THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) was responsible for the maintenance of order in the Soviet Union. Its mandate, grounded in the ideology of Marxism- Leninism, was to control crime, isolate political opposition (including localist and nationalist movements), and combat economic activity outside the state sector. Like other ministries, the MVD was highly centralized. Its massive apparatus, which extended into every corner of the USSR, contained several functional branches: the police, the internal security troops (vnutrennye voiska, or VV), ground units, the fire service, and the prison and labor camp systems.
Until the Gorbachev era, the MVD remained an extremely powerful, and seemingly unshakeable, institution of state control despite occasional changes in its name and in the scope of its activities. But the restructuring of the economy and society and the rise of nationalism in the republics gradually undermined the institutional integrity of the ministry. In the late 1980s, numerous republics seeking greater autonomy from the center established independent republic ministries of internal affairs, which served as a prelude to the acquisition of full sovereignty. The central authorities in Moscow, in turn, made increasing use of the internal security troops and other combat forces under the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs to fight the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In advance of the breakup of the USSR in December, 1991, USSR MVD personnel operated on the frontlines in numerous republics in an attempt to halt separatist movements and violent inter-ethnic conflict. When the final collapse of the Soviet Union occurred, one of the first measures of the new Commonwealth of Independent States was to remove the troops of the former USSR MVD from warring regions in the Caucasus. The pages that follow set these developments in the context of the ministry's historical development, its functions, and its critical role in the final period of the Soviet state.