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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 17:38 GMT
Divers guard Kremlin sewers
Kremlin diver
Specially trained combat divers guard Kremlin sewers
An elite, specially-trained team of combat divers guards the Kremlin from underwater attack via the River Moskva and the underground network of sewers.

Russian Independent Television showed pictures of one of the divers, armed and preparing to descend into the flooded main sewer.

It said a potential attacker could gain access to the very heart of the Kremlin through the sewers.

But any would-be transgressors would be met by sinister-looking combat divers - known as strategic-purpose divers.
Kremlin sewar
The sewers can access the very heart of the Kremlin

The first units of combat divers were set up in the 1960s to combat underwater saboteurs, the weekly newspaper Versiya said.

They now form part of the Presidential Bodyguard Service. The divers all have officer's rank and get free flats in Moscow.

As well as patrolling the sewers, they also inspect the River Moskva around the Kremlin, protect all the presidential residences from offshore and accompany the president when he goes to the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Special weapons have been designed for underwater use. A special underwater pistol was designed as a non-automatic four-barrel gun loaded in the same way as a hunter's rifle, by opening the breach.

The River Moskva
The divers patrol the River Moskva around the Kremlin

The bullets look strange too. A bullet is actually a long needle or a "nail" as the divers call it. The nails can kill at a distance of six to 17 metres, depending on the depth.

The divers say that underwater fighting with knives only exists in films. A basic principle of underwater combat is that whoever attacks first, wins.

Even the slightest wound could be lethal underwater because water pressure leads to massive loss of blood which renders the diver useless in seconds.

If their oxygen supply is cut, the special purpose divers have a small reserve balloon attached to their chest with enough oxygen to get to the surface, Versiya said.

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