Review: Spetsnaz The Inside Story

Spetsnaz: The Inside Story

There are few Cold War authors who I have less respect for than defector Viktor Suvorov (pen name), nor are there more who’ve influenced the thought and discourse around Fuldapocalypses in a such a negative way. Since Suvorov was one of the biggest popularizers of the mega-super Spetsnaz , I felt that his Spetsnaz: The Inside Story would be an excellent first book to review.

Now defectors, confidential informants, and the like are generally not the best or most reliable people. Some may be and have been deliberate double agent sneaks to muddle the waters. But more have had mundane issues. Issues like exaggerating their own importance and telling their new handlers what they want to hear. There’s a reason why American military officers in the cold war considered intelligence defectors not noble dissidents but unreliable weasels while having far more respect for enemy field commanders who stayed loyal until December 1991. Suvorov fits this negative stereotype to a T (and I’m not the only one to say this).

The story begins with a description of shovels. Yes, military entrenching tools are important for digging in, other utilities, and make for a good enough melee weapon. Then Suvorov dives deep and talks about how spetsnaz train with their shovels as weapons and that it involves putting one alone with only a shovel against a crazed dog. Woof.

So yeah. If Suvorov says that a bicycle has two wheels, walk around and count them. There’s accurate points here and there, but remember what they say about a broken clock (or that he just grabbed it from an accessible source that others would soon do with less embellishment, or took information that wasn’t that controversial). Suvorov also introduces the “Icebreaker Theory” where he states that Stalin was going to invade west and Germany simply preempted him. (You know who else said that?). The Icebreaker Theory, which he would later expand into a full book, goes from “questionable” to outright uncomfortable in my eyes given how it echoes the Germans own justifications for Barbarossa.

Then there are the psychologically iffy parts. Perhaps the least credible sentence in the book is “In the spetsnaz soldier’s opinion the most dangerous thing he can do is put faith in his comrade, who may at the most critical moment turn out to be a beast.” It’s not like successful war has always relied about trusting one’s colleagues in crisis, and that demanding special operations would demand more of that. I can believe them to be ultra-cynical, cold, and hard-edged (to say nothing of having grown up in an autocratic society), but Suvorov generalizes every single one of them to be those mixed with (in another dubious quote) “A spetsnaz soldier knows that he is invincible.” This strikes me as playing to the crowd, because it’s what an armchair observer with little knowledge of actual battle dynamics would think the ultimate warrior mindset would be like. Even some of the accurate statements come across as being aimed too low: For instance, his (correct) emphasis that a safehouse keeper/secret agent should be someone who blends in and doesn’t have any profile to attract attention is accompanied by a swipe at the likes of James Bond, with Suvorov apparently figuring that most of his audience gets their knowledge of spycraft from that.

Even leaving plausibility issues aside, Suvorov’s writing is rambling, pretentious, and sensationalist to the extreme. This is not aimed at people who would actually have to make a serious plan about dealing with the serious, legitimate threat of opposing special forces. This is giving a general audience the treasured “inside peek” that Bill James recognized and criticized. It’s the Cold War equivalent of someone from the Pakistani intelligence services talking about Osama bin Laden’s giant mountain fortress and his army of countless infiltrators throughout the world in the early 2000s.

The biggest problem is that there’s now basically no point to read this for solid information. In an age where you have western analysis done with much greater access and info (ie, Heavy OPFOR/GENFORCE-Mobile) and translated real primary sources (ie, Voroshilov Lectures), including those on the spetsnaz themselves, having a dated “I WAS THERE” “expose” like this is basically worthless as a practical source. One of my biggest pet peeves is that Suvorov has been cited far too often by Cold War wargamers despite better sources having long been available now.

What it does show is the tone of the times, and of the kind of sensationalist book that appears to stoke every zeitgeist. In this sense, it (and Suvorov’s other books) are surprisingly close to the stereotypical true crime paranoia book. Except with spetsnaz instead of serial killers or whoever.

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