The exact lineage is not known but the unit was formed in 1981 by the KGB Gen. Drozdov within the First Chief Directorate of the KGB as a dedicated OSNAZ unit specialised in deep penetration, sabotage, universal direct and covert action, embassy protection and espionage cell activation in case of war. Most of the Vympel operatives mastered two or three foreign languages, for they were supposed to act in foreign countries, deep behind enemy lines.
Vympel quickly gained the reputation of being the best Soviet special forces unit ever, surpassing its GRU and MVD counterparts. However, after the collapse of the USSR, Vympel was decimated by endless re-organisation 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 Boris Yeltsin era) and finally passed to the MVD. The militsiya had no use for such a unit. The bulk of the Vympel operatives could not 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. Regional groups of Vympel were deployed in cities with especially important nuclear objects.
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 Raduyev in March 2000 and the assault on the school in Beslan in September 2004.