Soviet Union Table of Contents
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 KGB 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 KGB 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.
Internal security in the Soviet Union involved numerous organizations and was guided by the party leadership. It had always served more than ordinary police functions and had covered such areas as intelligence gathering and suppression of dissent. The party and the regime as a whole depended on the internal security apparatus to ensure their own survival.
* * *
Among the sources in English on the history of Soviet internal security are Ronald Hingley's The Russian Police; George Leggett's The Cheka; Simon Wolin and Robert Slusser's The Soviet Secret Police; and Boris Levytsky's The Uses of Terror. Amy W. Knight's The KGB provides a treatment of the current security police. H.J. Berman and J.W. Spindler's Soviet Criminal Law and Procedure provides a useful background for understanding Soviet law and legality. Also see William Fuller's "The Internal Troops of the MVD SSSR" discusses the security forces. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of May 1989