Comparing the newly created Russian National Guard to the Praetorians of imperial Rome is too obvious to have explanatory value. I cannot recall Putin ever relying on the support of any group or organization to the exclusion of all others. He is a master of balancing to avoid exclusive dependence on any force, agency or grouping. However, Mark Galeotti’s entry on the developments is still required reading.
The Guard is not being created out of nothing – rather, most of the existing, non-FSB security forces are being reconfigured and put under direct command of the president. To avoid false parallels, note that Ivan the Terrible’s oprichniki were recruited anew, from young men of various backgrounds with a shared readiness to kill, loot, and rape. In present-day Russia, only one government official had kept his own personal guard before Putin assembled this new force.
The Russian Carabinieri, known as the Internal Troops and never intended to fight anyone but their compatriots (violent separatists at best), number 170,000 men. With various SWAT-type police units consolidated into the National Guard, it may number 300,000 people, almost all of whom are already on active duty. It’s another reminder of how much Moscow has been spending, for many years already, on internal security over and above the secret police budget. The total number of healthy but unskilled men of working age employed in unproductive and counterproductive roles in Russia must be in the millions.