The new budget of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs in fact no longer even has a budget line. Instead, the agency says that Cossacks must rely on “their own resources” and that the Kremlin can now provide only “moral” support. That will likely lead to a falling away from Cossack organizations that in the last 20 years had grown to more than four million members.
Earlier this year, it appeared that the Kremlin was not only going to maintain funding for these groups but significantly increase it by establishing an All-Russian Cossack Society with a supreme ataman. Both Putin and Patriarch Kirill praised this effort. But despite that, nothing has come of this; and funding at the regional level has dried up as well.
The immediate result of this reduction or even end in funding has been the falling away from Cossack organizations of many who were anything but committed to the idea in the first place and growing conflicts among the leaders who in many cases appear to have been involved more for the money than out of any allegiance to Cossack ideals.
In his report, Soshin says that “it is impossible to establish a Cossack analogue to the American ‘national guard’ under conditions of the quasi-feudal oligarchate which exists in Russia” and that simply creating institutions via the distribution of government money ultimately won’t help anyone or Russia itself.
“In Brezhnev’s times,” he writes, “there were 11 million communists and practically all young people were in the Komsomol, but did this prevent the USSR from slipping into crisis? And parades with rockets didn’t help either.” The leading atamans understand this too, but “not wanting to give up their comfortable seats are trying to present a chimera for a reality.”
But there are three possibilities that the APN writer doesn’t mention that may be more immediately dangerous now that the government is reducing funds for a group it largely created by offering funding in the first place.
First, some of these groups, who have arms, may turn on the state. At the very least, they are unlikely to be enthusiastic supporters of the Putin regime anytime soon. Second, some may turn to simple banditry, stealing in order to make up for the money they are no longer getting from the state, something that appears to be happening in parts of the Kuban already.
And third, some of them may seek to hire themselves out to businesses in order to make money as private guard forces or even to be used by one business against another in ways reminiscent of the violence that governed Russian business in the 1990s.
If all the people involved in the Cossack movement in Russia were genuine Cossacks and informed by Cossack traditions, they would likely accept what the government has been forced or chosen to do. But because so many of them are hangers on who lack that sense of responsibility and thought they had gotten on the gravy train, these dangers are all the more real.