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The Daily Vertical: A Praetorian Guard -- With A Brain (Transcript)


The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

So does everybody remember that National Guard thing from last year?

Of course you do. You know, that 400,000-strong Praetorian Guard force that reports to Vladimir Putin alone and is run by his uber-loyal hard-line former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov.

Yeah, that's the one. Well don't look now, but it may be about to get even more power.

According to a report in Rosbalt, the National Guard is making a play to take over the Interior Ministry's notorious and shadowy Center-E, a special unit set up to combat so-called "extremism."

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And this would give the guard its very own investigative unit.

Putin's Praetorian Guard would gain the capacity to organize networks of agents and informants, conduct searches, tap telephone conversations, and intercept electronic communications.

And according to the Rosbalt report, the Kremlin is receptive to the idea.

If this happens, the National Guard would not only be Putin's fist, it would become his eyes and his ears as well.

Now we don't know if this will actually happen.

Alarmist reports last year that Putin was planning to establish a new super-Ministry of State Security that would effectively reestablish the old KGB now appear to have been false, or at least premature.

But given that the National Guard was established as much to intimidate the elite as to put down potential unrest, expanding its powers would be a clear signal.

It would be a sign that despite his bravado and despite appearing omnipotent, Putin is actually deeply afraid of his own elite -- and of his own people.

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