Thursday, March 13, 2014

обсудили взаимодействие Российской Федерации со странами Центральной Америки и Карибского бассейна, а также ситуацию на Украине.

развитие отношений Российской Федерации со странами Центральной Америки и Карибского бассейна

Президент России

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Совещание с постоянными членами Совета Безопасности.
Фото пресс-службы Президента России Совещание с постоянными членами Совета Безопасности. 13 марта 2014 года Вся подписьВся подпись|||Свернуть
Владимир Путин провёл оперативное совещание с постоянными членами Совета Безопасности. Участники совещания, в частности, обсудили взаимодействие Российской Федерации со странами Центральной Америки и Карибского бассейна, а также ситуацию на Украине.
В совещании приняли участие Председатель Правительства Дмитрий Медведев, Руководитель Администрации Президента Сергей Иванов, Председатель Государственной Думы Сергей Нарышкин, Секретарь Совета Безопасности Николай Патрушев, Министр внутренних делВладимир Колокольцев, Министр обороны Сергей Шойгу, Министр иностранных дел Сергей Лавров, директор Федеральной службы безопасности Александр Бортников, директор Службы внешней разведки Михаил Фрадков, заместитель Секретаря Совета Безопасности Рашид Нургалиев, и постоянный член Совета Безопасности Борис Грызлов.
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В.ПУТИН: Добрый день, уважаемые коллеги!
У нас с вами сегодня один плановый вопрос и один вне плана. Первый плановый – это развитие отношений Российской Федерации со странами Центральной Америки и Карибского бассейна.
А второй – разумеется, мы не можем обойти вниманием те события, которые складываются вокруг Украины, Крыма и всего, что касается этой непростой проблемы, которая возникла, хочу это подчеркнуть, не по нашей вине. Этот кризис возник, и мы вовлечены так или иначе в него. Хочу отметить, что это, прежде всего, внутриукраинский кризис. К сожалению, мы все понимаем, что мы оказались так или иначе вовлечёнными в эти события.
Давайте подумаем вместе на тему, как нам строить отношения с нашими партнёрами и друзьями Украины и с другими нашими партнёрами в Европе и в Соединённых Штатах.
Начнём с планового, первого вопроса.

New Ukraine Premier Gets Backing From Obama - EU moves toward sanctions on Russians; Obama meets Ukraine PM - Germany Urges Russia to Help Solve Ukraine Crisis

Germany Urges Russia to Help Solve Ukraine Crisis

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BERLIN — Stressing that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany appealed forcefully to Russia on Thursday to abandon what she called the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries, and to find a peaceful negotiated solution to a crisis “in the heart of Europe.”
The alternative, she suggested, was huge damage to Russia’s long-term interests.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” Ms. Merkel said in a 20-minute speech in Parliament, her strongest public statement since the start of the crisis in Ukraine.
“We would not only see it, also as neighbors of Russia, as a threat, and it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia,” the chancellor said. “No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”
“At a time of great uncertainty in Ukraine, Russia has not proved to be a partner for stability with a neighboring country with which it has tight historic, cultural and economic ties, but instead exploits its weakness,” Ms. Merkel said. “The right of the strong is being pitted against the strength of the right, and one-sided geopolitical interests against understanding and cooperation.”
Ms. Merkel rejected any comparison between the situation in Crimea today and that of Kosovo in the late 1990s, when NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians by Serbian forces.
Instead of choosing to help Ukraine, Ms. Merkel said, Russia was exerting old-fashioned military pressure.
“At a time of great uncertainty in Ukraine, Russia has not proved to be a partner for stability with a neighboring country with which it has tight historic, cultural and economic ties, but instead exploits its weakness,” Ms. Merkel said. “The right of the strong is being pitted against the strength of the right, and one-sided geopolitical interests against understanding and cooperation.”
Some politicians and observers in other European countries and in the United States have suggested that Germany’s traditionally close trading and other ties with Russia have made it hesitant to adopt sanctions against Russia.
But Ms. Merkel made clear that Germany would go along with the other 27 states of the European Union, and the United States, if Russia did not open meaningful diplomatic talks and if the West moved to freeze accounts and impose travel bans or restrictions on leading Russian figures.
“To make it unmistakably clear,” Ms. Merkel said, “nobody wants it to come to that.”
“But we will be decisive and unified in case they become unavoidable,” she said of sanctions.
The chancellor recalled that on Nov. 18, before the president of Ukraine at the time, Viktor F. Yanukovych, rejected an association agreement with the European Union, she had made clear that the proposed accord was not directed against Russia and did not represent an “either/or” choice for Ukraine between the West and Moscow.
On Thursday, she emphasized the need for Russia to avoid what she predicted would be great damage to its interests, urging Moscow to abandon outdated geopolitics and adopt the 21st-century language of mutual cooperation and globalization. “Military conduct is not an option” for the West, she said.
Ms. Merkel also appealed to German cities, schools and other institutions to deepen any civic ties they might have with Ukraine, particularly in the Russian-speaking east of the country, where, she said without elaboration, “we also see worrying developments.”
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Malaysian plane may have flown hours after losing contact: WSJ

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KUALA LUMPUR/HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (Reuters) - U .S. investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet believe it may have flown for four hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
If confirmed, the report would represent another dramatic twist in what is already one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation history - the fate of Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday and dropped off civilian radar screens less than an hour into its flight to Beijing.
On the sixth day of the search, planes were sweeping an area of sea where Chinese satellite images had shown what could be debris, but had so far found no sign of the airliner.
The Wall Street Journal said U.S. aviation investigators and national security officials believed the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777's engines as part of a standard monitoring program. (
It raises the possibility that the plane, and the 239 people on board, could have flown on for an additional distance of about 2,200 miles, potentially reaching Pakistan, destinations in the Indian Ocean or Mongolia, the paper said.
A senior Malaysia Airlines official told Reuters that no such data existed, while a second official said he was unaware of it. A spokeswoman for engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce had no immediate comment.
Malaysia Airlines has said previously that the Rolls-Royce Trent engines stopped transmitting monitoring signals when contact with the plane was lost.
As frustration mounts over the failure to find any trace of the plane, China heaped pressure on Malaysia to improve coordination in the search. Around two-thirds of the people aboard the lost plane were Chinese.
Premier Li Keqiang, speaking at a news conference in Beijing, demanded that the "relevant party" step up coordination while China's civil aviation chief said he wanted a "smoother" flow of information from Malaysia, which has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the disaster.
Vietnamese and Malaysian planes scanned waters where a Chinese government agency website said a satellite had photographed three "suspicious floating objects" on Sunday. The location was close to where the plane lost contact with air traffic control.
Aircraft repeatedly circled the area over the South China Sea but were unable to detect any objects, said a Reuters journalist aboard one of the planes.
One U.S. official close to the investigation said the Chinese satellite report was a "red herring".
It was the latest in a series of false signals given to the multi-national search team that has been combing 27,000 square nautical miles (93,000 square km), an area the size of Hungary, for the Boeing 777-200ER.
On Wednesday, Malaysia's air force chief said military radar had traced what could have been the jetliner to an area south of the Thai holiday island of Phuket, hundreds of miles to the west of its last known position.
His statement followed a series of conflicting accounts of the flight path of the plane, which left authorities uncertain even which sea to search.
The last definitive sighting on civilian radar screens came shortly before 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, as the plane flew northeast across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand.
Rodzali Daud, the Malaysian air force chief, told a news conference on Wednesday that an aircraft was plotted on military radar at 2:15 a.m., 200 miles northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia's west coast at the northern tip of the Strait of Malacca.
But there has been no confirmation that the unidentified plane was Flight MH370, Rodzali said, and Malaysia was sharing the data with international civilian and military authorities, including those from the United States.
"We are corroborating this," he added. "We are still working with the experts."
U.S. counterterrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board may have diverted the plane toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection, The Wall Street Journal said, citing one person tracking the probe.
If the military radar signal cited by Rodzali was the missing plane, the aircraft would have flown for 45 minutes and dropped only about 5,000 feet in altitude since its sighting on civilian radar in the Gulf of Thailand.
That would mean the plane had turned sharply west from its original course, travelling hundreds of miles over the Malay Peninsula from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea to a point roughly south of Phuket and east of the tip of Indonesia's Aceh province and India's Nicobar island chain.
Indonesia and Thailand have said their militaries detected no sign of any unusual aircraft in their airspace. Malaysia has asked India for help in tracing the aircraft and New Delhi's coastguard planes have joined the search.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement that its experts in air traffic control and radar who travelled to Kuala Lumpur over the weekend were giving the Malaysians technical help.
A U.S. official in Washington said the experts were shown two sets of radar records, military and civilian, and they both appeared to show the plane turning to the west across the Malay peninsula.
But the official stressed the records were raw data returns that were not definitive.
A dozen countries are taking part in the search, with 42 ships and 39 aircraft involved.
Authorities have not ruled out any cause for the disappearance. Malaysian police have said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might shed light on the mystery, along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure.
Two men on board were discovered by investigators to have false passports, but they were apparently seeking to emigrate illegally to the West.
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall with its undercarriage on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.
Boeing has declined to comment beyond a brief statement saying it was monitoring the situation.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage, Siva Govindasamy and Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur,Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Mai Nguyen, Ho Binh Minh and Martin Petty in Hanoi, Tim Hepher in Paris. Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Dean Yates and Nick Macfie)
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EU moves toward sanctions on Russians; Obama meets Ukraine PM

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BRUSSELS/SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - The European Union agreed on a framework on Wednesday for its first sanctions on Russia since the Cold War, a stronger response to the Ukraine crisis than many expected and a mark of solidarity with Washington in the drive to make Moscow pay for seizing Crimea.
U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia it faced costs from the West unless it changed course in Ukraine, and pledged to "stand with Ukraine" as he met with the country's new prime minister in Washington.
"We will never surrender," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk vowed as he and Obama met in a White House show of support for the embattled leader.
"Mr. Putin - tear down this wall - the wall of more intimidation and military aggression," Yatseniuk told reporters in remarks aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin and a reference to then-President Ronald Reagan's challenge to the Soviet Union in a 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall.
But Obama and Yatseniuk outlined a potential diplomatic opening that could give Russians a greater voice in the disputed Crimean region, where a referendum is scheduled for Sunday on whether it should become part of Russia.
Yatseniuk told a forum in Washington after his White House meeting that his interim government was ready to have a dialogue and negotiations with Russia about Moscow's concerns for the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea.
Asked what a political solution would look like, Yatseniuk said: "If it is about Crimea, we as the Ukrainian government are willing to start a nationwide dialogue (about) how to increase the rights of (the) autonomous republic of Crimea, starting with taxes and ending with other aspects like language issues."
The EU sanctions, outlined in a document seen by Reuters, would slap travel bans and asset freezes on an as-yet-undecided list of people and firms accused by Brussels of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the measures would be imposed on Monday unless diplomatic progress was made.
A Russian stock index dropped 2.6 percent and the central bank was forced to spend $1.5 billion to prop up the ruble as investors confronted the prospect that Russia could face unexpectedly serious consequences for its plans to annex Crimea.
Russian troops have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula, where separatists have taken over the provincial government and are preparing for Sunday's referendum, which the West calls illegal.
The measures outlined by the EU are similar to steps already announced by Washington, but would have far greater impact because Europe buys most of Russia's oil and gas exports, while the United States is only a minor trade partner. The EU's 335 billion euros ($465 billion) of trade with Russia in 2012 was worth about 10 times that of the United States.
The travel bans and asset freezes could cut members of Russia's elite off from the European cities that provide their second homes and the European banks that hold their cash.
The fast pace of Russian moves to annex Crimea appears to have galvanized the leaders of a 28-member bloc whose consensus rules often slow down its decisions.
Merkel herself had initially expressed reservations about sanctions but has been frustrated by Moscow's refusal to form a "contact group" to seek a diplomatic solution over Crimea.
"Almost a week ago, we said that if that wasn't successful within a few days, we'd have to consider a second stage of sanctions," Merkel said. "Six days have gone by since then, and we have to recognize, even though we will continue our efforts to form a contact group, that we haven't made any progress."
In Crimea, the regional government is led by a Russian separatist businessman whose party received just 4 percent of the vote in the last provincial election in 2010 but who took power on February 27 after gunmen seized the assembly building.
Two days later, Putin announced that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens.
Preparations for Sunday's referendum are in full swing. Banners hang in the center of Crimea's capital, reading: "Spring - Crimea - Russia!" and "Referendum - Crimea with Russia!"
A senior Russian lawmaker on Wednesday strongly suggested that Moscow had sent troops to Crimea to protect against any "armed aggression" by Ukrainian forces during the referendum. Putin and other Russian officials have said armed men who have taken control of facilities in Crimea are local "self-defense" forces.
Crimea has a narrow ethnic Russian majority, and many in the province of 2 million people clearly favor rule from Moscow. Opinion has been whipped up by state-run media that broadcast exaggerated reports of a threat from "fascist thugs" in Kiev.
"Enough with Ukraine, that unnatural creation of the Soviet Union, we have to go back to our motherland," said Anatoly, 38, from Simferopol, dressed in camouflage uniform and a traditional Cossack fur cap.
But a substantial, if quieter, part of the population still prefers being part of Ukraine. They include many ethnic Russians as well as Ukrainians and members of the peninsula's indigenous Tatar community, who were brutally repressed under Soviet rule.
"Crimea has been with Ukraine since the 1950s, and I want to know how they will cut it off from what was our mainland," said Musa, a Tatar. "If the referendum is free and fair, at least a little bit, I will vote against Crimean independence."
The referendum seems to leave no such choice: Voters will have to pick between joining Russia or adopting an earlier constitution that described Crimea as sovereign. The regional assembly says that if Crimea becomes sovereign, it will sever ties with Ukraine and join Russia anyway.
Still, with the streets firmly in control of pro-Russian militiamen and Russian troops, there is little doubt the separatist authorities will get the pro-Russian result they seek. Many opponents, including Tatar leaders, plan a boycott.
At the White House, Obama ridiculed the referendum, saying: "The issue now is whether Russia is able to militarily dominate a region of somebody else's country, engineer a slapdash referendum and ignore not only the Ukrainian constitution but a Ukrainian government that includes parties that are historically in opposition with each other."
"We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it continues on the path that it is on, then not only us but the international community, the European Union and others will be forced to apply a cost to Russia's violation of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine," he added.
Obama said the United States and Ukraine recognized the historic ties between Russia and Ukraine, but added: There is a constitutional process in place and a set of elections that they can move forward on that in fact could lead to different arrangements over time with the Crimean region.
"But that is not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you," Obama said.
Yatseniuk said his government was eager for talks with Russia about Ukraine but made clear his country "is and will be a part of the Western world."
"We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender," he said at the White House.
While tightening his grip on Crimea, Putin seems to have backed off from his March 1 threat to invade other parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, where most of the population, although ethnically Ukrainian, speak Russian as a first language.
That threat exposed the limits of Ukraine's military, which would be little match for the superpower next door and has seen its detachments in Crimea surrounded. The authorities in Kiev announced the formation of a new national guard on Wednesday.
But if Putin had expected to be able to seize Crimea without facing any consequences - as he did when he captured parts of tiny Georgia after a war in 2008 - the push toward sanctions suggests he may have miscalculated.
In a statement, the leaders of the G7 - the United States, Britain, FranceGermanyItaly, Japan and Canada - called on Russia to stop the referendum from taking place.
"In addition to its impact on the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states," they said. "Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively."
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation that would impose strict sanctions on Russians involved in the intervention in Ukraine and provide aid to the new government in Kiev. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote and must also be approved by the House of Representatives.
There has been a lot of diplomatic contact between Russia and the West but no breakthrough. Putin spoke on Wednesday to French President Francois Hollande and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose country chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday.
Russia has pledged to retaliate for any sanctions, but EU leaders seem to be betting that Moscow has more to lose than they do. Merkel's finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said any potential impact on Germany's economy was likely to be limited.
While the EU has agreed to wording for its sanctions, it is still working on a target list. Talks took place in London this week between officials from Britain, the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey and Japan.
"My understanding is that there was detailed discussion of names at the meeting," an EU official said. "No definitive list has been drawn up, but it will be ready by Monday."
European officials have indicated that Putin and Lavrov will not be on the list, in order to keep channels of communication open. The list is expected to focus on targets close to Putin in the security services and the military, as well as lawmakers.
In the past, U.S. and EU sanctions against countries such as Syria, Libya and Iran have started with lists of only around 20 people and companies. But those lists quickly evolved into more powerful weapons as other people and firms were added.
The EU has said it is also prepared to take further steps, such as an arms embargo and other trade measures.
(Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Brussels, Jason Bush in Moscow, Ron Popeski in Kiev,Stephen Brown in Berlin, and Steve HollandRoberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Peter Cooney; Editing by Kevin LiffeyJonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)
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NSA "hijacked" criminal botnets to install spyware - Reuters

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Toronto Sun

NSA "hijacked" criminal botnets to install spyware
SAN FRANCISCO, March 12 (Reuters) - While U.S. law enforcement agencies have long tried to stamp out networks of compromised computers used by cyber criminals, the National Security Agency has been hijacking the so-called botnets as a resource for... 
Revealed: how the NSA scans millions of PCs for dataMetro Weekly
NSA posed as Facebook to infect computers with malwareLos Angeles Times 

Documents Reveal NSA's Alleged Plot To Hijack Millions of PCs, Infect Internet's...Hot Hardware 
CSO Magazine-Engadget
all 62 news articles »

Obama wants release of CIA report - USA TODAY

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Washington Post

Obama wants release of CIA report
President Obama called Wednesday for release of a report on past CIA interrogation techniques that is at the heart of a dispute between the agency and the Senate that has wound up under Justice Department review. Accusations of misconduct between the ...
Obama weighs in on Senate-CIA flapPolitico
Obama sidesteps CIA-Senate fightWashington Examiner
Spy Game: Why Congress Is Limited in Its CIA OversightU.S. News & World Report
The Oregonian -Mediaite
all 24 news articles »

New Ukraine Premier Gets Backing From Obama

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President Obama said he hopes Russia's allies in Ukraine's Crimean region rethink their separatiststrategy but vowed to make Moscow pay a price if they don't.
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Armed Cossacks Flock to Crimea to Help Russian Annexation Bid 

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On Monday morning, about 150 Cossack officers got together in Crimea, the breakaway region of Ukraine, and lined up in formation on the central square of the regional capital of Simferopol. Bundled up against the winds that blew in that day from the Black Sea, they made for a sorry sight, disheveled and grumpy, like a reunion of elderly veterans kitted out in old, mismatching camouflage gear. But their commander, Vladimir Cherkashin, stood before them in a leather jacket and military cap to say that their fortunes were about to change.
Next week, a referendum on Crimea’s independence from Ukraine will open the door for Russia to annex the entire Crimean Peninsula, and for the local Cossack paramilitary groups, that marks the opportunity of a lifetime. It would mean a chance to be integrated into the Russian security forces – just like their Cossack brothers to the east have been under Russian President Vladimir Putin. “That means state recognition, it means training for our cadets,” Cherkashin explained to his Cossack commanders, who are known as atamans. “It’s status. You understand? It’s all about finances!” At this, the group of men looked around at each other and grumbled in approval. Then, at Cherkashin’s command, they shouted the celebratory Cossack salute – “Lyubo!”
For the past two weeks, the Cossacks – a caste of warriors who have guarded the borders of the Russian empire for centuries – have played a key role in the Russian occupation of Crimea. They have manned checkpoints on its highways, guarded the headquarters of its separatist government, patrolled the streets with their ceremonial whips in hand and are now helping build and defend fortifications on the de facto Crimean border with Ukraine. Through it all, they have had ample help from Russia’s professional and state-sponsored Cossack forces, who have come by the thousands to defend what they see as historically Russian lands.
“Cossacks have no borders,” says Nikolai Pervakov, the first deputy commander of Russia’s Kuban Cossack legion, who is leading their mission to Crimea from his usual base of operations in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. Appearing on the square alongside Cherkashin on Monday, he told TIME that a few thousand of his men have come to Crimea from Russia, all with the express approval of the Kremlin. After inspecting the bedraggled ranks of his Crimean comrades, Pervakov gave a short speech on their fraternal ties. “We are a united people, people of the same faith, traditions, customs. Our lives are linked,” he told them. “So we need to be like a clenched and monolithic fist. Only then will we have victory.”
The links that bind Cossacks around the world can be mystifying for outsiders and hard to pin down. They are largely Slavic but come from many other ethnic groups as well, and they speak various languages. Some are born Cossacks while others are initiated into their martial traditions. Their zealous devotion to the Orthodox Christian religion tends to unite them, although different Cossack groups follow different denominations of that faith. Through history, they have rebelled against the Russian empire and marched alongside its armies to fight common enemies, including the Turks, the British and the Khans of Central Asia. Conflicts and upheavals have scattered them for centuries around the world, and there are vibrant communities of Cossacks as far afield as New Jersey, where their ancestors wound up after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 tried to purge them from the Soviet Union. But what unites the Cossacks in Crimea with their allies in Russia today is a common belief that Moscow should command the Slavic world, most crucially including eastern and southern Ukraine.
For the Cossacks of Crimea, that victory could mark a total transformation. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s succession of leaders, regardless of whether they leaned toward Russia or the West, have treated the local Crimean Cossacks with great suspicion. Their commanders in Crimea have spread militant notions of Slavic unity among their young cadets. All of that has attracted scrutiny from Ukraine’s security services in recent years. Under the rule of President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russia-leaning leader who was deposed in a revolution last month, Crimea’s leading Cossacks were investigated for training paramilitary groups and speaking out in support of separatism, both of which are illegal in Ukraine. Some of them have had their Cossack training camps raided by police in search of weapons. Others have been deported to Russia on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.
All of that stands in stark contrast to the lives of their fellow Cossacks in Russia. In 2005, Putin signed a law called “On the state service of the Russian Cossacks,” which gave them the status of a state-backed militia, complete with government paychecks. Under that law, Putin, in his role as commander-in-chief, is the only one who can assign someone the rank of Cossack General. Other officer ranks in the Cossack hierarchy, which is distinct from the rest of the Russian military’s pecking order, must be approved by the Kremlin Council on Cossack Affairs. That law also granted more than 600,000 officially registered Cossacks in Russia the rights to fulfill various functions usually controlled by the state. This includes the right to defend border regions, guard national forests, organize military training for young cadets, fight terrorism, protect local government buildings and administrative sites and provide the vague service of “defending social order.”
It seemed to be in the latter capacity that they patrolled the streets of Sochi during last month’s Winter Olympic Games, even greeting arrivals in the airport terminal dressed in their signature lambskin hats and knee-high leather boots. Vladimir Davydov, a local Cossack officer and a member of the Sochi city council, saw the Games as a historic chance to demonstrate the usefulness of Cossacks to the Kremlin. “Our entire history we have served the sovereign, the motherland,” he told TIME a few weeks before the Games began. “Now that role is restored.” If the Kremlin calls on them, he said, the Cossacks can field a force of 50,000 armed irregulars in the region surrounding Sochi. “The Olympics will be our chance to prove our worth.”
Throughout the Games, they seemed to do that with flying colors, though not without one appalling show of force. On Feb. 19, a few days before the closing ceremony of the Games, a group of activists from the protest group Pussy Riot tried to film an anti-Putin music video in Sochi. But just as the young women pulled on their colorful balaclavas and started dancing around, a group of uniformed Cossacks ran up to them, sprayed them in the face with pepper spray, hit them with whips, yanked them by the hair and dragged them away kicking and screaming. Under current Ukrainian law, that kind of attack would have gotten the Cossacks arrested for battery. In Russia, even during the Olympics, it was part of their paid service to the state.
The allure of becoming a formally recognized militia force seems to have made Crimea’s Cossacks even more gung-ho about the Russian annexation of their peninsula. “Our priority right now is to make sure the referendum goes as planned,” Cherkashin told me on March 9, just after he held a meeting with the new de facto leader of Crimea, the separatist Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov. Watching Russian state TV in a waiting area outside Aksyonov’s office that afternoon, Cherkashin said Cossack volunteers from across Russia and the former Soviet Union have been offering to come help Crimea break away from Ukraine. “These two Cossacks in Armenia called me on Skype the other day,” he says. “They held two Kalashnikovs in front of the camera and said they’re ready to ride.”
But Cherkashin, who is also a member of the Crimean parliament, has had to decline most of these offers. Flooding the peninsula with various Cossack vigilantes would not be good for “keeping order,” he says, and besides, they have enough support from Pervakov and the Kuban Cossack legion as it is. After the morning line-up on the square in Simferopol, the highest ranking commanders walked over to a nearby church – The Cathedral of Holy Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles – for a private powwow. It began with a blessing from a local priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vitali Liskevich, who prayed for the Lord to defend the righteous mission of the Cossacks in Crimea. After that, Pervakov, the Cossack envoy from Russia, walked into the hall with a sheaf of papers, and this reporter was asked to leave the room.