units were reassigned to the military districts of the Ground Forces and was subordinate to the operational-strategic commands until 2012, due to then Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov's military reforms.[12][11] This decision was reversed in 2013 and Spetsnaz GRU units were reassigned to their original GRU divisions.[12][11]

Known operations

Throughout the mid-1990s to the 2000s, Spetsnaz GRU were involved in both the First Chechen War and more prominently in the Second Chechen War and also the Invasion of Dagestan in August 1999. The special forces learned invaluable lessons from the first war and transformed into a better and more effective fighting force and were instrumental in Russia's and the Russian backed government's success in the second war.

In 2003, during the Second Chechen War, the GRU formed the Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad, two ethnic Chechen units that belonged to the Spetsnaz GRU which fought primarily in Chechnya, and also in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War as well as peacekeeping operations after the 2006 Lebanon War.

Spetsnaz GRU maintains an airborne unit, the Separate Spetsnaz Airborne Reconnaissance Unit (codenamed No. 48427), which participated in the 2008 Georgian War.[13] The unit is housed at Matrosskaya Tishina 10 in Moscow.[13][14]

During the period of insurgency in the North Caucasus region, Spetsnaz GRU along with special forces from the FSB and MVD conducted numerous special operations and counter-terrorism operations against mainly the Caucasus Emirate, Wilayat al-Qawqaz and other smaller terrorist groups.

After the Crimean crisis, during which some units of Spetsnaz GRU were a part of the "Little green men", and the start of the rebel insurgency by pro-Russian rebels, Ukraine has on numerous occasions accused various Spetsnaz forces of aiding the rebels and even fighting on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. In December 2014, the Ukrainian military claimed that the Spetsnaz GRU was involved in attacks on an airport[15] in Donetsk which was later captured by DPR in the battle.

In late 2015, GRU special forces operators were reportedly involved in the Syrian Civil War, appearing in the government offensives of Aleppo and Homs.[16][17] GRU officials have also visited Qamishli, near the border with Turkey.[18]

Invasion of Ukraine

GRU special forces units participated in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine in various roles.[19] Spetsnaz units were sent in during the first days of the invasion as saboteurs disguised as civilians or Ukrainian military,[20] while others were sent to capture or assassinate important Ukrainian government members, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine has alleged.[21]

List of GRU special units

Below is a list of current "Spetsnaz" units in the Russian Armed Forces that fall under GRU operational control during wartime operations:[22][23][24]

Combat swimmers of the 313th PDSS conduct land operations.
A combat swimmer from the 311th PDSS in Kamchatka (2017).

The navy also fields dedicated maritime sabotage and counter-sabotage diver units which are attached to the naval infantry. These units also include combat swimmers, trained to conduct underwater combat, mining and clearance diving. The task is to protect ships and other fleet assets from enemy frogmen and special forces. The term "combat swimmers" is correct term in relation to the staff of the OSNB PDSS. Every PDSS unit has approximately 50–60 combat swimmers.[32]

There are PDSS units in all major naval bases across Russia.[32] The OMRP is composed of reconnaissance divers that fall under operational subordination to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). There are four OMRPs in Russia serving each fleet: Northern Fleet, Baltic Fleet, Black Sea Fleet and Pacific Fleet, with each consisting of 120–200 personnel.[32]

Dissolved units

Main article: Sulim Yamadayev–Ramzan Kadyrov power struggle

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

The Special Battalions Vostok and Zapad were two Spetsnaz units; Vostok headquartered at Eastern Chechnya and Zapad headquartered at Western Chechnya. It was subordinate to the GRU and responsible for carrying out mountain warfare and special operations in Chechnya. A power struggle then broke out between rival pro-Russian Chechen warlords then Head of the Chechen Republic Kadyrov and Sulim Yamadaev which led to a series of assassinations and shootouts in the ensuing years forcing the GRU to disband the controversial battalions in November 2008.

See also

Similar foreign special forces units:


  1. ^ "Spionage gegen Deutschland – Aktuelle Entwicklungen Stand: November 2008" (in German). Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz.
  2. ^ "Девизы родов войск РФ".
  3. ^ Butyrskij, Leonid; Larin, Dmitrij; Shankin, Genrikh (17 April 2023). "Special-purpose (OSNAZ) radio divisions in the years of the Great Patriotic War" Радиодивизионы особого назначения (ОСНАЗ) в годы Великой Отечественной войны. Istoriya gosudarstva (in Russian). Retrieved 19 December 2023. В довоенные годы Ставка Верховного Главнокомандующего приняла решение о создании радиодивизионов особого назначения (ОСНАЗ). Они входили в состав Главного разведывательного управления (ГРУ) Генштаба Красной Армии и во время войны вели перехват открытых и шифрованных сообщений немцев и их союзников в прифронтовой полосе, занимались пеленгацией вражеских передатчиков, создавали радиопомехи, участвовали в операциях по дезинформации противника. [...] Подготовка персонала для этих подразделений началась в 1937 г. в Ленинграде. Этим занимались на инженерном радиотехническом факультете Военной электротехнической академии связи имени С. М. Буденного.
  4. ^ a b Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.34
  5. ^ a b c Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.35
  6. ^ Carey Schofield, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Greenhill, London, 1993, p.37
  7. ^ a b c https://www.rbth.com/defence/2017/05/10/gru-alpha-vympel-russias-famous-covert-operators-759604 |date=21 Nov 2019
  8. ^ a b c d http://survincity.com/2011/03/how-did-the-russian-special-forces/ |date=21 Nov 2019
  9. ^ Lunev, Stanislav (12 September 1997). "Changes may be on the way for the Russian security services". PRISM. The Jamestown Foundation. 3 (14). Archived from the original on 25 November 2006. The GRU is Russia's largest security service. It deploys six times more officers in foreign countries than the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), which is the successor of the First Main Directorate of the KGB. Moreover, 25,000 spetsnaz troops are directly subordinated to the GRU, whereas the KGB's various successor-organizations have been deprived of their own military formations since 1991.
  10. ^ Marsh, Dr. Christopher (2017). Developments in Russian Special Operations - Russia's Spetsnaz, SOF and Special Operations Forces Command (PDF). CANSOFCOM Education & Research Centre Monograph Series. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. ISBN 9780660073538. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d Nikolsky, Alexey (2015). "Little, Green and Polite: The Creation of Russian Special Operations Forces". In Howard, Colby; Pukhov, Ruslan (eds.). Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: East View Press. ISBN 9781879944657.
  12. ^ a b McDermott, Roger (2 November 2010). "Bat or Mouse? The Strange Case of Reforming Spetsnaz". Jamestown. Jamestown.org. Retrieved 2014-08-19.
  13. ^ a b Rakuszitzky, Moritz; Romein, Daniel; Dobrokhotov, Roman (November 22, 2018). "Second GRU Officer Indicted in Montenegro Coup Unmasked". bellingcat.
  14. ^ В/Ч 48427 (in Russian). ЗАЧЕСТНЫЙБИЗНЕС. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  15. ^ "Ukraine says Russian special forces involved in attacks on airport in east". www.reuters.com. December 2014. Retrieved 25 Oct 2019.
  16. ^ Tsvetkova, Maria (November 5, 2015). "New photos suggest Russia's operation in Syria stretches well beyond its air campaign". Business Insider. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. CIT also published screenshots from the Instagram page of Ilya Gorelykh, who it said had served in Russia's GRU special forces in the past [...] In late October it showed he had uploaded pictures from Aleppo, one of which showed him holding an assault rifle while wearing civilian clothes. Another image of him posing in camouflage with three other armed men was apparently taken in Homs.
  17. ^ "Beyond the airstrikes: Russia's activities on the ground in Syria". November 8, 2015. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. We believe that Russia's operation in Syria is a "hybrid war", not unlike the one seen in Ukraine. Apart from the airstrikes, Russia provides Assad forces with surface-to-surface rocket systems, combat vehicles, equipment, advisors, artillery support and spotters. More importantly, recently there have been more and more reports of Russian soldiers, vehicles and "volunteers" being spotted close to the frontlines.
  18. ^ Agence France-Presse (January 22, 2016). "Turkey alarmed by 'Russian build-up' on Syria border". The National. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. Top Russian military officials, including figures from the GRU military intelligence service, had already visited Qamishli, it added.
  19. ^ "Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 20". Critical Threats. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  20. ^ ""Locals Shooting At Locals": Ukraine Capital Hunts Russian "Saboteurs"". NDTV.com. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  21. ^ "Russian special forces have entered Kyiv to hunt down Ukraine's leaders, says Zelensky". inews.co.uk. 2022-02-25. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
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  28. ^ 22 гв ОБрСпН — первая в Российской Гвардии
  29. ^ 22 гвардейская отдельная бригада специального назначения (22 огбрСпН ГРУ)
  30. ^ "Путин присвоил звание гвардейской 24-й бригаде спецназначения". РБК (in Russian). 30 May 2022. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
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Further reading