Russian Governor Signs Up Cossacks to Police Migrants
MOSCOW — The governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region, which will host the Winter Olympics in 2014, has enlisted the area’s Cossacks as an auxiliary police force, urging them to prevent darker-skinned Muslims from the North Caucasus from moving there.
The governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, in a speech to law enforcement officers on Thursday, announced that as of September, 1,000 Cossacks would be paid from the budget to maintain public order. In the speech, he said the Cossacks — whose paramilitary forces served the czars — could take measures beyond what the police were allowed.
“What you can’t do, the Cossacks can,” he told the officers in the speech, which was widely circulated on the Internet on Friday. “We have no other way — we shall stamp it out, instill order; we shall demand paperwork and enforce migration policies.”
He said that a neighboring region had stopped performing its traditional function as “a filter” between central Russia and the North Caucasus. Internal migrants from the North Caucasus are often not welcomed by ethnic Russians, who consider them outsiders.
He said ethnic Russians there were “already feeling uncomfortable,” and that the people who settled the region, Cossacks among them, “year after year are losing their position.”
“Who will answer when the first blood is spilled, when interethnic conflicts start? And sooner or later it will happen,” Mr. Tkachev said. He offered Kosovo as an example, saying that Albanians “began to destroy churches, forced the dominance of their culture, their religion, began conflicts, imposed pressure, blood, small war, big war. And that was it — there was no country, there were no people, thousands of refugees all over the world.”
Cossacks, the fearsome horsemen of 19th-century Russia, have experienced a revival under Mr. Tkachev, who has provided them with financial support, uniforms and official status. After last month’s floods, Cossacks were deployed to rescue survivors and distribute aid. Seven years ago they drove out a local population of Meskhetian Turks, something their leaders still celebrate, recently telling an American visitor, “We sent them to you!”
Mr. Tkachev, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, was in danger of losing his post last month when local officials were charged with negligence in the catastrophic flooding that killed at least 171 people in the city of Krymsk. Yet he has survived in large part because he is a crucial player in planning the 2014 Olympics, a project that could end up costing as much as $30 billion.
Mr. Tkachev’s speech on Thursday touched on one of the most inflammatory questions in Russian society, which has been racked by two separatist wars and rising tension over internal migration, and it set off a heated discussion on the Internet. After nightfall, his press office released a conciliatory statement, saying that the speech was meant “exclusively as a recommendation to the police to increase control over migration processes.”
One of the few officials to comment was Gadzhimet Safaraliyev, head of the State Duma’s committee on questions of nationality, who wondered aloud what Mr. Tkachev meant about the unusual powers granted to the Cossacks.
“Why should they have more rights than the police? Is that written somewhere in the Constitution?” Mr. Safaraliyev told the Web site gazeta.ru. He went on to note that several medals had been won at the London Olympics by athletes from the Caucasus.
“When Caucasians win three gold medals, they’re Russians,” he said. “But when they move somewhere, they are unwanted individuals.”