Staunton, May 7 – There were never any real Cossacks on the territory of what is now Kaliningrad Oblast. It was part of the Russian Empire only for five years, and after Stalin annexed it at the end of World War II, there was no possibility of creating anything like a Cossack community until the very end of Soviet times.
But beginning in 1990s, some activists proclaimed that they were Cossacks and seeking and getting government support, they created what today number 29 Cossack communities, 24 of which are part of the Baltic Cossack Union headed by self-proclaimed Ataman Maksim Buga, regional activist Mikhail Feldman reports (region.expert/baltkazaki/).
No one should confuse these people with real Cossacks, he says. Instead, these are little more than “militarized criminals” who are all too happy to take money from the state to do its dirty work both against protesters at home and in various hotspots abroad. In both places, their supposed separation from the state gives the authorities the kind of deniability they seek.
“Ataman” Buga is typical of the breed, Feldman says. Trained as a Marxist-Leninist leader for the Soviet army, suspected of corruption in his regular job, and ready to fight others at the drop of a hat, the ataman spends more time struggling against other “Cossacks” for state money than he does promoting Cossack values.
He was prominently involved in an attack on participants of an October 2014 anti-war march in Kaliningrad. Other pseudo-Cossacks involved with him in these attacks were brought to trial but let off with suspended sentences because of their service to Moscow in the course of the annexation of Crimea.
Buga for his part takes enormous pride in this role. In a recent interview, Feldman reports, the ataman said that “several dozen Kaliningrad Cossacks had taken part in the Syrian armed conflict” and that others had “fought in Ukraine on the side of the separatists of the Donbass.”
“At first glance,” Feldman says, “it appears strange that ‘the Baltic Cossacks’ up to now are the subject of interest for the finance commission [of the Kaliningrad oblast] and not of its department for the struggle with organized crime.” But a moment’s reflection will dispel any sense that this is strange.
Both Nazi Germany and Haiti used similar nominally unofficial groups, the storm troopers in the first case and the tonton matouts in the second, to do their dirty work at home and abroad, and “the federal authorities and the oblast government under their control can count on this means of preserving control over the region in tense times.”