Staunton, May 26 – The tsars and Stalin both had Cossack units in their armed forces, but the Soviets before World War II and the Soviet government and now the Russian government have not. Putin has moved to use nominally Cossack groups for police duties of various kinds; but despite calls by some atamans, he has resisted plans to create Cossack units in the army.
There are two sets of reasons he has for not taking that step. On the one hand, it would spark a further growth in Cossack identity, including demands for recognition as a nation, something that would simultaneously split the Russian nation, reducing its numbers, and giving Moscow a black eye in the West where Cossacks have an unsavory if undeserved reputation.
And on the other, the creation of Cossack units in the military would create a precedent that other nations would likely invoke, demanding not only that members of individual nations have their own units, something Moscow would be reluctant to grant, but also that they serve only in their native republics, a concession the high command has already been forced to make.
Evidence that the Cossacks may nonetheless be about to get such special privileges is suggested by two articles on the Nazaccent portal, one of which has already been taken down (nazaccent.ru/content/33224-kazaki-vojska-donskogo-otpravilis-na-sluzhbu.html and nazaccent.ru/content/33214-pervuyu-kazachyu-voinskuyu-komandu-otpravili-na.html).
They talk about Cossacks from a particular host going into service together and, in the post taken down, about “the first Cossack military command,” a more radical development that would certainly alarm many. It may be that Nazaccent simply spoke too broadly, but it is not impossible that it or its sources in the military have allowed something to slip.
At the same time, it is important to keep in mind just what “Cossacks” would be involved. Since coming to power, Putin has promoted what he calls “registered” Cossacks and others call “pseudo” Cossacks in order to weaken the genuine Cossacks who descend from the community that existed before the 1920s Soviet genocide against them.
The Kremlin leader had an additional reason for promoting these “Cossacks.” In many cases, they consist of Russians who are prepared to use violence against their enemies, thus giving Putin another weapon he can use with deniability against his oppponents. Giving them their own military units would attract still more such people to their colors.