LIVE UPDATES: Dmitry Rogozin, vice premier for defense and space, has ordered Cossacks to guard Russia’s borders along with the Federal Security Service, RT reports.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
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Vodolatsky said Cossacks from the Don and Orenburg Cossack troops are already jointly patrolling the borders with Ukraine and Kazakhstan:
“About 3,000 Cossacks have been recruited for this. It is a type of experimental platform. The results of this experiment are proposed to extend to the whole length of the state border. These measures presuppose the allocation of lands where Cossacks will create their settlements, engage in farming and livestock breeding and simultaneously help defend the borders of our country. The entire Cossacks troops consist of about 860,000 people, and they are distributed practically throughout the entire territory of our country.”
Anton Tsvetkov, chair of the Commission on Security for the Civic Chamber said he supported the involvement of Cossacks, although he noted, “border guards must not be replaced by Cossacks, but they can be reinforced” with them.
“There are different kind of Cossacks. You have to distinguish the real Cossacks from the dressed-up ones. Only real Cossacks can be entrusted to guard the border. For example, registered Cossack communities have proven their professionalism, organizational ability and idealism. Cossacks are people who are prepared to serve the Fatherland not only for material compensation but for ideological and spiritual reasons.”
Yevgeny Nikitin, the ataman or leader of the Rostov District Cossack Community said Cossacks would be happy to serve:
“From generation to generation it has been customary: a Cossack is a warrior who defends the borders of his Motherland. This is a special segment, a special stratum of people…There is a nation, whose representatives defend the Motherland well.”
The fact that the FSB itself had no comment, no formal announcement was made of the measure, and only Cossacks themselves are announcing it indicate that the program is indeed still in its experimental stages and may face some controversy even within the government.
But in the last year, a number of announcements have been made about the incorporation of the Cossacks into security structures of the Russian government. Last year, Cossacks were reported to fill the ranks of the druzhinniki, a voluntary auxiliary police organization of the Soviet era which has been revived by President Vladimir Putin.
Andrei Polyakov, ataman of the Irbis Russian Orthodox Union of Cossacks, told RT, “not a single other political party in Russia has such an organizational network as the Cossacks have.” He said there may not be enough Interior Affairs officers to do the job. As Polyakov said:
“In each village, city, and settlement from Kaliningrad to Khabarovsk and Kamchatka, there exist our organizations — Cossack divisions headed by atamans. Only in the south of Russia alone, the Cossacks can deploy up to 100,000 fighters at arms. And that is only three subjects of our country — Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Territory and Rostov Region. It’s much larger on the scale of all of Russia.”
Sergei Grinin, chair of the civic organization Civil Security, has doubts about the plans for involving the Cossacks.
“Defense of the federal buildings should be done by professionals, which means the police and FSO,” he said. The Federal Protection Service [FSO] guards the top leaders of Russia and the Kremlin grounds and other residences of the leadership.
Col. Yevgeny Chernousov (retired) says it is possible Cossacks were being brought in because of a shortage of policemen. Putin laid off numerous policemen in reforms in the last two years.
“Officers of the Interior Ministry have to be paid more money that the government doesn’t have. Therefore they decided to recruit Cossacks for performing these functions, in order to have a tool of preserving budget funds.”
He said putting Cossacks in these jobs could improve their image.
“Cossacks could perform the functions that druzhinniki [auxiliary police] perform: guard parks, preserves, and stop various outrages…The drafting of this law is likely simply a populist gesture toward the Cossacks whom are wanted as allies and not opponents…Unfortunately a significant part of the population consider Cossacks to be dress-up. Therefore, if Cossacks were to perform various state functions, including security, and will be occupied, this will improve their image in Russia. It is possible the functions of the Cossacks will gradually broaden. And in the end the powers they had before the revolution will be returned — when the Cossacks stood guard for the Russian state and protected Russian borders and so on.”
Nikolai Doluda, ataman of the Kuban Cossacks Troops is cited at the official Russian fan portal Welcome2018.com:
“We have already received a proposal from the main directorate of the Interior Ministry for Krasnodar Territory, and we have reviewed the issue of additional deployment of Cossacks from the Kuban Cossacks Troops to maintain public order at the Confederations Cup which will take place from June 19-29, 2017; we will definitely do this.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick