The Russian acronyms "SPETSNAZ" (spetsialnovo naznacheniya) and "OSNAZ" (osobovo naznacheniya), both short for "special purpose", are general terms used for a variety of special forces or regular forces assigned to special tasks. They are syllabic abbreviations typical for the Russian language of the early Soviet era, although many Cheka and Internal Troops units such as OMSDON used a osobovo naznacheniya designation in their full names.
Modern terminology mostly uses "spetsnaz" abbreviation to refer to special purpose forces or just special forces. However, the widespread use of this word is actually a relatively recent, post-perestroika development in the Russian language. The Soviet general public knew very little about the special forces. In a way, this became yet another state secret that was disclosed due the glasnost ("openness") policy of the Mikhail Gorbachev era during the late 1980s. The stories about the spetsnaz and their allegedly incredible prowess, from the more serious to the highly questionable, have captivated imaginations of the more patriotic part of the public, particularly being set against the background of decay in the military and security forces during the perestroika and in the post-Soviet era. Meanwhile, a number of books were written about the Soviet Spetsnaz GRU such as 1987's Spetsnaz. The Story Behind the Soviet SAS by a defected GRU agent Viktor Suvorov helped to introduce the term to the western public. In the post-Soviet Russia, "spetsnaz" hasEngGerm12 (talk) 15:34, 9 April 2013 (UTC) become a colloquial term as special operations (spetsoperatsiya) became much more commonplace, be it a police raid or a military operation. Extensive media coverage of such events and the continued celebrity status of the special forces in state-controlled media allowed the public to identify and address many of these forces by name: SOBR, Alpha, Vityaz and so forth. The term spetsnaz continues to be used in several other post-Soviet states in a reference to their own special forces as well. Foreign special forces are also commonly referred to as "spetsnaz" in Russia (for example, the United States special operations forces might be referred to as "amerikanskiy spetsnaz").
The concept of using special forces tactics and strategies was originally proposed by the Russian military theorist Michael Svechnykov (executed during the Great Purge in 1938), who envisaged the development of unconventional warfare capabilities in order to overcome disadvantages that conventional forces may face in the field. Practical implementation was begun by the "grandfather of the spetsnaz" Ilya Starinov. During World War II, reconnaissance and sabotage forces were formed under the supervision of the Second Department of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces. These forces were subordinate to the commanders of Fronts.
In 1950, Georgy Zhukov advocated the creation of 46 military spetsnaz companies (each company consisted of 120 servicemen). It was the first time after World War II, when the term "spetsnaz" appeared as an original name of the separate military branch. Later, these companies were expanded to battalions, and then to brigades, respectively. However, certain separate companies (orSpN) and detachments (ooSpN) existed along with brigades until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.