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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interior Troops to Patrol City

The Interior Ministry is lending out 600 of its crack troops to reinforce Moscow police street patrols, officials said Thursday.

The troops will patrol Moscow's airports, train stations and streets where mafia gangs are particularly active, said Igor Tsyrulnikov, spokesman for the Moscow city police. The troops will operate under joint command of the police and the Interior Ministry for an indefinite period of time, he added.

The move is clearly designed to show that the government is doing its best to fight crime. Although the use of troops in the capital is likely to be controversial, many Muscovites, tired of feeling unprotected, have welcomed the troops on earlier occasions.

Tsyrulnikov said the Interior Ministry had provided 600 troops from the 21st Interior brigade and the mobile crack troops of the former Dzerzhinsky Division, both based just outside Moscow. He said the troops were in training for their new task but would not say when they are due to start patrolling the city streets.

The Interior Ministry troops most often guard prisons, defense plants and closed cities. The crack Dzerzhinsky forces have been used to battle terrorism and were called in to quell the parliament rebellion in October 1993.

They also patrolled the city in June, when police launched and bungled an attempt to crack down on organized crime.

Human rights activist have protested earlier use of Interior Ministry troops, warning that it could blur the distinction between police and the army.

In March 1991, then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev caused an uproar among his democratic opponents by transferring control over the Moscow police force from the liberal city hall to Interior Minister Boris Pugo, who later became one of the leaders of the August coup.

But Tsyrulnikov said that move was only an expansion of earlier cooperation efforts, adding that the Interior Ministry forces could not be compared to the soldiers serving for the Defense and Security ministries.

"It's all blown out of proportion," Tsyrulnikov said. "It's nothing new."

He added that both the Police Law and President Boris Yeltsin's anti-crime decree allowed for the use of Interior Ministry troops in the city.