A brief history of the Russian Customs Service
Russia’s Customs Service is intertwined with the history of the Russian state. Over the centuries some of the leading figures of the country have protected its economic interests. Institutions which have benefited from the revenue generated by customs duties were: the Army, the Economy, the Health Service, Education and other improvements to the State. It is well known that many great architectural monuments were financed from money derived from taxes levied by the Customs.
The Russian Customs Service has always targeted Smuggling. The trafficking of contraband was not the only thing to be prevented by the Customs. Among other things which were targeted by the Moscow Customs Department were the following: heretical books, other items of a religious nature and playing cards, all of which could be harmful to the people of Russia. In the XVth and XVIIth centuries visiting foreigners were often found to be smuggling out of Russia secret maps of its territories and its fortresses. Even Russian Tsars and Emperors were subject to the rules of the Customs Authorities. The very colours of the Russian Customs flag symbolize honour, dignity, and the honesty and fairness of Russian Customs officers.
A Brief History of the Russian Customs is excellently displayed by the exhibits to be seen in the Central Customs Museum, founded in 1996.The museum is housed in the former Main Warehouse of Moscow, built by the distinguished Russian architect Konstantin Ton from 1847 to 1853.
The museum shows a history of the Russian Customs Service over the centuries. It shows various aspects of the activities of the Customs laying particular emphasis on its part in the State’s economic, political and socio- cultural development.
There are examples of dutiable goods, prints showing the main trading centres of Russia, Charters granted by the Grand Princes, mannequins of tradespeople [the old name for customs officers]. All of these exhibits give a very vivid picture of daily life in the Xth and XIIth centuries when the Customs began as a revenue collected by the so – called Mytnic Brigades, who were responsible for the trading and transit of Myto Duties. At the end of the XIIIth century and at the beginning of the XIVth century the Mytnic Brigades were superseded by Tamgachey collectors of the Mongolian Khan Horde who collected the so-called Tamgha Duty.
The Tamgha Duty proved to be one of the most profitable fees collected and was calculated according to a commodity’s value. Ever since that time, this fee has come to be known as a customs duty and its place of collection – a customs office.
Revenue collection was entrusted to the Russian Principalities and by the XIVth century the right to collect the duties and be customs officials could be inherited in some towns, villages and small administrative settlements, the volosty.
The names of these towns can clearly be seen on the old Charters which are on display. From the XVIth to the XVIIth century customs officers and their aids, the tselovalniky had to swear an oath to the Tsar and kiss an icon on taking up office. An icon “The Crucifixion” dating from that time is on display.
Some of the rarest artifacts to be seen in the museum are: the Customs Charter of Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1571) and the Law Code of Tsar Aleksey Michailovich (1649). The Trading Charter adopted on the 25th October 1653 and the Novotorgovy (New Package) Trading Act, dating back to 1667 seem to be the basic customs legislative documents ever to have been agreed upon in Russia. The Prikas (the Central State Department) was in charge of the collection of revenue in the XVIIth century. Local authorities known as golovi and voevodi used to be responsible for the collection of customs duties and fees. Part time members of staff were called diyaki and podiyachie. Customs officials who collected a very larger number of fees were given a variety of rewards: bonus cups, ladles or dippers, goblets, bolts of expensive cloth and bundles of valuable furs (forty sables).
A particular honour was an invitation to the Tsar’s festive dinner. One of the exhibits in the museum is a ladle, granted as a reward (1684), which was given to one of the tradespeople from Kasan (is it not Kazan) a certain Yakov Ivanov for his service in the Astrakhan Customs.
Of special interest are examples of the XVIIth century monetary system.
They are closely linked to monetary reforms introduced by Tsar Aleksey Michailovich who instigated the campaign against the illegal importation of counterfeit money from Europe. There are examples of different annual and monthly customs seals – an integral part of the Russian customs service since the XVIIth century.
Peter the Great pioneered the modernization of the Russian Customs Service, especially, in the organization of its personnel. In 1699, the post of Burmistr (The Head of the Customs Service) was adopted.
Since 1720 the major customs houses were called Senior Customs Observers or Inspectors. New appointments were made such as: comptrollers, collectors and a variety of customs dealers. The Russian State took over customs stations in August 1762. The control of the customs offices was entrusted to the Customs Collection Office in 1763. Since 1781, the management of the customs has been under the jurisdiction of the Customs Expeditions (State Bodies) and the General Governors.
The Customs system was increasingly developing its infrastructure. One of the most fascinating exhibits in the museum is the engraving by Machaev “Vue de la Bourse et du Magasin des Marchandises”. It depicts one of Russia’s largest Customs Houses, that of St Petersburg built in 1722 by Domenico Trezzini [or just Trezzini].
The reforms adopted between 1753 and 1757 greatly contributed to the core restructuring of the Russian Customs Service. In November 1796 the Kommerts-Kollegia (the Major Russian Customs Office) was given absolute power to control the collection of revenues. Since 1880, the minister of Kommerts – Kollegia gained complete control of and became the head of all the Customs houses in Russia.
In accordance with the Manifesto the Russian Empress Elizabeth, signed on the 20th December 1753, domestic customs houses were abolished along with 17 internal trade and transit duties. Inward and outward commodity transactions were levied with an additional 13% duty in Russian currency. There are some Russian coins on Display.
Since 1811, the Customs Division in the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Finance has been responsible for the management of all customs stations. In 1864 the Customs Division was renamed the Customs Revenue Collection Department of the Ministry of Finance.
In April 1918 the basic organization of the customs was fixed by the Sovnarkom Decree of the Government Regulation of Foreign Trade. The main focus was on the Governmental control of foreign trade and smuggling. In December 1921 a Customs Department which was responsible for state control over the customs stations was established as part of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade. From 1946 to 1986 it was under the control of the Ministry of Foreign Trade of theUSSR. Later the Main Customs Department became the State Customs Directorate under the auspices of the Council of Ministers of the USSR.
The New benchmark is dated 1991, when the State Customs committee was founded.
In 2004 the Federal Customs Service succeeded the State Customs Committee.