Spetsnatz (II) by Victor Suvorov (1987)
Spetsnatz (II) by Victor Suvorov (1987)
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 brute, 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
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 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.