By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

Words matter.

And they particularly matter when they are uttered by somebody as powerful as the second-in-command of Vladimir Putin’s personal Praetorian Guard.

They matter when somebody like General Sergei Melikov gets caught telling the truth.

The deputy commander of Russia’s National Guard recently told Izvestia that the 400,000-strong force, a force led by Putin’s old bodyguard and reports to the Kremlin leader alone, is — and I am quoting here — “the heir to the NKVD.”

So now it’s official, I guess.

WATCH: Today’s Daily Vertical

The No. 2 man in Putin’s private army told the main pro-Kremlin newspaper that what everybody feared when the National Guard was formed last year was, in fact, true.

Putin’s National Guard is the heir to the organization that implemented Josef Stalin’s Great Terror.

It’s the heir to the organization that carried out mass extrajudicial executions.

It’s the heir to the organization that created and administered the Soviet gulag.

And it’s the heir to the organization responsible for the mass deportations of Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Crimean Tatars, and other ethnic groups.

And General Melikov is proud of this fact.

This is a frightening window into the current thinking of Putin’s top generals and into the subculture of his personal Praetorian Guard.

And it’s an unmistakable — and unmistakably disturbing — message to Russia’s opposition, its elite, and its neighbors.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL