Spetsnaz. The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces
by VIKTOR SUVOROV
CHAPTER 1. SPADES AND MEN
Every infantryman in the Soviet Army carries with him a small spade. When he is given the order to halt he immediately lies flat and starts to dig a hole in the ground beside him. In three minutes he will have dug a little trench 15 centimetres deep, in which he can lie stretched out flat, so that bullets can whistle harmlessly over his head. The earth he has dug out forms a breastwork in front and at the side to act as an additional cover. If a tank drives over such a trench the soldier has a 50% chance that it will do him no harm. At any moment the soldier may be ordered to advance again and, shouting at the top of his voice, will rush ahead. If he is not ordered to advance, he digs in deeper and deeper. At first his trench can be used for firing in the lying position. Later it becomes a trench from which to fire in the kneeling position, and later still, when it is 110 centimetres deep, it can be used for firing in the standing position. The earth that has been dug out protects the soldier from bullets and fragments. He makes an embrasure in this breastwork into which he positions the barrel of his gun. In the absence of any further commands he continues to work on his trench. He camouflages it. He starts to dig a trench to connect with his comrades to the left of him. He always digs from right to left, and in a few hours the unit has a trench linking all the riflemen's trenches together. The unit's trenches are linked with the trenches of other units. Dug-outs are built and communication trenches are added at the rear. The trenches are made deeper, covered over, camouflaged and reinforced. Then, suddenly, the order to advance comes again. The soldier emerges, shouting and swearing as loudly as he can.
The infantryman uses the same spade for digging graves for his fallen comrades. If he doesn't have an axe to hand he uses the spade to chop his bread when it is frozen hard as granite. He uses it as a paddle as he floats across wide rivers on a telegraph pole under enemy fire. And when he gets the order to halt, he again builds his impregnable fortress around himself. He knows how to dig the earth efficiently. He builds his fortress exactly as it should be. The spade is not just an instrument for digging: it can also be used for measuring. It is 50 centimetres long. Two spade lengths are a metre. The blade is 15 centimetres wide and 18 centimetres long. With these measurements in mind the soldier can measure anything he wishes.
The infantry spade does not have a folding handle, and this is a very important feature. It has to be a single monolithic object. All three of its edges are as sharp as a knife. It is painted with a green matt paint so as not to reflect the strong sunlight. The spade is not only a tool and a measure. It is also a guarantee of the steadfastness of the infantry in the most difficult situations. If the infantry have a few hours to dig themselves in, it could take years to get them out of their holes and trenches, whatever modern weapons are used against them.
In this book we are not talking about the infantry but about soldiers belonging to other units, known as spetsnaz. These soldiers never dig trenches; in fact they never take up defensive positions. They either launch a sudden attack on an enemy or, if they meet with resistance or superior enemy forces, they disappear as quickly as they appeared and attack the enemy again where and when the enemy least expects them to appear.
Surprisingly, the spetsnaz soldiers also carry the little infantry spades. Why do they need them? It is practically impossible to describe in words how they use their spades. You really have to see what they do with them. In the hands of a spetsnaz soldier the spade is a terrible noiseless weapon and every member of spetsnaz gets much more training in the use of his spade then does the infantryman. The first thing he has to teach himself is precision: to split little slivers of wood with the edge of the spade or to cut off the neck of a bottle so that the bottle remains whole. He has to learn to love his spade and have faith in its accuracy. To do that he places his hand on the stump of a tree with the fingers spread out and takes a big swing at the stump with his right hand using the edge of the spade. Once he has learnt to use the spade well and truly as an axe he is taught more complicated things. The little spade can be used in hand-to-hand fighting against blows from a bayonet, a knife, a fist or another spade. A soldier armed with nothing but the spade is shut in a room without windows along with a mad dog, which makes for an interesting contest. Finally a soldier is taught to throw the spade as accurately as he would use a sword or a battle-axe. It is a wonderful weapon for throwing, a single, well-balanced object, whose 32-centimetre handle acts as a lever for throwing. As it spins in flight it gives the spade accuracy and thrust. It becomes a terrifying weapon. If it lands in a tree it is not so easy to pull out again. Far more serious is it if it hits someone's skull, although spetsnaz members usually do not aim at the enemy's face but at his back. He will rarely see the blade coming, before it lands in the back of his neck or between his shoulder blades, smashing the bones.
The spetsnaz soldier loves his spade. He has more faith in its reliability and accuracy than he has in his Kalashnikov automatic. An interesting psychological detail has been observed in the kind of hand-to-hand confrontations which are the stock in trade of spetsnaz. If a soldier fires at an enemy armed with an automatic, the enemy also shoots at him. But if he doesn't fire at the enemy but throws a spade at him instead, the enemy simply drops his gun and jumps to one side.
This is a book about people who throw spades and about soldiers who work with spades more surely and more accurately than they do with spoons at a table. They do, of course, have other weapons besides their spades.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
CHAPTER 2. SPETSNAZ AND GRU
It is impossible to translate the Russian word razvedka precisely into any foreign language. It is usually rendered as `reconnaissance' or `spying' or `intelligence gathering'. A fuller explanation of the word is that it describes any means and any actions aimed at obtaining information about an enemy, analysing it and understanding it properly.
Every Soviet military headquarters has its own machinery for gathering and analysing information about the enemy. The information thus collected and analysed about the enemy is passed on to other headquarters, higher up, lower down and on the same level, and each headquarters in turn receives information about the enemy not only from its own sources but also from the other headquarters.
If some military unit should be defeated in battle through its ignorance of the enemy, the commanding officer and his chief of staff have no right to blame the fact that they were not well enough informed about the enemy. The most important task for every commander and chief of staff is that, without waiting for information to arrive from elsewhere, they must organise their own sources of information about the enemy and warn their own forces and their superior headquarters of any danger that is threatened.
Spetsnaz is one of the forms of Soviet military razvedka which occupies a place somewhere between reconnaissance and intelligence. It is the name given to the shock troops of razvedka in which there are combined elements of espionage, terrorism and large-scale partisan operations. In personal terms, this covers a very diverse range of people: secret agents recruited by Soviet military razvedka among foreigners for carrying out espionage and terrorist operations; professional units composed of the country's best sportsmen; and units made up of ordinary but carefully selected and well trained soldiers. The higher the level of a given headquarters is, the more spetsnaz units it has at its disposal and the more professionals there are among the spetsnaz troops.
The term spetsnaz is a composite word made up from spetsialnoye nazhacheniye, meaning `special purpose'. The name is well chosen. Spetsnaz differs from other forms of razvedka in that it not only seeks and finds important enemy targets, but in the majority of cases attacks and destroys them. Spetsnaz has a long history, in which there have been periods of success and periods of decline. After the Second World War spetsnaz was in the doldrums, but from the mid-1950s a new era in the history of the organisation began with the West's new deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. This development created for the Soviet Army, which had always prepared itself, and still does, only for `liberation' wars on foreign territory, a practically insuperable barrier. Soviet strategy could continue along the same lines only if the means could be found to remove Western tactical nuclear weapons from the path of the Soviet troops, without at the same time turning the enemy's territory into a nuclear desert.
The destruction of the tactical nuclear weapons which render Soviet aggression impossible or pointless could be carried out only if the whereabouts of all, or at least the majority, of the enemy's tactical nuclear weapons were established. But this in itself presented a tremendous problem. It is very easy to conceal tactical missiles, aircraft and nuclear artillery and, instead of deploying real missiles and guns, the enemy can deploy dummies, thus diverting the attention of Soviet razvedka and protecting the real tactical nuclear weapons under cover.
The Soviet high command therefore had to devise the sort of means of detection that could approach very close to the enemy's weapons and in each case provide a precise answer to the question of whether they were real, or just well produced dummies. But even if a tremendous number of nuclear batteries were discovered in good time, that did not solve the problem. In the time it takes for the transmission of the reports from the reconnaissance units to the headquarters, for the analysis of the information obtained and the preparation of the appropriate command for action, the battery can have changed position several times. So forces had to be created that would be able to seek out, find and destroy immediately the nuclear weapons discovered in the course of war or immediately before its outbreak. Spetsnaz was, and is, precisely such an instrument, permitting commanding officers at army level and higher to establish independently the whereabouts of the enemy's most dangerous weapons and to destroy them on the spot. Is it possible for spetsnaz to pinpoint and destroy every single one of the enemy's nuclear weapons? Of course not. So what is the solution to this problem? It is very simple.
Spetsnaz has to make every effort to find and destroy the enemy's nuclear armament. Nuclear strength represents the teeth of the state and it has to be knocked out with the first blow, possibly even before the fighting begins. But if it proves impossible to knock out all the teeth with the first blow, then a blow has to be struck not just at the teeth but at the brain and nervous system of the state. When we speak of the `brain' we mean the country's most important statesmen and politicians. In this context the leaders of the opposition parties are regarded as equally important candidates for destruction as the leaders of the party in power. The opposition is simply the state's reserve brain, and it would be silly to destroy the main decision-making system without putting the reserve system out of action. By the same token we mean, for example, the principal military leaders and police chiefs, the heads of the Church and trade unions and in general all the people who might at a critical moment appeal to the nation and who are well known to the nation.
By the `nervous system' of the state we mean the principal centres and lines of government and military communications, and the commercial communications companies, including the main radio stations and television studios.
It would hardly be possible, of course, to destroy the brain, the nervous system and the teeth at once, but a simultaneous blow at all three of the most important organs could, in the opinion of the Soviet leaders, substantially reduce a nation's capacity for action in the event of war, especially at its initial and most critical stage. Some missiles will be destroyed and others will not be fired because there will be nobody to give the appropriate command or because the command will not be passed on in time due to the breakdown of communications.
Having within its sphere an organisation like spetsnaz, and having tested its potential on numerous exercises, the Soviet high command came to the conclusion that spetsnaz could be used with success not only against tactical but also against strategic nuclear installations: submarine bases, weapon stockpiles, aircraft bases and missile launching sites.
Spetsnaz could be used too, they realised, against the heart and blood supply of the state: ie. its source and distribution of energy -- power stations, transformer stations and power lines, as well as oil and gas pipelines and storage points, pumping station and oil refineries. Putting even a few of the enemy's more important power stations out of action could present him with a catastrophic situation. Not only would there be no light: factories would be brought to a standstill, lifts would cease to work, the refrigeration installations would be useless, hospitals would find it almost impossible to function, blood stored in refrigerators would begin to coagulate, traffic lights, petrol pumps and trains would come to a halt, computers would cease to operate.
Even this short list must lead to the conclusion that Soviet military razvedka (the GRU) and its integral spetsnaz is something more than the `eyes and ears of the Soviet Army'. As a special branch of the GRU spetsnaz is intended primarily for action in time of war and in the very last days and hours before it breaks out. But spetsnaz is not idle in peacetime either. I am sometimes asked: if we are talking about terrorism on such a scale, we must be talking about the KGB. Not so. There are three good reasons why spetsnaz is a part of the GRU and not of the KGB.
The first is that if the GRU and spetsnaz were to be removed from the Soviet Army and handed over to the KGB, it would be equivalent to blindfolding a strong man, while plugging his ears and depriving him of some other important organs, and making him fight with the information he needs for fighting provided by another person standing beside him and telling him the moves. The Soviet leaders have tried on more than one occasion to do this and it has always ended in catastrophe. The information provided by the secret police was always imprecise, late and insufficient, and the actions of a blind giant, predictably, were neither accurate or effective.
Secondly, if the functions of the GRU and spetsnaz were to be handed over to the KGB, then in the event of a catastrophe (inevitable in such a situation) any Soviet commanding officer or chief of staff could say that he had not had sufficient information about the enemy, that for example a vital aerodrome and a missile battery nearby had not been destroyed by the KGB's forces. These would be perfectly justified complaints, although it is in any case impossible to destroy every aerodrome, every missile battery and every command post because the supply of information in the course of battle is always insufficient. Any commanding officer who receives information about the enemy can think of a million supplementary questions to which there is no answer. There is only one way out of the situation, and that is to make every commanding officer responsible for gathering his own information about the enemy and to provide him with all the means for defeating his own enemy. Then, if the information is insufficient or some targets have not been destroyed, only he and his chief of staff are to blame. They must themselves organise the collection and interpretation of information about the enemy, so as to have, if not all the information, at least the most essential information at the right time. They must organise the operation of their forces so as to destroy the most important obstacles which the enemy has put in the way of their advance. This is the only way to ensure victory. The Soviet political leadership, the KGB and the military leaders have all had every opportunity to convince themselves that there is no other.
Thirdly, the Soviet secret police, the KGB, carries out different functions and has other priorities. It has its own terrorist apparatus, which includes an organisation very similar to spetsnaz, known as osnaz. The KGB uses osnaz for carrying out a range of tasks not dissimilar in many cases to those performed by the GRU's spetsnaz. But the Soviet leaders consider that it is best not to have any monopolies in the field of secret warfare. Competition, they feel, gives far better results than ration.
Osnaz is not a subject I propose to deal with in this book. Only a KGB officer directly connected with osnaz could describe what it is. My knowledge is very limited. But just as a book about Stalin would not be complete without some reference to Hitler, osnaz should not be overlooked here. The term osnaz is usually met only in secret documents. In unclassified documents the term is written out in full as osobogo nazhacheniya or else reduced to the two letters `ON'. In cases where a longer title is abbreviated the letters ON are run together with the preceding letters. For example, DON means `division of osnaz', OON means a `detachment of osnaz". The two words osoby and spetsialny are close in meaning but quite different words. In translation it is difficult to find a precise equivalent for these two words, which is why it is easier to use the terms osnaz and spetsnaz without translating them. Osnaz apparently came into being practically at the same time as the Communist dictatorship. In the very first moments of the existence of the Soviet regime we find references to detachments osobogo nazhacheniya -- special purpose detachments. Osnaz means military-terrorist units which came into being as shock troops of the Communist Party whose job was to defend the party. Osnaz was later handed over to the secret police, which changed its own name from time to time as easily as a snake changes its skin: Cheka -- VCheka -- OGPU -- NKVD -- NKGB -- MGB -- MVD -- KGB. Once a snake, however, always a snake.
It is the fact the spetsnaz belongs to the army, and osnaz to the secret police, that accounts for all the differences between them. Spetsnaz operates mainly against external enemies; osnaz does the same but mainly in its own territory and against its own citizens. Even if both spetsnaz and osnaz are faced with carrying out one and the same operation the Soviet leadership is not inclined to rely so much on co-operation between the army and the secret police as on the strong competitive instincts between them.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
CHAPTER 3. A HISTORY OF SPETSNAZ.
In order to grasp the history behind spetsnaz it is useful to cast our
minds back to the British Parliament in the time of Henry VIII. In 1516 a
Member of the Parliament, Thomas More, published an excellent book entitled
Utopia. In it he showed, simply and persuasively, that it was very easy to
create a society in which universal justice reigned, but that the
consequences of doing so would be terrible. More describes a society in
which there is no private property and in which everything is controlled by
the state. The state of Utopia is completely isolated from the outside
world, as completely as the bureaucratic class rules the population. The
supreme ruler is installed for his lifetime. The country itself, once a
peninsula, has after monumental efforts on the part of the population and
the army to build a deep canal dividing it from the rest of the world,
become an island. Slavery has been introduced, but the rest of the
population live no better than slaves. People do not have their own homes,
with the result that anybody can at any time go into any home he wishes, a
system which is worse even than the regulations in the Soviet Army today, in
which the barracks of each company are open only to soldiers of that
In fact the system in Utopia begins to look more like that in a Soviet
concentration camp. In Utopia, of course, it is laid down when people are to
rise (at four o'clock in the morning), when they are to go to bed and how
many minutes' rest they may have. Every day starts with public lectures.
People must travel on a group passport, signed by the Mayor, and if they are
caught without a passport outside their own district they are severely
punished as deserters. Everybody keeps a close watch on his neighbour:
`Everyone has his eye on you.'
With fine English humour Thomas More describes the ways in which Utopia
wages war. The whole population of Utopia, men and women, are trained to
fight. Utopia wages only just wars in self-defence and, of course, for the
liberation of other peoples. The people of Utopia consider it their right
and their duty to establish a similarly just regime in neighbouring
countries. Many of the surrounding countries have already been liberated and
are now ruled, not by local leaders, but by administators from Utopia. The
liberation of the other peoples is carried out in the name of humanism. But
Thomas More does not explain to us what this `humanism' is. Utopia's allies,
in receipt of military aid from her, turn the populations of the
neighbouring states into slaves.
Utopia provokes conflicts and contradictions in the countries which
have not yet been liberated. If someone in such a country speaks out in
favour of capitulating to Utopia he can expect a big reward later. But
anyone who calls upon the people to fight Utopia can expect only slavery or
death, with his property split up and distributed to those who capitulate
On the outbreak of war Utopia's agents in the enemy country post up in
prominent places announcements concerning the reward to be paid to anyone
killing the king. It is a tremendous sum of money. There is also a list of
other people for whose murder large sums of money will be paid.
The direct result of these measures is that universal suspicion reigns
in the enemy country.
Thomas More describes only one of the strategems employed, but it is
the most important:
When the battle is at its height a group of specially selected young
men, who have sworn to stick together, try to knock out the enemy general.
They keep hammering away at him by every possible method -- frontal attacks,
ambushes, long-range archery, hand-to-hand combat. They bear down on him in
a long, unbroken wedge-formation, the point of which is constantly renewed
as tired men are replaced by fresh ones. As a result the general is nearly
always killed or taken prisoner -- unless he saves his skin by running away.
It is the groups of `specially selected young men' that I want to
discuss in this book.
Four hundred years after the appearance of Utopia the frightful
predictions of that wise Englishman became a reality in Russia. A successful
attempt was made to create a society of universal justice. I had read Thomas
More's frightening forecasts when I was still a child and I was amazed at
the staggering realism with which Utopia was described and how strikingly
similar it was to the Soviet Union: a place where all the towns looked like
each other, people knew nothing about what was happening abroad or about
fashion in clothes (everybody being dressed more or less the same), and so
forth. More even described the situation of people `who think differently'.
In Utopia, he said, `It is illegal for any such person to argue in defence
of his beliefs.'
The Soviet Union is actually a very mild version of Utopia -- a sort of
`Utopia with a human face'. A person can travel in the Soviet Union without
having an internal passport, and Soviet bureaucrats do not yet have such
power over the family as their Utopia counterparts who added up the number
of men and women in each household and, if they exceeded the number
permitted, simply transferred the superfluous members to another house or
even another town where there was a shortage of them.
The Communists genuinely have a great deal left to do before they bring
society down to the level of Utopia. But much has already been done,
especially in the military sphere, and in particular in the creation of
`specially selected groups of young men'.
It is interesting to note that such groups were formed even before the
Red Army existed, before the Red Guard, and even before the Revolution. The
origins of spetsnaz are to be found in the revolutionary terrorism of the
nineteenth century, when numerous groups of young people were ready to
commit murder, or possibly suicide, in the cause of creating a society in
which everything would be divided equally between everybody. As they went
about murdering others or getting killed themselves they failed to
understand one simple truth: that in order to create a just society you had
to create a control mechanism. The juster the society one wants to build the
more complete must be the control over production and consumption.
Many of the first leaders of the Red Army had been terrorists in the
past, before the Revolution. For example, one of the outstanding organisers
of the Red Army, Mikhail Frunze, after whom the principal Soviet military
academy is named, had twice been sentenced to death before the Revolution.
At the time it was by no means easy to get two death sentences. For
organising a party which aimed at the overthrow of the existing regime by
force, Lenin received only three years of deportation in which he lived well
and comfortably and spent his time shooting, fishing and openly preaching
revolution. And the woman terrorist Vera Zasulich, who murdered a provincial
governor was acquitted by a Russian court. The court was independent of the
state and reckoned that, if she had killed for political reasons, it meant
that she had been prompted by her conscience and her beliefs and that her
acts could not be regarded as a crime. In this climate Mikhail Frunze had
managed to receive two death sentences. Neither of them was carried out,
naturally. On both occasions the sentence was commuted to deportation, from
which he had no great difficulty in escaping. It was while he was in exile
that Frunze organised a circle of like-minded people which was called the
`Military Academy': a real school for terrorists, which drew up the first
strategy to be followed up by armed detachments of Communists in the event
of an uprising.
The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks demonstrated, primarily to the
revolutionaries themselves, that it was possible to neutralise a vast
country and then to bring it under control simply and quickly. What was
needed were `groups of specially selected young men' capable of putting out
of action the government, the postal services, the telegraph and telephone,
and the railway terminals and bridges in the capital. Paralysis at the
centre meant that counteraction on the outskirts was split up. Outlying
areas could be dealt with later one at a time.
Frunze was undoubtedly a brilliant theoretician and practician of the
art of war, including partisan warfare and terrorism. During the Civil War
he commanded an army and a number of fronts. After Trotsky's dismissal he
took over as People's Commissar for military and naval affairs. During the
war he reorganised the large but badly led partisan formations into regular
divisions and armies which were subordinated to the strict centralised
administration. At the same time, while commanding those formations, he kept
sending relatively small but very reliable mobile units to fight in the
The Civil War was fought over vast areas, a war of movement without a
continuous stable front and with an enormous number of all sorts of armies,
groups, independent detachments and bands. It was a partisan war in spirit
and in content. Armies developed out of small, scattered detachments, and
whenever they were defeated they were able to disintegrate into a large
number of independent units which carried on the war on a partisan scale.
But we are not concerned here with the partisan war as a whole, only
with the fighting units of the regular Red Army specially created for
operating in the enemy's rear. Such units existed on various fronts and
armies. They were not known as spetsnaz, but this did not alter their
essential nature, and it was not just Frunze who appreciated the importance
of being able to use regular units in the rear of the enemy. Trotsky,
Stalin, Voroshilov, Tukhachevsky, inter alia, supported the strategy and
made extensive use of it.
Revolutionary war against the capitalist powers started immediately
after the Bolsheviks seized power. As the Red Army `liberated' fresh
territory and arrived at the frontiers with other countries the amount of
subversion directed against them increased. The end of the Civil War did not
mean the end of the secret war being waged by the Communists against their
neighbours. On the contrary, it was stepped up, because, once the Civil War
war was over, forces were released for other kinds of warfare.
Germany was the first target for revolution. It is interesting to
recall that, as early as December 1917, a Communist newspaper Die Fackel,
was being published in Petrograd with a circulation of 500,000 copies. In
January 1918 a Communist group called `Spartak' emerged in the same place.
In April 1918 another newspaper Die Weltrevolution, began to appear. And
finally, in August 1919, the famous paper of the German Communists, Die Rote
Fahne, was founded in Moscow.
At the same time as the first Communist groups appeared, steps were
taken to train terrorist fighting units of German Communists. These units
were used for suppressing the anti-Communist resistance put up by Russian
and Ukrainian peasants. Then, in 1920, all the units of German Communists
were gathered together in the rear of the Red Army on the Western front.
That was when the Red Army was preparing for a breakthrough across Poland
and into Germany. The Red Army's official marching song, `Budenny's March',
included these words: `We're taking Warsaw -- Take Berlin too!'
In that year the Bolsheviks did not succeed in organising revolution in
Germany or even in `liberating' Poland. At the time Soviet Russia was
devastated by the First World War and by the far more terrible Civil War.
Famine, typhus and destruction raged across the country. But in 1923 another
attempt was made to provoke a revolution in Germany. Trotsky himself
demanded in September 1923 to be relieved of all his Party and Government
posts and to be sent as an ordinary soldier to the barricades of the German
Revolution. The party did not send Trotsky there, but sent other Soviet
Communist leaders, among them, Iosef Unshlikht. At the time he was deputy
chairman of the Cheka secret police. Now he was appointed deputy head of the
`registration administration', now known as the GRU or military
intelligence, and it was in this position that he was sent illegally to
Germany. `Unshlikht was given the task of organising the detachments which
were to carry out the armed uprising and coup d'état, recruiting them and
providing them with weapons. He also had the job of organising a German
Cheka for the extermination of the bourgeoisie and opponents of the
Revolution after the transfer of power.... This was how the planned
Revolution was planned to take place. On the occasion of the anniversary of
the Russian October Revolution the working masses were to come out on the
streets for mass demonstrations. Unshlikht's "Red hundreds" were to provoke
clashes with the police so as to cause bloodshed and more serious conflicts,
to inflame the workers' indignation and carry out a general working-class
1 B. Bazhanov: `Memoirs of a Secretary to Stalin', pub. Tretya volna
1980, pp 67-69.
In view of the instability of German Society at that time, the absence
of a powerful army, the widespread discontent and the frequent outbursts of
violence, especially in 1923, the plan might have been realised. Many
experts are inclined to the view that Germany really was close to
revolution. Soviet military intelligence and its terrorist units led by
Unshlikht were expected to do no more than put the spark to the powder keg.
There were many reasons why the plans came to nothing. But there were
two especially important ones: the absence of a common frontier between the
USSR and Germany, and the split in the German Communist Party. The lack of a
common frontier was at the time a serious obstacle to the penetration into
Germany of substantial forces of Soviet subversives. Stalin understood this
very well, and he was always fighting to have Poland crushed so that common
frontiers could be established with Germany. When he succeeded in doing this
in 1939, it was a risky step, since a common frontier with Germany meant
that Germany could attack the USSR without warning, as indeed happened two
years later. But without a common frontier Stalin could not get into Europe.
The split in the German Communist Party was an equally serious
hindrance to the carrying out of Soviet plans. One group pursued policy,
subservient to the Comintern and consequently to the Soviet Politburo, while
the other pursued an antagonistic one. Zinoviev was `extremely displeased by
this and he raised the question in the Politburo of presenting Maslov one of
the dissenting German Communist leaders with an ultimatum: either he would
take a large sum of money, leave the party and get out of Germany, or
Unshlikht would be given orders to liquidate him.'2
2 Ibid. p. 68
At the same time as preparations were being made for revolution in
Germany preparations were also going ahead for revolutions in other
countries. For example, in September 1923, groups of terrorists trained in
the USSR (of both Bulgarian and Soviet nationality) started causing
disturbances in Bulgaria which could very well have developed into a state
of general chaos and bloodletting. But the `revolution' was suppressed and
its ringleaders escaped to the Soviet Union. Eighteen months later, in April
1925, the attempt was repeated. This time unknown persons caused a
tremendous explosion in the main cathedral in Sofia in the hope of killing
the king and the whole government. Boris III had a miraculous escape, but
attempts to destabilise Bulgaria by acts of terrorism continued until 1944,
when the Red Army at last entered Bulgaria. Another miracle then seemed to
take place, because from that moment on nobody has tried to shoot the
Bulgarian rulers and no one has let off any bombs. The terror did continue,
but it was aimed at the population of the country as a whole rather than the
rulers. And then Bulgarian terrorism spread beyond the frontiers of the
country and appeared on the streets of Western Europe.
The campaign of terrorism against Finland is closely linked with the
name of the Finnish Communist Otto Kuusinen who was one of the leaders of
the Communist revolt in Finland in 1918. After the defeat of the
`revolution' he escaped to Moscow and later returned to Finland for
underground work. In 1921 he again fled to Moscow to save himself from
arrest. From that moment Kuusinen's career was closely linked with Soviet
military intelligence officers. Kuusinen had an official post and did the
same work: preparing for the overthrow of democracy in Finland and other
countries. In his secret career Kuusinen had some notable successes. In the
mid-1930s he rose to be deputy head of Razvedupr as the GRU was known then.
Under Kuusinen's direction an effective espionage network was organised in
the Scandinavian countries, and at the same time he directed the training of
military units which were to carry out acts of terrorism in those countries.
As early as the summer of 1918 an officer school was founded in Petrograd to
train men for the `Red Army of Finland'. This school later trained officers
for other `Red Armies' and became the International Military School -- an
institute of higher education for terrorists.
After the Civil War was over Kuusinen insisted on carrying on
underground warfare on Finnish territory and keeping the best units of
Finnish Communists in existence. In 1939, after the Red Army invaded
Finland, he proclaimed himself `prime minister and minister of foreign
affairs' of the `Finnish Democratic Republic'. The `government' included
Mauri Rosenberg (from the GRU) as `deputy prime minister', Axel Antila as
`minister of defence' and the NKVD interrogator Tuure Lekhen as `minister of
internal affairs'. But the Finnish people put up such resistance that the
Kuusinen government's bid to turn Finland into a `people's republic' was a
(A curious fact of history must be mentioned here. When the Finnish
Communists formed their government on Soviet territory and started a war
against their own country, voluntary formations of Russians were formed in
Finland which went into battle against both the Soviet and the Finnish
Communists. A notable member of these genuinely voluntary units was Boris
Bazhanov, formerly Stalin's personal secretary, who had fled to the West.)
Otto Kuusinen's unsuccessful attempt to become the ruler of Communist
Finland did not bring his career to an end. He continued it with success,
first in the GRU and later in the Department of Administrative Organs of the
Central Committee of the CPSU -- the body that supervises all the espionage
and terrorist institutions in the Soviet Union, as well as the prisons,
concentration camps, courts and so forth. From 1957 until his death in 1964
Kuusinen was one of the most powerful leaders in the Soviet Union, serving
simultaneously as a member of the Politburo and a Secretary of the Central
Committee of the Party. In the Khodynki district of Moscow, where the GRU
has its headquarters, one of the bigger streets is called Otto Kuusinen
In the course of the Civil War and after it, Polish units, too, were
formed and went into action on Soviet territory. One example was the 1st
Revolutionary Regiment, `Red Warsaw', which was used for putting down
anti-Communist revolts in Moscow, Tambov and Yaroslav. For suppressing
anti-Communist revolts by the Russian population the Communists used a
Yugoslav regiment, a Czechoslovak regiment, and many other formations,
including Hungarians, Rumanians, Austrians and others. After the Civil War
all these formations provided a base for the recruitment of spies and for
setting up subversive combat detachments for operating on the territory of
capitalist states. For example, a group of Hungarian Communist terrorists
led by Ferenc Kryug, fought against Russian peasants in the Civil War; in
the Second World War Kryug led a special purpose group operating in Hungary.
Apart from the `internationalist' fighters, i.e. people of foreign
extraction, detachments were organised in the Soviet Union for operating
abroad which were composed entirely, or very largely, of Soviet citizens. A
bitter battle was fought between the army commanders and the secret police
for control of these detachments.
On 2 August 1930 a small detachment of commando troops was dropped in
the region of Voronezh and was supposed during the manoeuvres to carry out
operations in the rear of the `enemy'. Officially this is the date when
Soviet airborne troops came into being. But it is also the date when
spetsnaz was born. Airborne troops and spetsnaz troops subsequently went
through a parallel development. At certain points in its history spetsnaz
passed out of the control of military intelligence into the hands of the
airborne forces, at others the airborne troops exercised administrative
control while military intelligence had operational control. But in the end
it was reckoned to be more expedient to hand spetsnaz over entirely to
military intelligence. The progress of spetsnaz over the following thirty
years cannot be studied in isolation from the development of the airborne
1930 marked the beginning of a serious preoccupation with parachute
troops in the USSR. In 1931 separate detachments of parachutists were made
into battalions and a little later into regiments. In 1933 an osnaz brigade
was formed in the Leningrad military district. It included a battalion of
parachutists, a battalion of mechanised infantry, a battalion of artillery
and three squadrons of aircraft. However, it turned out to be of little use
to the Army, because it was not only too large and too awkward to manage,
but also under the authority of the NKVD rather than the GRU. After a long
dispute this brigade and several others created on the same pattern were
reorganised into airborne brigades and handed over entirely to the Army.
To begin with, the airborne forces or VDV consisted of transport
aircraft, airborne regiments and brigades, squadrons of heavy bombers and
separate reconnaissance units. It is these reconnaissance units that are of
interest to us. How many there were of them and how many men they included
is not known. There is fragmentary information about their tactics and
training. But it is known, for example, that one of the training schools was
situated in Kiev. It was a secret school and operated under the disguise of
a parachute club, while being completely under the control of the Razvedupr
(GRU). It included a lot of women. In the course of the numerous manoeuvres
that were held, the reconnaissance units were dropped in the rear of the
`enemy' and made attacks on his command points, headquarters, centres and
lines of communications. It is known that terrorist techniques were already
well advanced. For example, a mine had been developed for blowing up railway
bridges as trains passed over them. However, bridges are always especially
well guarded, so the experts of the Razvedupr and the Engineering
Directorate of the Red Army produced a mine that could be laid on the tracks
several kilometres away from the bridge. A passing train would pick up the
mine which would detonate at the very moment when the train was on the
To give some idea of the scale of the VDV, on manoeuvres in 1934 900
men were dropped simultaneously by parachute. At the famous Kiev manoeuvres
in 1935 no less than 1188 airborne troops were dropped at once, followed by
a normal landing of 1765 men with light tanks, armoured cars and artillery.
In Belorussia in 1936 there was an air drop of 1800 troops and a landing of
5700 men with heavy weapons. In the Moscow military district in the same
year the whole of the 84th rifle division was transferred from one place to
another by air. Large-scale and well armed airborne attacks were always
accompanied by the dropping in neighbouring districts of commando units
which operated both in the interests of the security of the major force and
in the interests of Razvedupr.
In 1938 the Soviet Union had six airborne brigades with a total of
18,000 men. This figure is, however, deceptive, since the strength of the
`separate reconnaissance units' is not known, nor are they included in that
figure. Parachutists were also not trained by the Red Army alone but by
`civilian' clubs. In 1934 these clubs had 400 parachute towers from which
members made up to half a million jumps, adding to their experience by jumps
from planes and balloons. Many Western experts reckon that the Soviet Union
entered the Second World War with a million trained parachutists, who could
be used both as airborne troops and in special units -- in the language of
today, in spetsnaz.
A continual, hotly contested struggle was going on in the General Staff
of the Red Army. On what territory were the special detachments to operate
-- on the enemy's territory, or on Soviet territory when it was occupied by
For a long time the two policies existed side by side. Detachments were
trained to operate both on home territory and enemy territory as part of the
preparations to meet the enemy in the Western regions of the Soviet Union.
These were carried out very seriously. First of all large partisan units
were formed, made up of carefully screened and selected soldiers. The
partisans went on living in the towns and villages, but went through their
regular military training and were ready at any moment to take off into the
forests. The units were only the basis upon which to develop much
larger-scale partisan warfare. In peacetime they were made up largely of
leaders and specialists; in the course of the fighting each unit was
expected to expand into a huge formation consisting of several thousand men.
For these formations hiding places were prepared in secluded locations and
stocked with weapons, ammunition, means of communications and other
Apart from the partisans who were to take to the forests a vast network
of reconnaissance and commando troops was prepared. The local inhabitants
were trained to carry out reconnaissance and terrorist operations and, if
the enemy arrived, they were supposed to remain in place and pretend to
submit to the enemy, and even work for him. These networks were supposed
later to organise a fierce campaign of terror inside the enemy garrisons. To
make it easier for the partisans and the terrorists to operate, secret
communication networks and supplies were set up in peacetime, along with
secret meeting places, underground hospitals, command posts and even arms
To make it easier for the partisans to operate on their own territory a
`destruction zone' was created, also known as a `death strip'. This was a
strip running the length of the Western frontiers of the Soviet Union
between 100 and 250 kilometres wide. Within that strip all bridges, railway
depots, tunnels, water storage tanks and electric power stations were
prepared for destruction by explosive. Also in peacetime major embankments
on railway lines and highways and cuttings through which the roads passed
were made ready for blowing up. Means of communication, telephone lines,
even the permanent way, all were prepared for destruction.
Immediately behind the `death strip' came the `Stalin Line' of
exceptionally well fortified defences. The General Staff's idea was that the
enemy should be exhausted in the `death strip' on the vast minefields and
huge obstacles and then get stuck on the line of fortifications. At the same
time the partisans would be constantly attacking him in the rear.
It was a magnificent defence system. Bearing in mind the vast
territories involved and the poor network of roads, such a system could well
have made the whole of Soviet territory practically impassable for an enemy.
But -- in 1939 the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was signed.
The Pact was the signal for a tremendous expansion of Soviet military
strength. Everything connected with defence was destroyed, while everything
connected with offensive actions was expanded at a great rate, particularly
Soviet sabotage troops and the airborne troops connected with them. In April
1941 five airborne corps were formed. All five were in the first strategic
echelon of the Red Army, three facing Germany and two facing Rumania. The
latter were more dangerous for Germany than the other three, because the
dropping of even one airborne corps in Rumania and the cutting off, even
temporarily, of supplies of oil to Germany meant the end of the war for the
Five airborne corps in 1941 was more than there were in all the other
countries of the world together. But this was not enough for Stalin. There
was a plan to create another five airborne corps, and the plan was carried
out in August and September 1941. But in a defensive war Stalin did not, of
course, need either the first five or the second five. Any discussion of
Stalin's `defence plans' must first of all explain how five airborne corps,
let alone ten, could be used in a defensive war.
In a war on one's own territory it is far easier during a temporary
retreat to leave partisan forces or even complete fighting formations hidden
on the ground than it is to drop them in later by parachute. But Stalin had
destroyed such formations, from which one can draw only one conclusion;
Stalin had prepared the airborne corps specifically for dropping on other
At the same time as the rapid expansion of the airborne forces there
was an equally rapid growth of the special reconnaissance units intended for
operations on enemy territory.
The great British strategist and historian B. H. Liddell Hart, dealing
with this period, speaks of Hitler's fears concerning Stalin's intentions,
referring to `a fatal attack in the back from Russia'.3 And moves by the
Soviet Union in June 1940 did evoke particular nervousness in the German
high command. Germany had thrown all her forces against France at that time,
and the Soviet Union rushed troops into the Baltic states and Bessarabia.
The airborne troops especially distinguished themselves. In June 1940 the
214th Soviet airborne brigade was dropped with the idea of seizing a group
of aerodromes in the region of Shaulyai in Lithuania, under a hundred
kilometres from the East Prussian border. In the same month the 201st and
204th airborne brigades were dropped in Bessarabia to capture the towns of
Ismail and Belgrad-Dnestrovsky. This was close by the Ploesti oilfields.
What would Stalin do if the German Army advanced further into North Africa
and the British Isles?
3 Strategy. The Indirect Approach, p.241.
It is easy to understand why Hitler took the decision in that next
month, July 1940, to prepare for war against the USSR. It was quite
impossible for him to move off the continent of Europe and into the British
Isles or Africa, leaving Stalin with his huge army and terrifying airborne
forces which were of no use to him for anything but a large-scale offensive.
Hitler guessed rightly what Stalin's plans were, as is apparent from
his letter to Mussolini of 21 June 1941.4 Can we believe Hitler? In this
case we probably can. The letter was not intended for publication and was
never published in Hitler's lifetime. It is interesting in that it repeats
the thought that Stalin had voiced at a secret meeting of the Central
Committee. Moreover, in his speech at the 18th Congress of the Soviet
Communist Party Stalin had had this to say about Britain and France; In
their policy of nonintervention can be detected an attempt and a desire not
to prevent the aggressors from doing their dirty work... not to prevent, let
us say, Germany getting bogged down in European affairs and involved in a
war... to let all the participants in the war get stuck deep in the mud of
battle, to encourage them to do this on the quiet, to let them weaken and
exhaust each other, and then, when they are sufficiently weakened, to enter
the arena with fresh forces, acting of course "in the interests of peace",
and to dictate their own conditions to the crippled participants in the
war.'5 Once again, he was attributing to others motives which impelled him
in his ambitions. Stalin wanted Europe to exhaust itself. And Hitler
understood that. But he understood too late. He should have understood
before the Pact was signed.
4 `I cannot take responsibility for the waiting any longer, because I
cannot see any way that the danger will disappear.... The concentration of
Soviet force is enormous.... All available Soviet armed forces are now on
our border.... It is quite possible that Russia will try to destroy the
5 Pravda, 11 March 1939.
However, Hitler still managed to upset Stalin's plans by starting the
war first. The huge Soviet forces intended for the `liberation' of Russia's
neighbours were quite unnecessary in the war of defence against Germany. The
airborne corps were used as ordinary infantry against the advancing German
tanks. The many units and groups of airborne troops and commandos were
forced to retreat or to dig trenches to halt the advancing German troops.
The airborne troops trained for operations in the territory of foreign
countries were able to be used in the enemy's rear, but not in his territory
so much as in Soviet territory occupied by the German army.
The reshaping of the whole philosophy of the Red Army, which had been
taught to conduct an offensive war on other people's territory, was very
painful but relatively short. Six months later the Red Army had learnt to
defend itself and in another year it had gone over to offensive operations.
From that moment everything fell into place and the Red Army, created only
for offensive operations, became once again victorious.
The process of reorganising the armed forces for operations on its own
territory affected all branches of the services, including the special
forces. At the beginning of 1942 thirteen guards battalions6 of spetsnaz
were organised in the Red Army for operations in the enemy's rear, as well
as one guards engineering brigade of spetsnaz, consisting of five
battalions. The number of separate battalions corresponded exactly to the
number of fighting fronts. Each front received one such battalion under its
command. A guards brigade of spetsnaz remained at the disposal of the
Supreme Commander-in-Chief, to be used only with Stalin's personal
permission in the most crucial locations.
6 In the Soviet Army the title of `guards' can be won only in battle,
the only exceptions being certain formations which were awarded the title
when they were being formed. These included spetsnaz detachments.
So as not to reveal the real name of spetsnaz, the independent guards
battalion and the brigade were given the code name of `guards minelayers'.
Only a very limited circle of people knew what the name concealed.
A special razvedka department was set up in the Intelligence
directorate of each front to direct the work of the `guards minelayers'.
Each department had at its disposal a battalion of spetsnaz. Later the
special razvedka departments began recruiting spetsnaz agents in territories
occupied by the enemy. These agents were intended for providing support for
the `minelayers' when they appeared in the enemy rear. Subsequently each
special razvedka department was provided with a reconaissance point of
spetsnaz to recruit agents.
The guards brigade of spetsnaz was headed by one of the outstanding
Soviet practitioners of fighting in the rear of the enemy -- Colonel (later
Lieutenant-General) Moshe Ioffe.
The number of spetsnaz increased very quickly. In unclassified Soviet
writings we come across references to the 16th and the 33rd engineering
brigade of spetsnaz. Apart from detachments operating behind the enemy's
lines, other spetsnaz units were formed for different purposes: for example,
radio battalions for destroying the enemy's radio links, spreading
disinformation and tracing the whereabouts of enemy headquarters and
communication centres so as to facilitate the work of the spetsnaz terrorist
formations. It is known that from 1942 there existed the 130th, 131st, 132nd
and 226th independent radio battalions of spetsnaz.
The operations carried out by the `minelayers' were distinguished by
their daring character and their effectiveness. They usually turned up
behind the enemy's lines in small groups. Sometimes they operated
independently, at others they combined their operations with the partisans.
These joint operations always benefited both the partisans and spetsnaz. The
minelayers taught the partisans the most difficult aspects of minelaying,
the most complicated technology and the most advanced tactics. When they
were with the partisans they had a reliable hiding place, protection while
they carried out their operation, and medical and other aid in case of need.
The partisans knew the area well and could serve as guides. It was an
excellent combination: the local partisans who knew every tree in the
forest, and the first-class technical equipment for the use of explosives
demonstrated by real experts.
The `guards minelayers' usually came on the scene for a short while,
did their work swiftly and well and then returned whence they had come. The
principal way of transporting them behind the enemy's lines was to drop them
by parachute. Their return was carried out by aircraft using secret partisan
airfields, or they made their way by foot across the enemy's front line.
The high point in the partisan war against Germany consisted of two
operations carried out in 1943. By that time, as a result of action by
osnaz, order had been introduced into the partisan movement; it had been
`purged' and brought under rigid central control. As a result of spetsnaz
work the partisan movement had been taught the latest methods of warfare and
the most advanced techniques of sabotage.
The operation known as the `War of the Rails' was carried out over six
weeks from August to September 1943. It was a very fortunate time to have
chosen. It was at that moment when the Soviet forces, having exhausted the
German army in defensive battles at Kursk, themselves suddenly went over to
the offensive. To support the advance a huge operation was undertaken in the
rear of the enemy with the object of paralysing his supply routes,
preventing him from bringing up ammunition and fuel for the troops, and
making it impossible for him to move his reserves around. The operation
involved the participation of 167 partisan units with a total strength of
100,000 men. All the units of spetsnaz were sent behind the enemy lines to
help the partisans. More than 150 tons of explosives, more than 150
kilometres of wire and over half a million detonators were transported to
the partisan units by air. The spetsnaz units were instructed to maintain a
strict watch over the fulfilment of their tasks. Most of them operated
independently in the most dangerous and important places, and they also
appointed men from their units to instruct the partisan units in the use of
Operation `War of the Rails' was carried out simultaneously in a
territory with a front more than 1000 kilometres wide and more than 500
kilometres in depth. On the first night of the operation 42,000 explosions
took place on the railway lines, and the partisan activity increased with
every night that passed. The German high command threw in tremendous forces
to defend their lines of communication, so that every night could be heard
not only the sound of bridges and railway lines being blown up but also the
sounds of battle with the German forces as the partisans fought their way
through to whatever they had to destroy. Altogether, in the course of the
operation 215,000 rails, 836 complete trains, 184 rail and 556 road bridges
were blown up. A vast quantity of enemy equipment and ammunition was also
Having won the enormous battle at Kursk, the Red Army sped towards the
river Dnieper and crossed it in several places. A second large-scale
operation in support of the advancing troops was carried out in the enemy's
rear under the name of `Concert', which was in concept and spirit a
continuation of the `War of the Rails'. In the final stage of that operation
all the spetsnaz units were taken off to new areas and were enabled to rest
along with the partisan formations which had not taken part in it. Now their
time had come. Operation `Concert' began on 19 September 1943. That night in
Belorussia alone 19,903 rails were blown up. On the night of 25 September
15,809 rails were destroyed. All the spetsnaz units and 193 partisan units
took part in the operation `Concert'. The total number of participants in
the operation exceeded 120,000. In the course of the whole operation, which
went on until the end of October, 148,557 rails were destroyed, several
hundred trains with troops, weapons and ammunition were derailed, and
hundreds of bridges were blown up. Despite a shortage of explosives and
other material needed for such work, on the eve of the operation only eighty
tons of explosives could be sent to the partisan. Nevertheless `Concert' was
a tremendous success.
After the Red Army moved into the territory of neighbouring states
spetsnaz went through a radical reorganisation. The independent
reconnaissance units, the reconnaissance posts which recruited agents for
terrorist actions, and the independent radio battalions for conducting
disinformation, were all retained in their entirety. There are plenty of
references in the Soviet military press to operations by special
intelligence units in the final stages of the war. For example, in the
course of an operation in the Vistula-Oder area special groups from the
Intelligence directorate of the headquarters of the 1st Ukrainian Front
established the scope of the network of aerodromes and the exact position of
the enemy's air bases, found the headquarters of the 4th Tank Army and the
17th Army, the 48th Tank Corps and the 42nd Army Corps, and also gathered a
great deal of other very necessary information.
The detachments of `guards minelayers' of spetsnaz were reformed,
however, into regular guards sapper detachments and were used in that form
until the end of the war. Only a relatively small number of `guards
minelayers' were kept in being and used behind the enemy lines in
Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Such a decision was absolutely
right for the times. The maintargets for spetsnaz operations had been the
enemy's lines of communication. But that had been before the Red Army had
started to advance at great speed. When that happened, there was no longer
any need to blow up bridges. They needed to be captured and preserved, not
destroyed. For this work the Red Army had separate shock brigades of
motorised guards engineering troops which, operating jointly with the
forward units, would capture especially important buildings and other
objects, clear them of mines and defend them until the main force arrived.
The guards formations of spetsnaz were used mainly for strengthening these
special engineering brigades. Some of the surviving guards battalions of
spetsnaz were transferred to the Far East where, in August 1945, they were
used against the Japanese Army.
The use of spetsnaz in the Manchurian offensive of 1945 is of special
interest, because it provides the best illustration of what was supposed to
happen to Germany if she had not attacked the USSR.
Japan had a peace treaty with the Soviet Union. But Japan had gone to
war with other states and had exhausted her military, economic and other
resources. Japan had seized vast territories inhabited by hundreds of
millions of people who wanted to be liberated and were ready to welcome and
support any liberator who came along. Japan was in exactly the situation in
which Stalin had wanted to see Germany: exhausted by war with other
countries, and with troops scattered over expansive territories the
populations of which hated the sight of them.
Thus, in the interests naturally of peace and humanity Stalin struck a
sudden crushing blow at the armed forces of Japan in Manchuria and China,
violating the treaty signed four years earlier. The operation took place
over vast areas. In terms of the distances covered and the speed at which it
moved, this operation has no equal in world history. Soviet troops operated
over territories 5000 kilometres in width and 600-800 kilometres in depth.
More than a million and a half soldiers took part in the operation, with
over 5000 tanks and nearly 4000 aircraft. It really was a lightning
operation, in the course of which 84,000 Japanese officers and men were
killed and 593,000 taken prisoner. A tremendous quantity of arms, ammunition
and other equipment was seized.
It may be objected that Japan was already on the brink of catastrophe.
That is true. But therein lies Soviet strategy: to remain neutral until such
time as the enemy exhausts himself in battle against someone else, and then
to strike a sudden blow. That is precisely how the war against Germany was
planned and that was why the partisan units, the barriers and defensive
installations were all dispensed with, and why the ten airborne corps were
created in 1941.
In the Manchurian offensive the spetsnaz detachments put up their best
performance. Twenty airborne landings were made not by airborne troops, but
by special reconnaissance troops. Spetsnaz units of the Pacific Fleet were
landed from submarines and surface boats. Some spetsnaz units crossed the
frontier by foot, captured Japanese cars and used them for their operations.
Worried about the railway tunnels on a strip of the 1st Far Eastern front,
the Soviet high command created special units for capturing the tunnels. The
groups crossed the frontier secretly, cut the throats of the guards, severed
the wires connected to the explosive charges, and put the detonators out of
action. They then held the tunnels until their own forces arrived.
In the course of the offensive a new and very risky type of operation
was employed by spetsnaz. Senior GRU officers, with the rank of colonel or
even major-general, were put in charge of small groups. Such a group would
suddenly land on an airfield close to an important Japanese headquarters.
The appearance of a Soviet colonel or general deep in the Japanese rear
never failed to provoke astonished reactions from both the Japanese high
command and the Japanese troops, as well as from the local population. The
transport planes carrying these were escorted by Soviet fighter aircraft,
but the fighters were soon obliged to return to their bases, leaving the
Soviet transport undefended until it landed. Even after it landed it had at
best only one high-ranking officer, the crew and no more than a platoon of
soldiers to guard over the plane. The Soviet officer would demand and
usually obtain a meeting with a Japanese general, at which he would demand
the surrender of the Japanese garrison. He and his group really had nothing
to back them up: Soviet troops were still hundreds of kilometres away and it
was still weeks to the end of the war. But the local Japanese military
leaders (and the Soviet officers too, for that matter) naturally did not
realise this. Perhaps the Emperor had decided to fight on to the last
In several recorded instances, senior Japanese military leaders decided
independently to surrender without having permission to do so from their
superiors. The improvement in the morale and position of the Soviet troops
can be imagined.
After the end of the Second World War spetsnaz practically ceased to
exist for several years. Its reorganisation was eventually carried out under
the direction of several generals who were fanatically devoted to the idea
of spetsnaz. One of them was Viktor Kondratevich Kharchenko, who is quite
rightly regarded as the `father' of the modern spetsnaz. Kharchenko was an
outstanding sportsman and expert in the theory and practice of the use of
explosives. In 1938 he graduated from the military electrotechnical academy
which, apart from training specialists in communications, at that time also
produced experts in the business of applying the most complicated way of
blowing up buildings and other objectives. During the war he was chief of
staff of the directorate of special works on the Western front. From May
1942 he was chief of staff on the independent guards spetsnaz brigade, and
from June he was deputy commander of that brigade. In July 1944 his brigade
was reorganised into an independent guards motorised engineering brigade.
Kharchenko was working in the General Staff after the war when he wrote
a letter to Stalin, the basic point of which was: `If before the outbreak of
war our sportsmen who made up the spetsnaz units spent some time in Germany,
Finland, Poland and other countries, they could be used in wartime in enemy
territory with greater likelihood of success.' Many specialists in the
Soviet Union now believe that Stalin put an end to the Soviet Union's
self-imposed isolation in sport partly because of the effect Kharchenko's
letter had on him.
In 1948 Kharchenko completed his studies at the Academy of the General
Staff. From 1951 he headed the scientific research institute of the
engineering troops. Under his direction major researches and experiments
were carried out in an effort to develop new engineering equipment and
armaments, especially for small detachments of saboteurs operating behind
the enemy's lines.
In the immediate postwar years Kharchenko strove to demonstrate at the
very highest level the necessity for reconstructing spetsnaz on a new
technical level. He had a great many opponents. So then he decided not to
argue any more. He selected a group of sportsmen from among the students at
the engineering academy, succeeded in interesting them in his idea, and
trained them personally for carrying out very difficult tasks. During
manoeuvres held at the Totskyie camps, when on Marshal Zhukov's instructions
a real nuclear explosion was carried out, and then the behaviour of the
troops in conditions extremely close to real warfare was studied, Kharchenko
decided to deploy his own group of men at his own risk.
The discussions that took place after the manoeuvres were, the senior
officers all agreed, instructive -- all except General Kharchenko. He
pointed out that in circumstances of actual warfare nothing of what they had
been discussing would have taken place because, he said, a small group of
trained people had been close to where the nuclear charges had been stored
and had had every opportunity to destroy the transport when the charges were
being moved from the store to the airfield. Moreover, he said, the officers
who took the decision to use nuclear weapons could easily have been killed
before they took the decision. Kharchenko produced proof in support of his
statements. When this produced no magic results, Kharchenko repeated his
`act' at other major manoeuvres until his persistence paid off. Eventually
he obtained permission to form a battalion for operations in the enemy's
rear directed at his nuclear weapons and his command posts.
The battalion operated very successfully, and that was the beginning of
the resurrection of spetsnaz. All the contemporary formations of spetsnaz
have been created anew. That is why, unlike those which existed during the
war, they are not honoured with the title of `guards' units.7
7 Kharchenko himself moved steadily up the promotion ladder. From 1961
he was deputy to the Chief of Engineering troops and from February 1965 he
was head of the same service. In 1972 he was promoted Marshal of engineering
troops. Having attained such heights, however, Kharchenko did not forget his
creation, and he was a frequent guest in the `Olympic Village', the main
spetsnaz training centre near Kirovograd. When he was killed in 1975 during
the testing of a new weapon, his citations used the highest peacetime
formula `killed in the course of carrying out his official duties', which is
very seldom met with in reference to this senior category of Soviet
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
CHAPTER 4. THE FIGHTING UNITS OF SPETSNAZ.
Spetsnaz is made up of three distinct elements: the fighting units, the
units of professional sportsmen and the network of secret agents. In
numerical terms the fighting units of spetsnaz are the largest. They are
composed of soldiers from the ranks, out of those who are especially strong,
especially tough and especially loyal.
A factor that facilitates the selection process is that within the
Soviet Army there exists a hidden system for the selection of soldiers. Long
before they put on a military uniform, the millions of recruits are
carefully screened and divided into categories in acordance with their
political reliability, their physical and mental development, the extent of
their political involvement, and the `cleanliness' (from the Communist point
of view) of their personal and family record. The Soviet soldier does not
know to which category he belongs, and in fact he knows nothing about the
existence of the various categories. If a soldier is included in a higher
category than his comrades that does not necessarily mean that he is
fortunate. On the contrary, the best thing for a soldier is to be put into
the lowest category and to perform his two years of military service in some
remote and God-forsaken pioneer battalion in which there is neither
discipline nor supervision, or in units of which the officers have long
since drunk away all the authority they had. The higher the category the
soldier is put into the more difficult his military service will be.
Soldiers of the highest category make up the Kremlin guard, the troops
protecting the government communications, the frontier troops of the KGB and
spetsnaz. Being included in the highest category does not necessarily mean
being posted to the Kremlin, to a spetsnaz brigade or to a government
communications centre. The highest-category men selected by the local
military authorities simply represent the best human material which is
offered to the `customer' for him to choose from. The `customer' selects
only what suits his need. All those who do not appeal to the customers move
down to a lower level and are offered to representatives of the next
echelon, that of the strategic missile troops, the airborne forces and crews
of nuclear submarines.
The young soldier does not realise, of course, what is going on. He is
simply summoned to a room where people he doesn't know ask him a lot of
questions. A few days later he is called to the room again and finds a
different set of strangers there who also ask him questions.
This system of sorting out recruits reminds one of the system of closed
shops for leading comrades. The highest official has the first choice. Then
his deputy can go to the shop and choose something from what remains. Then
lower ranking officials are allowed into the shop, then their deputies, and
so on. In this system spetsnaz rank as the very highest category.
The soldiers who have been picked out by spetsnaz officers are gathered
together into groups and are convoyed by officers and sergeants to fighting
units of spetsnaz, where they are formed into groups and go through an
intensive course of training lasting several weeks. At the end of the course
the soldier fires shots from his Kalashnikov automatic rifle for the first
time and is then made to take the military oath. The best out of the group
of young soldiers are then sent to a spetsnaz training unit from which they
return six months later with the rank of sergeant, while the rest are posted
to fighting units.
In spetsnaz, as throughout the Soviet Army, they observe the `cult of
the old soldier'. All soldiers are divided into stariki (`old men') and
salagi (`small fry'). A real salaga is a soldier who has only just started
his service. A really `old man' (some twenty years' old) is one who is about
to complete his service in a few months. A man who is neither a real starik
nor a real salaga falls between the two, a starik being compared to anyone
who has done less time than he has, and a salaga to anyone who has served in
the army a few months longer than he.
Having been recruited into spetsnaz, the soldier has to sign an
undertaking not to disclose secret information. He has no right ever to tell
anyone where he has served or what his service consisted of. At most he has
the right to say he served with the airborne corps. Disclosure of the
secrets of spetsnaz is treated as high treason, punishable by death
according to article 64 of the Soviet criminal code.
Once he has completed his two years' service in spetsnaz a soldier has
three choices. He can become an officer, in which case he is offered special
terms for entering the higher school for officers of the airborne forces in
Ryazan. He can become a regular soldier in spetsnaz, for which he has to go
through a number of supplementary courses. Or he has the option to join the
reserve. If he chooses the last course he is regarded as being a member of
the spetsnaz reserve and is with it for the next five years. Then, up to the
age of 30, he is part of the airborne reserve. After that he is considered
to belong to the ordinary infantry reserve until he is fifty. Like any other
reserve force, the existence of a spetsnaz reserve makes it possible at a
time of mobilisation to multiply the size of the spetsnaz fighting units
with reservists if necessary.
Mud, nothing but mud all round, and it was pouring with rain. It had
been raining throughout the summer, so that everything was wet and hanging
limp. Everything was stuck in the mud. Every soldier's boot carried
kilograms of it. But their bodies were covered in mud as well, and their
hands and faces up to their ears and further. It was clear that the sergeant
had not taken pity on the young spetsnaz recruits that day. They had been
called up only a month before. They had been formed up into a provisional
group and been put through a month's course for young soldiers which every
one of them would remember all his life in his worst nightmare.
That morning they had been divided up into companies and platoons.
Before letting them back into their mud-covered, sodden tent at the end of
the day each sergeant had time to show his platoon the extent of his
There were ten young men crowding around the entrance to a huge tent,
as big as a prison barracks.
`Get inside, damn you!' The sergeant urged them on.
The first soldier thrust aside the heavy wet tarpaulin which served as
a door and was about to enter when something stopped him. On the muddy, much
trampled ground just inside the entrance a dazzlingly white towel had been
laid down in place of a doormat. The soldier hesitated. But behind him the
sergeant was pushing and shouting: `Go on in, damn you!'
The soldier was not inclined to step on the towel. At the same time he
couldn't make up his mind to jump over it, because the mud from his boots
would inevitably land on the towel. Eventually he jumped, and the others
jumped across the towel after him. For some reason no one dared to take the
towel away. Everyone could see that there was some reason why it had been
put there right in the entrance. A beautiful clean towel. With mud all
around it. What was it doing there?
A whole platoon lived in one huge tent. The men slept in two-tier metal
bunks. The top bunks were occupied by the stariki — the `old men' of
nineteen or even nineteen and a half, who had already served a year or even
eighteen months in spetsnaz. The salagi slept on the bottom bunks. They had
served only six months. By comparison with those who were now jumping over
the towel they were of course stariki too. They had all in their day jumped
awkwardly across the towel. Now they were watching silently, patiently and
attentively to see how the new men behaved in that situation.
The new men behaved as anybody would in their situation. Some pushed
from behind, and there was the towel in front. So they jumped, and clustered
together in the centre of the tent, not knowing where to put their hands or
where to look. It was strange. They seemed to want to look at the ground.
All the young men behaved in exactly the same way: a jump, into the crowd
and eyes down. But no -- the last soldier behaved quite differently. He
burst into the tent, helped by a kick from the sergeant. On seeing the white
towel he pulled himself up sharply, stood on it in his dirty boots and
proceeded to wipe them as if he really were standing on a doormat. Having
wiped his feet he didn't join the crowd but marched to the far corner of the
tent where he had seen a spare bed.
`Is this mine?'
`It's yours,' the platoon shouted approvingly. `Come here, mate,
there's a better place here! Do you want to eat?'
That night all the young recruits would get beaten. And they would be
beaten on the following nights. They would be driven out into the mud
barefoot, and they would be made to sleep in the lavatories (standing up or
lying down, as you wish). They would be beaten with belts, with slippers and
with spoons, with anything suitable for causing pain. The stariki would use
the salagi on which to ride horseback in battles with their friends. The
salagi would clean the `old men''s weapons and do their dirty jobs for them.
There would be the same goings-on as in the rest of the Soviet Army. Stariki
everywhere play the same kind of tricks on the recruits. The rituals and the
rules are the same everywhere. The spetsnaz differs from the other branches
only in that they place the dazzlingly clean towel at the entrance to the
tent for the recruits to walk over. The sense of this particular ritual is
clear and simple: We are nice people. We welcome you, young man, cordially
into our friendly collective. Our work is very hard, the hardest in the
whole army, but we do not let it harden our hearts. Gome into our house,
young man, and make yourself at home. We respect you and will spare nothing
for you. You see -- we have even put the towel with which we wipe our faces
for you to walk on in your dirty feet. So that's it, is it -- you don't
accept our welcome? You reject our modest gift? You don't even wish to wipe
your boots on what we wipe our faces with! What sort of people do you take
us for? You may certainly not respect us, but why did you come into our
house with dirty boots?
Only one of the salagi, the one who wiped his feet on the towel, will
be able to sleep undisturbed. He will receive his full ration of food and
will clean only his own weapon; and perhaps the stariki will give
instructions that he should not do even that. There are many others in the
platoon to do it.
Where on earth could a young eighteen-year-old soldier have learnt
about the spetsnaz tradition? Where could he have heard about the white
towel? Spetsnaz is a secret organisation which treasures its traditions and
keeps them to itself. A former spetsnaz soldier must never tell tales: he'll
lose his tongue if he does. In any case he is unlikely to tell anyone about
the towel trick, especially someone who has yet to be called up. I was
beaten up, so let him be beaten up as well, he reasons.
There are only three possible ways the young soldier could have found
out about the towel. Either he simply guessed what was happening himself.
The towel had been laid down at the entrance, so it must be to wipe his feet
on. What else could it be for? Or perhaps his elder brother had been through
the spetsnaz. He had, of course, never called it by that name or said what
it was for, but he might have said about the towel: `Watch out, brother,
there are some units that have very strange customs.... But just take care
-- if you let on I'll knock your head off. And I can.' Or his elder brother
might have spent some time in a penal battalion. Perhaps he had been in
spetsnaz and in a penal battalion. For the custom of laying out a towel in
the entrance before the arrival of recruits did not originate in spetsnaz
but in the penal battalions. It is possible that it was handed on to the
present-day penal battalions from the prisons of the past.
The links between spetsnaz and the penal battalions are invisible, but
they are many and very strong.
In the first place, service in spetsnaz is the toughest form of service
in the Soviet Army. The physical and psychological demands are not only
increased deliberately to the very highest point that a man can bear; they
are frequently, and also deliberately, taken beyond any permissible limits.
It is quite understandable that a spetsnaz soldier should find he cannot
withstand these extreme demands and breaks down. The breakdown may take many
different forms: suicide, severe depression, hysteria, madness or desertion.
As I was leaving an intelligence unit of a military district on promotion to
Moscow I suddenly came across, on a little railway station, a spetsnaz
officer I knew being escorted by two armed soldiers.
`What on earth are you doing here?' I exclaimed. `You don't see people
on this station more than once in a month!'
`One of my men ran away!'
`A new recruit?'
`That's the trouble, he's a starik. Only another month to go.'
`Did he take his weapon?'
`No, he went without it.'
I expressed my surprise, wished the lieutenant luck and went on my way.
How the search ended I do not know. At the very next station soldiers of the
Interior Ministry's troops were searching the carriages. The alarm had gone
out all over the district.
Men run away from spetsnaz more often than from other branches of the
services. But it is usually a case of a new recruit who has been stretched
to the limit and who usually takes a rifle with him. A man like that will
kill anyone who gets in his path. But he is usually quickly run down and
killed. But in this case it was a starik who had run off, and without a
rifle. Where had he gone, and why? I didn't know. Did they find him? I
didn't know that either. Of course they found him. They are good at that. If
he wasn't carrying a rifle he would not have been killed. They don't kill
people without reason. So what could he expect? Two years in a penal
battalion and then the month in spetsnaz that he had not completed.
Spetsnaz has no distinguishing badge or insignia -- officially, at any
rate. But unofficially the spetsnaz badge is a wolf, or rather a pack of
wolves. The wolf is a strong, proud animal which is remarkable for its quite
incredible powers of endurance. A wolf can run for hours through deep snow
at great speed, and then, when he scents his prey, put on another
astonishing burst of speed. Sometimes he will chase his prey for days,
reducing it to a state of exhaustion. Exploiting their great capacity for
endurance, wolves first exhaust and then attack animals noted for their
tremendous strength, such as the elk. People say rightly that the `wolf
lives on its legs'. Wolves will bring down a huge elk, not so much by the
strength of their teeth as by the strength of their legs.
The wolf also has a powerful intellect. He is proud and independent.
You can tame and domesticate a squirrel, a fox or even a great elk with
bloodshot eyes. And there are many animals that can be trained to perform. A
performing bear can do really miraculous things. But you cannot tame a wolf
or train it to perform. The wolf lives in a pack, a closely knit and well
organised fighting unit of frightful predators. The tactics of a wolf pack
are the very embodiment of flexibility and daring. The wolves' tactics are
an enormous collection of various tricks and combinations, a mixture of
cunning and strength, confusing manoeuvres and sudden attacks.
No other animal in the world could better serve as a symbol of the
spetsnaz. And there is good reason why the training of a spetsnaz soldier
starts with the training of his legs. A man is as strong and young as his
legs are strong and young. If a man has a sloppy way of walking and if he
drags his feet along the ground, that means he himself is weak. On the other
hand, a dancing, springy gait is a sure sign of physical and metal health.
Spetsnaz soldiers are often dressed up in the uniform of other branches of
the services and stationed in the same military camps as other especially
secret units, usually with communications troops. But one doesn't need any
special experience to pick out the spetsnaz man from the crowd. You can tell
him by the way he walks. I shall never forget one soldier who was known as
`The Spring'. He was not very tall, slightly stooping and round-shouldered.
But his feet were never still. He kept dancing about the whole time. He gave
the impression of being restrained only by some invisible string, and if the
string were cut the soldier would go on jumping, running and dancing and
never stop. The military commissariat whose job it was to select the young
soldiers and sort them out paid no attention to him and he fetched up in an
army missile brigade. He had served almost a year there when the brigade had
to take part in manoeuvres in which a spetsnaz company was used against
them. When the exercise was over the spetsnaz company was fed there in the
forest next to the missile troops. The officer commanding the spetsnaz
company noticed the soldier in the missile unit who kept dancing about all
the time he was standing in the queue for his soup.
`Come over here, soldier.' The officer drew a line on the ground. `Now
The soldier stood on the line and jumped from there, without any
run-up. The company commander did not have anything with him to measure the
length of the jump, but there was no need. The officer was experienced in
such things and knew what was good and what was excellent.
`Get into my car!'
`I cannot, comrade major, without my officer's permission.'
`Get in and don't worry, you'll be all right with me. I will speak up
for you and tell the right people where you have been.'
The company commander made the soldier get into his car and an hour
later presented him to the chief of army intelligence, saying:
`Comrade colonel, look what I've found among the missile troops.'
`Now then, young man, let's see you jump.'
The soldier jumped from the spot. This time there was a tape measure
handy and it showed he had jumped 241 centimetres.
`Take the soldier into your lot and find him the right sort of cap,'
the colonel said.
The commander of the spetsnaz company took off his own blue beret and
gave it to the soldier. The chief of intelligence immediately phoned the
chief of staff of the army, who gave the appropriate order to the missile
brigade -- forget you ever had such a man.
The dancing soldier was given the nickname `The Spring' on account of
his flexibility. He had never previously taken a serious interest in sport,
but he was a born athlete. Under the direction of experienced trainers his
talents were revealed and he immediately performed brilliantly. A year
later, when he completed his military service, he was already clearing 2
metres 90 centimetres. He was invited to join the professional athletic
service of spetsnaz, and he agreed.
The long jump with no run has been undeservedly forgotten and is no
longer included in the programme of official competitions. When it was
included in the Olympic Games the record set in 1908, was 3 metres 33
centimetres. As an athletic skill the long jump without a run is the most
reliable indication of the strength of a person's legs. And the strength of
his legs is a reliable indicator of the whole physical condition of a
soldier. Practically half a person's muscles are to be found in his legs.
Spetsnaz devotes colossal attention to developing the legs of its men, using
many simple but very effective exercises: running upstairs, jumping with
ankles tied together up a few steps and down again, running up steep sandy
slopes, jumping down from a great height, leaping from moving cars and
trains, knee-bending with a barbell on the shoulders, and of course the jump
from a spot. At the end of the 1970s the spetsnaz record in this exercise,
which has not been recognised by the official sports authorities, was 3
metres 51 centimetres.
A spetsnaz soldier knows that he is invincible. This may be a matter of
opinion, but other people's opinions do not interest the soldier. He knows
himself that he is invincible and that's enough for him. The idea is
instilled into him carefully, delicately, not too insistently, but
continually and effectively. The process of psychological training is
inseparably linked to the physical toughening. The development of a spirit
of self-confidence and of independence and of a feeling of superiority over
any opponent is carried out at the same time as the development of the
heart, the muscles and the lungs. The most important element in training a
spetsnaz soldier is to make him believe in his own strength.
A man's potential is unlimited, the reasoning goes. A man can reach any
heights in life in any sphere of activity. But in order to defeat his
opponents a man must first overcome himself, combat his own fears, his lack
of confidence and laziness. The path upwards is one of continual battle with
oneself. A man must force himself to rise sooner than the others and go to
bed later. He must exclude from his life everything that prevents him from
achieving his objective. He must subordinate the whole of his existence to
the strictest regime. He must give up taking days off. He must use his time
to the best possible advantage and fit in even more than was thought
possible. A man aiming for a particular target can succeed only if he uses
every minute of his life to the maximum advantage for carrying out his plan.
A man should find four hours' sleep quite sufficient, and the rest of his
time can be used for concentrating on the achievement of his objective.
I imagine that to instil this psychology into a mass army formed by
means of compulsory mobilisation would be impossible and probably
unnecessary. But in separate units carefully composed of the best human
material such a philosophy is entirely acceptable.
In numbers spetsnaz amounts to less than one per cent of all the Soviet
armed forces in peacetime. Spetsnaz is the best, carefully selected part of
the armed forces, and the philosophy of each man's unlimited potential has
been adopted in its entirety by every member of the organisation. It is a
philosophy which cannot be put into words. The soldier grasps it not with
his head, but with his feet, his shoulders and his sweat. He soon becomes
convinced that the path to victory and self-perfection is a battle with
himself, with his own mental and physical weakness. Training of any kind
makes sense only if it brings a man to the very brink of his physical and
mental powers. To begin with, he must know precisely the limits of his
capabilities. For example: he can do 40 press-ups. He must know this figure
precisely and that it really is the limit of his capacity. No matter how he
strains he can do no more. But every training session is a cruel battle to
beat his previous record. As he starts a training session a soldier has to
promise himself that he will beat his own record today or die in the
The only people who become champions are those who go into each
training session as if they are going to their death or to their last battle
in which they will either win or die. The victor is the one for whom victory
is more important than life. The victor is the one who dives a centimetre
deeper than his maximum depth, knowing that his lungs will not hold out and
that death lies beyond his limit. And once he has overcome the fear of
death, the next time he will dive even deeper! Spetsnaz senior lieutenant
Vladimir Salnikov, world champion and Olympic champion swimmer, repeats the
slogan every day: conquer yourself, and that was why he defeated everyone at
the Olympic Games.
An excellent place to get to know and to overcome oneself is the
`Devil's Ditch' which has been dug at the spetsnaz central training centre
near Kirovograd. It is a ditch with metal spikes stuck into the bottom. The
narrowest width is three metres. From there it gets wider and wider.
Nobody is forced to jump the ditch. But if someone wants to test
himself, to conquer himself and to overcome his own cowardice, let him go
and jump. It can be a standing jump or a running jump, in running shoes and
a track suit, with heavy boots and a big rucksack on your back, or carrying
a weapon. It is up to you. You start jumping at the narrow part and
gradually move outwards. If you make a mistake, trip on something or don't
reach the other side you land with your side on the spikes.
There are not many who wanted to risk their guts at the Devil's Ditch,
until a strict warning was put up: `Only for real spetsnaz fighters!' Now
nobody has to be invited to try it. There are always plenty of people there
and always somebody jumping, summer and winter, on slippery mud and snow, in
gas-masks and without them, carrying an ammunition box, hand-in-hand, with
hands tied together, and even with someone on the back. The man who jumps
the Devil's Ditch has confidence in himself, considers himself invincible,
and has grounds for doing so.
The relations within spetsnaz units are very similar to those within
the wolf pack. We do not know everything about the habits and the ways of
wolves. But I have heard Soviet zoologists talk about the life and behaviour
of wolves and, listening to them, I have been reminded of spetsnaz. They say
the wolf has not only a very developed brain but is also the noblest of all
the living things inhabiting our planet. The mental capacity of the wolf is
reckoned to be far greater than the dog's. What I have heard from experts
who have spent their whole lives in the taiga of the Ussuri, coming across
wolves every day, is sharply at odds with what people say about them who
have seen them only in zoos.
The experts say that the she-wolf never kills her sickly wolf-cubs. She
makes her other cubs do it. The she-wolf herself gives the cubs the first
lesson in hunting in a group. And the cubs' first victim is their weaker
brother. But once the weaker ones are disposed of, the she-wolf protects the
rest. In case of danger she would rather sacrifice herself than let anyone
harm them. By destroying the weaker cubs the she-wolf preserves the purity
and strength of her offspring, permitting only the strong to live. This is
very close to the process of selection within spetsnaz. At the outset the
weaker soldier is naturally not killed but thrown out of spetsnaz into a
more restful service. When a unit is carrying out a serious operation behind
enemy lines, however, the wolf-cubs of spetsnaz will kill their comrade
without a second thought if he appears to weaken. The killing of the weak is
not the result of a court decision but of lynch law. It may appear to be an
act of barbarism, but it is only by doing so that the wolves have retained
their strength for millions of years and remained masters of the forests
until such a time as an even more frightful predator -- man -- started to
destroy them on a massive scale.
But the she-wolf has also another reputation, and it is no accident
that the Romans for centuries had a she-wolf as the symbol of their empire.
A strong, wise, cruel and at the same time caring and affectionate she-wolf
reared two human cubs: could there be a more striking symbol of love and
Within their pack the wolves conduct a running battle to gain a higher
place in the hierarchy. And I never saw anything inside spetsnaz that could
be described as soldier's friendship, at least nothing like what I had seen
among the tank troops and the infantry. Within spetsnaz a bitter battle goes
on for a place in the pack, closer to the leader and even in the leader's
place. In the course of this bitter battle for a place in the pack the
spetsnaz soldier is sometimes capable of displaying such strength of
character as I have never seen elsewhere.
The beating up of the young recruits who are just starting their
service is an effort on the part of the stariki to preserve their dominating
position in the section, platoon or company. But among the recruits too
there is right from the beginning a no less bitter battle going on for
priority. This struggle takes the form of continual fighting between groups
and individuals. Even among the stariki not everyone is not on the same
level: they also have their various levels of seniority. The more senior
levels strive to keep the inferior ones under their control. The inferior
ones try to extract themselves from that control. It is very difficult,
because if a young soldier tries to oppose someone who has served half a
year more than he has, the longer-serving man will be supported not only by
the whole of his class but also by the other senior classes: the salaga is
not only offending a soldier senior to himself (never mind who he is and
what the older ones think of him) but is also undermining the whole
tradition established over the decades in spetsnaz and the rest of the
Soviet Army. In spite of all this, attempts at protest by the inferior
classes occur regularly and are sometimes successful.
I recall a soldier of enormous physique and brutal features known as
`The Demon' who, after serving for half a year, got together a group of
soldiers from all the classes and lorded it over not just his own platoon
but the whole company. He was good at sensing the mood of a company. He and
his group never attacked stariki in normal circumstances. They would wait
patiently until one of the stariki did something which by spetsnaz standards
is considered a disgrace, like stealing. Only then would they set about him,
usually at night. The Demon was skilful at making use of provocation. For
example, having stolen a bottle of aftershave from a soldier, he would slip
it to one of his enemies. There is no theft in spetsnaz. The thief is, then,
always discovered very quickly and punished mercilessly. And The Demon was,
of course, in charge of the punitive action.
But seniority in spetsnaz units is not determined only by means of
fists. In The Demon's group there was a soldier known as `The Squint', a man
of medium height and build. I do not know how it came about, but it soon
became apparent that, although The Demon was lording it over the whole
company, he never opposed The Squint. One day The Squint made fun of him in
public, drawing attention to his ugly nostrils. There was some mild laughter
in the company and The Demon was clearly humiliated, but for some reason he
did not choose to exercise his strength. The Squint soon came to dominate
the whole company, but it never occurred to him to fight anyone or to order
anybody about. He simply told The Demon out loud what he wanted, and The
Demon used his strength to influence the whole company. This went on for
about three months. How the system worked and why, was not for us officers
to know. We watched what was going on from the sidelines, neither
interfering nor trying to look too closely into it.
But then there was a revolution. Someone caught The Demon out in a
provocation. The Demon again stole something and slipped it to one of his
stariki, and he was found out. The Demon and The Squint and their closest
friends were beaten all night until the duty officer intervened. The Demon
and The Squint were locked up temporarily in a store where they kept barrels
of petrol. They kept them there for several days because the likelihood of a
bloody settling of accounts was considerable. Meanwhile the whole affair was
reported to the chief of Intelligence for the district. Knowing the way
things were done in spetsnaz, he decided that both men should be tried by a
military tribunal. The result was a foregone conclusion. As usual the
tribunal did not hear the true causes of the affair. The officer commanding
the company simply put together a number of minor offences: being late on
parade, late for inspection, found in a drunken state, and so forth. The
whole company confirmed everything in their evidence, and the accused made
no attempt to deny the charges. Yet there was some rough justice in the
process, because they probably both deserved their sentences of eighteen
months in a penal battalion.
The silent majority can put up with anything for a long time. But
sometimes a spark lands in the powder keg and there is a frightful
explosion. Often in spetsnaz a group of especially strong and bullying
soldiers will dominate the scene for a certain time, until suddenly a
terrible counter blow is struck, whereupon the group is broken up into
pieces and its members, scorned and disliked, have to give way to another
In every company there are a few soldiers who do not try to dominate
the rest, who do not voice their opinions and who do not try to achieve
great influence. At the same time everyone is aware of some enormous hidden
strength in them, and no one dares to touch them. This kind of soldier is
usually found somewhere near the top of the platoon's hierarchy, rarely at
the very top.
I remember a soldier known as `The Machine'. He always kept himself to
himself. He probably experienced no great emotions, and by spetsnaz
standards he was probably too kind and placid a person. He did his job
properly and seemed never to experience in his work either enthusiasm or
resentment. Nobody, not even The Demon, dared touch The Machine. On one
occasion, when The Demon was beating up one of the young soldiers, The
Machine went up to him and said, `That's enough of that.' The Demon did not
argue, but stopped what he was doing and moved away. The Machine reverted to
It was clear to everyone that The Machine's dislike of The Demon had
not been given its full expression. And so it was. On the night when the
whole company beat up The Demon and The Squint, The Machine lay on his bed
and took no part in the beating. Finally his patience gave out, he went to
the toilet where the sentence was being carried out, pushed the crowd aside
with his enormous hands and said, `Let me give him a punch.'
He gave The Demon a blow in the stomach with his mighty fist. Everyone
thought he had killed the man, who bent double and collapsed in a heap like
a wooden puppet with string instead of joints. They poured water over him
and for half an hour afterwards did not strike him. They were afraid of
finishing it off, afraid they would be tried for murder. Then they saw that
The Demon had survived and they continued to beat him. Quite aloof from the
squabble for top position in the company, The Machine had gone straight back
In the same company there was a soldier known as `The Otter'; slim,
well built, handsome. He was not very big and appeared to have little
strength. But he was like a sprung steel plate. His strength seemed to be
explosive. He had amazing reactions. When, as a recruit, he first jumped
over the towel, he was subjected to the usual treatment by the stariki.
`Drop your pants and lie down,' they said. He took hold of his belt as
though he was ready to carry out their orders. They dropped their guard, and
at that moment The Otter struck one of them in the mouth with such a blow
that his victim fell to the ground and was knocked senseless. While he was
falling The Otter struck another one in the teeth. A third backed out of the
That night, when he was asleep, they bound him in a blanket and beat
him up brutally. They beat him the second night, and the third, and again
and again. But he was a very unusual person even by spetsnaz standards. He
possessed rather unusual muscles. When they were relaxed they looked like
wet rags. He suffered a lot of beatings, but one had the impression that
when he was relaxed he felt no pain. Perhaps there were qualities in his
character that put him above the standards we were used to. When The Otter
slept he was then in the power of the stariki and they did not spare him.
They attacked him in the dark, so that he should not recognise his
attackers. But he knew all of them instinctively. He never quarrelled with
them and he always avoided groups of them. If they attacked him in the
daylight he made no great effort to resist. But if he came across a stariki
on his own he would punch him in the teeth. If he came across him again he
would do the same again. He could knock a man's teeth out. He would strike
suddenly and like lightning. He would be standing relaxed, his arms hanging
down, looking at the ground. Then suddenly there would be a frightful,
shattering blow. On several occasions he punched stariki in the presence of
the whole company and sometimes even with officers present. How beautifully
he punched them! If there were officers present the company commander would
admire The Otter and indicate his approval with a smile on his face -- then
sentence him to three days in the guard room, because they were not allowed
to hit each other.
This went on for a long time, until the stariki became tired of it all
and left him alone. Nobody touched him any more. Six months later they
offered him a place at the very top. He refused, still keeping his silence.
He never got involved in the affairs of the platoon and had no desire and no
claim to be a leader. When the whole company was beating up The Demon The
Otter did not join in. Some years later I met a spetsnaz man I knew and
learnt that The Machine had been offered a job with the professional
athletic service. He had refused and had gone back to some remote Siberian
village where his home was. But The Otter had accepted the offer and is now
serving in one of the best spetsnaz formations, training for the ultimate
job of assassinating key political and military figures on the enemy's side.
There are other ways in which a spetsnaz soldier can defend his
position in the hierarchy, apart from punching people in the face. Spetsnaz
respects people who take risks, who have strength and display courage. A man
who will jump further than others on a motorcycle, or one who will wait
longer than others to open his parachute, or one who hammers nails into a
plank with the palm of his hand -- such people are assured of respect. A man
who goes on running in spite of tiredness when all the others are
collapsing, who can go longer than others without food and drink, who can
shoot better than the others -- such people are also well thought of. But
when everybody is thought highly of, there is still a struggle among the
best. And if there is no other way for a man to show that he is better than
another, physical violence will break out.
Two soldiers in leading positions may fight each other secretly without
anyone else being present: they go off into the forest and fight it out. A
conflict may begin with a sudden, treacherous attack by one man on another.
There are also open, legal encounters. Sport is particularly admired by
spetsnaz. The whole company is brought together, and they fight each other
without rules, using all the tricks that spetsnaz has taught them -- boxing,
sambo, karate. Some fights go on until the first blood is drawn. Others go
on until one person is humiliated and admits he is defeated.
Among the various ways of finding leaders a very effective one is the
fight with whips. It is an old gypsy way of establishing a relationship. The
leather-plaited whip several metres long is a weapon only rarely met with in
spetsnaz. But if a soldier (usually a Kalmik, a Mongolian or a gypsy) shows
that he can handle the weapon with real skill he is allowed to carry a whip
with him as a weapon. When two experts with the whip meet up and each claims
to be the better one, the argument is resolved in a frightful contest.
When we speak about the customs observed within spetsnaz we must of
course take into account the simple fact that spetsnaz has its own standards
and its own understanding of the words `bad' and `good'. Let us not be too
strict in our judgement of the spetsnaz soldiers for their cruel ways, their
bloodthirstiness and their lack of humanity. Spetsnaz is a closed society of
people living permanently at the extreme limits of human existence. They are
people who even in peacetime are risking their lives. Their existence bears
no relation at all to the way the majority of the inhabitants of our planet
live. In spetsnaz a man can be admired for qualities of which the average
man may have no idea.
The typical spetsnaz soldier is a sceptic, a cynic and a pessimist. He
believes profoundly in the depravity of human nature and knows (from his own
experience) that in extreme conditions a man becomes a beast. There are
situations where a man will save the lives of others at the expense of his
own life. But in the opinion of the spetsnaz men this happens only in a
sudden emergency: for example, a man may throw himself in front of a train
to push another man aside and save his life. But when an emergency
situation, such as a terrible famine, lasts for months or even years, the
spetsnaz view is that it is every man for himself. If a man helps another in
need it means that the need is not extreme. If a man shares his bread with
another in time of famine it means the famine is not extreme.
In the spetsnaz soldier's opinion the most dangerous thing he can do is
put faith in his comrade, who may at the most critical moment turn out to be
a beast. It is much simpler for him not to trust his comrade (or anybody
else), so that in a critical situation there will be no shattered illusions.
Better that he regards all his fellow human beings as beasts from the outset
than to make that discovery in an utterly hopeless situation.
The soldier's credo can be stated in a triple formula: Don't trust,
don't beg, don't fear. It is a formula which did not originate in spetsnaz,
but in prisons many centuries ago. In it can be seen the whole outlook of
the spetsnaz soldier: his practically superhuman contempt for death, and a
similar contempt for everybody around him. He does not believe in justice,
goodness or humanity. He does not even believe in force until it has been
demonstrated by means of a fist, a whip or the teeth of a dog. When it is
demonstrated his natural reflex is to challenge it immediately.
Sometimes in the life of a spetsnaz soldier he has a sort of
revelation, a sense of complete freedom and happiness. In this mental state
he fears nobody at all, trusts no one at all, and would not ask anybody for
anything, even for mercy. This state comes about in a combination of
circumstances in which a soldier would go voluntarily to his death,
completely contemptuous of it. At that moment the soldier's mind triumphs
completely over cowardice, the vileness and meanness around him. Once he has
experienced this sensation of liberation, the soldier is capable of any act
of heroism, even sacrificing his life to save a comrade. But his act has
nothing in common with ordinary soldiers' friendship. The motive behind such
an act is to show, at the cost of his own life, his superiority over all
around him, including the comrade he saves.
In order for such a moment of revelation to come on some occasion, the
soldier goes through a long and careful training. All the beatings, all the
insults and humiliations that he has suffered, are steps on the path to a
brilliant suicidal feat of heroism. The well-fed, self-satisfied, egoistic
soldier will never perform any acts of heroism. Only someone who has been
driven barefoot into the mud and snow, who has had even his bread taken away
from him and has proved every day with his fists his right to existence --
only this kind of man is capable of showing one day that he really is the
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
CHAPTER 5. THE 'OTHER PEOPLE'.
Although the vast majority of spetsnaz is made up of Slavonic
personnel, there are some exceptions.
At first glance you would say he is a gypsy. Tall, well-built, athletic
in his movements, handsome, with a hooked nose and flashing eyes. The
captain plays the guitar so well that passers-by stop and do not go away
until he stops playing. He dances as very few know how. His officer's
uniform fits him as if it were on a dummy in the window of the main military
clothing shop on the Arbat.
The officer has had a typical career. He was born in 1952 in Ivanovo,
where he went to school. Then he attended the higher school for airborne
troops in Ryazan, and he wears the uniform of the airborne forces. He
commands a company in the Siberian military district. All very typical and
familiar. At first glance. But he is Captain Roberto Rueda-Maestro -- not a
very usual name for a Soviet officer.
There is a mistake: the captain is not a gypsy. And if we study him
more carefully we notice some other peculiarities. He is wearing the uniform
of the airborne troops. But there are no airborne troops in the Siberian
military district where he is stationed. Even stranger is the fact that
after finishing school Roberto spent some time in Spain as a tourist. That
was in 1969. Can we imagine a tourist from the Soviet Union being in Spain
under Franco's rule, at a time when the Soviet Union maintained no
diplomatic relations with Spain? Roberto Rueda-Maestro was in Spain at that
time and has some idea of the country. But the strangest aspect of this
story is that, after spending some time in a capitalist country, the young
man was able to enter a Soviet military school. And not any school, but the
Ryazan higher school for airborne troops.
These facts are clues. The full set of clues gives us the right answer,
without fear of contradiction. The captain is a spetsnaz officer.
During the Civil War in Spain thousands of Spanish children were
evacuated to the Soviet Union. The exact number of children evacuated is not
known. The figures given about this are very contradictory. But there were
enough of them for several full-length films to be made and for books and
articles to be written about them in the Soviet Union.
As young men they soon became cadets at Soviet military schools. A
well-known example is Ruben Ruis Ibarruri, son of Dolores Ibarruri, general
secretary of the Communist Party of Spain. Even at this time the Spaniards
were put into the airborne troops. Ruben Ibarruri, for example, found
himself in the 8th airborne corps. It is true that in a war of defence those
formations intended for aggressive advancing operations were found to be
unnecessary, and they were reorganised into guard rifle divisions and used
in defensive battles at Stalingrad. Lieutenant Ibarruri was killed while
serving in the 35th guard rifle division which had been formed out of the
8th airborne corps. It was a typical fate for young men at that time. But
then they were evacuated to the Urals and Siberia, where the Spanish
Communist Party (under Stalin's control) organised special schools for them.
From then on references to Spanish children appeared very rarely in the
One of the special schools was situated in the town of Ivanovo and was
known as the E. D. Stasova International School. Some graduates of this
school later turned up in Fidel Castro's personal bodyguard, some became
leading figures in the Cuban intelligence service -- the most aggressive in
the world, exceeding its teachers in the GRU and KGB in both cruelty and
cunning. Some of the school's graduates were used as `illegals' by the GRU
It has to be said, however, that the majority of the first generation
of Spanish children remained in the Soviet Union with no possibility of
leaving it. But then in the 1950s and 1960s a new generation of Soviet
Spaniards was born, differing from the first generation in that it had no
parents in the USSR. This is very important if a young man is being sent
abroad on a risky mission, for the Communists then have the man's parents as
The second generation of Spaniards is used by the Soviet Government in
many ways for operations abroad. One very effective device is to send some
young Soviet Spaniards to Cuba, give them time to get used to the country
and acclimatise themselves, and then send them to Africa and Central America
as Cubans to fight against `American Imperialism'. The majority of Cuban
troops serving abroad are certainly Cubans. But among them is a certain
percentage of men who were born in the Soviet Union and who have Russian
wives and children and a military rank in the armed forces of the USSR.
For some reason Captain Roberto Rueda-Maestro is serving in the Urals
military district. I must emphasise that we are still talking about the
usual spetsnaz units, and we haven't started to discuss `agents'. An agent
is a citizen of a foreign country recruited into the Soviet intelligence
service. Roberto is a citizen of the Soviet Union. He does not have and has
never had in his life any other citizenship. He has a Russian wife and
children born on the territory of the USSR, as he was himself. That is why
the captain is serving in a normal spetsnaz unit, as an ordinary Soviet
Spetsnaz seeks out and finds -- it is easy to do in the Soviet Union --
people born in the Soviet Union but of obviously foreign origin. With a name
like Ruedo-Maestro it is very difficult to make a career in any branch of
the Soviet armed forces. The only exception is spetsnaz, where such a name
is no obstacle but a passport to promotion.
In spetsnaz I have met people with German names such as Stolz, Schwarz,
Weiss and so forth. The story of these Soviet Germans is also connected with
the war. According to 1979 figures there were 1,846,000 Germans living in
the Soviet Union. But most of those Germans came to Russia two hundred years
ago and are of no use to spetsnaz. Different Germans are required, and they
also exist in the Soviet Union.
During the war, and especially in its final stages, the Red Army took a
tremendous number of German soldiers prisoner. The prisoners were held in
utterly inhuman conditions, and it was not surprising that some of them did
things that they would not have done in any other situation. They were
people driven to extremes by the brutal Gulag regime, who committed crimes
against their fellow prisoners, sometimes even murdering their comrades, or
forcing them to suicide. Many of those who survived, once released from the
prison camp, were afraid to return to Germany and settled in the Soviet
Union. Though the percentage of such people was small it still meant quite a
lot of people, all of whom were of course on the records of the Soviet
secret services and were used by them. The Soviet special services helped
many of them to settle down and have a family. There were plenty of German
women from among the Germans long settled in Russia. So now the Soviet Union
has a second generation of Soviet Germans, born in the Soviet Union of
fathers who have committed crimes against the German people. This is the
kind of young German who can be met with in many spetsnaz units.
Very rarely one comes across young Soviet Italians, too, with the same
background as the Spaniards and Germans. And spetsnaz contains Turks, Kurds,
Greeks, Koreans, Mongolians, Finns and people of other nationalities. How
they came to be there I do not know. But it can be taken for granted that
every one of them has a much-loved family in the Soviet Union. Spetsnaz
trusts its soldiers, but still prefers to have hostages for each of its men.
The result is that the percentage of spetsnaz soldiers who were born in
the Soviet Union to parents of genuine foreign extraction is quite high.
With the mixture of Soviet nationalities, mainly Russian, Ukrainians,
Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Georgians and Uzbeks, the units are a very
motley company indeed. You may even, suddenly, come across a real Chinese.
Such people, citizens of the USSR but of foreign extraction, are known as
`the other people'. I don't know where the name came from, but the
foreigners accept it and are not offended. In my view it is used without any
tinge of racism, in a spirit rather of friendship and good humour, to
differentiate people who are on the one hand Soviet people born in the
Soviet Union of Soviet parents, and who on the other hand differ sharply
from the main body of spetsnaz soldiers in their appearance, speech, habits
I have never heard of there being purely national formations within
spetsnaz -- a German platoon or a Spanish company. It is perfectly possible
that they would be created in case of necessity, and perhaps there are some
permanent spetsnaz groups chosen on a purely national basis. But I cannot
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
CHAPTER 6. ATHLETS.
In the Soviet Union sport has been nationalised. That means to say that
it does not serve the interests of individuals but of society as a whole.
The interests of the individual and the interests of society are sometimes
very different. The state defends the interests of society against
individuals, not just in sport but in all other spheres.
Some individuals want to be strong, handsome and attractive. That is
why `body-building' is so popular in the West. It is an occupation for
individuals. In the Soviet Union it scarcely exists, because such an
occupation brings no benefit to the state. Why should the state spend the
nation's resources so that someone can be strong and beautiful? Consequently
the state does not spend a single kopek on such things, does not organise
athletic competitions, does not reward the victors with prizes and does not
advertise achievements in that field. There are some individuals who engage
in body-building, but they have no resources and no rights to organise their
own societies and associations.
The same applies to billiards, golf and some other forms of which the
only purpose is relaxation and amusement. What benefits would it bring the
state if it spent money on such forms of sport? For the same reason the
Soviet Union has done nothing about sport for invalids. Why should it? To
make the invalids happy?
But that same state devotes colossal resources to sport which does
bring benefit to the state. In the Soviet Union any sport is encouraged
which: demonstrates the superiority of the Soviet system over any other
system; provides the ordinary people with something to take their minds off
their everyday worries; helps to strengthen the state, military and police
The Soviet Union is ready to encourage any sport in which achievement
is measured in minutes, seconds, metres, kilometres, centimetres, kilograms
or grams. If an athlete shows some promise that he may run a distance a
tenth of a second quicker than an American or may jump half a centimetre
higher than his rival across the ocean, the state will create for such an
athlete whatever conditions he needs: it will build him a personal training
centre, get together a personal group of trainers, doctors, managers or
scientific consultants. The state is rich enough to spend money on
self-advertisement. These `amateur' sportsmen earn large sums of money,
though exactly how much is a secret. The question has irritated some Soviets
because it would not be a secret if the amount were small. Even the
Literaturnaya Gazeta, on 6 August, 1986, raised the question with some
The Soviet Union encourages any striking spectator sport which can
attract millions of people, make them drop what they are doing and admire
the Soviet gymnasts, figure-skaters or acrobats. It also encourages all team
games. Basketball, volleyball, water polo are all popular. The most
aggressive of the team games, ice-hockey, is perhaps more of a national
religion than is Communist ideology. Finally, it encourages any sport
directly connected with the development of military skills: shooting,
flying, gliding, parachute jumping, boxing, sambo, karate, the biathlon, the
military triathlon, and so forth.
The most successful, richest and largest society in the Soviet Union
concerned with sport is the Central Army Sports Club (ZSKA). Members of the
club have included 850 European champions, 625 world champions and 182
Olympic champions. They have set up 341 European and 430 world records.1
1 All figures as of 1 January, 1979.
Such results do not indicate that the Soviet Army is the best at
training top-class athletes. This was admitted even by Pravda.2 The secret
of success lies in the enormous resources of the Soviet Army. Pravda
describes what happens: `It is sufficient for some even slightly promising
boxer to come on the scene and he is immediately lured across to the ZSKA.'
As a result, out of the twelve best boxers in the Soviet Union ten are from
the Army Club, one from Dinamo (the sports organisation run by the KGB), and
one from the Trud sports club. But of those ten army boxers, not one was the
original product of the Army club. They had all been lured away from other
clubs -- the Trudoviye reservy, the Spartak or the Burevestnik. The same
thing happens in ice-hockey, parachute jumping, swimming and many other
2 2 September, 1985.
How does the army club manage to attract athletes to it? Firstly be
giving them military rank. Any athlete who joins the ZSKA is given the rank
of sergeant, sergeant-major, warrant officer or officer, depending on what
level he is at. The better his results as an athlete the higher the rank.
Once he has a military rank an athlete is able to devote as much time to
sport as he wishes and at the same time be regarded as an amateur, because
professionally he is a soldier. Any Soviet `amateur' athlete who performs
slightly better than the average receives extra pay in various forms -- `for
additional nourishment', `for sports clothing', `for travelling', and so
forth. The `amateur' receives for indulging in his sport much more than a
doctor or a skilled engineer, so long as he achieves European standards. But
the Soviet Army also pays him, and not badly, for his military rank and
The ZSKA is very attractive for an athlete in that, when he can no
longer engage in his sport at international level, he can still retain his
military rank and pay. In most other clubs he would be finished altogether.
What has this policy produced? At the 14th winter Olympic Games, Soviet
military athletes won seventeen gold medals. If one counts also the number
of silver and bronze winners, the number of athletes with military rank is
greatly increased. And if one were to draw up a similar list of military
athletes at the summer Games it would take up many pages. Is there a single
army in the world that comes near the Soviet Army in this achievement?
Now for another question: why is the Soviet Army so ready to hand out
military ranks to athletes, to pay them a salary and provide them with the
accommodation and privileges of army officers?
The answer is that the ZSKA and its numerous branches provide a base
that spetsnaz uses for recruiting its best fighters. Naturally not every
member of the ZSKA is a spetsnaz soldier. But the best athletes in ZSKA
almost always are.
Spetsnaz is a mixture of sport, politics, espionage and armed
terrorism. It is difficult to determine what takes precedence and what is
subordinate to what, everything is so closely linked together.
In the first place the Soviet Union seeks international prestige in the
form of gold medals at the Olympics. To achieve that it needs an
organisation with the strictest discipline and rules, capable of squeezing
every ounce of strength out of the athletes without ever letting them slack
In the second place the Soviet Army needs an enormous number of people
with exceptional athletic ability at Olympic level to carry out special
missions behind the enemy's lines. It is desirable that these people should
be able to visit foreign countries in peace time. Sport makes that possible.
As far as the athletes are concerned, they are grateful for a very rich club
which can pay them well, provide them with cars and apartments, and arrange
trips abroad for them. Moreover, they need the sort of club in which they
can be regarded as amateurs, though they will work nowhere else but in the
Spetsnaz is the point where the interests of the state, the Soviet Army
and military intelligence coincide with the interests of some individuals
who want to devote their whole lives to sport.
After the Second World War, as a result of the experience gained,
sports battalions were created by the headquarters of every military
district, group of forces and fleet; at army and flotilla HQ level sports
companies were formed. These huge sports formations were directly under the
control of the Ministry of Defence. They provided the means of bringing
together the best athletes whose job was to defend the sporting honour of
the particular army, flotilla, district, group or fleet in which they
served. Some of the athletes were people called up for their military
service, who left the Army once they had completed their service. But the
majority remained in the military sports organisation for a long time with
the rank of sergeant and higher. Soviet military intelligence chose its best
men from the members of the sports units.
At the end of the 1960s it was recognised that a sports company or a
sports battalion was too much of a contradiction in terms. It could arouse
unnecessary attention from outsiders. So the sports units were disbanded and
in their place came the sports teams. The change was purely cosmetic. The
sports teams of the military districts, groups, fleets and so forth exist as
independent units. The soldiers, sergeants, praporshiki and officers who
belong to them are not serving in army regiments, brigades or divisions.
Their service is in the sports team under the control of the district's
headquarters. The majority of these sportsmen are carefully screened and
recruited for spetsnaz training to carry out the most risky missions behind
the enemy's lines. Usually they are all obliged to take part in parachute
jumping, sambo, rifle-shooting, running and swimming, apart from their own
A person looking at the teams of the military districts, groups and so
forth with an untrained eye will notice nothing unusual. It is as though
spetsnaz is a completely separate entity. Every athlete and every small
group have their own individual tasks and get on with them: running,
swimming, jumping and shooting. But later, in the evenings, in closed,
well-guarded premises, they study topography, radio communications,
engineering and other special subjects. They are regularly taken off
secretly in ones and twos or groups, or even regiments to remote parts where
they take part in exercises. Companies and regiments of professional
athletes in spetsnaz exist only temporarily during the exercises and alerts,
and they then quietly disperse, becoming again innocent sections and teams
able at the right moment to turn into formidable fighting units.
According to Colonel-General Shatilov, the athlete is more energetic
and braver in battle, has more confidence in his strength, is difficult to
catch unawares, reacts quickly to changes of circumstance and is less liable
to tire. There is no disputing this. A first-class athlete is primarily a
person who possesses great strength of will, who has defeated his own
laziness and cowardice, who has forced himself to run every day till he
drops and has trained his muscles to a state of complete exhaustion. An
athlete is a man infected by the spirit of competition and who desires
victory in a competition or battle more than the average man.
In the sports sections and teams of the military districts, groups,
armies, fleets, flotillas there is a very high percentage of women also
engaged in sport and who defend the honour of their district, group and so
forth. Like the men, the women are given military rank and, like the men,
are recruited into spetsnaz.
There are no women in the usual spetsnaz units. But in the professional
sports units of spetsnaz women constitute about half the numbers. They
engage in various kinds of sport: parachute jumping, gliding, flying,
shooting, running, swimming, motocross, and so on. Every woman who joins
spetsnaz has to engage in some associated forms of sport apart from her own
basic sport, and among these are some that are obligatory, such as sambo,
shooting and a few others. The woman have to take part in exercises along
with the men and have to study the full syllabus of subjects necessary for
operating behind the enemy's lines.
That there should be such a high percentage of women in the
professional sports formations of spetsnaz is a matter of psychology and
strategy: if in the course of a war a group of tall, broadshouldered young
men were to appear behind the lines this might give rise to bewilderment,
since all the men are supposed to be at the front. But if in the same
situation people were to see a group of athletic-looking girls there would
be little likelihood of any alarm or surprise.
To be successful in war you have to have a very good knowledge of the
natural conditions in the area in which you are to be operating: the terrain
and the climate. You must have a good idea of the habits of the local
population, the language and the possibilities of concealment; the forests,
undergrowth, mountains, caves, and the obstacles to be overcome; the rivers,
ravines and gullies. You must know the whereabouts of the enemy's military
units and police, the tactics they employ and so forth.
A private in the average spetsnaz unit cannot, of course, visit the
places where he is likely to have to fight in the event of war. But a
top-class professional athlete does have the opportunity. The Soviet Army
takes advantage of such opportunities.
For example, in 1984 the 12th world parachuting championship took place
in France. There were altogether twenty-six gold medals to be competed for,
and the Soviet team won twenty-two of them. The `Soviet team' was in fact a
team belonging to the armed forces of the USSR. It consisted of five men and
five women: a captain, a senior praporshik, three praporshiki, a senior
sergeant and four sergeants. The team's trainer, its doctor and the whole of
the technical personnel were Soviet officers. The Soviet reporter
accompanying the team was a colonel. This group of `sportsmen' spent time in
Paris and in the south of France. A very interesting and very useful trip,
and there were other Soviet officers besides -- for example a colonel who
was the trainer of the Cuban team.
Now let us suppose a war has broken out. The Soviet Army must
neutralise the French nuclear capability. France is the only country in
Europe, apart from the Soviet Union itself, that stores strategic nuclear
missiles in underground silos. The silos are an extremely important target,
possibly the most important in Europe. The force that will put them out of
action will be a spetsnaz force. And who will the Soviet high command send
to carry out the mission? The answer is that, after the world parachuting
championship, they have a tailor-made team.
It is often claimed that sport improves relations between countries.
This is a strange argument. If it is the case, why did it not occur to
anyone before the Second World War to invite German SS parachutists to their
country to improve relations with the Nazis?
At the present time every country has good grounds for not receiving
any Soviet military athletes on its own territory. The USSR should not be
judged on its record. To take three cases: the Soviet Government sent troops
into Czechoslovakia temporarily. We of course trust the statements made by
the Soviet Government and know that after a certain time the Soviet troops
will be withdrawn from Czechoslovakia. But until that happens there are
sufficient grounds for `temporarily' not allowing the Soviet Army into any
Secondly, the Soviet Union introduced a `limited' contingent of its
troops into Afghanistan. The Soviet leaders' idea was that the word
`limited' would serve to reassure everyone -- there would be grounds for
concern if there were an `unlimited' contingent of Soviet troops in
Afghanistan. But so long as the `limited' contingent of Soviet troops is
still in Afghanistan it would not be a bad idea to limit the number of
Soviet colonels, majors, captains and sergeants in the countries of the
West, especially those wearing blue berets and little gilt parachute badges
on their lapels. It is those people in the blue berets who are killing
children, women and old men in Afghanistan in the most brutal and ruthless
Thirdly, a Soviet pilot shot down a passenger plane with hundreds of
people in it. After that, is there any sense in meeting Soviet airmen at
international competitions and finding out who is better and who is worse?
Surely the answer is clear, without any competition.
Sport is politics, and big-time sport is big-time politics. At the end
of the last war the Soviet Union seized the three Baltic states of Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania and the West has never recognised the Soviet Union's
right to those territories. All right, said the Soviet leaders, if you won't
recognise it de jure, recognise it de facto. A great deal has been done,
some of it with the help of sport. During the Moscow Olympic Games some of
the competitions took place in Moscow and some of them in the occupied
territories of the Baltic states. At that time I talked to a number of
Western politicians and sportsmen. I asked them: if the Soviet Union had
occupied Sweden, would they have gone to the Olympic Games in Moscow? With
one indignant voice they replied, `No!' But if parts of the Games had taken
place in Moscow and part in Stockholm would they have gone to occupied
Stockholm? Here there was no limit to their indignation. They considered
themselves people of character and they would never have gone to occupied
countries. Then why, I asked, did they go to an Olympic Games, part of which
took place in the occupied territory of the Baltic states? To that question
I received no answer.
The units made up of professional athletes in spetsnaz are an elite
within an elite. They are made up of far better human material (some of
Olympic standard), enjoy incomparably better living conditions and many more
privileges than other spetsnaz units.
In carrying out their missions the professional athletes have the right
to make contact with spetsnaz agents on enemy territory and obtain help from
them. They are in effect the advance guard for all the other spetsnaz
formations. They are the first to be issued with latest weapons and
equipment and the first to try out the newly devised and most risky kinds of
operation. It is only after experiments have been carried out by the units
of athletes that new weapons, equipment and ways of operating are adopted by
regular spetsnaz units. Here is an example:
In my book Aquarium, first published in July 1985, I described the
period of my life when I served as an officer of the Intelligence
directorate of a military district and often had to act as the personal
representative of the district's chief of intelligence with the spetsnaz
groups. The period I described was identified: it was after my return from
`liberated' Czechoslovakia and before I entered the Military-Diplomatic
Academy in the summer of 1970.
I described the ordinary spetsnaz units that I had to deal with. One
group carried out a parachute jump from 100 metres. Each man had just one
parachute: in that situation a spare one was pointless. The jump took place
over snow. Throughout the book I refer only to one type of parachute: the
D-1-8. Four months later, in the magazine Sovetsky Voin for November 1985, a
Lieutenant-General Lisov published what might be called the pre-history of
group parachute jumps by spetsnaz units from critically low levels. The
General describes a group jump from a height of 100 metres in which each man
had only one parachute, and he explains that a spare one is not needed. The
jump takes place over snow. The article refers to only one type of parachute
-- the D-1-8.
General Lisov was describing trials which were carried out from October
1967 to March 1968. The General did not, of course, say why the trials were
carried out and the word spetsnaz was not, of course, used. But he
underlined the fact that the trial was not conducted because it had any
connection with sport. On the contrary, according to the rules laid down by
the international sports bodies at that time, anyone who during a contest
opened his parachute less than 400 metres from the ground was disqualified.
General Lisov conducted the trial contrary to all rules of the sport
and not to demonstrate sporting prowess. The military athletes left the
aircraft at a height of 100 metres, so their parachutes must have opened
even lower down. The group jump took place simultaneously from several
aircraft, with the parachutists leaving their plane at about one-second
intervals. Each of them was in the air for between 9.5 and 13 seconds.
General Lisov summed it up like this: 100 metres, 50 men, 23 seconds. An
amazing result by any standards.
The fifty men symbolised the fifty years of the Soviet Army. It was
planned to carry out the jump of 23 February, 1968, on the Army's
anniversary, but because of the weather it was postponed till 1 March.
I could not have known at that time about General Lisov's trials. But
it is now clear to me that the tactic that was being developed in the
spetsnaz fighting units in 1969-70 had been initiated by professional
military athletes a year before.
This dangerous stunt was carried out in my ordinary spetsnaz unit in
rather simpler conditions: we jumped in a group of thirteen men from the
wide rear door of an Antonov-12 aircraft. The professionals described by
General Lisov jumped from the narrow side doors of an Antonov-2, which is
more awkward and dangerous. The professionals made the jump in a much bigger
group, more closely together and with greater accuracy.
In spite of the fact that the ordinary spetsnaz units did not succeed
and will never succeed in achieving results comparable with those of the
professional athletes, nevertheless the idea of the group jump from a height
of a hundred metres provided the fighting units with an exceptionally
valuable technique. The special troops are on the ground before the planes
have vanished over the horizon, and they are ready for action before the
enemy has had time to grasp what is happening. They need this technique to
be able to attack the enemy without any warning at all. That is the reason
for taking such a risk.
During a war the fighting units of spetsnaz will be carrying out
missions behind the enemy's lines. Surely the units of professional
athletes, which are capable of carrying out extremely dangerous work with
even greater precision and speed than the ordinary spetsnaz units, should
not be left unemployed in wartime?
Before leaving the subject entirely, I would like to add a few words
about another use of Soviet athletes for terrorist operations. Not only the
Soviet Army but also the Soviet state's punitive apparatus (known at various
times as the NKVD, the MGB, the MVD and the KGB) has its own sports
organisation, Dinamo. Here are some illustrations of its practical
`When the war broke out the "pure" parachutists disappeared, Anna
Shishmareva joined the OMSBON.'3 Anna Shishmareva is a famous Soviet woman
athlete of the pre-war period, while OMSBON was a brigade of the NKVD's
osnaz which I have already referred to. Another example: `Among the people
in our osoby, as our unit was called, were many athletes, record holders and
Soviet champions famous before the war.'4 Finally: Boris Galushkin, the
outstanding Soviet boxer of the pre-war period, was a lieutenant and worked
as an interrogator in the NKVD. During the war he went behind the enemy
lines in one of the osnaz units.
I have quite a few examples in my collection. But the KGB and the
Dinamo sports club are not my field of interest. I hope that one of the
former officers of the KGB who has fled to the West will write in greater
detail about the use of athletes in the Soviet secret police.
However, I must also make mention of the very mysterious Soviet
sporting society known as Zenit. Officially it belongs to the ministry for
the aircraft industry. But there are some quite weighty reasons for
believing that there is somebody else behind the club. The Zenit cannot be
compared with the ZSKA or Dinamo in its sporting results or its popularity.
But it occasionally displays a quite unusual aggressiveness in its efforts
to acquire the best athletes. The style and the general direction of the
training in the Zenit are very militarised and very similar to what goes on
in the ZSKA and Dinamo. Zenit deserves greater attention than it has been
shown. It is just possible that the researcher who studied Zenit and its
connections seriously will make some surprising discoveries.
3 Sovetsky Voin, No. 20, 1985.
4 Krasnaya Zvezda, 22 May, 1985.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
... das wars erstmal, mal schaun, wann weitere teile online gestellt werden
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
Was, wenn ich dir zeigen kann, dass die restlichen 9 auch online sind?
... dann kopier sie ruhig rein - der vorteil von meiner quelle war, dass du einfach auf alles markieren + kopieren gehn konntest - auf lib.ru geht das nit ... also herrschaften ... wir bedanken uns bei jetlag fürs posten vom rest ... aber bitte schön in einzelkapiteln, sonst ruinierts das gesamtbild
ps: als kleiner ansporn
Chapter 7. Selection and Training
Between soldiers and their officers are the sergeants, an intermediate
rank with its own internal seniority of junior sergeants, full sergeants,
senior sergeant and starshina. The training of the sergeants is of critical
importance in spetsnaz where discipline and competence are required to an
even more stringent degree than in the everyday life of the armed forces.
In normal circumstances training is carried out by special training
divisions. Each of these has a permanent staff, a general, officers, warrant
officers and sergeants and a limited number of soldiers in support units.
Every six months the division receives 10,000 recruits who are distributed
among the regiments and battalions on a temporary basis. After five months
of harsh training these young soldiers receive their sergeants' stripes and
are sent out to regular divisions. It takes a month to distribute the young
sergeants to the regular forces, to prepare the training base for the new
input and to receive a fresh contingent. After that the training programme
is repeated. Thus each training division is a gigantic incubator producing
20,000 sergeants a year. A training division is organised in the usual way:
three motorised rifle regiments, a tank regiment, an artillery regiment, an
anti-aircraft regiment, a missile battalion and so forth. Each regiment and
battalion trains specialists in its own field, from infantry sergeants to
land surveyors, topographers and signallers.
A training division is a means of mass-producing sergeants for a
gigantic army which in peacetime has in its ranks around five million men
but which in case of war increases considerably in size. There is one
shortcoming in this mass production. The selection of sergeants is not
carried out by the commanders of the regular divisions but by local military
agencies -- the military commissariats and the mobilisation officers of the
military districts. This selection cannot be, and is not, qualitative. When
they receive instructions from their superiors the local authorities simply
despatch several truckloads or trainloads of recruits.
Having received its 10,000 recruits, who are no different from any
others, the training division has in five months to turn them into
commanders and specialists. A certain number of the new recruits are sent
straight off to the regular divisions on the grounds that they are not at
all suitable for being turned into commanders. But the training division has
very strict standards and cannot normally send more than five percent of its
intake to regular divisions. Then, in exchange for those who were sent
straight off, others arrive, but they are not much better in quality than
those sent away, so the officers and sergeants of the training division have
to exert all their ability, all their fury and inventiveness, to turn these
people into sergeants.
The selection of future sergeants for spetsnaz takes place in a
different way which is much more complicated and much more expensive. All
the recruits to spetsnaz (after a very careful selection) join fighting
units, where the company commander and platoon commanders put their young
soldiers through a very tough course. This initial period of training for
new recruits takes place away from other soldiers. During the course the
company commander and the platoon commanders very carefully select (because
they are vitally interested in the matter) those who appear to be born
leaders. There are a lot of very simple devices for doing this. For example,
a group of recruits is given the job of putting up a tent in a double quick
time, but no leader is appointed among them. In a relatively simple
operation someone has to co-ordinate the actions of the rest. A very short
time is allowed for the work to be carried out and severe punishment is
promised if the work is badly done or not completed on time. Within five
minutes the group has appointed its own leader. Again, a group may be given
the task of getting from one place to another by a very complicated and
confused route without losing a single man. And again the group will soon
appoint its own leader. Every day, every hour and every minute of the
soldier's time is taken up with hard work, lessons, running, jumping,
overcoming obstacles, and practically all the time the group is without a
commander. In a few days of very intensive training the company commander
and platoon commanders pick out the most intelligent, most imaginative,
strongest, most brash and energetic in the group. After completing the
course the majority of recruits finish up in sections and platoons of the
same company, but the best of them are sent thousands of kilometres away to
one of the spetsnaz training battalions where they become sergeants. Then
they return to the companies they came from.
It is a very long road for the recruit. But it has one advantage: the
potential sergeant is not selected by the local military authority nor even
by the training unit, but by a regular officer at a very low level -- at
platoon or company level. What is more, the selection is made on a strictly
individual basis and by the very same officer who will in five months' time
receive the man he has selected back again, now equipped with sergeant's
It is impossible, of course, to introduce such a system into the whole
of the Soviet Armed Forces. It involves transporting millions of men from
one place to another. In all other branches the path of the future sergeant
from where he lives follows this plan: training division -- regular
division. In spetsnaz the plan is: regular unit -- training unit -- regular
There is yet another difference of principle. If any other branch of
the services needs a sergeant the military commissariat despatches a recruit
to the training division, which has to make him into a sergeant. But if
spetsnaz needs a sergeant the company commander sends three of his best
recruits to the spetsnaz training unit.
The spetsnaz training battalion works on the principle that before you
start giving orders, you have to learn to obey them. The whole of the
thinking behind the training battalions can be put very simply. They say
that if you make an empty barrel airtight and drag it down below the water
and then let it go it shoots up and out above the surface of the water. The
deeper it is dragged down the faster it rises and the further it jumps out
of the water. This is how the training battalions operate. Their task is to
drag their ever-changing body of men deeper down.
Each spetsnaz training battalion has its permanent staff of officers,
warrant officers and sergeants and receives its intake of 300-400 spetsnaz
recruits who have already been through a recruit's course in various
The regime in the normal Soviet training divisions can only be
described as brutal. I experienced it first as a student in a training
division. I have already described the conditions within spetsnaz. To
appreciate what conditions are like in a spetsnaz training battalion, the
brutality has to be multiplied many times over.
In the spetsnaz training battalions the empty barrel is dragged so far
down into the deep that it is in danger of bursting from external pressure.
A man's dignity is stripped from him to such an extent that it is kept
constantly at the very brink, beyond which lies suicide or the murder of his
officer. The officers and sergeants of the training battalions are, every
one of them, enthusiasts for their work. Anyone who does like this work will
not stand it for so long but goes off voluntarily to other easier work in
spetsnaz regular units. The only people who stay in the training battalions
are those who derive great pleasure from their work. Their work is to issue
orders by which they make or break the strongest of characters. The
commander's work is constantly to see before him dozens of men, each of whom
has one thought in his head: to kill himself or to kill his officer? The
work for those who enjoy it provides complete moral and physical
satisfaction, just as a stuntman might derive satisfaction from leaping on a
motorcycle over nineteen coaches. The difference between the stuntman
risking his neck and the commander of a spetsnaz training unit lies in the
fact that the former experiences his satisfaction for a matter of a few
seconds, while the latter experiences it all the time.
Every soldier taken into a training battalion is given a nickname,
almost invariably sarcastic. He might be known as The Count, The Duke,
Caesar, Alexander of Macedon, Louis XI, Ambassador, Minister of Foreign
Affairs, or any variation on the theme. He is treated with exaggerated
respect, not given orders, but asked for his opinion:
`Would Your Excellency be of a mind to clean the toilet with his
`Illustrious Prince, would you care to throw up in public what you ate
In spetsnaz units men are fed much better than in any other units of
the armed forces, but the workload is so great that the men are permanently
hungry, even if they do not suffer the unofficial but very common punishment
of being forced to empty their stomachs:
`You're on the heavy side, Count, after your lunch! Would you care to
stick two fingers down your throat? That'll make things easier!'
The more humiliating the forms of punishment a sergeant thinks up for
the men under him, and the more violently he attacks their dignity, the
better. The task of the training battalions is to crush and completely
destroy the individual, however strong a character he may have possessed,
and to fashion out of that person a type to fit the standards of spetsnaz, a
type who will be filled with an explosive charge of hatred and spite and a
craving for revenge.
The main difficulty in carrying out this act of human engineering is to
turn the fury of the young soldier in the right direction. He has to have
been reduced to the lowest limits of his dignity and then, at precisely the
point when he can take no more, he can be given his sergeant's stripes and
sent off to serve in a regular unit. There he can begin to work off his fury
on his own subordinates, or better still on the enemies of Communism.
The training units of spetsnaz are a place where they tease a recruit
like a dog, working him into a rage and then letting him off the leash. It
is not surprising that fights inside spetsnaz are a common occurrence.
Everyone, especially those who have served in a spetsnaz training unit,
bears within himself a colossal charge of malice, just as a thunder cloud
bears its charge of electricity. It is not surprising that for a spetsnaz
private, or even more so for a sergeant, war is just a beautiful dream, the
time when he is at last allowed to release his full charge of malice.
Apart from the unending succession of humiliations, insults and
punishments handed out by the commanders, the man serving in a spetsnaz
training unit has continually to wage a no less bitter battle against his
own comrades who are in identical circumstances to his own.
In the first place there is a silent competition for pride of place,
for the leadership in each group of people. In spetsnaz, as we have seen,
this struggle has assumed open and very dramatic forms. Apart from this
natural battle for first place there exists an even more serious incentive.
It derives from the fact that for every sergeant's place in a spetsnaz
training battalion there are three candidates being trained at the same
time. Only the very best will be made sergeant at the end of five months. On
passing out some are given the rank of junior sergeant, while others are not
given any rank at all and remain as privates in the ranks. It is a bitter
tragedy for a man to go through all the ordeals of a spetsnaz training
battalion and not to receive any rank but to return to his unit as a private
at the end of it.
The decision whether to promote a man to sergeant after he has been
through the training course is made by a commission of GRU officers or the
Intelligence Directorate of the military district in whose territory the
particular battalion is stationed. The decision is made on the basis of the
result of examinations conducted in the presence of the commission, on the
main subjects studied: political training; the tactics of spetsnaz
(including knowledge of the probable enemy and the main targets that
spetsnaz operates); weapons training (knowledge of spetsnaz armament, firing
from various kinds of weapons including foreign weapons, and the use of
explosives); parachute training; physical training; and weapons of mass
destruction and defence against them.
The commission does not distinguish between the soldiers according to
where they have come from, but only according to their degree of readiness
to carry out missions. Consequently, when the men who have passed out are
returned to their units there may arise a lack of balance among them. For
example, a spetsnaz company that sends nine privates to a training battalion
in the hope of receiving three sergeants back after five months, could
receive one sergeant, one junior sergeant and seven privates, or five
sergeants, three junior sergeants and one private. This system has been
introduced quite deliberately. The officer commanding a regular company,
with nine trained men to choose from, puts only the very best in charge of
his sections. He can put anybody he pleases into the vacancies without
reference to his rank. Privates who have been through the training battalion
can be appointed commanders of sections. Sergeants and junior sergeants for
whom there are not enough posts as commanders will carry out the work of
privates despite their sergeant's rank.
The spetsnaz company commander may also have, apart from the freshly
trained men, sergeants and privates who completed their training earlier but
were not appointed to positions as commanders. Consequently the company
commander can entrust the work of commanding sections to any of them, while
all the new arrivals from the training battalion can be used as privates.
The private or junior sergeant who is appointed to command a section
has to struggle to show his superiors that he really is worthy of that trust
and that he really is the best. If he succeeds in doing so he will in due
course be given the appropriate rank. If he is unworthy he will be removed.
There are always candidates for his job.
This system has two objectives: the first is to have within the
spetsnaz regular units a large reserve of commanders at the very lowest
level. During a war spetsnaz will suffer tremendous losses. In every section
there are always a minimum of two fully trained men capable of taking
command at any moment; the second is to generate a continual battle between
sergeants for the right to be a commander. Every commander of a section or
deputy commander of a platoon can be removed at any time and replaced by
someone more worthy of the job. The removal of a sergeant from a position of
command is carried out on the authority of the company commander (if it is a
separate spetsnaz company) or on the authority of the battalion commander or
regiment. When he is removed the former commander is reduced to the status
of a private soldier. He may retain his rank, or his rank may be reduced, or
he may lose the rank of sergeant altogether.
The training of officers for spetsnaz often take place at a special
faculty of the Lenin Komsomol Higher Airborne Command School in Ryazan.
Great care is taken over their selection for the school. The ones who join
the faculty are among the very best. The four years of gruelling training
are also four years of continual testing and selection to establish whether
the students are capable of becoming spetsnaz officers or not. When they
have completed their studies at the special faculty some of them are posted
to the airborne troops or the air assault troops. Only the very best are
posted to spetsnaz, and even then a young officer can at any moment be sent
off into the airborne forces. Only those who are absolutely suitable remain
in spetsnaz. Other officers are appointed from among the men passing out
from other command schools who have never previously heard of spetsnaz.
The heads of the GRU consider that special training is necessary for
every function, except that of leader. A leader cannot be produced by even
the best training scheme. A leader is born a leader and nobody can help him
or advise him how to manage people. In this case advice offered by
professors does not help; it only hinders. A professor is a man who has
never been a leader and never will be, and nobody ever taught Hitler how to
lead a nation. Stalin was thrown out of his theological seminary. Marshal
Georgi Zhukov, the outstanding military leader of the Second World War, had
a million men, and often several million, under his direct command
practically throughout the war. Of all the generals and marshals at his
level he was the only one who did not suffer a single defeat in battle. Yet
he had no real military education. He did not graduate from a military
school to become a junior officer; he did not graduate from a military
academy to become a senior officer; and he did not graduate from the Academy
of General Staff to become a general and later a marshal. But he became one
just the same. There was Khalkhin-Gol, Yelnya, the counter-offensive before
Moscow, Stalingrad, the lifting of the Leningrad blockade, Kursk, the
crossing of the Dnieper, the Belorussian operation, and the Vistula-Oder and
Berlin operations. What need had he of education? What could the professors
The headquarters of every military district has a Directorate for
Personnel, which does a tremendous amount of work on officers' records and
on the studying, selecting and posting of officers. On instructions from the
chief of staff of the military district the Directorate for Personnel of
each district will do a search for officers who come up to the spetsnaz
The criteria which the Intelligence directorate sends to the
Directorate of Personnel are top secret. But one can easily tell by looking
at the officers of spetsnaz the qualities which they certainly possess.
The first and most important of them are of course a strong, unbending
character and the marks of a born leader. Every year thousands of young
officers with all kinds of specialities -- from the missile forces, the tank
troops, the infantry, the engineers and signallers pass through the
Personnel directorate of each military district. Each officer is preceded by
his dossier in which a great deal is written down. But that is not the
decisive factor. When he arrives in the Directorate for Personnel the young
officer is interviewed by several experienced officers specialising in
personnel matters. It is in the course of these interviews that a man of
really remarkable personality stands out, with dazzling clarity, from the
mass of thousands of other strong-willed and physically powerful men. When
the personnel officers discover him, the interviewing is taken over by other
officers of the Intelligence directorate and it is they who will very
probably offer him a suitable job.
But officers for spetsnaz are occasionally not selected when they pass
through the Personnel directorate. They pass through the interviewing
process without distinguishing themselves in any way, and are given jobs as
commanders. Then stories may begin to circulate through the regiment,
division, army and district to the effect that such and such a young
commander is a *****, ready to attack anyone, but holds his own, performs
miracles, has turned a backward platoon into a model unit, and so forth. The
man is rapidly promoted and can be sure of being appointed to a penal
battalion -- not to be punished, but to take charge of the offenders. At
this point the Intelligence directorate takes a hand in the matter. If the
officer is in command of a penal platoon or company and he is tough enough
to handle really difficult men without being scared of them or fearing to
use his own strength, he will be weighed up very carefully for a job.
There is one other way in which officers are chosen. Every officer with
his unit has to mount guard for the garrison and patrol the streets and
railway stations in search of offenders. The military commandant of the town
and the officer commanding the garrison (the senior military man in town)
see these officers every day. Day after day they take over the duty from
another officer, perform it for twenty-four hours and then hand over to
another officer. The system has existed for decades and all serving officers
carry out these duties several times a year. It is the right moment to study
Say a drunken private is hauled into the guardroom. One officer will
say, `Pour ice-cold water over him and throw him in a cell!' Another officer
will behave differently. When he sees the drunken soldier, his reaction will
be along the lines of: `Just bring him in here! Shut the door and cover him
with a wet blanket (so as not to leave any marks). I'll teach him a lesson!
Kick him in the guts! That'll teach him not to drink next time. Now lads,
beat him up as best you can. Go on! I'd do the same to you, my boys! Now
wipe him off with snow.' It needs little imagination to see which of the
officers is regarded more favourably by his superiors. The Intelligence
directorate doesn't need very many people -- just the best.
The second most important quality is physical endurance. An officer who
is offered a post is likely to be a runner, swimmer, skier or athlete in
some form of sport demanding long and very concentrated physical effort. And
a third factor is the physical dimensions of the man. Best of all is that he
should be an enormous hulk with vast shoulders and huge fists. But this
factor can be ignored if a man appears of small build and no broad shoulders
but with a really strong character and a great capacity for physical
endurance. Such a person is taken in, of course. The long history of mankind
indicates that strong characters are met with no less frequently among short
people than among giants.
Any young officer can be invited to join spetsnaz irrespective of his
previous speciality in the armed forces. If he possesses the required
qualities of an iron will, an air of unquestionable authority, ruthlessness
and an independent way of taking decisions and acting, if he is by nature a
gambler who is not afraid to take a chance with anything, including his own
life, then he will eventually be invited to the headquarters of the military
district. He will be led along the endless corridors to a little office
where he will be interviewed by a general and some senior officers. The
young officer will not of course know that the general is head of the
Intelligence directorate of the military district or that the colonel next
to him is head of the third department (spetsnaz) of the directorate.
The atmosphere of the interview is relaxed, with smiles and jokes on
both sides. `Tell us about yourself, lieutenant. What are your interests?
What games do you play? You hold the divisional record on skis over ten
kilometres? Very good. How did your men do in the last rifle-shooting test?
How do you get along with your deputy? Is he a difficult chap? Uncontrolled
character? Our information is that you tamed him. How did you manage it?'
The interview moves gradually on to the subject of the armed forces of
the probable enemy and takes the form of a gentle examination.
`You have an American division facing your division on the front. The
American division has "Lance" missiles. A nasty thing?'
`Of course, comrade general.'
`Just supposing, lieutenant, that you were chief of staff of the Soviet
division, how would you destroy the enemy's missiles?'
`With our own 9K21 missiles.'
`Very good, lieutenant, but the location of the American missiles is
`I would ask the air force to locate them and possibly bomb them.'
`But there's bad weather, lieutenant, and the anti-aircraft defences
`Then I would send forward from our division a deep reconnaissance
company to find the missiles, cut the throats of the missile crew and blow
up the missiles.'
`Not a bad idea. Very good, in fact. Have you ever heard, lieutenant,
that there are units in the American Army known as the "Green Berets"?'
`Yes, I have heard.'
`What do you think of them?'
`I look at the question from two points of view -- the political and
`Tell us both of them, please.'
`They are mercenary cutthroats of American capitalism, looters,
murderers and rapists. They burn down villages and massacre the inhabitants,
women, children and old people.'
`Enough. Your second point of view?'
`They are marvellously well-trained units for operating behind the
enemy's lines. Their job is to paralyse the enemy's system of command and
control. They are a very powerful and effective instrument in the hands of
`Very well. So what would you think, lieutenant, if we were to organise
something similar in our army?'
`I think, comrade general, that it would be a correct decision. I am
sure, comrade general, that that is our army's tomorrow.'
`It's the army's today, lieutenant. What would you say if we were to
offer you the chance to become an officer in these troops? The discipline is
like iron. Your authority as a commander would be almost absolute. You would
be the one taking the decisions, not your superiors for you.'
`If I were to be offered such an opportunity, comrade general, I would
`All right, lieutenant, now you can go back to your regiment. Perhaps
you will receive an offer. Continue your service and forget this
conversation took place. You realise, of course, what will happen to you if
anybody gets to know about what we have discussed?'
`I understand, comrade general.'
`We have informed your commanding officers, including the regimental
commander, that you came before us as a candidate for posting to the Chinese
frontier -- to Mongolia, Afghanistan, the islands of the Arctic Ocean --
that sort of thing. Goodbye for now, lieutenant.'
`Goodbye, comrade general.'
An officer who joins spetsnaz from another branch of the armed forces
does not have to go through any additional training course. He is posted
straight to a regular unit and is given command of a platoon. I was present
many times at exercises where a young officer who had taken over a platoon
knew a lot less about spetsnaz than many of his men and certainly his
sergeants. But a young commander learns quickly, along with the privates.
There is nothing to be ashamed of in learning. The officer could not know
anything about the technique and tactics of spetsnaz.
It is not unusual for a young officer in these circumstances to begin a
lesson, announce the subject and purpose of it, and then order the senior
sergeant to conduct the lesson while he takes up position in the ranks along
with the young privates. His platoon will already have a sense of the
firmness of the commander's character. The men will already know that the
commander is the leader of the platoon, the one unquestionable leader. There
are questions he cannot yet answer and equipment he cannot yet handle. But
they all know that, if it is a question of running ten kilometres, their new
commander will be among the first home, and if it is a question of firing
from a weapon their commander will of course be the best. In a few weeks the
young officer will make his first parachute jump along with the youngest
privates. He will be given the chance to jump as often as he likes. The
company commander and the other officers will help him to understand what he
did not know before. At night he will read his top secret instructions and a
month later he will be ready to challenge any of his sergeants to a contest.
A few months later he will be the best in all matters and will teach his
platoon by simply giving them the most confident of all commands: `Do as I
An officer who gets posted to spetsnaz from other branches of the
forces without having had any special training is of course an unusual
person. The officers commanding spetsnaz seek out such people and trust
them. Experience shows that these officers without special training produce
much better results than those who have graduated from the special faculty
at the Higher Airborne Command school. There is nothing surprising or
paradoxical about this. If Mikhail Koshkin had had special training in
designing tanks he would never have created the T-34 tank, the best in the
world. Similarly, if someone had decided to teach Mikhail Kalashnikov how to
design a sub-machine-gun the teaching might easily have ruined a
The officers commanding the GRU believe that strong and independent
people must be found and told what to do, leaving them with the right to
choose which way to carry out the task given them. That is why the
instructions for spetsnaz tactics are so short. All Soviet regulations are
in general much shorter than those in Western armies, and a Soviet commander
is guided by them less frequently than his opposite member in the West.
The officer of powerful build is only one type of spetsnaz officer.
There is another type, whose build, width of shoulder and so forth are not
taken into account, although the man must be no less strong of character.
This type might be called the `intelligentsia' of spetsnaz, and it includes
officers who are not directly involved with the men in the ranks and who
work with their heads far more than with their hands.
There is, of course, no precise line drawn between the two types. Take,
for example, the officer-interpreters who would seem to belong to the
`intelligentsia' of spetsnaz. There is an officer-interpreter, with a fluent
knowledge of at least two foreign languages, in every spetsnaz company. His
contact with the men in the company exists mainly because he teaches them
foreign languages. But, as we know, this is not a subject that takes much
time for the spetsnaz soldier. The interpreter is constantly at the company
commander's side, acting as his unofficial adjutant. At first glance he is
an `intellectual'. But that is just the first impression. The fact is that
the interpreter jumps along with the company and spends many days with it
plodding across marshes and mountains, sand and snow. The interpreter is the
first to drive nails into the heads of enemy prisoners to get the necessary
information out of them. That is his work: to drag out finger-nails, cut
tongues in half (known as `making a snake') and stuff hot coals into
prisoners' mouths. Military interpreters for the Soviet armed forces are
trained at the Military Institute.
Among the students at the Institute there are those who are physically
strong and tough, with strong nerves and characters of granite. These are
the ones invited to join spetsnaz. Consequently, although the interpreter is
sometimes regarded as a representative of the `intelligentsia', it is
difficult to distinguish him by appearance from the platoon commanders of
the company in which he serves. His job is not simply to ask questions and
wait for an answer. His job to get the right answer. Upon that depends the
success of the mission and the lives of an enormous number of people. He has
to force the prisoner to talk if he does not want to, and having received an
answer the interpreter must extract from the prisoner confirmation that it
is the only right answer. That is why he has to apply not very
`intellectual' methods to his prisoner. With that in mind the interpreters
in spetsnaz can be seen as neither commanders nor intellectuals, but a link
between the two classes.
Pure representatives of spetsnaz `intelligentsia' are found among the
officers of the spetsnaz intelligence posts. They are selected from various
branches, and their physical development is not a key factor. They are
officers who have already been through the military schools and have served
for not less than two years. After posting to the third faculty of the
Military-Diplomatic Academy, they work in intelligence posts (RPs) and
centres (RZs). Their job is to look for opportunities for recruitment and to
direct the agent network. Some of them work with the agent-informer network,
some with the spetsnaz network.
An officer working with the spetsnaz agent network is a spetsnaz
officer in the full sense. But he is not dropped by parachute and he does
not have to run, fight, shoot or cut people's throats. His job is to study
the progress of thousands of people and discover among them individuals
suitable for spetsnaz; to seek a way of approaching them and getting to know
them; to establish and develop relations with them; and then to recruit
them. These officers wear civilian clothes most of the time, and if they
have to wear military uniform they wear the uniform of the branch in which
they previously served: artillery, engineering troops, the medical service.
Or they wear the uniform of the unit within which the secret intelligence
unit of spetsnaz is concealed.
The senior command of spetsnaz consists of colonels and generals of the
GRU who have graduated from one of the main faculties of the
Military-Diplomatic Academy -- that is, the first or second faculties, and
have worked for many years in the central apparat of the GRU and in its
rezidenturas abroad. Each one of them has a first-class knowledge of a
country or group of countries because of working abroad for a long time. If
there is a possibility of continuing to work abroad he will do so. But
circumstances may mean that further trips abroad are impossible. In that
case he continues to serve in the central apparat of the GRU or in an
Intelligence directorate of a military district, fleet or group of forces.
He then has control of all the instruments of intelligence, including
I frequently came across people of this class. In every case they were
men who were silent and unsociable. They have elegant exteriors, good
command of foreign languages and refined manners. They hold tremendous power
in their hands and know how to handle authority.
Some however, are men who have never attended the Academy and have
never been in countries regarded as potential enemies. They have advanced
upwards thanks to their inborn qualities, to useful contacts which they know
how to arrange and support, to their own striving for power, and to their
continual and successful struggle for power which is full of cunning tricks
and tremendous risks. They are intoxicated by power and the struggle for
power. It is their only aim in life and they go at it, scrambling over the
slippery slopes and summits. One of the elements of success in their life's
struggle is of course the state of the units entrusted to them and their
readiness at any moment to carry out any mission set by the higher command.
No senior official in spetsnaz can be held up by considerations of a moral,
juridical or any other kind. His upward flight or descent depends entirely
on how a mission is carried out. You may be sure that any mission will be
carried out at any cost and by any means.
I often hear it said that the Soviet soldier is a very bad soldier
because he serves for only two years in the army. Some Western experts
consider it impossible to produce a good soldier in such a short time.
It is true that the Soviet soldier is a conscript, but it must be
remembered that he is conscript in a totally militarised country. It is
sufficient to remember that even the leaders of the party in power in the
Soviet Union have the military ranks of generals and marshals. The whole of
Soviet society is militarised and swamped with military propaganda. From a
very early age Soviet children engage in war games in a very serious way,
often using real submachine guns (and sometimes even fighting tanks), under
the direction of officers and generals of the Soviet Armed Forces.
Those children who show a special interest in military service join the
Voluntary Society for Co-operation with the Army, Air Force and Fleet, known
by its Russian initial letters as DOSAAF. DOSAAF is a para-military
organisation with 15 million members who have regular training in military
trades and engage in sports with a military application. DOSAAF not only
trains young people for military service; it also helps reservists to
maintain their qualifications after they have completed their service.
DOSAAF has a colossal budget, a widespread network of airfields and training
centres and clubs of various sizes and uses which carry out elementary and
advanced training of military specialists of every possible kind, from
snipers to radio operators, from fighter pilots to underwater swimmers, from
glider pilots to astronauts, and from tank drivers to the people who train
Many outstanding Soviet airmen, the majority of the astronauts
(starting with Yuri Gagarin), famous generals and European and world
champions in military types of sport began their careers in DOSAAF, often at
the age of fourteen.
The men in charge of DOSAAF locally are retired officers, generals and
admirals, but the men in charge at the top of DOSAAF are generals and
marshals on active service. Among the best-known leaders of the society were
Army-General A. L. Getman, Marshal of the Air Force A. I. Pokryshkin,
Army-General D. D. Lelyushenko and Admiral of the Fleet G. Yegorov.
Traditionally the top leadership of DOSAAF includes leaders of the GRU and
spetsnaz. At the present time (1986), for example, the first deputy chairman
of DOSAAF is Colonel-General A. Odintsev. As long ago as 1941 he was serving
in a spetsnaz detachment on the Western Front. The detachment was under the
command of Artur Sprogis. Throughout his life Odintsev has been directly
connected with the GRU and terrorism. At the present time his main job is to
train young people of both sexes for the ordeal of fighting a war. The most
promising of them are later sent to serve in spetsnaz.
When we speak about the Soviet conscript soldiers, and especially those
who were taken into spetsnaz, we must remember that each one of them has
already been through three or four years of intensive military training, has
already made parachute jumps, fired a sub-machine gun and been on a survival
course. He has already developed stamina, strength, drive and the
determination to conquer. The difference between him and a regular soldier
in the West lies in the fact that the regular soldier is paid for his
efforts. Our young man gets no money. He is a fanatic and an enthusiast. He
has to pay himself (though only a nominal sum) for being taught how to use a
knife, a silenced pistol, a spade and explosives.
After completing his service in spetsnaz the soldier either becomes a
regular soldier or he returns to `peaceful' work and in his spare time
attends one of the many DOSAAF clubs. Here is a typical example: Sergei
Chizhik was born in 1965. While still at school he joined the DOSAAF club.
He made 120 parachute jumps. Then he was called into the Army and served
with special troops in Afghanistan. He distinguished himself in battle, and
completed his service in 1985. In May 1986 he took part in a DOSAAF team in
experiments in surviving in Polar conditions. As one of a group of Soviet
`athletes' he dropped by parachute on the North Pole.
DOSAAF is a very useful organisation for spetsnaz in many ways. The
Soviet Union has signed a convention undertaking not to use the Antarctic
for military purposes. But in the event of war it will of course be used by
the military, and for that reason the corresponding experience has to be
gained. That is why the training for a parachute drop on the South Pole in
the Antarctic is being planned out by spetsnaz but to be carried out by
DOSAAF. The difference is only cosmetic: the men who make the jump will be
the very same cutthroats as went through the campaigns in Hungary,
Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. They are now considered to be civilians, but
they are under the complete control of generals like Odintsev, and in
wartime they will become the very same spetsnaz troops as we now label
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
ach, was solls ;-) :
Chapter 8. The Agent Network
Soviet military intelligence controls an enormous number of secret
agents, who, in this context, are foreigners who have been recruited by the
Soviet intelligence services and who carry out tasks for those services.
They can be divided into two networks, the strategic and the operational.
The first is recruited by the central apparat of the GRU and the GRU's
numerous branches within the country and abroad. It works for the General
Staff of the armed forces of the USSR and its agents are recruited mainly in
the capitals of hostile states or in Moscow. The second is recruited by the
intelligence directorates of fronts, fleets, groups of forces, military
districts and the intelligence departments of armies and flotillas,
independently of the central GRU apparat, and its agents serve the needs of
a particular front, fleet, army and so on. They are recruited mainly from
the territory of the Soviet Union or from countries friendly to it.
The division of agents into strategic and operational networks does not
in any way indicate a difference in quality. The central apparat of the GRU
naturally has many more agents than any military district group of forces,
in fact more than all the fleets, military district armies and so forth put
together. They are, broadly speaking, people who have direct access to
official secrets. Nevertheless the operational network has also frequently
obtained information of interest not just to local commanders but also to
the top Soviet leadership.
During the Second World War the information coming from the majority of
foreign capitals was not of interest to the Soviet Union. Useful information
came from a very small number of locations, but however vital it was, it was
insufficient to satisfy wartime demands. Consequently the operational
network of the armies, fronts and fleets increased many times in size during
the war and came to be of greater importance than the strategic network of
agents of the central GRU apparat. This could happen again in another
full-scale war if, contrary to the military and political consensus on
future wars, it proved to be long drawn-out.
The spetsnaz agent network, an operational one, works for every
military district, group of forces, fleet and front (which all have in
addition an information network). Recruitment of agents is carried out
mainly from the territory of the Soviet Union and states friendly to it. The
main places where spetsnaz looks out for likely candidates for recruitment
are: major ports visited by foreign tourists; and among foreign students.
Spetsnaz examines the correspondence of Soviet citizens and of citizens of
the satellite countries and listens in to the telephone conversations in the
hope of coming across interesting contacts between Soviet and East European
citizens and people living in countries that spetsnaz is interested in.
Usually a foreign person who has been recruited can be persuaded to recruit
several other people who may never have been in the Soviet Union or had any
contact with Soviet citizens. It sometimes happens that spetsnaz officers
turn up in somebody else's territory and recruit agents. Most of them do not
have diplomatic cover and do not recruit agents in the capital cities, but
drop off from Soviet merchant and fishing vessels in foreign ports and
appear in the foreign country as drivers of Soviet trucks, Aeroflot pilots
or stewards of Soviet trains. One proven place for recruiting is a Soviet
cruise ship: two weeks at sea, vodka, caviar, the dolce vita, pleasant
company and the ability to talk without fearing the local police.
If the reader had access to real dossiers on the secret agents of
spetsnaz he would be disappointed and probably shocked, because the agents
of spetsnaz bear no resemblance to the fine, upstanding, young and handsome
heroes of spy films. Soviet military intelligence is looking for an entirely
different type of person as a candidate for recruitment. A portrait of an
ideal agent for spetsnaz emerges something like this: a man of between
fifty-five and sixty-five years of age who has never served in the army,
never had access to secret documents, does not carry or own a weapon, knows
nothing about hand-to-hand fighting, does not possess any secret equipment
and doesn't support the Communists, does not read the newspapers, was never
in the Soviet Union and has never met any Soviet citizens, leads a lonely,
introspective life, far from other people, and is by profession a forester,
fisherman, lighthouse-keeper, security guard or railwayman. In many cases
such an agent will be a physical invalid. Spetsnaz is also on the lookout
for women with roughly the same characteristics.
If spetsnaz has such a person in its network, that means: a. that he is
certainly not under any suspicion on the part of the local police or
security services; b. that in the event of any enquiries being made he will
be the last person to be suspected; c. that there is practically nothing by
which any suspicions could be confirmed, which in turn means that in
peacetime the agent is almost totally guaranteed against the danger of
failure or arrest; d. that in the event of war he will remain in the same
place as he was in peacetime and not be taken into the army or the public
service under the wartime mobilisation.
All this gives the spetsnaz agent network tremendous stability and
vitality. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and in the rules
of intelligence gathering there are a lot of exceptions. You can come across
many different kinds of people among the agents of spetsnaz, but still
spetsnaz tries mainly to recruit people of just that type. What use are they
to the organisation?
The answer is that they are formidably useful. The fact is that the
acts of terrorism are carried out in the main by the professional athletes
of spetsnaz who have been excellently trained for handling the most
difficult missions. But the spetsnaz professionals have a lot of enemies
when they get into a foreign country: helicopters and police dogs, the
checking of documents at the roadside, patrols, even children playing in the
street who miss very little and understand a lot. The spetsnaz commandos
need shelter where they can rest for a few days in relative peace, where
they can leave their heavy equipment and cook their own food.
So the principal task of spetsnaz agents is to prepare a safe hiding
place in advance, long before the commandos arrive in the country. These are
some examples of hiding places prepared by spetsnaz agents. With GRU money a
pensioner who is actually a spetsnaz agent buys a house on the outskirts of
a town, and close to a big forest. In the house he builds, quite legally, a
nuclear shelter with electric light, drains, water supply and a store of
food. He then buys a car of a semi-military or military type, a Land Rover
for example, which is kept permanently in the garage of the house along with
a good store of petrol. With that the agent's work is done. He lives
quietly, makes use of his country house and car, and in addition is paid for
his services. He knows that at any moment he may have `guests' in his house.
But that doesn't frighten him. In case of arrest he can say that the
commando troops seized him as a hostage and made use of his house, his
shelter and car.
Or, the owner of a car dump takes an old, rusty railway container and
drops it among the hundreds of scrap cars and a few motorcycles. For the
benefit of the few visitors to the scrapyard who come in search of spare
parts, the owner opens a little shop selling Coca-Cola, hot dogs, coffee and
sandwiches. He always keeps a stock of bottled mineral water, tinned fish,
meat and vegetables. The little shop also stocks comprehensive medical
Or perhaps the owner of a small firm buys a large, though old yacht. He
tells his friends that he dreams of making a long journey under sail, which
is why the yacht always has a lot of stores aboard. But he has no time to
make the trip; what's more, the yacht is in need of repair which requires
both time and money. So for the moment the old yacht lies there in a
deserted bay among dozens of other abandoned yachts with peeling paint.
Large numbers of such places of refuge have been arranged. Places that
can be used as shelters include caves, abandoned (or in some cases working)
mines, abandoned industrial plants, city sewers, cemeteries (especially if
they have family vaults), old boats, railway carriages and wagons, and so
forth. Any place can be adapted as a shelter for the use of spetsnaz
terrorists. But the place must be very well studied and prepared in advance.
That is what the agents are recruited for.
This is not their only task. After the arrival of his `guests' the
agent can carry out many of their instructions: keeping an eye on what the
police are doing, guarding the shelter and raising the alarm in good time,
acting as a guide, obtaining additional information about interesting
objects and people. Apart from all that an agent may be recruited specially
to carry out acts of terrorism, in which case he may operate independently
under the supervision of one person from the GRU, in a group of agents like
himself, or in collaboration with the professionals of spetsnaz who have
come from the Soviet Union.
The spetsnaz agent who is recruited to provide support for the
operations of fighting groups in the way I have described, by acquiring a
house and/or transport feels he is quite safe. The local police would have
tremendous difficulty trying to run him to earth. Even if he were to be
found and arrested it would be practically impossible to prove his guilt.
But what the agent does not know is that danger threatens him from spetsnaz
itself. Officers in the GRU who are discontented with the Communist regime
may, either as a mark of protest or for other reasons, defect to the West.
When they do, they are free to identify agents, including spetsnaz agents.
Equally, once he has carried out his act of terrorism, the spetsnaz commando
will destroy all traces of its work and any witnesses, including the agent
who protected or helped the group in the first place. A man who is recruited
as an agent to back up a commando group very rarely realises what will
happen to him afterwards.
Thus if it is relatively easy to recruit a man to act as a `sleeper',
what about recruiting a foreigner to act as a real terrorist, prepared to
commit murder, use explosives and fire buildings? Surely that is much more
The answer is that, surprisingly, it is not. A spetsnaz officer out to
recruit agents for direct terrorist action has a wonderful base for his work
in the West. There are a tremendous number of people who are discontented
and ready to protest against absolutely anything. And while millions protest
peacefully, some individuals will resort to any means to make their protest.
The spetsnaz officer has only to find the malcontent who is ready to go to
A man who protests against the presence of American troops in Europe
and sprays slogans on walls is an interesting subject. If he not only paints
slogans but is also prepared to fire at an American general, should he be
given the sub-machine gun or an RPG-7 grenade-launcher to do the job, he is
an exceptionally interesting person. His goals tally perfectly with those of
the senior officers of the GRU.
In France protesters fired an RPG-7 grenade-launcher at the reactor of
a nuclear power station. Where they got the Soviet-made weapon I do not
know. Perhaps it was just lying there at the roadside. But if it was a
spetsnaz officer who had the good fortune to meet those people and provide
them with their hardware, he would without further ado have been given a Red
Banner medal and promotion. The senior officers of the GRU have a particular
dislike of Western nuclear power stations, which reduce the West's
dependence on imported oil (including Soviet oil) and make it stronger and
more independent. They are one of spetsnaz's most important targets.
On another occasion a group of animal rights activists in the UK
injected bars of chocolate with poison. If spetsnaz were able to contact
that group, and there is every chance it might, it would be extremely keen
(without, of course, mentioning its name) to suggest to them a number of
even more effective ways of protesting. Activists, radicals, peace
campaigners, green party members: as far as the leaders of the GRU are
concerned, these are like ripe water-melons, green on the outside, but red
on the inside -- and mouth-watering.
So there is a good base for recruiting. There are enough discontented
people in the West who are ready not only to kill others but also to
sacrifice their own lives for the sake of their own particular ideals which
spetsnaz may exploit. The spetsnaz officer has only to find and take
advantage of the malcontent who is ready to go to extremes.
The spetsnaz network of agents has much in common with international
terrorism, a common centre, for example -- yet they are different things and
must not be confused. It would be foolhardy to claim that international
terrorism came into being on orders from Moscow. But to claim that, without
Moscow's support, international terrorism would never have assumed the scale
it has would not be rash. Terrorism has been born in a variety of
situations, in various circumstances and in different kinds of soil. Local
nationalism has always been a potent source, and the Soviet Union supports
it in any form, just as it offers concrete support to extremist groups
operating within nationalist movements. Exceptions are made, of course, of
the nationalist groups within the Soviet Union and the countries under its
If groups of extremists emerge in areas where there is no sure Soviet
influence, you may be sure that the Soviet Union will very shortly be their
best friend. In the GRU alone there are two independent and very powerful
bodies dealing with questions relating to extremists and terrorists. First,
there is the 3rd Direction of the GRU which studies terrorist organisations
and ways of penetrating them. Then there is the 5th Directorate which is in
charge of all intelligence-gathering at lower levels, including that of
The GRU's tactics toward terrorists are simple: never give them any
orders, never tell them what to do. They are destroying Western
civilisation: they know how to do it, the argument goes, so let them get on
with it unfettered by petty supervision. Among them there are idealists
ready to die for their own ideas. So let them die for them. The most
important thing is to preserve their illusion that they are completely free
Moscow is an important centre of international terrorism, not because
it is from Moscow that instructions are issued, but because selected
terrorist groups or organisations which ask for help may be given it if
little risk is attached to doing so. Moscow's deep involvement with
terrorism is a serious political affair. One `resistance movement' has to
have more financial help, another less. One `Red Army' must have modern
weapons and an unlimited supply of ammunition, another one will do better
with old weapons and a limited supply of ammunition. One movement is to be
recognised, while another will be condemned in words but supported in
practice. `Independent' terrorists give little thought to where the money
comes from with which they travel the countries of the world, or who
provides the Kalashnikov submachine-guns and the cartridges to go with them,
or who supplies the instructors who teach them and train them.
But just look at the `independent' Palestinians: they virtually throw
their ammunition away. And if one watches a film about the fighting in
Afghanistan and then one from the streets of Beirut the difference is very
striking. The Afghan resistance fighters count every round, whereas the
groups fighting each other in the streets of Beirut don't even bother to aim
when they fire; they simply fire into the air in long bursts, although it
means they are wasting someone else's money. Whose money is it?
When I was beginning my military service I was taught to count every
round. Cartridges are metal and a lot of hard work. It is more difficult and
more expensive to make a cartridge than to make a fountain pen. And another
reason for being careful with ammunition is so that you are never without it
at a critical moment. Supplying an army with ammunition is a complex
logistical problem. If the transport carrying ammunition arrives even a few
minutes after you have spent all your ammunition without thinking, then you
are dead. But there are no such problems in Beirut. Nobody tells the
conflicting groups what the ammunition costs. Nobody tells them the cost of
the lives they cut off every day. Nobody mentions the danger that the
regular supply of ammunition may be late. The suppliers are certain that it
will not be late.
The Soviet Union condemns the civil war in the Lebanon. But there is no
need for it to condemn the war. All it has to do is hold back the next
transport of ammunition, and war will cease.
Apart from military and financial support, the Soviet Union also
provides the terrorists aid in the form of training. Training centres have
been set up in the Soviet Union for training terrorists from a number of
different countries. Similar centres have been set up in the countries of
Eastern Europe, in Cuba and elsewhere. I know the centre in Odessa very
well. Officially it belongs to the 10th Chief Directorate of the General
Staff which deals with the export of weapons, sends Soviet military advisers
to foreign countries and trains foreigners to be fighters and terrorists. In
the early 1960s this centre was a branch of the higher infantry officers
school. An intelligence faculty was formed in it for Soviet students, many
of whom ended up in the GRU and spetsnaz, while the remainder of the huge
area, classrooms and living quarters, was given over entirely to the centre
for training foreign fighters. When I was in Odessa most of the people under
training were intended for work in black Africa. Not all of them came from
Africa, quite a lot of them were from Cuba, but that was where the majority
were destined. The difference between the training and the living conditions
of the Soviet and the foreign students was tremendous.
The foreigners were better fed and wore Soviet officers' field
uniforms, though without any badges of rank. They had practically no
theoretical tuition at all. But their practical training was very
concentrated, even by Soviet standards. For them there was no shortage of
ammunition. Shooting went on in their camp day and night.
The foreigners were kept in strict isolation. The only outsiders who
could see them were the Soviet students and then only through the barbed
wire. The total isolation had a bad effect on some of the foreign students.
But since they could not break out of it, the Cuban minister of defence
stepped in and ordered some girls to be sent from Cuba who were trained as
nurses for partisan units at the Odessa centre. It was interesting to note
that the soldiers were under training for one year and the officers for two
years, but the nurses' training lasted ten years or more. At the end of
their training the nurses were sent back to Cuba and some younger ones were
sent to replace them. There were no more psychological problems at the
Foreigners belonging to `liberation movements' who turn up in the
Soviet Union are not generally recruited by the Soviet intelligence
services. Experience has shown that the terrorist who considers himself
independent and who kills people because of his own beliefs is more
effective than the one who fights on the orders of other people. For his own
ideas the terrorist will take risks and sacrifice his life, but he is
scarcely likely to do so merely on instructions from foreigners. So why
But there are important exceptions. Every terrorist is studied
carefully during his training, and among them will be noted the potential
leaders and the born rebels who will not submit to any authority. Of equal
importance are the students' weaknesses and ambitions, and their
relationships with one another. Some time, many years ahead, one of them may
become an important leader, but not one approved by Moscow, so it is vital
to know in advance who his likely friends and enemies will be.
As the students are themselves studied during training, some emerge as
exceptions among the crowd and as likely material for recruitment.
Recruitment at the training centres is carried on simultaneously by two
different GRU organisations. The 3rd Direction recruits informers, who will
subsequently remain inside the `national liberation movements' and will pass
on to the heads of the GRU the internal secrets of the movements. The 5th
Directorate of the GRU recruits some of the students to be part of the
spetsnaz network of agents. This is a fairly complicated process. Formally
the candidate remains in his `liberation movement' and works there. In fact
he starts to operate on instructions from the GRU. It is a very delicate
situation and all possible steps are taken to protect the reputation of the
USSR in case of failure. With this aim in view the carefully selected
candidate, unaware of his position, is transferred to training in one of the
countries under Soviet influence. Recruitment then takes place, but not by
Soviet Intelligence, rather by the Intelligence service of one of the Soviet
The recruitment of a full-blown terrorist is a very different matter
from the recruitment of an informer-agent. The terrorist has to go through
very tough training which becomes a daily, and a nightly nightmare. He
dreams of the training coming to an end: he yearns for the real thing. The
instructors talk to him and ask him what he would like, as a terrorist, to
do. The terrorist tells them. The instructors then `think about it' and a
few days later tell him it is not possible. The torture of the training
continues. Again the question of what he wants to do is raised, and again he
is turned down. Various reasons are given for refusing him: we value your
life too highly to send you on such a risky mission; such an act might have
unwanted repercussions on your family, your comrades, and so on. Thus the
range of choice is gradually narrowed down until the terrorist suggests
exactly what the heads of Soviet Military intelligence want. They `think
about it' for a few days and finally give their agreement in such a way that
it does not appear to be something wanted by the GRU but rather a compromise
or a concession to the terrorist: if he really thinks it necessary to do it,
no obstacles will be put in his way.
I have of course simplified a process which is in practice a very
The reward for the GRU is that a terrorist doing work for spetsnaz does
not, in the great majority of cases, suspect he is being used. He is utterly
convinced that he is acting independently, of his own will and by his own
choice. The GRU does not leave its signature or his fingerprints around.
Even in cases where it is not a question of individual terrorists but
of experienced leaders of terrorist organisations, the GRU takes
extraordinary steps to ensure that not only all outsiders but even the
terrorist leader himself should not realise the extent of his subordination
to spetsnaz and consequently to the GRU. The leader of the terrorists has a
vast field of action and a wide choice. But there are operations and acts of
terrorism on which spetsnaz will spend any amount of money, will provide any
kind of weapon, will help in obtaining passports and will organise hiding
places. But there are also terrorist acts for which spetsnaz has no money,
no weapons, no reliable people and no hiding places. The leader of the
terrorists is at complete liberty to choose the mission he wants, but
without weapons, money and other forms of support his freedom to choose is
suddenly severely curtailed.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
Chapter 9. Weapons and Equipment
The standard issue of weapons to a spetsnaz is a sub-machine gun, 400
rounds of ammunition, a knife, and six hand grenades or a light
single-action grenade-launcher. During a drop by parachute the sub-machine
gun is carried in such a way as not to interfere with the main (or the
reserve) parachute opening correctly and promptly, and not to injure the
parachute on landing. But the large number of fastenings make it impossible
for the parachutist to use the gun immediately after landing. So he should
not be left defenceless at that moment, the parachutist also carries a P-6
silent pistol. After my escape to the West I described this pistol to
Western experts and was met with a certain scepticism. Today a great deal
that I told the experts has been confirmed, and examples of the silent
pistol have been found in Afghanistan. (Jane's Defence Weekly has published
some excellent photographs and a description of this unusual weapon.) For
noiseless shooting over big distances PBS silencers are used and some
soldiers carry them on their submachine guns.
Officers, radio-operators and cypher clerks have a smaller set of
weapons: a short-barrelled sub-machine gun (AKR) of 160 rounds, a pistol and
Apart from personal weapons a spetsnaz group carries collective weapons
in the form of RPG-16D grenade-launchers, Strela-2 ground-to-air missiles,
mines for various purposes, plastic explosive, snipers' rifles and other
weapons. The unit learns how to handle group weapons but does not keep them
permanently with it: group weapons are held in the spetsnaz stores, and the
quantity needed by the unit is determined before each operation. Operations
can often be carried out simply with each man's personal weapons.
A group which sets out on an operation with only personal weapons can
receive the group weapons it needs later, normally by parachute. And in case
of pursuit a group may abandon not only the group weapons but some of their
personal weapons as well. For most soldiers, to lose their weapons is an
offence punished by a stretch in a penal battalion. But spetsnaz, which
enjoys special trust and operates in quite unusual conditions, has the
privilege of resolving the dilemma for itself although every case is, of
course, later investigated. The commander and his deputy have to demonstrate
that the situation really was critical.
Unlike the airborne and the air assault forces, spetsnaz does not have
any heavy weapons like artillery, mortars or BMD fighting vehicles. But
`does not have' does not mean `does not use'.
On landing in enemy territory a group may begin its operation by
capturing a car or armoured troop-carrier belonging to the enemy. Any
vehicle, including one with a red cross on it, is fair game for spetsnaz. It
can be used for a variety of purposes: for getting quickly away from the
drop zone, for example, or for transporting the group's mobile base, or even
for mounting the assault on an especially important target. In the course of
exercises on Soviet territory spetsnaz groups have frequently captured tanks
and used them for attacking targets. An ideal situation is considered to be
when the enemy uses tanks to guard especially important installations, and
spetsnaz captures one or several of them and immediately attacks the target.
In that case there is no need for a clumsy slow-moving tank to make the long
trip to its target.
Many other types of enemy weapons, including mortars and artillery, can
be used as heavy armament. The situation may arise in the course of a war
where a spetsnaz group operating on its own territory will obtain the
enemy's heavy weapons captured in battle, then get through to enemy
territory and operate in his rear in the guise of genuine fighting units.
This trick was widely used by the Red Army in the Civil War.
The Soviet high command even takes steps to acquire foreign weapons in
peacetime. In April 1985 four businessmen were arrested in the USA. Their
business was officially dealing in arms. Their illegal business was also
dealing in arms, and they had tried to ship 500 American automatic rifles,
100,000 rounds of ammunition and 400 night-vision sights to countries of the
Why should the Soviet Union need American weapons in such quantities?
To help the national liberation armies which it sponsors? For that purpose
the leadership has no hesitation in providing Kalashnikov automatics,
simpler and cheaper, with no problems of ammunition supply. Perhaps the 500
American rifles were for studying and copying? But the Soviet Union has
captured M-16 rifles from many sources, Vietnam for one. They have already
been studied down to the last detail. And there is no point in copying them
since, in the opinion of the Soviet high command, the Kalashnikov meets all
It is difficult to think of any other reason for such a deal than that
they were for equipping spetsnaz groups. Not for all of them, of course, but
for the groups of professional athletes, especially those who will be
operating where the M-16 rifle is widely used and where consequently there
will be plenty of ammunition for it to be found.
The quantity of rifles, sights and rounds of ammunition is easy to
explain: 100 groups of five men each, in which everybody except the
radio-operator has a night-sight (four to a group); for each rifle half a
day's requirements (200 rounds), the rest to be taken from the enemy.
American sights are used mainly because batteries and other essential spares
can be obtained from the enemy.
This is clearly not the only channel through which standard American
arms and ammunition are obtained. We know about the businessmen who have
been arrested. There are no doubt others who have not been arrested yet.
The weapons issued to spetsnaz are very varied, covering a wide range,
from the guitar string (used for strangling someone in an attack from
behind) to small portable nuclear changes with a TNT equivalent of anything
from 800 to 2000 tons. The spetsnaz arsenal includes swiftly acting poisons,
chemicals and bacteria. At the same time the mine remains the favourite
weapon of spetsnaz. It is not by chance that the predecessors of the modern
spetsnaz men bore the proud title of guards minelayers. Mines are employed
at all stages of a group's operations. Immediately after a landing, mines
may be laid where the parachutes are hidden and later the group will lay
mines along the roads and paths by which they get away from the enemy. The
mines very widely employed by spetsnaz in the 1960s and 1970s were the
MON-50, MON-100, MON-200 and the MON-300. The MON is a directional
anti-personnel mine, and the figure indicates the distance the fragments
fly. They do not fly in different directions but in a close bunch in the
direction the minelayer aims them. It is a terrible weapon, very effective
in a variety of situations. For example, if a missile installation is
discovered and it is not possible to get close to it, a MON-300 can be used
to blow it up. They are at their most effective if the explosion is aimed
down a street, road, forest path, ravine, gorge or valley. MON mines are
often laid so that the target is covered by cross fire from two or more
There are many other kinds of mines used by spetsnaz, each of which has
been developed for a special purpose: to blow up a railway bridge, to
destroy an oil storage tank (and at the same time ignite the contents), and
to blow up constructions of cement, steel, wood, stone and other materials.
It is a whole science and a real art. The spetsnaz soldier has a perfect
command of it and knows how to blow up very complicated objects with the
minimal use of explosive. In case of need he knows how to make explosives
from material lying around. I have seen a spetsnaz officer make several
kilograms of a sticky brown paste out of the most inoffensive and apparently
non-explosive materials in about an hour. He also made the detonator himself
out of the most ordinary things that a spetsnaz soldier carries with him --
an electric torch, a razor blade which he made into a spring, a box of
matches and finally the bullet from a tracer cartridge. The resulting
mechanism worked perfectly. In some cases simpler and more accessible things
can be used -- gas and oxygen balloons of paraffin with the addition of
filings of light metals. A veteran of this business, Colonel Starinov,
recalls in his memoirs making a detonator out of one matchbox.
On the subject of mines, we must mention a terrible spetsnaz weapon
known as the Strela-Blok. This weapon was used in the second half of the
1960s and the first half of the 1970s. It is quite possible that by now it
has been very substantially improved. In a sense it can be described as an
anti-aircraft mine, because it operates on the same principle as the mine
laid at the side of a road which acts against a passing vehicle. It is
related to mines which are based on portable grenade-launchers which fire at
the side of a tank or an armoured personnel carrier.
The Strela-Blok is an ordinary Soviet Strela-2 portable missile (a very
exact copy of the American Red Eye). A spetsnaz group carries one or several
of these missiles with it. In the area of a major airfield the launch tube
is attached to a tall tree (or the roof of a building, a tall mast, a
hayrick) and camouflaged. The missile is usually installed at a short
distance from the end of the runway. That done, the group leaves the area.
The missile is launched automatically. A clockwork mechanism operates first,
allowing the group to retire to a safe distance, then, when the set time has
run out (it could be anything from an hour to several days) a very simple
sound detector is switched on which reacts to the noise of an aircraft
engine of a particular power. So long as the engine noise is increasing
nothing happens (it means the aircraft is coming nearer), but as soon as the
noise decreases the mechanism fires. The infra-red warhead reacts to the
heat radiated by the engine, follows the aircraft and catches up with it.
Imagine yourself to be the officer commanding an aircraft base. One
plane (perhaps with a nuclear bomb on board) is shot down by a missile as it
takes off. You cancel all flights and despatch your people to find the
culprits. They of course find nobody. Flights are resumed and your next
plane is shot down on take-off. What will you do then? What will you do if
the group has set up five Strela-Blok missiles around the base and
anti-infantry mines on the approaches to them? How do you know that there
are only five missiles?
Another very effective spetsnaz weapon is the RPO-A flamethrower. It
weighs eleven kilograms and has a single action. Developed in the first half
of the 1970s, it is substantially superior to any flame-throwers produced at
that time in any other country. The principal difference lies in the fact
that the foreign models of the time threw a stream of fire at a range of
about thirty metres, and a considerable part of the fuel was burnt up in the
The RPO-A, however, fires not a stream but a capsule, projected out of
a lightweight barrel by a powder charge. The inflammable mixture flies to
the target in a capsule and bursts into flame only when it strikes the
target. The RPO-A has a range of more than 400 metres, and the effectiveness
of one shot is equal to that of the explosion of a 122 mm howitzer shell. It
can be used with special effectiveness against targets vulnerable to fire --
fuel stores, ammunition dumps, and missiles and aircraft standing on the
A more powerful spetsnaz weapon is the GRAD-V multiple rocket-launcher,
a system of firing in salvos developed for the airborne forces. There the
weapon can be mounted on the chassis of a GAZ-66 truck. It has 12 launching
tubes which fire jet-propelled shells. But apart from the vehicle-mounted
version, GRAD-V is produced in a portable version. In case of need the
airborne units are issued with separate tubes and the shells to go with
them. The tube is set up on the ground in the simplest of bases. It is aimed
in the right direction and fired. Several separate tubes are usually aimed
at one target and fired at practically the same time. Fired from a vehicle
its accuracy is very considerable, but from the ground it is not so great.
But in either case the effect is very considerable. The GRAD-V is largely a
weapon for firing to cover a wide area and its main targets are:
communications centres, missile batteries, aircraft parks and other very
The airborne forces use both versions of the GRAD-V. Spetsnaz uses only
the second, portable version. Sometimes, to attack a very important target,
for example a submarine in its berth, a major spetsnaz unit may fire GRAD-V
shells simultaneously from several dozen or even hundreds of tubes.
In spetsnaz the most up-to-date weapons exist side by side with a
weapon which has long been forgotten in all other armies or relegated to
army museums. One such weapon is the crossbow. However amusing the reader
may find this, the crossbow is in fact a terrible weapon which can put an
arrow right through a man at a great distance and with great accuracy.
Specialists believe that, at the time when the crossbow was competing with
the musket, the musket came off best only because it made such a deafening
noise that this had a greater effect on the enemy than the soft whistle of
an arrow from a crossbow. But in speed of firing, accuracy and reliability
the crossbow was superior to the musket, smaller in size and weight, and
killed people just as surely as the musket. Because it made no noise when
fired it did not have the same effect as a simultaneous salvo from a
But that noiseless action is exactly what spetsnaz needs today. The
modern crossbow is, of course, very different in appearance and construction
from the crossbows of previous centuries. It has been developed using the
latest technology. It is aimed by means of optical and thermal sights of a
similar quality to those used on modern snipers' rifles. The arrows are made
with the benefit of the latest research in ballistics and aerodynamics. The
bow itself is a very elegant affair, light, reliable and convenient. To make
it easy to carry it folds up.
The crossbow is not a standard weapon in spetsnaz, although enormous
attention is given in the athletic training units to training men to handle
the weapon. In case of necessity a spetsnaz group may be issued with one or
two crossbows to carry out some special mission in which a man has to be
killed without making any noise at all and in darkness at a distance of
several dozen metres. It is true that the crossbow can in no way be
considered a rival to the sniper's rifle. The Dragunov sniper's rifle is a
marvellous standard spetsnaz weapon. But if you fit a silencer to a sniper's
rifle it greatly reduces its accuracy and range. For shooting accurately and
noiselessly, sniper's rifles have been built with a `heavy barrel', in which
the silencer is an organic part of the weapon. This is a wonderful and a
reliable weapon. Nevertheless the officers commanding the GRU consider that
a spetsnaz commander must have a very wide collection of weapons from which
he can choose for a particular situation. It is possible, indeed certain,
that special situations will arise, in which the commander preparing for an
operation will want to choose a rather unusual weapon.
The most frightening, demoralising opponent of the spetsnaz soldier has
always been and always will be the dog. No electronic devices and no enemy
firepower has such an effect on his morale as the appearance of dogs. The
enemy's dogs always appear at the most awkward moment, when a group
exhausted by a long trek is enjoying a brief uneasy sleep, when their legs
are totally worn out and their ammunition is used up.
Surveys conducted among soldiers, sergeants and officers in spetsnaz
produce the same answer again and again: the last thing they want to come up
against is the enemy's dogs.
The heads of the GRU have conducted some far-reaching researches into
this question and come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with dogs
is to use dogs oneself. On the southeastern outskirts of Moscow there is the
Central Red Star school of military dog training, equipped with enormous
The Central Military school trains specialists and rears and trains
dogs for many different purposes in the Soviet Army, including spetsnaz. The
history of using dogs in the Red Army is a rich and very varied one. In the
Second World War the Red Army used 60,000 of its own dogs in the fighting.
This was possible, of course, only because of the existence of the Gulag,
the enormous system of concentration camps in which the rearing and training
of dogs had been organised on an exceptionally high level in terms of both
quantity and quality.
To the figure of 60,000 army dogs had to be added an unknown, but
certainly enormous, number of transport dogs. Transport dogs were used in
winter time (and throughout the year in the north) for delivering ammunition
supplies to the front line, evacuating the wounded and similar purposes. The
service dogs included only those which worked, not in a pack but as
individuals, carrying out different, precisely defined functions for which
each one had been trained. The Red Army's dogs had respected military
trades: razvedka; searching for wounded on the battle field; delivery of
official messages. The dogs were used by the airborne troops and by the
guards minelayers (now spetsnaz) for security purposes. But the trades in
which the Red Army's dogs were used on the largest scale were mine detection
and destroying tanks.
Even as early as 1941 special service units (Spets sluzhba) started to
be formed for combating the enemy's tanks. Each unit consisted of four
companies with 126 dogs in each company, making 504 dogs in each unit.
Altogether during the war there were two special service regiments formed
and 168 independent units, battalions, companies and platoons.
The dogs selected for the special service units were strong and healthy
and possessed plenty of stamina. Their training was very simple. First, they
were not fed for several days, and then they began to receive food near some
tanks: the meat was given to them from the tank's lower hatch. So the dog
learned to go beneath the tank to be fed. The training sessions quickly
became more elaborate. The dogs were unleashed in the face of tanks
approaching from quite considerable distances and taught to get under the
tank, not from the front but from the rear. As soon as the dog was under the
tank, it stopped and the dog was fed. Before a battle the dog would not be
fed. Instead, an explosive charge of between 4 and 4.6 kg with a pin
detonator was attached to it. It was then sent under the enemy tanks.
Anti-tank dogs were employed in the biggest battles, before Moscow,
before Stalingrad, and at Kursk. The dogs destroyed a sufficient number of
tanks for the survivors to be considered worthy of the honour of taking part
in the victory parade in the Red Square.
The war experience was carefully analysed and taken into account. The
dog as a faithful servant of man in war has not lost its importance, and
spetsnaz realises that a lot better than any other branch of the Soviet
Army. Dogs perform a lot of tasks in the modern spetsnaz. There is plenty of
evidence that spetsnaz has used them in Afghanistan to carry out their
traditional tasks -- protecting groups from surprise attack, seeking out the
enemy, detecting mines, and helping in the interrogation of captured Afghan
resistance fighters. They are just as mobile as the men themselves, since
they can be dropped by parachute in special soft containers.
In the course of a war in Europe spetsnaz will use dogs very
extensively for carrying out the same functions, and for one other task of
exceptional importance -- destroying the enemy's nuclear weapons. It is a
great deal easier to teach a dog to get up to a missile or an aircraft
unnoticed than it is to get it to go under a roaring, thundering tank. As
before, the dog would carry a charge weighing about 4 kg, but charges of
that weight are today much more powerful than they were in the last war, and
the detonators are incomparably more sophisticated and foolproof than they
were then. Detonators have been developed for this kind of charge which
detonate only on contact with metal but do not go off on accidental contact
with long grass, branches or other objects. The dog is an exceptionally
intelligent animal which with proper training quickly becomes capable of
learning to seek out, identify correctly and attack important targets. Such
targets include complicated electronic equipment, aerials, missiles,
aircraft, staff cars, cars carrying VIPs, and occasionally individuals. All
of this makes the spetsnaz dog a frightening and dangerous enemy.
Apart from everything else, the presence of dogs with a spetsnaz group
appreciably raises the morale of the officers and the men. Some especially
powerful and vicious dogs are trained for one purpose alone -- to guard the
group and to destroy the enemy's dogs if they appear.
In discussing spetsnaz weapons we must mention also the `invisible
weapon' -- sambo. Sambo is a kind of fighting without rules which was
originated in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and has since been substantially
developed and improved.
The originator of sambo was B. S. Oshchepkov, an outstanding Russian
sportsman. Before the Revolution he visited Japan where he learnt judo.
Oshchepkov became a black belt and was a personal friend of the greatest
master of this form of fighting, Jigaro Kano, and others. During the
Revolution Oshchepkov returned to Russia and worked as a trainer in special
Red Army units.
After the Civil War Oshchepkov was made senior instructor in the Red
Army in various forms of unarmed combat. He worked out a series of ways in
which a man could attack or defend himself against one or several opponents
armed with a variety of weapons. The new system was based on karate and
judo, but Oshchepkov moved further and further away from the traditions of
the Japanese and Chinese masters and created new tricks and combinations of
Oshchepkov took the view that one had to get rid of all artificial
limitations and rules. In real combat nobody observes any rules, so why
introduce them artifically at training sessions and so penalise the
sportsmen? Oshchepkov firmly rejected all the noble rules of chivalry and
permitted his pupils to employ any tricks and rules. In order that a
training session should not become a bloodbath Oshchepkov instructed his
pupils only to imitate some of the more violent holds although in real
combat they were permitted. Oshchepkov brought his system of unarmed combat
up to date. He invented ways of fighting opponents who were armed, not with
Japanese bamboo sticks, but with more familiar weapons -- knives, revolvers,
knuckle-dusters, rifles with and without bayonets, metal bars and spades. He
also perfected responses to various combat combinations -- one with a long
spade, the other with a short one; one with a spade, the other with a gun;
one with a metal bar, the other with a piece of rope; one with an axe, three
unarmed; and so forth.
As a result of its rapid development the new style of combat won the
right to independent existence and its own name -- sambo -- which is an
abbreviation of the Russian for `self-defence without weapons' (samooborona
bez oruzhiya). The reader should not be misled by the word `defence'. In the
Soviet Union the word `defence' has always been understood in a rather
special way. Pravda formulated the idea succinctly before the Second World
War: `The best form of defence is rapid attack until the enemy is completely
1 Pravda, 14 August 1939.
Today sambo is one of the compulsory features in the training of every
spetsnaz fighting man. It is one of the most popular spectator sports in the
Soviet Army. It is not only in the Army, of course, that they engage in
sambo, but the Soviet Army always comes out on top. Take, for example, the
championship for the prize awarded by the magazine Sovetsky Voin in 1985.
This is a very important championship in which sportsmen from many different
clubs compete. But as early as the quarter finals, of the eight men left in
the contest one was from the Dinamo club (an MVD lieutenant), one from the
mysterious Zenit club, and the rest were from ZSKA, the Soviet Army club.
The words `without weapons' in the name sambo should not mislead the
reader. Sambo permits the use of any objects that can be used in a fight, up
to revolvers and sub-machine-guns. It may be said that a hammer is not a
weapon, and that is true if the hammer is in the hands of an inexperienced
person. But in the hands of a master it becomes a terrible weapon. An even
more frightful weapon is a spade in the hands of a skilled fighter. It was
with the Soviet Army spade that we began this book. Ways of using it are one
of the dramatic elements of sambo. A spetsnaz soldier can kill people with a
spade at a distance of several metres as easily, freely and silently as with
a P-6 gun.
There are two sides to sambo: sporting sambo and battle sambo. Sambo as
a sport is just two men without weapons, restricted by set rules. Battle
sambo is what we have described above. There is plenty of evidence that many
of the holds in battle sambo are not so much secret as of limited
application. Only in special teaching institutions, like the Dinamo Army and
Zenit clubs, are these holds taught. They are needed only by those directly
involved in actions connected with the defence and consolidation of the
The spetsnaz naval brigades are much better equipped technically than
those operating on land, for good reasons. A fleet always had and always
will have much more horsepower per man than an army. A man can move over the
earth simply using his muscles, but he will not get far swimming in the sea
with his muscles alone. Consequently, even at the level of the ordinary
fighting man there is a difference in the equipment of naval units and
ground forces. An ordinary rank and file swimmer in the spetsnaz may be
issued with a relatively small apparatus enabling him to swim under the
water at a speed of up to 15 kilometres an hour for several hours at a time.
Apart from such individual sets there is also apparatus for two or three
men, built on the pattern of an ordinary torpedo. The swimmers sit on it as
if on horseback. And in addition to this light underwater apparatus,
extensive use is made of midget submarines.
The Soviet Union began intensive research into the development of
midget submarines in the middle of the 1930s. As usual, the same task was
presented to several groups of designers at the same time, and there was
keen competition between them. In 1936 a government commission studied four
submissions: the Moskito, the Blokha, and the APSS and Pigmei. All four
could be transported by small freighters or naval vessels. At that time the
Soviet Union had completed development work on its K-class submarines, and
there was a plan that each K-class submarine should be able to carry one
light aircraft or one midget submarine. At the same time experiments were
also being carried out for the purpose of assessing the possibility of
transporting another design of midget submarine (similar to the APSS) in a
In 1939 the Soviet Union put into production the M-400 midget submarine
designed by the designer of the `Flea' prototype. The M-400 was a mixture of
a submarine and a torpedo boat. It could stay for a long time under water,
then surface and attack an enemy at very high speed like a fast torpedo
boat. The intention was also to use it in another way, closing in on the
enemy at great speed like a torpedo boat, then submerging and attacking at
close quarters like an ordinary submarine.
Among the trophies of war were the Germans' own midget submarines and
plans for the future, all of which were very widely used by Soviet
designers. Interest in German projects has not declined. In 1976 there were
reports concerning a project for a German submarine of only 90 tons
displacement. Soviet military intelligence then started a hunt for the plans
of this vessel and for information about the people who had designed them.
It should never be thought that interest in foreign weapons is dictated
by the Soviet Union's technical backwardness. The Soviet Union has many
talented designers who have often performed genuine technical miracles. It
is simply that the West always uses its own technical ideas, while Soviet
engineers use their own and other people's. In the Soviet Union in recent
years remarkable types of weapons have been developed, including midget
submarines with crews of from one to five men. The spetsnaz naval brigades
have several dozen midget submarines, which may not seem to be very many,
but it is more than all other countries have between them. Side by side with
the usual projects intensive work is being done on the creation of hybrid
equipment which will combine the qualities of a submarine and an underwater
tractor. The transportation of midget submarines is carried out by
submarines of larger displacement, fighting ships and also ships from the
fishing fleet. In the 1960s in the Caspian Sea the trials took place of a
heavy glider for transporting a midget submarine. The result of the trial is
not known. If such a glider has been built then in the event of war we can
expect to see midget submarines appear in the most unexpected places, for
example in the Persian Gulf, which is so vital to the West, even before the
arrival of Soviet troops and the Navy. In the 1970s the Soviet Union was
developing a hydroplane which, after landing on water, could be submerged
several metres below water. I do not know the results of this work.
Naval spetsnaz can be very dangerous. Even in peacetime it is much more
active than the spetsnaz brigades in the land forces. This is
understandable, because spetsnaz in the land forces can operate only in the
territory of the Soviet Union and its satellites and in Afghanistan, while
the naval brigades have an enormous field of operations in the international
waters of the world's oceans and sometimes in the territorial waters of
In the conduct of military operations the midget submarine can be a
very unpleasant weapon for the enemy. It is capable of penetrating into
places in which the ordinary ship cannot operate. The construction of
several midget submarines may be cheaper than the construction of one
medium-sized submarine, while the detection of several midget submarines and
their destruction can be a very much more difficult task for an enemy than
the hunt for the destruction of one medium-sized submarine.
The midget submarine is a sort of mobile base for divers. The submarine
and the divers become a single weapons system which can be used with success
against both seaborne and land targets.
The spetsnaz seaborne brigades can in a number of cases be an
irreplaceable weapon for the Soviet high command. Firstly, they can be used
for clearing the way for a whole Soviet fleet, destroying or putting out of
action minefields and acoustic and other detection systems of the enemy.
Secondly, they can be used against powerful shore-based enemy defences. Some
countries -- Sweden and Norway for example -- have built excellent coastal
shelters for their ships. In those shelters the ships are in no danger from
many kinds of Soviet weapon, including some nuclear ones. To discover and
put out of action such shelters will be one of spetsnaz's most important
tasks. Seaborne spetsnaz can also be used against bridges, docks, ports and
underwater tunnels of the enemy. Even more dangerous may be spetsnaz
operations against the most expensive and valuable ships -- the aircraft
carriers, cruisers, nuclear submarines, floating bases for submarines, ships
carrying missiles and nuclear warheads, and against command ships.
In the course of a war many communications satellites will be destroyed
and radio links will be broken off through the explosion of nuclear weapons
in outer space. In that case an enormous number of messages will have to be
transmitted by underground and underwater cable. These cables are a very
tempting target for spetsnaz. Spetsnaz can either destroy or make use of the
enemy's underwater cables, passively (i.e. listening in on them) or actively
(breaking into the cable and transmitting false messages). In order to be
able to do this during a war the naval brigades of spetsnaz are busy in
peacetime seeking out underwater cables in international waters in many
parts of the world.
The presence of Soviet midget submarines has been recorded in recent
years in the Baltic, Black, Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Caribbean seas.
They have been operating in the Atlantic not far from Gibraltar. It is
interesting to note that for this `scientific' work the Soviet Navy used not
only the manned submarines of the Argus class but also the automatic
unmanned submarines of the Zvuk class.
Unmanned submarines are the weapon of the future, although they are
already in use in spetsnaz units today. An unmanned submarine can be of very
small dimensions, because modern technology makes it possible to reduce
considerably the size and weight of the necessary electronic equipment.
Equally, an unmanned submarine does not need a supply of air and can have
any number of bulkheads for greater stability and can raise its internal
pressure to any level, so that it can operate at any depths. Finally, the
loss of such a vessel does not affect people's morale, and therefore greater
risks can be taken with it in peace and war. It can penetrate into places
where the captain of an ordinary ship would never dare to go. Even the
capture of such a submarine by an enemy does not involve such major
political consequences as would the seizure of a Soviet manned submarine in
the territorial waters of another state. At present, Soviet unmanned
automatic submarines and other underwater equipment operate in conjunction
with manned surface ships and submarines. It is quite possible that for the
foreseeable future these tactics will be continued, because there has to be
a man somewhere nearby. Even so, the unmanned automatic submarines make it
possible substantially to increase the spetsnaz potential. It is perfectly
easy for a Soviet ship with a crew to remain innocently in international
waters while an unmanned submarine under its control is penetrating into an
enemy's territorial waters.
Apart from manned and unmanned submarines spetsnaz has for some decades
now been paying enormous attention to `live submarines' -- dolphins. The
Soviet Union has an enormous scientific centre on the Black Sea for studying
the behaviour of dolphins. Much of the centre's work is wrapped in the thick
shroud of official secrecy.
From ancient times the dolphin has delighted man by its quite
extraordinary abilities. A dolphin can easily dive to a depth of 300 metres;
its hearing range is seventy times that of a human being; its brain is
surprisingly well developed and similar to the human brain. Dolphins are
very easy to tame and train.
The use of dolphins by spetsnaz could widen their operations even
further, using them to accompany swimmers in action and warning them of
danger; guarding units from an enemy's underwater commandos; hunting for all
kinds of objects under water -- enemy submarines, mines, underwater cables
and pipelines; and the dolphin could be used to carry out independent acts
of terrorism: attacking important targets with an explosive charge attached
to it, or destroying enemy personnel with the aid of knives, needles or more
complicated weapons attached to its body.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
Chapter 10. Battle Training
It was a cold, grey day, with a gusty wind blowing and ragged clouds
sweeping across the sky. The deputy chief of the spetsnaz department, 17th
Army, and I were standing near an old railway bridge. Many years previously
they had built a railway line there, but for some reason it had been
abandoned half-built. There remained only the bridge across leaden-coloured
water. It seemed enormously high up. Around us was a vast emptiness, forest
covering enormous spaces, where you were more likely to meet a bear than a
A spetsnaz competition was in progress. The lieutenant-colonel and I
were umpires. The route being covered by the competitors was many tens of
kilometres long. Soldiers, sodden with the rain and red in the face, laden
with weapons and equipment, were trying to cover the route in the course of
a few days -- running, quick-marching, running again. Their faces were
covered with a dirty growth of beard. They carried no food and got their
water from the streams and lakes. In addition there were many unpleasant and
unforeseen obstacles for them on the way.
At our control point, orange arrows told the soldiers to cross the
bridge. In the middle of the bridge another arrow pointed to the handrail at
the edge. A soldier lagging a long way behind his group ran onto the bridge.
His tiredness kept his head down, so he ran to the middle of the bridge, and
then a little further before he came to a sharp halt. He turned back and saw
the arrow pointing to the edge. He looked over the rail and saw the next
arrow on a marshy island, some way away and overgrown with reeds. It was
huge and orange, but only just visible in the distance. The soldier let out
a whistle of concern. He clambered onto the rail with all his weapons and
equipment, let out a violent curse and jumped. As he dropped, he also tried
to curse his fate and spetsnaz in good soldier's language, but the cry
turned into a long drawn-out howl. He hit the black freezing water with a
crash and for a long time did not reappear. Finally his head emerged from
the water. It was late autumn and the water was icy cold. But the soldier
set off swimming for the distant island.
At our control point, where one after the other the soldiers plunged
from the high bridge, there was no means of rescuing any soldier who got
into difficulty. And there was no one to rescue anybody either. We officers
were there only to observe the men, to make sure each one jumped, and from
the very middle of the bridge. The rest did not concern us.
`What if one of them drowns?' I asked the spetsnaz officer.
`If he drowns it means he's no good for spetsnaz.'
It means he's no good for spetsnaz. The sentence expresses the whole
philosophy of battle training. The old soldiers pass it on to the young ones
who take it as a joke. But they very soon find out that nobody is joking.
Battle training programmes for spetsnaz are drawn up in consultation
with some of the Soviet Union's leading experts in psychology. They have
established that in the past training had been carried out incorrectly, on
the principle of moving from the simple to the more difficult. A soldier was
first taught to jump from a low level, to pack his parachute, to land
properly, and so forth, with the prospect later of learning to make a real
parachute jump. But the longer the process of the initial training was drawn
out, the longer the soldier was made to wait, the more he began to fear
making the jump. Experience acquired in previous wars also shows that
reservists, who were trained for only a few days and then thrown into
battle, in the majority of cases performed very well. They were sometimes
short of training, but they always had enough courage. The reverse was also
shown to be true. In the First World War the best Russian regiments stayed
in Saint Petersburg. They protected the Emperor and they were trained only
to be used in the most critical situations. The longer the war went on, the
less inclined the guards regiments became to fight. The war dragged on,
turned into a senseless carve-up, and finally the possibility arose of a
quick end to it. To bring the end nearer the Emperor decided to make use of
The Revolution of 1917 was no revolution. It was simply a revolt by the
guards in just one city in a huge empire. The soldiers no longer wanted to
fight; they were afraid of war and did not want to die for nothing.
Throughout the country there were numerous parties all of which were in
favour of ending the war, and only one of them called for peace. The
soldiers put their trust in that party. Meanwhile, the regiments that were
fighting at the front had suffered enormous losses and their morale was very
low, but they had not thought of dispersing to their homes. The front
collapsed only when the central authority in Saint Petersburg collapsed.
Lenin's party, which seized power in that vast empire by means of the
bayonets of terrified guards in the rear, drew the correct conclusions.
Today soldiers are not kept for long in the rear and they don't spend much
time in training. It is judged much wiser to throw the young soldier
straight into battle, to put those who remain alive into the reserve,
reinforce with fresh reservists, and into battle again. The title of
`guards' is then granted only in the course of battle, and only to those
units that have suffered heavy losses but kept fighting.
Having absorbed these lessons, the commanders have introduced other
reforms into the methods of battle training. These new principles were tried
out first of all on spetsnaz and gave good results.
The most important feature of the training of a young spetsnaz soldier
is not to give him time to reflect about what is ahead for him. He should
come up against danger and terror and unpleasantness unexpectedly and not
have time to be scared. When he overcomes this obstacle, he will be proud of
himself, of his own daring, determination and ability to take risks. And
subsequently he will not be afraid.
Unpleasant surprises are always awaiting the spetsnaz soldier in the
first stage of his service, sometimes in the most unlikely situations. He
enters a classroom door and they throw a snake round his neck. He is roused
in the morning and leaps out of bed to find, suddenly, an enormous grey rat
in his boot. On a Saturday evening, when it seems that a hard week is behind
him, he is grabbed and thrown into a small prison cell with a snarling dog.
The first parachute jump is also dealt with unexpectedly. A quite short
course of instruction, then into the sky and straight away out of the hatch.
What if he smashes himself up? The answer, as usual: he is no good for
Later the soldier receives his full training, both theoretical and
practical, including ways to deal with a snake round his neck or a rat in
his boot. But by then the soldier goes to his training classes without any
fear of what is to come, because the most frightful things are already
One of the most important aspects of full battle training is the
technique of survival. In the Soviet Union there are plenty of places where
there are no people for thousands of square kilometres. Thus the method is
to drop a small group of three or four men by parachute in a completely
unfamiliar place where there are no people, no roads and nothing except
blinding snow from one horizon to the other or burning sand as far as the
eye can see. The group has neither a map nor a compass. Each man has a
Kalashnikov automatic, but only one round of ammunition. In addition he has
a knife and a spade. The food supply is the minimum, sometimes none at all.
The group does not know how long it will have to walk -- a day, five days, a
fortnight? The men can use their ammunition as they please. They can kill a
deer, an elk or a bear. That would be plenty for the whole group for a long
journey. But what if wolves were to attack and the ammunition were finished?
To make the survival exercises more realistic the groups take no radio
sets with them, and they cannot transmit distress signals, whatever has
happened within the group, until they meet the first people on their way.
Often they begin with a parachute drop in the most unpleasant places: on
thin ice, in a forest, in mountains. In 1982 three Soviet military
parachutists made a jump into the crater of the Avachinsk volcano. First of
all they had to get themselves out of the crater. Two other Soviet military
parachutists have several times begun their exercises with a landing on the
summit of Mount Elbruz (5,642 metres). Having successfully completed the
survival route they have done the same thing on the highest mountains in the
Soviet Union -- the peaks named after Lenin (7,134 metres) and Communism
In the conditions prevailing in Western Europe today different habits
and different training methods are necessary. For this part of their
training spetsnaz soldiers are dressed in black prison jackets and dropped
off at night in the centre of a big city. At the same time the local radio
and television stations report that a group of especially dangerous
criminals have escaped from the local prison. Interestingly, it is forbidden
to publish such reports in the press in the Soviet Union but they may be put
out by the local radio and television. The population thus gets only small
crumbs of information, so that they are scared stiff of criminals about whom
all sorts of fantastic stories start circulating.
The `criminals' are under orders to return to their company. The local
police and MVD troops are given the job of finding them. Only the senior
officers of the MVD know that it is only an exercise. The middle and lower
ranks of the MVD operate as if it were the real thing. The senior officers
usually tell their subordinates that the `criminals' are not armed and they
are to report immediately one of them is arrested. There is a problem,
though: the police often do not trust the report that the criminal is not
armed (he may have stolen a gun at the last moment) and so, contrary to
their instructions, they use their guns. Sometimes the arrested soldier may
be delivered back to his superior officers in a half-dead state -- he
resisted, they say, and we simply had to defend ourselves.
In some cases major exercises are carried out, and then the whole of
the police and the MVD troops know that it is just an exercise. Even so, it
is a risky business to be in a spetsnaz group. The MVD use dogs on
exercises, and the dogs do not understand the difference between an exercise
and real fighting.
The spetsnaz soldier operates on the territory of the enemy. One of his
main tasks is, as we have seen, to seek out specially important targets, for
which purpose he has to capture people and extract the necessary information
from them by force. That the soldier knows how to extract the information we
have no doubt. But how can he understand what his prisoner is saying?
Spetsnaz officers go through special language training and in addition every
spetsnaz company has an officer-interpreter who speaks at least two foreign
languages fluently. But there is not always an officer to hand in a small
group, so every soldier and sergeant questioning a prisoner must have some
knowledge of a foreign language. But most spetsnaz soldiers serve for only
two years and their battle training is so intense that it just is not
possible to fit in even a few extra hours.
How is this problem solved? Can a spetsnaz soldier understand a
prisoner who nods his head under torture and indicates his readiness to
The ordinary spetsnaz soldier has a command of fifteen foreign
languages and can use them freely. This is how he does it.
Imagine that you have been taken prisoner by a spetsnaz group. Your
companion has had a hot iron on the palms of his hands and a big nail driven
into his head as a demonstration. They look at you questioningly. You nod
your head -- you agree to talk. Every spetsnaz soldier has a silken
phrase-book -- a white silk handkerchief on which there are sixteen rows of
different questions and answers. The first sentence in Russian is: `Keep
your mouth shut or I'll kill you.' The sergeant points to this sentence.
Next to it is a translation into English, German, French and many other
languages. You find the answer you need in your own language and nod your
head. Very good. You understand each other. They can free your mouth. The
next sentence is: `If you don't tell the truth you'll be sorry!' You quickly
find the equivalent in your own language. All right, all clear. Further down
the silk scarf are about a hundred simple sentences, each with translations
into fifteen languages -- `Where?', `Missile', `Headquarters', `Airfield',
`Store', `Police checkpoint', `Minefield', `How is it guarded?', `Platoon?',
`Company?', `Battalion?', `Dogs?', `Yes', `No', and so forth. The last
sentence is a repetition of the second: `If you don't tell the truth you'll
It takes only a couple of minutes to teach the stupidest soldier to
communicate with the aid of the silken phrase-book. In addition the soldier
is taught to say and understand the simplest and most necessary words, like
`forward', `back', `there', `here', `to the right', `to the left', `metres',
`kilometres' and the numbers from one to twenty. If a soldier is not able to
learn this no harm is done, because it is all written on the silk scarf, of
which there is one for every man in the group.
In the early 1970s Soviet scientists started to develop a very light
electronic device for translating in place of the silken phrase-book or to
supplement it. The high command's requirements were simple: the device had
to weigh not more than 400 grams, had to fit into a satchel and to be the
size of a small book or even smaller. It had to have a display on which
could appear a word or simple phrase in Russian which would immediately be
translated into one of the most widely used languages. The person being
questioned would print out his answer which would immediately be translated
into Russian. I do not know whether such a device is now in use. But
progress in technology will soon permit the creation of something similar.
Not only spetsnaz but many other organisations in the Soviet Army have
displayed interest in the device. However, no device can replace a real
interpreter, and that is why, along with the real interpreters, so many
people of different foreign nationalities are to be found in spetsnaz.
A Soviet soldier who escaped from Afghanistan told how he had been put
into a reconnaissance company from an air-assault brigade. This is a case of
not-quite spetsnaz. Somebody found out that he spoke one of the local
dialects and he was immediately sent to the commanding officer. The officer
asked him two questions, the traditional two:
`Do you drink vodka? What about sport?'
`Vodka, yes, sport no.'
He gave completely the wrong answers. But in battle conditions a man
speaking the language of the enemy is particularly valued. They take him on
in spite of everything, and take very good care of him, because on his
ability to speak and understand what is said may depend the life of the
group or of many groups. And on the way the groups carry out their mission
may depend the lives of thousands and in some cases millions of people. The
one drawback to being an interpreter is that interpreters are never forgiven
for making a mistake. But the drawback is the same for him as it is for
everyone else in the unit.
No soldier should be afraid of fire. Throughout the Soviet Army, in
every branch of the forces, very close attention is paid to a soldier's or
sailor's psychological readiness to come up against fire. In the Navy old
submarines are grounded, and several sailors are shut in a compartment in
which a fire is started. In the tank forces men are shut into an old tank
and a fire is lit inside or outside and sometimes both at once.
The spetsnaz soldier comes up against fire more often than any other
soldier. For that reason it is constantly present in his battle training
from the first to the last day. At least once a day he sees fire that is
clearly threatening his life. He is forced to jump over wide ditches with
fires raging in them. He has to race through burning rooms and across
burning bridges. He rides a motorcycle between flaming walls. Fire can break
out next to him at any moment -- when he is eating or sleeping. When he is
making a parachute jump to test the accuracy of his fall a tremendous flame
may flare up suddenly beneath him.
The spetsnaz soldier is taught to deal with fire and to protect himself
and his comrades by every means -- rolling along the ground to stop his
clothes burning, smothering the flames with earth, branches or a
groundsheet. In learning to deal with fire the most important thing is not
so much for him to get to know ways of protecting himself (though this is
important) as to make him realise that fire is a constant companion of life
which is always at his side.
Another very important element of spetsnaz training is to teach a
soldier not to be afraid of blood and to be able to kill. This is more
important and more difficult for spetsnaz than for the infantry, for
example. The infantry man kills his enemy mainly at a distance of more than
a hundred metres and often at a distance of 300 or 400 metres or more. The
infantryman does not see the expression on the face of his enemy. His job is
simply to take aim correctly, hold his breath and press the trigger
smoothly. The infantryman fires at plywood targets in peacetime, and in
wartime at people who look at a distance very much like plywood targets. The
blood which an infantryman sees is mainly the blood of his dead comrade or
his own, and it gives rise to anger and a thirst for revenge. After that the
infantryman fires at his enemy without feeling any twinges of conscience.
The training of a spetsnaz soldier is much more complicated. He often
has to kill the enemy at close quarters, looking him straight in the face.
He sees blood, but it is not the blood of his comrades; it is often the
blood of a completely innocent man. The officers commanding spetsnaz have to
be sure that every spetsnaz soldier will do his duty in a critical
Like fire, blood is a constant attribute of the battle training of a
soldier. It used to be thought that a soldier could be accustomed to the
sight of blood gradually -- first a little blood and then more day by day.
But experts have thrown out this view. The spetsnaz soldier's first
encounter with blood should be, they argue, quite unexpected and in copious
quantities. In the course of his career as a fighting man there will be a
whole lot of monstrous things which will spring up in front of him without
any warning at all. So he should get used to being unsurprised at anything
and afraid of nothing.
A group of young spetsnaz soldiers are hauled out of bed at night
because of an emergency, and sent in pursuit of a `spy'. The worse the
weather the better. Best of all when there is torrential rain, a gusty wind,
mud and slush. Many kilometres of obstacles -- broken-down stairs, holes in
walls, ropes across holes and ditches. The platoon of young soldiers are
completely out of breath, their hearts beating fast. Their feet slip, their
hands are scratched and bruised. Forward! Everyone is bad-tempered -- the
officers and especially the men. The soldier can give vent to his anger only
by punching some weaker fellow-sufferer in the face and maybe getting a kick
in the ribs in reply. The area is dotted with ruined houses, everything is
smashed, ripped apart, and there's broken glass everywhere. Everything is
wet and slippery, and there are never-ending obstacles with searchlights
trained on them. But they don't help: they only hinder, blinding the men as
they scramble over. Now they come to a dark cellar, with the doors ripped
off the hinges. Everybody down. Along the corridor. Then there's water
ahead. The whole group running at full tilt without slowing down rushes
straight into some sticky liquid. A blinding light flashes on. It's not
water they are in -- it's blood. Blood up to the knees, the waist, the
chest. On the walls and the ceiling are chunks of rotten flesh, piles of
bleeding entrails. The steps are slippery from slimy bits of brain.
Undecided, the young soldiers jam the corridor. Then somebody in the
darkness lets a huge dog off its chain. There is only one way out -- through
the blood. Only forwards, where there is a wide passageway and a staircase
Where on earth could they get so much blood? From the slaughter-house,
of course. It is not so difficult to make the tank of blood. It can be
narrow and not very deep, but it must be twisting and there must be a very
low ceiling over it. The building in which the tank of blood is arranged can
be quite small, but piles of rotten boards, beams and concrete slabs must be
tipped into it. Even in very limited space it is possible to create the
impression that you are in an endless labyrinth overflowing with blood. The
most important thing is to have plenty of twists and turns, holes, gaps,
dead ends and doors. If you don't have enough blood you can simply use
animal entrails mixed with blood. The bottom of the tank must not be even:
you must give the learner the possibility of tripping over and going under.
But most important is that the first training session should take place with
a group of really young soldiers who have joined spetsnaz but are still
isolated and have had no opportunity of meeting older soldiers and being
warned what to expect. And there's something else: the tank of blood must
not be the final obstacle that night. The greatest mistake is to drive the
men through the tank and then bring the exercise to an end, leaving them to
clean themselves up and go to bed. In that case the blood will only appear
to them as a terrible dream. Keep driving them on over more and more
Exhausting training exercises must be repeated and repeated again,
never stopping to rest. Carry on with the exercise throughout the morning,
throughout the day. Without food and without drink. In that way the men
acquire the habit of not being taken aback by any surprises. Blood on their
hands and on their uniforms, blood in their boots -- it all becomes
something familiar. On the same day there must also be a lot of gunfire,
labyrinths with bones, and dogs, dogs and more dogs. The tank of blood must
be remembered by the men as something quite ordinary in a whole series of
In the next training session there is no need to use a lot of blood,
but it must be constantly present. The men have to crawl beneath some barbed
wire. Why not throw some sheep's innards on to the ground and the wire? Let
them crawl over that and not just along the ground. A soldier is firing from
his sub-machine-gun on the firing range. Why not surround his firing
position with chunks of rotting meat which is in any case no good for
eating? A soldier makes a parachute jump to test the accuracy of his drop.
Why not put on his landing spot, face down, a big puppet in spetsnaz uniform
with a torn, twisted parachute spattered with pig's blood? These are all
standard tricks in spetsnaz, simple and effective. To increase the effect
the instructors are constantly creating situations in which the men are
obliged to get blood on their hands. For example, a soldier has to overcome
an obstacle by scrambling up a wall. When he reaches up to grab the ridge at
the top of the wall he finds it slippery and sticky from blood. He has a
choice -- either to drop down and break his legs (and maybe his neck) or to
hang on tighter with both hands, rest his chin on the filthy sill, shift his
grip, pull himself up and jump in through the window. A spetsnaz soldier
does not fall. He pulls himself up and, with blood all over him, swearing
hoarsely, he carries on his way, onwards, ever onwards.
Later in the programme come half-joking exercises such as: catch a
pregnant cat, open its belly with a razor blade and count how many kittens
it has. This is not such an easy exercise as might appear at first. The
soldier has no gloves, the cat scratches and he has no one to help him. As
an instrument he is allowed to use only a blunt, broken razor blade or
razor, and he can easily cut his own fingers.
The process of familiarising spetsnaz men with the sight and the
reality of blood is not in the least intended to make them into sadists. It
is simply that blood is a liquid with which they are going to have to work
in wartime. A spetsnaz soldier may not be scared of the red liquid. A
surgeon works continually with blood and so does the butcher. What would
happen if a surgeon or a butcher were suddenly to be afraid of the sight of
Every Soviet soldier, wherever he may be serving, must be able to run,
to shoot accurately, to keep his weapon clean and in good working order, and
carry out the orders of his superiors precisely and quickly and without
asking unnecessary questions. If one studies the battle training of Soviet
troops one notices that there are common standards for all branches of
troops operating in any conditions. This gives the impression that training
in the Soviet Army is the same whatever the conditions. This is not quite
true. Many of the demands placed on officers and men are standard throughout
the Army. Nevertheless, each Soviet military district and each group of
forces operates in conditions unique to itself. Troops of the Leningrad
military district have to operate in very severe northern conditions, and
their training takes place in forests, marshes and the tundra of an arctic
climate. Troops of the Transcaucasian military district have to operate in
high mountains, while those of the Carpathian and Ural military districts
have to operate in medium-high mountains. Even so, the Carpathian district
has a mild European climate, while that of the Ural district is wildly
different: harsh, with a very hot summer and a very cold winter.
Every military district and group of forces has a commanding officer, a
chief of staff and a head of Intelligence who answer with their heads for
the battle-readiness of the troops under their command. But every district
and group faces a specific enemy, and its own particular (though absolutely
secret) task to perform in the event of war, and its own individual role in
the plans of the General Staff.
One reason that training takes place in situ is that every Soviet
frontier district and group of forces has, as a rule, the same natural
conditions as the territories in which it will have to fight. Conditions in
Karelia differ very little from those in Norway, Sweden and Finland. If
troops from the Carpathian military district cross the frontier, they find
themselves in a country of high rugged mountains identical to that in which
they are permanently stationed. And, if the Soviet troops in Germany cross
the frontier, even if there are small differences of terrain and climate,
they are at any rate still in Germany.
Spetsnaz is concentrated at this level of fronts and armies. To make
sure that spetsnaz training is carried out in conditions as close as
possible to those in which the troops will have to operate the spetsnaz
brigades now have special training centres. For example, the natural
conditions in the Baltic military district are very similar to those in
Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, northern Germany and France. The
mountainous Altai is strikingly similar to Scotland. In the Carpathians
there are places very similar to the French Alps. If troops have to be
trained for operations in Alaska and Canada, Siberia is ideal for the
purpose, while for operating in Australia spetsnaz units have to be trained
in Kazakhstan. The spetsnaz brigades have their own training centres, but a
brigade (or any other spetsnaz unit) can be ordered at any moment to operate
in an unfamiliar training centre belonging to another brigade. For example,
during the `Dvina' manoeuvres spetsnaz units from the Leningrad, Moscow and
North Caucasus military districts were transferred to Belorussia to operate
there in unfamiliar conditions. The difference in conditions was especially
great for the units transferred from the northern Caucasus.
These transfers are restricted mainly to troops of the internal
military districts. It is reckoned that troops which are already located in
Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Transcaucasian military districts will
remain there in any circumstances, and it is better to train them thoroughly
for operations in those conditions without wasting effort on training for
every kind of condition. `Universal' training is needed by the troops of the
internal districts -- the Siberian, Ural, Volga, Moscow and a few others
which in the event of war will be switched to crisis points. Courses are
also provided for the professional athletes. Every one of these is
continually taking part in contests and travelling round the whole country
from Vladivostok to Tashkent and Tbilisi to Archangelsk. Such trips in
themselves play a tremendous part in training. The professional athlete
becomes psychologically prepared to operate in any climate and any
circumstances. Trips abroad, especially trips to those countries in which he
will have to operate in the event of war, are of even greater assistance in
removing psychological barriers and making the athlete ready for action in
Spetsnaz units are often involved in manoeuvres at different levels and
with different kinds of participants. Their principal `enemies' on
manoeuvres are the MVD troops, the militia, the frontier troops of the KGB,
the government communications network of the KGB and the ordinary units of
the armed forces.
In time of war KGB and MVD troops would be expected to operate against
national liberation movements within the Soviet Union, of which the most
dangerous is perceived to be the Russian movement against the USSR. (In the
last war it was the Russians who created the most powerful anti-Communist
army -- the ROA). The Ukrainian resistance movement is also considered to be
very dangerous. Partisan operations would inevitably break out in the Baltic
states and the Caucasus, among others. KGB and MVD troops, which are not
controlled by the Ministry of Defence, are equipped with helicopters, naval
vessels, tanks, artillery and armoured personnel carriers, and exercises in
which they operate against spetsnaz are of exceptional value to them. But
the heads of the GRU are keen on joint manoeuvres for their own reasons. If
spetsnaz has years' experience of operating against such powerful opponents
as the KGB and MVD, its performance against less powerful opponents can only
In the course of manoeuvres the KGB and the MVD (along with the Soviet
military units which have to defend themselves) use against spetsnaz the
whole gamut of possible means of defence, from total control of radio
communication to electronic sensors, from hunter aircraft provided with the
latest equipment to sniffer dogs, which are used in enormous numbers.
Apart from operating against real Soviet military targets, spetsnaz
units go through courses at training centres where the conditions and
atmosphere of the areas in which they will be expected to fight are
reproduced with great fidelity. Models of Pluto, Pershing and Lance missiles
and of Mirage-VI, Jaguar and other nuclear-armed aircraft are used to
indicate the `enemy'. There is also artillery capable of firing nuclear
shells, special kinds of vehicles used for transporting missiles, warheads,
and so forth.
The spetsnaz groups have to overcome many lines of defences, and any
group that is caught by the defenders is subject to treatment that is rough
enough to knock out of the men any desire to get caught in the future,
either on manoeuvres or in a real battle. The spetsnaz soldier constantly
has the thought drilled into him that being a prisoner is worse than death.
At the same time he is taught that his aims are noble ones. First he is
captured on manoeuvres and severely beaten, then he is shown archive film
shot in concentration camps in the Second World War (the films are naturally
more frightful than what can be perpetrated on manoeuvres), then he is
released, but may be seized again and subject to a repeat performance. It is
calculated that, in a fairly short time the soldier will develop a very
strong negative reaction to the idea of being a prisoner, and the certainty
that death -- a noble death, in the cause of spetsnaz -- is preferable.
One one occasion following my flight to the West I was present at some
large-scale military manoeuvres in which the armies of many Western
countries took part. The standard of battle training made a very favourable
impression on me. I was particularly impressed by the skilful, I would even
say masterly, way the units camouflaged themselves. The battle equipment,
the tanks and other vehicles, and the armoured personnel carriers are
painted with something that does not reflect the sunlight; the colour is
very cleverly chosen; and the camouflaging is painted in such a way that it
is difficult to make out the vehicle even at a short distance and its
outline mixes in with the background. But every army made one enormous
mistake with the camouflaging of some of the vehicles, which had huge white
circles and red crosses painted on their sides. I explained to the Western
officers that the red and white colours were very easily seen at a distance,
and that it would be better to use green paint. I was told that the vehicles
with the red cross were intended for transporting the wounded, which I knew
perfectly well. That was a good reason, I said, why the crosses should be
painted out or made very much smaller. Please be human, I said. You are
transporting a wounded man and you must protect him by every means. Then
protect him. Hide him. Make sure the Communists can't see him.
The argument continued and I did not win the day. Later, other Western
officers tried to explain to me that I was simply ignorant of the
international agreement about these things. You are not allowed to fire on a
vehicle with a red cross. I agreed that I was ignorant and knew nothing
about these agreements. But like me, the Soviet soldier is also unaware of
those agreements. Those big red crosses are painted so that the Soviet
soldier can see them and not fire on them. But the Soviet soldier only knows
that a red cross means something medical. Nobody has ever told him he was
not to shoot at a red cross.
I learnt about this strange rule, that red crosses must not be shot at,
quite by chance. When I was still a Soviet officer, I was reading a book
about Nazi war criminals and amongst the charges made was the assertion that
the Nazis had sometimes fired on cars and trains bearing a red cross. I
found this very interesting, because I could not understand why such an act
was considered a crime. A war was being fought and one side was trying to
destroy the other. In what way did trains and cars with red crosses differ
from the enemy's other vehicles?
I found the answer to the question quite independently, but not in the
Soviet regulations. Perhaps there is an answer to the question there, but,
having served in the Soviet Army for many years and having sat for dozens of
examinations at different levels, I have never once come across any
reference to the rule that a soldier may not fire at a red cross. At
manoeuvres I often asked my commanding officers, some of them very
high-ranking, in a very provocative way what would happen if an enemy
vehicle suddenly appeared with a red cross on it. I was always answered in a
tone of bewilderment. A Soviet officer of very high rank who had graduated
from a couple of academies could not understand what difference it made if
there were a red cross. Soviet officers have never been told its complete
significance. I never bothered to put the question to any of my
I graduated from the Military-Diplomatic Academy, and did not perform
badly there. In the course of my studies I listened attentively to all the
lectures and was always waiting for someone among my teachers (many of them
with general's braid and many years' experience in international affairs) to
say something about the red cross. But I learnt only that the International
Red Cross organisation is located in Geneva, directly opposite the Permanent
Representation of the USSR in United Nations agencies, and that the
organisation, like any other international organisation, can be used by
officers of the Soviet Intelligence services as a cover for their
For whose benefit do the armies of the West paint those huge red
crosses on their ambulances? Try painting a red cross on your back and
chest, and going into the forest in winter. Do you think the red cross will
save you from being attacked by wolves? Of course not. The wolves do not
know your laws and do not understand your symbols. So why do you use a
symbol the meaning of which the enemy has no idea?
In the last war the Communists did not respect international
conventions and treaties, but some of their enemies, with many centuries of
culture and excellent traditions, failed equally to respect international
laws. Since then the Red Army has used the red cross symbol, painted very
small, as a sign to tell its own soldiers where the hospital is. The red
cross needs only to be visible to their own men. The Red Army has no faith
in the goodwill of the enemy.
International treaties and conventions have never saved anybody from
being attacked. The Ribbentrop-Molotov pact is a striking example. It did
not protect the Soviet Union. But if Hitler had managed to invade the
British Isles the pact would not have protected Germany either. Stalin said
quite openly on this point: `War can turn all agreements of any kind upside
1 Pravda, 15 September 1927.
The Soviet leadership and the Soviet diplomatic service adopt a
philosophical attitude to all agreements. If one trusts a friend there is no
need for a treaty; friends do not need to rely on treaties to call for
assistance. If one is weaker than one's enemy a treaty will not be any use
anyway. And if one is stronger than one's enemy, what is the point of
observing a treaty? International treaties are just an instrument of
politics and propaganda. The Soviet leadership and the Soviet Army put no
trust in any treaties, believing only in the force that is behind the
Thus the enormous red cross on the side of a military vehicle is just a
symbol of Western naivete and faith in the force of protocols, paragraphs,
signatures and seals. Since Western diplomats have signed these treaties
they ought to insist that the Soviet Union, having also signed them, should
explain to its soldiers, officers and generals what they contain, and should
include in its official regulations special paragraphs forbidding certain
acts in war. Only then would there be any sense in painting on the huge red
The red cross is only one example. One needs constantly to keep in mind
what Lenin always emphasised: that a dictatorship relies on force and not on
the law. `The scientific concept of dictatorship means power, limited in no
way, by no laws and restrained by absolutely no rules, and relying directly
2 Lenin, Vol. 25, p. 441.
Spetsnaz is one of the weapons of a dictatorship. Its battle training
is imbued with just one idea: to destroy the enemy. It is an ambition which
is not subject to any diplomatic, juridical, ethical or moral restraints.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
hapter 11. Behind Enemy Lines: Spetsnaz Tactics
Before spetsnaz units can begin active operations behind the enemy's
lines they have to get there. The Soviet high command has the choice of
either sending spetsnaz troops behind the enemy's lines before the outbreak
of war, or sending them there after war has broken out. In the first case
the enemy may discover them, realise that war has already begun and possibly
press the buttons to start a nuclear war -- pre-empting the Soviet Union.
But if spetsnaz troops are sent in after the outbreak of war, it may be too
late. The enemy may already have activated its nuclear capability, and then
there will be nothing to put out of action in the enemy's rear: the missiles
will be on their way to Soviet territory. One potential solution to the
dilemma is that the better, smaller part of spetsnaz -- the professional
athletes -- arrives before all-out war starts, taking extreme measures not
to be discovered, while the standard units penetrate behind enemy lines
after war has started.
In every Soviet embassy there are two secret organisations -- the KGB
rezidentura and the GRU rezidentura. The embassy and the KGB rezidentura are
guarded by officers of the KGB frontier troops, but in cases where the GRU
rezidentura has a complement of more than ten officers, it has its own
internal spetsnaz guard. Before the outbreak of a war, in some cases several
months previously, the number of spetsnaz officers in a Soviet embassy may
be substantially increased, to the point where practically all the auxiliary
personnel in the embassy, performing the duties of guards, cleaners,
radio-operators, cooks and mechanics, will be spetsnaz athletes. With them,
as their `wives', women athletes from spetsnaz may turn up in the embassy.
Similar changes of staff may take place in the many other Soviet bodies --
the consulate, the commercial representation, the offices of Aeroflot,
Intourist, TASS, Novosti and so forth.
The advantages of this arrangement are obvious, but it is not without
its dangers. The principal danger lies in the fact that these new terrorist
groups are based right in the centre of the country's capital city,
uncomfortably close to government offices and surveillance. But within days,
possibly within hours, before the outbreak of war they can, with care, make
contact with the spetsnaz agent network and start a real war in the very
centre of the city, using hiding places already prepared.
Part of their support will come from other spetsnaz groups which have
recently arrived in the country in the guise of tourists, teams of sportsmen
and various delegations. And at the very last moment large groups of
fighting men may suddenly appear out of Aeroflot planes, ships in port,
trains and Soviet long-distance road transport (`Sovtransavto').
Simultaneously there may be a secret landing of spetsnaz troops from Soviet
submarines and surface vessels, both naval and merchant. (Small fishing
vessels make an excellent means of transport for spetsnaz. They naturally
spend long periods in the coastal waters of foreign states and do not arouse
suspicion, so spetsnaz groups can spend a long time aboard and can easily
return home if they do not get an order to make a landing). At the critical
moment, on receipt of a signal, they can make a landing on the coast using
aqualungs and small boats. Spetsnaz groups arriving by Aeroflot can adopt
much the same tactics. In a period of tension, a system of regular watches
may be introduced. This means that among the passengers on every plane there
will be a group of commandos. Having arrived at their intended airport and
not having been given a signal, they can remain aboard the aircraft1 and go
back on the next flight. Next day another group will make the trip, and so
on. One day the signal will come, and the group will leave the plane and
start fighting right in the country's main airport. Their main task is to
capture the airport for the benefit of a fresh wave of spetsnaz troops or
airborne units (VDV).
1 An aircraft is considered to be part of the territory of the country
to which it belongs, and the pilot's cabin and the interior of the plane are
not subject to foreign supervision.
It is a well-known fact that the `liberation' of Czechoslovakia in
August 1968 began with the arrival at Prague airport of Soviet military
transport planes with VDV troops on board. The airborne troops did not need
parachutes; the planes simply landed at the airport. Before the troops
disembarked there was a moment when both the aircraft and their passengers
were completely defenceless. Was the Soviet high command not taking a risk?
No, because the fact is that by the time the planes landed, Prague airport
had already been largely paralysed by a group of `tourists' who had arrived
Spetsnaz groups may turn up in the territory of an enemy from the
territory of neutral states. Before the outbreak of war or during a war
spetsnaz groups may penetrate secretly into the territory of neutral states
and wait there for an agreed signal or until a previously agreed time. One
of the advantages of this is that the enemy does not watch over his
frontiers with neutral countries as carefully as he does over his frontiers
with Communist countries. The arrival of a spetsnaz group from a neutral
state may pass unnoticed both by the enemy and the neutral state.
But what happens if the group is discovered on neutral territory? The
answer is simple: the group will go into action in the same way as in enemy
territory -- avoid being followed, kill any witnesses, use force and cunning
to halt any pursuers. They will make every effort to ensure that nobody from
the group gets into the hands of their pursuers and not to leave any
evidence about to show that the group belongs to the armed forces of the
USSR. If the group should be captured by the authorities of the neutral
state, Soviet diplomacy has enormous experience and some well-tried
counter-moves. It may admit its mistake, make an official apology and offer
compensation for any damage caused; it may declare that the group lost its
way and thought it was already in enemy territory; or it may accuse the
neutral state of having deliberately seized a group of members of the Soviet
armed forces on Soviet territory for provocative purposes, and demand
explanations, apologies and compensation, accompanied by open threats.
Experience has shown that this last plan is the most reliable. The
reader should not dismiss it lightly. Soviet official publications wrote at
the beginning of December 1939 that war was being waged against Finland in
order to establish a Communist regime there, and a Communist government of
`people's Finland' had already been formed. Thirty years later Soviet
marshals were writing that it was not at all like that: the Soviet Union was
simply acting in self-defence. The war against Finland, which was waged from
the first to the last day on Finnish territory, is now described as
`repelling Finnish aggression'2 and even as `fulfilling the plan for
protecting our frontiers.'3
2 Marshal K. A. Meretskov, Na Sluzhbe narodu (In the Service of the
3 Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky, Delo Vsei gesnie (A Life's Work), 1968.
The Soviet Union is always innocent: it only repels perfidious
aggressors. On other people's territory.
The principal way of delivering the main body of spetsnaz to the
enemy's rear after the outbreak of war is to drop them by parachute. In the
course of his two years' service every spetsnaz soldier makes thirty-five to
forty parachute jumps. Spetsnaz professionals and officers have much greater
experience with parachutes; some have thousands of jumps to their credit.
The parachute is not just a weapon and a form of transport. It also
acts as a filter which courageous soldiers will pass through, but weak and
cowardly men will not. The Soviet Government spends enormous sums on the
development of parachute jumping as a sport. This is the main base from
which the airborne troops and spetsnaz are built up. On 1 January 1985 the
FAI had recorded sixty-three world records in parachute jumping, of which
forty-eight are held by Soviet sportsmen (which means the Soviet Army). The
Soviet military athlete Yuri Baranov was the first man in the world to
exceed 13,000 jumps. Among Soviet women the champion in the number of jumps
is Aleksandra Shvachko -- she has made 8,200 jumps. The parachute psychosis
In peacetime military transport planes are used for making parachute
drops. But this is done largely to prevent the fact of the existence of
spetsnaz from spreading. In wartime military transports would be used for
dropping spetsnaz groups only in exceptional circumstances. There are two
reasons for this. In the first place, the whole fleet of military transport
planes would be taken up with transporting the airborne forces (VDV), of
which there are an enormous number. Apart from which, military aviation
would have other difficult missions to perform, such as the transport of
troops within the country from passive, less important sectors to the areas
where the main fighting was taking place. Secondly, the majority of military
transports are enormous aircraft, built for moving people and equipment on a
large scale, which do not suit the purposes of spetsnaz. It needs small
planes that do not present large targets and carry no more than twenty or
thirty people. They must also be able to fly at very low level without much
noise. In some cases even smaller aircraft that take eight to ten, or down
to three or four parachutists, are needed.
However, the official term `civil aviation', which is the source of
most spetsnaz transport in wartime, is a substantial misnomer. The minister
for civil aviation bears, quite officially, the rank of air chief marshal in
the Air Force. His deputies bear the rank of generals. The whole of
Aeroflot's flying personnel have the ranks of officers of the reserve. In
the event of war Aeroflot simply merges with the Soviet Air Force, and the
reserve officers then become regular officers with the same rank.
It has more than enough small aircraft for the business of transporting
and supplying spetsnaz units. The best of them are the Yakovlev-42 and the
Yakovlev-40, very manoeuvrable, reliable, low-noise planes capable of flying
at very low altitudes. They have one very important construction feature --
passengers embark and disembark through a hatch at the bottom and rear of
the aircraft. If need be, the hatch cover can be removed altogether, giving
the parachutists an exit as on a military transport plane, which makes it
possible to drop them in complete safety. Another plane that has great
possibilities for spetsnaz is the Antonov-72 -- an exact copy of the
American YC-14 of which the plans were stolen by GRU spies.
But how can spetsnaz parachutists use ordinary civil jet-propelled
aircraft, which passengers enter and leave by side doors? The doors cannot
be opened in flight. And if they were made to open inwards instead of
outwards, it would be exceptionally dangerous for a parachutist to leave the
plane, because the force of the current of air would press the man back
against the body of the plane. He might be killed either from the force with
which he bounced back against the plane, or through interference with the
opening of his parachute.
The problem has been solved by a very simple device. The door is
arranged to open inwards, and a wide tube made of strong, flexible,
synthetic material is allowed to hang out. As he leaves the door the
parachutist finds himself in a sort of three-metre long corridor which he
slides down so that he comes away from the aircraft when he is slightly to
one side and below the fuselage.
Variations on this device were first used on Ilyushin-76 military
transport planes. The heavy equipment of the airborne troops was dropped out
of the huge rear freight hatch, while at the same time the men were leaving
the plane through flexible `sleeves' at the side. The West has not given
this simple but very clever invention its due. Its importance lies not only
in the fact that the time taken to drop Soviet parachutists from transport
planes has been substantially reduced, with the result that every drop is
safer and that forces are much better concentrated on landing. What it also
means is that practically any jet-propelled civil aircraft can now be used
for dropping parachute troops.
The dropping of a spetsnaz unit can be carried out at any time of the
day or night. Every time has its advantages and its problems. Night-time is
the spetsnaz soldier's ally, when the appearance of a group of spetsnaz deep
in the enemy's rear may not be noticed at all. Even if the enemy were aware
of the group's arrival, it is never easy to organise a full-scale search at
night, especially if the exact landing place is not known and may be
somewhere inaccessible where there are forests and hills or mountains with
few roads and no troops on the spot. But at night there are likely to be
casualties among the parachutists as they land. The same problems of
assembly and orientation which face the pursuit troops face the spetsnaz
During the day, obviously, there are fewer accidents on landing; but
the landing will be seen. Deliberate daytime landings may sometimes be
carried out for the simple reason that the enemy does not expect such brazen
behaviour at such a time.
In many cases the drop will be carried out early in the morning while
there are still stars in the sky and the sun has not risen. This is a very
good time if large numbers of soldiers are being dropped who are expected to
go straight into battle and carry out their mission by means of a really
sudden attack. In that case the high command does its best to ensure that
the groups have as much daylight as possible for active operations on the
first, most important day of their mission.
But every spetsnaz soldier's favourite time for being dropped is at
sunset. The flight is calculated so that the parachutists' drop is carried
out in the last minutes before the onset of darkness. The landing then takes
place in the twilight when it is still light enough to avoid landing on a
church spire or a telegraph pole. In half an hour at the most darkness will
conceal the men and they will have the whole night ahead of them to leave
the landing area and cover their tracks.
On its own territory spetsnaz has a standard military structure4:
section, platoon, company, battalion, brigade; or section, platoon, company,
regiment. This organisation simplifies the control, administration and
battle training of spetsnaz. But this structure cannot be used on enemy
4 See Appendices for precise organisation of spetsnaz at different
The problem is, firstly, that every spetsnaz operation is individual
and unlike any other; a plan is worked out for each operation, which is
unlike any other. Each operation consequently requires forces organised, not
in a standard fashion, but adapted to the particular plan.
Secondly, when it is on enemy territory, a spetsnaz unit is in direct
communication with a major headquarters, at the very least the headquarters
of an all-arm or tank army, and orders are received in many cases directly
from a high-level HQ. A very long chain of command is simply not needed.
On operations a simple and flexible chain of command is used. The
organisational unit on enemy territory is known officially as the
reconnaissance group of spetsnaz (RGSN). A group is formed before the
beginning of an operation and may contain from two to thirty men. It can
operate independently or as part of a detachment (ROSN), which consists of
between thirty and 300 or more men. The detachment contains groups of
various sizes and for various purposes. The names `detachment' and `group'
are used deliberately, to emphasise the temporary nature of the units. In
the course of an operation groups can leave a detachment and join it again,
and each group may in turn break up into several smaller groups or,
conversely, come together with others into one big group. Several large
groups can join up and form a detachment which can at any moment split up
again. The whole process is usually planned before the operation begins. For
example: the drop may take place in small groups, perhaps fifteen of them
altogether. On the second day of the operation (D+1) eight of the groups
will join up into one detachment for a joint raid, while the rest operate
independently. On D+2 two groups are taken out of the detachment to form the
basis of a new detachment and another six groups link up with the second
detachment. On D+5 the first detachment splits up into groups and on D+6 the
second group splits up, and so on. Before the beginning of the operation
each group is informed where and when to meet up with the other groups and
what to do in case the rendezvous is not kept.
Having landed in enemy territory spetsnaz may go straight into battle.
Otherwise, it will hide the equipment it no longer needs -- boats,
parachutes, etc -- by either burying them in the ground or sinking them in
water. Very often it will then mine the drop area. The mines are laid where
the unwanted equipment has been buried. The area is also treated with one of
a number of substances which will confuse a dog's sense of smell. After
that, the group (of whatever size) will break up into little sub-groups
which depart quickly in different directions. A meeting of the sub-groups
will take place later at a previously arranged spot or, if this proves
problematic, at one of the several alternative places which have been
The drop area is usually the first place where casualties occur.
However good the parachute training is, leg injuries and fractures are a
frequent occurrence, and when the drop takes place in an unfamiliar place,
in complete darkness, perhaps in fog, over a forest or mountains, they are
inevitable. Even built-up areas provide their own hazards. Spetsnaz laws are
simple and easy to understand. In a case of serious injury the commander
cannot take the wounded man with him; doing so would greatly reduce the
group's mobility and might lead to the mission having to be aborted. But the
commander cannot, equally, leave the wounded man alone. Consequently a
simple and logical decision is taken, to kill the wounded man. Spetsnaz has
a very humane means of killing its wounded soldiers -- a powerful drug known
to the men as `Blessed Death'. An injection with the drug stops the pain and
quickly produces a state of blissful drowsiness. In the event that a
commander decides, out of misguided humanity, to take the wounded man with
him, and it looks as if this might jeopardise the mission, the deputy
commander is under orders to dispatch both the wounded man and the
commander. The commander is removed without recourse to drugs. It is
recommended that he be seized from behind with a hand over his mouth and a
knife blow to his throat. If the deputy does not deal with his commander in
this situation, then not just the commander and his deputy, but the entire
group may be regarded as traitors, with all the inevitable consequences.
As they leave the area of the drop the groups and sub-groups cover
their tracks, using methods that have been well known for centuries: walking
through water and over stones, walking in each other's footsteps, and so
forth. The groups lay more mines behind them and spread more powder against
After leaving the drop zone and having made sure that they are not
being followed, the commander gives orders for the organisation of a base
and a reserve base, safe places concealed from the view of outsiders. Long
before a war GRU officers, working abroad in the guise of diplomats,
journalists, consuls and other representatives of the USSR, choose places
suitable for establishing bases. The majority of GRU officers have been at
some time very closely familiar with spetsnaz, or are themselves spetsnaz
officers, or have worked in the Intelligence Directorate of a district or
group of forces. They know what is needed for a base to be convenient and
Bases can be of all sorts and kinds. The ideal base would be a hiding
place beneath ground level, with a drainage system, running water, a supply
of food, a radio set to pick up the local news and some simple means of
transport. I have already described how spetsnaz agents, recruited locally,
can establish the more elaborate bases which are used by the professional
groups of athletes carrying out exceptionally important tasks. In the
majority of cases the base will be somewhere like a cave, or an abandoned
quarry, or an underground passage in a town, or just a secluded place among
the undergrowth in a dense forest.
A spetsnaz group can leave at the base all the heavy equipment it does
not need immediately. The existence of even the most rudimentary base
enables it to operate without having to carry much with it in the way of
equipment or supplies. The approaches to the base are always guarded and the
access paths mined -- the closest with ordinary mines and the more distant
ones with warning mines which explode with much noise and a bright flash,
alerting any people in the base of approaching danger.
When the group moves off to carry out its task, a few men normally
remain behind to guard the base, choosing convenient observation points from
which to keep an eye on it. In the event of its being discovered the guard
leaves the location quietly and makes for the reserve base, leaving warnings
of the danger to the rest of the group in an agreed place. The main group
returning from its mission will visit the reserve base first and only then
go to the main base. There is a double safeguard here: the group may meet
the guards in the reserve base and so avoid falling into a trap; otherwise
the group will see the warning signals left by the guards. The craters from
exploded mines around the base may also serve as warnings of danger. If the
worst comes to the worst, the guards can give warning of danger by radio.
A spetsnaz group may also have a moving base. Then it can operate at
night, unhampered by heavy burdens, while the guards cart all the group's
heavy equipment along by other routes. Each morning the group meets up with
its mobile base. The group replenishes its supplies and then remains behind
to rest or to set off on another operation, while the base moves to another
place. The most unexpected places can be used by the mobile bases. I once
saw a base which looked simply like a pile of grass that had been thrown
down in the middle of a field. The soldiers' packs and equipment had been
very carefully disguised, and the men guarding the base were a kilometre
away, also in a field and camouflaged with grass. All around there were lots
of convenient ravines overgrown with young trees and bushes. That was where
the KGB and MVD units were looking for the spetsnaz base, and where the
helicopters were circling overhead. It did not occur to anybody that a base
could be right in the middle of an open field.
In some cases a spetsnaz group may capture a vehicle for transporting
its mobile base. It might be an armoured personnel carrier, a truck or an
ordinary car. And if a group is engaged in very intensive fighting involving
frequent changes of location, then no base is organised. In the event of its
being pursued the group can abandon all its heavy equipment, having first
removed the safety pin from the remaining mines.
In order to destroy a target it has first to be located. In the
overwhelming majority of cases a spetsnaz operation includes the search for
the target. This is understandable, since targets whose location is known
and which are not movable can be destroyed easily and quickly with missiles
and aircraft. But a great number of targets in present-day fighting are
mobile. On the eve of a war or just after it has broken out, government
offices are moved out of a country's capital for secret command posts whose
location is known to very few people. New communications centres and lines
are brought into operation. Aircraft are removed from stationary aerodromes
and dispersed to airfields established in places unknown to the enemy. Many
missile installations are moved to new concealed, and carefully guarded,
locations. Troops and headquarters are also relocated.
In these circumstances the search for targets acquires paramount
significance for spetsnaz. To be able to find a target of special
importance, to identify it, and to know how to distinguish real targets from
false ones, become the most important tasks for spetsnaz, more important
even than the destruction of the targets. Once a target has been discovered
it can be destroyed by other forces -- missiles, aircraft, marines, airborne
troops. But a target that has not been discovered cannot be destroyed by
Because the business of identifying targets is the most important task
for spetsnaz it cannot be a separate and independent organisation. It can
carry out this task only if it relies on all the resources of the GRU, and
only if it can make use of information obtained by agents and from all the
various kinds of razvedka -- satellite, aircraft, naval, electronic, and so
Every form of razvedka has its good and its bad side. A complete
picture of what is happening can be obtained only by making use of all forms
of razvedka in close interaction one with another, compensating for the
weaknesses of some forms with the advantages of the others.
Every officer in charge of razvedka uses spetsnaz only where its use
can give the very best result. When he sends a spetsnaz group behind enemy
lines the officer in command already knows a good deal about the enemy from
other sources. He knows exactly what the unit is to look for and roughly
where it has to look. The information obtained by spetsnaz groups (sometimes
only fragmentary and uncertain) can in turn be of exceptional value to the
other forms of razvedka and be the starting point for more attentive work in
those areas by agents and other services.
Only with a union of all forces and resources is it possible to reveal
the plans and intentions of the enemy, the strength and organisation of his
forces, and to inflict defeat on him.
But let us return to the commander of the spetsnaz group who,
despatching it to a particular area, already knows a good deal about the
area, the specially important targets that may be found there, and even
their approximate location. This information (or as much of it as concerns
him) is passed on to the commander of the group and his deputy. The group
has landed safely, covered its tracks, established a base and started its
search. How should it set about it?
There are several tried and tested methods. Each target of special
importance must have a communications centre and lines of communication
leading to it. The group may include experts at radio razvedka. Let us not
forget that spetsnaz is the 3rd department and radio razvedka the 5th
department of the same Directorate (the Second) at the headquarters of every
front, fleet, group of forces and military district. Spetsnaz and radio
razvedka are very closely connected and often help each other, even to the
point of having radio razvedka experts in spetsnaz groups. By monitoring
radio transmissions in the area of important targets it is possible to
determine quite accurately their whereabouts.
But it is also possible to discover the target without the aid of radio
razvedka. The direction of receiving and transmitting aerials of
tropospheric, radio-relay and other communication lines provides a lot of
information about the location of the terminal points on lines of
communication. This in turn leads us right up to the command posts and other
targets of great importance.
Sometimes before a search begins the commander of the group will decide
by the map which, in his opinion, are the most likely locations for
particular targets. His group will examine those areas first of all.
If the targets are moved, then the roads, bridges, tunnels and mountain
passes where they may be seen are put under observation.
The search for a particular target can be carried out simultaneously by
several groups. In that case the officer in charge divides the territory
being searched into squares in each of which one group operates.
Each group searching a square usually spreads out into a long line with
tens or even hundreds of metres between each man. Each man moves by the
compass, trying to keep in sight of his neighbours. They advance in complete
silence. They choose suitable observation points and carefully examine the
areas ahead of them, and if they discover nothing they move on to another
hiding place. In this way relatively small groups of well trained soldiers
can keep quite extensive areas under observation. Unlike razvedka conducted
from outer space or the air, spetsnaz can get right up to targets and view
them, not from above, but from the ground. Experience shows that it is much
more difficult to deceive a spetsnaz man with false targets than it is a man
operating an electronic intelligence station or an expert at interpreting
pictures taken from the air or from space.
Spetsnaz groups have recently begun to make ever greater use of
electronic apparatus for seeking their targets. They now carry portable
radar, infra-red and acoustic equipment, night-vision sights, and so forth.
But whatever new electronic devices are invented, they will never replace
the simplest and most reliable method of establishing the location of
important targets: questioning a prisoner.
It may be claimed that not every prisoner will agree to answer the
questions put to him, or that some prisoners will answer the questions put
by spetsnaz but give wrong answers and lead their interrogators astray. To
which my reply is categorical. Everybody answers questions from spetsnaz.
There are no exceptions. I have been asked how long a very strong person can
hold out against questioning by spetsnaz, without replying to questions. The
answer is: one second. If you don't believe this, just try the following
experiment. Get one of your friends who considers himself a strong character
to write on a piece of paper a number known only to himself and seal the
paper in an envelope. Then tie your friend to a post or a tree and ask him
what number he wrote on the paper. If he refuses to answer, file his teeth
down with a big file and count the time. Having received the answer, open
the envelope and check that he has given you the number written on the
paper. I guarantee the answer will be correct.
If you perform such an experiment, you will have an idea of one of
spetsnaz's milder ways of questioning people. But there are more effective
and reliable ways of making a person talk. Everyone who falls into the hands
of spetsnaz knows he is going to be killed. But people exert themselves to
give correct and precise answers. They are not fighting for their lives but
for an easy death. Prisoners are generally interrogated in twos or larger
groups. If one seems to know less than the others, he can be used for
demonstration purposes to encourage them to talk. If the questioning is
being done in a town the prisoner may have a heated iron placed on his body,
or have his ears pierced with an electric drill, or be cut to pieces with an
electric saw. A man's fingers are particularly sensitive. If the finger of a
man being questioned is simply bent back and the end of the finger squashed
as it is bent, the pain is unendurable. One method considered very effective
is a form of torture known as `the bicycle'. A man is bound and laid on his
back. Pieces of paper (or cotton wool or rags) soaked in spirit,
eau-de-cologne, etc., are stuck between his fingers and set alight.
Spetsnaz has a special passion for the sexual organs. If the conditions
permit, a very old and simple method is used to demonstrate the power of
spetsnaz. The captors drive a big wedge into the trunk of a tree, then force
the victim's sexual organs into the opening and knock out the wedge. They
then proceed to question the other prisoners. At the same time, in order to
make them more talkative, the principal spetsnaz weapon -- the little
infantryman's spade -- is used. As spetsnaz asks its questions the blade of
the spade is used to cut off ears and fingers, to hit the victims in the
liver and perform a whole catalogue of unpleasant operations on the person
One very simple way of making a man talk is known as the `swallow',
well known in Soviet concentration camps. It does not require any weapons or
other instruments, and if it is used with discretion it does not leave any
traces on the victim's body. He is laid face down on the ground and his legs
are bent back to bring his heels as close as possible to the back of his
neck. The `swallow' generally produces a straight answer in a matter of
Of course, every method has its shortcomings. That is why a commander
uses several methods at the same time. The `swallow' is not usually employed
in the early stages of an operation. Immediately after a landing, the
commander of a spetsnaz group tries to use one really blood-thirsty device
out of his arsenal: cutting a man's lips with a razor, or breaking his neck
by twisting his head round. These methods are used even when a prisoner
obviously has no information, the aim being to prevent any possibility of
any of the men in the group going over to the enemy. Everyone, including
those who have not taken part in the torture, knows that after this he has
no choice: he is bound to his group by a bloody understanding and must
either come out on top or die with his group. In case of surrender he may
have to suffer the same torture as his friends have just used.
In recent years the KGB, GRU and spetsnaz have had the benefit of an
enormous training ground in which to try out the effectiveness of their
methods of questioning: Afghanistan. The information received from there
describes things which greatly exceed in skill and inventiveness anything I
have described here. I am quite deliberately not quoting here interrogation
methods used by the Soviet forces, including spetsnaz, in Afghanistan, which
have been reported by thoroughly reliable sources. Western journalists have
access to that material and to living witnesses.
Once it has obtained the information it needs about the targets of
interest to it, the spetsnaz group checks the facts and then kills the
prisoners. It should be particularly noted that those who have told the
truth do have an easy death. They may be shot, hanged, have their throats
cut or be drowned. Spetsnaz does not torture anybody for the sake of
torture. You come across practically no sadists in spetsnaz. If they find
one they quickly get rid of him. Both the easier and the tougher forms of
questioning in spetsnaz are an unavoidable evil that the fighting men have
to accept. They use these methods, not out of a love of torturing people,
but as the simplest and most reliable way of obtaining information essential
to their purpose.
Having discovered the target and reported on it to their command,
spetsnaz will in most cases leave the target area as quickly as possible.
Very soon afterwards, the target will come under attack by missiles,
aircraft or other weapons. In a number of cases, however, the spetsnaz group
will destroy the target it has discovered itself. They are often given the
mission in that form: `Find and destroy'. But there are also situations when
the task is given as `Find and report', and the group commander takes an
independent decision about destroying the target. He may do so when, having
found the target, he discovers suddenly that he cannot report to his
superior officers about it; and he may also do so when he comes across a
missile ready for firing.
Robbed of the chance or the time to transmit a report, the commander
has to take all possible steps to destroy the target, including ordering a
suicide attack on it. Readiness to carry out a suicide mission is maintained
in spetsnaz by many methods. One of them is to expose obvious sadists and
have them transferred immediately to other branches of the forces, because
experience shows that in the overwhelming majority of cases the sadist is a
coward, incapable of sacrificing himself.
The actual destruction of targets is perhaps the most ordinary and
prosaic part of the entire operation. VIPs are usually killed as they are
being transported from one place to another, when they are at their most
vulnerable. The weapons include snipers' rifles, grenade-launchers or mines
laid in the roadway. If a VIP enjoys travelling by helicopter it is a very
simple matter. For one thing, a single helicopter is a better target than a
number of cars, when the terrorists do not know exactly which car their
victim is travelling in. Secondly, even minor damage to a helicopter will
bring it down and almost certainly kill the VIP.
Missiles and aircraft are also attacked with snipers' rifles and
grenade-launchers of various kinds. One bullet hole in a missile or an
aircraft can put it out of action. If he cannot hit his target from a
distance the commander of the group will attack, usually from two sides. His
deputy will attack with one group of men from one side, trying to make as
much noise and gunfire as possible, while the other group led by the
commander will move, noiselessly, as close to the target as it can. It is
obvious that an attack by a small spetsnaz group on a well defended target
is suicide. But spetsnaz will do it. The fact is that even an unsuccessful
attack on a missile ready for firing will force the enemy to re-check the
whole missile and all its supporting equipment for faults. This may delay
the firing for valuable hours, which in a nuclear war might be long enough
to alter the course of the conflict.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
Chapter 12. Control and Combined Operations
If we describe the modern infantryman in battle and leave it at that,
then, however accurate the description, the picture will be incomplete. The
modern infantryman should never just be described independently, because he
never operates independently. He operates in the closest co-operation with
tanks; his way forward is laid by sappers; the artillery and air force work
in his interests; he may be helped in his fighting by helicopter gunships;
ahead of him there are reconnaissance and parachute units; and behind him is
an enormous organisation to support and service him, from supplying
ammunition to evacuating the wounded quickly.
To understand the strength of spetsnaz one has to remember that
spetsnaz is primarily reconnaissance, forces which gather and transmit
information to their commanders to which their commanders immediately react.
The strength of those reconaissance forces lies in the fact that they have
behind them the whole of the nuclear might of the USSR. It may be that
before the appearance of spetsnaz on enemy territory, a nuclear blow will
already have been made, and despite the attendant dangers, this greatly
improves the position of the fighting groups, because the enemy is clearly
not going to bother with them. In other circumstances the groups will appear
on enemy territory and obtain information required by the Soviet command or
amplify it, enabling an immediate nuclear strike to follow. A nuclear strike
close to where a spetsnaz group is operating is theoretically regarded as
the salvation of the group. When there are ruins and fires all round, a
state of panic and the usual links and standards have broken down, a group
can operate almost openly without any fear of capture.
Similarly, Soviet command may choose to deploy other weapons before
spetsnaz begins operations or immediately after a group makes its landing:
chemical weapons, air attacks or bombardment of the coastline with naval
artillery. There is a co-operative principle at work here. Such actions will
give the spetsnaz groups enormous moral and physical support. And the
reverse is also true -- the operations of a group in a particular area and
the information it provides will make the strike by Soviet forces more
accurate and effective.
In the course of a war direct co-operation is the most dependable form
of co-operation. For example, the military commander of a front has learnt
through his network of agents (the second department of the 2nd Directorate
at front headquarters) or from other sources that there is in a certain area
a very important but mobile target which keeps changing its position. He
appoints one of his air force divisions to destroy the target. A spetsnaz
group (or groups) is appointed to direct the division to the target. The
liaison between the groups and the air force division is better not
conducted through the front headquarters, but directly. The air division
commander is told very briefly what the groups are capable of, and they are
then handed over to his command. They are dropped behind enemy lines and,
while they are carrying out the operation, they maintain direct contact with
their divisional headquarters. After the strike on the target the spetsnaz
group -- if it has survived -- returns immediately to the direct control of
the front headquarters, to remain there until it needs to be put under the
command of some other force as decided by the front commander.
Direct co-operation is a cornerstone of Soviet strategy and practised
widely on manoeuvres, especially at the strategic level1, when spetsnaz
groups from regiments of professional athletes are subordinated to
commanders of, for example, the strategic missile troops or the strategic
1 See Appendix D for the organisation of spetsnaz at strategic level.
For the main principle governing Soviet strategy is the concentration
of colossal forces against the enemy's most vulnerable spot. Soviet troops
will strike a super-powerful, sudden blow and then force their way rapidly
ahead. In this situation, or immediately before it, a mass drop of spetsnaz
units will be carried out ahead of and on the flanks of the advancing force,
or in places that have to be neutralised for the success of the operation on
the main line of advance.
Spetsnaz units at army level2, on the other hand, are dropped in the
areas of operations of their own armies at a depth of 100 to 500 kilometres;
and spetsnaz units under the command of the fronts3 are dropped in the area
of operations of their fronts at a depth of between 500 and 1000 kilometres.
2 See Appendix A.
3 See Appendix B.
The headquarters to which the group is subordinated tries not to
interfere in the operations of the spetsnaz group, reckoning that the
commander on the spot can see and understand the situation better than can
people at headquarters far from where the events are taking place. The
headquarters will intervene if it becomes necessary to redirect it to attack
a more important target or if a strike is to take place where it is located.
But a warning may not be given if the group is not going to have time to get
away from the strike area, since all such warnings carry the risk of
revealing Soviet intentions to the enemy.
Co-operation between different groups of spetsnaz is carried out by
means of a distribution of territories for operations by different groups,
so that simultaneous blows can be struck in different areas if need be.
Co-operation can also be carried out by forward headquarters at battalion,
regiment and brigade level, dropped behind the lines to co-ordinate major
spetsnaz forces in an area. Because spetsnaz organisation is so flexible, a
group which has landed by chance in another group's operational area can
quickly be brought under the latter's command by an order from a superior
In the course of a war other Soviet units apart from spetsnaz will be
operating in enemy territory:
Deep reconnaissance companies from the reconnaissance battalions of the
motor-rifle and tank divisions. Both in their function and the tactics they
adopt, these companies are practically indistinguishable from regular
spetsnaz. The difference lies in the fact that these companies do not use
parachutes but penetrate behind the enemy's lines in helicopters, jeeps and
armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Deep reconnaissance units do not usually
co-operate with spetsnaz. But their operations, up to 100 kilometres behind
the front line, make it possible to concentrate spetsnaz activity deeper in
the enemy's rear without having to divert it to operations in the zone
nearer the front.
Air-assault brigades at front level operate independently, but in some
cases spetsnaz units may direct the combat helicopters to their targets. It
is sometimes possible to have joint operations conducted by men dropped from
helicopters and to use helicopters from an air-assault brigade for
evacuating the wounded and prisoners.
Airborne divisions operate in accordance with the plans of the
commander-in-chief. If difficulties arise with the delivery of supplies to
their units, they switch to partisan combat tactics. Co-operation between
airborne divisions and spetsnaz units is not normally organised, although
large-scale drops in the enemy's rear create a favourable situation for
operations by all spetsnaz units.
Naval infantry are commanded by the same commander as naval spetsnaz:
every fleet commander has one brigade of the latter and a brigade (or
regiment) of infantry. Consequently these two formations, both intended for
operations in the enemy's rear, co-operate very closely. Normally when the
naval infantry makes a landing on an enemy coastline, their operation is
preceded by, or accompanied by, spetsnaz operations in the same area. Groups
of naval spetsnaz can, of course, operate independently of the naval
infantry if they need to, especially in cases where the operations are
expected to be in remote areas requiring special skills of survival or
There are two specific sets of circumstances in which superior
headquarters organises direct co-operation between all units operating in
the enemy rear. The first is when a combined attack offers the only
possibility of destroying or capturing the target, and the second is when
Soviet units in the enemy rear have suffered substantial losses and the
Soviet command decides to make up improvised groups out of the remnants of
the ragged units that are left.
In the course of an advance spetsnaz groups, as might be expected,
co-operate very closely with the forward detachments.
A Soviet advance -- a sudden break through the defences of the enemy in
several places and the rapid forward movement of masses of troops, supported
by an equal mass of aircraft and helicopters -- is always co-ordinated with
a simultaneous strike in the rear of the enemy by spetsnaz forces, airborne
troops and naval infantry.
In other armies different criteria are applied to measure a commander's
success -- for example, what percentage of the enemy's forces have been
destroyed by his troops. In the Soviet Army this is of secondary importance,
and may be of no importance at all, because a commander's value is judged by
one criterion only: the speed with which his troops advance.
To take the speed of advance as the sole measure of a commander's
abilities is not so stupid as it might seem at first glance. As a guiding
principle it forces all commanders to seek, find and exploit the weakest
spots in the enemy's defences. It obliges the commander to turn the enemy's
flank and to avoid getting caught up in unnecessary skirmishes. It also
makes commanders make use of theoretically impassable areas to get to the
rear of the enemy, instead of battering at his defences.
To find the enemy's weak spots a commander will send reconnaissance
groups ahead, and forward detachments which he has assembled for the
duration of the advance. Every commander of a regiment, division, army and,
in some cases, of a front will form his own forward detachment. In a
regiment the detachment normally includes a motor-rifle company with a tank
platoon (or a tank company with a motor-rifle platoon); a battery of
self-propelled howitzers; an anti-aircraft platoon; and an anti-tank platoon
and sapper and chemical warfare units. In a division it will consist of a
motor-rifle or tank battalion, with a tank or motor-rifle company as
appropriate; an artillery battalion; anti-aircraft and anti-tank batteries;
and a company of sappers and some support units. In an army the scale is
correspondingly greater: two or three motor-rifle battalions; one or two
tank battalions; two or three artillery battalions, a battalion of
multi-barrelled rocket launchers; a few anti-aircraft batteries; an
anti-tank battalion; and sappers and chemical warfare troops. Where a front
makes up its own forward detachment it will consist of several regiments,
most of them tank regiments. The success of each general (i.e. the speed at
which he advances) is determined by the speed of his very best units. In
practice this means that it is determined by the operations of the forward
detachment which he sends into battle. Thus every general assembles his best
units for that crucial detachment, puts his most determined officers in
command, and puts at their disposal a large slice of his reinforcements. All
this makes the forward detachment into a concentration of the strength of
the main forces.
It often happens that very high-ranking generals are put in command of
relatively small detachments. For example, the forward detachment of the 3rd
Guards Tank Army in the Prague operation was commanded by General I. G.
Ziberov, who was deputy chief of staff. (The detachment consisted of the
69th mechanised brigade, the 16th self-propelled artillery brigade, the 50th
motorcycle regiment, and the 253rd independent penal company).
Every forward detachment is certainly very vulnerable. Let us imagine
what the first day of a war in Europe would be like, when the main
concentration of Soviet troops has succeeded in some places in making very
small breaches in the defences of the forces of the Western powers. Taking
advantage of these breaches, and of any other opportunities offered --
blunders by the enemy, unoccupied sectors and the like -- about a hundred
forward detachments of regiments, about twenty-five more powerful forward
detachments of divisions, and about eight even more powerful forward
detachments from armies have penetrated into the rear of the NATO forces.
None of them has got involved in the fighting. They are not in the least
concerned about their rear or their flanks. They are simply racing ahead
without looking back.
This is very similar to the Vistula-Oder operation of 1945, on the eve
of which Marshal G. K. Zhukov assembled all sixty-seven commanders of the
forward detachments and demanded of each one: 100 kilometres forward
progress on the first day of the operation. A hundred kilometres,
irrespective of how the main forces were operating, and irrespective of
whether the main forces succeeded in breaking through the enemy's defences.
Every commander who advanced a hundred kilometres on the first day or
averaged seventy kilometres a day for the first four days would receive the
highest award -- the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union. Everybody in
the detachment would receive a decoration, and all the men undergoing
punishment (every forward detachment has on its strength anything from a
company to a battalion's worth of such men riding on the outside of the
tanks) would have their offences struck out.
Say what you like about the lack of initiative in Soviet soldiers and
officers. Just imagine giving men from a penal battalion such a task. If you
succeed in not getting involved in the fighting, and if you manage to
outflank the enemy and keep moving, we will strike out all your offences.
Get involved in fighting and you will not only shed your blood, you will die
a criminal too.
Operations by Soviet forward detachments are not restrained by any
limitations. `The operations of forward detachments must be independent and
not restricted by the dividing lines,' the Soviet Military Encyclopaedia
declares. The fact that the forward detachments may be cut off from the main
force should not deter them. For example, on the advance in Manchuria in
1945 the 6th Guards Tank Army advanced rapidly towards the ocean, having
crossed the desert, the apparently impregnable Khingan mountain range and
the rice fields, and covering 810 kilometres in eleven days. But ahead of it
were forward detachments, operating continually, which had rushed 150 to 200
kilometres ahead of the main force. When the officer in command of the front
learnt of this spurt ahead (by quite unprotected detachments, which really
had not a single support vehicle with them), he did not order the
detachments to slow down; on the contrary, he ordered them to increase their
speed still further, and not to worry about the distance separating them,
however great it was. The more the forward detachments were separated from
the main force, the better. The more unsuspected and strange the appearance
of Soviet troops seems to the enemy, the greater the panic and the more
successful the operations of both the forward detachments and the main
Forward detachments were of enormous importance in the last war. The
speed at which our troops advanced reached at times eighty to a hundred
kilometres a day. Such a speed of advance in operations on such an enormous
scale causes surprise even today. But it must always be remembered that this
terrible rate of advance was to a great extent made possible by the
operations of the forward detachments. These are the words of Army-General
I.I. Gusakovsky, the same general who from January to April 1945, from the
Vistula to Berlin itself, commanded the forward detachment of the 11th
Guards Tank Corps and the whole of the 1st Guards Tank Army.
In the last war the forward detachments pierced the enemy's defences
with dozens of spearheads at the same time, and the main body of troops
followed in their tracks. The forward detachments then destroyed in the
enemy's rear only targets that were easy to destroy, and in many cases moved
forward quickly enough to capture bridges before they were blown up. The
reason the enemy had not blown them up was because his main forces were
still wholly engaged against the main forces of the Red Army.
The role played by forward detachments has greatly increased in modern
warfare. All Soviet military exercises are aimed at improving the operations
of forward detachments. There are two very good reasons why the role of the
forward detachments has grown in importance. The first is, predictably, that
war has acquired a nuclear dimension. Nuclear weapons (and other modern
means of fighting) need to be discovered and destroyed at the earliest
possible opportunity. And the more Soviet troops there are on enemy
territories, the less likelihood there is of their being destroyed by
nuclear weapons. It will always be difficult for the enemy to make a nuclear
strike against his own rear where not only are his own forces operating, and
which are inhabited but where a strike would also be against his own
A forward detachment, rushing far ahead and seeking out and destroying
missile batteries, airfields, headquarters and communication lines resembles
spetsnaz both in character and in spirit. It usually has no transport
vehicles at all. It carries only what can be found room for in the tanks and
armoured transporters, and its operations may last only a short time, until
the fuel in the tanks gives out. All the same, the daring and dashing
actions of the detachments will break up the enemy's defences, producing
chaos and panic in his rear, and creating conditions in which the main force
can operate with far greater chances of success.
In principle spetsnaz does exactly the same. The difference is that
spetsnaz groups have greater opportunities for discovering important
targets, whereas forward detachments have greater opportunities than
spetsnaz for destroying them. Which is why the forward detachment of each
regiment is closely linked up with the regiment's reconnaissance company
secretly operating deep inside the enemy's defences. Similarly, the forward
detachments of divisions are linked directly with divisional reconnaissance
battalions, receiving a great deal of information from them and, by their
swift reactions, creating better operating conditions for the reconnaissance
The forward detachment of an army, usually led by the deputy army
commander, will be operating at the same time as the army's spetsnaz groups
who will have been dropped 100 to 500 kilometres ahead. This means that the
forward detachment may find itself in the same operational area as the
army's spetsnaz groups as early as forty-eight hours after the start of the
operation. At that point the deputy army commander will establish direct
contact with the spetsnaz groups, receiving information from them, sometimes
redirecting groups to more important targets and areas, helping the groups
and receiving help from them. The spetsnaz group may, for example, capture a
bridge and hold it for a very short time. The forward detachment simply has
to be able to move fast enough to get to the bridge and take over with some
of its men. The spetsnaz group will stay at the bridge, while the forward
detachment runs ahead, and then, after the main body of Soviet forces has
arrived at the bridge the spetsnaz group will again, after briefing, be
dropped by parachute far ahead.
Sometimes spetsnaz at the front level will operate in the interests of
the army's forward detachments, in which case the army's own spetsnaz will
turn its attention to the most successful forward detachments of the army's
Forward detachments are a very powerful weapon in the hands of the
Soviet commanders, who have great experience in deploying them. They are in
reality the best units of the Soviet Army and in the course of an advance
will operate not only in a similar way to spetsnaz, but in very close
collaboration with it too. The success of operations by spetsnaz groups in
strategic warfare depends ultimately on the skill and fighting ability of
dozens of forward detachments which carry out lightning operations to
overturn the enemy's plans and frustrate his attempts to locate and destroy
the spetsnaz groups.
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
Chapter 13. Spetsnaz and Deception
Secrecy and disinformation are the most effective weapons in the hands
of the Soviet Army and the whole Communist system. With the aim of
protecting military secrets and of disinforming the enemy a Chief
Directorate of Strategic Camouflage (GUSM) was set up within the Soviet
General Staff in the 1960s. The Russian term for `camouflage' -- maskirovka
-- is, like the word razvedka, impossible to translate directly. Maskirovka
means everything relating to the preservation of secrets and to giving the
enemy a false idea of the plans and intentions of the Soviet high command.
Maskirovka has a broader meaning than `deception' and `camouflage' taken
The GUSM and the GRU use different methods in their work but operate on
the same battlefield. The demands made of the officers of both organisations
are more or less identical. The most important of these demands are: to be
able to speak foreign languages fluently; and to know the enemy. It was no
coincidence that when the GUSM was set up many senior officers and generals
of the GRU were transferred to it. General Moshe Milshtein was one of them,
and he had been one of the most successful heads the GRU had had; he spent
practically the whole of his career in the West as an illegal1. Milshtein
speaks English, French and German fluently, and possibly other languages as
well. He is the author of a secret textbook for GRU officers entitled An
Honourable Service. I frequently attended lectures given by him about
operations by Soviet `illegals' and the theory upon which the practice of
disinformation is based. But even the briefest study of the writings of this
general in Soviet military journals, in the Military-Historical Journal
(VIZ) for example, reveals that he is one of the outstanding Soviet experts
in the field of espionage and disinformation.
1 See Viktor Suvorov, Soviet Military Intelligence (London, 1984).
The GUSM is vast. It is continually gathering a colossal number of
facts on three key subjects:
1. What the West knows about us.
2. What the West shows us it does not know.
3. What the West is trying to find out.
The GUSM has long-term plans covering what must be concealed and what
must have attention drawn to it in the Soviet Army and armaments industry.
The experts of the GUSM are constantly fabricating material so that the
enemy should draw the wrong conclusions from the authentic information in
The extent of the powers given to the GUSM can be judged from the fact
that at the beginning of the 1970s REB osnaz (radio-electronic warfare) was
transferred from the control of the KGB to the control of the GUSM, though
still preserving the name osnaz.
There are very close links existing between the GUSM and the GRU and
between spetsnaz and the REB osnaz. In peacetime the REB osnaz transmits by
radio `top-secret' instructions from some Soviet headquarters to others. In
time of war spetsnaz operations against headquarters and centres and lines
of communications are conducted in the closest co-operation with the REB
osnaz, which is ready to connect up with the enemy's lines of communication
to transmit false information. An example of such an operation was provided
in the manoeuvres of the Ural military district when a spetsnaz company
operated against a major headquarters. Spetsnaz groups cut the communication
lines and `destroyed' the headquarters and at the same time an REB osnaz
company hooked into the enemy's lines and began transmitting instructions to
the enemy in the name of the headquarters that had been wiped out.
Even in peacetime the GUSM operates in a great variety of ways. For
example, the Soviet Union derives much benefit from the activities of
Western pacifists. A fictitious pacifist movement has been set up in the
Soviet Union and Professor Chazov, the personal physician of the General
Secretary of the Communist Party, has been made head of it. There are some
who say that the movement is controlled by the Soviet leadership through the
person of Chazov. Chazov, in addition to being responsible for the health of
the General Secretary, is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party, i.e. one of the leaders who has real power in his hands. There are
very few people who can manipulate him.
The mighty machinery of the GUSM was brought into operation in order to
give this Communist leader some publicity. General Moshe Milshtein himself
arrived in London in April 1982 to attend a conference of doctors opposed to
nuclear warfare. There were many questions that had to be put to the
general. What did he have to do with medicine? Where had he served, in what
regiments and divisions? Where had he come by his genuine English accent?
Did all Soviet generals speak such good English? And were all Soviet
generals allowed to travel to Great Britain and conduct pacifist propaganda,
or was it a privilege granted to a select few?
The result of this publicity stunt by the GUSM is well known -- the
`pacifist' Chazov, who has never once been known to condemn the murder of
children in Afghanistan or the presence of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia,
and who persecutes opponents of Communism in the USSR, received the Nobel
`But,' as Stalin said, `in order to prepare new wars pacifism alone is
not enough.'2 That is why the Soviet leaders are preparing for another war
not only with the aid of the pacifists but with the help of many other
people and organisations which, knowingly or unwittingly, spread information
which has been `made in the GUSM'.
2 Leningradskaya Pravda, 14 July 1928.
One of the sources spreading Soviet military disinformation is the
GRU's network of agents, and in particular the agents of spetsnaz.
In the preparation of a strategic operation the GUSM's most important
task is to ensure that the operation is totally unexpected by the enemy,
particularly the place where it is to take place and the time it is due to
start; its nature, and the weapons the troops will be using; and the number
of troops and scope of the operation. All these elements must be planned so
that the enemy has not prepared to resist. This is achieved by many years of
intensive effort on the part of the GUSM at concealment. But concealment is
twofold: the GUSM will, for example, conceal from the enemy advances in
Soviet military science and the armaments industry, and at the same time
demonstrate what the enemy wants to see.
This would provide material for a separate and lengthy piece of
research. Here we are dealing only with spetsnaz and with what the GUSM does
in connection with spetsnaz. GUSM experts have developed a whole system
aimed at preventing the enemy from being aware of the existence of spetsnaz
and ensuring that he should have a very limited idea of its strength and the
nature of the operations it will conduct. Some of the steps it takes we have
already seen. To summarise:
1. Every prospective member of spetsnaz is secretly screened for his
general reliability long before he is called into the Army.
2. Every man joining spetsnaz or the GRU has to sign a document
promising not to reveal the secret of its existence. Any violation of this
undertaking is punished as spying -- by the death sentence.
3. Spetsnaz units do not have their own uniform, their own badges or
any other distinguishing mark, though it very often uses the uniform of the
airborne troops and their badges. Naval spetsnaz wear the uniform of the
naval infantry although they have nothing in common with that force.
Spetsnaz units operating midget submarines wear the usual uniform of
submariners. When they are in the countries of Eastern Europe the spetsnaz
units wear the uniform of signals troops.
4. Not a single spetsnaz unit is quartered separately. They are all
accommodated in military settlements along with airborne or air-assault
troops. In the Navy spetsnaz units are accommodated in the military
settlements of the naval infantry. The fact that they wear the same uniform
and go through roughly the same kind of battle training makes it very
difficult to detect spetsnaz. In Eastern Europe spetsnaz is located close to
important headquarters because it is convenient to have them along with the
signals troops. In the event of their being moved to military settlements
belonging to other branches of the forces spetsnaz units immediately change
Agent units in spetsnaz are installed near specially well-defended
targets -- missile bases, penal battalions and nuclear ammunition stores.
5. In the various military districts and groups of forces spetsnaz
troops are known by different names -- as reidoviki (`raiders') in East
Germany, and as okhotniki (`hunters') in the Siberian military district.
Spetsnaz soldiers from different military districts who meet by chance
consider themselves as part of different organisations. The common label
spetsnaz is used only by officers among themselves.
6. Spetsnaz does not have its own schools or academies. The officer
class is trained at the Kiev Higher Combined Officers' Training School
(reconnaissance faculty) and at the Ryazan Higher Airborne School (special
faculty). It is practically impossible to distinguish a spetsnaz student
among the students of other faculties. Commanding officers and officers
concerned with agent work are trained at the Military-Diplomatic Academy
(the GRU Academy). I have already mentioned the use made of sports sections
and teams for camouflaging the professional core of spetsnaz.
There are many other ways of concealing the presence of spetsnaz in a
particular region and the existence of spetsnaz as a whole.
In spetsnaz everyone has his own nickname. As in the criminal
underworld or at school, a person does not choose his own nickname, but is
given it by others. A man may have several at the outset, then some of them
are dropped until there remains only the one that sounds best and most
pleases the people he works with. The use of nicknames greatly increases the
chances of keeping spetsnaz operations secret. The nicknames can be
transmitted by radio without any danger. A good friend of mine was given the
nickname Racing Pig. Suppose the head of Intelligence in a district sent the
following radiogram, uncyphered: `Racing Pig to go to post No. 10.' What
could that tell an enemy if he intercepted it? On the other hand, the
commander of the group will know the message is genuine, that it has been
sent by one of his own men and nobody else. Spetsnaz seldom makes use of
radio, and, if the head of Intelligence had to speak to the group again he
would not repeat the name but would say another name to the deputy commander
of the group: `Dog's Heart to take orders from Gladiolus,' for example.
Before making a jump behind enemy lines, in battle or in training, a
spetsnaz soldier will hand over to his company sergeant all his documents,
private letters, photographs, everything he does not need on the campaign
and everything that might enable someone to determine what unit he belongs
to, his name, and so on. The spetsnaz soldier has no letters from the
Russian alphabet on his clothes or footwear. There may be some figures which
indicate the number he is known by in the Soviet armed forces, but that is
all. An interesting point is that there are two letters in that number, and
for the spetsnaz soldier they always select letters which are common to both
the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets -- A, K, X, and so forth. An enemy coming
across the corpse of a spetsnaz soldier will find no evidence that it is
that of a Soviet soldier. One could, of course, guess, but the man could
just as easily be a Bulgar, a Pole or a Czech.
Spetsnaz operates in exceptionally unfavourable conditions. It can
survive and carry out a given mission only if the enemy's attention is
spread over a vast area and he does not know where the main blow is to be
With this aim, drops of large numbers of spetsnaz troops are not
carried out in a single area but in smaller numbers and in several areas at
the same time. The dropping zones may be separated from each other by
hundreds of kilometres, and apart from the main areas of operation for
spetsnaz other, subsidiary areas are chosen as well: these are areas of real
interest to spetsnaz, so as to make the enemy believe that that is the area
where the main spetsnaz threat is likely to appear, and they are chosen as
carefully as the main ones. The decision as to which area will be a prime
one and which a subsidiary is taken by the high command on the very eve of
the operation. Sometimes circumstances change so rapidly that a change in
the area of operation may take place even as the planes are over enemy
The deception of the enemy over the main and subsidiary areas of
operation begins with the deception of the men taking part in the operation.
Companies, battalions, regiments and brigades exist as single fighting
units. But during the period of training for the operation, groups and
detachments are formed in accordance with the actual situation and to carry
out a specific task. The strength and armament of each group is worked out
specially. Before carrying out an operation every detachment and every group
is isolated from the other groups and detachments and is trained to carry
out the operation planned for that particular group. The commander and his
deputy are given the exact area of operations and are given information
about enemy operations in the given area and about operations there by
spetsnaz groups and detachments. Sometimes this information is very detailed
(if groups and detachments have to operate jointly), at others it is only
superficial, just enough to prevent neighbouring commanders getting in each
Sometimes the commander of a group or detachment is told the truth,
sometimes he is deceived. A spetsnaz officer knows that he can be deceived,
and that he cannot always detect with any certainty what is true and what is
Commanders of groups and detachments who are to take part in operations
in reserve areas are usually told that their area is the main one and the
most important, that there is already a large force of spetsnaz operating
there or that such a force will soon appear there. The commander of a group
that is operating in the main area may be told, on the contrary, that apart
from his groups there are very few groups operating in the area.
Irrespective of what the comander is told he is given quite specific tasks,
for whose accomplishment he answers with his head in the most literal sense.
In any operation the GRU high command keeps a spetsnaz reserve on its
own territory. Even in the course of the operation some groups may receive
an order to withdraw from the main areas into the reserve areas. Spetsnaz
reserves may be dropped into the reserve areas, which then become main areas
of operations. In this way the enemy obtains information about spetsnaz
simultaneously in many areas, and it is exceptionally difficult to determine
where the main areas and where the reserve ones are. Consequently the
enemy's main forces may be thrown against relatively small groups and
detachments which are conducting real military operations but which are none
the less a false target for the enemy. Even if the enemy establishes which
are the main areas of spetsnaz operations the enemy may be too late. Many
spetsnaz groups and detachments will already be leaving the area, but those
that remain there will be ordered to step up their activity; the enemy thus
gets the impression that this area is still the main one. So as not to
dispel this illusion, the groups remaining in the area are ordered by the
Soviet high command to prepare to receive fresh spetsnaz reinforcements, are
sent increased supplies and are continually told that they are doing the
main job. But they are not told that their comrades left the area long ago
for a reserve area that has now become a main one.
At the same time as the main and reserve areas are chosen, false areas
of operations for spetsnaz are set. A false, or phoney, area is created in
the following way. A small spetsnaz group with a considerable supply of
mines is dropped into the area secretly. The group lays the mines on
important targets, setting the detonators in such a way that all the mines
will blow up at roughly the same time. Then automatic radio transmitters are
fixed up in inaccessible places which are also carefully mined. This done,
the spetsnaz group withdraws from the area and gets involved in operations
in a quite different place. Then another spetsnaz group is dropped into the
same area with the task of carrying out an especially daring operation.
This group is told that it is to be operating in an area of special
importance where there are many other groups also operating. At an agreed
moment the Soviet air force contributes a display of activity over the
particular area. For this purpose real planes are used, which have just
finished dropping genuine groups in another area. The route they follow has
to be deliberately complicated, with several phoney places where they drop
torn parachutes and shroud-lines, airborne troops' equipment, boxes of
ammunition, tins of food, and so forth.
Next day the enemy observes the following scene. In an area of dense
forest in which there are important targets there are obvious traces of the
presence of Soviet parachutists. In many places in the same area there had
been simultaneous explosions. In broad daylight a group of Soviet terrorists
had stopped the car of an important official on the road and brutally
murdered him and got away with his case full of documents. At the same time
the enemy had noted throughout the area a high degree of activity by
spetsnaz radio transmitters using a system of rapid and super-rapid
transmission which made it very difficult to trace them. What does the enemy
general have to do, with all these facts on his desk?
To lead the enemy further astray spetsnaz uses human dummies, clothed
in uniform and appropriately equipped. The dummies are dropped in such a way
that the enemy sees the drop but cannot immediately find the landing place.
For this purpose the drop is carried out over mountains or forests, but far
away from inhabited places and places where the enemy's troops are located.
The drops are usually made at dawn, sunset or on a moonlit night. They are
never made in broad daylight because it is then seen to be an obvious piece
of deception, while on a dark night the drop may not be noticed at all.
The enemy will obviously discover first the dummies in the areas which
are the main places for spetsnaz operations. The presence of the dummies may
raise doubts in the enemy's mind about whether the dummies indicate that it
is not a false target area but the very reverse.... The most important thing
is to disorient the enemy completely. If there are few spetsnaz forces
available, then it must be made to appear that there are lots of them
around. If there are plenty of them, it should be made to appear that there
are very few. If their mission is to destroy aircraft it must look as if
their main target is a power station, and vice versa. Sometimes a group will
lay mines on targets covering a long distance, such as oil pipelines,
electricity power lines, roads and bridges along the roads. In such cases
they set the first detonators to go off with a very long delay and as they
advance they make the delay steadily shorter. The group then withdraws to
one side and changes its direction of advance completely. The successive
explosions then take place in the opposite direction to the one in which the
group was moving.
Along with operations in the main, reserve and false areas there may
also be operations by spetsnaz professional groups working in conditions of
special secrecy. The Soviet air force plays no part in such operations. Even
if the groups are dropped by parachute it takes place some distance away and
the groups leave the drop zone secretly. Relatively small but very carefully
trained groups of professional athletes are chosen for such operations.
Their movements can be so carefully concealed that even their acts of
terrorism are carried out in such a way as to give the enemy the impression
that the particular tragedy is the result of some natural disaster or of
some other circumstances unconnected with Soviet military intelligence or
with terrorism in general. All the other activity of spetsnaz serves as a
sort of cover for such specially trained groups. The enemy concentrates his
attention on the main, reserve and false target areas, not suspecting the
existence of secret areas in which the organisation is also operating:
secret areas which could very easily be the most dangerous for the enemy
"You never win an argument until they attack your Person". Nassim Taleb
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