Russia’s Cossacks rush to join fighting with their "brothers"

Other News Materials 11 August 2008 22:52 (UTC +04:00)

"We're all one people; we will protect our brothers!" said a unit of armed Cossacks mobilizing from across the North Caucasus region to enter the fighting in Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia, dpa reported.

Hundreds of such volunteer fighters made their way to a recruitment centre in North Ossetia, Russia's ethnically-linked region across the mountainous border, where they were registered to fight against the Georgians.

A half-dozen buses parked outside headquarters, and apparently organized by Russian authorities, were waiting to carry the volunteers into the battle over the separatists' capital, Tskhinvali.

A veteran of South Ossetia's war of succession in the early 1990s Irbek Khodov, 75, said the irregular fighters were being issued uniforms and missions. "They're only taking men aged 25 to 45. If I was young enough I'd go to fight too."

Asked if they were packing weapons, a Cossack who would only give a pseudonym of war "Grenade," 38, ran a hand over his shaved head.

He proudly unsheathed a nine-inch blade traditionally worn by Caucasus men. "It's to cut tomatoes or pick our teeth," he said demonstrating.

"Grenade" traveled five days from northern Siberia after seeing the first television scenes of clashes in the region. "We are heart-felt people, we can't just watch what's going on."

Irregular troops from Chechnya were a key fighting force in winning autonomy for Georgia's rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where renewed escalating tensions and bombing threatened to breakout into fighting Monday - possibly splitting the Georgian troops along a two front war.

Mustachioed Volodya, 40, alias "Baton," settled in Abkhazia after fighting in the war. "When I left it was quiet, then it got hot. First we will protect here, then go back to fight there."

"We are Cossacks - undefeatable, now our sisters our dying," Volodya said with bravado, as the men shared gruesome stories of seven South Ossetian women being taken prisoner, raped and shot to heat up their blood.

"Everyone remembers Beslan, the terrorists - but this is worse than terror," said the unit's de facto leader, his chest full of war medals.

Cossacks, Russia's former mercenaries, are allowed under Russian law to carry guns and take on an enforcement role.

"They are people who have a desire to fulfil their duty to their people," said three-star general in charge of enlistment, Avetisyan Avetikovich. "It is a question of honour."

The general denied the Russian army was providing the fighters with weapons.

But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a meeting with US president George W Bush in Beijing said anger had pushed "many volunteers" to head for the fighting in South Ossetia, which would make it "hard to maintain peace."

The United States demanded Moscow stop the flow of irregulars into South Ossetia at a special meeting of the UN Security Council Sunday morning.

But even more cars came from the other side of the road carrying wounded and refugees along the 4-kilometre border, which is the only way from Russia to the violence-riven region.

Over 20,000 refugees from South Ossetia, mostly women and children, have fled from the region, and gathered outside the morgue and hospitals in Vladikavkaz where many of their men are lying.

"Why do I need arms?" smiled the Cossacks, showing their missing and gold teeth. "It's not a problem for us. We can figure it out."

A Russian soldier standing close by whispered half in disgust, half-respectfully, "They'll take them from the wounded and dead.