Chapter 5. The 'Other People'

Although the vast majority of spetsnaz is made up of Slavonic personnel, there are some exceptions.

At first glance you would say he is a gypsy. Tall, well-built, athletic in his movements, handsome, with a hooked nose and flashing eyes. The captain plays the guitar so well that passers-by stop and do not go away until he stops playing. He dances as very few know how. His officer's uniform fits him as if it were on a dummy in the window of the main military clothing shop on the Arbat.

The officer has had a typical career. He was born in 1952 in Ivanovo, where he went to school. Then he attended the higher school for airborne troops in Ryazan, and he wears the uniform of the airborne forces. He commands a company in the Siberian military district. All very typical and familiar. At first glance. But he is Captain Roberto Rueda-Maestro — not a very usual name for a Soviet officer.

There is a mistake: the captain is not a gypsy. And if we study him more carefully we notice some other peculiarities. He is wearing the uniform of the airborne troops. But there are no airborne troops in the Siberian military district where he is stationed. Even stranger is the fact that after finishing school Roberto spent some time in Spain as a tourist. That was in 1969. Can we imagine a tourist from the Soviet Union being in Spain under Franco's rule, at a time when the Soviet Union maintained no diplomatic relations with Spain? Roberto Rueda-Maestro was in Spain at that time and has some idea of the country. But the strangest aspect of this story is that, after spending some time in a capitalist country, the young man was able to enter a Soviet military school. And not any school, but the Ryazan higher school for airborne troops.

These facts are clues. The full set of clues gives us the right answer, without fear of contradiction. The captain is a spetsnaz officer.

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During the Civil War in Spain thousands of Spanish children were evacuated to the Soviet Union. The exact number of children evacuated is not known. The figures given about this are very contradictory. But there were enough of them for several full-length films to be made and for books and articles to be written about them in the Soviet Union.

As young men they soon became cadets at Soviet military schools. A well-known example is Ruben Ruis Ibarruri, son of Dolores Ibarruri, general secretary of the Communist Party of Spain. Even at this time the Spaniards were put into the airborne troops. Ruben Ibarruri, for example, found himself in the 8th airborne corps. It is true that in a war of defence those formations intended for aggressive advancing operations were found to be unnecessary, and they were reorganised into guard rifle divisions and used in defensive battles at Stalingrad. Lieutenant Ibarruri was killed while serving in the 35th guard rifle division which had been formed out of the 8th airborne corps. It was a typical fate for young men at that time. But then they were evacuated to the Urals and Siberia, where the Spanish Communist Party (under Stalin's control) organised special schools for them. From then on references to Spanish children appeared very rarely in the Soviet press.

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One of the special schools was situated in the town of Ivanovo and was known as the E. D. Stasova International School. Some graduates of this school later turned up in Fidel Castro's personal bodyguard, some became leading figures in the Cuban intelligence service — the most aggressive in the world, exceeding its teachers in the GRU and KGB in both cruelty and cunning. Some of the school's graduates were used as 'illegals' by the GRU and KGB.

It has to be said, however, that the majority of the first generation of Spanish children remained in the Soviet Union with no possibility of leaving it. But then in the 1950s and 1960s a new generation of Soviet Spaniards was born, differing from the first generation in that it had no parents in the USSR. This is very important if a young man is being sent abroad on a risky mission, for the Communists then have the man's parents as hostages.

The second generation of Spaniards is used by the Soviet Government in many ways for operations abroad. One very effective device is to send some young Soviet Spaniards to Cuba, give them time to get used to the country and acclimatise themselves, and then send them to Africa and Central America as Cubans to fight against 'American Imperialism'. The majority of Cuban troops serving abroad are certainly Cubans. But among them is a certain percentage of men who were born in the Soviet Union and who have Russian wives and children and a military rank in the armed forces of the USSR.

For some reason Captain Roberto Rueda-Maestro is serving in the Urals military district. I must emphasise that we are still talking about the usual spetsnaz units, and we haven't started to discuss 'agents'. An agent is a citizen of a foreign country recruited into the Soviet intelligence service. Roberto is a citizen of the Soviet Union. He does not have and has never had in his life any other citizenship. He has a Russian wife and children born on the territory of the USSR, as he was himself. That is why the captain is serving in a normal spetsnaz unit, as an ordinary Soviet officer.

Spetsnaz seeks out and finds — it is easy to do in the Soviet Union — people born in the Soviet Union but of obviously foreign origin. With a name like Ruedo-Maestro it is very difficult to make a career in any branch of the Soviet armed forces. The only exception is spetsnaz, where such a name is no obstacle but a passport to promotion.

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In spetsnaz I have met people with German names such as Stolz, Schwarz, Weiss and so forth. The story of these Soviet Germans is also connected with the war. According to 1979 figures there were 1,846,000 Germans living in the Soviet Union. But most of those Germans came to Russia two hundred years ago and are of no use to spetsnaz. Different Germans are required, and they also exist in the Soviet Union.

During the war, and especially in its final stages, the Red Army took a tremendous number of German soldiers prisoner. The prisoners were held in utterly inhuman conditions, and it was not surprising that some of them did things that they would not have done in any other situation. They were people driven to extremes by the brutal Gulag regime, who committed crimes against their fellow prisoners, sometimes even murdering their comrades, or forcing them to suicide. Many of those who survived, once released from the prison camp, were afraid to return to Germany and settled in the Soviet Union. Though the percentage of such people was small it still meant quite a lot of people, all of whom were of course on the records of the Soviet secret services and were used by them. The Soviet special services helped many of them to settle down and have a family. There were plenty of German women from among the Germans long settled in Russia. So now the Soviet Union has a second generation of Soviet Germans, born in the Soviet Union of fathers who have committed crimes against the German people. This is the kind of young German who can be met with in many spetsnaz units.

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Very rarely one comes across young Soviet Italians, too, with the same background as the Spaniards and Germans. And spetsnaz contains Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Koreans, Mongolians, Finns and people of other nationalities. How they came to be there I do not know. But it can be taken for granted that every one of them has a much-loved family in the Soviet Union. Spetsnaz trusts its soldiers, but still prefers to have hostages for each of its men.

The result is that the percentage of spetsnaz soldiers who were born in the Soviet Union to parents of genuine foreign extraction is quite high. With the mixture of Soviet nationalities, mainly Russian, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Georgians and Uzbeks, the units are a very motley company indeed. You may even, suddenly, come across a real Chinese. Such people, citizens of the USSR but of foreign extraction, are known as 'the other people'. I don't know where the name came from, but the foreigners accept it and are not offended. In my view it is used without any tinge of racism, in a spirit rather of friendship and good humour, to differentiate people who are on the one hand Soviet people born in the Soviet Union of Soviet parents, and who on the other hand differ sharply from the main body of spetsnaz soldiers in their appearance, speech, habits and manners.

I have never heard of there being purely national formations within spetsnaz — a German platoon or a Spanish company. It is perfectly possible that they would be created in case of necessity, and perhaps there are some permanent spetsnaz groups chosen on a purely national basis. But I cannot confirm this.