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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: May 13, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Cossacks to Fill the Ranks of the Druzhinniki Volunteer Police
5 years
Druzhinniki Volunteer Police Patrols, a Staple of Soviet Era, Revived in Russia
Federal Corrections Petition to Send Opposition Leader Navalny to Prison Rejected; Parole Extended 3 Months
As we reported earlier, President Vladimir Putin has revived a system used in the Soviet era known as the druzhinniki or volunteer auxiliary police. And not surprisingly, given their resurgence, the Kremlin has turned to the Cossacks to fill the ranks of the druzhinniki.

Under Putin, the special status of the Cossack communities was revived and even funds from the state budget provided to maintain Cossack patrols. Some of those groups have gone to fight in the Donbass. In Bashkortostan, says Kommersant, assault of a Cossack is treated the same as an assault on the regular police and is punishable by up to 10 years or even life. Cossacks plan to deploy on streets, woods, "among wildlife," and on state borders and also take part in elections.

In 2013, Cossacks patrolled market places, which were places of tension and fights among migrant laborers or clashes between native Muscovites and the migrants. Not everyone was happy with their role.

Kommersant says the druzhinniki are being trained both to use physical force and also provide first aid. After the law on the volunteer police was passed last April, the Interior Ministry approved of a program to train 20,000 civilians in legal issues, psychological and physical preparation and also medical preparation. It got started last July, amid concerns about its costs.

Nikolai Yeremichev, the ataman of leader of the Kuban Cossacks Community in Moscow said (translation by The Interpreter):

In the South East District they are not the national Cossack organization but just an organization of local citizens who live in the South East District. The Cossacks there serve as the very people's patrol which existed in the Soviet time. These people are not bureaucrats, not officials of state bodies, and not economically interested so as to close their eyes in exchange for "a chocolate." These are people who live there, who have their eyes on the issue. It's possible their participation will lead to greater clarity in the work of such a commission, to greater real oversight which likely is what attracts them.

Leonid Makurov, head of the capital department on Cossack affairs said Cossacks will deploy in groups of 50 in each district. They will work for free, but have free passes to public transit. On their first "experimental" raid, the Cossacks seized a woman selling blouses at the Belarus Station, chased off a babushka selling mushrooms and also said they would fight any "false Cossacks". But the Central Administrative District said these particular Cossack groups were not coordinated from their office and was "a personal initiative."

In March, the Presidential Council for Cossack Affairs approved a plan for a paid contract between the authorities in Moscow and the Cossacks, but to deploy them in woods and reserves and restore forested areas.

Ilya Varlamov, founder of the City Projects Foundation and a blogger commented to Kommersant:

"They have no relationship to real work. It is not very clear why these issues are on the agenda, that some kind of Cossacks or other organizations will help the police. It means the police are not coping with the elementary maintaining of order, and that's very terrible, taking into account the number of police per capita. Russia is one of the leading countries on this parameter.

The PR people of our government cannot think of a more relevant topic. Before this, there were some kind of youth movements, they were patrolling something. Then the Cossacks came to replace them. We're waiting for the next creative project, I hope it will be something more interesting. The Olympic leopard or the bear or a rabbit. The rabbit will patrol children's playgrounds, the leopard -- the markets and the bear will go along Tverskaya Street and along Red Square to the delight of tourists. It will be pretty."

In the Trans-Baikal, the site of wildfires recently, Cossacks were deployed to maintain order during the May public holidays, reported.

Igor Shunkov, chief of the Trans-Baikal Region police, said 3,000 regular police would be deployed, and would be helped by 47 druzhinniki, 166 private security guards, 76 Cossacks, 39 plainclothes police, 278 public figures and about 100 people from other law-enforcement agencies.

Three years ago, as Kommersant reports, a Russian Orthodox group called Svyataya Rus' (Sacred Rus') took it upon themselves to patrol streets and cafes in Moscow and confront youths that they felt were "blasphemous," such as people wearing Pussy Riot t-shirts.

The Interior Ministry at the time did not acknowledge them and said it was "premature" to talk about official approval for such patrols.

They were never institutionalized in the way the Cossacks are being established, but some groups have gone to disrupt showings of Ukrainian films or Ukrainian-related demonstrations.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick