35th Anniversary of 'Vympel' Spetsnaz

The reason Russians are being shown more than slightly revealing footage of the Vympel spetsnaz being put through their training paces at a highly secure facility outside Moscow is clear -- the Russian government is psychologically preparing its population for a short, intense war with combined NATO/US proxy forces. The hope in Moscow clearly is that by publicizing Russian preparations for devastating counteroffensive operations in Ukraine, Moldova/Transnistria or elsewhere, the neocons and globalists will be undermined/backed off by a U.S. military that has stared into the abyss -- and a war won't happen.

Thanks to the research and translations of Soul of the East and Espionage History Archive blogger Mark Hackard, non-Russian speakers and non-specialists can read about Vympel's founding. - JWS

Vympel, the KGB’s spetsnaz group for overseas action, was a unit forged, in the words of its initiator KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov, “without equal.” The following text outlines Vympel’s founding, the unit’s training process, and its general operational history. - Mark Hackard

The idea for founding a commando unit for the KGB belongs to the chief of Directorate S (Illegals) Yuri Drozdov, one of the men who directed the storm of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin’s palace. Returning from Moscow, he went to KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov and presented him with a plan to create a special-purpose group for carrying out operations during the “special period” – in short, a commando unit.

On August 19th, 1981, at a closed joint session of the CPSU Central Committee’s Politburo and the USSR Council of Ministers, the decision on creating a top-secret special-purpose unit in the system of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (FCD: Foreign Intelligence) was made. Thus came into the world the special-purpose group “Vympel” (Pennant). Structurally it was part of the Eighth Department of Directorate S, subordinated to the chief of the directorate, Maj. Gen. Yuri Drozdov, and the chief of the department, Maj. Gen. Nikolai Yefimov (subsequently Maj. Gen. V. Tolstikov). The decision for activating the group was made at the level of the Politburo, and it went into action only by the written orders of the KGB chairman. The official name of Vympel was the Separate Training Center (STC) of the USSR KGB FCD, and it was situated in Balashikha, just outside of Moscow. Commanders of the group were: Captain Evald Kozlov (1981-1984), Rear Admiral Vladimir Khmelev (1984-1990), and Colonel Boris Beskov (1990-1992).

For Vympel men were selected not only in the KGB, but also from the army and border forces. At first both officers and soldiers were taken, but then it was decided that the group should be made up exclusively of officers.

Vladimir Vasilchenko was at that time the chief of the combat operations department. He recalls:

For the first ‘draft’ into the unit, they gave us a very tough time period. That was dictated by the necessity of quick deployment of men to Afghanistan.

Approximately in February of 1982, 75 men came to us. It’s hard to remember now how many candidates we went through, but the selection turned out not bad.

They trained them for three months. There was no time for more than that. Already in April the first 123 men left for Afghanistan. And then we selected the second “assortment” longer and more scrupulously, essentially the whole remainder of 1982. Well, of course we trained them more substantively…

What should we understand under the word “substantive?” Operators were accepted into the unit accounting for their service of no less than 10 years – i.e. professionals were being trained. Consequently to make a new trainee a fully qualified special-purpose intelligence officer required five years. It took two years for a graduate of the Ryazan Higher Airborne School to be made into a Vympel operator.

“They taught them robustly in Vympel,” remembers General Drozdov.

General physical training, multi-kilometer marches along traversed areas, power exercises, jumping from heights from a half-meter to two-and-a-half meters, exercises for general development. Training in hand-to-hand combat not on soft mats, but asphalt. Shooting from everything that shoots: pistols, grenade launchers, machine guns of Soviet and foreign manufacture, special weapons, etc… Driving cars and armored vehicles. Explosives, including means of producing explosives from everyday chemicals. Training in radio work: free functioning on radio stations of any type both in closed text and with the help of Morse code. They studied cryptography, and they also mastered radio triangulation and eavesdropping devices.

…Aside from that, Vympel officers, as users, themselves participated in developing weapons and equipment and gave technical assignments to the constructors, who made special items according to their orders.

…Tactics for combat actions in small groups. Airborne, medical training, rappelling. Fundamentals of intelligence and counterintelligence activity. Analytical work. Surveillance.

The study of foreign languages and regional specialization. In “his” country, an officer of a special unit should not in any case be “unmasked.” And not only because of incorrect pronunciation… It was necessary to be freely oriented in everyday matters, not feel like a black sheep among the local population, know the history of the region, the national customs, national psychology.[i]

However, it soon became clear that the idea of training supermen was a utopian one. Then a three-year course of instruction was developed, and operators of a more narrow specialization began to be trained. First there were snipers, intelligence officers, and sappers, and then there were added mountain scouts, hang-glider pilots, combat swimmers, and parachutists.

The basic purpose of Vympel was intelligence actions deep behind enemy lines, work with agents, raids on strategic objects, the seizure of ships and submarines, protection of Soviet facilities abroad, fighting terrorist organizations, etc. Operators underwent combat experience in the commando units of Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and other nations; in Angola and Mozambique, they acted under the cover of military advisors.

In October of 1985 in Lebanon, Vympel operators freed two KGB officers from the Beirut residency, Oleg Spirin and Valery Myrikov (diplomat Arkady Katkov was killed by the captors), who had been seized by a Palestinian group. But Vympel gained its main practice in Afghanistan.

The FCD’s spetsnaz operated in Afghanistan as part of the KGB’s special-purpose detachment Kaskad, created by resolution of the CPSU Central Committee and USSR Council of Ministers on June 18th, 1980. The detachment had a dual subordination – to Moscow Center and to the KGB representation in Afghanistan, which was headed by Gen. Viktor Spolnikov and then Gen. Boris Voskoboinikov. From July of 1980 up to April of 1983, four units of Kaskad served in Afghanistan. The commander of the first three Kaskads was Col. Aleksandr Lazarenko, and the fourth was led by Col. Evgeny Savintsev, both officers of the Eighth Department of Directorate S.

Kaskad’s mission was: rendering assistance to the security organs of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in detecting and interdicting subversive activity of the counterrevolutionary underground, bandit formations, and terrorist groups, i.e. carrying out in full measure intelligence activity, hunter-killer actions, and special operations. In April of 1983 Kaskad-4 was replaced by a different unit of Vympel – group Omega(commanded by Col. Valentin Kikot). Its assignments were human intelligence operations in Moscow Center’s interests, combat and special operations, and advisory-instructional work in units of Afghan state security. In April of 1984 Omega’soperators returned to Moscow. Until the year 1987, 94 officers of Vympel were in Afghanistan and 61 operators gained combat experience as part of their probationary period.

Read the rest of Mark Hackard's translation at the Espionage History Archive...