Ramazan Abdulatipov, a deputy to the Russian Duma who is Dagestani by origin, has warned that the increasing involvement of Cossack units in Chechnya could provoke a "religious-ethnic war in the Caucasus." (Interfax, April 15) He said he would appeal to President Yeltsin to order the withdrawal of the units. "Someone is playing the Cossack card in the run-up to the presidential election," he said. The head of the presidential administration, Nikolai Yegorov, is known to take pride in his Cossack origins and is believed to be one of the main inspirers of Yeltsin’s recent attempts to co-opt Russia’s resurgent Cossack movement. But Abdulatipov warned that the presence of Cossack soldiers, recruited on a contract basis to fight with the federal forces in Chechnya, "is a dangerous provocation which may expand the conflict zone and sweep the entire Caucasus before it."
Meanwhile, on April 11, the Council of Atamans of the Terek Cossack Army criticized Yeltsin’s peace plan for Chechnya and, in particular, plans to withdraw federal forces from Chechnya. The Cossack leaders expressed concern that General Dudaev might gain control of the left bank of the river Terek, which includes the Naursky and Shelkovsky districts. These districts, traditionally settled by Cossacks, separate Stavropol krai from the mountainous regions inhabited by the Chechens. (Izvestiya, April 13) Determination not to withdraw from the left bank of the Terek was reiterated in a television interview by the ataman of the Terek Cossack okrug, Aleksandr Voloshin. He said that the Cossacks were determined not only to prove their fighting abilities and their loyalty to the state, but also to ensure that the land on the left bank of the Terek was in future removed from the Chechen Republic and made part of Russia proper. (NTV, April 15)
Yeltsin on the Campaign Trail.