Russian GRU Spetsnaz are one of the most renowned, formidable, and deeply respected special forces in the world. They are the in-house special forces of the Russian Military inteligence and operate exclusively on foreign territory
As a top level American military analyst, The Saker poses a number of interesting questions to the commander of 25 GRU Spetsnaz soldiers. Call signed "Ramzes", he gives us a unique inside look into GRU Spetsnaz:
- command structure
- tasks on foreign soil
- missions in Afghanistan
- training and tactics
- successful mission in Crimea
- life after the service
We believe this is a very interesting interview because of its rarity. These guys work on some of the toughest top secret missions around the globe. The general public knows very little about their work, and even once they leave the service they are very reluctant to give interviews or talk about their work in the special forces.
This is part 1 of 2 of the interview.
The Saker: Please introduce yourself in a few words, tell us which Brigade you served in, what rank you achieved there and what your military speciality was?
Ramzes: My GRU Spetsnaz call sign was Ramzes. I was born in Russia. I began service in 1994 and finished service in 1999. I was an airborne cadet for four years and served as an officer with the rank of lieutenant for one year after that. I served in the 16th Brigade of the GRU Spetsnaz based out of Chuchkovo. I was the commander of 25 GRU Spetsnaz soldiers. As the commander of this group it was mandatory that I was proficient and educated as a sniper, explosives and ordnace specialist, radio communication as well as use of the English language. To be a Spetsnaz commander you must be trained in all aspects of warfare employed by your entire unit.
In Spetsnaz GRU there is no platoon structure per se as in regular army units. We operate as a group and although command line is respected, all members of the group are active in intelligence and planning as well as mission execution. In Spetsnaz everybody is aware of the full situation and they all have the responsibility and opportunity to think about what the mission is, and to weigh in at any time, and if needed to think and operate on their own if required. Every member of the group must be able to act independently without needing immediate orders, yet knowing what the full scope of the mission is. They can all address the situation and assess and contribute their opinion on operations. As a commander I listen to everybody and make the final decision. This makes Spetsnaz more effective.
The Saker: There are many elite units in the Russian military, including the SOBR and ODON units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Alpha and Vympel Spetsnaz of the FSB, the 4 divisions and 8 brigades of the VDV, the Navy’s Spetsnaz units, the “Zaslon” unit of the SVR, etc. How would you compare these forces to the 7 Spetsnaz GRU brigades? What makes the Spetsnaz GRU unique and different?
Ramzes: In the beginning Spetsnaz was only GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate). They are the original and some say true Special Forces. During the 1990’s the reputation of the Spetznas was renowned throughout Russia and deeply respected. At this time all the forces created their own Spetsnaz units to piggyback on the reputation and elite status of the original GRU Spetsnaz. The very identity of Spetsnaz became a catch word for the elite unit within all of the various military and security organisations.
Now if you say that you are Spetsnaz there is more responsibility to live up to a certain reputation as the situation in Russia is exceptionally more advanced and capable compared to the 90’s.
Originally the main operational concept of the Special Forces was to execute our missions on the territory of the enemy. Now there are domestic Spetsnaz and all sorts of various Spetsnaz delegations that were not trained for foreign incursions like the original GRU Spetsnaz.
When we were trained all GRU Spetsnaz were educated in one or more several key languages - Farsi, Mandarin, English, Arabic, French. Now they learn a greater variety of languages. For example during the Afghan War our Spetsnaz were fluent in various local dialects and after this experience this practice was expanded.
The Saker: It is often reported that there are Spetsnaz GRU units formed exclusively of officers and NCOs which are used in more complex and demanding operations. Is that so and, if yes, are these units part of the Spetsnaz Brigades or are they directly depending on the 5th (or 8th?) GRU Directorate in Moscow?
Ramzes: I can say only this. There are GRU Spetsnaz groups that consist of only officers. Every group will be working under the directorate of the GRU. Of course the most difficult and delicate missions are for groups composed of officers only and NCO’s.
The Saker: As far as I know, the original primary mission of the Spetsnaz GRU forces was the detection of NATO missile launchers and associated command posts, combined with deep reconnaissance and diversionary attacks. During the Eltsin years Spetnaz GRU forces were used in all sorts of manners which have very little to do with their original mission: they were used as infantry, as assault units, as anti-terrorist units, as protection units for generals, etc. Is that still the case today and how to you see the future of the Spetsnaz GRU and what kind of missions would you want them assigned to?
Ramzes: Detecting missile launch sites was only one (of many) mission designations of GRU Spetsnaz units. I think active serving Spetsnaz of GRU were never used for any security detail for Generals. They had other missions, again always on foreign soil.
Security is provided by other teams not GRU. Even during Yeltsin years GRU Spetsnaz were only assigned to foreign territory. Protection of generals, assault troops, anti-terrorist Spetsnaz of MVD (police) not GRU. Not exclusively however, there are several incidents when GRU Spetsnaz did assist when large scale assaults on domestic territory were active, like various scenarios in Chechnia, but again very rare.
Of course retired GRU officers can enter into active duty with MVD or other units if they choose after they finish their service with the GRU.
As for what I would like to see them assigned to – that depends on the situation, but of course the main idea is to protect Russia.
The Saker: The 16th Spetsnaz Brigade saw combat in Afghanistan, Tadjikistan, Chechnia, the North Caucasus and Abkhazia and soliders from this Brigade also served in Kosovo. I also have very strong suspicions that the Brigade was sent into Moscow in 1993 in the days right after the end of the combats around the White House and the Ostankino Tower. Did these conflicts trigger changes inside the organization or training of the Brigade? Which of those wars were the most difficult ones for the Brigade?
Ramzes: Perhaps this question is not the right one to ask or it is phrased in a way that cannot clearly be answered. For example regarding the wars, it depends on the specific mission, there could be one mission in Afghanistan that was a complete success and one in Chechnia that was a terrible failure but we can not assess based on region or war, but based on each individual mission. Considering this, we can say that Afghanistan provided the most rich experience simply due to the duration and variety of the missions. While Chechnia had some intense and complex missions GRU Spetsnaz were not deployed in this conflict as much as the general public assumes, as again this was on domestic territory.
None of these conflicts resulted in any diametric changes within the GRU Spetsnaz, yet the training and tactics are constantly evolving. If you are an officer or soldier for Spetsnaz your mission is to serve the people of Russia exclusively and at all times. I can personally say that the 16th were very clever soldiers who understood their situation and that the commanders could never nor would ever order their units to take any aggressive action against citizens of the Russian Federation, nor act as crowd control against the people of Russia, especially as per the situation inside Moscow during 1993, no GRU Spetsnaz were involved in these incidents.
Of course the Spetsnaz GRU always modernizes and updates tactics and strategy from experience. When I was a cadet we learned things that the cadets today probably do not learn due to the rapidly evolving nature of missions, experiences, technology, tactics and geopolitics.
During WW2 we had one specific tactic and now we have various tactics and the differences are understandably very significant. For example better equipment, improved battlefield awareness, logistics… Of course the basic ideas and principles are the same but also much improved.
Today of course their is much more money to fund and supply our soldiers than in the 90’s and our technology is now highly advanced and is far greater today then when I served.
I am envious of what equipment they have to work with today. GRU Spetsnaz are in all likelihood far stronger and more capable today than they were when I was in service, however at the core we have the same ideals and work habits.
The Saker: How surprised were you when the Polite Men in green conducted an absolutely brilliant operation in Crimea which they managed to secure without a single person being shot even though the peninsula was full of elite Ukrainian units including many sent from the western Ukraine? Does this operation show that the modern Spetsnaz GRU forces are as good as the old Soviet ones or, possibly, that they have become even better than the used to be?
Ramzes: Was I surprised, well yes, but I understand that such success is possible, even 20 years ago it was possible. Taking the enemy whole without the loss of life is one of the greatest ways to achieve victory in any mission. This is a very significant example of mission success. This is a case when the art of martial tactics shines more brilliantly than the forces of war.
Of course GRU Spetsnaz is now better than 20 years ago. With better equipment, radio, satellite, weapons, GPS etc… It all provides huge advantages. The reduction in weight alone is a massive operational advantage as well as the reduced size of technology used and what it can achieve. We had a compass and map, today they have smart phones and gadgets that provide truly amazing intelligence and tactical capabilities to out groups.