Security services

   Since the tsarist era, the Russian security services have played an important part in the country’s politics, social and cultural life, and—at times—economics. Under the Romanovs, the Third Department was established in 1825 as a secret organization charged with surveillance of aliens, combating enemies of the regime, and censorship. In 1880, the organization was disbanded and replaced with the Okhrana, or Department for Defense of Public Security and Order, which was a specialized subunit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The Okhrana monitored the activities of Russian subjects, as well as Russians abroad, thus giving the Russian secret police an international as well as a domestic role. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Soviet leadership established the Cheka (or All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage) under the leadership of the Polish Bolshevik, Feliks Dzerzhinsky. In 1922, the organization was restricted and divided between the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and the GPU (State Political Directorate). The latter was delinked from the NKVD a year later, and made into OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate). Following another series of name changes during World War II, the NKVD and other state security apparatus were merged into the Soviet MVD under Joseph Stalin’s ally Lavrenty Beria. In 1954, in conjunction with the purge of the Beria, the KGB was created, and would last until shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
   During the Yeltsin era, the KGB’s functions were assumed by the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK). However, in 1995, the FSK was reorganized into the FSB, or Federal Security Service. The FSB headquarters are located at Lubyanka Square in Moscow, which until 1991 was known as Dzerzhinsky Square (a monument honoring the Chekist known as “Iron Felix” was removed as part of the de-Sovietization process; it was placed on the outskirts of Moscow, though Yury Luzhkov has proposed that it be returned to its original plinth).
   In addition to the FSB, which manages espionage and internal surveillance, other security services include the MVD’s special forces (Spetsnaz) such as the Alfa, Vitiaz, and Vympel counterterrorism units, as well as internal troops that deal with military issues, such as guarding weapons of mass destruction (historically, the MVD also managed the gulag system). These troops often support the civilian police (militsiia) in crowd control and other politically sensitive activities. Russia’s Special Purpose Police Unit (OMON), originally formed to protect the 1980 Olympics from a potential terrorist attack, is also considered part of the security apparatus. Today, OMON is often deployed against antigovernment protestors, including The Other Russia and the National Bolshevik Party.
   Since Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, members of the security apparatus have seen their political influence expand greatly. They form a key component in the so-called siloviki>, and have also enjoyed increased control over Russian industry and natural resources.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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