Russia’s special operations forces are popularly known by the abbreviation “Spetsnaz,” short for Spetsial'noye naznacheniye, a term meaning “special purpose.” Spetsnaz, although similar to special operations forces in Western countries, retains a slightly different set of roles and missions than those commonly found elsewhere. The current incarnation of Spetsnaz traces its origin back to naval and ground units created back in the mid- 1950s to establish a dedicated special purpose force to operate with the armed forces, although its wider lineage can be attributed to counterrevolutionary and partisan units formed during the Russian Revolution and World War II, respectively.493
These predecessor units became pivotal in defining the hallmark missions of the modern Spetsnaz force, from diversionary acts conducted by partisan units behind German lines in World War II to deep reconnaissance and intelligence collection, reflecting the postwar perception of a potential conflict with the West during the Cold War.494 These traditional missions—with slight modifications and variations—still manifest themselves in Spetsnaz doctrine and are associated with Moscow’s recent strategy of using indirect action, albeit with the wider aim of achieving goals while avoiding a large-scale conflict.
Within Russia, the term Spetsnaz is often misappropriated and misattributed. Moscow’s true Spetsnaz force is a relatively small, select group of mission-dedicated special purpose forces, primarily belonging to the mihtary and its Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) (e.g., the Defense Ministry’s ground and naval Spetsnaz units), and to a lesser extent, the security services of the National Guard, Federal Security Service (FSB), Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and Justice and Emergency Situations Ministries.495 Estimated to number 20,000-30,000 personnel, Spetsnaz units in these organizations all retain distinct and separate missions from one another. The single largest contingent with which recent and visible exploits of Spetsnaz are attributed reside with the GRU.