I've been looking at the history of the USSR and while the secret police were fairly straightforward under the Tsarist regime and the USSR under Lenin (Okhrana and the Cheka), for Stalin's rule of the USSR, I've seen OGPU and the NKVD pop up concurrently.

I've established that both are secret police and used by Stalin as the instrument for the Great Purges and establishing terror throughout the country, but what is the exact difference?

I've asked someone and he has said that they are essentially the same, but surely there must be some distinction between the two, for they have two different names.

Thanks in advance.

  • 3
    Its possible Stalin kept two such organizations in the event he felt the need to use one against the other (as Hitler did with the SA and SS).
    – T.E.D.
    May 22, 2012 at 22:15
  • 1
    Note, the GPU was submerged into the GPU. They did not exist in parallel. Dec 2, 2012 at 0:53
  • 1
    The GPU was merged with the GPU? that must have been the easiest merger in history, unless you meant that the NKVD was merged into the OGPU?
    – MCW
    Oct 13, 2016 at 13:17
  • Related: history.stackexchange.com/q/41263/17887 Oct 6, 2020 at 21:12

3 Answers 3


NKVD means Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennih Del, that is People's Comissariat of Internal Affairs. It was just a general internal affairs department. Although it included law enforcement agencies, it on the other hand included firefighters and civil registry services too.

Now GPU/OGPU was the secret police which sometimes was a part of NKVD, and sometimes was not. It is GPU which later became known as KGB.

There is a timeline for your convenience.


The OGPU succeeded the GPU as the state security force which in turn became the NKVD which in turn became the KGB. Therefore, the NKVD was secret police, and they are all the same thing just during different time periods. Reference: Bolshevik and Stalinist Russia 1918-56 (third edition) by Michael Lynch.


It is completely wrong if your source claims that NKVD was a "secret police", whatever it could mean. Sometimes I even spotted such claims in Wikipedia.

NKVD included normal police, traffic control, firefighters, border guards, passport issuing agency and prisons.

  • 3
    @Mark C. Wallace I really do not understand your sarcasm, what do you mean to say? That there were many counter-intelligence agents among firefighters? That the counter-intelligence could use firefighters as a source of cadres? Some another idea?
    – Anixx
    May 10, 2013 at 12:19
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    It included all these things AND the secret police. The secret police was by far the most important part of the NKVD. (Btw, The NKVD also had its own army - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_Troops) May 10, 2013 at 15:16
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    @Felix Goldberg well this depends on how you measure "importancy". It definitely was far smaller in numbers. I also have problem with understanding the term "secret police". How police can be "secret"?
    – Anixx
    May 10, 2013 at 15:34
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    @Anixx: Are you more comfortable with the term "political police"? May 11, 2013 at 9:31
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    Anixx is correct here. NKVD was (more or less) what in UK is currently very pleasantly called Home Office and in many countries is called Ministry of Interior (not in US! we have DHS for that, I guess). It was in charge of all types of police, prisons, traffic, fire control and safety, borders etc. Secret police was sometimes rolled in there, sometimes not. For instance, for the entire duration of WWII there were NKVD (MVD), ie Ministry of Internal Affairs (headed by Lavrentiy Beria), and NKGB (KGB), ie Ministry of State Security (headed by Vsevolod Merkulov). And then MVD and KGB parted ways.
    – JimT
    Jul 27, 2017 at 23:20

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