Cossacks Plan More Military Aggrandizement

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 20

(Source: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS)

Executive Summary:

  • A resurgence of Cossack militarism is occurring in Russia, evidenced through proposed legislation to the State Duma to establish a reserve army.
  • Cossack leaders announce plans for new volunteer battalions and professional special forces units, leveraging experienced fighters from the ongoing conflict and emphasizing historical and cultural ties to military service.
  • Efforts to professionalize Cossack societies include the establishment of a Cossack-focused academy and the promotion of higher education with a militaristic component, suggesting a broader societal indoctrination into militaristic values and potential mobilization readiness.

As part of the “Cossack rebirth” provoked by the war in Ukraine, a bill brought before the Russian State Duma in November 2023 would create a “mobilizational reserve ready to serve the motherland at a moment’s notice” (Russia Post, February 5). While there is discussion in the West of the need to bring back conscription and ensure a reserve in case of war, the Cossack movement in Russia already seems to be doing it. This bill calls for a reserve army of 60,000. Nikolai Doluda, a one-time chief Ataman (leader) of the all-Russian Cossack Movement, stated: “Taking into account existing military training, citizens who are members of Cossack societies are one of the most numerous categories of citizen for the formation of a reserve.” The bill would mark a rapid development as “now Cossacks may individually sign contracts and participate in the special military operation. But the mobilizational reserve is something different. It is active even in peacetime” (Parlamenta Gazeta, October 9, 2023). The bill was authored by Doluda, who has now become a member of United Russia and sits in the Duma. Given the evidence that the Kremlin appointed Doluda, it is unclear to what extent the initiative for this bill came from the Cossacks themselves or from above. Other recent developments suggest that the impetus comes at least partially from the Cossacks.

In a post on Telegram, current chief Ataman Vitaly Kuznetsov announced “the creation of new Cossack volunteer battalions” before saying that “in the future, fully professional Cossack special forces units should appear. They will be based around Cossacks who have already gained military experience in the special military operation” (, January 27). Just like the prisoners whose contracts have been extended indefinitely, Russia’s need for forces appeals to those who have already fought. There is undoubtedly a large number of men from which to draw. Kuznetsov spoke about “the 21 Cossack units who are fighting in the special military operation” and that “from the start of the conflict, Cossacks were one of the first to go to the front … and we are talking about 1300 Cossacks who have been awarded state honors.” Reflecting on some of the ostensible sources of inspiration, Kuznetsov continued, arguing that “Cossacks, like their fathers and forefathers, defend our Motherland with dignity… They go into battle with prayer—this is our spiritual heritage, history, and culture” (, January 25).

Likewise, more units and position-holders of Cossack societies are being trained throughout the country. The sixth class to graduate from the “Academy of State and Cossack Service” became the first to receive their diplomas in the Moscow Church of St. Nicolas. The programs through which the 51 attendees matriculated included “Economics and Organization Management (Cossack Component), Spiritual, Moral, and Patriotic Education (Cossack Component), and Military Psychology” (, February 3). The Academy in Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast, was created on August 1, 2022, by the Orenburg Cossack Host, and classes are held in a mixed format, “including through video communication” (Academy of State and Cossack Service (АГиКС), accessed February 8). The academy appears to be part of a larger effort to professionalize the nature of Cossack societies, as it aims to enroll “Cossacks and Atamans of Cossack Societies … leaders and instructors of Cossack military-patriotic clubs and classes with a Cossack component … chaplains … and all willing individuals” (Academy of State and Cossack Service (АГиКС), accessed February 8). Those who studied at the academy presumably move on to work directly with youth to impart top-down lessons and militarist values to the next generation. In his address to recent graduates, Kuznetsov confirmed this by telling them that “the diploma you received will help you participate in the life of Cossackdom, will help you to be professors in our Cossack Cadets Corps, to go into the leadership of the Russian Cossack force. Today, it is well known that the special military operation is ongoing, and we know that now all the Cossack troops of Russia, our representatives, our brother-Cossacks are on the front line” (, February 3).

Cossack leaders are also promoting the “Cossack component” of higher education. A Cossack bachelor’s degree became available in December 2022 and is advertised as a chance to join the “intellectual special forces [spetsnaz].” The curriculum involves a broader education than one might conventionally acquire, posing the question: “Should students not only attend lectures but also, for example, go horseback riding, go to museums and churches, train in Gorky park, shoot at a range, and learn how to pilot drones?” Moreover, students can gain a subsidized entry to the university through a competitive grant program. All students have the option to train in “special tactics, traditions of the Russian Cossacks, the role of Orthodoxy in the life of a Cossack, and many others” (, January 24). Additionally, in the Amur region, the local “Cossack college” will start teaching computer programming. These plans are “grandiose.” Through these programs, “First, [the] first- and second-year students will get sufficient qualifications needed by [Russia] today. Second, [the college] will give digital competencies not only to the children of Tambov Okrug but to the surrounding territories” (, February 2).

Cossack-themed structures are promoting militaristic values throughout the country and at various levels. At worst, these structures are preparing the population for mobilization. At best, they are preparing for the maintenance of a reserve army. The infiltration of Cossack militarism into youth and young adult spheres marks a turning point for the new generation of Russians, who will be raised under an ideology of war.