Russia Orders Stalin-Era Leather Coats For Vladimir Putin Guards

Russia orders Stalin-era leather coats for Putin guards (AFP, June 10, 2011):

MOSCOW — Russia’s federal guard service, in charge of protecting President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, may soon sport black leather overcoats harking back to the era of Stalin’s purges. The elite service known by its Russian acronym FSO has launched a tender to purchase 60 leather trenchcoats on the official site for government purchases, instantly drawing tongue-in-cheek criticism from Russian bloggers.

Long leather trenchcoats are infamously associated with uniforms of Soviet NKVD secret police, worn by its low-ranking officers at the height of Stalin’s pre-war purges in the late 1930s.

The coats ordered by the FSO appear to be nearly identical to the NKVD coats, according to the tender documentation and images uploaded on the website last week.

The jet-black “light leather overcoat” as the item is described is meant for “high-ranking FSO officers” and features a belt and various insignia, including the image of the Russian two-headed eagle on every button.

The 60 overcoats are ordered by the service along with 60 black leather jackets for a total sum of 2.9 million roubles ($104,600).

“The next tender: a batch of black Voronok cars and Mausers,” quipped one Russian blogger, writing under the nickname _abnormal_ on LiveJournal website.

The NKVD secret police often arrested people at their homes, whisking them away in black vans dubbed Voronok in the dead of night. Officers were also armed with German-made Mauser pistols.

Security analyst Andrei Soldatov expressed bewilderment at the tender but said Russians should not fear seeing lookalikes of Stalin’s death squads in the streets because modern security personnel hardly ever wear uniforms.

Soldatov suggested the elite service wanted to highlight its “elite status.”

“They want to distance themselves from the rest of the army, which most of them despise,” he told AFP.

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