Russian History


Border Security Agencies

In 1989 the Border Troops' personnel strength was estimated at 230,000. Although under the operational authority of the KGB, border troops were conscripted as part of the biannual callup of the Ministry of Defense, and troop induction and discharge were regulated by the 1967 Law on Universal Military Service applicable to all the armed forces of the Soviet Union.

In the 1980s, the duties of the Border Troops included repulsing armed incursions into Soviet territory; preventing illegal crossings of the border or the transport of subversive or dangerous materials; monitoring the observance of established procedures at border crossings and of navigation procedures in Soviet territorial waters; and assisting state agencies in the preservation of natural resources and in environmental protection. In carrying out these duties, border troops were authorized to examine documents and possessions of persons crossing the borders and to confiscate articles; to conduct inquiries in cases of violation of the state border; and to arrest, search, and interrogate individuals suspected of border violations.

In the Soviet system, the border soldier was expected to defend both the physical border and the state ideology. The second of those assignments involved detecting and confiscating subversive literature and preventing, by violent means if necessary, the escape of citizens across the border.

In 1992 the Committee for the Protection of State Borders, an agency subordinate to the Ministry of Security, succeeded the KGB's Border Troops Directorate in administering frontier control. Although the personnel level had been reduced to about 180,000, the basic structure of the agency and the border configuration remained substantially the same as they had been in the late Soviet period. Viktor Shlyakhtin, the first post-Soviet chief of the border troops, was dismissed in July 1993 after more than twenty Russian border guards were killed in an attack on their post along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. Yeltsin replaced Shlyakhtin with General Andrey Nikolayev, who had been first deputy chief of the General Staff of the armed forces. This appointment was a sharp departure from the usual practice of naming a career border troops officer to the top post.

In late 1993, Yeltsin established the Federal Border Service to administer frontier control and gave that agency the status of a federal ministry under direct presidential control. The FSK (and then its successor, the FSB) retained operational responsibility for counterintelligence along the borders, however. In 1995 Nikolayev announced an ambitious program for building up and improving the border service in the years 1996-2000. The 1996 federal budget authorized a total troop strength of 210,000, which would be a significant increase from the 135,000 troops on duty in 1994. In 1996 the Federal Border Service oversaw six border districts and three special groups of border troops in the Arctic, Kaliningrad, and Moscow, as well as an independent border control detachment operating at Russia's major airports.

Given the agency's ambitious personnel requirements, staffing and financing the new border posts became problematic in the mid-1990s. Although Nikolayev warned parliament that his resources were insufficient, the Federal Border Service's 1995 budget was only 70 percent of the amount requested. Equipment was hopelessly outdated and in need of repair. According to estimates, in 1995 some 40 percent of the signaling and communications systems along the border had surpassed their service lives.