Both the tsarist and Soviet regimes used the Ministry of Internal Affairs as the name of the state’s police agency. In the tsarist period, the Ministry of Internal Affairs was headquartered at 16 Fontanka Quay in St. Petersburg, and the tsarist police used the term “Fontanka” much as their Cheka and KGB successors would use Lubyanka to describe their headquarters and higher authority.
   During both the tsarist and communist periods, the MVD had a strong paramilitary role in controlling and surveilling society. Under the tsarist MVD, the Corps of Gendarmes had this role. During the Soviet period, the MVD had control of “Internal Troops,” including the famous Dzerzhinsky Division stationed in Moscow. The Internal Troops were well armed and equipped as motorized infantry formations. During wartime, they were expected to function as infantry divisions.
   The Old Bolsheviks detested the capitalist term “police” and decided to name the communist service “militia.” Under Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Nikita Khrushchev, the militia was often combined into commissariats and ministries of internal affairs and security. Finally, in the early 1960s, a new Ministry of Internal Affairs was created with authority over criminal questions and the labor camps in the gulag system, as well as traffic and more mundane duties. The MVD also expanded the strength and military equipment of its internal troops, which were armed and equipped to put down major political disturbances.
   During the Leonid Brezhnev era (1964–1982), the MVD became notoriously corrupt. One of Yuri Andropov’s first efforts to reform the Soviet state on becoming general secretary in 1982 was to place thousands of KGB officers into senior positions in the MVD, simultaneously purging the police. Andropov placed Vitalii Fedorchuk, the KGB chair, into the ministry to stir things up. He was at first successful. Former MVD chief Nikolai Shcholekhov was investigated for corruption but committed suicide before being arrested. Leonid Brezhnev’s son-in-law and Shcholekhov’s deputy, Yuri Cherbanov, went to prison for several years.
   Efforts to clean up the MVD in the Soviet period all failed in the end. Fedorchuk in his service as interior minister was unable to change the culture of the service. Despite the execution of a number of corrupt officials, the MVD remained essentially unreformable. In the late 1980s, the MVD’s mission changed to ensuring political stability, and MVD troops were committed to preserve peace in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Baltic republics—a mission that continues in Chechnya.
   In post-Soviet Russia, the MVD remains unreformed, underfinanced, and unprepared to deal with the heavily armed criminal gangs that control many Russian cities. In the 1990s an average of 140 MVD officers died annually in firefights with criminals. Liaison with Western police forces has been initiated, but as in the Soviet period, the MVD remains the stepchild of the security community.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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