What is Zaslon?
Zaslon "Barrier or Screen" is Russia's top secret special unit within the Russian external security service, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (SVR). It roughly resembles the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6.
If the SVR is the Russian CIA or MI6, then Zaslon is comparable to the CIA Global Response Staff (GRS), the CIA's high security detail, or the even more secretive MI6 Squadron . Wrongly, some sources claim that Zaslon is the equivalent of the CIA Special Activities Center (CASE).
According to a Swedish Defense source, Zaslon was established on March 23, 1997 but became operational in 1998 with around 300 members. Most open sources rely on a March 4, 1998 Komsomolskaia Gazeta report. Several sources claim that Zaslon is attached to the SVR's 7th Self-Security Center (CSB) department.
"Zaslon" was designed primarily to protect diplomats and foreign operations carried out by the SVR. The units responsibilities are the following:
Armed protection of Russian diplomatic missions abroad, mainly in hostile regions environments
Protecting senior Russian officials when traveling abroad
Hostage rescue missions of Russian citizens abroad
Evacuation of Russian citizens and civilians of other countries from war zones
Protection of SVR employees during operational and intelligence work
Recover sensitive documents and equipment from embassies in case of emergency
- Protect host nation leadership (see Syria)
As mentioned countless times, information about Zaslon is sparse and what information is available is often shrouded in speculation and peppered with hyperbole. However, rare searchlights occasionally illuminate the dark corridors of the Russian security apparatus. On December 24, 2018, the current head of the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin, offered a documentary film crew a tour of the SVR headquarters in Moscow's Yasenevo district.
Documentary footage shows a group of SVR operators performing close quarters combat and other weapons handling drills. It was an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the SVR. However, this was most likely a controlled disclosure. Additionally, there is absolutely no mention of Zaslon, yet it is possible to identify that these Operators are almost certainly Zaslon, due to their gear, olive-colored uniform, and weapons of choice.
It has been possible to identify the equipment used by Zaslon operators, but this constantly changes depending on theater and mission requirements. Additionally, most special operations units around the world have a wide range of equipment choices, compared to conventional forces, making a standard equipment list difficult.
- Blackhawk HPFU ITS V1 Olive Drab
- Drab Olive Green Truspec Uniform
- Multicam on rare occasions
- AK-103 assault rifle
- AK-104 assault rifle
- Ak-74s Assault Rifle
- PP-19-01 Vityaz submachine gun
- Fort Goplit tablecloth with Fort plates and Kevlar reinforcement
- Strong OD Molle Defender 2
- Fort Gray pockets on velcro plate
- TOR Helmet by Classcom
- MICH 2000 Western Helmet with SRVV Helmet Cover
- HSGI "AO" Chest rig
- HSGI war belt
- Low Profile Coyote Defender Armored Vest (for VIPs)
- Russian Embassy crests
- SSRV patches on the Fort vest
- ESS Turbofan Goggles
- Mechanix Gloves
Deny that Zaslon exists!
- The infamous Vympel, Alpha Group, and GRU Spetsnaz have achieved almost mythical status due to their depictions in film, video games, literature, and other media. Zaslon, on the other hand, is rarely mentioned by the Russian state, universities or media. In most cases, it is actively denied by the leaders.
- In 2002, during an interview, the head of the SVR, Sergei Lebedev, said that “the Russian foreign intelligence service today is not tasked with tasks that would require the mentioned special forces. That's why we don't have them."
- In 2006, Colonel-General Vladimir Zavershinskii. The then first deputy director of the SVR, in an interview with Krasnaia Zvezda, said that the Spetsnaz element within the SVR would be undesirable.
- In 2014, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted a photo on Twitter of himself flanked on both sides by Zaslon operators. He said in the message: "Thank you to the officers of the Zaslon unit for providing security on the territory of Lebanon and Syria." The post was almost immediately deleted, but not before some sharp open-source intelligence sleuths caught it.
Where is Zaslon when you need it?
After the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, on December 19, 2016. Many security experts have expressed their concerns. How was it possible, in broad daylight, live on television, that a high-ranking Russian diplomat was so poorly protected? "Well, because the Turkish authorities did not allow the deployment of armed Russian security in the country."
Explained an anonymous Zaslon operator in an interview with Rosbalt. The anonymous agent went on to say that Zaslon allegedly saved the Ambo. Moreover, judging by sightings and social media posts about Zaslon, Turkey is hardly a security nightmare like Iraq or Syria.
Flight from Baghdad
In 2003, on the eve of the US-led invasion of Iraq, 2 top secret Zaslon units were sent to Iraq and a separate unit to Iran . The units were responsible for protecting the embassy, diplomats and sensitive material. Interestingly, the protection of embassies has traditionally been provided by the Federal Border Service of the FSB, Russia's internal security service. However, since Zaslon is an SVR unit, its mandate is considerably broader than that of traditional embassy security.
Zaslon agents operated closely with their Iraqi intelligence counterparts. Unlike the CIA or MI6, Russian intelligence agents did not have to work secretly. Agents are also tasked with acquiring sensitive intelligence on Iraqi assets.
The publication presents 3 main activities for Zaslon operators:
Acquiring sensitive intelligence to later influence the post-war Iraqi government .
Identifying and manipulating Russian political parties, groups and individuals who were in the pay of Saddam.
- Identify and recruit an Iraqi intelligence officer and agents worldwide .
On June 3, 2006, 2 Zaslon operators along with 3 other embassy employees were ambushed by an armed group calling itself the "Shura Mujahadeen Council". A Zaslon operator, Vitaly Titov, was shot dead at the Baghdhad market, while the other 4 were taken away by the militants.
On June 19, 2006, activists from the Shura Muhadeen Council demanded the release of the Chechen fighters from prison and the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya within 48 hours. Two days later, Zaslon's other operator (Oleg Fodseev) and his colleagues were beheaded and shot in front of a camera.
Both Zaslon operators were posthumously awarded the Order of Courage (Russian: Орден Мужества, Orden Muzhestva) in 2006. Fodseev's body was found in 2012 and buried in Moscow. His killer was found guilty and sentenced to death in 2010 after videos and photos of the gruesome executions were found during a raid on his home.
This was Zaslon's first public failure, somewhat similar to his CIA counterparts in Bengazi. When militants stormed and killed the US Ambo in Libya and several members of the GRS. In both cases, lessons have been learned but at a high cost. These lessons are now being implemented in theaters like Syria.
In 2012, a Zaslon unit escorted SVR leader Mikhail Fradkov on a visit to Damascus, Syria. According to some sources , a group of Zaslon operators were deployed in Syria as early as May 10, 2013, both to protect Bashar al-Assad and senior government officials, but also to recover sensitive documents and materials in the event of an attack. attack. Fall of the Syrian regime.
In Syria, the presence of a Zaslon unit is evident during Russia's direct intervention in the conflict in September 2015. This detachment operates independently of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Russia (Russian: Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije) (GRU) , military intelligence. Mark Galeotti, a Russian security analyst, said the following:
“At the height of the deployment, there was an otryad (detachment, the Spetsnaz equivalent of a battalion) of 230 to 250 men, probably drawn from several units, including Naval Spetsnaz from the 431 st Naval Reconnaissance Point (or brigade ) . There was also a team of newly formed Special Operations Command (KSO) operators, mostly snipers ( or rather counter-snipers) and scouts. Indeed, the Conflict Intelligence Team, a civilian group that investigates Russian operations abroad.
The GRU and KSO work closely with the Syrian Ministry of Defense in Damascus, unlike Zaslon.
The Zaslon unit is based at the Russian Embassy on Omar Ben Al Khattab Street, located not far from the Russian GRU officers at Defense. The unit can be used to protect Russian officials and buildings, or their Syrian counterparts, and also participate in training or mentoring missions (it seems that the Zaslon unit supports the Syrian mukhabarat , the infamous secret services of the Damascus regime). Much like the situation in Iraq, Zaslon is close enough to the fire to gain access to sensitive materials and personnel from his Syrian counterparts if the regime falls.
Zaslon shows up in Afghanistan
2021 has been a turbulent year for Afghanistan due to the withdrawal of most Western powers from the country and the rapid takeover by the Taliban. In such cases, strategic assets like Zaslon are paramount for the Russian Embassy in Kabul. Given that Zaslon agents are mandated to secure high-ranking embassy personnel, intelligence operatives and intelligence equipment, it makes perfect sense for them to show up in Kabul. However, there have been more sightings of Zaslon operators in Kabul, such as during the State Duma elections in Russia. Below is a photo of a Zaslon operator protecting a ballot box at the Russian Embassy on September 19, 2021.
From Zaslon with love
Zaslon may be Russia's most secretive unit, but there's enough information floating around online to make at least a figure. Perhaps even more than their Western counterparts. Open source reports and online sleuths have successfully identified Zaslon training videos and equipment. So much so that it is now possible to identify a secret Zaslon operator just by the vest he is wearing! Even as Russian officials continue to deny the existence of the unit, social media and the prevalence of smartphones continue to shed light on Zaslon. Sometimes it is these same officials who do the identification and when it's done, it's done. Zaslon needs this smokescreen to operate in these hostile environments and when this smokescreen dissipates too much early on, missions fail and painful lessons are learned.