Staunton, Mar. 10 – Some have argued in the past that without Ukraine, Russia could not remain an empire or a threat to the world; but Vladimir Putin has shown that the loss of Ukraine alone is not sufficient to keep Moscow from acting as an imperial power and threatening the West with revanchist aggression.
For Russia to cease to be an empire, it will not only have to lose more of the periphery it seized in the course of its history but change its understanding of what kind of a country it in fact is or wants to be. That will require the loss of many non-Russian areas and many regions who while Russian-speaking view Moscow as a colonizer.
One Cossack émigré, Ezikovy Ertaul, on his telegram channel, argues that Cossackia is one of the regions that must gain independence if Russia is to cease to be an empire and a threat to the world. Indeed, he is explicit that, an independent Cossackia could de-imperialize Russia in the way many thought the loss of Ukraine would do (t.me/ertaul_1483/514).
The core region of the Cossacks in the south of what is now the Russian Federation, Ertaul says, “will be able to quietly exist and develop as a federation of ethnic groups and territories without any control from Moscow; but Moscow will not be able to fully function as an empire without this south” and the access it gives to the Caucasus and the world oceans.
The legitimacy of the connection between the Cossacks and the Russian state ended in 1917 with the fall of the monarchy. That is, it was personalist rather than collective. And it is no surprise that after the Bolshevik revolution, the Cossacks created the Don-Caucasus Union, “the forefather of Cossackia” as an alternative to and opponent of “the Muscovy project.”
The collapse of the USSR further weakened the Russian Federation, Ertaul continues, “but those geographic and political advantages which it was able to retain from the RSFSR and the USSR allowed it not only to preserve its status as a strong regional power but to engage in revanchism and seek the restoration of past borders however insane this sounds.”
“One of the factors which made possible the strengthening of the Russian Federation and the unleashing of the largest conflict in Europe since the second world war is Moscow’s uncontested control of Cossack lands and the logistical and geographic advantages that this gives the center.”
According to Ertaul, “this is really a strategically important region for Moscow and its loss could be equal to a serious expulsion of Russia from Europe and thus be a guarantor of a certain security and stability.” Because that is the case, the Kremlin has worked especially hard to destroy any efforts by the Cossack people to advance their interests.
Not only has it engaged in active repression but it has promoted just as it did in Ukraine in Soviet times, a denatured and sterilized identity that serves the interests of Moscow rather than of the Ukrainians in the earlier case or the Cossack nation now. It has had less success in doing this with the Cossacks than in convincing others Moscow’s image of the Cossacks is accurate.
That has kept some in other nations from cooperating with the Cossacks, but there are ever more signs that these people are seeing through these falsehoods as the Cossacks become more active in defending and promoting their national identity and outline serious plans for what a Cossackia state would be like.
From an economic point of view, Cossackia would be quite promising given its dominance of trade and logistics along the Novorossiysk-Krasnodar-Rostov-na-Donu-Volgograd-Astrakhan axis, something that would allow it to develop on its own and help others bypass Russia and avoid being drawn into “the black hole” that the Muscovite state is.
Ertaul concludes that “the Cossack emigration again, like a century ago, has the important but difficult task of developing a model for the future political landscape” of this country “and forming the ground for the future institutions of power by consolidating politically active forces abroad into a single constructive political channel.”
An appropriate place to begin, he suggests, is to build on the provisions of the American Captive Nations Week resolution of the US Congress in 1959. (For background on how Russian aggression in Ukraine has activated its supporters, see jamestown.org/program/cossackia-no-longer-an-impossible-dream/ and jamestown.org/cossackia-re-emerges-as-an-issue/.)