MVD – The Ministry of Internal Affairs – Russian History

Russian MVD "Bobcat", 2014 - The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs

Russian MVD “Bobcat”, 2014 – The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs

The MVD (The Ministry of Internal Affairs), which encompassed the regular, or nonpolitical, police, had a long history in the Soviet Union. It was first established as the NKVD on November 18, 1917. It has undergone several organizational and name changes since then. When the MVD was established in 1954, the security police was separated from the regular police. The MVD was originally established as a union-republic ministry with headquarters in Moscow, but in 1960 the Khrushchev leadership, as part of its general downgrading of the police, abolished the central MVD, whose functions were assumed by republic ministries of internal affairs. Then, in 1962 the MVD was redesignated the Ministry for the Preservation of Public Order – MOOP. This name change implied a break with the all powerful MVD created by Beria, as well as a narrower range of functions. The changes were accompanied by increasing criticism of the regular police in the Soviet press for its shortcomings in combating crime.

Following Khrushchev’s ouster, Brezhnev did much to raise the status of the regular police. In 1966, after placing one of his portages, Nicolay A. Shchelokov, in the post of chief, Brezhnev reinstated MOOP as a union-republic ministry. Two years later, MOOP was renamed the MVD, an apparent symbol of its increased authority. Efforts were made to raise the effectiveness of the MVD by recruiting better-qualified personnel and upgrading equipment and training. Brezhnev’s death, however, left the MVD vulnerable to his opponents, Andropov in particular. Just a month after Brezhnev died, Shchelokov was ousted as its chief and replaced by the former MVD chairman, Vitaliy Fedorchuk. Shchelokov was later tried on corruption charges. A similar fate befell Brezhnev’s son-in-law, Uri Churbanov, who was removed from the post of first deputy chief in 1984 and later arrested on criminal charges. After bringing several officials from the MVD and from the party apparatus into the MVD, Andropov sought to make it an effective organization for rooting out widespread corruption; Gorbachev continued these efforts.

MVD: Functions and Organization

MVD - The Ministry of Internal Affairs

MVD – The Ministry of Internal Affairs

The MVD had a wide array of duties. It was responsible for uncovering and investigating certain categories of crime, apprehending criminals, supervising the internal passport system, maintaining public order, combating public intoxication, supervising parolees, managing prisons and labor camps, providing fire protection, and controlling traffic. Until early 1988, the MVD was also in charge of special psychiatric hospitals, but a law passed in January 1988 transferred all psychiatric hospitals to the authority of the Ministry of Health.

As a union-republic ministry under the Council of Ministers, the MVD had its headquarters in Moscow and branches in the republic and regional government apparatus, as well as in kraia and cities. Unlike the MVD, the internal affairs apparatus was subject to dual subordination; local internal affairs offices reported both to the executive committees of their respective local soviets and to their superior offices in the MVD hierarchy.

The MVD headquarters in Moscow was divided into several directorates and offices. The Directorate for Combating the Embezzlement of Socialist Property and Speculation was established in the late 1960s to control such white-collar crime as embezzlement and falsification of economic plan records. The Criminal Investigation Directorate assisted the Procuracy, and on occasion the MVD, in the investigation of criminal cases. There was a separate department for investigating and prosecuting minor cases, such as traffic violations, and the Maintenance of Public Order Directorate, which was responsible for ensuring order in public places and for preventing outbreaks of public unrest.

The members of the uniformed police, as part of the regular police force, were distinguished by their gray uniforms with red piping. The duties of the police included patrolling public places to ensure order and arresting persons who violated the law, including vagrants and drunks. Resisting arrest or preventing a police officer from executing his duties was a serious crime in the Soviet Union, punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment. Killing a policeman was punishable by death.

The Office of Visas and Registration was charged with registering Soviet citizens and foreigners residing in each precinct of a city and with issuing internal passports to Soviet citizens. Soviet citizens wishing to emigrate from the Soviet Union and foreigners wishing to travel within the Soviet Union had to obtain visas from this office. The Office of Recruitment and Training supervised the recruitment of new members of the police, who were recommended by work collectives and public organizations. The local party and Komsomol bodies screened candidates thoroughly to ensure their political reliability. Individuals serving in the police were exempt from the regular military draft.

MVD – Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs

Although a component of the armed forces, the Internal Troops were subordinate to the MVD. Numbering approximately 260,000 men in 1989, they were one of the largest formations of special troops in the Soviet Union. The Internal Troops were first established in 1919 under the NKVD. Later they were subordinated to the state security police, and then in 1934 they were incorporated into the expanded NKVD. They were back under the authority of the security police in the early 1950s, but when the MVD was established in 1954, control of the Internal Troops shifted to the MVD. The chief of the Internal Troops from 1954 to late 1987 was Ivan Iakovlev. Iakovlev’s successor was Uri Shatalin.

Like the regular army, the Internal Troops for the most part were composed of conscripts, who were obliged to serve for a minimum of two years. The Internal Troops accepted candidates for commission both from the ranks of the armed forces and from civilian society.The MVD had four schools for training members of the officer corps, as well as a separate school for political officers.

The Internal Troops supported MVD missions by supplementing the police in ensuring crowd control in large cities and, in emergencies, by helping to fight fires. These troops also guarded large-scale industrial enterprises, railroad stations, certain large stockpiles of food and material, and certain communication centers that were strategically significant. One of their most important functions was that of preventing internal disorder that might threaten the regime’s political stability. They took a direct role in suppressing anti-Soviet demonstrations in the non-Russian republics and strikes by Soviet workers. In this capacity, the Internal Troops probably worked together with the MVD Security Troops. There was little evidence to support the theory that the Internal Troops would serve as a counterweight to the regular armed forces during a political crisis. Most Internal Troops units were composed of infantry alone and were not equipped with artillery and tanks; in 1989 there was only one operational division of the Internal Troops in Moscow. According to some Western analysts, the Internal Troops were to perform rear security functions in the event of war, just as they did in World War II.

The September 1992 law ‘On the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ defines their responsibilities as:

  • assisting Internal Affairs organs in maintaining public order and public safety and in providing the necessary lawful procedures during a state-of-emergency;
  • protecting important state facilities, communications installations and special cargo as well as assisting in accidents involving nuclear material;
  • guarding forced-labor institutions, escorting convicts and prisoners.
  • In November 1993 the VVMVD had nearly 234,000 men, and following the breakup of the Soviet Union the Internal Troops became a component of the MVD entirely separate from the Armed Forces of Russia. As such, they are state organs intended to provide domestic security in peacetime which do not possess the organizational structure for conducting ground combat actions against a foreign enemy. Functions carried out by Russia’s Internal Troops include disaster relief and security, counter-drug and counter-terrorism efforts, and peacekeeping operations.

MVD – Internal Troop organizational elements include:

  • operational large units (divisions) and troop units comprising the MVD federal mobile reserve
  • special motorized troop units which support public order in most of Russia’s large cities
  • large units and troop units for guarding important state facilities, including nuclear arms and nuclear energy complexes and also special cargo
  • large units and troop units for guarding forced-labor institutions (this responsibility, involving some 100,000 men, has been transferred to the criminal punishment system)
    As of 1994 large units and troop units were subordinated to seven Internal Troop districts
  • Sources and Methods
  • HOT SPOT STABILIZER WITHIN RUSSIA Timothy L. Thomas Foreign Military Studies Office – 23 September 1994
  • RUSSIAN INTERNAL TROOPS AND SECURITY CHALLENGES IN THE 1990s Colonel General Anatoliy S. Kulikov, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Commander-in-Chief of Russian Internal Troops Low-Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement Volume 3, Autumn 1994, Number 2
  • Chapter 19. Internal Security SOVIET UNION – A Country Study Library of Congress Federal Research Division – 1989

MVD – Leadership

In January 1986, when Fedorchuk was retired, Alexander V. Vlasov was appointed the chief of the MVD. Vlasov had no background in the police apparatus. In September 1988, Vlasov became a candidate member of the CPSU Politburo, and the following month he was replaced as chief of the MVD by Vadim V. Bakatin. Bakatin was made a full member of the CPSU Central Committee in March 1986, but his police experience, if any, was not known in the West. In 1989 Leonid G. Sizov and Vasily P. Trushin were first deputy ministers of the MVD. In addition, the MVD had approximately eight deputy ministers.

The MVD published a vast amount of popular literature devoted to the glorification of the MVD in order to attract well-qualified cadres to its ranks. The fact that MVD salaries were considerably lower than those for the MVD and that working conditions were generally poor (long hours and out-of-date equipment) made recruitment somewhat difficult. The MVD underwent an extensive purge in the mid-1980s as part of the party’s effort to rid the organization of corruption and inefficiency. Over 170,000 police officers were fired between 1983 and 1988 for irresponsibility, lack of discipline, and violations of the law.


The Soviet Union had two separate legal systems. The first maintained law and order on a daily basis, enforced the law, and adjudicated disputes that arose among the citizenry. This system was administered by the organs of justice: the MVD, the Procuracy, the Ministry of Justice, and the courts. The other legal system, administered by the MVD on behalf of the party leadership, was arbitrary and repressive and was used to suppress and punish critics of the Soviet regime. Some cases did not fall neatly into one category or another. There was a gray area in which a seemingly ordinary case took on a political character. As Western expert Gordon B. Smith pointed out, “Soviet legal policy must bridge these two systems, providing a framework for the functioning of each.”

Socialist Legality

Soviet law displayed many special characteristics that derived from the socialist nature of the Soviet state and reflected Marxist-Leninist ideology. Lenin accepted the Marxist conception of the law and the state as instruments of coercion in the hands of the bourgeoisie and postulated the creation of popular, informal tribunals to administer revolutionary justice. Alongside this utopian trend, a dictatorial trend developed that advocated the use of law and legal institutions to suppress all opposition to the regime. The latter trend reached its zenith under Stalin, when the administration of justice was carried out mainly by the security police in special tribunals. During the de-Stalinization of the Khrushchev era, a new trend developed, based on socialist legality, that stressed the need to protect the procedural and statutory rights of citizens, while still calling for obedience to the state. New legal codes, introduced in 1960, were part of the effort to establish legal norms in administering laws. Although socialist legality remained in force after 1960, the dictatorial and utopian trends continued to influence the legal process. Persecution of political and religious dissenters, in flagrant violation of their legal rights, continued, but at the same time there was a tendency to decriminalize lesser offenses by handing them over to people’s courts and administrative agencies and dealing with them by education rather than by incarceration.

By late 1986, the Gorbachev regime was stressing anew the importance of individual rights in relation to the state and criticizing those who violated the procedural laws in implementing Soviet justice. This signaled a resurgence of socialist legality as the dominant trend. It should be noted, however, that socialist legality itself still lacked important features associated with Western jurisprudence. In particular, the ultimate control of the legal system lay with the party leadership, which was not democratically elected by, and therefore not responsible to, the public at large.

The Procuracy

The Procuracy was the most powerful institution in the Soviet system of justice relating to nonpolitical matters. It was a hierarchical organization representing all public prosecutors, all the way down to the city or village level. As specified in the Soviet Constitution, the procurator general of the Soviet Union was appointed by the Supreme Soviet and controlled Procuracy officials throughout the system. Employees of the Procuracy were not subject to the authority of their local soviets, but they were subject to the authority of the party. The Procuracy had a wide range of functions, involving itself at all stages in the criminal process. Procurators carried out investigations of the majority of cases; supervised investigations carried out by the MVD, the MVD and the Procuracy’s own employees; authorized arrests; prosecuted offenders; and supervised prisons. In addition, procurators supervised parole and the release of prisoners and referred judicial decisions to higher courts for review. Procurators also oversaw the operation of all government bodies, enterprises, officials, and social organizations to ensure that they were observing the law. Although the Procuracy possessed the formal authority to supervise the MVD in carrying out arrests and investigations in political cases, there was little evidence that the Procuracy actually exercised this function.

Military Justice, The Judiciary and the Legal Profession

Military justice in the Soviet Union was administered by the Main Military Procuracy, which was subordinated to the procurator general and responsible for ensuring that laws were observed within the military. It also supervised criminal investigations of armed forces personnel carried out by its employees, as well as by the MVD (in cases of political crime). Military cases were tried in military tribunals, which were under the authority of the Supreme Court.

The court structure in the Soviet Union, set forth in the Constitution and governed by several all-union and republic statutes, was quite complex. In courts of first instance, one judge sat with two elected people’s assessors (lay judges), who were ordinary citizens, elected at general meetings of factories, offices, collective farms, or residential blocks for a term of two years. Appellate and review procedure came before a bench of three judges. Although a legal education was not required and any citizen over the age of twenty-four could in principle be elected to the post of judge, more than 95 percent of all judges had higher legal education. The party carefully screened candidates for election to the position of judge, which had a term of five years. Most judges above the local level were party members. In addition to determining innocence or guilt, judges performed an important function of socialization, often lecturing defendants for failing to uphold socialist values. Judges were part of the union-republic Ministry of Justice and the fifteen republic ministries of justice. There was no system of binding precedent, but supreme courts at all-union and republic levels gave “guiding explanations” to be followed.

Advocates, or defense attorneys, were controlled by the Ministry of Justice at the all-union and republic level and at the local level by the justice department of the local soviet. Advocates were usually law school graduates with some practical training. The Soviet Union had approximately 18,000 advocates, organized into colleges of around 150 attorneys each. These colleges maintained consultation bureaus, each with a staff of about twenty, in most towns and cities. The bureaus provided legal advice on a variety of issues, such as divorce, custody, inheritance, property rights, and housing disputes. The bureaus also offered legal defense for persons accused of criminal offenses. According to the 1977 Constitution, all defendants had the right to legal counsel. Legal fees were set by the state and were low enough for most people to afford. According to Soviet emigres, however, many defense lawyers expected additional payments or gifts “under the table.”

Legal advisers to government agencies and departments, enterprises, factories, and state farms were called iuriskonsul’ty. Numbering approximately 29,000 in 1989, they represented their employer in court and drafted internal rules, contracts, and commercial documents.

Legal Codes and Abuses of the System

The fundamental principles of the civil and criminal branches of Soviet law were established at the all-union level and then set down in the legal codes of the republics. The Civil Code dealt with contract law, tort law, and law governing wills and inheritance. Separate codes existed for family law and labor law. The Criminal Code concerned itself with all aspects of criminal behavior.

The Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Republic were revised completely (along with the codes of the other republics) in 1960, incorporating the 1958 Fundamental Principles of Criminal Procedure, approved by the Supreme Soviet. These codes represented a sharp departure from the Stalinist criminal codes, which had provided a formal legal basis for the arrest and prosecution of innocent citizens on groundless charges. Under the Stalinist code, for example, an individual could be prosecuted for committing an act not specifically prohibited by the criminal code but “analogous” to such an act. The 1960 codes abolished the principle of analogy.

The 1960 codes defined political crimes in a more restricted form and made punishments considerably less severe. They also established procedural rules to govern the arrest and detention of suspected criminals. According to the law, a suspect could not be detained for more than three days without a warrant. Thereafter, permission for detention had to be obtained from the procurator or from the courts. The maximum period of pretrial detention was nine months. At the end of such detention, the accused was entitled to the services of a defense lawyer. The trial itself was supposed to be public, with the prosecution conducted by the procurator, who could recommend sentencing.

Despite the existence of formal laws to protect the rights of the accused, ample evidence indicated that these laws were not adhered to when political or other interests of the party came into play. The party was the ultimate authority in the administration of justice, and party officials frequently interfered in the judicial process to protect their own interests. Party approval was required before appointment to any important position in the legal apparatus, and this control over personnel appointments gave the party substantial power. The party also exerted influence in the oversight of the legal and judicial organs.

The party sometimes interfered in the administration of justice. CPSU officials put pressure on procurators, judges, and defense attorneys in the conduct of individual cases. In some instances, party officials pressed members of the legal system to arrest and convict innocent persons who were viewed as politically unorthodox. (In these cases, the MVD was often the agency exerting such pressure on behalf of the party.) At other times, party officials arranged to have crimes covered up or ignored to protect their personal or economic interests. This situation frequently occurred with corruption and bribery offenses.

Nonpolitical Crime and Punishment

The Soviet Union did not publish comprehensive crime statistics, so it is difficult to compare its crime rates with those of other countries. According to Western observers, robberies, murders, and other violent crimes were much less prevalent than in the United States. This was explained by the large police presence, strict gun controls, and the relatively low incidence of drug abuse. By contrast, white-collar economic crime was extremely common. Bribery and covert payments for goods and services were universal, mainly because of the lack of goods and services on the open market. Theft of state property was practiced routinely by employees, as were other forms of petty theft. In 1989 the Gorbachev leadership was making a concerted effort to curtail such white-collar crime. Revelations of corruption scandals involving high-level party employees appeared in the Soviet media on a regular basis, and there were many arrests and prosecutions.

The death penalty, carried out by shooting, was applied in the Soviet Union only in cases of treason, espionage, terrorism, sabotage, certain types of murder, and large-scale theft of state property by officials. Otherwise, the maximum punishment for a first offender was fifteen years. Parole was permitted in some cases after completion of half of the sentence, and periodic amnesties sometimes also resulted in early release.

The Soviet Union had few prisons in 1989. About 99 percent of convicted criminals served their sentences in labor camps, supervised by the Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps – Gulag, which was under the MVD. The camps had four regimes of ascending severity. In the strict-regime camps, inmates worked at the most difficult jobs, usually outdoors, and received meager rations. Jobs were less demanding and rations better in the camps with milder regimes. The system of corrective labor was regarded by Soviet authorities successful in that the rate of recidivism was quite low. Prisons and labor camps, in the views of former inmates and Western observers, however, were notorious for their harsh conditions, arbitory and sadistic treatment of prisoners, and flagrant human rights abuses. In 1989 new legislation, which emphasized rehabilitation rather than punishment, was being drafted to “humanized” the special system. Nevertheless, in 1989 conditions for many prisoners had changed little.

Post-Soviet Developments

In recent years the government appears to have dramatically augmenting the MVD forces. While some disputed reports claim that these forces now number 800,000 men, officially the MVD forces are acknowledged to include a force of 264,000. Equipped with with heavy weapons and structured and organized to carry out purely military operations against external enemies, recent changes in the number, training, and mission of MVD forces suggest concern about domestic unrest. In February 1997 Interior Minister Anatoliy Kulikov, a general with a well-deserved reputation as a hard-liner, was elevated to the rank of deputy prime minister.

On 04 July 1994, FBI Director Louis Freeh and then-Russian Interior Minister Viktor Yerin signed a protocol providing for joint law enforcement efforts, which included opening an FBI attache office in Moscow.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for 743 correctional labor institutions, 168 pretrial detention facilities, and 13 prisons. In addition, the MVD maintains 60 educational labor colonies for juveniles. In 1994 the MVD received only 87 percent of its funds allocated by the federal budget. As a result, it is estimated that prisons were able in fact to provide only 60 to 70 percent of the daily food rations they envisioned providing and only 15 to 20 percent of needed medications and medical care. Prisoners and detainees must rely on families to provide them with extra food and routine medicines.

A range of decrees, orders and instructions, often marked “secret”, regulate the actions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). Most of these documents have not been published and are not made available upon request. MVD orders and instructions are issued for service purposes and are not supposed to be copied in any way or presented to organizations, societies, agencies, which are not involved in the monitoring of the functioning of the corrective labour institutions. The internal MVD instruction “Internal Regulation Rules of the Correctional Labour Institutions” of 1992 details the rules and limitations concerning day-to- day life in places of confinement. Special Order No. 13 of the MVD (15 January 1993) reintroduced the reduced norm of nutrition, previously abolished in 1988, for prisoners at penitentiaries serving disciplinary punishments in the so-called punishment-isolator (known by its Russian acronym SIZO), punishment cell (kartser) and in solitary confinement cells.

Another secret MVD instruction facilitates the practical training of the special purpose detachments of MVD and OMON at SIZO’s and correctional labour colonies. The instruction reportedly allows these units practice their skills on prisoners.

During 1996 the Moscow Center for Prison Reform reported that according to official MVD statistics over 3,000 detainees died in IVS’s (temporary holding isolators) and SIZO’s and over 9,000 convicts died in prisons and penal colonies.

MVD forces are carrying out various kinds of peacekeeping operations inside Russia, notably in Chechnya. El’tsin began the invasion of Chechnya on 11 December 1994, intending to to seal off Grozny, eliminate illegal armed formations, and end the participation of the Russian army, transferring authority to the MVD and establishing a temporary government. MVD tasks included reestablishing law and order in the republic, ensuring that public utilizes began functioning again, and, together with the FSK, setting up operational investigation groups.

Human Rights Watch and the OSCE have documented several instances in which Ministry of Internal Affairs forces in Chechnya abducted civilian noncombatants as well as Chechen separatist soldiers. According to government statistics, government forces detained 1,308 Chechen noncombatants without arrest warrants in the period up to June 30, 1995. Of that number, the Government admits to still holding 141. The Government claims that the others have been released, but documenting these statements has been difficult.

A wave of contract killings started in 1990, and by 1993 the number of contract murders had increased, with no arrests and little investigation. In most of these cases the killers were never identified, or where the killers were known they were not caught. In a few cases where the killers were identified, they turned out to be former or active officers of the MVD Special Purpose Detachment, OMON, hired by criminalized businessmen to carry out the crime.

Graduation MVD - present time

Graduation MVD – present time

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