What’s got the Kremlin so worried that it created a Special Operations Command?
Foreign Policy, 8 May 2013
Addressing the Russian National Security Council meeting on May 8, President Vladimir Putin said that the forthcoming departure of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan confronts Russia with a more precarious situation on its southern borders. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of the General Staff since November 2012, who was also present at the meeting, had announced last month the formation of a Special Operations Command — Russia’s version of SOCOM. According to Gen. Gerasimov, the new command will include a special forces brigade, a training center, and helicopter and air transportation squadrons. These forces will be used exclusively outside Russian territory, including in U.N.-mandated operations. Creation of a separate SOCOM is not a new idea; it had been presented to Anatoly Serdyukov, who retired last fall as defense minister amid allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and who rejected it. The new minister, Sergei Shoigu, decided differently. What’s behind this about face?
As Russia proceeds with its defense modernization, it’s following the general trend toward specialization and enhanced mobility. Conflicts that have erupted since the end of the Cold War have put a premium on operations by relatively small and agile forces capable of engaging the enemy at a considerable distance, with no warning and deadly effectiveness. Such units existed in the days of the Cold War, too, but their role in World War III scenarios (that the Russian military is still largely built for) was essentially auxiliary to the tactical nuclear strikes and armored forces operations. With the dramatic change of the enemy and of the combat environment, special forces can play a more central role, critical to achieving success.