The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia
Then-president Dmitry Medvedev presenting banner to Kuban Cossacks, 2011. Photo by kremlin.ru

Kuban Cossack Youth Back Ukraine Rather than Moscow

Staunton, June 5 – Despite the efforts of Moscow to suggest that the Cossacks are the unified advance guard of “the Russian world” and to create a wholly controlled Cossack establishment consisting of people with no links to the Cossack past, many Kuban Cossacks and especially the younger ones now support Ukraine against Russian aggression.

In an article this week on Rufabula.com, Igor Kubansky says that the Russian authorities in Moscow and the Kuban have sought to involve the Cossacks in “the information war” against Ukraine but that these efforts are backfiring because real Cossacks and not just those who are play-acting are on the side of the people not the Kremlin.

Indeed, Kubansky says, Moscow’s efforts in this regard are failing for two reasons. On the one hand, many of those who call themselves Kuban Cossacks consist of people “who do not have any Cossack roots and for whom service in the Cossacks is a kind of official support for Russian imperial chauvinism.”

That reflects, he continues, the way in which many supposedly “Cossack” units were restored beginning in the late 1980s, where anyone who declares himself to be a Cossack is considered one regardless of his background or his knowledge of Cossack history, suffering and traditions.

That has made it easy for the authorities to suggest that the Cossacks are all on their side because many who are supposedly Cossack leaders are little more than opportunists who will do and say anything Moscow wants but who do not reflect the views of the Cossack community, however much Russian propagandists claim otherwise.

And on the other, Moscow’s efforts are failing because its propaganda is so crude and inconsistent that no one and especially no Cossack can take it seriously. Thus, it is absurd to say that when a Ukrainian leader says “Glory to Ukraine” that is “fascism” while when Russians and the Cossacks they control say “Glory to Russia” that is “patriotism.”

Further, Kubansky asks rhetorically, “why is Kuban Ataman Vyacheslav Naumenko who cooperated with the Nazis [now to be considered] a good figure, while [Ukrainian nationalist Stepan] Bandera to be held up as a blackguard and ‘fascist’?” “Why is the anti-communist struggle of the Cossacks worthy of respect but the anti-communist fighters in Western Ukraine only deserving of all possible denigration? There is no answer.”

The gap between Russian claims and Cossack realities, he continues, is prompting the Cossack youth of Kuban to declare its support for Ukraine and its opposition to Moscow. Real Cossacks remember what Moscow did to them after 1917 and know all too well what the siloviki [law-enforcement agents] and the Kadyrovites [followers of Ramzan Kadyrov] are doing now “under the protection of the FSB.”

“Putin, Gundyayev [Patriarch Kirill], and other Kremlin dwarfs are building castles more luxurious” than Yanukovich’s, Kubansky says. They are spending fortunes on Sochi and aggression in Ukraine, and the Russian and Cossack peoples are only being impoverished. “We recognize that our chief enemy is in the Kremlin.”

Moreover, he continues, “all of us have recognized that our future is not with the oppressor Kremlin but with our historical motherland, Greater Ukraine.” And Ukrainians today “are giving us an example” of how to struggle with the Putin regime. Just now, the Kuban Cossacks are weak, but “we await the liberating Ukrainian Army on the lands of sunny Kuban.”