Selection and Training
Between soldiers and their officers are the sergeants, an intermediate rank with its own internal seniority of junior sergeants, full sergeants, senior sergeant and starshina. The training of the sergeants is of critical importance in spetsnaz where discipline and competence are required to an even more stringent degree than in the everyday life of the armed forces.
In normal circumstances training is carried out by special training divisions. Each of these has a permanent staff, a general, officers, warrant officers and sergeants and a limited number of soldiers in support units. Every six months the division receives 10,000 recruits who are distributed among the regiments and battalions on a temporary basis. After five months of harsh training these young soldiers receive their sergeants' stripes and are sent out to regular divisions. It takes a month to distribute the young sergeants to the regular forces, to prepare the training base for the new input and to receive a fresh contingent. After that the training programme is repeated. Thus each training division is a gigantic incubator producing 20,000 sergeants a year. A training division is organised in the usual way: three motorised rifle regiments, a tank regiment, an artillery regiment, an anti-aircraft regiment, a missile battalion and so forth. Each regiment and battalion trains specialists in its own field, from infantry sergeants to land surveyors, topographers and signallers.
A training division is a means of mass-producing sergeants for a gigantic army which in peacetime has in its ranks around five million men but which in case of war increases considerably in size. There is one shortcoming in this mass production. The selection of sergeants is not carried out by the commanders of the regular divisions but by local military agencies - the military commissariats and the mobilisation officers of the military districts. This selection cannot be, and is not, qualitative. When they receive instructions from their superiors the local authorities simply despatch several truckloads or trainloads of recruits.
Having received its 10,000 recruits, who are no different from any others, the training division has in five months to turn them into commanders and specialists. A certain number of the new recruits are sent straight off to the regular divisions on the grounds that they are not at all suitable for being turned into commanders. But the training division has very strict standards and cannot normally send more than five percent of its intake to regular divisions. Then, in exchange for those who were sent straight off, others arrive, but they are not much better in quality than those sent away, so the officers and sergeants of the training division have to exert all their ability, all their fury and inventiveness, to turn these people into sergeants.
The selection of future sergeants for spetsnaz takes place in a different way which is much more complicated and much more expensive. All the recruits to spetsnaz (after a very careful selection) join fighting units, where the company commander and platoon commanders put their young soldiers through a very tough course. This initial period of training for new recruits takes place away from other soldiers. During the course the company commander and the platoon commanders very carefully select (because they are vitally interested in the matter) those who appear to be born leaders. There are a lot of very simple devices for doing this. For example, a group of recruits is given the job of putting up a tent in a double quick time, but no leader is appointed among them. In a relatively simple operation someone has to coordinate the actions of the rest. A very short time is allowed for the work to be carried out and severe punishment is promised if the work is badly done or not completed on time. Within five minutes the group has appointed its own leader. Again, a group may be given the task of getting from one place to another by a very complicated and confused route without losing a single man. And again the group will soon appoint its own leader. Every day, every hour and every minute of the soldier's time is taken up with hard work, lessons, running, jumping, overcoming obstacles, and practically all the time the group is without a commander. In a few days of very intensive training the company commander and platoon commanders pick out the most intelligent, most imaginative, strongest, most brash and energetic in the group. After completing the course the majority of recruits finish up in sections and platoons of the same company, but the best of them are sent thousands of kilometres away to one of the spetsnaz training battalions where they become sergeants. Then they return to the companies they came from.
It is a very long road for the recruit. But it has one advantage: the potential sergeant is not selected by the local military authority nor even by the training unit, but by a regular officer at a very low level - at platoon or company level. What is more, the selection is made on a strictly individual basis and by the very same officer who will in five months' time receive the man he has selected back again, now equipped with sergeant's stripes.
It is impossible, of course, to introduce such a system into the whole of the Soviet Armed Forces. It involves transporting millions of men from one place to another. In all other branches the path of the future sergeant from where he lives follows this plan: training division - regular division. In spetsnaz the plan is: regular unit - training unit - regular unit.
There is yet another difference of principle. If any other branch of the services needs a sergeant the military commissariat despatches a recruit to the training division, which has to make him into a sergeant. But if spetsnaz needs a sergeant the company commander sends three of his best recruits to the spetsnaz training unit.
The spetsnaz training battalion works on the principle that before you start giving orders, you have to learn to obey them. The whole of the thinking behind the training battalions can be put very simply. They say that if you make an empty barrel airtight and drag it down below the water and then let it go it shoots up and out above the surface of the water. The deeper it is dragged down the faster it rises and the further it jumps out of the water. This is how the training battalions operate. Their task is to drag their ever-changing body of men deeper down.
Each spetsnaz training battalion has its permanent staff of officers, warrant officers and sergeants and receives its intake of 300-400 spetsnaz recruits who have already been through a recruit's course in various spetsnaz units.
The regime in the normal Soviet training divisions can only be described as brutal. I experienced it first as a student in a training division. I have already described the conditions within spetsnaz. To appreciate what conditions are like in a spetsnaz training battalion, the brutality has to be multiplied many times over.
In the spetsnaz training battalions the empty barrel is dragged so far down into the deep that it is in danger of bursting from external pressure. A man's dignity is stripped from him to such an extent that it is kept constantly at the very brink, beyond which lies suicide or the murder of his officer. The officers and sergeants of the training battalions are, every one of them, enthusiasts for their work. Anyone who does like this work will not stand it for so long but goes off voluntarily to other easier work in spetsnaz regular units. The only people who stay in the training battalions are those who derive great pleasure from their work. Their work is to issue orders by which they make or break the strongest of characters. The commander's work is constantly to see before him dozens of men, each of whom has one thought in his head: to kill himself or to kill his officer? The work for those who enjoy it provides complete moral and physical satisfaction, just as a stuntman might derive satisfaction from leaping on a motorcycle over nineteen coaches. The difference between the stuntman risking his neck and the commander of a spetsnaz training unit lies in the fact that the former experiences his satisfaction for a matter of a few seconds, while the latter experiences it all the time.
Every soldier taken into a training battalion is given a nickname, almost invariably sarcastic. He might be known as The Count, The Duke, Caesar, Alexander of Macedon, Louis XI, Ambassador, Minister of Foreign Affairs, or any variation on the theme. He is treated with exaggerated respect, not given orders, but asked for his opinion:
'Would Your Excellency be of a mind to clean the toilet with his toothbrush?'
'Illustrious Prince, would you care to throw up in public what you ate at lunch?'
In spetsnaz units men are fed much better than in any other units of the armed forces, but the workload is so great that the men are permanently hungry, even if they do not suffer the unofficial but very common punishment of being forced to empty their stomachs:
'You're on the heavy side, Count, after your lunch! Would you care to stick two fingers down your throat? That'll make things easier!'
The more humiliating the forms of punishment a sergeant thinks up for the men under him, and the more violently he attacks their dignity, the better. The task of the training battalions is to crush and completely destroy the individual, however strong a character he may have possessed, and to fashion out of that person a type to fit the standards of spetsnaz, a type who will be filled with an explosive charge of hatred and spite and a craving for revenge.
The main difficulty in carrying out this act of human engineering is to turn the fury of the young soldier in the right direction. He has to have been reduced to the lowest limits of his dignity and then, at precisely the point when he can take no more, he can be given his sergeant's stripes and sent off to serve in a regular unit. There he can begin to work off his fury on his own subordinates, or better still on the enemies of Communism.
The training units of spetsnaz are a place where they tease a recruit like a dog, working him into a rage and then letting him off the leash. It is not surprising that fights inside spetsnaz are a common occurrence. Everyone, especially those who have served in a spetsnaz training unit, bears within himself a colossal charge of malice, just as a thunder cloud bears its charge of electricity. It is not surprising that for a spetsnaz private, or even more so for a sergeant, war is just a beautiful dream, the time when he is at last allowed to release his full charge of malice.
Apart from the unending succession of humiliations, insults and punishments handed out by the commanders, the man serving in a spetsnaz training unit has continually to wage a no less bitter battle against his own comrades who are in identical circumstances to his own.
In the first place there is a silent competition for pride of place, for the leadership in each group of people. In spetsnaz, as we have seen, this struggle has assumed open and very dramatic forms. Apart from this natural battle for first place there exists an even more serious incentive. It derives from the fact that for every sergeant's place in a spetsnaz training battalion there are three candidates being trained at the same time. Only the very best will be made sergeant at the end of five months. On passing out some are given the rank of junior sergeant, while others are not given any rank at all and remain as privates in the ranks. It is a bitter tragedy for a man to go through all the ordeals of a spetsnaz training battalion and not to receive any rank but to return to his unit as a private at the end of it.
The decision whether to promote a man to sergeant after he has been through the training course is made by a commission of GRU officers or the Intelligence Directorate of the military district in whose territory the particular battalion is stationed. The decision is made on the basis of the result of examinations conducted in the presence of the commission, on the main subjects studied: political training; the tactics of spetsnaz (including knowledge of the probable enemy and the main targets that spetsnaz operates); weapons training (knowledge of spetsnaz armament, firing from various kinds of weapons including foreign weapons, and the use of explosives); parachute training; physical training; and weapons of mass destruction and defence against them.
The commission does not distinguish between the soldiers according to where they have come from, but only according to their degree of readiness to carry out missions. Consequently, when the men who have passed out are returned to their units there may arise a lack of balance among them. For example, a spetsnaz company that sends nine privates to a training battalion in the hope of receiving three sergeants back after five months, could receive one sergeant, one junior sergeant and seven privates, or five sergeants, three junior sergeants and one private. This system has been introduced quite deliberately. The officer commanding a regular company, with nine trained men to choose from, puts only the very best in charge of his sections. He can put anybody he pleases into the vacancies without reference to his rank. Privates who have been through the training battalion can be appointed commanders of sections. Sergeants and junior sergeants for whom there are not enough posts as commanders will carry out the work of privates despite their sergeant's rank.
The spetsnaz company commander may also have, apart from the freshly trained men, sergeants and privates who completed their training earlier but were not appointed to positions as commanders. Consequently the company commander can entrust the work of commanding sections to any of them, while all the new arrivals from the training battalion can be used as privates.
The private or junior sergeant who is appointed to command a section has to struggle to show his superiors that he really is worthy of that trust and that he really is the best. If he succeeds in doing so he will in due course be given the appropriate rank. If he is unworthy he will be removed. There are always candidates for his job.
This system has two objectives: the first is to have within the spetsnaz regular units a large reserve of commanders at the very lowest level. During a war spetsnaz will suffer tremendous losses. In every section there are always a minimum of two fully trained men capable of taking command at any moment; the second is to generate a continual battle between sergeants for the right to be a commander. Every commander of a section or deputy commander of a platoon can be removed at any time and replaced by someone more worthy of the job. The removal of a sergeant from a position of command is carried out on the authority of the company commander (if it is a separate spetsnaz company) or on the authority of the battalion commander or regiment. When he is removed the former commander is reduced to the status of a private soldier. He may retain his rank, or his rank may be reduced, or he may lose the rank of sergeant altogether.
The training of officers for spetsnaz often take place at a special faculty of the Lenin Komsomol Higher Airborne Command School in Ryazan. Great care is taken over their selection for the school. The ones who join the faculty are among the very best. The four years of gruelling training are also four years of continual testing and selection to establish whether the students are capable of becoming spetsnaz officers or not. When they have completed their studies at the special faculty some of them are posted to the airborne troops or the air assault troops. Only the very best are posted to spetsnaz, and even then a young officer can at any moment be sent off into the airborne forces. Only those who are absolutely suitable remain in spetsnaz. Other officers are appointed from among the men passing out from other command schools who have never previously heard of spetsnaz.
The heads of the GRU consider that special training is necessary for every function, except that of leader. A leader cannot be produced by even the best training scheme. A leader is born a leader and nobody can help him or advise him how to manage people. In this case advice offered by professors does not help; it only hinders. A professor is a man who has never been a leader and never will be, and nobody ever taught Hitler how to lead a nation. Stalin was thrown out of his theological seminary. Marshal Georgi Zhukov, the outstanding military leader of the Second World War, had a million men, and often several million, under his direct command practically throughout the war. Of all the generals and marshals at his level he was the only one who did not suffer a single defeat in battle. Yet he had no real military education. He did not graduate from a military school to become a junior officer; he did not graduate from a military academy to become a senior officer; and he did not graduate from the Academy of General Staff to become a general and later a marshal. But he became one just the same. There was Khalkhin-Gol, Yelnya, the counter-offensive before Moscow, Stalingrad, the lifting of the Leningrad blockade, Kursk, the crossing of the Dnieper, the Belorussian operation, and the Vistula-Oder and Berlin operations. What need had he of education? What could the professors teach him?
The headquarters of every military district has a Directorate for Personnel, which does a tremendous amount of work on officers' records and on the studying, selecting and posting of officers. On instructions from the chief of staff of the military district the Directorate for Personnel of each district will do a search for officers who come up to the spetsnaz standard.
The criteria which the Intelligence directorate sends to the Directorate of Personnel are top secret. But one can easily tell by looking at the officers of spetsnaz the qualities which they certainly possess.
The first and most important of them are of course a strong, unbending character and the marks of a born leader. Every year thousands of young officers with all kinds of specialities - from the missile forces, the tank troops, the infantry, the engineers and signallers pass through the Personnel directorate of each military district. Each officer is preceded by his dossier in which a great deal is written down. But that is not the decisive factor. When he arrives in the Directorate for Personnel the young officer is interviewed by several experienced officers specialising in personnel matters. It is in the course of these interviews that a man of really remarkable personality stands out, with dazzling clarity, from the mass of thousands of other strong-willed and physically powerful men. When the personnel officers discover him, the interviewing is taken over by other officers of the Intelligence directorate and it is they who will very probably offer him a suitable job.
But officers for spetsnaz are occasionally not selected when they pass through the Personnel directorate. They pass through the interviewing process without distinguishing themselves in any way, and are given jobs as commanders. Then stories may begin to circulate through the regiment, division, army and district to the effect that such and such a young commander is a brute, ready to attack anyone, but holds his own, performs miracles, has turned a backward platoon into a model unit, and so forth. The man is rapidly promoted and can be sure of being appointed to a penal battalion - not to be punished, but to take charge of the offenders. At this point the Intelligence directorate takes a hand in the matter. If the officer is in command of a penal platoon or company and he is tough enough to handle really difficult men without being scared of them or fearing to use his own strength, he will be weighed up very carefully for a job.
There is one other way in which officers are chosen. Every officer with his unit has to mount guard for the garrison and patrol the streets and railway stations in search of offenders. The military commandant of the town and the officer commanding the garrison (the senior military man in town) see these officers every day. Day after day they take over the duty from another officer, perform it for twenty-four hours and then hand over to another officer. The system has existed for decades and all serving officers carry out these duties several times a year. It is the right moment to study their characters.
Say a drunken private is hauled into the guardroom. One officer will say, Tour ice-cold water over him and throw him in a cell!' Another officer will behave differently. When he sees the drunken soldier, his reaction will be along the lines of: 'Just bring him in here! Shut the door and cover him with a wet blanket (so as not to leave any marks). I'll teach him a lesson! Kick him in the guts! That'll teach him not to drink next time. Now lads, beat him up as best you can. Go on! I'd do the same to you, my boys! Now wipe him off with snow.' It needs little imagination to see which of the officers is regarded more favourably by his superiors. The Intelligence directorate doesn't need very many people - just the best.
The second most important quality is physical endurance. An officer who is offered a post is likely to be a runner, swimmer, skier or athlete in some form of sport demanding long and very concentrated physical effort. And a third factor is the physical dimensions of the man. Best of all is that he should be an enormous hulk with vast shoulders and huge fists. But this factor can be ignored if a man appears of small build and no broad shoulders but with a really strong character and a great capacity for physical endurance. Such a person istakenin, of course. The long history of mankind indicates that strong characters are met with no less frequently among short people than among giants.
Any young officer can be invited to join spetsnaz irrespective of his previous speciality in the armed forces. If he possesses the required qualities of an iron will, an air of unquestionable authority, ruthlessness and an independent way of taking decisions and acting, if he is by nature a gambler who is not afraid to take a chance with anything, including his own life, then he will eventually be invited to the headquarters of the military district. He will be led along the endless corridors to a little office where he will be interviewed by a general and some senior officers. The young officer will not of course know that the general is head of the Intelligence directorate of the military district or that the colonel next to him is head of the third department (spetsnaz) of the directorate.
The atmosphere of the interview is relaxed, with smiles and jokes on both sides. Tell us about yourself, lieutenant. What are your interests? What games do you play? You hold the divisional record on skis over ten kilometres? Very good. How did your men do in the last rifle-shooting test? How do you get along with your deputy? Is he a difficult chap? Uncontrolled character? Our information is that you tamed him. How did you manage it?'
The interview moves gradually on to the subject of the armed forces of the probable enemy and takes the form of a gentle examination.
'You have an American division facing your division on the front. The American division has "Lance" missiles. A nasty thing?'
'Of course, comrade general.'
'Just supposing, lieutenant, that you were chief of staff of the Soviet division, how would you destroy the enemy's missiles?'
'With our own 9K21 missiles.'
'Very good, lieutenant, but the location of the American missiles is not known.'
'I would ask the air force to locate them and possibly bomb them.'
'But there's bad weather, lieutenant, and the anti-aircraft defences are strong.'
Then I would send forward from our division a deep reconnaissance company to find the missiles, cut the throats of the missile crew and blow up the missiles.'
'Not a bad idea. Very good, in fact. Have you ever heard, lieutenant, that there are units in the American Army known as the "Green Berets"?'
'Yes, I have heard.'
'What do you think of them?'
'I look at the question from two points of view - the political and the military.'
Tell us both of them, please.'
They are mercenary cut throats of American capitalism, looters, murderers and rapists. They burn down villages and massacre the inhabitants, women, children and old people.'
'Enough. Your second point of view?'
'They are marvellously well-trained units for operating behind the enemy's lines. Their job is to paralyse the enemy's system of command and control. They are a very powerful and effective instrument in the hands of commanders. . . .'
'Very well. So what would you think, lieutenant, if we were to organise something similar in our army?'
'I think, comrade general, that it would be a correct decision. I am sure, comrade general, that that is our army's tomorrow.'
'It's the army's today, lieutenant. What would you say if we were to offer you the chance to become an officer in these troops? The discipline is like iron. Your authority as a commander would be almost absolute. You would be the one taking the decisions, not your superiors for you.'
'If I were to be offered such an opportunity, comrade general, I would accept.'
'All right, lieutenant, now you can go back to your regiment. Perhaps you will receive an offer. Continue your service and forget this conversation took place. You realise, of course, what will happen to you if anybody gets to know about what we have discussed?'
'I understand, comrade general.'
'We have informed your commanding officers, including the regimental commander, that you came before us as a candidate for posting to the Chinese frontier - to Mongolia, Afghanistan, the islands of the Arctic Ocean that sort of thing. Goodbye for now, lieutenant.'
'Goodbye, comrade general.'
An officer who joins spetsnaz from another branch of the armed forces does not have to go through any additional training course. He is posted straight to a regular unit and is given command of a platoon. I was present many times at exercises where a young officer who had taken over a platoon knew a lot less about spetsnaz than many of his men and certainly his sergeants. But a young commander learns quickly, along with the privates. There is nothing to be ashamed of in learning. The officer could not know anything about the technique and tactics of spetsnaz.
It is not unusual for a young officer in these circumstances to begin a lesson, announce the subject and purpose of it, and then order the senior sergeant to conduct the lesson while he takes up position in the ranks along with the young privates. His platoon will already have a sense of the firmness of the commander's character. The men will already know that the commander is the leader of the platoon, the one unquestionable leader. There are questions he cannot yet answer and equipment he cannot yet handle. But they all know that, if it is a question of running ten kilometres, their new commander will be among the first home, and if it is a question of firing from a weapon their commander will of course be the best. In a few weeks the young officer will make his first parachute jump along with the youngest privates. He will be given the chance to jump as often as he likes. The company commander and the other officers will help him to understand what he did not know before. At night he will read his top secret instructions and a month later he will be ready to challenge any of his sergeants to a contest. A few months later he will be the best in all matters and will teach his platoon by simply giving them the most confident of all commands: 'Do as I do!'
An officer who gets posted to spetsnaz from other branches of the forces without having had any special training is of course an unusual person. The officers commanding spetsnaz seek out such people and trust them. Experience shows that these officers without special training produce much better results than those who have graduated from the special faculty at the Higher Airborne Command school. There is nothing surprising or paradoxical about this. If Mikhail Koshkin had had special training in designing tanks he would never have created the T-34 tank, the best in the world. Similarly, if someone had decided to teach Mikhail Kalashnikov how to design a sub-machine-gun the teaching might easily have ruined a self-educated genius.
The officers commanding the GRU believe that strong and independent people must be found and told what to do, leaving them with the right to choose which way to carry out the task given them. That is why the instructions for spetsnaz tactics are so short. All Soviet regulations are in general much shorter than those in Western armies, and a Soviet commander is guided by them less frequently than his opposite member in the West.
The officer of powerful build is only one type of spetsnaz officer. There is another type, whose build, width of shoulder and so forth are not taken into account, although the man must be no less strong of character. This type might be called the 'intelligentsia' of spetsnaz, and it includes officers who are not directly involved with the men in the ranks and who work with their heads far more than with their hands.
There is, of course, no precise line drawn between the two types. Take, for example, the officer-interpreters who would seem to belong to the 'intelligentsia' of spetsnaz. There is an officer-interpreter, with a fluent knowledge of at least two foreign languages, in every spetsnaz company. His contact with the men in the company exists mainly because he teaches them foreign languages. But, as we know, this is not a subject that takes much time for the spetsnaz soldier. The interpreter is constantly at the company commander's side, acting as his unofficial adjutant. At first glance he is an 'intellectual'. But that is just the first impression. The fact is that the interpreter jumps along with the company and spends many days with it plodding across marshes and mountains, sand and snow. The interpreter is the first to drive nails into the heads of enemy prisoners to get the necessary information out of them. That is his work: to drag out finger-nails, cut tongues in half (known as 'making a snake') and stuff hot coals into prisoners' mouths. Military interpreters for the Soviet armed forces are trained at the Military Institute.
Among the students at the Institute there are those who are physically strong and tough, with strong nerves and characters of granite. These are the ones invited to join spetsnaz. Consequently, although the interpreter is sometimes regarded as a representative of the 'intelligentsia', it is difficult to distinguish him by appearance from the platoon commanders of the company in which he serves. His job is not simply to ask questions and wait for an answer. His job to get the right answer. Upon that depends the success of the mission and the lives of an enormous number of people. He has to force the prisoner to talk if he does not want to, and having received an answer the interpreter must extract from the prisoner confirmation that it is the only right answer. That is why he has to apply not very 'intellectual' methods to his prisoner. With that in mind the interpreters in spetsnaz can be seen as neither commanders nor intellectuals, but a link between the two classes.
Pure representatives of spetsnaz 'intelligentsia' are found among the officers of the spetsnaz intelligence posts. They are selected from various branches, and their physical development is not a key factor. They are officers who have already been through the military schools and have served for not less than two years. After posting to the third faculty of the Military-Diplomatic Academy, they work in intelligence posts (RPs) and centres (RZs). Their job is to look for opportunities for recruitment and to direct the agent network. Some of them work with the agent-informer network, some with the spetsnaz network.
An officer working with the spetsnaz agent network is a spetsnaz officer in the full sense. But he is not dropped by parachute and he does not have to run, fight, shoot or cut people's throats. His job is to study the progress of thousands of people and discover among them individuals suitable for spetsnaz; to seek a way of approaching them and getting to know them; to establish and develop relations with them; and then to recruit them. These officers wear civilian clothes most of the time, and if they have to wear military uniform they wear the uniform of the branch in which they previously served: artillery, engineering troops, the medical service. Or they wear the uniform of the unit within which the secret intelligence unit of spetsnaz is concealed.
The senior command of spetsnaz consists of colonels and generals of the GRU who have graduated from one of the main faculties of the Military-Diplomatic Academy - that is, the first or second faculties, and have worked for many years in the central apparat of the GRU and in its rezidenturas abroad. Each one of them has a first-class knowledge of a country or group of countries because of working abroad for a long time. If there is a possibility of continuing to work abroad he will do so. But circumstances may mean that further trips abroad are impossible. In that case he continues to serve in the central apparat of the GRU or in an Intelligence directorate of a military district, fleet or group of forces. He then has control of all the instruments of intelligence, including spetsnaz.
I frequently came across people of this class. In every case they were men who were silent and unsociable. They have elegant exteriors, good command of foreign languages and refined manners. They hold tremendous power in their hands and know how to handle authority.
Some however, are men who have never attended the Academy and have never been in countries regarded as potential enemies. They have advanced upwards thanks to their inborn qualities, to useful contacts which they know how to arrange and support, to their own striving for power, and to their continual and successful struggle for power which is full of cunning tricks and tremendous risks. They are intoxicated by power and the struggle for power. It is their only aim in life and they go at it, scrambling over the slippery slopes and summits. One of the elements of success in their life's struggle is of course the state of the units entrusted to them and their readiness at any moment to carry out any mission set by the higher command. No senior official in spetsnaz can be held up by considerations of a moral, juridical or any other kind. His upward flight or descent depends entirely on how a mission is carried out. You may be sure that any mission will be carried out at any cost and by any means.
I often hear it said that the Soviet soldier is a very bad soldier because he serves for only two years in the army. Some Western experts consider it impossible to produce a good soldier in such a short time.
It is true that the Soviet soldier is a conscript, but it must be remembered that he is conscript in a totally militarised country. It is sufficient to remember that even the leaders of the party in power in the Soviet Union have the military ranks of generals and marshals. The whole of Soviet society is militarised and swamped with military propaganda. From a very early age Soviet children engage in war games in a very serious way, often using real submachine guns (and sometimes even fighting tanks), under the direction of officers and generals of the Soviet Armed Forces.
Those children who show a special interest in military service join the Voluntary Society for Cooperation with the Army, Air Force and Fleet, known by its Russian initial letters as DOSAAF. DOSAAF is a para-military organisation with 15 million members who have regular training in military trades and engage in sports with a military application. DOSAAF not only trains young people for military service; it also helps reservists to maintain their qualifications after they have completed their service. DOSAAF has a colossal budget, a widespread network of airfields and training centres and clubs of various sizes and uses which carry out elementary and advanced training of military specialists of every possible kind, from snipers to radio operators, from fighter pilots to underwater swimmers, from glider pilots to astronauts, and from tank drivers to the people who train military doctors.
Many outstanding Soviet airmen, the majority of the astronauts (starting with Yuri Gagarin), famous generals and European and world champions in military types of sport began their careers in DOSAAF, often at the age of 14.
The men in charge of DOSAAF locally are retired officers, generals and admirals, but the men in charge at the top of DOSAAF are generals and marshals on active service. Among the best-known leaders of the society were Army-General A. L. Getman, Marshal of the Air Force A. I. Pokryshkin, Army-General D. D. Lelyushenko and Admiral of the Fleet G. Yegorov. Traditionally the top leadership of DOSAAF includes leaders of the GRU and spetsnaz. At the present time (1986), for example, the first deputy chairman of DOSAAF is Colonel-General A. Odintsev. As long ago as 1941 he was serving in a spetsnaz detachment on the Western Front. The detachment was under the command of Artur Sprogis. Throughout his life Odintsev has been directly connected with the GRU and terrorism. At the present time his main job is to train young people of both sexes for the ordeal of fighting a war. The most promising of them are later sent to serve in spetsnaz.
When we speak about the Soviet conscript soldiers, and especially those who were taken into spetsnaz, we must remember that each one of them has already been through three or four years of intensive military training, has already made parachute jumps, fired a sub-machine gun and been on a survival course. He has already developed stamina, strength, drive and the determination to conquer. The difference between him and a regular soldier in the West lies in the fact that the regular soldier is paid for his efforts. Our young man gets no money. He is a fanatic and an enthusiast. He has to pay himself (though only a nominal sum) for being taught how to use a knife, a silenced pistol, a spade and explosives.
After completing his service in spetsnaz the soldier either becomes a regular soldier or he returns to 'peaceful' work and in his spare time attends one of the many DOSAAF clubs. Here is a typical example: Sergei Chizhik was born in 1965. While still at school he joined the DOSAAF club. He made 120 parachute jumps. Then he was called into the Army and served with special troops in Afghanistan. He distinguished himself in battle, and completed his service in 1985. In May 1986 he took part in a DOSAAF team in experiments in surviving in Polar conditions. As one of a group of Soviet 'athletes' he dropped by parachute on the North Pole.
DOSAAF is a very useful organisation for spetsnaz in many ways. The Soviet Union has signed a convention undertaking not to use the Antarctic for military purposes. But in the event of war it will of course be used by the military, and for that reason the corresponding experience has to be gained. That is why the training for a parachute drop on the South Pole in the Antarctic is being planned out by spetsnaz but to be carried out by DOSAAF. The difference is only cosmetic: the men who make the jump will be the very same cut-throats as went through the campaigns in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. They are now considered to be civilians, but they are under the complete control of generals like Odintsev, and in wartime they will become the very same spetsnaz troops as we now label contemptuously 'conscripts'.