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SS Reborn: Putin Gets His Own Personal Army

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Leonid Bershidsky | Bloomberg

President Vladimir Putin has overhauled Russia's law-enforcement operations to create a domestic army that ultimately would answer to him personally, not to one of the government ministers. It was the clearest demonstration in years of the Russian leader's concern about preserving his power.

On April 5, Putin submitted a bill to the Russian parliament that carved out a National Guard from the Interior Ministry's Interior Troops. The Interior Ministry is essentially the police force; the 170,000-strong Interior Troops are the crack riot police and counterinsurgency units. During Putin's first two presidential terms, they bore the brunt of the fighting in the formerly secessionist region of Chechnya, and they have dispersed many unsanctioned rallies.

In addition to the Interior Troops, all of the ministry's elite units, nicknamed "cosmonauts" by opposition activists for their round helmets and "Star Wars"-like gear, will also be included in Putin's army, with the potential for further expansion. Immediately, the number of National Guard personnel will exceed 15 percent of the Russian armed forces that are supposed to deal with external threats.

This powerful, well-trained force will operate outside the ministry under the command of Viktor Zolotov, a long-time Putin associate, whom the president appointed head of his personal bodyguard immediately after moving into the Kremlin in 2000. Like many Putin friends in government service, he is far wealthier than his official income could ever allow, and he is far more personally loyal to the president than Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. Zolotov will report directly to Putin.

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