Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 26

The Ataman of the Terek Cossack Host, Vladimir Shevtsov, has declared a state of emergency on the Host’s territory. The Cossacks are angry that the Russian government has ignored their calls for the Shelkovsky, Naursky, and Nadterechny districts of Chechnya to be transferred to Stavropol krai. The Cossacks assert that "genocide" is being conducted in these districts against the Russian-speaking population. (Interfax, NTV, February 4)

Shelkovsky and Naursky were transferred from Stavropol Krai to the Chechen-Ingush ASSR in 1958. Periodic Cossack demands for their return have become more insistent since Russia withdrew its troops from Chechnya and it became clear that Chechnya was becoming a de facto independent state. Late last year the Assembly of the Cossacks of Southern Russia (Rostov oblast, Krasnodar and Stavropol krais) called on Moscow to annex Shelkovsky and Naursky, while Cossacks blocked the railroad near Mineralnye Vody in Stavropol krai.

Interviewed by the Monitor on February 5, Shevtsov said the Host would not send armed detachments into Chechen territory. "We are not suicidal. We know we could not beat the Chechens at this time. Our main task now is to create Cossack military units within the Russian armed forces. After that, Cossacks will be ready to go into Shelkovsky and Naursky districts, if the Chechen government refuses to return these traditionally Russian lands!" Shevtsov said he plans to meet in Moscow on January 10 with Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovsky to discuss the Cossacks’ demands. Last month, Berezovsky created an uproar when he said the Cossacks should be allowed to carry arms.

Chechnya is unlikely to return Shelkovsky and Naursky, of course. To avoid a confrontation, and to preempt the danger that maverick Cossack units might be coopted by organized crime, Moscow may offer a compromise: legalizing Cossack formations and using them to guard the Chechen-Russian border. There are precedents for this. During the Chechen war, special Cossack battalions formed of contract soldiers served in the federal forces. Volunteer Cossack units are already being used both in Russia’s Far East and on the border with Ukraine.

Moscow Looks Askance at a NATO Naval Exercise.