On April 5, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that a new National Guard Unit would be created specifically to target terrorism and organized crime. According to Putin the National Guard unit will participate in working with other internal agencies in enforcing public order, maintaining security and emergency rule, and leading the fight against terrorism.
The National Guard unit will be comprised of Ministry of Interior troops, the Interior Ministry controls Russia’s security services from local and federal police to military personnel. They will be taking over responsibilities from the Special Purpose Police Unit (OMON), SWAT/riot control, and Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) of the GRU.
The Ministry of Interior has long been an organization fought over and controlled by politicians including Putin; he has ordered payroll cuts, repressive measures used by law enforcement, and investigations on human rights. There have also been power struggles between departments within the ministry along with massive corruption and scandal all in which Putin has intervened.
Rumors have circulated for more than a year the Kremlin’s plan for major reform to Russia’s law enforcement. Merging police forces is expected to reduce budgetary costs. In February 2015, according to the Kommersant newspaper Russian officials debated about cutting 80% of its Federal Drug Control Service (FSKM), and rolling the remaining employees into the Interior Ministry.
Reports from Russia’s economy is almost at rock bottom with retail, unemployment, and inflation rates all down and with GDP expected to be in the red for 2016.
Putin and key officials agreed that a new federal executive body would need to be created, so the decision was made to combine the Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service and Federal Migration Service (FMS) would become part of the Interior Ministry reorganization.
The new national guard unit will be headed by Putin’s former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov who will also serve on the security council and report directly to the president. A spokesman from Putin’s office said that the national guard unit will be used to keep public order. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov denied that the national guard was created due to fears of civil unrest.
Putin had warned in February that “foes abroad” were preparing to interfere with the September 18 elections, and told the country’s security services that such attempts need to be thwarted. Russia has long claimed that the west has tried to influence Russian elections by encouraging mass protests.In 2015, Russia claims to have foiled 400 foreign intelligence agents from interfering in Russian political affairs.
Putin critics say the new National Guard Unit was created to show the public a strong stance on economic and national security issues prior to the September election.
A bill expressing the powers of the National Guard Unit was submitted to the Duma on Wednesday morning for approval. Powers for the unit included shooting without warning when the public or they are under imminent threat, check vehicles and documents of individuals suspected of terrorism and detain them up to three hours. It will also provide resources including water cannons and armored vehicles to deter and disrupt protests.