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Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [VVMVD]

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 Iurii 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 militsiia 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 matériel, 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.

Internal Troop organizational elements include:

  • operational large units (divisions and brigades) and troop units (regiments, separate battalions) 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.

By 1998 the numerical strength of the MVD's Dzerzhinsky Division had been augmented from 6,000 to 10,000. By that time, the Sofrino Brigade [which had surrendered in October 1993 to Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi but had undergone no subsequent purge of officers] from 3,000 to 6,000. Both formations are equiped with heavy weapons. Ten new MVD Internal Troops regiments were formed in Moscow alone, and special rapid-reaction detachments have been placed under Kulikov's personal control. Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov gave the MVD heavier weaponry, including armored Mi-24 "HIND" attack helicopters, armored fighting vehicles, anti-tank rockets, and 80- and 120-mm mortars.

Sofrino Brigade

The Sofrino brigade (named after the suburb of Moscow where it is stationed) is a special destination unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of RF. By April 1995, the Sofrino brigade had not yet seen combat in Chechnya, much less lost any men to it. Then the unit marched into the of Chechen village of Samashki, in what was officially described as a zachistka - "a cleansing." After a tour in Chechnya, the unit pulled out of Grozny and moved towards the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

ODON [Separate Special Purpose Division] (Dzerzhinskiy Division)

The unit was formed as a Special Task unit in 1924. In August of 1926, it was named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Bolshevik secret police chief. At that time it was merged with the Tula, Vyatka and Yaroslavl Divisions of the OGPU. The division was actively used in fighting banditry in the 1930s, and fought in the 1939 war against Finland. During the Great Patriotic War, various elements the Dzerzhinsky Division were in patrol service in Moscow, guarded governmental communications and fought on Western and Volkhov fronts. In September 1991 it was announced that the new Russian National Guard would be formed mainly from the elite Dzerzhinsky division, the KGB and the MVD Internal Troops. In its first stage the RSFSR National Guard was planned to consist of 8 brigades with 10 thousand men each. In October 1991 RSFSR Vice-President Aleksandr Rutskoi said that the size of the RSFSR National Guard would not exceed 3,000 in the first year. In the second year the number of guardsmen would rise to 10,000, and as the budget deficit declined to 66,000. Rutskoi said the first training center would be created on the base of the Dzerzhinsky division in Balashikha. Yeltsin relied heavily on Interior Ministry troops of the Dzerzhinsky Division during the confrontations that followed the September 1993 coup. During the October 1993 coup attempt, the only forces who really saved the Ostankino TV-Center were special forces of Dzerzhinsky division, which were trained to fight against crowds in the streets. The Dzerzhinsky Division was active in the Chechen war. Skeptics noted that retaining Dzerzhinsky's name for a Russian division would be akin to modern Germany calling an elite divisions the "Heydrich division," after the former SS leader. The Separate Operational Task Division of Interior Troops, or ODON, is the former Dzerzhinsky Division of the KGB. The Russian president on 25 January 1999 appointed Major-General Nikolai Turapin as ODON commander. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin on 15 February 1999 introduced the new commander.

After the August 1991 coup, the three units principally involved in policing Moscow were the "Tula Quick Reaction Division," the Taman Motorized Rifle Division, and an unnamed heavy tank division. Units in the first two divisions announced their loyalty to Yeltsin. There was no indication that the Dzerzhinsky Division played significant role in supporting the coup. The Kantemirovsk division, together with the Taman division and some Airborne Troops, were active in Moscow. Elements from the Ryazan Airborne Division, the Sevastopol infantry regiment, and a battalion from the Taman division, had moved to support Yeltsin.

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