‘Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991’: writings and thoughts

One of Johnny Shumate's preliminary sketches for color plates in my forthcoming Osprey Publishing title Elite 197 'Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991', ISBN 978 1 78096105 7, to be published in August 2013

One of Johnny Shumate’s preliminary sketches for color plates in my forthcoming Osprey Publishing title Elite 197 ‘Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991’, ISBN 978 1 78096105 7, to be published in August 2013

Having been the kind of nerdy kid who frequented the library to scour the Osprey military history titles, who predictably enough grew up to be the kind of nerdy adult who buys them instead, it was a thorough delight to be able to write my first Osprey book, Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991, which is due to be published August 2013. (Elite series number 197,  ISBN 978 1 78096105 7). In part it gave me new respect for the series given the extensive detail and fact-checking involved, as well as the way the artists need to have a distinctive combination of the meticulous and the imaginative when producing the color plates which are such a feature of the books. The accompanying sketch, from the talented Johnny Shumate, is just the first rendering of an operator from the Saturn special forces group of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in full riot kit. The color version is even more stunning…but you’ll have to wait and buy the book to see that!

However, the exercise also led me to think more about the rise in Russian security, special and paramilitary forces since the collapse of the USSR. The Soviets, after all, were hardly averse to maintaining large parallel armies and also sundry elite forces. However, there has been not just an increase in the numbers of many of these forces, there has also been a proliferation. There are OMON riot police (who do more than just quell riots), KSN/OMSN/SOBR special police response units, various special forces within the MVD’s Interior Troops, numerous commando ‘spetsgruppy’ within the security apparatus, from the FSB’s Alfa and Vympel to the SVR’s Zaslon. As if that were not enough, there are special forces within the FSIN, the FSKN anti-narcotics service, even of a kind within the MChS Ministry of Emergency Situations.

The irony is that the only special forces elements which have shrunk of late have been the regular military’s Spetsnaz — and even then, they still proportionately make up a larger share of the army than in Soviet times. The same is true of the security troops of the Interior Troops: there are fewer than in the Soviet VV, but more compared with the smaller size of Russia’s population.

Why might this be? Here are a couple of preliminary thoughts:

1. An acknowledgment of the relatively poor quality of the run-of-the-mill street cop or soldier compared with increasingly complex challenges. In other words, if you can’t raise the general level of professionalism, but need men who can do tough jobs in an age when terrorism, hostage-taking, etc are increasingly common challenges, then instead you accept a two-stage army/security apparatus, with ‘spets’ types (who are not always that special) and the ordinary herd.

2. Bureaucratic warlordism and Kalashnikov confederalism. In the 1990s, when the Russian Federation seemed all too fragile and everyone was busy building their own powerbases, having such operational forces seemed a good survival strategy (‘Kalashnikov confederalism’). Since then, the threat of fragmentation has receded, but in a time when the siloviki (“men of force”) were in the ascendant and tough guys were all the rage, having your ‘own’ spetsgruppa, whether you’re a minister or a local police chief, was a symbol of political machismo and might even get you credibility in the Kremlin.

Either way, despite the shrinkage of the military Spetsnaz, there is little evidence of any reversal of this overall trend. Indeed, new Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is being urged to create his own Special Operations Command (KSO), Senezh. And so it goes…

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  1. Nice post and I look forward to reading the book. Hope that that the publisher also considers an on-line version to incorporate the latest changes. Who knows, by August 2013 there could be even more novel types of special forces lurking within Moscow’s shadows.

    One item which you might also include are the semi-private security forces which have blossomed during the past couple of decades. Some of these corporate fighters could probably hold their own compared to the Blackwater types in the West.

    • Mark Galeotti

       /  December 10, 2012

      I do touch on the private security sector, but only very much in passing given that there are so many other forces and units to cover… And yes, I am sure that we have not seen the end of the proliferation of these guys!

  2. It is better to say that way of war has changed!
    In 1970-1980 there were real possobilities of full scale tank war between Soviet Army and NATO in Western Europe or Fallout with Chinese in Mongolia and Manchuria.
    By the way, during Sino-Vietnam War in 1979 my father was mobilised from reserve and send to serve a T-54 driver in Mongolia. Overally, during 30-Day war Soviet Union send 2 tank armies (there were full mobilisation of Far East including redeployment of Soviet Air force from Belarus to Primorye,and it was the biggest one after WW2) and parachuted 2 VDV division in Kazakchstan as a sign of support of Hanoi and political pressure on China.
    During Afgan war where Soviet Army fought classical anti-guerilla war there was made tremendous change in structure of Ground Forces similar to that made by US Army during Vietnam…
    For example, it was 1985 when Spetsnaz GRU achieved its zenith of Power: two full full-blooded Spetsnaz brigade were relocated to Afganistan (15 and 22 OBrSpN), other brigades were changed from cadr ( Кадрированные) to full number, they also get a third unit (OOSpN), and new 67 OBrSpN was created in Siberia.
    Because of break up of USSR New Russia has lost several of Spetsnaz brigades and,thus, had a very limited COIN cappabilities as have been showed in Chechnya. And if the Army was not ablу to pacify Ichkeria alone Rus Government began to develop other branhces of security apparatus.
    Not different of what did British during Troubles–actively developed SAS,SBS of MoD, special unit (death scuad in reality) of Olster police, Increment group of MI6 and paramilitary force of Unionists(aka Kadurovtsi)
    Making a long story short, now it is time of guerillas. And “outguerrilla guerrillas” is a common motto all over the world. And all countries use similar measures to fulfil the task.


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