Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Russia’s Cossacks Also Beginning to Look Beyond Putin
Staunton, February 25 – Ever more people in the Russian Federation are beginning to think about what they will face and what opportunities they will have when Vladimir Putin one way or another passes from the scene and they have a new opportunity to pursue their various dreams.
The ruminations of liberal democratic and radical Russian nationalists have attracted the most attention so far, but other groups are now beginning to consider what they could and should do when more things become possible, very much aware that once history speeds up again in the wake of Putin, they will have little chance but to react unless they have plans.
Among the groups that are beginning to do this are the Cossacks, a group all too often neglected in discussions of real politics in Russia but one that very well may play a far larger role in the future. (For a discussion of that possibility, see the current author’s “Cossackia: No Longer an Impossible Dream?” at jamestown.org/program/cossackia-no-longer-an-impossible-dream/).
As is the case in such explorations, much of the discussion is focused either on the past from which ideas can be taken (facebook.com/groups/russia/permalink/416923715754585/ andfacebook.com/demin.nimed/posts/1131510843698592) or on new events the group can react to (fortanga.org/2019/02/rukovoditel-stavropolskogo-kazachestva-o-peredele-granitsy-mezhdu-ingushetiej-i-chechnej/).
But Cossack discussions of the post-Putin future have not been limited to that. Instead, some of them are developing remarkably detailed programs of what they might do once more things become possible. A Cossack now in emigration who wishes to remain anonymous (for obvious reasons) offers one of the most suggestive of these.
In an essay sent to the current author entitled “Advice of an Observer from the Side: What the Cossacks Should Do if X Hour Arrives,” he outlines his ideas in the form of what he suggests should be the appeal Cossack organizations should send not only to all Cossacks in Russia but also to the rest of that country’s population as well.
That appeal should begin, he suggests, by pointing out that with the passing of the Putin era, “the regime and the country stand before a fork in the road: either general chaos and civil fratricide or the preservation of order and the transition to a new life via dialogue and the search for compromises among all forces existing in society.”
“To follow the second path, the old organs of power and any political structures are unsuitable: they have completely discredited themselves and do not enjoy the slightest trust of the people.” As a result, Cossacks in their various formations must take power not only for themselves but for Russia as a whole, power for a time “extraordinary and unlimited.”
These Cossack centers of power will enter into negotiations with other groups, including the police and security services. If such talks are successful, the Cossacks will share with these forces responsibility for running the country; if not, then the Cossacks will move to disarm and otherwise “neutralize” them.
The next step, the Cossack writer says, will be the appointment of commanders at various levels who will be responsible for preventing “any excesses.” At the same time, the Cossack forces will release all political prisoners in the regions under their control and work to hand off power to democratically elected officials.
In such representative bodies, he continues, “there must not be people who earlier were distinguished by anti-popular behavior, corrupt ties, or ties with the criminal world.” They must be carefully excluded.
Two aspects of this Cossack commentary are especially interesting: On the one hand, it reflects the general fear of chaos many have with regard to any transition and the widespread belief that a strong hand will be needed both to prevent that and to exclude the members of what will then be the former regime.
And on the other, it shows the dual nature of Cossacks as a nation in their own right and as a people very much concerned with serving Russia as a whole. Both of these positions are likely to attract support not only among those who identify as Cossacks but among Russians more generally.
At the very least, monitoring such discussions may be at least as important as keeping track of what currently more prominent Russian opposition figures are saying given that such ideas and aspirations of the former likely reflect far deeper and more widespread feelings than those of the latter.