Thursday, March 8, 2012


A few weeks ago watching television was a bit like being on Channel One during the Cold War. Every channel worth watching was showcasing some aspect of Russian ingenuity. Take the History Channel for instance. They have this series called Deadliest Warrior which throws warriors from different cultures and civilisations against each other. They compare weapons and tactical trends and physical skills and strengths through statistical data analysis. Then the warriors are pitted against each other through computer generated simulations and a final dramatised battle that decides the winner. Spartan versus Ninja, Shaolin Monk versus Maori Warrior and so on… you get the idea. But that day, they had two cold war buddies locked in battle - The celebrated Green Berets who fought under the star spangled banner and inspired Hollywood hits by the dozen and score took aim in the red corner while the Spetsnaz, the secretive special forces of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the current Russian Federation, spat out a matchstick at them; Special ops speak for throwing down the gauntlet, I guess.

These cold hard men must have fought many a secret battle behind the high walls of the iron curtain in the past but here on television, all those decades of training and planning and fighting came under the microscope and the battle began in earnest. And who do you think won the day? Well, the Russian Special Forces licked the Green Berets like a Russian bear might a honey comb. Never mind the stings, the Americans had been chewed up, their remains spat out, while the victorious Spetsnaz lumbered away into the horizon.

Switch back to National Geographic, and what do they have to tell you? Ah well, they are rerunning an old story… It’s a feature about the Dubrovka Theatre Hostage crisis in Moscow in 2002.

23rd October 2002. A cold autumnal night and the warm insides of the Dubrovka theatre fills up with an expectant crowd that has gathered to see Nord-Ost, a Russian musical production celebrating the Russian soldiers and their gallantry during second World War. Around 2100 hours, Chechen terrorists enter the building and take the audience, nearly a thousand strong, hostage. The terrorists want Russian forces out of Chechnya. Unless the government agrees, the Chechens say they would execute the hostages.

Terrorists, hostages and negotiators trade demands and concessional options. The terrorists release a few hostages but as three days go by, many hundreds are still held captive. On the 26th, Russian counter terrorist operatives pump nerve gas into the building and storm the theatre. They lose about a hundred hostages, most of them to the nerve gas, but they successfully take out all the terrorists. More than 700 hostages make it out alive.

But that’s what this is about. What I wanted to mention here was this eye witness report that stayed with me long after the show. This woman, a bystander who saw these commandoes storm the building spoke about this amazing feat of strength. These men, battle hardened counter terrorist operatives, were running around with nearly 20 kgs on their backs and Kalashnikov carbines in their hands and seemed to have the endurance of a Duracell bunny. But that’s not what shocked her and other bystanders. It was the way in which these wiry soldiers bent over and single handedly picked up and hurled aside cast iron man-hole covers that two grown men would find difficult to lift . And it wasn’t just one exceptional soldier. She saw three random commandoes pick and pull aside three separate covers that weigh in excess of a hundred kilograms with the kind of ease that suggested that such feats of strength were all in a day’s work for these exceptional soldiers.

This meant that the training these men underwent ensured that not just a few amongst them but each one of these warriors was a superman in his own right. I did a little bit of research and found out that the Spetsnaz are perhaps the greatest elite force in the world. Their training is the most brutal and only three or some other ridiculously low percent of trainees make it to the elite units. Their training lasts for nearly two years and they emerge as the best, most well trained war machines on the planet.

Now there are a lot of things these supermen do which you and I would rather not in our bed rooms, like fighting a rabid dog with just a knife or even bare-handed or swimming through a pool of blood for instance but there’s one secret of theirs that a renegade Soviet has revealed to the world… a secret weapon no less potent than a nuclear warhead; a weapon that shapes and builds the pride of the Russian military, those lethal warriors called the Spetsnaz.

Pavel Tsatsouline, is a lean mean former comrade who had been entrusted by the Russians to men, super men, out of their boys in uniform. He was an instructor with the Russian Special Forces and then he crossed the Beringstrait and entered the United States of America, his secret weapon in tow…

This thing can make you the man, or woman, you always wanted but never hoped to be… His words not mine. And I tell you what, I’m going try out this secret weapon and meet up with one of its greatest exponents while you are busy reading this, just so I could tell you, dear reader, if all those legends about the secret weapon and the feats of strength was mere Communist propaganda drummed up by the comrades or if there is some bold red truth to it all… So hold your breath and watch this space…


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