At the end of July, the governor of Adygea, Aslan Tkhakushinov, and the chief of the Kuban Cossack Forces, Nikolai Doluda, unexpectedly announced that the Cossacks would start conducting public safety patrols in the republic. The Kuban Cossack Forces are based in Krasnodar region and adjacent areas. Understanding the controversy the announcement would cause, the Cossacks’ public relations service commented: “In finding a solution to such an important question, we should be cautious: on the one hand, the Cossacks and the Adygs are friends, but on the other hand, Cossack patrols of the streets in Adygea may be criticized. However, there is a federal law that requires public safety be provided by voluntary people’s patrols. So, it was easy for Nikolai Doluda and Aslan Tkhakushinov to find a solution.” The local Cossack chief in Maikop, Alexander Danilov, hailed the agreement: “If the Law #154 is implemented in the republic, it will signify a new stage in the development of the Maikop directorate of the Cossacks. It will raise the authority of Adygea’s Cossacks and facilitate their service in other government offices.” Governor Tkhakushinov was more evasive. “We will install order together in those areas that we are responsible for—the Cossacks, the Adygs and the representatives of other nationalities,” he said (yuga.ru, July 21).
Tkhakushinov’s hesitation is understandable, given that ethnic Adygs (a.k.a. Circassians) and Cossacks have been enemies since the start of the Russian conquest of the North Caucasus and historical Circassia (see EDM, September 9). The Cossacks often spearheaded the Russian invasion of Circassia, which ended with the final defeat of the Circassians in 1864, their mass deportation to the Ottoman Empire and the destruction of historical Circassia. The Tsar’s government often used the Cossacks to carry out especially egregious attacks against the indigenous population of the North Caucasus since the Cossacks were not part of the official Russian army, but rather a paramilitary group at Moscow’s service. The local Circassians, therefore, will hardly welcome Cossack patrols on the streets of Maikop.
A Circassian writing under a pseudonym rhetorically asked: “Imagine a situation in which Aslan Tkhakushinov would address Alexander Tkachyov [governor of the neighboring majority-ethnic-Russian Krasnador region], asking for his permission to send Circassian patrols to Krasnodar region. Especially if the Circassian patrols had the same objectives as the Cossack patrols, except they would crack down not on the Caucasians, but on the Slavic peoples. I wonder, what would the governor of Krasnodar say to the governor of Adygea?” The writer said that Russian federal law #154, “On State Service of Russian Cossacks,” is a highly controversial and anti-constitutional law. Moscow would not press ahead with its implementation, he wrote, because Cossacks cannot be given special rights over other ethnic or social groups in the Russian Federation. Yet, Tkhakushinov’s willingness to sign an agreement allowing the Cossacks to patrol the streets in Adygea showed his utter moral degradation and corruption, in the author’s opinion (avrom-caucasus.livejournal.com, August 12).
The Cossacks’ surprise foray into Adygea appears to be part of a long-standing Russian government strategy to absorb Adygea into Krasnodar region. Initially, Moscow planned to amalgamate Adygea and Krasnodar region under the pretext that the “underdeveloped” Republic of Adygea would be better off in the rich Krasnodar region. However, the amalgamation theme was removed from the political agenda by 2006, after many protests by the Circassian population of the republic and beyond. Yet, Moscow did not give up on destroying Adygea. Instead of an open attack on the republic, the Russian government started to dismantle Adygea’s institutions one by one—shifting, for example, the republican customs office to Krasnodar (regnum.ru, accessed September 10).
Deploying the Cossacks appears to be Moscow’s next move in its push to undermine Adygea and its institutions. The republic is not known for especially high crime rates—in fact, it is one of the quietest regions in the North Caucasus. Yet, for some reason, Cossack patrols are being dispatched there to “protect public safety.” The Russian government’s strategy appears to consist of taking down the North Caucasian republics when they are most vulnerable to Russian influence. Ethnic Circassians comprise only about 26 percent of Adygea’s inhabitants, while ethnic Russians make up about 64 percent of the total population. The Circassians are trying to repatriate their compatriots from war-torn Syria, but the numbers resettled in the Russian Federation thus far have been relatively low. An estimated 700 Syrian Circassians were resettled in the republic as of September 2013, after which the Russian government imposed significant restrictions to prevent a further influx of Circassians from Syria (rncmon.ru, 2013). Today, one year later, the total number of ethnic Circassian refugees from Syria estimated to have been repatriated in Adygea has increased by only 100, to a total of 800 individuals, which is about half of all the Circassians who have managed to return to their historical homeland in the North Caucasus from Syria. By comparison, Turkey alone has received an estimated 6,000 Circassian refugees from Syria (rusplt.ru, September 5).
Despite having abandoned its plans to amalgamate Adygea with the neighboring ethnic-Russian-majority region of Krasnodar, Moscow continues to work quietly to undermine and dismantle the republic step by step.