The SVU was developed to meet the needs of the security forces of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, such as OMON. The SVU was first seen in use during the First Chechen War. Originally, the plan was to just slightly modernize the aging SVD, but they eventually realized that the configuration of the weapon would have to be completely altered leading to the creation of the SVU.
A special muzzle brake was added that could absorb up to 40% of the recoil energy and an elastic butt stock with lamellar spring was non-rigidly attached to the receiver. By shortening the barrel by 100mm the weapon gained the best balance. A select fire variant, the SVU-A, was designed, but not terribly successful on account of the large 7.62x54mmR round.