Thursday, March 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Wants Expanded Role for Cossacks in Circassian Area

Paul Goble

Baku, March 28 – The Russian president’s advisor on Cossack affairs visited Adygeia this week to press the local authorities to provide more support for the local Cossack community and allow its members to play a larger role in various kinds of law enforcement.
But while the local Cossack leader stressed that “the activities of the Cossacks there in no way are connected with inter-ethnic relations but entirely directed at the strengthening of the statehood of Russia,” many Circassians (Adygei) are concerned about this latest move (
On the one hand, an expansion in the activities of the Cossacks there would give Moscow yet another means to control the situation. And on the other, because the Cossacks are even more active in Krasnodar kray which surrounds Adygeia, this could make it easier to amalgamate the two, something most Circassians oppose.
On Monday, Gennady Troshev arrived in the republic and met with its president, Aslan Tkhakushinov, to discuss the situation there with regard to the Russian law “On the state service of Russian Cossacks” that was adopted three years ago but that has not been implemented in many places, including Adygeia.
In response to Troshev’s insistence that Adygeia do more, Tkhakushinov said that “our close cooperation with the leadership of the Maikop department of the Kuban Cossack Host gives us the opportunity to strengthen and develop good neighborly relations between various peoples living in Adgygeia.”
The local ataman, Anatoly Tarasov, however, was significantly less upbeat about the relationship between the Circassians and the Cossacks. In comments to the press, he pointed out that the Adgygei authorities have not yet provided his forces with the offices or salaries that the 2005 federal law requires.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “unlike Krasnodar which has its own legislation about the Cossacks in place, there is nothing equivalent yet in Adygeia.” And that means that the Cossacks do not have all the opportunities they should to preserve public order and guard key institutions.
Moreover, and in contrast to Troshev and Tkhakushinov, the ataman said that many Circassians view “the current increase in the activity of Cossack societies in the republic with concern,” although he was at pains to say that they will play no role in dealing with inter-ethnic matters.
One reason that Moscow may be stepping up its efforts to force regional governments in the North Caucasus to cooperate in this regard is so that Cossacks can help guard the Russian border and other key government institutions and thus free up the limited Russian armed forces there to devote more time to combat operations.
On Wednesday, General Nikolai Rogozhkin, the commander of the Internal Forces of the MVD, said that there were approximately 30,000 of his men in the North Caucasus, 23,000 in Chechnya but only six or seven thousand in all the other republics of that region (
While he suggested that these forces were more than sufficient to defeat the 400 to 500 remaining “bandits” a group who “have no tomorrow,” Rogozhkin words and especially the gloss on them in an editorial in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” yesterday suggest that he has his hands full (
The paper argued, as many Russian officials and commentators have in recent months, that separatism no longer exists in the North Caucasus and that instability there reflects “a war among clans for money.” But however that may be, Moscow has not been able to bring peace to the region and may see the Cossacks as a useful ally.
But the often extreme Russian nationalism of many Cossacks means that if Moscow puts them in play against the Circassians or other groups in the region, history suggests that there will be an upsurge of anti-Russian nationalism as a result. And thus Moscow will find itself in an even more difficult position than the one it is now in.

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