Wednesday, June 6, 2018

It’s Not Just the Neo-Cossacks: Putin’s Thugs Include Broad Spectrum of Groups

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 6 – Ever since people the media identified as Cossacks attacked opposition demonstrators in early May, many in Russia and the West have made two fundamental mistakes about those informal groups that have been involved in attacks on the opposition.

            On the one hand, many assume that the Cossacks are the main group involved. That is not the case. Instead, they are one of a large number of groups.  And on the other, many think that they are operating independently and on their own. In fact, they are controlled and directed by the Kremlin and the FSB.

            But there is now a group documenting this broader phenomenon and its direction. A group of civic activists has formed a Telegram channel entitled “Data Base: Provocators, Strikebreakers, and Hirelings” ( One of the organizers, Anton Gromov, spoke with Roman Popkov of MBK Media (

            In addition to “Cossacks,” Gromov says, this category of organizations include Donbass and Syrian veterans, Anti-Maidan activists, and members of SERB and NOD, as well as other smaller and less well-known groups, all of whom are being “coordinated” by the Center E and the FSB both directly and indirectly.

            Gromov says that he insists that the word “Cossacks” when used for these people should be put in quotes “because they do not have any relation to genuine Cossacks. As is well-known, in Soviet times, a policy of de-Cossackization was carried out, and it in fact had the form of ethnocide.”

            “All these people who present themselves now as being Cossacks are really acting a part, mercenaries and opportunists” whom the Putin regime is all too pleased to make use of. Real Cossacks don’t want to have anything to do with such people. One of their number, Mikhail Popov, even works for the project.

            Overall control of these various groups comes from the Presidential Administration. More strategic guidance is provided by Center E and the FSB. And tactical direction, Gromov suggests, is provided by the law enforcement organs who seek to use these groups against protesters.

            “All this Chekist-KGB system … is simply a ‘hybrid’” one; in fact, “this is a good term, Gromov says. “They try to create the illusion that these structures are independent, semi-independent, and autonomous.  But in fact, [all these various groups from Orthodox fundamentalists to ‘neo-Cossacks to Wagner] are all part of one whole, one system.”

            “There are people who assure us that Putin doesn’t know about all this; but he of course knows all of this perfectly well,” Gromov says. We are moving toward “the establishment of ‘death squadrons’ in Russia;” and those who think that the regime will stop with people who use whips are deeply mistaken.”

            “Oneneed only remember the experience of Ukraine when such people, coming out into the streets transformed the cities of the Donbass into hell and a branch of North Korea,” the analyst continues. “The same thing can happen in Russia easily enough. And it will if the powers understand that there is no chance to hold power by buying loyalty via economic means.”

            But what is especially worrisome, Gromov says, is that these groups have an ideology and therefore they will act without being paid as much as many may think is necessary.  “They are already fanatics. Many of them are Nazis or former Nazis” who present themselves as Eurasians.

            “By the way,” Gromov says, “the so-called ‘Soviet patriots’ however strange this may seem are most humanistic than this public.” As bad as the former were and are, these people are much worse and may do much worse unless they are monitored, countered and then stopped in their tracks.

            Not surprisingly, the analyst continues, his group is being attacked by those who back these groups, an indication that it is doing the right thing. But it is likely that the group will not be able to remain physically in Russia. Nonetheless, it has big plans that extend far beyond compiling a list documenting actions.

            Gromov says he hopes to create an analytic center and prepare reports so as to be able to get involved in the defense of human rights, “to support tose suffering and to call attention to the executors and organizers of the terror” now taking place in Putin’s Russia.

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