Feb 20, 2014

Russia Today, Sky News, and other media outlets were on the scene when Pussy Riot band members were beaten and pepper sprayed by the “Cossack militia”. They were apparently trying to shoot a music video in the area around Sochi, where the winter Olympics were held, when at least 10 militia members began assaulting them.

The video of the beating that left three of the girls hospitalized has since gone viral, and has raised questions about what role the Cossack militia is playing in Russia.

In the video, one Cossack member appeared to be using pepper spray on them, while another whipped them.

russia-pussy-riot-beaten-whip-cossack-militia-truth-frequency-radio-chris-geo-sheree-geo-alternative-media-news-informationThe governor of the region expressed “strong disapproval” of the incident, according to Mark Adams of the International Olympic Committee.

Who are the Cossacks?

According to Catherine Merridale, a history professor at Queen Mary University of London and author of Red Fortress: History and Illusion of the Kremlin, the Cossacks began in 16th century Russia, when peasants around Moscow were living in feudalism. After years of being forced to work for “lords” in settled colonies, they fled to the grassland in the south and formed their own colonies.

Their culture was “warlike and proud”, Merridale said.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, during the Tsarist regime, the Cossacks fought alongside the Russian armies.

“They were regarded as the most fierce and most talented horsemen,” Merridale said.

What are they doing now?

Nowadays, no one can really positively identify someone as a “Cossack”.

“Is it an ethnicity? Is it a community? Is it a culture?” said Anna Aruntunyan, a journalist for Moscow News and contributor to USA TODAY. “It’s all these things at once.”

Some of the Cossacks even say that people who say they’re “Cossacks” in Sochi aren’t really Cossacks, according to Aruntunyan.

“Some comments I’ve seen is that these Cossacks don’t even know how to ride a horse,” she said.

A shift in national politics toward conservatism has given rise to a Cossack culture. People identifying themselves as Cossacks today embrace a “racist, nationalist and anti-Semitic” worldview, said Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at Heritage Foundation, who is a Russia specialist.

As we’ve seen in the past, simply asking questions about Israeli influence in NATO and the West will get someone labeled as an “anti-semite”. And simply criticizing President Obama’s domestic policies will get someone labeled as “racist”. So, USA Today better understand why we have our doubts about how the Cossacks really are when it comes to things like race and politics.

According to Russia’s state-run news agency Ria Novosti, they are working as volunteer security officials for the Olympics. More than 400 of them arrived in Sochi in early January to help the police maintain order (probably because all of their best men have been sent here to the U.S. to help with domestic security operations).

The Cossacks have a “semi-official” role in Russia and “sometimes carry out self-appointed vigilante police duties that are now becoming officially authorized in some parts of the country, including Moscow,” according to Ria Novosti.

Their law enforcement role is not clearly defined and falls into a gray area.

“It’s dangerous because it is not set in law and it is not regulated real well,” Cohen said.

According to RT, Putin said two months ago that the Cossacks “could be more effective than police, but they still had to work within the confines of the law”.

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