Although a component of the armed forces, the Internal Troops were subordinate to the MVD. Numbering approximately 260,000 men in 1989, they were one of the largest formations of special troops in the Soviet Union. The Internal Troops were first established in 1919 under the NKVD. Later they were subordinated to the state security police, and then in 1934 they were incorporated into the expanded NKVD. They were back under the authority of the security police in the early 1950s, but when the MVD was established in 1954, control of the Internal Troops shifted to the MVD. The chief of the Internal Troops from 1954 to late 1987 was Ivan Iakovlev. Iakovlev's successor was Iurii Shatalin.
Like the regular army, the Internal Troops for the most part were composed of conscripts, who were obliged to serve for a minimum of two years. The Internal Troops accepted candidates for commission both from the ranks of the armed forces and from civilian society. The MVD had four schools for training members of the officer corps, as well as a separate school for political officers.
The Internal Troops supported MVD missions by supplementing the militsiia in ensuring crowd control in large cities and, in emergencies, by helping to fight fires. These troops also guarded large-scale industrial enterprises, railroad stations, certain large stockpiles of food and matériel, and certain communication centers that were strategically significant. One of their most important functions was that of preventing internal disorder that might threaten the regime's political stability. They took a direct role in suppressing anti-Soviet demonstrations in the non-Russian republics and strikes by Soviet workers. In this capacity, the Internal Troops probably worked together with the MVD Security Troops. There was little evidence to support the theory that the Internal Troops would serve as a counterweight to the regular armed forces during a political crisis. Most Internal Troops units were composed of infantry alone and were not equipped with artillery and tanks; in 1989 there was only one operational division of the Internal Troops in Moscow. According to some Western analysts, the Internal Troops were to perform rear security functions in the event of war, just as they did in World War II.
The September 1992 law 'On the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' defines their responsibilities as:
In November 1993 the VVMVD had nearly 234,000 men, and following the breakup of the Soviet Union the Internal Troops became a component of the MVD entirely separate from the Armed Forces of Russia. As such, they are state organs intended to provide domestic security in peacetime which do not possess the organizational structure for conducting ground combat actions against a foreign enemy. Functions carried out by Russia's Internal Troops include disaster relief and security, counter-drug and counter-terrorism efforts, and peacekeeping operations.
Internal Troop organizational elements include: