Tuesday, June 25, 2013

North Caucasian Terek Cossacks Demand Concessions from Moscow

By Valery Dzutsev

On June 8, over 3,000 Cossacks rallied in the city of Lermontov, Stavropol region. The so-called Terek Cossacks came from Dagestan, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya and Stavropol region itself (http://www.kp.md/daily/26087/2991281/). The Terek Cossack website terkv.ru asserted that over 4,000 members of regional Cossack associations participated in the gathering. The Cossacks unveiled unusually blunt demands in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They decried their powerless status in the region and vilified Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, along with the general negligence of the Russian authorities that have undermined the Cossacks’ standing in the North Caucasus. As retribution for their perceived injustices, they asked for “at least” 100,000 hectares of land in the North Caucasus Federal District, quotas for fishing on the Caspian, which is known for sturgeon and black caviar, supplies of brandy from the famous factory in Kizlyar in northern Dagestan, an exclusive license for North Caucasian mineral water, and some other recreational resources. The demands of the Cossacks sounded so expansionist that even Russian politicians in Moscow, who are normally very supportive of Cossacks’ claims, tried to tone down the group’s aspirations (http://izvestia.ru/news/551783).

The Cossacks’ demands sound almost as an ultimatum for the Kremlin. This is unlikely to be simply the fault of poorly drafted wording of the Cossacks’ letter, but rather was by design. The Russian government is increasingly concerned about the outflow of ethnic Russians not only from the republics of the North Caucasus, but also from the large predominantly ethnic-Russian region of Stavropol. Consequently, the Cossacks realize that they have certain leeway in carving out better conditions for themselves in negotiations with Moscow. Moreover, the Cossacks certainly now enjoy greater support from the (non-Cossack) Russian populations of Stavropol and Krasnodar as the government seems to be unable to protect these territories from the influx of non-Russian migrants from the North Caucasian republics. In June 2011, Khloponin even called on the Cossacks to help secure the situation in the North Caucasian national republics: “I would like to see the Cossacks as a force sufficiently capable of addressing many tasks, including law enforcement related issues…for Cossacks to become more entrenched there, in the territory, so that our Russian-speaking population would get stronger in these republics” (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20882; see EDM, July 1, 2011). Nevertheless, promoting the Cossacks as the pillar of the containment strategy against the North Caucasians’ inflow into the primarily ethnic-Russian areas of the North Caucasus is likely to create new lines of tension in the already tense regions of Stavropol and Krasnodar.

At the same time, the actual formation of a separate, non-Russian, Cossack identity could become another unwanted corollary effect of this government strategy. These contradictions, therefore, explain Moscow’s irresolute approach to the Cossacks: On the one hand, the Russian government wants to make use of them, but on the other, it fears their potential power.

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