Staunton, July 3 – Now that Cossacks have their own patrols in many Russian Federation locales, non-Russians in the Saratov oblast city of Volsk say they plan to set up similar units consisting of their ethnic groups, a step local officials have welcomed as a key to ethnic peace but one that could easily lead to clashes between such groups.
Having allowed the Cossacks to form such patrols, a move backed by President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials are certin to face more such demands by other groups and find it hard to oppose them, especially if the units are, as appears to be so in this case, voluntary, unarmed and ostensibly established in the first instance for work within the minority populations.
But while such groups may be established on those principles, the history of the Cossack units shows that they can quickly move beyond those bounds, becoming less voluntary, more interested in carrying arms, and working not just among their own community but getting involved with its relationship to others.
Zelimkhan Sardarov, the deputy head of the Azerbaijani diaspora there, says that he believes such units will help resolve conflicts within that community as well as being a resource to prevent conflicts involving others from getting out of hand (nazaccent.ru/content/8285-nacionalnye-menshinstva-volska-sozdadut-svoi-dobrovolnye.html and
Anatoly Krasnov, the head of the Volsk district government, agrees and says that such units will not only reassure members of ethnic minorities that their concerns will be addressed but also will calm them in situations when the presence ofethnic Russian police alone might have the opposite effect.
Volsk minority groups have also asked that the authorities there order local media outlets not to identify the ethnic background of those accused of crimes, something the groups said was exacerbating tensions there (nazaccent.ru/content/8293-nacionalnye-obshiny-goroda-volsk-obratilis-k.html and wolsk.ru/index.php/davecha/natsionalnye-diaspory-vystupili-s-obrashcheniem.html).
That such groups could be useful if carefully controlled is likely, but there are real dangers that conflicts between groups on one or another issue could, if those groups have their own patrols, armed or not, to which they could turn in the event that they concluded their views were being ignored.
Such a possibility is all too real, as a report by Ura.ru today makes clear. At a meeting in Perm, the local Jewish community and members of the Cossack organization there squared off over the issue of whether the authorities should permit the construction of a synagogue (ura.ru/content/perm/03-07-2013/articles/1036259870.html).
Harsh words were exchanged, and unfortunately, it is all too easy to imagine how this conflict, so far confined to a public meeting, could spread to the streets, if one or the other of the sides decided to turn for support to voluntary patrols consisting of their respective community. Only the Cossacks have one there, but that alone could lead to more rather than less conflict.