The Okhrana, or Department for Defense of Public Security and Order usually called the Okhranka in Russia, was a secret police force of the Russian Empire and part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) in the late 1800s, aided by the Special Corps of Gendarmes. It was created in 1880 to replace the infamous Third department.
It was formed to combat political terrorism and left-wing revolutionary activity. The Okhrana operated offices throughout the Russian Empire and in a number of foreign satellite agencies primarily concerned with monitoring the activities of Russian revolutionaries abroad, most notably in Paris, where Pyotr Rachkovsky was based (1884â€“1902). Its headquarters were located in St. Petersburg, Fontanka, 16; this street address was infamously known in the Russian Empire.
The task was performed by any means, including covert operations, undercover agents, and "perlustration" â€” reading of private correspondence. Even the Foreign Agency served this purpose. The Okhrana is notoriously known for its agents provocateurs, including Dr. Jacob Zhitomirsky (a leading Bolshevik and close associate of Vladimir Lenin), Yevno Azef, Roman Malinovsky and Dmitry Bogrov.
The Okhrana tried to compromise labour movement by creating police-run trade unions, the practice known as zubatovshchina. Of note is the Bloody Sunday event, when imperial guards killed hundreds of unarmed protesters who were marching during a demonstration organized by Father Gapon, who collaborated with Okhrana, and Pyotr Rutenberg.
Other controversial activities included fabrication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax (many historians maintain that Matvei Golovinski, a writer and Okhranka agent, compiled the first edition on the instructions of Pyotr Rachkovsky) and fabrication of the antisemitic Beilis trial.
Suspects captured by the Okhrana were given to the normal Russian judicial system, and then either executed or sent to forced labor camps known as katorgas in extremely remote areas of northeastern Siberia.
St. Petersburg Okhrana group photo. 1905.