Ministry of Internal Affairs

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The extent to which Russian regimes have depended upon the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD, Ministerstvo vnutrennykh del ) is symbolized by its surviving the fall of tsarism and the end of the Soviet Union intact and with almost the same name. The ministry's ancestry runs as far back as the sixteenth century, when Ivan the Terrible established the Brigandage Office to combat banditry. However, a formal Ministry of Internal Affairs was not founded until 1802. From the first, its primary responsibility was to protect the interests of the state, and this was so even before it was made responsible for the Okhranka, or political police, in 1880. The close relationship between regular policing and political control has been a central characteristic of the MVD throughout its existence.

The Bolsheviks came to power with utopian notions of policing by social consent and public voluntarism, but because of the new regime's authoritarian tendencies and the exigencies of the Civil War (19181921), it became necessary, by 1918, to transform the "workers' and peasants' militia" into a full-time police force; one year later the militia was militarized. Originally envisaged as locally controlled forces loosely subordinated to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the militia, in practice, were soon closely linked with the Cheka political police force and subject to central control. The NKVD was increasingly identified with political policing; in 1925, the militia and the Cheka's successor, the OGPU (Unified State Political Directorate), were combined, and in 1932 the NKVD was formally subordinated to the OGPU. Two years later, the roles were technically reversed, with the OGPU absorbed into the NKVD, but in practice this actually reflected the colonization of the NKVD by the political police.

The concentration of law enforcement in the hands of the political police well suited the needs of Josef V. Stalin during the era of purges and collectivization, but in 1941 the regular and political police were once again divided. Regular policing again became the responsibility of the NKVD, while the political police became the NKGB, the People's Commissariat of State Security. After the war, the NKVD regained the old title of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the NKGB became the MGB, Ministry of State Security. The political police remained very much the senior service, and for a short time (19531954) the MVD was reabsorbed into the MGB (which then became the Committee of State Security, KGB), but from this point the regular and political police became increasingly distinct agencies, each with a sense of its own role, history, and identity.

The police and security forces remained a key element of the Communist Party's apparatus of political control and thus the subject of successive reforms, generally intended to strengthen both their subordination to the leadership and their authority over the masses. In 1956, reflecting concerns among the elite about the power of the security forces, the MVD was decentralized. In 1960, the USSR MVD was dissolved, and day-to-day control of the police passed to the MVDs of the constituent Union republics. In practice, though, the law codes of the republics mirrored their Russian counterpart, and the republican ministries were essentially local agencies for the central government. In 1968 the USSR MVD was reorganized in name as well as practice, after yet one more name change (Ministry for the Defense of Public Order, MOOP, 19621968).

The structure of the Ministry for Internal Affairs has not significantly changed, and thus the post-Soviet Russian MVD is similar in essence and organization, if not in scale. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin tried to merge the MVD and the security agencies into a new "super-ministry," but this was blocked by the Constitutional Court and the idea was dropped. Other reforms were relatively minor, such as the transfer of responsibility for prisons to the Justice Ministry.

As guarantor of the Kremlin's authority, the MVD controls a sizea ble militarized security force, the Interior Troops (VV). At its peak, in the early 1980s, this force numbered 300,000 officers and men, and its strength of 193,000 in 2003 actually reflected an increase in its size in proportion to the regular army. In the post-Soviet era, most VV units are local garrison forces, largely made up of conscripts, but there are also small commando forces as well as the elite Dzerzhinsky Division, based on the outskirts of Moscow, which has its own armored elements and artillery.

See also: state security, organs of


Galeotti, Mark. (1993). "Perestroika, Perestrelka, Pereborka: Policing Russia in a Time of Change." Europe-Asia Studies 45:769786.

Orlovsky, Daniel. (1981). The Limits of Reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shelley, Louise. (1996). Policing Soviet Society. London: Routledge.

Weissman, Neil. (1985). "Regular Police in Tsarist Russia, 19901914." Russian Review 44:4568.

Mark Galeotti