People's Ministry of Internal Affairs
Народный комиссариат внутренних дел
Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del
Emblema NKVD.svg
NKVD emblem
Agency overview
Formed 1934
Preceding agencies OGPU
Dissolved 1954
Superseding agency KGB, MVD
Headquarters Lubyanka Square, Moscow
Agency executives Genrikh Yagoda (1934-1936)
Nikolai Yezhov (1936-1938)
Lavrentiy Beria (1938-1953)
Parent agency URSSblason1er.gif
Council of the People's Commissars

The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del, NKVD) (НКВД About this sound listen ) was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin.

The NKVD contained the regular, public police force of the USSR (including traffic police, firefighting, border guards and archives) but is better known for the activities of the Gulag and the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB), which eventually became the Committee for State Security (KGB). It conducted mass extrajudicial executions, ran the Gulag system of forced labor camps, suppressed underground resistance, conducted mass deportations of entire nationalities and Kulaks to unpopulated regions of the country, guarded state borders, conducted espionage and political assassinations abroad, was responsible for influencing foreign governments, and enforced Stalinist policy within communist movements in other countries.


History and structure

After the October Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government dissolved the Tsar's police and created People's Militsiya. The October Revolution established a new Bolshevik regime, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) turned into NKVD under a People's Commissar. However, the NKVD apparatus was overwhelmed by duties inherited from MVD, such as the supervision of the local governments and firefighting, and the proletarian workforce of now Workers' and Peasants' Militsiya was largely inexperienced. Realizing that it was left with no capable security force, the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR created a secret political police, the Cheka, led by Felix Dzerzhinsky. It gained the right to undertake quick non-judicial trials and executions, if that was deemed necessary in order to, "protect the revolution".

The Cheka was reorganized in 1922 as the State Political Directorate, or GPU, of the NKVD of the RSFSR.[1] In 1923, the USSR was formed with the RSFSR as its largest member. The GPU became the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. The NKVD of the RSFSR retained control of the militsiya, and various other responsibilities.

In 1934, the NKVD of the RSFSR was transformed into an all-union security force, the NKVD of the USSR (which the Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaders soon became to call "the leading detachment of our party"), and the OGPU was incorporated into the NKVD as the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB); the separate NKVD of the RSFSR was not resurrected until 1946 (as the MVD of the RSFSR). As a result, the NKVD also became responsible for all detention facilities (including the forced labor camps, known as the GULag) as well as for the regular police.[2] Until the reorganization begun by Nikolai Yezhov with a purge of the regional political police in the autumn of 1936 and formalized by a May 1939 directive of the All-Union NKVD by which all appointments to the local political police were controlled from the center, there was frequent tension between centralized control of local units and the collusion of those units with local and regional party elements, frequently resulting in the thwarting of Moscow's plans.[3]

Since its creation in 1934, the NKVD of the USSR underwent many organizational changes; between 1938 and 1939 alone, the NKVD's structure changed three times.[4]

On February 3, 1941, the Special Sections of the NKVD responsible for military counterintelligence (CI) became part of the Army and Navy (RKKA and RKKF, respectively). The GUGB was separated from the NKVD and renamed the "People's Commissariat for State Security" (NKGB). After the German invasion, the NKVD and NKGB were reunited on 20 July 1941. The CI sections were returned to the NKVD in January 1942. In April 1943, the CI sections were again transferred to the People's Commissariats (Narkomat) of Defense and the Navy, becoming SMERSH (from Smert' Shpionam or "Death to Spies"); at the same time, the NKVD was again separated from the NKGB.

Picture of Dzerzhinsky during a parade in 1936.

In 1946, all Soviet Commissariats were renamed "ministries". Accordingly, the NKVD of the USSR was renamed as the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), while the NKGB was renamed as the Ministry of State Security (MGB). According to a 1996 radio documentary by the Russian Service of Radio Liberty, the MGB was reduced from being a ministry to a committee because Soviet leaders feared what the MGB might do if the purges were to resume.[citation needed] In 1953, after the arrest of Lavrenty Beria, the MGB was merged back into the MVD. The police and security services were finally split in 1954 to become:

  • The USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), responsible for the criminal police and correctional facilities.
  • The USSR Committee for State Security (KGB), responsible for the political police, CI, intelligence, personal protection (of the leadership), and confidential communications.

NKVD activities

The main function of the NKVD was to protect the state security of the Soviet Union. This function was successfully accomplished through massive political repression, including the use of sanctioned political murders and assassinations.

Domestic repressions and executions

See Category:Political repression in the Soviet Union for detailed articles on the issue.

In implementing Soviet internal policy with respect to perceived enemies of the state ("enemies of the people"), untold multitudes of people were sent to GULAG camps and hundreds of thousands were executed by the NKVD. Formally, most of these people were convicted by NKVD troikas ("triplets")– special courts martial. Evidential standards were very low: a tip-off by an anonymous informer was considered sufficient grounds for arrest. Use of "physical means of persuasion" (torture) was sanctioned by a special decree of the state, which opened the door to numerous abuses, documented in recollections of victims and members of the NKVD itself. Hundreds of mass graves resulting from such operations were later discovered throughout the country. Documented evidence exists that the NKVD committed mass extrajudicial executions, guided by secret "plans". Those plans established the number and proportion of victims (officially "public enemies") in a given region (e.g. the quotas for clergy, former nobles etc., regardless of identity). The families of the repressed, including children, were also automatically repressed according to NKVD Order no. 00486.

The purges were organized in a number of waves according to the decisions of the Politburo of the Communist Party (e.g., the campaigns among engineers ("Shakhty Case"), party and military elite ("fascist plots"), and medical staff ("Doctors' Plot").

A number of mass operations of the NKVD were related to the prosecution of whole ethnic categories. Whole populations of certain ethnicities were forcibly resettled. Foreigners living in the Soviet Union were given particular attention. When disillusioned American citizens living in the Soviet Union thronged the gates of the U.S. embassy in Moscow to plead for new U.S. passports to leave USSR (Stalin had taken their original U.S. passports for 'registration' purposes years before), none were issued. Instead, the NKVD promptly arrested all of the Americans, who were taken to Lubyanka Prison and later shot.[5] American factory workers at the Soviet Ford GAZ plant, suspected by Stalin of being 'poisoned' by Western influences, were dragged off with the others to Lubyanka by the NKVD in the very same Ford Model A cars they had helped build, where they were tortured; nearly all were executed or died in labor camps. Many of the slain Americans were dumped in the mass grave at Yuzhnoye Butovo District near Moscow.[6] Even so, ethnic Russians still formed the majority of NKVD victims.

The NKVD also served as the Soviet government's arm for the lethal persecution of Judaism, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholics, the Latin Catholics, Islam and other religious organizations, an operation headed by Yevgeny Tuchkov.

International operations, kidnappings, and assassinations

During the 1930s, the NKVD was responsible for political murders of those Stalin believed to oppose him. Espionage networks headed by experienced multilingual NKVD officers such as Iskhak Akhmerov were established in nearly every major Western country, including the United States. The NKVD recruited agents for its espionage efforts from all walks of life, from unemployed intellectuals such as Mark Zborowski to aristocrats such as Martha Dodd. Besides the gathering of intelligence, these networks provided organizational assistance for so-called wet business,[7] where disillusioned Communist party members or Soviet agents such as Juliet Stuart Poyntz either disappeared or were openly liquidated.[8]

The pro Soviet leader Sheng Shicai in Xinjiang received NKVD assistance in conducting a purge to coincide with Stalin's Great Purge in 1937. Sheng and the Soviets alleged a massive Trotskyist conspiracy and a "Fascist Trotskyite plot" to destroy the Soviet Union. The Soviet Consul General Garegin Apresoff, General Ma Hushan, Ma Shaowu, Mahmud Sijan, the official leader of the Xinjiang province Huang Han-chang and Hoja-Niyaz were among the 435 alleged conspirators in the plot. Xinjiang became under virtual Soviet control. Stalin opposed the Chinese Communist Party.[9]

The NKVD's intelligence and special operations (Inostranny Otdel) unit organized overseas assassinations of ex-Soviet citizens, former Soviet agents, dissident Communist Party members, and/or foreigners who were regarded as enemies of the USSR by Joseph Stalin. Among the officially confirmed victims of such plots were:

  • Leon Trotsky, a personal political enemy of Stalin and his most bitter international critic, killed in Mexico City in 1940;
  • Boris Savinkov, Russian revolutionary and terrorist (lured back into Russia in 1924 by the Trust Operation of the GPU);
  • Sidney Reilly, British spy and adventurer, friend of Savinkov who deliberately entered Russia in 1925 to expose the Trust Operation to avenge Savinkov's death;
  • Yevhen Konovalets, prominent Ukrainian political and military leader.
  • Guy Leland, French anti-Soviet underground poet
  • Walter Krivitsky, NKVD defector
  • Ignace Reiss (aka Ignace Poretsky), Soviet GPU defector

Many other prominent political dissidents were either kidnapped and forcibly returned to the Soviet Union or were found dead under highly suspicious circumstances, including Alexander Kutepov, General Evgeny Miller,[10][11][12] Lev Sedov,[13] and former German Communist Party (KPD) member Willi Münzenberg.[14]

Spanish Civil War

During the Spanish Civil War, NKVD agents, acting in conjunction with the Communist Party of Spain, exercised substantial control over the Republican government, using Soviet military aid to help further Soviet influence. The NKVD established numerous secret prisons around Madrid, which were used to detain, torture, and kill hundreds of the NKVD's enemies, at first focusing on Spanish Nationalists and Spanish Catholics, while from late 1938 increasingly anarchists and Trotskyists were the objects of persecution. In June, 1937 Andrés Nin, the secretary of the anti-Stalinist Marxist POUM, was tortured and killed in an NKVD prison.

World War II operations

Prior to the German invasion, in order to accomplish its own goals, the NKVD was prepared to cooperate even with such organizations as the German Gestapo. In March 1940 representatives of the NKVD and the Gestapo met for one week in Zakopane, to coordinate the pacification of Poland; see Gestapo–NKVD Conferences. For its part, the Soviet Union delivered hundreds of German and Austrian Communists to the Gestapo, as unwanted foreigners, together with their documents. However, some NKVD units were later to fight the Wehrmacht, for example the 10th NKVD Rifle Division, which fought at the Battle of Stalingrad.

The first page of Beria's notice (oversigned by Stalin), to kill approximately 15,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest and other places in the Soviet Union

During World War II, NKVD units were used for rear area security, including the deterrance of desertion. At the beginning of the war the NKVD formed 15 rifle divisions, which had expanded by 1945 to 53 divisions and 28 brigades.[15] Though mainly intended for internal security, NKVD divisions were sometimes used in the front-lines, for example during the breakthrough in Crimea.[15] Unlike the Waffen-SS, the NKVD did not field any armored or mechanized units.[15]

In liberated territory the NKVD and (later) NKGB carried out mass arrests, deportations, and executions. The targets included both collaborators with Germany and non-Communist resistance movements such as the Polish Armia Krajowa. The NKVD also executed tens of thousands of Polish political prisoners in 1939–1941, inter alia committing Katyń massacre. NKVD units were also used to wage the prolonged partisan war in the Ukraine and the Baltics, which lasted until the early 1950s.[15]

Postwar operations

After the death of Stalin in 1953, the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev halted the NKVD purges. From the 1950s to the 1980s, thousands of victims were legally "rehabilitated" (i.e., acquitted and had their rights restored). Many of the victims and their relatives refused to apply for rehabilitation out of fear or lack of documents. The rehabilitation was not complete: in most cases the formulation was "due to lack of evidence of the case of crime", a Soviet legal jargon that effectively said "there was a crime, but unfortunately we cannot prove it". Only a limited number of persons were rehabilitated with the formulation "cleared of all charges".

Very few NKVD agents were ever officially convicted of the particular violation of anyone's rights. Legally, those agents executed in the 1930s were also "purged" without legitimate criminal investigations and court decisions. In the 1990s and 2000s a small number of ex-NKVD agents living in the Baltic states were convicted of crimes against the local population.

At present, living former agents retain generous pensions and privileges established by the USSR and later confirmed by all of the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. They have not been prosecuted in any way, although some have been identified by their victims.

Intelligence activities

These included:

  • Establishment of a widespread spy network through the Comintern.
  • Operations of Richard Sorge, the "Red Orchestra", Willi Lehmann, and other agents who provided valuable intelligence during World War II.
  • Recruitment of important U.K. officials as agents in the 1940s.
  • Penetration of British intelligence (MI6) and counter-intelligence (MI5) services.
  • Collection of detailed nuclear weapons design information from the U.S. and Britain.
  • Disruption of several confirmed plots to assassinate Stalin.
  • Establishment of the People's Republic of Poland and earlier its communist party along with training activists, during World War II. The first President of Poland after the war was Bolesław Bierut, an NKVD agent.

Soviet economy

The extensive system of labor exploitation in the Gulag made a notable contribution to the Soviet economy and the development of remote areas. Colonization of Siberia, the North and Far East was among the explicitly stated goals in the very first laws concerning Soviet labor camps. Mining, construction works (roads, railways, canals, dams, and factories), logging, and other functions of the labor camps were part of the Soviet planned economy, and the NKVD had its own production plans.[citation needed]

The most unusual part of the NKVD's achievements was its role in Soviet science and arms development. Many scientists and engineers arrested for political crimes were placed in special prisons, much more comfortable than the Gulag, colloquially known as sharashkas. These prisoners continued their work in these prisons. When later released, some of them became world leaders in science and technology. Among such sharashka members were Sergey Korolev, the head designer of the Soviet rocket program and first human space flight mission in 1961, and Andrei Tupolev, the famous airplane designer. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was also imprisoned in a sharashka, and based his novel The First Circle on his experiences there.

After World War II, the NKVD coordinated work on Soviet nuclear weaponry, under the direction of General Pavel Sudoplatov. The scientists were not prisoners, but the project was supervised by the NKVD because of its great importance and the corresponding requirement for absolute security and secrecy. Also, the project used information obtained by the NKVD from the United States.

Katyn Massacre

Katyn massacre 1943 exhumation. Photo made by Polish Red Cross delegation.

The Katyn massacre (Polish: zbrodnia katyńska, 'Katyń crime'; Russian: Катынский расстрел), was the mass murder of Polish nationals carried out by the NKVD in April–May 1940. It was based on Lavrentiy Beria's 5 March 1940 proposal to execute all members of the Polish Officer Corps. Beria's document was approved and signed by the Soviet Politburo, including Stalin.

The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000, the most commonly cited number being 21,768. The victims were shot in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkov prisons and elsewhere. About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, the rest were Polish doctors, professors, lawmakers, police officers and other public servants arrested being "intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests." Since Poland's conscription system required unexempted university graduates to enlist as a reserve officer, the NKVD was able to round up much of the Polish intelligentsia, as well as Russian, Ukrainian, Protestant, Muslim Tatar, Jewish, Georgian, and Belarusian intelligentsia of Polish citizenship.


  1. ^ Blank Pages by G.C.Malcher ISBN 1 897984 00 6 Page 7
  2. ^ At various times, the NKVD had the following Chief Directorates, abbreviated as "ГУ"– Главное управление, Glavnoye upravleniye.
    ГУГБ – государственной безопасности, of State Security (GUGB, Glavnoye upravleniye gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti’)
    ГУРКМ– рабоче-крестьянской милиции, of Workers and Peasants Militsiya (GURKM, Glavnoye upravleniye raboče-krest'yanskoi militsyi)
    ГУПВО– пограничной и внутренней охраны, of Border and Internal Guards (GUPVO, GU pograničnoi i vnytrennei okhrany)
    ГУПО– пожарной охраны, of Fire Guards (GUPO, GU požarnoi okhrany)
    ГУШосДор– шоссейных дорог, of HighWays (GUŠD, GU šosseynykh dorog)
    ГУЖД– железных дорог, of RailWays (GUŽD, GU železnykh dorog)
    ГУЛаг– Главное управление исправительно-трудовых лагерей и колоний, (GULag, Glavnoye upravleniye ispravitelno-trudovykh lagerey i kolonii)
    ГЭУ – экономическое, of Economics (GEU, Glavnoye ekonomičeskoie upravleniye)
    ГТУ – транспортное, of Transport (GTU, Glavnoye transportnoie upravleniye)
    ГУВПИ – военнопленных и интернированных, of POWs and interned persons (GUVPI, Glavnoye upravleniye voyennoplennikh i internirovannikh)
  3. ^ James Harris, "Dual subordination ? The political police and the party in the Urals region, 1918-1953", Cahiers du monde russe 22 (2001):423-446.
  4. ^ NKVD Organization in 1939
    NKVD management
    • People's Commissar for Internal Affairs– Lavrenty Beria
      • First Deputy and the head of Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB)– Vsevolod Merkulov
    • for NKVD troops– Ivan Maslenikov
    • for Militsiya– Vasyli Chernyshov
    • for Staff– Sergei Kruglov
    • NKVD Secretariat– Stepan Mamulov
    • Secretariat of Special Council of the NKVD– Vladimir Ivanov
    • Special Technical Bureau– Valentin Kravchenko
    • Special Bureau– Pyotr Scharia
    • NKVD Inspection Group– Nikolai Pavlov
    • Special Plenipotentiary– Aleksei Stefanov
    • Secretariat of the First Deputy for GUGB Task– Vsevolod Merkulov
    • Inspection Group– Vsevolod Merkulov
    • Special Secretariat– Vasyli Chernyshov
    • Section for Organization of Labor Force– Vsevolod Merkulov
    • Permanent Technical Committee– ?
    • Section for Repair Work– Pyotr Vainschtein
    • Supply Section– M. Mituschyn
    • Department of Railroad Transportation and Water– ?
    Directorates and departments
    • Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB)– Vsevolod Merkulov
    • 1st Special Department– Leonid Baschtakov
    • 2nd Special Department– Evgeny Lapishin
    • 3rd Special Department– Dmitry Shadrin
    • 4th Special Department– Mikhail Filimonov
    • 5th Special Department– Vladimir Vladimirov
    • Department of Mobilization– Ivan Scherediega
    • Department of Staff– Sergei Kruglov
    • The Chief Directorate of Economics (GEU)– Bogdan Kobulov
    • The Chief Directorate of Transportation (GTU)– Solomon Milshtein
    • The Chief Directorate of Prison (GTU)– Aleksandr Galkin
    • The Chief Directorate of Administration (AČU)– J.Schumbatov
    • The Chief Directorate of Archive (GAU)– Yosif Nikitynsky
    • The Chief Directorate of fire guards (GUPO)– Nikolay Istomin
    • The Chief Directorate of Militsiya (GURKM)– Pavel Zujev
    • The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies (GULAG)– Vasyli Chernyshov
    • The Chief Directorate of Highways (GUŠOSDOR)– Vsevolod Fedotov
    • Directorate of Kremlin Commander– Nikolai Spyrydonov
    • The Chief Directorate of Border Troops (GUPW)– Grigori Sokolov
    • The Chief Directorate of NKVD Troops for Railroad Protection– Aleksandr Guliev
    • The Chief Directorate of NKVD Troops for Escort– Vladimir Sharapov
    • The Chief Directorate of NKVD Troops for Protection of Industrial Enterprise– I. Kozik
    • The Chief Directorate of NKVD Operative Troops– P. Ariemyev
    • The Chief Directorate of Military Provision– Aleksandr Wurgaft
    • The Chief Directorate of Military Construction– Ivan Luby
    • Directorate for Prisoners of War– Pyotr Soprunienko
    • Directorate for Construction in the Far East– Ivan Nikishev
    • Main Fanacial Department– Lazar Bierienzon
    • Main Department for Civil Status– Fyedor Sokolov
  5. ^ Tzouliadis, Tim, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia Penguin Press (2008), ISBN 1594201684: Many of the Americans desiring to return home were communists who had voluntarily moved to the Soviet Union, while others moved to Soviet Union as skilled auto workers to help produce cars at the recently-constructed GAZ automobile factory built by the Ford Motor Company. All were U.S. citizens.
  6. ^ Tzouliadis, Tim, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia Penguin Press (2008), ISBN 1594201684
  7. ^ Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam (1945), p. 18: NKVD expression for a political murder
  8. ^ John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)
  9. ^ Andrew D. W. Forbes (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: a political history of Republican Sinkiang 1911-1949. Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. p. 151. ISBN 0521255147. http://books.google.com/books?id=IAs9AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=warlords+and+muslims&source=bl&ots=KzhMe1dpqU&sig=YUq2zwbyUFNCsO5Jnt2RTAKL0rc&hl=en&ei=SdobTNyIEYO8lQfuvYm1Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBgQ6AEwAQ#v=snippet&q=fascist%20trotskyite%20plotters&f=false. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  10. ^ Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam (1945), pp. 232–233
  11. ^ Orlov, Alexander, The March of Time, St. Ermin's Press (2004), ISBN 1903608058
  12. ^ Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, Basic Books (2000), ISBN 0465003125, 9780465003129, p. 75
  13. ^ Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G. P. Putnam (1945), pp. 17, 22
  14. ^ Sean McMeekin, The Red Millionaire: A Political Biography of Willi Münzenberg, Moscow's Secret Propaganda Tsar in the West, 1917-1940, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press (2004), pp. 304-305
  15. ^ a b c d Zaloga, Steven J. The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War, 1941-45, Osprey Publishing, (1989), pp. 21–22

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