Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin on Monday lauded the country’s special operations units, which the former said had demonstrated “flawless” preparation for Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Shoigu praised the units to mark the Special Operation Forces’ Day, which is celebrated on February 27; the same day that Moscow’s “little green men” invaded Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 in a prelude to its eventual annexation. Putin decreed in 2020 that the date would henceforth celebrate Russia’s special forces.
Shoigu said Russia’s elite units had performed well in the ongoing invasion , which after a year has punctured many myths of Russia’s assumed military prowess.
“During the special military operation , the servicemen of the Special Operations Forces are displaying flawless training, heroism and courage and are successfully achieving the goals set by the country’s leadership,” Shoigu said—as quoted by the state-run Tass news agency—using the Kremlin’s terminology for the full-scale invasion that began on February 24, 2022.
Putin added his congratulations in a statement published on the Kremlin’s website on Monday.
“All fighters and commanders of the Special Operations Forces are distinguished by the highest level of training, their ability and readiness to act boldly, decisively, with lightning speed in key areas and directions, and to effectively solve the most complex and responsible tasks of strategic importance in any regions of the world where this is required by the security and the national interests of Russia and our people,” the president said.
In Ukraine, specifically, Putin praised special operations units for “following the orders to the end, protecting your comrades, saving women, children and the elderly, defending Russia, our nation and our land from the neo-Nazi threat.” Putin and Russian officials have falsely framed Moscow’s invasion as a crusade against neo-Nazism in Ukraine.
Russia’s special forces have not been spared from the ballooning casualties incurred by Moscow’s units since February 2022. The Russian invaders are thought to have suffered hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded in a year dominated by costly Russian battlefield defeats.
Russia does not release details of its casualty figures, so it can be difficult to ascertain how badly Moscow’s elite troops have been mauled. The fortunes of some individual special forces units, however, are indicative of Russia’s most intense and punishing military operations since World War II.
One European defense official told Newsweek in December that the Pskov-based 2nd Special Purpose Brigade—a Spetsnaz special forces formation and part of the GRU military intelligence agency—is among those that have suffered badly.
The official estimated the brigade had suffered “heavy losses” of 30 to 40 percent casualties. The unit was awarded honorary “Guards” status by Putin in July for its actions in Ukraine.
A BBC investigation published in October suggested a similar fate for the 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade, which it said may have lost up to 75 percent of its reconnaissance company troops. The unit suffered particularly badly around the railway hub of Lyman during Ukraine’s surprise offensive in September, the BBC said.
Western and Ukrainian officials have blamed the apparent poor training and lacking equipment of Russian troops for the high suspected casualty figures, especially since Putin’s September mobilization order.
Russia, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this month, “continues to pour large numbers of additional people into the fight. And those people are ill-trained and ill-equipped, and because of that, we see them incurring a lot of casualties . And we’ll probably continue to see that going forward.”
Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry to request comment.