The former Soviet Union always placed emphasis on special forces, usually in the form of its so-called 'Spetsnaz' units, but also in a few more specialized outfits like the anti-terrorist Alpha Group. This continued in Russia after the breakup of the Union, and they've been particularly active in the Ukrainian conflict and in Syria. Now, it seems, they're being taken to the next level. Austin Bay writes:
Russia has acknowledged that its newest special operations unit, the KSO (Special Operations Command) has been operating in Syria. KSO was being discussed in Russia since 2013 but little was revealed officially. KSO appeared to be an elite Russian special operations unit more like the British SAS or the American Delta Force than the less selective special operations personnel Russia had favored in the past. It also became known that KSO has fewer than a thousand personnel, most of them operators (commandos) and all are volunteer professional soldiers who not only operate like their Western counterparts but have been seen using some of the same equipment. This includes special rifle sights, military rifles and high-end protective gear. Most of this stuff is available commercially, although often only to government agencies (to keep it away from criminals).
Like their Western counterparts Russian special operations troops are trained to do a variety of missions. These include reconnaissance (often deep into enemy territory), provide security for very valuable people or equipment and carry out “direct action” (raids).Russian spetsnaz (the less selective predecessor of KSO) did this in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in the Caucasus since the late 1990s but not in Syria. That’s because Russia wants to avoid casualties in Syria as these are very unpopular in Russia. Spectacular victories, on the other hand, are still popular and Russia had figured out how the West had used more highly skilled operators (like SAS and Delta) as a backbone or spearhead for other special operators in special situations, like Afghanistan in 2001 and for the effort to kill bin Laden and many other senior Islamic terrorist leaders and, more importantly, capture useful secrets most of these men had with them. It turned out that KSO was a key element in making the quick takeover of Crimea work. KSO is still a threat to Ukraine but it was apparently intel and advice from KSO operatives that prevented Russia from getting into even more trouble in eastern Ukraine (Donbas).
. . .
There are still differences between Western and Russian special operations forces. Unlike the U.S., where the commandos have their own military command (SOCOM or Special Operations Command) in Russia the spetsnaz work more closely with the various intelligence agencies. GRU apparently had a 2014 plan for taking over Crimea in a way that would cause the least amount of diplomatic and military damage and the spetsnaz units GRU controlled were the key operators able to make it happen. KSO also got involved but GRU took the lead. KSO was the new player and performed well. A year later KSO showed up in Syria where KSO was the lead special operations unit there.
There's more at the link. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the application of 'unconventional' military tactics and units to complex geopolitical circumstances.
This development is interesting from two perspectives. One is the legendary Russian ruthlessness in dealing with its enemies. I'm sure many people remember the kidnapping of Russian diplomats in Lebanon in the 1980's. It led to Alpha Group becoming involved in a famous incident.
Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Benny Morris uncovered the most compelling reason why the three Soviets were released, emaciated and tired, but otherwise unharmed.
According to Morris, the KBG determined the kidnapping to be the work of the Shiite Muslim group known as Hezbollah, or Party of God. This was the same radical pro-Iranian faction that figured so belligerently in the mass hostage-taking from the TWA airliner at Beirut Airport last June.
Unlike the approach the United States used to resolve the TWA crisis, however, the Soviets did not bother negotiating with Hezbollah through Nabih Berri, Lebanon's justice minister and leader of the Shiite Amal militia.
Instead, the KGB kidnapped a man they knew to be a close relative of a prominent Hezbollah leader. They then castrated him and sent the severed organs to the Hezbollah official, before dispatching the unfortunate kinsman with a bullet in the brain.
In addition to presenting him with this grisly proof of their seriousness, the KGB operatives also advised the Hezbollah leader that they knew the indentities of other close relatives of his, and that he could expect more such packages if the three Soviet diplomats were not freed immediately.
The message was a lot more extreme than Ronald Reagan's vague allusions to using "Rambo next time," but the swift release of the three remaining hostages indicated that the Hezbollah big shot couldn't handle having terror shoved back in his face.
Post reporter Morris quoted unidentified observers in Jerusalem as noting:
"This is the way the Soviets operate. They do things - they don't talk.
"And this is the language the Hezbollah understand."
Again, more at the link. I daresay the new Russian SF unit will not be any less ruthless in achieving its objectives.
The second interesting aspect is how US special forces have often worked in countries where this country is (officially, at least) not engaged in hostilities. They've trained local armed forces and 'spread the gospel' of special forces activities as a counter to terrorist activities. It's been claimed that SOCOM deployed various US special operations troops to 135 countries in 2015 alone. If Russian special forces begin similar activities, will their SF find themselves in the same countries as our SF, and what will be the result?
Food for thought.