Ukrainian special operations forces double in size during training with the United States


  • Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian troops have trained closely with the US military.
  • This includes Ukraine’s special operations forces, which doubled in size during this period.
  • Since Moscow launched its last attack in February, these Ukrainians have wreaked havoc on the Russians

Three months into the war, the Ukrainian army impressed the world with its impressive defense against the invading Russian forces.

Ukrainian special operations forces played a big role in this resistance. But to develop these skills, Ukrainian operators have been working hard for years and learning from the best.

How the United States Helped Ukrainian Commandos

Army Romania Ukraine Special Forces Green Beret

A U.S. Army Green Beret conducts a close combat exercise with Romanian and Ukrainian special operators in Romania, May 6, 2021.

Romanian Army/Capt. Roxana Davidovits


Since 2014, US special operations forces have trained their Ukrainian counterparts in just about every skill and mission imaginable.

Years of efforts by the United States and its NATO allies to train their Ukrainian counterparts have created a strong military force with a strong NCO corps. He also created a cadre of potential recruits for Ukrainian special operations units, helping those units not only improve but also grow.

“Our special operations forces are helping to develop and work with other allies to come to Ukraine and help strengthen Ukrainian special operations forces,” said General Richard Clarke, head of the States Special Operations Command. States, to the members of the House Armed Services Committee. at a hearing in April.

Since this training began eight years ago, these Ukrainian forces have “doubled in size,” Clarke said.

Special operations of Ukrainian troops

Ukrainian troops during special operations training in November 2015.

Andriy Ageev/Ukrainian Ministry of Defense


The SOCOM boss acknowledged that the US effort to train Ukrainian special operators was extensive and included conventional US troops and National Guard units. (Special operations troops from the UK and other NATO armies also trained Ukrainians.)

Clarke pointed out that Ukrainian special operators have also added new capabilities, with American operators bringing them up to speed on operational planning, urban warfare and small unit tactics, among other things. But it is in the unconventional warfare mission that the Ukrainians have learned the most.

Prior to the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian special operators were aligned with Russian doctrine and practice. As a former Soviet republic, the Ukrainian military was heavily influenced – and in many ways still is – by the Soviet model.

This story means that there weren’t many differences between Ukrainian and Russian special operators, but that changed completely after eight years of training with western commandos.

Ukraine Romania US Army Special Forces Green Berets

Ukrainian, Romanian and American special forces soldiers during an exercise in Romania, May 6, 2021.

Romanian Army/Capt. Roxana Davidovits


Today, the Ukrainian military has a capable special operations component that can tackle any problem Russia throws at it.

Beyond combat skills, US Army Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs troops worked with Ukrainians on soft skills that could increase their effectiveness on the battlefield.

Since the start of the current conflict in February, Ukrainian forces have waged highly effective information warfare. The information that the Ukrainians intercepted, sometimes with help, and broadcast to the world – radio intercepts of distraught Russian troops and video after video of Russian equipment being destroyed – added to the humiliation of the military services and Russian security.

“One aspect is that it was a lot of our civil affairs, psychological operations and special forces that also worked side-by-side with the Ukrainians,” Clarke told lawmakers. “It was not only combat forces, but also other special operations parts that work closely with their Ukrainian partners.”

Ukrainian special operations forces

Ukrainian special operations forces soldier

A Ukrainian special operations forces soldier secures a prisoner from opposing forces during an exercise in Bulgaria, June 17, 2019.

US Special Operations Command Europe


In the weeks since the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine in late February, Ukrainian special operations forces have been wreaking havoc behind Russian lines.

Using their inherent organizational flexibility and taking advantage of the Russians’ lackluster force security practices, Ukrainian special operators eliminated Russian logistics convoys, starving Russian frontline units of ammunition, fuel and reinforcements.

One of the tactics used by the Ukrainian commandos was the employment of small teams of anti-tank weapons on quads or motorcycles. These mobile teams could outrun and outmaneuver bulky Russian columns and use anti-tank missiles or mines to take out Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles.

Videos have frequently appeared showing Ukrainian commandos ambushing and destroying Russian mechanized columns and even Russian elite units, such as the VDV Airborne Forces.

The Russian advance stalled and Russian troops have since withdrawn from many areas of northern and northeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian special operators played a key role in stopping the Russian advance on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in particular.

Ukrainian special operators have performed admirably so far. As the conflict appears to be settling into a new, more static and difficult phase, the Ukrainian military’s ability to repel the Russian invaders will depend on more than its commandos.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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