via Wikimedia Commons


The Kremlin founded its first special operations forces – Spetsnaz – in the 1950s to conduct strategic missions against NATO installations. In 2009, emulating America’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) created in the 1980s, Russia formed a dedicated special-operations command organization – the Russian Special Operations Forces Command.

This is a strategic-level special-operations organization tasked with the toughest, most critical missions.

A few elite Spetsnaz units, such as Alpha and Vympel Groups, still maintain this strategic focus, but now all Russian special operations units are also generically called Spetsnaz.

And these military light infantry airborne shock troops are playing a major role in Putin’s war against Ukraine.

While there is little public information on what Russian special-operations units have done in Ukraine or how they’ve performed, more than a dozen Spetsnaz troops from a GRU military intelligence brigade have reportedly been killed in the brutal fight for the critical southern port city of Mariupol.

Their missions there likely consist of special reconnaissance, direct-action operations, and unconventional warfare.

In the north, the city of Irpin, near the capital of Kyiv, was a base Russian special-operations forces until Ukrainian forces removed the Russians in late March after fierce fighting.

The outsized role of these special operators is partly due to the weakness of the Russian conventional troops being used in Ukraine, which have failed to achieve any of their primary objectives after two months of fighting, but also due to the nature of the conflict itself.

As Business Insider (BI) explains:

One of the few advantages that Russia’s military has leveraged against Ukraine is its long-range weapons. Russia has launched more than 1,500 ballistic and cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets.

Russian special operators could infiltrate close to those targets and use specialized equipment to help guide the munition. Moscow’s utter disregard for collateral damage means it may not be using such targeting assistance, but that skill set could still be used if the Kremlin wants to take out the Ukrainian leadership with a strategic strike.

Russian special-operations forces might also be conducting direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes, in pursuit of tactical-level goals, such as capturing a city block.

While using special operators for conventional operations is a waste of their elite capabilities, Russian commanders might use them anyway, as BI notes, “especially in urban settings where the close-quarters-combat training of Russian commandos might make the difference between winning and losing.”

BI adds:

Russia may also use its special-operations forces for unconventional warfare and asymmetric operations. Russian forces have been supporting separatist forces in eastern Ukraine for years, and that effort may expand as Moscow redirects its military campaign toward that region.

Russian special operators may also target Ukrainian strategic targets, such as airfields or fuel and arms depots. There have already been reports of Russian naval commandos attacking a Ukrainian military intelligence ship.

Meanwhile, as Moscow depends more on its Spetsnaz forces In Ukraine, the overall failures of the Russian military there may also be tarnishing the elite reputation of its special operators as well.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of


Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
charles A wilkins
charles A wilkins
3 months ago

STAY, LEAVE, SIT DOWN, GO BACK TO THE BASEMENT, WTF? THE EASTER BUNNY LIE STOPPER, HOW MANY THINGS CAN THEY KEEP BIDEN AWAY FROM? CHILDREN? HAIR?, THE EASTER BUNNY LIE STOPPER, ,REPORTERS?, UKRAINE?, SOUTHERN BORDER? MENTAL TESTING?, THE TRUTH?, ICE CREAM?, HIS YEARS AS A COLLEGE PROFESSOR?, ANY ONE OF FIFTY “BS” STORIES THAT ARE JUST NOT TRUE? More corruption, the disgraced biden clan, a story of personal family greed, disloyalty to America, lies with no honour, false oaths taken, complete hatred of American ways, our American ideals, with direction towards the destruction of America, with their American last policy. How can so much money be taken from Americas adversaries without our country’s positions being compromise or influenced by foreign dirty money? Time for full investigations, the guilty be put on trail, for any disloyalty taken, money falsely taken, lying to Congress, have them return too tax payor’s money received under illegal’s methods or dishonest ways. Those who have violated our country’s laws must be prosecuted, put in jail and made to return all money taken in from their dishonesty. Vote them out of office and keep them out, they are driven by personal greed only.

Trump Lost
Trump Lost
3 months ago

Why does the Republican party and the right want Putin to win?

Elizabeth Estrada aka CHIAKIA
Elizabeth Estrada aka CHIAKIA
3 months ago

LISTEN UP….The Blessing of GOD is with the UKRAINE ARMY Not the RUSSIAN ARMY. GOD Does Not BLess EVILDOERS. From SamuraiQueen. 😄😄😄😇😇😇