Saturday, February 6, 2021

Russians Again Worried about Cossack Separatism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – When Cossacks focus on their history now, they are more inclined to give attention to the Cossacks who fought for their own lands and for the anti-Bolshevik White Russians than they are to view Cossacks who fought for the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War or for the Soviets during World War II, Zakhar Prilepin says.

            And that leads some of them, the Russian writer and head of the For Truth Party says, to think about and even promote separatism and demand the creation of an independent Cossackia, something that would harm the Russian state and that, as such, is a project all Russians must oppose (

            Prilepin’s words, the editors of the pro-Kremlin Russian Popular Line portal say, not only have sparked a response but also raised larger questions about how Russians and Cossacks should view their complicated but common past during the Russian Civil War (

            Russian historian Sergey Drobyazko responded by saying that the Cossacks during the Civil War backed the White’s aspiration to defeat the Bolsheviks and restore the Russian Empire. For them, “separatism was accepted as a temporary measure” that sometimes was supported by outside forces (

            He argues that Prilepin has ignored just how diverse the Cossacks of Russia today now are. They are “quite varied: there are the official Cossacks” who are in no way interested in separatism. “But there are various informal groups” who may be. Prilepin lumps them altogether and makes the issue seem larger than it is.

            Sergey Baburin, head of the International Slavic Union, agrees and says Prilepin errs significantly “by accusing contemporary Russian Cossacks of separatism.” It is long past time to stop dividing Russians into reds and whites, categories of the Civil War, and see them as part of a larger whole, the Russian nation.

            But he acknowledges that “it must be recognized” that Prilepin’s opinion is “not without foundation. There was such a thing as Cossack separatism” and there was “Cossack collaborationism” during World War II. And there exist Cossacks who want to celebrate figures like Krasnov, Shkuro and Dutov and demand they be given equal time with Red Cossacks.

            The editors of the Russian Popular Line point out that Prilepin is among the many who fail to notice that “the massive participation of Cossacks in the White Movement was produced by the [Soviet] policy of de-Cossackization,” a policy many Cossacks view as an act of genocide (cf.

            And the editors continue: “In general, the theme of the civil war is an extremely complex one. It is very easy to become a defender of ‘the red’ or ‘the white’ view. But we need a Russian view, one that overcomes the hostility of our ancestors and brings together the extreme positions.”

            “We see that today there are forces which are trying to reanimate this red-white hostility among Russians, a hostility which once destroyed [Russian] statehood] and which was overcome by means of incredible numbers of victims and corpses,” the editors conclude. “We must not repeat that mistake.”

(For background on Cossack aspirations and Cossackia as an issue for Cossacks and for Russians and the West, see my essays on this subject in the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasian Daily Monitor at and

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