Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has devastated Russia’s clandestine special (Spetsnaz) forces, classified American documents that were leaked online reported.
According to the assessment, it will take Moscow two decades to rebuild its Spetsnaz units back to their former strength after they were sent 1875 Spetsnaz soldiers to the front lines by Putin’s bungling commanders to prop up their failing infantry.
Spetsnaz soldiers were trained to fight unconventional war as separate forces, not trained to go to the frontline and fight conventional war. Ukraine successfully took out Russian 1875 Spetsnaz soldiers by cutting them off from supply lines and other troops fighting in Bakhmut.
The leak first became widely known about a week ago, setting Washington on edge about the damage they may have caused to Ukraine’s war effort. The episode embarrassed the U.S. by revealing its spying on allies and Kyiv’s vulnerabilities.
But the revelations have also demonstrated how deeply American spy networks have infiltrated the Kremlin’s own intelligence agencies and military command structure.
And to compound the Kremlin’s own embarrassment, the documents have also provided a damning assessment of Russia’s own military capabilities.
The deployment of Spetsnaz units is typically reserved for stealthy, high-risk missions which require soldiers with significant determination, skill and ruthlessness.
In the early days of the war, it is understood such units were ordered – and failed – to penetrate the heart of Kyiv and capture Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
For such missions, the units receive some of the most advanced training available to Russia’s military which takes years to complete – and high levels of expertise.
However, when Putin ordered his forces across the border in February 2022, Russia’s senior commanders ordered their elite forces into combat – not trusting their conventional fighters to be effective on their own.
As a result, the units have taken heavy losses.
This is according to top-secret US intelligence findings that emerged in the leak, and that prompted a national security investigation culminating in the arrest of Jack Teixeira – a 21-year-old national guardsman on Thursday.
One of the leaked documents, seen by the Washington Post, shows before-and-after satellite imagery of a base used by the 22nd Separate Spetsnaz Brigade.
The images of the base in southern Russia reveal that ‘all but one of five Russian Separate Spetsnaz Brigades that returned from combat operations in Ukraine in late summer 2022 suffered significant losses,’ The Post reports.
The satellite images show the base in November 2021, and again a year later. The earlier image shows a well populated base full of vehicles, while the second is far more empty – which the US intel concluded shows a state of extreme depletion.
The assessment says the 22nd Separate Spetsnaz Brigade as well as two other units have suffered an estimated 90 to 95 per cent attrition rate, The Post says.
It takes four years for Russia to train a Spetsnaz soldier, according to the documents seen by the American publication, which concludes that it could take as long as a decade for Moscow to replenish its ranks of these elite units.
The loss of experienced units will also be a major problem for the Russian armed forces, the document assesses.
While The Post says that the documents do not state how many Spetsnaz troops have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, it reported the intel as saying that one unit alone – the 346th – lost almost the entire brigade. It said just 125 of 2000 remained deployed.
Rob Lee, a Russia military expert and senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told The Post that by pushing special units to the front lines, Russian commanders have burned through them at an alarming rate.
The tactic was seen in the early days of the war when Moscow attempted to seize Kyiv, he told The Post, and in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
In Khariv, Lee told the publication, Spetsnaz troops arrived in small numbers and with little support. Many were killed or captured, he said, adding that a similar situation was seen in the southern city of Mariupol and in the eastern Donbas.
The US documents say that the loss of special troops will have a knock-on effect. The Russian military will have lost its ability to train paramilitary groups, and will also mean its special forces will be less effective in other parts of the world.
The leak of documents, posted largely on social media sites, was believed to be the most serious security breach since more than 700,000 documents, videos and diplomatic cables appeared on the WikiLeaks website in 2010.
According to The New York Times, a ‘trail of digital evidence’ pointed to Teixeira as the leader of the private group on Discord, called Thug Shaker Central, where the documents surfaced.
The embarrassing security breach has revealed US unease over the viability of a coming counteroffensive by Kyiv’s forces against Russian troops as well as concerns about Ukrainian air defenses, and pointed to US spying on allies including Israel and South Korea.
President Joe Biden addressed the leak earlier on Thursday during his visit to Ireland, saying he was ‘concerned’.
US media reported that the Biden administration is seeking to beef up its monitoring of social media sites and chat rooms after intelligence agencies failed to spot the leaked documents online for weeks.
The Pentagon has also ‘begun to limit who across the government receives its highly classified daily intelligence briefs,’ CNN reported on Thursday.
The alleged leaker reportedly went by the nickname ‘OG’ and regularly posted documents in the chat group in question for months.
The group of around 24 people, including some from Russia and Ukraine, bonded over their ‘mutual love of guns, military gear and God,’ and formed an ‘invitation-only clubhouse in 2020 on Discord,’ reported The Post – which like the Times cited unidentified members of Thug Shaker Central.
OG told the group members that he spent ‘some of his day inside a secure facility that prohibited cellphones and other electronic devices,’ The Post report said.
He first wrote down the contents of classified documents to share with the group, but later began taking photos, telling other members not to share them, the newspaper reported.
OG had a ‘dark view of the government,’ and ‘spoke of the United States, and particularly law enforcement and the intelligence community, as a sinister force that sought to suppress its citizens and keep them in the dark,’ the Post said, citing one of the group’s members.
A Discord spokesperson told AFP news agency that user safety is a priority, and that content violating its policies can result in people being banned, servers being shut down, and police alerted.
‘In regards to the apparent breach of classified material, we are cooperating with law enforcement,’ the spokesperson said. ‘As this remains an active investigation, we cannot provide further comment at this time.’
© 2023, GDC. © GDC and www.globaldefensecorp.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to www.globaldefensecorp.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.