Russian Spetsnaz: Learning from Experience

By Michael Kofman

Mr. Michael Kofman is a Research Scientist at CNA Corporation and a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.  His research focuses on security issues in Russia and the former Soviet Union, specializing in defense and military analysis.  Previously he served at National Defense University as a Program Manager and subject matter expert, advising senior military and government officials on issues in Russia/Eurasia and Pakistan.  He has represented the Department of Defense in track one and track two efforts, through military engagement programs and strategic exchanges with Russian officials, along with trilateral dialogues.  At NDU he oversaw military-to-military engagements, training programs, and interoperability exercises for senior officers from the US and other countries. He has published articles on security issues in Eurasia, focusing on Russia and Ukraine, along with numerous analyses for the US government.  He has also appeared in major television, online, and print media as a commentator and subject matter expert.  Mr. Kofman holds a M.A. in International Security from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and a B.A. in Political Science from Northeastern University.

As part of military reforms begun in 2008, Russia has overhauled its special purpose forces, or Spetsnaz to expand its capabilities and professionalization. It also created a new Special Operations Command known as the KSSO. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Assad regime in Syria have afforded it the opportunity to put this new command to the test in combat. The Cipher Brief spoke to Michael Kofman, a CNA research scientist and Wilson Center fellow specializing in the Russian military, on how Russia has expanded and improved its special operations forces.

The Cipher Brief: How are Russian special operations organized within the military?

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