Mark Galeotti clears away much of the confusion around the chaotic and extensive "elite" security forces of Russia. Considering how much interest there in the West about the fabled Spetsnaz, it's well past time that we got a good book on the subject.
And we get half that book here; half because while there is not a good book on the elite security forces, we still are in need of one on the elite military forces. On the remote chance that Osprey Publications has not thought of this, please bring a wheelbarrow of cash to Mr. Galeotti's house so he can write another Osprey Publications elite title on the subject and close the circle.
To set the stage, let's look at what we have in English on Russian elite security forces. We have the internet, where the information is surprisingly scarce and endlessly repeated. We have Mr. Rezun, er, Suvorov's book from the 80's filled with tales of fictionally awesome men who would eat James Bond and a platoon of US Navy Seals as a snack. We have Steven Zaloga's "Blue Berets" and "Soviet Bloc Elite Forces" books that provide a solid overview of their airborne forces. We have Carey Schofield's "Russian Elite" book from 1993 that fleshes out some of that out with what was known shortly after the Iron Curtain fell. Then, pretty much nothing outside of occasional breezy articles. Let me put it this way, the two best English language books I've found to add to these two are a great book that mentions them in passing "Camouflage Uniforms of the Soviet Union and Russia: 1937-to the Present" and a privately published book on Soviet uniform insignia.
Into that void we get a quick but information dense 58 pages from Osprey on the non Military "elite" forces in Russia. I put "elite" in quotes because, as the author makes clear, the Russians have a long history of creating a special "elite" unit for everything from counter-terrorism to making a donut run. The author discusses this for the various units, which is one thing that starts shedding new light on these units that have previously just been known as a name and mission.
We get the following chapters in the book; Introduction
This chapter gives a capsule summary of the historical background of how the Soviet passion for extensive security forces developed and the roles they played in the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of modern Russia. The Police
Here we have coverage of the OMON, OMSN, and SOBR and their battle against Russian organized crime and suppression of dissent. The Interior Troops (VV)
A multitude of units are covered here, from named spetsnaz units such as ODOn to Vega, MVD and so forth that keep order within the country's borders. Many of these units fought in the Chechnya wars as well. The FSB
Here we probably have the ones that most will be interested in such as the elite commando units Al’fa, Vympel, Zenit, etc., as well as border troops and such. Warlords in Suits
This covers the bewildering "other" units that spring up in seeming every petty political fiefdom in Russia. Guns for the Masses
To add even more complexity, we also get the plethora of private security firms as well as accepted vigilante groups. The Opposition
Covers internal anti-government groups. Tools of the Trade
An all too brief section covers some of the more common specialized weapons and equipment these forces use.
If you've ever bought an Osprey Publications book you can probably anticipate both the pros and the cons. As usual, the book is too short to give more than a quick introduction to the subject which is probably plenty for the casual reader and a bit of a frustrating tease for those who really want to know more about these units. That said, I wonder if there's enough available information to flesh out much more for any of these units though why there has not been a good English language history of the Al'fa group to takes its place amongst the dozens of Navy Seal's books I have no idea. . . However, the writing is interesting and engaging and shows a solid knowledge of both the units and how they inter-relate in the Byzantine Russian security apparatus. The photos are plentiful and of high quality while Johnny Shumate's illustrations are easily some of the best Osprey Publications has given us in some time.
So to sum up you get a really decent Osprey Publications style book with fine writing and a lot of new information about these little written of units. If the subject interests you, buy it.
Highs: Engaging text that displays a firm knowledge of these units and how they function together.
Much better than Osprey average illustrations
The best and really only book on the subject to date
Lows: Too short to cover the individual units in any great depth
Verdict: If the subject interests you, buy it. Much of the information is new even to the Google experts out there.