Security Forces in and close to Kiev: a preliminary tally


SBU special forces, armed and ready

I honestly have no idea what will happen in Kiev, whether the regime will fracture and crumble, whether the protests will subside, whether martial law has been declared: I am not a Ukrainian politics specialist and in any case, this is one of those situations in which I feel all bets are off and the only real question is who is the most plausible and lucky guessers amongst the assembled ranks of pundits. However, in a depressive moment, togo with my previous note on Berkut, I thought I’d quickly throw together a list of — to my knowledge, at least — the security forces available either in Kiev or close by. Of course, treat this with some caution, not least as it would be easy for the government quickly to bring in reinforcements from other police, Interior Troop and army commands. Still, I hope this list remains of no more than academic interest.

MVS Police

Central MVS assets

‘Sokil’ (Falcon) police commando unit

Kiev City Berkut Regiment – c. 450

Kiev City Berkut Regiment – c. 450

Kiev Region Berkut Regiment – c. 350?

Kiev City Police (especially its Public Order Directorate) – total force c. 11,000 cops

Cadets from the Kiev MVS Police Academy

MVS Interior Troops (VV)

Unit 3027 Bars (‘Snow Leopard’) MVS VV Special Purpose Brigade

Omega counter-terrorist company

22nd MVS VV Special Purpose Brigade

25th MVS VV Special Motorized Police Brigade

3rd MVS VV Brigade

Cadets from the MVS VV Academy

State Guard Directorate (UDO)

Some 2900 armed officers, mainly in Kiev

Titan special security unit

Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)

Security Directorate

Alfa counter-terrorist unit


72nd Guards Mechanized Brigade: some 3,000 troops at Bila Tserkva, 80 km south of Kiev

Силы безопасности в и близко в Киев: предварительной оценки

Berkut: Yanukovich’s stormtroopers?


Berkut at Work

As the terrible events in Kiev unfold, I’m getting increasing media queries about Berkut (‘Golden Eagle’), the Ukrainian riot police busily out on their skull-cracking work, so I thought it might be useful to post a quick summary here. In short, they are the descendants of the Soviet OMON and thus very similar to their Russian OMON counterparts (the acronym now stands for Special Purpose Mobile Units, even since the militsiya was renamed politsiya and no one much liked OPON as a new name). They even wear the same blue urban camouflage or black uniforms (although just to show that they are their own men, they wear maroon berets instead of their Russians’ black ones). In other words, Berkut (click here for a gung-ho recruitment video) fulfills a range of roles, from armed support to the regular police (such as in raids on gang headquarters), through additional patrollers on the streets. However, their prime and backstop role, as here, is in public order duties. Members either apply directly or are recruited from regular police and disproportionately served in the paratroopers or Naval Infantry (marines). Whatever one may feel about what they do, in fairness they are pretty good at it: they know how to pick the right kinds of recruits, train them well and keep them at a good level of physical and moral conditioning. As I say, this is a technical observation about their skills, not a moral judgement…


Coming Up For Air

I know how the Presidential Palace in Grozny feels...

I know how the Presidential Palace in Grozny feels…

I’ve been pretty absent on this blog for a while: a combination of a time-consuming side-project and an equally time-consuming completion of a book manuscript as well as generally life getting in the way, Still, the project is essentially over and the book – Russia’s Chechen Wars, 1994-2009, for Osprey’s Essential Histories series — has been submitted, maps and all (though it is only scheduled to see the light of day in December 2014), so I am contemplating the prospect of not having to be working pretty much every hour available. Any day now, once I’ve caught up on the backlog of everything which didn’t get done before…

OMON, Spetsnaz and Kadyrovtsy, oh my: ‘Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991′

imageJust a brief note: my book Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991 is out this week, published by Osprey Books in their Elite series. I talk a little more about it here, but as a short, concise (and wonderfully-illustrated), English-language guide to the plethora of security forces in Russia today, I pride myself that it is unique.

Here is the blurb and contents:

Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991

Elite 197
Author: Mark Galeotti
Illustrator: Johnny Shumate

While the size of Russia’s regular forces has shrunk recently, its security and paramilitary elements have become increasingly powerful. Under the Putin regime they have proliferated and importantly seem set to remain Russia’s most active armed agencies for the immediate future. In parallel, within the murky world where government and private interests intersect, a number of paramilitary ‘private armies’ operate almost as vigilantes, with government toleration or approval.This book offers a succinct overview of the official, semi-official and unofficial agencies that pursue Russian government and quasi-government objectives by armed means, from the 200,000-strong Interior Troops, through Police and other independent departmental forces, down to private security firms. Featuring rare photographs, and detailed colour plates of uniforms, insignia and equipment, this study by a renowned authority explores the Putin regime’s shadowy special-forces apparatus, active in an array of counter-terrorist and counter-mafia wars since 1991.



Who were the Georgian gangsters arrested in Europe?

I’ll complete this list as more identities become available, but to date, these are the names of the various figures arrested in the June 18 swoop on the Georgian Kutaisi gang across Europe:


  • Merab Dzhangveladze, “Dzhango,” vor v zakone and leader of the Kutaisi
  • ?


  • Guram Odisharia, “Buya,” vor v zakone
  • Roin Uglava, “Matevich,” vor v zakone
  • Gia Gurchiani, vor v zakone
  • Aleko Imedadze, vor v zakone
  • Beso Kuprashvili, vor v zakone
  • Akaki Tugushi, “Enzo Batumi,” vor v zakone
  • ?

Czech Republic

  • Alexander Kartsivadze, vor v zakone
  • ?


  • Givi Gordeladze, “Givi Tol’styi” (“Givi the Thick”), vor v zakone [Gordeladze is again at large; the Lithuanian court, for reasons still not wholly clear, released him on bail, not deeming him a flight risk on grounds of his age (65) and health. Surprise, surprise: he flew.]
  • Temur Nemsitsveridze, “Tsripa,” vor v zakone
  • Razhden Shulaya
  • ?
  • ?


  • ?
  • ?


  • ?

(Last update: June 27, 2013)

Russia conspicuously absent in US ‘foreign policy’ presidential debate

Given the extent to which tonight’s third presidential debate was shamelessly hijacked by both candidates for a reiteration of their usual domestic campaign setpieces, it should hardly surprise that Russia received almost no attention. After all, Europe was ignored to an even greater extent beyond Romney’s invocation of Greece as some apocalyptic fate facing America. Nonetheless, it was a disappointment to see this opportunity for there to be actual debate on actual substance relating to actual foreign policy squandered, though. As it was, Mali seemed to received more detailed analysis than Russia, and those comments relating to Russia were either cheap shots or empty words.

Romney sought to make capital from Obama’s on-mike aside to Medvedev and strike a tough pose when he said:

“I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin and I’m certainly not going to say to him, ‘I’ll give you more flexibility after the election.’ After the election, he’ll get more backbone.”

However, an Obama who was assertive to the point of sounding querulous, got in a counter-punch of his own obliquely referring to Romney’s now-infamous comment about Russia being the USA’s “number one geopolitical foe“:

“Gov. Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaeda is a threat because a few months ago when you asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia – not Al Qaeda – you said Russia. The 1980s are now calling and asking for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War has been over for 20 years. But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policy of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”

Nice line, for sure, but does it get us anywhere? Not at all. It should hardly surprise, after all. Obama has little reason to want to talk about US policy towards Russia because it can hardly be said to have been especially successful. Conversely, not only has Romney little maneuver room given his geopolitical gaffe, he has little to say. His foreign policy seems to be “I’d be like Obama, but more so.”

While election debates are probably the last places to look for any useful foreign policy discussion or omens, nonetheless this does suggest that when it comes to US-Russian relations:

1. It scarcely matters who is the next US president. Behind a rhetorical smokescreen, policy towards Russia will be cautious, pragmatic and, to be blunt, open to being dominated by a more assertive Moscow.

2. Moscow plays a very small role in Washington’s worldview, something I cannot help but feel is pretty short-sighted. Even when Romney called it America’s main adversary, it is hard to believe that he really saw this as something around which to anchor any meaningful foreign policy.

3. No one in Washington really knows what to do with Russia.


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