Chapter 10. Battle Training

It was a cold, grey day, with a gusty wind blowing and ragged clouds sweeping across the sky. The deputy chief of the spetsnaz department, 17th Army, and I were standing near an old railway bridge. Many years previously they had built a railway line there, but for some reason it had been abandoned half-built. There remained only the bridge across leaden-coloured water. It seemed enormously high up. Around us was a vast emptiness, forest covering enormous spaces, where you were more likely to meet a bear than a man.

A spetsnaz competition was in progress. The lieutenant-colonel and I were umpires. The route being covered by the competitors was many tens of kilometres long. Soldiers, sodden with the rain and red in the face, laden with weapons and equipment, were trying to cover the route in the course of a few days — running, quick-marching, running again. Their faces were covered with a dirty growth of beard. They carried no food and got their water from the streams and lakes. In addition there were many unpleasant and unforeseen obstacles for them on the way.

At our control point, orange arrows told the soldiers to cross the bridge. In the middle of the bridge another arrow pointed to the handrail at the edge. A soldier lagging a long way behind his group ran onto the bridge. His tiredness kept his head down, so he ran to the middle of the bridge, and then a little further before he came to a sharp halt. He turned back and saw the arrow pointing to the edge. He looked over the rail and saw the next arrow on a marshy island, some way away and overgrown with reeds. It was huge and orange, but only just visible in the distance. The soldier let out a whistle of concern. He clambered onto the rail with all his weapons and equipment, let out a violent curse and jumped. As he dropped, he also tried to curse his fate and spetsnaz in good soldier's language, but the cry turned into a long drawn-out howl. He hit the black freezing water with a crash and for a long time did not reappear. Finally his head emerged from the water. It was late autumn and the water was icy cold. But the soldier set off swimming for the distant island.

At our control point, where one after the other the soldiers plunged from the high bridge, there was no means of rescuing any soldier who got into difficulty. And there was no one to rescue anybody either. We officers were there only to observe the men, to make sure each one jumped, and from the very middle of the bridge. The rest did not concern us.

'What if one of them drowns?' I asked the spetsnaz officer.

'If he drowns it means he's no good for spetsnaz.'

* * *

It means he's no good for spetsnaz. The sentence expresses the whole philosophy of battle training. The old soldiers pass it on to the young ones who take it as a joke. But they very soon find out that nobody is joking.

Battle training programmes for spetsnaz are drawn up in consultation with some of the Soviet Union's leading experts in psychology. They have established that in the past training had been carried out incorrectly, on the principle of moving from the simple to the more difficult. A soldier was first taught to jump from a low level, to pack his parachute, to land properly, and so forth, with the prospect later of learning to make a real parachute jump. But the longer the process of the initial training was drawn out, the longer the soldier was made to wait, the more he began to fear making the jump. Experience acquired in previous wars also shows that reservists, who were trained for only a few days and then thrown into battle, in the majority of cases performed very well. They were sometimes short of training, but they always had enough courage. The reverse was also shown to be true. In the First World War the best Russian regiments stayed in Saint Petersburg. They protected the Emperor and they were trained only to be used in the most critical situations. The longer the war went on, the less inclined the guards regiments became to fight. The war dragged on, turned into a senseless carve-up, and finally the possibility arose of a quick end to it. To bring the end nearer the Emperor decided to make use of his guards....

The Revolution of 1917 was no revolution. It was simply a revolt by the guards in just one city in a huge empire. The soldiers no longer wanted to fight; they were afraid of war and did not want to die for nothing. Throughout the country there were numerous parties all of which were in favour of ending the war, and only one of them called for peace. The soldiers put their trust in that party. Meanwhile, the regiments that were fighting at the front had suffered enormous losses and their morale was very low, but they had not thought of dispersing to their homes. The front collapsed only when the central authority in Saint Petersburg collapsed.

Lenin's party, which seized power in that vast empire by means of the bayonets of terrified guards in the rear, drew the correct conclusions. Today soldiers are not kept for long in the rear and they don't spend much time in training. It is judged much wiser to throw the young soldier straight into battle, to put those who remain alive into the reserve, reinforce with fresh reservists, and into battle again. The title of 'guards' is then granted only in the course of battle, and only to those units that have suffered heavy losses but kept fighting.

Having absorbed these lessons, the commanders have introduced other reforms into the methods of battle training. These new principles were tried out first of all on spetsnaz and gave good results.

The most important feature of the training of a young spetsnaz soldier is not to give him time to reflect about what is ahead for him. He should come up against danger and terror and unpleasantness unexpectedly and not have time to be scared. When he overcomes this obstacle, he will be proud of himself, of his own daring, determination and ability to take risks. And subsequently he will not be afraid.

Unpleasant surprises are always awaiting the spetsnaz soldier in the first stage of his service, sometimes in the most unlikely situations. He enters a classroom door and they throw a snake round his neck. He is roused in the morning and leaps out of bed to find, suddenly, an enormous grey rat in his boot. On a Saturday evening, when it seems that a hard week is behind him, he is grabbed and thrown into a small prison cell with a snarling dog. The first parachute jump is also dealt with unexpectedly. A quite short course of instruction, then into the sky and straight away out of the hatch. What if he smashes himself up? The answer, as usual: he is no good for spetsnaz!

Later the soldier receives his full training, both theoretical and practical, including ways to deal with a snake round his neck or a rat in his boot. But by then the soldier goes to his training classes without any fear of what is to come, because the most frightful things are already behind him.

* * *

One of the most important aspects of full battle training is the technique of survival. In the Soviet Union there are plenty of places where there are no people for thousands of square kilometres. Thus the method is to drop a small group of three or four men by parachute in a completely unfamiliar place where there are no people, no roads and nothing except blinding snow from one horizon to the other or burning sand as far as the eye can see. The group has neither a map nor a compass. Each man has a Kalashnikov automatic, but only one round of ammunition. In addition he has a knife and a spade. The food supply is the minimum, sometimes none at all. The group does not know how long it will have to walk — a day, five days, a fortnight? The men can use their ammunition as they please. They can kill a deer, an elk or a bear. That would be plenty for the whole group for a long journey. But what if wolves were to attack and the ammunition were finished?

To make the survival exercises more realistic the groups take no radio sets with them, and they cannot transmit distress signals, whatever has happened within the group, until they meet the first people on their way. Often they begin with a parachute drop in the most unpleasant places: on thin ice, in a forest, in mountains. In 1982 three Soviet military parachutists made a jump into the crater of the Avachinsk volcano. First of all they had to get themselves out of the crater. Two other Soviet military parachutists have several times begun their exercises with a landing on the summit of Mount Elbruz (5,642 metres). Having successfully completed the survival route they have done the same thing on the highest mountains in the Soviet Union — the peaks named after Lenin (7,134 metres) and Communism (7,495 metres).

In the conditions prevailing in Western Europe today different habits and different training methods are necessary. For this part of their training spetsnaz soldiers are dressed in black prison jackets and dropped off at night in the centre of a big city. At the same time the local radio and television stations report that a group of especially dangerous criminals have escaped from the local prison. Interestingly, it is forbidden to publish such reports in the press in the Soviet Union but they may be put out by the local radio and television. The population thus gets only small Crumbs of information, so that they are scared stiff of criminals about whom all sorts of fantastic stories start circulating.

The 'criminals' are under orders to return to their company. The local police and MVD troops are given the job of finding them. Only the senior officers of the MVD know that it is only an exercise. The middle and lower ranks of the MVD operate as if it were the real thing. The senior officers usually tell their subordinates that the 'criminals' are not armed and they are to report immediately one of them is arrested. There is a problem, though: the police often do not trust the report that the criminal is not armed (he may have stolen a gun at the last moment) and so, contrary to their instructions, they use their guns. Sometimes the arrested soldier may be delivered back to his superior officers in a half-dead state — he resisted, they say, and we simply had to defend ourselves.

In some cases major exercises are carried out, and then the whole of the police and the MVD troops know that it is just an exercise. Even so, it is a risky business to be in a spetsnaz group. The MVD use dogs on exercises, and the dogs do not understand the difference between an exercise and real fighting.

* * *

The spetsnaz soldier operates on the territory of the enemy. One of his main tasks is, as we have seen, to seek out specially important targets, for which purpose he has to capture people and extract the necessary information from them by force. That the soldier knows how to extract the information we have no doubt. But how can he understand what his prisoner is saying? Spetsnaz officers go through special language training and in addition every spetsnaz company has an officer-interpreter who speaks at least two foreign languages fluently. But there is not always an officer to hand in a small group, so every soldier and sergeant questioning a prisoner must have some knowledge of a foreign language. But most spetsnaz soldiers serve for only two years and their battle training is so intense that it just is not possible to fit in even a few extra hours.

How is this problem solved? Can a spetsnaz soldier understand a prisoner who nods his head under torture and indicates his readiness to talk?

The ordinary spetsnaz soldier has a command of fifteen foreign languages and can use them freely. This is how he does it.

Imagine that you have been taken prisoner by a spetsnaz group. Your companion has had a hot iron on the palms of his hands and a big nail driven into his head as a demonstration. They look at you questioningly. You nod your head — you agree to talk. Every spetsnaz soldier has a silken phrase-book — a white silk handkerchief on which there are sixteen rows of different questions and answers. The first sentence in Russian is: 'Keep your mouth shut or I'll kill you.' The sergeant points to this sentence. Next to it is a translation into English, German, French and many other languages. You find the answer you need in your own language and nod your head. Very good. You understand each other. They can free your mouth. The next sentence is: 'If you don't tell the truth you'll be sorry!' You quickly find the equivalent in your own language. All right, all clear. Further down the silk scarf are about a hundred simple sentences, each with translations into fifteen languages-'Where?', 'Missile', 'Headquarters', 'Airfield', 'Store', 'Police checkpoint', 'Minefield', 'How is it guarded?', 'Platoon?', 'Company?', 'Battalion?', 'Dogs?', 'Yes', 'No', and so forth. The last sentence is a repetition of the second: 'If you don't tell the truth you'll be sorry!'

It takes only a couple of minutes to teach the stupidest soldier to communicate with the aid of the silken phrase-book. In addition the soldier is taught to say and understand the simplest and most necessary words, like 'forward', 'back', 'there', 'here', 'to the right', 'to the left', 'metres', 'kilometres' and the numbers from one to twenty. If a soldier is not able to learn this no harm is done, because it is all written on the silk scarf, of which there is one for every man in the group.

In the early 1970s Soviet scientists started to develop a very light electronic device for translating in place of the silken phrase-book or to supplement it. The high command's requirements were simple: the device had to weigh not more than 400 grams, had to fit into a satchel and to be the size of a small book or even smaller. It had to have a display on which could appear a word or simple phrase in Russian which would immediately be translated into one of the most widely used languages. The person being questioned would print out his answer which would immediately be translated into Russian. I do not know whether such a device is now in use. But progress in technology will soon permit the creation of something similar. Not only spetsnaz but many other organisations in the Soviet Army have displayed interest in the device. However, no device can replace a real interpreter, and that is why, along with the real interpreters, so many people of different foreign nationalities are to be found in spetsnaz.

A Soviet soldier who escaped from Afghanistan told how he had been put into a reconnaissance company from an air-assault brigade. This is a case of not-quite spetsnaz. Somebody found out that he spoke one of the local dialects and he was immediately sent to the commanding officer. The officer asked him two questions, the traditional two:

'Do you drink vodka? What about sport?'

'Vodka, yes, sport no.'

He gave completely the wrong answers. But in battle conditions a man speaking the language of the enemy is particularly valued. They take him on in spite of everything, and take very good care of him, because on his ability to speak and understand what is said may depend the life of the group or of many groups. And on the way the groups carry out their mission may depend the lives of thousands and in some cases millions of people. The one drawback to being an interpreter is that interpreters are never forgiven for making a mistake. But the drawback is the same for him as it is for everyone else in the unit.

* * *

No soldier should be afraid of fire. Throughout the Soviet Army, in every branch of the forces, very close attention is paid to a soldier's or sailor's psychological readiness to come up against fire. In the Navy old submarines are grounded, and several sailors are shut in a compartment in which a fire is started. In the tank forces men are shut into an old tank and a fire is lit inside or outside and sometimes both at once.

The spetsnaz soldier comes up against fire more often than any other soldier. For that reason it is constantly present in his battle training from the first to the last day. At least once a day he sees fire that is clearly threatening his life. He is forced to jump over wide ditches with fires raging in them. He has to race through burning rooms and across burning bridges. He rides a motorcycle between flaming walls. Fire can break out next to him at any moment — when he is eating or sleeping. When he is making a parachute jump to test the accuracy of his fall a tremendous flame may flare up suddenly beneath him.

The spetsnaz soldier is taught to deal with fire and to protect himself and his comrades by every means — rolling along the ground to stop his clothes burning, smothering the flames with earth, branches or a groundsheet. In learning to deal with fire the most important thing is not so much for him to get to know ways of protecting himself (though this is important) as to make him realise that fire is a constant companion of life which is always at his side.

Another very important element of spetsnaz training is to teach a soldier not to be afraid of blood and to be able to kill. This is more important and more difficult for spetsnaz than for the infantry, for example. The infantry man kills his enemy mainly at a distance of more than a hundred metres and often at a distance of 300 or 400 metres or more. The infantryman does not see the expression on the face of his enemy. His job is simply to take aim correctly, hold his breath and press the trigger smoothly. The infantryman fires at plywood targets in peacetime, and in wartime at people who look at a distance very much like plywood targets. The blood which an infantryman sees is mainly the blood of his dead comrade or his own, and it gives rise to anger and a thirst for revenge. After that the infantryman fires at his enemy without feeling any twinges of conscience.

The training of a spetsnaz soldier is much more complicated. He often has to kill the enemy at close quarters, looking him straight in the face. He sees blood, but it is not the blood of his comrades; it is often the blood of a completely innocent man. The officers commanding spetsnaz have to be sure that every spetsnaz soldier will do his duty in a critical situation.

Like fire, blood is a constant attribute of the battle training of a soldier. It used to be thought that a soldier could be accustomed to the sight of blood gradually — first a little blood and then more day by day. But experts have thrown out this view. The spetsnaz soldier's first encounter with blood should be, they argue, quite unexpected and in copious quantities. In the course of his career as a fighting man there will be a whole lot of monstrous things which will spring up in front of him without any warning at all. So he should get used to being unsurprised at anything and afraid of nothing.

A group of young spetsnaz soldiers are hauled out of bed at night because of an emergency, and sent in pursuit of a 'spy'. The worse the weather the better. Best of all when there is torrential rain, a gusty wind, mud and slush. Many kilometres of obstacles -broken-down stairs, holes in walls, ropes across holes and ditches. The platoon of young soldiers are completely out of breath, their hearts beating fast. Their feet slip, their hands are scratched and bruised. Forward! Everyone is bad-tempered — the officers and especially the men. The soldier can give vent to his anger only by punching some weaker fellow-sufferer in the face and maybe getting a kick in the ribs in reply. The area is dotted with ruined houses, everything is smashed, ripped apart, and there's broken glass everywhere. Everything is wet and slippery, and there are never-ending obstacles with searchlights trained on them. But they don't help: they only hinder, blinding the men as they scramble over. Now they come to a dark cellar, with the doors ripped off the hinges. Everybody down. Along the corridor. Then there's water ahead. The whole group running at full tilt without slowing down rushes straight into some sticky liquid. A blinding light flashes on. It's not water they are in — it's blood. Blood up to the knees, the waist, the chest. On the walls and the ceiling are chunks of rotten flesh, piles of bleeding entrails. The steps are slippery from slimy bits of brain. Undecided, the young soldiers jam the corridor. Then somebody in the darkness lets a huge dog off its chain. There is only one way out — through the blood. Only forwards, where there is a wide passageway and a staircase upwards. Where on earth could they get so much blood? From the slaughter-house, of course. It is not so difficult to make the tank of blood. It can be narrow and not very deep, but it must be twisting and there must be a very low ceiling over it. The building in which the tank of blood is arranged can be quite small, but piles of rotten boards, beams and concrete slabs must be tipped into it. Even in very limited space it is possible to create the impression that you are in an endless labyrinth overflowing with blood. The most important thing is to have plenty of twists and turns, holes, gaps, dead ends and doors. If you don't have enough blood you can simply use animal entrails mixed with blood. The bottom of the tank must not be even: you must give the learner the possibility of tripping over and going under. But most important is that the first training session should take place with a group of really young soldiers who have joined spetsnaz but are still isolated and have had no opportunity of meeting older soldiers and being warned what to expect. And there's something else: the tank of blood must not be the final obstacle that night. The greatest mistake is to drive the men through the tank and then bring the exercise to an end, leaving them to clean themselves up and go to bed. In that case the blood will only appear to them as a terrible dream. Keep driving them on over more and more obstacles.

Exhausting training exercises must be repeated and repeated again, never stopping to rest. Carry on with the exercise throughout the morning, throughout the day. Without food and without drink. In that way the men acquire the habit of not being taken aback by any surprises. Blood on their hands and on their uniforms, blood in their boots — it all becomes something familiar. On the same day there must also be a lot of gunfire, labyrinths with bones, and dogs, dogs and more dogs. The tank of blood must be remembered by the men as something quite ordinary in a whole series of painful experiences.

In the next training session there is no need to use a lot of blood, but it must be constantly present. The men have to crawl beneath some barbed wire. Why not throw some sheep's innards on to the ground and the wire? Let them crawl over that and not just along the ground. A soldier is firing from his sub-machine-gun on the firing range. Why not surround his firing position with chunks of rotting meat which is in any case no good for eating? A soldier makes a parachute jump to test the accuracy of his drop. Why not put on his landing spot, face down, a big puppet in spetsnaz uniform with a torn, twisted parachute spattered with pig's blood? These are all standard tricks in spetsnaz, simple and effective. To increase the effect the instructors are constantly creating situations in which the men are obliged to get blood on their hands. For example, a soldier has to overcome an obstacle by scrambling up a wall. When he reaches up to grab the ridge at the top of the wall he finds it slippery and sticky from blood. He has a choice — either to drop down and break his legs (and maybe his neck) or to hang on tighter with both hands, rest his chin on the filthy sill, shift his grip, pull himself up and jump in through the window. A spetsnaz soldier does not fall. He pulls himself up and, with blood all over him, swearing hoarsely, he carries on his way, onwards, ever onwards.

Later in the programme come half-joking exercises such as: catch a pregnant cat, open its belly with a razor blade and count how many kittens it has. This is not such an easy exercise as might appear at first. The soldier has no gloves, the cat scratches and he has no one to help him. As an instrument he is allowed to use only a blunt, broken razor blade or razor, and he can easily cut his own fingers.

The process of familiarising spetsnaz men with the sight and the reality of blood is not in the least intended to make them into sadists. It is simply that blood is a liquid with which they are going to have to work in wartime. A.spetsnaz soldier may not be scared of the red liquid. A surgeon works continually with blood and so does the butcher. What would happen if a surgeon or a butcher were suddenly to be afraid of the sight of blood?

* * *

Every Soviet soldier, wherever he may be serving, must be able to run, to shoot accurately, to keep his weapon clean and in good working order, and carry out the orders of his superiors precisely and quickly and without asking unnecessary questions. If one studies the battle training of Soviet troops one notices that there are common standards for all branches of troops operating in any conditions. This gives the impression that training in the Soviet Army is the same whatever the conditions. This is not quite true. Many of the demands placed on officers and men are standard throughout the Army. Nevertheless, each Soviet military district and each group of forces operates in conditions unique to itself. Troops of the Leningrad military district have to operate in very severe northern conditions, and their training takes place in forests, marshes and the tundra of an arctic climate. Troops of the Transcaucasian military district have to operate in high mountains, while those of the Carpathian and Ural military districts have to operate in medium-high mountains. Even so, the Carpathian district has a mild European climate, while that of the Ural district is wildly different: harsh, with a very hot summer and a very cold winter.

Every military district and group of forces has a commanding officer, a chief of staff and a head of Intelligence who answer with their heads for the battle-readiness of the troops under their command. But every district and group faces a specific enemy, and its own particular (though absolutely secret) task to perform in the event of war, and its own individual role in the plans of the General Staff.

One reason that training takes place in situ is that every Soviet frontier district and group of forces has, as a rule, the same natural conditions as the territories in which it will have to fight. Conditions in Karelia differ very little from those in Norway, Sweden and Finland. If troops from the Carpathian military district cross the frontier, they find themselves in a country of high rugged mountains identical to that in which they are permanently stationed. And, if the Soviet troops in Germany cross the frontier, even if there are small differences of terrain and climate, they are at any rate still in Germany.

Spetsnaz is concentrated at this level of fronts and armies. To make sure that spetsnaz training is carried out in conditions as close as possible to those in which the troops will have to operate the spetsnaz brigades now have special training centres. For example, the natural conditions in the Baltic military district are very similar to those in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, northern Germany and France. The mountainous Altai is strikingly similar to Scotland. In the Carpathians there are places very similar to the French Alps. If troops have to be trained for operations in Alaska and Canada, Siberia is ideal for the purpose, while for operating in Australia spetsnaz units have to be trained in Kazakhstan. The spetsnaz brigades have their own training centres, but a brigade (or any other spetsnaz unit) can be ordered at any moment to operate in an unfamiliar training centre belonging to another brigade. For example, during the 'Dvina' manoeuvres spetsnaz units from the Leningrad, Moscow and North Caucasus military districts were transferred to Belorussia to operate there in unfamiliar conditions. The difference in conditions was especially great for the units transferred from the northern Caucasus.

These transfers are restricted mainly to troops of the internal military districts. It is reckoned that troops which are already located in Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Transcaucasian military districts will remain there in any circumstances, and it is better to train them thoroughly for operations in those conditions without wasting effort on training for every kind of condition. 'Universal' training is needed by the troops of the internal districts — the Siberian, Ural, Volga, Moscow and a few others which in the event of war will be switched to crisis points. Courses are also provided for the professional athletes. Every one of these is continually taking part in contests and travelling round the whole country from Vladivostok to Tashkent and Tbilisi to Archangelsk. Such trips in themselves play a tremendous part in training. The professional athlete becomes psychologically prepared to operate in any climate and any circumstances. Trips abroad, especially trips to those countries in which he will have to operate in the event of war, are of even greater assistance in removing psychological barriers and making the athlete ready for action in any conditions.

* * *

Spetsnaz units are often involved in manoeuvres at different levels and with different kinds of participants. Their principal 'enemies' on manoeuvres are the MVD troops, the militia, the frontier troops of the KGB, the government communications network of the KGB and the ordinary units of the armed forces.

In time of war KGB and MVD troops would be expected to operate against national liberation movements within the Soviet Union, of which the most dangerous is perceived to be the Russian movement against the USSR. (In the last war it was the Russians who created the most powerful anti-Communist army — the ROA). The Ukrainian resistance movement is also considered to be very dangerous. Partisan operations would inevitably break out in the Baltic states and the Caucasus, among others. KGB and MVD troops, which are not controlled by the Ministry of Defence, are equipped with helicopters, naval vessels, tanks, artillery and armoured personnel carriers, and exercises in which they operate against spetsnaz are of exceptional value to them. But the heads of the GRU are keen on joint manoeuvres for their own reasons. If spetsnaz has years' experience of operating against such powerful opponents as the KGB and MVD, its performance against less powerful opponents can only be enhanced.

In the course of manoeuvres the KGB and the MVD (along with the Soviet military units which have to defend themselves) use against spetsnaz the whole gamut of possible means of defence, from total control of radio communication to electronic sensors, from hunter aircraft provided with the latest equipment to sniffer dogs, which are used in enormous numbers.

Apart from operating against real Soviet military targets, spetsnaz units go through courses at training centres where the conditions and atmosphere of the areas in which they will be expected to fight are reproduced with great fidelity. Models of Pluto, Pershing and Lance missiles and of Mirage-VI, Jaguar and other nuclear-armed aircraft are used to indicate the 'enemy'. There is also artillery capable of firing nuclear shells, special kinds of vehicles used for transporting missiles, warheads, and so forth.

The spetsnaz groups have to overcome many lines of defences, and any group that is caught by the defenders is subject to treatment that is rough enough to knock out of the men any desire to get caught in the future, either on manoeuvres or in a real battle. The spetsnaz soldier constantly has the thought drilled into him that being a prisoner is worse than death. At the same time he is taught that his aims are noble ones. First he is captured on manoeuvres and severely beaten, then he is shown archive film shot in concentration camps in the Second World War (the films are naturally more frightful than what can be perpetrated on manoeuvres), then he is released, but may be seized again and subject to a repeat performance. It is calculated that, in a fairly short time the soldier will develop a very strong negative reaction to the idea of being a prisoner, and the certainty that death — a noble death, in the cause of spetsnaz — is preferable.

* * *

One one occasion following my flight to the West I was present at some large-scale military manoeuvres in which the armies of many Western countries took part. The standard of battle training made a very favourable impression on me. I was particularly impressed by the skilful, I would even say masterly, way the units camouflaged themselves. The battle equipment, the tanks and other vehicles, and the armoured personnel carriers are painted with something that does not reflect the sunlight; the colour is very cleverly chosen; and the camouflaging is painted in such a way that it is difficult to make out the vehicle even at a short distance and its outline mixes in with the background. But every army made one enormous mistake with the camouflaging of some of the vehicles, which had huge white circles and red crosses painted on their sides. I explained to the Western officers that the red and white colours were very easily seen at a distance, ,and that it would be better to use green paint. I was told that the vehicles with the red cross were intended for transporting the wounded, which I knew perfectly well. That was a good reason, I said, why the crosses should be painted out or made very much smaller. Please be human, I said. You are transporting a wounded man and you must protect him by every means. Then protect him. Hide him. Make sure the Communists can't see him.

The argument continued and I did not win the day. Later, other Western officers tried to explain to me that I was simply ignorant of the international agreement about these things. You are not allowed to fire on a vehicle with a red cross. I agreed that I was ignorant and knew nothing about these agreements. But like me, the Soviet soldier is also unaware of those agreements. Those big red crosses are painted so that the Soviet soldier can see them and not fire on them. But the Soviet soldier only knows that a red cross means something medical. Nobody has ever told him he was not to shoot at a red cross.

I learnt about this strange rule, that red crosses must not be shot at, quite by chance. When I was still a Soviet officer, I was reading a book about Nazi war criminals and amongst the charges made was the assertion that the Nazis had sometimes fired on cars and trains bearing a red cross. I found this very interesting, because I could not understand why such an act was considered a crime. A war was being fought and one side was trying to destroy the other. In what way did trains and cars with red crosses differ from the enemy's other vehicles?

I found the answer to the question quite independently, but not in the Soviet regulations. Perhaps there is an answer to the question there, but, having served in the Soviet Army for many years and having sat for dozens of examinations at different levels, I have never once come across any reference to the rule that a soldier may not fire at a red cross. At manoeuvres I often asked my commanding officers, some of them very high-ranking, in a very provocative way what would happen if an enemy vehicle suddenly appeared with a red cross on it. I was always answered in a tone of bewilderment. A Soviet officer of very high rank who had graduated from a couple of academies could not understand what difference it made if there were a red cross. Soviet officers have never been told its complete significance. 1 never bothered to put the question to any of my subordinates.

I graduated from the Military-Diplomatic Academy, and did not perform badly there. In the course of my studies I listened attentively to all the lectures and was always waiting for someone among my teachers (many of them with general's braid and many years' experience in international affairs) to say something about the red cross. But I learnt only that the International Red Cross organisation is located in Geneva, directly opposite the Permanent Representation of the USSR in United Nations agencies, and that the organisation, like any other international organisation, can be used by officers of the Soviet Intelligence services as a cover for their activities.

For whose benefit do the armies of the West paint those huge red crosses on their ambulances? Try painting a red cross on your back and chest, and going into the forest in winter. Do you think the red cross will save you from being attacked by wolves? Of course not. The wolves do not know your laws and do not understand your symbols. So why do you use a symbol the meaning of which the enemy has no idea?

In the last war the Communists did not respect international conventions and treaties, but some of their enemies, with many centuries of culture and excellent traditions, failed equally to respect international laws. Since then the Red Army has used the red cross symbol, painted very small, as a sign to tell its own soldiers where the hospital is. The red cross needs only to be visible to their own men. The Red Army has no faith in the goodwill of the enemy.

International treaties and conventions have never saved anybody from being attacked. The Ribbentrop-Molotov pact is a striking example. It did not protect the Soviet Union. But if Hitler had managed to invade the British Isles the pact would not have protected Germany either. Stalin said quite openly on this point: 'War can turn all agreements of any kind upside down.' (Pravda, 15 September 1927.)

The Soviet leadership and the Soviet diplomatic service adopt a philosophical attitude to all agreements. If one trusts a friend there is no need for a treaty; friends do not need to rely on treaties to call for assistance. If one is weaker than one's enemy a treaty will not be any use anyway. And if one is stronger than one's enemy, what is the point of observing a treaty? International treaties are just an instrument of politics and propaganda. The Soviet leadership and the Soviet Army put no trust in any treaties, believing only in the force that is behind the treaties.

Thus the enormous red cross on the side of a military vehicle is just a symbol of Western naivete and faith in the force of protocols, paragraphs, signatures and seals. Since Western diplomats have signed these treaties they ought to insist that the Soviet Union, having also signed them, should explain to its soldiers, officers and generals what they contain, and should include in its official regulations special paragraphs forbidding certain acts in war. Only then would there be any sense in painting on the huge red crosses.

The red cross is only one example. One needs constantly to keep in mind what Lenin always emphasised: that a dictatorship relies on force and not on the law. 'The scientific concept of dictatorship means power, limited in no way, by no laws and restrained by absolutely no rules, and relying directly on force.' (Lenin, Vol. 25, p. 441.)

Spetsnaz is one of the weapons of a dictatorship. Its battle training is imbued with just one idea: to destroy the enemy. It is an ambition which is not subject to any diplomatic, juridical, ethical or moral restraints.