The most notorious of the tsarist police agencies was the Okhrana. Established on 5 December 1882 by Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) ordinance in response to the assassination of Tsar Aleksandr II, the Okhrana was composed of subordinate Okhrannye otdeleniia (Security Divisions) established in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw to conduct secret counterterrorist operations. Over the next decade, the Okhrana evolved into an empire-wide organization targeted against revolutionaries, terrorists, and militant nationalists. In 1883 the Okhrana opened a foreign bureau in Paris to conduct operations against enemies operating outside the Russian empire.
   Okhrana operations in Paris and within Russia included close surveillance of suspected enemies, penetration of terrorist organizations, and the use of agents provocateurs. The Okhrana was a small, elite organization. Its total staff was never more than 1,100, with 200 staff officers at headquarters in St. Petersburg. While it had a reputation as an omniscient security service, the Okhrana had a relatively small stable of informants. According to recent research, the Okhrana employed only 600 paid informants in Russia at any one time. In 1910–1916, the service maintained an average of only 116 informants in Moscow.
   The Okhrana had a number of spectacular successes. It recruited Roman Malinovskiy, a Bolshevik member of the tsarist duma (parliament), and ran him in place for more than a decade. Inspection of the Okhrana files following the 1917 Revolution revealed that their penetration of the Bolshevik Party was extensive and thorough. Another agent, Yakov Zhitomirskiy, was a close friend of Vladimir Lenin. In Moscow, four of the five leading Bolsheviks worked for the Okhrana.
   The Okhrana’s failures at home, however, were devastating. One of the Okhrana’s key agents provocateur was Yevno Azev, who operated as a well-paid informant for more than a decade while simultaneously planning the assassination of senior tsarist officials. Another agent, Father Georgi Gapon, led a demonstration of loyal peasants and workers to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in January 1905; it was put down by police and army troops and resulted in more than 100 fatalities.
   The Okhrana’s Paris bureau, headed by the capable Petr Rachkovskiy from 1884 to 1902, had 40 French detectives on its payroll and some 30 agents in Paris and elsewhere. The foreign bureau had access to French police records on terrorists and conducted a mail intercept program in Paris, as they did at home. Agents penetrated all the revolutionary movements in France, Belgium, and Germany, and thousands of weapons, not to mention printing presses and propaganda material, were intercepted before reaching Russia. The Okhrana, like many security police and intelligence organizations, took on other missions because it was available to the political leadership. Agents of the Okhrana in Paris dabbled in secret diplomacy, serving as a clandestine channel of diplomacy between France and Russia. At home, the service helped conservative politicians create pogroms in which hundreds of Jews were murdered. Despite its reputation for ruthlessness, the Okhrana and its parent organization, the MVD, were less effective and far less terrible than the Cheka or the NKVD. During the reign of Aleksandr II (1855– 1881), approximately 4,000 people were detained and interrogated for political crimes. Nevertheless, executions were rare: from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s, only 44 executions took place in Russia. By contrast, on the day after Lenin launched the Red Terror in September 1918, the Cheka executed 500 people. Moreover, the Okhrana was far less terrible in the provinces than in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw. In Georgia, Joseph Stalin and many of his colleagues received light sentences for crimes that would have sent them to the gallows in Moscow—and perhaps even in London or Paris. Many of the leaders of the Okhrana saw themselves as the bulwark of the autocracy. They observed Russian law by accepting the independence of the procuracy. Defendants in political trials had active and competent defense lawyers. Prisoners were generally well treated in jail and in exile. Stalin and Leon Trotsky, as well as a host of other political prisoners, repeatedly escaped exile in Siberia. But the Okhrana did not fail because of its liberalism: by targeting liberals and revolutionaries alike, the tsar’s secret police prevented the emergence of a loyal opposition. By encouraging and financing pogroms, it satisfied the base anti-Semitism of members of the royal family but destroyed the legitimacy of the regime at home and abroad.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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