Circling the Lion's Den

FSB Special forces: 1998-2010

Chief Alexander Tikhonov

The FSB Special Purpose Center (Tsentr Specialnogo Naznachenia: TsSN) was established on October 8, 1998 at the Department to Protect the Constitutional System and Combat Terrorism (now the Service to Protect the Constitutional System and Combat Terrorism). Alexander Tikhonov was appointed Center chief on October 1998 by Presidential decree.

The Center consists of the antiterrorist Group Alpha (or A department), which is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. elite Delta force; the Group Vympel (meaning pennant from German Wimpel, or V department), created in the early 1980s to specialize in deep penetration, sabotage, universal direct and covert action and which in the mid-90s became a second antiterrorist unit, the Special Purpose (or Special Operations) Service. The Special Purpose Service was created on July 16, 1999 by order from the director of the FSB, it was conceived as being based on section 12 at the Directorate of Economic Counterintelligence and section 3 at the Service to Fight Militants and Bandits under the FSB Moscow department. In 2005 the TsSN established a regional branch in Dagestan.

Traditionally all servicemen at both departments hold the rank of FSB officers. A Department had four sections while V Department had five. During operations these sections become assault groups, each comprising over 30 fighters. In the mid-2000s two sections were on constant deployment to Chechnya.

In 2008 it was made public that in the ten years of its existence, 30 employees with the Special Purpose Service had lost their lives in the line of duty.

The centre is situated in the South West of Moscow, the Priboi site, and in the city of Balashikha just outside Moscow.

Selection and Training

The Spetsnaz training and selection system involves several stages. Officers and ensigns are primarily selected for work in the special forces units of the Special Purpose Center, alongside cadets at military schools who are seen as having officer potential. Ninety seven per cent of Spetsnaz positions are at officer rank, and only three per cent at ensign rank. The officers clearly need to have higher educations, while an ensign needs to at least have finished middle-school. Ensigns are usually appointed as drivers and instructors.

Special section candidates need to be recommended by those already serving with the force, or who have served with Alfa or Vympel. Cadets at military schools under the Ministry of Defense, and those studying at border schools are also selected. The preference is given to border institutes, the Ryazan and Novosibirsk training schools: serving officers visit the Center for the primary selection rounds. The candidates are vetted and then invited to interview. That replaces required reccommendations from serving officers. There are very strict physical limitations applied: they must be at least 175 centimeters tall. This limit is borne from the fact that while on operations the officers need to carry heavy shields.

However exceptions are made for candidates whose other qualities overcome their shortfall in height. The upper age limit is 28. True, exeptions may be made for those with combat experience who come to the unit from the security forces.

All new recruits, independent of their rank and experience, undergo the young collegue training course. This training cycle takes them en-masse through the legal, medical, weaponry, military-technical, mountain, air-borne and special-tactical training necessary. Incidentally everyone serving with directorates A, V and Special Operations have to do parachute jumps.

On completing this stage of the course the new recruits again return to their sections and units, where training continues for three years. After one year's service they are sent on various training courses such as outdoor surveillance (field supervision) or strategic technology. They also undergo training courses in the FSB and SVR academies, as well as in a series of other establishments. A distinction is already made within these sections between staff and adjunct positions.

On average training a soldier in the antiterror forces takes five years. The salary received by a Major who has seen 15 years' service in senior operational positions is in the region of 50-60 thousand rubles (per month).

A Department

Created on July 29, 1974 on the initiative of Yury Andropov and the head of the Seventh directorate of the USSR's KGB: Alexei Beschastny.

Before 1985 the top-secret Alfa section was directly subordinated to the General Secretary and KGB leadership. The full title of the subsection before August 1991 was: A Group, Service ODP of the 7th Directorate of the KGB of the USSR. It initially had no more than 40 members of staff. It primarily drew its staff from the KGB who had been through special training and deemed fit and healthy enough for work in the airborne division.

Group A was directed at fighting terrorism and other extremist movements, involving operations to free people, transport infrastructure or state infrastructure locations on USSR territory and abroad that are being held hostage. By the time it collapsed the USSR had about 500 officers. Currently in Moscow, not counting the regional sub-divisions, there are about 250 in active service. After the collapse of the USSR, Group A joined the Chief Security Directorate (GUO) and until 1993 worked as Presidential security. In 1993 Alfa troops refused to storm the White House.

In August 1995, once Barsukov had taken over as head of the FSB, Alfa group was shifted from the Chief Security Directorate (GUO, responsible for personal protection of high-ranking Russian officials) to the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB). In 1998 Alfa group moved again, this time coming under the Special Purpose Center, where it was known as A Department.

V Department

V Department, formerly the Group Vympel (meaning Pennant from German Wimpel) was created inside the KGB on August 19, 1981 by a secret decision taken at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of USSR and Politburo to carry out deep penetration, sabotage and liquidations in times of war.

In the 1980s the Vympel officers, highly skilled and fluent in different languages, were sent undercover to the West, and even managed to complete training in the Special Forces of some NATO countries, as the KGB leadership boasted.

At home their training included penetrating the most heavily guarded strategic points (such as nuclear stations) to find breaches in security. In most cases they succeeded. As a rule, they despised their colleagues in other KGB departments responsible for internal security.

During Yeltsins violent clashes with hard-liners in Parliament in October 1993, Vympel officers had refused orders to storm the Russian White House, then the location of Parliament. As a result of such insubordination, the Vympel was handed over to the Interior Ministry for two years: Only fifty officers out of a few hundred, however, were actually transferred; the rest simply left. In 1995 the remnants of the unit were returned to the FSB and it focused on hunting down rebels in Chechnya, in the process loosing priceless skills - a matter for constant regret of its officers.

FSB Special forces in regions

The regional FSB Spetsnaz originated from the Khabarovsk Alfa force, which was set up in 1984 as part of A Group as a structural subdivision.

In spring 1990, under order Number 0031, dated March 3, signed by Kryuchkov, the Far East filial was bolstered by the creation of another five filials: in Ekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Alma-Ata, Kiev and Minsk.

In 1996 the Antiterror Center, ATC, was created. As a result all the regional subdivisions technically under the ATC were re-organized and the counter terrorism department of the FSB (now the Service to Protect the Constitutional System and Combat Terrorism) was now subordinate to the regional agencies: the Regional FSB or the Regional Department for Special Operations.

In addition, in the 1990s the country's main regions Vladivostok, Voronezh, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Murmansk, Nizhny Novgord and Novosibirsk saw the creation of their own Spetsnaz divisions.

The departments' names indicated only their geographical location, for example the Murmansk Regional Department for Special Operations (ROSO in Russian), the Kasatka (killer whale) brigade (named after the department's emblem) also had to work on the territory of the Komi Republic, Arkhangelsk Region and the Nenets Autonomous Region.

The Novosibirsk ROSO covered four regions: its own, Omsk, Tomsk and Kemerovo, Altai Republic and Altai Territory. The Voronezh RDSO covered the territory of Central Russia, and Niznhy Novgorod region was responsible for five republics and seven Volga regions.

In 1999 the ROSO's were renamed regional special purpose departments.

In addition, two regional Special Purpose Services were created within the FSB: in St Petersburg and in Krasnodar. A little while later a third service appeared: Under the FSB's Operational Coordination Centre for the North Caucasus. In February 2006 this was disbanded. In Dagestan, in Summer 2005 after then President Putin's visit, a regional FSB Special Purpose Center was created for the Southern Federal Region.

In March 2007, not far from Makhachkala, on the shore of the Caspian Sea, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev opened a unique special service staff training centre with full mountain and rural training facilities. From the outside the FSB training centre, the Caucasus Courtyard seems a regular building set behind a high fence, inside it resembles a real fortress complete with underground passages and arms caches. Its 25 hectares are home to a multifunctional complex comprising three sports halls, the newest training facilities and rifle range. The first floor and second floor house their stores, with food on the first and equipment on the second, there is a kindergarten on the third floor and the fourth floor comprises 1970s style apartments.

In addition there is also professional climbing equipment. Under the FSB direction the remainder of the subjects of the Russian Federation have groups or departments responsible for assisting in operational activities. This was also a Spetsnaz group, but it was staffed by the most reliable operational officers from the directorate, and funded by the FSB.

Their main task was carrying out security operations involving hostage release scenarios or providing support in operations to detain criminals..

This means that within the FSB there are two strands of regional networks or special forces, each of which is fundamentally different from the other in terms of the number of employees, the quality of their training and their technical equipment.

Regional Service: Krasnodar's example

In 1990 a filial of the 13th department of group A was formed in Krasnodar. The KGB order to this effect, Number 0031, was signed on March 3, 1990.

It's first operations were carried out primarily within the region, and comprised the detention of dangerous criminals or members of armed criminal groups, but it also carried out tours of Karabakh where it was involved in providing security support back-up for the operational-investigative groups of the KGB. In 1992, as a consequence of the Soviet Union's collapse, these officers and staff who no longer wished to remain in the republics, formed a steady trickle back to Russia. Ten people left the Alfa Department in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan.

In 1990 the section was called into action on several occasions on hostage release operations. It carried out three such operations in Mineralnye Vody. With the beginning of the first Chechen war, the department was called into military action on several occasions during which they performed special operations and provided security measures.

In 1996, after the creation of the anti-terror centre, the Krasnodar department joined it as the 4th department of A group. It was about then that the decision was made to expand the department and to create a subdivision in Sochi. By Autumn 1997 the subsection had been called a Regional Special Operations Department and was soon to be renamed a RSSN, the name it retains to this day.

On September 11, 1999 the order went out to create the 3rd department of the Service, stationed in Novorosiisk. Today it comprises three departments in Krasnodar, Sochi and Novorosiisk.

Second Section, Sochi

The Sochi Section was established due to the city's great distance from the regional centre, where the Krasnodar Department was based, combined with the need to provide security for the government summer residences, and to ensure the safety of all those who live or holiday in this city: Russia's leading Black-Sea resort. It was given buildings to house its staff, weapons and equipment.

As soon as the Chechen campaign started the subdivision worked actively on the territory of the republic. Jointly with the Moscow A group the department took part in hostage release scenarios, capturing terrorists in Lazarevskoe and on several occasions carried out combat operations measures to detain armed criminals, weapons traders, killers and smugglers.

Third Section, Novorosiisk

The section was created by order of the FSB on September 11, 1999. The need to create the department was dictated by the rapid economic growth and significance of the city of Novorosiisk. The first 6 members of staff arrived in Novorosiisk in April 2000. The department's chosen site proved auspicious. Neighboring a stadium, the building itself was on the sea shore. Two firing ranges were located ten and twenty minutes drive away. The heads of major business in Novorosiisk helped raise resources and build the sports hall. By 2001 the department was practically fully manned and equipped.

Tours of Chechnya ensured this new team quickly built up its combat experience. In April 2002 an armed terrorist held a minibus hostage in Anapa, there were women and children on board. The department's special operation to free the hostages saw the terrorist killed but no casualties or injuries among the hostages or the law enforcement personnel. They also carried out an operation to seize armed traffickers and provided security at the Hydroaviation Exhibition and Conference in Gelendzhik, among other duties.

By Sergei Kozlov, Agentura.Ru September 8, 2010