Vympel (Russian: Вымпел meaning Pennant, also known as Vega Group or Spetsgruppa V) is a Russian counter-terrorism unit. The exact lineage is not known but the unit was formed in 1981 by KGB Gen. Drozdov within the First Chief Directorae of the KGB as a dedicated OSNAZ unit specialized in deep penetration, sabotage, universal direct and covert action, embassy protection and spy cell activation in case of war.
Most of the Vympel operatives mastered 2-3 foreign languages, for they were supposed to act in foreign countries, deep behind enemy lines. The first approved Vympel agent was Evgueni Savintsev, a professional KGB officer.
Vympel quickly gained the reputation of being the best Russian special forces unit ever, surpassing its GRU and MVD counterparts. However, after the collapse of the USSR, Vympel was decimated by endless re-organization and re-definition: it passed under the aegis of the Security Ministry before being receded to the GUO (both institutions were short lived offspring of the ex-KGB during the Yeltsin era) and finally passed to the MVD.
The militsiya had no use for such a unit. The bulk of the Vympel operatives couldn’t stand the humiliation of being subordinated to the ‘police’, and duly resigned (of 278 officers, only 57 accepted to remain within the MVD). The unit was re-named Vega.
In 1995, the FSB Special Operations Center (TsSN FSB) was logically granted control over Vympel. Vympel regained its original name and was re-integrated in the Intelligence Service structures. The emphasis shifted from covert and clandestine sabotage operations to counter-terrorism and nuclear safety enforcement. Vympel operatives undergo special training related to improvised or special explosive devices, permitting them to use ‘terrorist-like’ tactics to carry out their operations. Physical training includes close hand combat, parachute training, diving, underwater combat techniques, climbing, ropetech alpinism.
Vympel (i.e. the Directorate “V” of the TsSN FSB) is still a classified and secretive unit. Little is known about its current operations and activities, the exception being the capture of the Chechen terrorist and rebel leader Salman Raduev in March 2000.