Russian Cossacks patrol Sochi Olympics

Thu Jan 9, 2014 12:30pm EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Cossacks in their traditional lambswool hats and coats with epaulettes will be patrolling the Russian resort of Sochi for next month's Winter Olympics.

Russia has imposed a security clampdown in Sochi to try to ensure the safety of the Games which are a sworn target of Moscow's most wanted man, the Islamic insurgency leader Doku Umarov.

The Games are a prestige project for President Vladimir Putin, meant to showcase Russia's modern face more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Cossacks bring with them their own stamp of national pride.

Cossacks traditionally served the Russian tsars on the borders of their empire and lived in relative freedom but were persecuted later in the Soviet era.

Neither part of the police nor the military, they have enjoyed a rapid revival since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, becoming a staunchly conservative social force invited by local officials to join security efforts.

Their brand of Russian Orthodox patriotism has won public praise from Putin.

But critics accuse them of fierce nationalism and their presence can add to the tension between ethnic Russians and minorities, especially in cities such as Moscow, where many migrants are Muslims from the North Caucasus and ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia.

They will join the massive security operation in the Black Sea resort, a few hundred kilometers from the North Caucasus where Islamist separatists are fighting to carve out their own state.   Continued...

A Russian Cossack stands inside the Kazan Orthodox Cathedral in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, January 4, 2014. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko