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The Fighting Units Of Spetsnaz

The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces

The Fighting Units Of Spetsnaz

Spetsnaz is made up of three distinct elements: the fighting units, the units of professional sportsmen and the network of secret agents. In numerical terms the fighting units of spetsnaz are the largest. They are composed of soldiers from the ranks, out of those who are especially strong, especially tough and especially loyal.

A factor that facilitates the selection process is that within the Soviet Army there exists a hidden system for the selection of soldiers. Long before they put on a military uniform, the millions of recruits are carefully screened and divided into categories in acordance with their political reliability, their physical and mental development, the extent of their political involvement, and the 'cleanliness' (from the Communist point of view) of their personal and family record. The Soviet soldier does not know to which category he belongs, and in fact he knows nothing about the existence of the various categories.

If a soldier is included in a higher category than his comrades that does not necessarily mean that he is fortunate. On the contrary, the best thing for a soldier is to be put into the lowest category and to perform his two years of military service in some remote and God-forsaken pioneer battalion in which there is neither discipline nor supervision, or in units of which the officers have long since drunk away all the authority they had. The higher the category the soldier is put into the more difficult his military service will be.

Soldiers of the highest category make up the Kremlin guard, the troops protecting the government communications, the frontier troops of the KGB and spetsnaz. Being included in the highest category does not necessarily mean being posted to the Kremlin, to a spetsnaz brigade or to a government communications centre. The highest-category men selected by the local military authorities simply represent the best human material which is offered to the `customer' for him to choose from. The `customer' selects only what suits his need. All those who do not appeal to the customers move down to a lower level and are offered to representatives of the next echelon, that of the strategic missile troops, the airborne forces and crews of nuclear submarines.

The young soldier does not realise, of course, what is going on. He is simply summoned to a room where people he doesn't know ask him a lot of questions. A few days later he is called to the room again and finds a different set of strangers there who also ask him questions.

This system of sorting out recruits reminds one of the system of closed shops for leading comrades. The highest official has the first choice. Then his deputy can go to the shop and choose something from what remains. Then lower ranking officials are allowed into the shop, then their deputies, and so on. In this system spetsnaz rank as the very highest category.

The soldiers who have been picked out by spetsnaz officers are gathered together into groups and are convoyed by officers and sergeants to fighting units of spetsnaz, where they are formed into groups and go through an intensive course of training lasting several weeks. At the end of the course the soldier fires shots from his Kalashnikov automatic rifle for the first time and is then made to take the military oath. The best out of the group of young soldiers are then sent to a spetsnaz training unit from which they return six months later with the rank of sergeant, while the rest are posted to fighting units.

In spetsnaz, as throughout the Soviet Army, they observe the 'cult of the old soldier'. All soldiers are divided into stariki ('old men') and salagi ('small fry'). A real salaga is a soldier who has only just started his service. A really `old man' (some twenty years' old) is one who is about to complete his service in a few months. A man who is neither a real starik nor a real salaga falls between the two, a starik being compared to anyone who has done less time than he has, and a salaga to anyone who has served in the army a few months longer than he.

Having been recruited into spetsnaz, the soldier has to sign an undertaking not to disclose secret information. He has no right ever to tell anyone where he has served or what his service consisted of. At most he has the right to say he served with the airborne corps. Disclosure of the secrets of spetsnaz is treated as high treason, punishable by death according to article 64 of the Soviet criminal code.

Once he has completed his two years' service in spetsnaz a soldier has three choices. He can become an officer, in which case he is offered special terms for entering the higher school for officers of the airborne forces in Ryazan. He can become a regular soldier in spetsnaz, for which he has to go through a number of supplementary courses. Or he has the option to join the reserve. If he chooses the last course he is regarded as being a member of the spetsnaz reserve and is with it for the next five years.

Then, up to the age of 30, he is part of the airborne reserve. After that he is considered to belong to the ordinary infantry reserve until he is fifty. Like any other reserve force, the existence of a spetsnaz reserve makes it possible at a time of mobilisation to multiply the size of the spetsnaz fighting units with reservists if necessary.

Mud, nothing but mud all round, and it was pouring with rain. It had been raining throughout the summer, so that everything was wet and hanging limp. Everything was stuck in the mud. Every soldier's boot carried kilograms of it. But their bodies were covered in mud as well, and their hands and faces up to their ears and further. It was clear that the sergeant had not taken pity on the young spetsnaz recruits that day. They had been called up only a month before. They had been formed up into a provisional group and been put through a month's course for young soldiers which every one of them would remember all his life in his worst nightmare.

That morning they had been divided up into companies and platoons. Before letting them back into their mud-covered, sodden tent at the end of the day each sergeant had time to show his platoon the extent of his authority.

'Get inside!'

There were ten young men crowding around the entrance to a huge tent, as big as a prison barracks.

'Get inside, damn you!' The sergeant urged them on. The first soldier thrust aside the heavy wet tarpaulin which served as a door and was about to enter when something stopped him. On the muddy, much trampled ground just inside the entrance a dazzlingly white towel had been laid down in place of a doormat. The soldier hesitated. But behind him the sergeant was pushing and shouting: 'Go on in, damn you!'   continued next page...

[This is an excerpt from "The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces" by By Viktor Suvorov]

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