Staunton, November 28 – Now that 600 Cossacks are patrolling the streets of Moscow, Daghestanis in the Russian capital insist they should have the same opportunity, a reflection of the fears of North Caucasians that the Cossacks will be anything but law-abiding and of the risks the Kremlin is running in allowing the Cossacks to play this role in the first place.
“Izvestiya” reported today that Daghestanis in Moscow are “afraid that Cossack druzhinniki, who yesterday began to patrol central Moscow will exacerbate inter-ethnic tensions. To avoid that, [they suggest that] representatives of the diaspora be attached to the [Cossack] patrols” (izvestia.ru/news/540425).
Kamil Davdiyev, chairman of the Daghestani Popular Assembly committee for inter-ethnic relations and religious groups, said that the authorities in Moscow ought to have checked with the North Caucasian diasporas before beginning to use Cossack patrols to supplement the work of the police.
Had they done so, he continued, they would have been told precisely why people from the North Caucasus are concerned: In September, Aleksandr Tkachev, the governor of Krasnodar Kray, began this practice by suggesting that the Cossacks, more than the police, have the right to act as they see fit to maintain public order.
Another Daghestani, Magomedrasul Omarov, the press secretary of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of that republic, agreed and suggested to the Moscow paper that using Cossack patrols for law enforcement was “excessive.” No such patrols would be necessary “if the law enforcement organs were functioning in a normal fashion.”
Setting up such quasi-official forces raises the question, Omarov continued, of just what the authorities may do next. What they should be doing is ensuring that the police “do their jobs,” something that is clearly not currently the case.
The Cossacks say the fears of the North Caucasians are misplaced, “Izvestiya” said. Igor Gulichev, the first deputy ataman of the South-East District Cossack Society, acknowledged that “in principle everything is possible. But we [Cossacks],” he continued, “do not define our task as persecuting those who think differently or are representatives of other confessions or faiths.”
If the North Caucasians have any doubts on that score, the ataman said, “there is only one way out: don’t violate public order.” If “Daghestanis, Chechens, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, or Tajiks” do that, “then no one [including the Cossack druzhinniki] will apply any measures” against them. But the Cossacks will make sure that there is order.
Gulichev insisted that Cossack units will coordinate all their activities with the local organs of internal affairs. But already on the first day, there was evidence reported both by “Izvestiya” and by “Novaya gazeta” (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/55625.html) that that is not the case at least some of the time.
The press office of the Moscow Administration of Internal Affairs said that the Cossacks patrolling the Belorussky railway station had not sought or received approval for their actions there, a statement that makes what the Cossacks are doing all the more disturbing, not only to people from the North Caucasus but to many others as well.
That is because the authorities either have a group that can act with little regard for the law and can be disowned when necessary, an arrangement that invites and even encourages abuse, or have one whose existence is likely to leader others to organize themselves against the Cossacks, a development that could quickly escalate conflict in the streets of Moscow.
At the very least, as the “Novaya gazeta” article pointed out, this latest Kremlin-backed move is certain to raise the question in the minds of many Russians: “Why in general are some groups of [private] citizens given some kind of extra authority for control over the actions of other citizens?”