Soviet Border Troops, (Russian: Пограничные войска СССР, Pogranichnyie Voiska SSSR) were the militarized border guard of the Soviet Union, subordinated to its subsequently reorganized state security agency: first to Cheka, then to NKVD and, finally, to KGB. Accordingly, they were known as NKVD Border Troops and KGB Border Troops (with Russian abbreviations - НКВД СССР/- КГБ СССР added on the end of official names). Unlike border guards of many other countries, Soviet Border Troops were a centralized force including also the maritime borderguarding units (i.e., a coast guard).
In 1934, under the NKVD, Border Troops were immediately subordinated to the GUPVO (abbreviated "Chief Directorate of Border and Internal Guard"). In 1939 they were reorganized into the GUPV ("Chief Directorate of Border Troops").
NKVD Border Troops consisted of infantry, cavalry, reconnaissance, naval and airforce units.
Since the 1930s, the distinctive part of Soviet Border Troops uniform is the intensively medium-green colored parts of headwear and insignia. The color is also present on a maritime Border Troops ensign.
World War II
Border Troops units on the western USSR frontier saw particularly fierce combat in the first weeks of the German invasion of the USSR (June-July 1941). They bore the brunt of the initial German assault, and due to this, suffered high casualty rates. Border Troop sevicemen were among the defenders of the legendary Brest Fortress. Border troops from other parts of the Soviet border were also involved in the fighting of the war. Notably, the 105th, 157th, and 333rd Border Troops regiments (operating like regular army units) took part in the Battle for Berlin in 1945.
A distinct problem in the first days of the war were German Brandenburger Regiment commandos. They had obtained NKVD Border Troops uniforms and led many infiltration missions across the Red Army lines to inflict subversion.
After the formation of the KGB, Soviet Border Troops became subordinated to this agency and remained so until the end of Soviet rule. As such, the Troops were concentrating on the tasks of preventing Soviet citizens from escaping to the West and fighting espionage infiltrations. The former task created a number of anecdotes about Soviet-Jewish illegal emigrants that attempt to cross the border and trick the Border Troops patrol.
A dense and sophisticated system of field engineering devices was created to keep Soviet border intact (including its complicated terrain and harsh climate zones). The most notable in that system was the trace-control strip (Russian: контрольно-следовая полоса) - a primitive labour-demanding method making surface crossing virtually impossible. The mission also required significant manpower and intensive maritime presence.
The Border Troops consisted of conscripts drafted by the same system as for the Soviet Army, and small number of professional enlistees. Officers were trained in specialized academies (particularly, in the city of Khmelnytskyi, Ukrainian SSR). Both conscripts and officer candidates for Border Troops were carefully selected and checked by the KGB. This made service in the troops privileged.
Famous people linked to Soviet Border Troops
Alexander Lukashenko, the President of modern Belarus served as an officer, whilst Mikhail Saakashvili, the President of modern Georgia, and Viktor Yuschenko, the President of modern Ukraine, served their conscript service in the Soviet Border Troops. Konstantin Chernenko, the second last Soviet leader (CPSU Secretary General) also served as a border guard on the USSR-Chinese border, before becoming more involved in politics.
Dissolution and legacy
With the fall of Soviet Union, Border Troops formations in most Soviet republics became border guards of the respective independent states. These new guards mostly changed their name and subordination. However, they retained some Soviet traditions, most notably the green-colored uniform and "Border Guard's Day" (Russian: День пограничника), an official holiday celebrated both by active service and former border guards.
The new states of Armenia and Tajikistan are unique exceptions. Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan has been guarded by the Russian Border Guard (suffering heavy fighting) until the late 1990s under a special treaty. Armenia's border is still guarded by Russians under similar conditions.