Russian special purpose regiments or Spetsnaz, Specnaz (Войска специального назначения - спецназ/Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya, /spʲeʦnaz/ in IPA) is a general term for "special forces" in Russian, literally "special purpose units". In Russian the term commonly denotes the special forces of all countries and is used by mass media, and civil people to mark all kinds of special purpose units of all kinds of subordination; in English it refers exclusively to the Russian special forces.
In fact, its use in English usually is associated with Russians writing in English or with writers attempting linguistic authenticity. Generally, English-language media refer to them as "Russian special forces".
Spetsnaz can refer to any elite or special purpose units controlled by the Federal Security Service (FSB) with counter-terrorist and anti-sabotage tasks, Ministry of Interior (police) MVD, and the army special forces controlled by the military intelligence service GRU. Nowadays, the term is used as well to describe any special purpose units or task forces of other ministries (even the Emergency Situations Ministry special rescue unit).
Strictly speaking, all Spetsnaz units operated by the KGB/FSB were called OSNAZ, an acronym for [voiska] osobogo naznacheniya or "special purpose [detachments]". These units originally were raised for internal use against right-wing counter-revolutionaries, dissidents, and other undesirables. There has always been a certain amount of shifting of personnel and units between both the GRU who control SPETSNAZ and the MVD with OSNAZ MVD and OSNAZ KGB or FSB, especially between the latter two. Today, OSNAZ is a term mainly used in connection with GRU-controlled COMINT, ELINT and radio-surveillance units within the Armed Forces.
Spetsnaz carry out reconnaissance and social warfare missions in "peacetime" as well as in war. For example, it is known that the assassination of Afghanistan's president carried out by Spetsnaz in December 1979 was under the direction of the KGB.
According to Vladimir Rezun, a GRU defector who used the pseudonym "Viktor Suvorov", there were 20 Spetsnaz brigades plus 41 separate companies. Thus, total strength of Spetsnaz forces in the 1980s could have been around 30,000 troops.
Alpha (alfa) Group was involved in the Beslan school hostage crisis on September 3, 2004. They were criticized for the use of excessive deadly force, which resulted in hostage casualties, including very controversional use of the RPO flamethrowers.